Even before the awards are handed out, the 89th Academy Awards is stacking up as one for the record books.
Not only did the bittersweet musical gem “La La Land” net a record-tying 14 nominations but a diverse mix of actors including the likes of Ruth Negga, Denzel Washington and Dev Patel are helping to make sure that, this year, the Oscars will so inclusive rather than so white.
Never before have people of color been nominated in all four of the major acting categories as well as for Best Director, Best Documentary Feature and Best Adapted Screenplay.
As if that wasn’t good enough news, there’s also a handful of big races without clear frontrunners. And, as any award show junkie knows, the more categories which are up for grabs, the better the broadcast.
So, before you watch Jimmy Kimmel host the ceremonies on Feb. 26, read up on our picks for who will and who should win this year’s Oscars.
The Nominees: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester By The Sea” and “Moonlight.”
Will Win: “La La Land”
Should Win: “La La Land”
The Rationale: The big question of the evening will be: how will politics influence Oscar voters? The nominations already reflect a determination on the part of the Academy to honor a diverse bunch of actors and filmmakers. Will those sentiments favor such films as “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight”?
Even without the wild card of politics, this is a tough category to call, with possible spoilers everywhere.
At the moment, the frontrunner is “La La Land,” one of the most blissfully entertaining movies of 2016. The Los Angeles-set musical manages to sweep you off your feet with its depiction of the dizzying romance between an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a struggling jazz musician (Ryan Gosling).
It’s also about Hollywood and, as the recent wins for “Argo” and “The Artist” prove, the film community loves to watch itself up on the screen. But even though “La La” is a huge hit, it could be written off as too breezy to win the Best Picture prize.
If there’s a film nipping at “La La Land’s” heels it is “Moonlight,” the story of a gay African-American male coming of age in Miami. Intimate yet universal, “Moonlight” avoids clichés at every turn, confronts big themes of race, gender and the search for identity; and creates characters who feel ferociously alive.
Another contender coming on very strong in the homestretch is “Hidden Figures,” a crowd-pleaser about three African-America women in the 1960s who helped America win the space race. A surprise winner at the SAG Awards, “Hidden Figures” has a good shot at the Best Picture Oscar.
Still, in the end, it’s likely “La La Land” will hit all the right notes with Academy voters.
The Nominees: Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea,” Andrew Garfield for “Hacksaw Ridge,” Ryan Gosling for “La La Land,” Viggo Mortensen for “Captain Fantastic” and Denzel Washington for “Fences”
Will Win: Affleck
Should Win: Affleck
The Rationale: As Lee, a Boston janitor dealing with an unthinkable tragedy from his past, Affeck delivered the year’s most quietly intense turn. In his scenes with Michelle Williams, Affleck seemed to peel back layers of guilt and pain, while barely raising his voice above a whisper.
But Affleck has been dogged by accusations of sexual harassment from women who worked with him on a previous film project. Could the controversy impact Oscar voters?
Affleck also lost the Screen Actors Guild award, in a big upset, to Washington, who delivers a bold, showy performance in “Fences.” This is a tight race: Washington could nab his third Oscar but, chances are, Affleck will squeak out a win.
The Nominees: Emma Stone for “La La Land,” Natalie Portman for “Jackie,” Ruth Negga for “Loving,” Meryl Streep for “Florence Foster Jenkins” and Isabelle Huppert for “Elle”
Will Win: Stone
Should Win: Huppert
The Rationale: Stone was wonderful in “La La Land” as she made you not only care about her character but ache for her to get together with her one true love. Everything worked about Stone’s performance from her singing and dancing to her ability to convey ambition, pain and pure joy. A win at the SAG Awards confirms Stone as the front-runner.
Huppert is the sentimental favorite. Her turn as an unconventional rape victim in “Elle” is just one of the dozens of edgy, envelope-pushing portrayals she’s created over the years. Huppert is surely the greatest living actress without an Academy Award. That’s a situation that could be remedied on Oscar night.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Nominees: Viola Davis for “Fences,” Naomie Harris for “Moonlight,” Nicole Kidman for “Lion,” Octavia Spencer for “Hidden Figures” and Michelle Williams for “Manchester By The Sea.”
Will Win: Davis
Should Win: Davis
The Rationale: Davis is long overdue. She’s one of the most respected actors in Hollywood with nominations for “Doubt” and “The Help” on her resume. On top of that, she not only held her own with Denzel Washington in “Fences” but she stole scenes away from him. And he was the director! Davis is this year’s surest of sure things.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Nominees: Mahershala Ali for “Moonlight,” Jeff Bridges for “Hell or High Water,” Lucas Hedges for “Manchester By The Sea,” Dev Patel for “Lion” and Michael Shannon for “Nocturnal Animals.”
Will Win: Ali
Should Win: Ali
The Rationale: As a drug dealer who takes an abused kid under his wing, Ali created an indelible portrait of a very complex man. “Moonlight” doesn’t give Ali’s characters much of a story arc – one of the film’s few flaws – and that could hurt his chances. But Ali remains the one to beat on Oscar night.
The Nominees: Denis Villeneuve for “Arrival,” Mel Gibson for “Hacksaw Ridge,” Damien Chazelle for “La La Land,” Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight” and Kenneth Lonergan for “Manchester by the Sea.”
Will Win: Chazelle
Should Win: Chazelle
The Rationale: Even if “La La Land” loses the Best Picture title, Chazelle is likely to pull off a win in this category. Why? “La La Land” feels like the work of a real visionary. Academy members are bound to be impressed.