Predicting Oscar: Sure bets, longshots, hidden figures

Adam Graham Detroit News Film Critic

After last year’s Academy Award nominations were announced, there was a swift and immediate outcry over the all-white racial makeup of the nominees in the leading categories. Hashtags were launched, a backlash spread and changes were instituted in an effort to make the Academy’s voting body more inclusive.

When this year’s pool of Oscar nominees are announced Tuesday, there should be no such reaction. It’s not that Hollywood has magically fixed its racial problems, which are institutional and run deep in the roots of the movie-making system. It’s that this year a strong number of leading candidates in Oscar’s top categories are artists of color, and the resulting field will be more representative of America’s racial makeup.

That said, it’s still going to be an uphill climb to the Oscar podium for nominees not from “La La Land.” The enchanting movie musical is heavily favored in several of the top categories, including Best Picture, Best Director (32-year-old wunderkind Damien Chazelle) and Best Actress (Emma Stone).

Along with the nominees you can set your watch by — hello Casey Affleck and “Moonlight” — there are bound to be some surprises in the mix, as well.

Here are the best bets — and a few of the longshots — to look forward to from Tuesday’s nominations.

Best Picture

Favorites: “La La Land,” “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Hidden Figures,” “Fences,” “Lion,” “Hell or High Water,” “Arrival,” “Sully”

On the bubble: “Deadpool”

The big picture: In the competition for “Who will go on to lose to ‘La La Land?’ ” most of the nominees are slam dunks. “Deadpool” has an outside shot, which would certainly liven things up, but the superhero spoof will likely get edged out by “Sully.” Another X factor to consider is the number of nominees in the pool; up to 10 films can be nominated in the category, though in the last two years, only eight films have made the cut. (A full 10 films haven’t been nominated since the 2011 ceremony.)

Best Actor

Favorites: Ryan Gosling, “La La Land,” Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea,” Denzel Washington, “Fences,” Joel Edgerton, “Loving,” Tom Hanks, “Sully”

On the bubble: Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

The big picture: Gosling, Washington and Affleck are all sure things, and Affleck’s win is all but locked up. Then things loosen up: “Loving” has been quiet during awards season, but look for Edgerton to surge ahead and pick up his first nomination, and for Hanks to pick up his sixth overall nomination (and first since 2001) for his portrayal of heroic airline pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger.

Best Actress

Favorites: Emma Stone, “La La Land,” Natalie Portman, “Jackie,” Isabelle Huppert, “Elle,” Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins,” Ruth Negga, “Loving”

On the bubble: Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”

The big picture: The year’s tightest race. Emma Stone’s eventual win is sealed and Portman is a lock for her dead-on portrayal of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, but after that it’s a crapshoot. Meryl Streep’s rousing speech at the Golden Globes — delivered just days before the voting deadline for nominations — will likely earn the perennial nominee her 20th nomination, while “Elle’s” Isabelle Huppert and “Loving’s” Ruth Negga seek their first nominations. But look out for Cookie: “Hidden Figures’ ” Taraji P. Henson is very much in the conversation and could nab her second Oscar nod.

Best Supporting Actor

Favorites: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight,” Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water,” Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea,” Dev Patel, “Lion,” Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

On the bubble: Kevin Costner, “Hidden Figures”

The big picture: We can already call this category for first-timer Mahershala Ali, whose impact in “Moonlight” is felt well beyond his screen time. “Crazy Heart” Oscar winner Jeff Bridges will be back in the saddle for playing “Hell or High Water’s” craggy lawman. After that, look for newcomer Lucas Hedges and “Lion’s” Dev Patel to earn their first nominations. And while “Nocturnal Animals’” Aaron Taylor-Johnson took home a Golden Globe, we’re betting his co-star, Michael Shannon, will nab his first nomination in eight years for his role in Tom Ford’s stylish noir. But don’t count out Costner, who’s looking for his first nomination in 26 years for his role as “Hidden Figures’ ” forward-thinking NASA director.

Best Supporting Actress

Favorites: Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea,” Viola Davis, “Fences,” Naomie Harris, “Moonlight,” Nicole Kidman, “Lion,” Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

On the bubble: Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women”

The big picture: Viola Davis is the favorite to win, but who will join her? In what is likely to be the field’s most diverse category, previous winners Spencer (“The Help”) and Kidman (“The Hours”) will likely join three-time nominee Williams and newcomer Harris. Also in the mix is Greta Gerwig, the lovable oddball who did excellent work in “20th Century Women” and is seeking out her first nomination.

Best Director

Favorites: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land,” Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight,” Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea,” Denzel Washington, “Fences,” Garth Davis, “Lion”

On the bubble: Jeff Nichols, “Loving”

The big picture: Jenkins is a sure-thing nominee, which will make him only the fourth African-American to be nominated in the category; if he’s joined by Washington — who seeks his first nomination as a director — it would mark the first time in Oscar history that two black directors were nominated in the same year. Lonergan has been nominated twice before for screenplay, but never as director, and Davis is looking for his first nomination. But “La La Land’s” Chazelle is the favorite here, in what will be his first nomination as a director and almost surely his first win. We’ll see.

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