Last year my prediction accuracy took a bit of a dip (albeit an expected one in that super tight year), but I imagine a regression to the mean this year with La La Land looking like an easy call in many categories. I'll be disappointed with anything less than eighteen, but I won't take it for granted... Anything can happen.
Best Picture: La La Land
Best Director: Damien Chazelle
alt: Barry Jenkins
Both these top categories feel pretty locked and loaded.
Best Actor: Denzel Washington
alt: Casey Affleck
Here's the tightest major category of the year. When it comes down to photo finishes like this, my bad habit is simply to predict the outcome I'd less prefer to see. It's not that I dislike Denzel's work in Fences, or that I feel Affleck is a giant of cinema whose career deserves an Oscar, but just look at the five performances in the category it's clear that his is leagues ahead of the others.
Best Actress: Emma Stone
alt: Natalie Portman
Huppert has her fans, and it'd be a super delightful surprise for a deserving contender, but I suspect that's wishful thinking at this point.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali
alt: Dev Patel
Lion is lurking. Will Weinstein's manipulative campaign tricks turn the tide either here or in adapted Screenplay?
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis
alt: I can't even
Best Original Screenplay: La La Land
alt: Manchester by the Sea
It's hard for me to be truly invested in a category where the two possible winners are the two I don't even think should be there. While I certainly like La La Land better, I think I'd prefer to see Lonergan win here since Chazelle is so obviously winning Best Director.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Even Arrival feels like it could pop up as a pleasant semi-surprise.
Best Animated Feature: Zootopia
alt: Kubo and the Two Strings
Kubo's BAFTA win feeling more and more like a cruel tease.
Best Documentary: O.J. Made in America
Dangerous precedent about to be set here with a TV miniseries winning an award that should be reserved for movies. I wouldn't be shocked if they opted for 13th or even the late-breaking and terrific I Am Not Your Negro.
Best Foreign Language Film: A Man Called Ove
alt: The Salesman
Now here's a nail-biter. With no help coming from the Critics Choice, Golden Globes or BAFTAs -- who all opted for three different films that either weren't eligible or didn't make the shortlist -- we're left to our own devices in anticipating voters' tastes. Will anti-Trump sentiment push The Salesman (admittedly the best of the field) over the top? Or will they regress to their old habits by rewarding the easiest one to sit through? Or will they go purely on critical reputation, making Toni Erdmann the weirdest winner in recent memory? As usual, I'm forcing myself to predict what I'd least want to see.
Best Cinematography: La La Land
Part of me wishes this category felt more up in the air. All five are beautiful, richly deserving achievements.
Best Editing: La La Land
alt: Hacksaw Ridge
I'm not sure La La Land is as locked here as many think. Hacksaw took the BAFTA and Arrival (my pick of the litter) the ACE Drama. Moonlight or Hell or High Water would make inspired winners too.
Best Production Design: La La Land
alt: Fantastic Beasts
In recent Oscar history, this is the category in which the Academy is most likely to deviate from precursors. It would normally be nice to see see Stuart Craig get some Oscar love for his Potter-verse, but for this one? I'll be kicking myself if he pulls it off.
Best Costume Design: Jackie
alt: La La Land
Ironically, Jackie -- which many critics felt got shafted in Best Picture -- has a better shot at going home with an Oscar than most of the Best Picture nominated films! But a win for a contemporary film here would be so satisfying, so I'm rooting for Zophres, knowing well that the true best costumes in the category (Allied) are unlikely to triumph.
Best Original Score: La La Land
Best Original Song: "City of Stars"
alt: "How Far I'll Go"
The only uncertainty in the music categories is if La La Land's two songs end up splitting the vote.
Best Sound Mixing: La La Land
alt: Hacksaw Ridge
Best Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge
The uncertainty in the sound categories is more varied in nature. Whatever wins Mixing almost always wins Editing if it's nominated there, but no musical has ever won here (or even been nominated with the exception of the animated Aladdin). And if La La Land isn't so strong here, who's the beneficiary? BAFTA got its sound category right, if you ask me. Arrival would be such a swell choice.
Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book
alt: Rogue One
Is the animation stigma too strong to ever overcome, or is there an outside chance that voters will discover that Kubo's special effects are by far the most 'special' in this group. That said, all five nominees are excellent, matching my own ballot five-for-five.
Best Makeup and Hair Styling: Star Trek Beyond
alt: Suicide Squad
I could just roll a three-sided die, but the broad recognition of the Star Trek brand is just logical enough to sway me. Also, its makeup is pretty ballin'.
Best Animated Short: Piper
It's been fifteen years since Pixar won this, but that was also a short about adorable birds...
Best Live-Action Short: Ennemis Interieurs
alt: La Femme et la TGV
"Emotional payoff" have been the magic words in this category of late, but they may be preempted by "zeitgeist" and "topicality" in this politically charged year.
I should probably extend that logic to Best Foreign Language Film and pick
The Salesman, but I want to see that one win too much to put my faith in it.
Best Documentary Short: Joe's Violin
alt: The White Helmets
I still say Watani: My Homeland is being underestimated, but I haven't got the balls to predict it, or even make it my alternate. Anyways, Joe's Violin is comfortably my least favourite of the lot, so guessing this impossible category wrong won't upset me that much.