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Final Oscar Predictions: 5 Lingering Questions With Nominations on the Way

Variety logo Variety 1/19/2017 Kristopher Tapley

Ballots were due on Friday and the nail-biting will finally cease at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24. It’s been another jam-packed phase one for Oscar season, though one that didn’t have quite as many twists and turns as you’d expect. After all, a certain musical started the season as the presumed frontrunner, and it hasn’t budged since.

Feb 27, 2016; Hollywood, CA, USA; A giant Oscar statue looms over the red carpet during setup for the 88th annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater. © Mandatory Credit: Andrew P. Scott-USA TODAY NETWORK Feb 27, 2016; Hollywood, CA, USA; A giant Oscar statue looms over the red carpet during setup for the 88th annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater.

Of course, as soon as you think you’ve got it all figured out, the Academy keeps you on your toes. So how will the nominations for the 89th annual Oscars play out next week? There will be surprises, surely. There always are. Figuring out what they might be is the fun. Check out my final picks if you’re curious to know one guy’s opinion, but as we head into this final lap, a few lingering questions remain.

How many best picture nominees will there be? 

In the five years since the Academy instituted a system whereby anywhere from five to 10 nominations for best picture are possible, we have seen three instances of nine and two instances of eight. This year, there appear to be at least nine solid bets, which you could stretch 10 or even 11 if you take into account the interesting route the British Academy took, not to mention a certain irreverent comic book adaptation’s curious show of strength on the circuit. Could the passion bunch up and leave us with a tighter group than normal? Conversely, could we even get a full slate of 10? Better yet, should the Academy just dispense with this bizarre method? Put me down for a “yes” there.

Will the directors branch react differently than the DGA membership?

Ridley Scott plans three more Prometheus films before linking to Alien © AP Images Ridley Scott plans three more Prometheus films before linking to Alien

One surprise on the guild circuit was Garth Davis landing a Directors Guild nomination for “Lion,” showing that the film was indeed a force to reckon with and a contender that translates across a wide voter pool. But the Academy’s directors branch is much smaller than the DGA, and can often cook up interesting choices, like Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”) or Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”). They also aren’t above passing on seemingly sure bets, like Ridley Scott (“The Martian”), Ben Affleck (“Argo”) and Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”). How will this peculiarity play out this year? For instance, could someone like Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) register more for his writing prowess than as a director to this group? Could someone like David Mackenzie (“Hell or High Water”) or Tom Ford (“Nocturnal Animals”) turn up in a bit of a surprise? Ditto Martin Scorsese, whose “Silence” was seen very late, if it was seen at all.

What to make of the best actress logjam? 

Most seem to agree that Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) and Emma Stone (“La La Land”) are locked and loaded for lead actress recognition. Amy Adams (“Arrival”) appears to be right in the thick of it as well, especially after having been such a presence on the campaign circuit this year. Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), meanwhile, may have secured her place after that wonderful Golden Globes speech in the middle of voting. So the final spot comes down to a few names. Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) makes a lot of sense, and her Golden Globe win might have encouraged some voters to watch her film if they had been putting it off. Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”) hasn’t really done much in the way of campaigning, but she’s fantastic in “20th Century Women.” Alas, this was probably not the year to rest on laurels. What about Ruth Negga (“Loving”), who came back to town just before the end of the year? Or Taraji P. Henson, who could benefit from the late swell of love for “Hidden Figures?” And somehow, Emily Blunt (“The Girl on the Train”) is lurking, folks.

The adapted screenplay race became a s—t show. What happens now? 

© Foto: 20th Century Fox Pardon my French, but it’s true. What was already a tight category became even more so when the Academy deemed the screenplays for “Loving” and “Moonlight” adapted in the face of their original Writers Guild designations. Add them to a field that already includes “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hidden Figures,” “Nocturnal Animals” and maybe even “Silence” or, uh, “Deadpool,” and you’re looking at one of the most exciting races of the year.

“Loving” vs. “Nocturnal Animals?”

© Provided by Variety The folks at Focus Features must be wondering what happened. They picked up Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” nearly a year ago, took it to Cannes, nurtured it in the off-season, brought it back for a Toronto bow and sent it off into the season. It was always a tough sell, though, because Nichols didn’t make some histrionic period piece that is catnip to the Academy. They’ve grown to hate this term over there, but he made a quiet film, a reserved study. He approached the material exactly the way he should have. And yet it seems poised for zero nominations. Meanwhile, the other live action hopeful in the studio’s quiver, “Nocturnal Animals,” surged with BAFTA and could net enough passion in a few categories to have a notable presence. Who knew?

OK, that’s enough hair-pulling for now. There will surely be more to come after the nominations as we try to sort out exactly which films will walk away with Oscars on Feb. 26. For now, here are my final predictions in every category.

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