By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 23, 2017 at 6:56 PM

How did this happen? How did seemingly one of the tightest, most up-for-grabs races in recent history – one that had "Deadpool" as a potential Best Picture nominee – end up as one of the most rote and predictable?

Thanks a lot, "La La Land."

Even though the big prize is pretty much a big lock, there’s still plenty of excitement and drama to be found amongst the other categories Sunday night. After all, while we may have a good idea of how the Academy is thinking, we don’t actually know what the Academy is thinking (case in point: Mel Gibson and "Suicide Squad" are nominated for things). For all we can guess, they’ll just start handing out awards to "Keeping Up with the Joneses."

So here are my predictions for who will win during the big show – and who should win. Last year, I got 16 out of 24 right, a 66 percent, which is fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!

Best Picture

Will win: "La La Land"

Should win: "Moonlight"

You don’t get 14 nominations – tied for the most in the history of the Academy Awards – and not win Best Picture. That kind of overwhelming enthusiasm simply doesn’t happen to a movie receiving merely lukewarm support. "La La Land" is an effervescent film, shining a bright, colorful spotlight on big stars, big emotions, bigger cinema, wild ambitions in front of and behind the camera – oh, and most crucially for its Oscar odds, Hollywood appreciation of Hollywood. In these divisive times, the Academy watches movies just like most other viewers: for escapism. That’s what "La La Land" offers; the show will be political elsewhere, no worries about that.

As the clear frontrunner for two months now, there’s been a predictable barrage of thinkpieces trying to pop director Damien Chazelle’s gum bubble of a film, accusing the movie of being racist to being fascist to being inspired by "Mein Kampf" (only one of those is made up). Even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got to cooking in the "La La Land" #hottakery, yet little was able to halt this perfectly calculated cinematic charm offensive’s rise to dominance.

The best thing in favor of "La La Land," however, isn’t something it has, but something it lacks: real competition. "Moonlight" positioned itself nicely as the artsier, more timely and important counterpoint to the musical monolith, and "Hidden Figures" had an impressive late charge last month that helped it snag what was likely the ninth Best Picture nomination. But while those two will likely split the rebellion vote, "La La Land" will dance into movie history – probably right next to "Rocky," another feel-good movie that beat several, infinitely more interesting movies ("Taxi Driver," "All the President’s Men," "Network").

To listen to Matt Mueller and Jimmy Carlton discuss the Oscar's on The Postgame Tailgate podcast, click here.

Best Actor

Will win: Denzel Washington, "Fences"

Should win: Casey Affleck, "Manchester by the Sea"

Well, the momentum had to wane at some point. Casey Affleck’s quiet but powerful performance in "Manchester by the Sea" was the clear frontrunner for Best Actor since the drama’s premiere last January. But his not-exactly-captivating stage presence during the past month of awards season – if the Academy’s going to give you its stage, it wants a good Oscar moment in return – in addition to quietly building reports about Affleck’s history with sexual harassment, eventually helped open the door for competition.

Enter Denzel Washington and "Fences," everything Affleck and "Manchester by the Sea" aren’t. Washington is generally loved by both the public and the industry; Affleck comes off awkward. Washington is big, boisterous and theatrical in "Fences"; Affleck is silent and subtle in "Manchester." Washington’s won twice already, while Affleck been nominated twice but come up empty. It’s a fascinating pair of dueling narratives in what’s suddenly become the closest race going into Sunday night. I’ll go with the performance that delivers the most acting, if not the best acting (not the first time you’ll hear that in these predictions).

As for Ryan Gosling, please cue the following video to 1:30:

That is all.

Best Actress

Will win: Emma Stone, "La La Land"

Should win: Ruth Negga, "Loving"

What was supposed to be a knock-out, drag-out head-to-head fight between Emma Stone and Natalie Portman for Best Actress wound up being a one-horse race. Unfortunately, the atonal, dark-and-difficult "Jackie" plummeted from potential Best Picture candidate to also-ran in record time – and dragged Portman’s chances for a second win down with it.

Cinephile favorite Isabelle Huppert is now the most likely to knock Stone off the podium, but she’s the only nomination for "Elle," and I can’t imagine the generally older, generally middlebrow Oscar voter warming too much to the rape revenge thriller and her character’s tricky morals. So Emma Stone wins – but thanks to the wonders of the internet and this old footage of "Emily Stone" singing "Bitch" on an episode of the short-lived singing competition show "In Search of the Partridge Family" …

 … we all kind of win.

Best Supporting Actor

Will win: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"

Should win: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"

Frankly, you could plug in every actor from "Moonlight" in here – Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland – and he would likely win, and deserve to win. The whole cast is dynamite; the fact that Mahershala Ali has been pushed the hardest says more about Oscar campaign strategy than quality of performances. That being said: Ali’s terrific as the conscience-heavy drug dealer that takes Little under his wing, he’s been terrific on the awards circuit and he deserves this award. Welcome to stardom, soon-to-be former character actor.

Best Supporting Actress

Will win: Viola Davis, "Fences"

Should win: Viola Davis, "Fences"

If you mark anyone not named Viola Davis down for this award, you are wasting everyone’s time and effort. Her performance in "Fences" is terrific, and it’s the kind of big, snotty, emotional role Oscar voters love. She’s due, since she foolishly lost in 2012 for "The Help" (Meryl! *shakes fist*). She’s won pretty much every award leading up to this – and has done so with emotional, beautiful speeches along the way. And no one else in this category delivers the kind of impact she does (probably because she’s definitely a lead actress in "Fences," not supporting. Category fraud; what’s that?!).

In short, the only people who should predict a win for Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Octavia Spencer or Naomie Harris are Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Octavia Spencer or Naomie Harris – and even then, I doubt any of them are showing up Sunday night with speeches prepared. Just enjoy the free drinks, ladies.

Best Director

Will win: Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"

Should win: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"

I told you "most vs. best" would come back up again! Chazelle’s work behind the camera in "La La Land" is definitely the most eager to impress, throwing tricky one-takes, delirious spins and dreamy romantic vignettes at the audience one after another. While it’s all very impressive, however, they’re often not the best choice for their particular scenes; there’s a part, for instance, during the opening freeway number where an edit would tighten up and energize the sequence instead of sticking with a lingering, roaming Steadycam shot.

On the other hand, every shot, look and choice from Barry Jenkins in "Moonlight" builds character and the growing feelings tremblingly simmering under the surface. It’s an impeccably directed flame of a film, but in a way that’s far more modest than Chazelle’s fireworks show. Meanwhile, Kenneth Lonergan of "Manchester by the Sea" and Denis Villeneuve of "Arrival" can drink heavily and enjoy their evenings. And Mel Gibson can sit and merely be content knowing he’s gotten out of Hollywood jail yet again.

Best Original Screenplay

Will win: "Manchester by the Sea"

Should win: "20th Century Women"

The Oscars are known for spreading the wealth, so since "Manchester by the Sea" is well out of the running for Best Picture, this is where the Academy will pay tribute to Lonergan’s impressive, tear duct-draining work, painting a portrait of everyday people dealing with unfathomable pain that feels more documentary than fiction. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will win: "Moonlight"

Should win: "Moonlight"

Thanks to some classic Oscar rule ridiculousness, "Moonlight" got knocked out of Original Screenplay for Adapted. In the end, however, that plays out great for pretty much everyone involved. "Manchester" and "Moonlight" no longer have to duke it out, while the Academy gets to give both movies and star creatives – Lonergan and Jenkins – stage time despite losing Best Picture.

Who this didn’t work out for, though? "Lion" and "Arrival," who were the next best competition before "Moonlight" stomped them out. I’m not sure who would’ve won in this duel – I doubt "Lion" had enough enthusiasm to win for its screenplay, while sci-fi always struggles for major category legitimacy at the Oscars – but there’s no way either one wins over this:


Best Animated Film

Will win: "Zootopia"

Should win: "Moana"

"Zootopia" is pretty much a sure bet to win here; it’s brightly imaginative and surprisingly relevant. Just the sloth DMV sequences alone would probably net it this award. But … have you really thought about the movie’s metaphor? If you haven’t, don’t – because, despite well-intentioned wokeness, it falls apart mighty quick.

I’ll give my personal nod to "Moana," which felt like the best, truest modern version of the classic Disney animated musical format. Yes, even more so than "Frozen," which felt like a few of the songs were just stapled in. "Kubo and the Two Strings" would be a welcome upset too, actually.

Best Foreign Film

Will win: "The Salesman"

Should win: "Toni Erdmann"

Amazing what a little something like a presidential election can do for an Oscar campaign. A month ago, the three-hour German comedy (bet you never thought you’d hear those words together) "Toni Erdmann" was almost a lock for a Best Foreign Film win, riding impressive festival runs, rave reviews and finally word that Jack Nicholson was coming out of self-imposed retirement to star in a remake.

That was before Trump’s travel ban, however, and before the film’s Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (a previous winner for the terrific "A Separation") announced he would skip the Oscars as a form of protest against the executive order. As a result – plus some good release timing and having an imposing three-hour film as competition – his latest drama has picked up significant steam, enough that I imagine this award will be where the Oscars, in a night that will be mostly dedicated to self-congratulating themselves with "La La Land," go overtly political.

Best Cinematography

Will win: "La La Land"

Should win: "Arrival"

And we’ve reached the part of the evening where we just mark down "La La Land" for all of the awards – even here in cinematography, a tight race between everyone. "Lion," "Silence" "Moonlight" and my own personal pick "Arrival" all flaunt impressive, gorgeous visuals, but few can match the general brightness and boisterous setpiece work in Chazelle’s modern musical – especially the opening and closing sequences. The movie practically screams above the singing for you to notice the flashy (but not always fitting) camera choices; the Academy will happily oblige. 

Best Editing

Will win: "La La Land"

Should win: "Arrival"

Another technical award. Another "La La Land" nomination. Another fairly predictable win. Unless there’s something particularly spectacular about a film’s editing or structure – and I would argue there is with "Arrival," which so smartly and carefully unfolds its reveal – generally voters assume the best movie of the year must’ve been the best edited as well.

Best Production Design

Will win: "La La Land"

Should win: "Hail, Caesar!"

Hey, remember "Hail, Caesar!"? That delightful movie that got completely forgotten come end-of-year awards and list time? Featuring a musical number that’s better than every musical number in "La La Land"?

Good times. Anyways, "La La Land" wins again.

Best Costume Design

Will win: "La La Land"

Should win: "Jackie"

Normally, Best Costume Design goes to some big, lavish period piece production that spent half its budget on bedazzling a massive royal gown with a hyper-balillion peacock feathers and just so much poofy lace. "La La Land" is not that, but it does fashion Emma Stone into some lovely dresses that stand out against this pretty but not hugely remarkably crop. With its immaculately period accurate recreations of iconic outfits, "Jackie" could sweep in for a win here, but I wonder how many people bothered seeing them during the movie’s drastic awards season swoon.

Plus, it’s not called "La La Land," and generally speaking, betting against "La La Land" Sunday night is a poor life choice.

Best Makeup

Will win: "Star Trek Beyond"

Should win: "Suicide Squad"

Hey, guess what: I’m going to say something nice about "Suicide Squad"! It’s probably the best, or at least most notable, of the three nominees here. However, the phrase "Oscar-winner ‘Suicide Squad’" is almost impossible to swallow without choking, so I’ll bet the voters go with the infinitely more palatable "Star Trek Beyond."

Best Score

Will win: "La La Land"

Should win: "Jackie"

Obviously the musical should win the award for best music, right? You would think that – and most Oscar voters will, giving it an easy victory here. But the real winner should be Mica Levi’s work in "Jackie," which sets the perfect, regal-yet-queasy tone for the real-life political nightmare. The movie couldn’t have worked its haunting magic without it.

Speaking of things I could do without, though, what the heck is Thomas Newman’s twinkly-ass "Field of Dreams"-lite score from "Passengers" doing here? This is the worst thing to happen to the Oscars since that time Whoopi Goldberg hosted and it was 421 hours long.

Best Song

Will win: "City of Stars" from "La La Land"

Should win: "How Far I’ll Go" from "Moana"

It’s a crime enough that the obvious best song from this year – "I’m So Humble" from "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" – isn’t even nominated. Even more egregious, though: The song that will win – the melancholy earworm "City of Stars" – isn’t even the best song from "La La Land." "Another Day of Sun" is better. "Someone In the Crowd" is better. "Start a Fire" is better – and you’re not even supposed to like that song!

So I’ll go with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s "How Far I’ll Go" from "Moana," because if a solid-yet-unspectacular song is going to win this award, we might as well at least get an EGOT out of it.

Best Sound Mixing

Will win: "La La Land"

Should win: "Arrival"

Best Sound Mixing isn’t just one of the most mundane of the Academy Awards, it’s also one of the most confounding for voters and viewers alike, which is odd considering its name is pretty self-explanatory: It’s for the best mixing of audio elements – music, dialogue and sound natural and created. Huh … always seemed more complicated than that.

Generally, music-heavy films do well in this category; it’s where "Whiplash" won two years ago, as well as "Les Miserables," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Dreamgirls" before. War movies, however, are often a good bet too, just for the sheer amount of sound effects and audio to work through. That would make "Hacksaw Ridge" a player here, but that thing I wrote 427 words ago about betting against "La La Land" being a poor life choice? Hasn’t changed.

Best Sound Editing

Will win: "Hacksaw Ridge"

Should win: "Deepwater Horizon"

While "Hacksaw Ridge" will come up short for Best Sound Mixing, it’s got a much better chance with that award’s awkward twin brother, Best Sound Editing (basically the best in sound creation and foley work). This Oscar almost always goes to war movies or action movies because of how hard it is to create the right sound for a gun shot, explosion or meaty headshot, and even those low on "Hacksaw Ridge" appreciate the technical spectacle of its battle sequences. So I guess I have to revoke my "betting against ‘La La Land’ is a poor life choice" credo now. 

Best Visual Effects

Will win: "The Jungle Book"

Should win: "Doctor Strange"

Last year, it was the low-key technical magic of "Ex Machina" that scored a delightfully surprising win over bigger, louder monoliths like "The Force Awakens" and "Mad Max: Fury Road." Does that mean the Academy’s mindset is changing when it comes to Best Visual Effects – normally, like most categories, awarded more often for "most" rather than "best"?

Ha ha ha … nah.

"The Jungle Book," which digitized almost everything on screen, is the obvious winner here, though I would love for the trippy, memorably psychedelic visuals in "Doctor Strange" to get the nod. 

Best Documentary

Will win: "O.J.: Made in America"

Should win: "O.J.: Made in America"

Is "O.J.: Made in America" even technically a movie? Or is it a TV mini-series? That’s the only question surrounding the Best Documentary category. Considering its successful run through awards season – and, you know, that it’s nominated in a strong field of candidates … and also "Life, Animated" – most people seem to deem Ezra Edelman’s massive achievement worthy of film status. Plus, it did have a small qualifying theatrical run. So with that out of the way, it’s hard to neglect this definitive, monumental work. Yes, it’s six hours, a brutal ask for a voter during screener season. But by the end, you’ll wonder how anyone could’ve told this immense story in less.

Best Documentary – Short Subject

Will win: "The White Helmets"

Should win: "The White Helmets"

When it comes to all of the short film categories – aka flyover categories – name recognition is the game. If voters have actually heard of you, you better have your speech written. In the case of "The White Helmets," it’s a Netflix project with George Clooney already planning to turn it into a feature film. As a special bonus, it’s about the Syrian refugee crisis, making it a timely and political pick for the Oscars in a night expected to award bubbly, dancing self-appreciation. Yes, two other nominees – "Watani" and "4.1 Miles" – are about the same topic, but only one comes with Hollywood’s Perennial Prom King’s seal of approval.

Best Animated Short Film

Will win: "Piper"

Should win: "Piper"

Quick question: How many of the five Best Animated Short Film nominees were shown before "Finding Dory," the second-most popular movie of the year? Oh, just "Piper"? OK, yeah, that one wins.

Best Live Action Short Film

Will win: "Ennemis Interieurs"

Should win: "Le Femme et le TGV"

I’ll pick "Enemis Interieurs" as what will win, "Le Hemme et le TGV" as what should win and John Travolta as the person who should definitely not present this category. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.