Is it too early to predict the winners at the 89th Academy Awards? Not if you're Lynn Hirschberg, W's editor at large and resident Oscars prognosticator. After all, she put most of these actors in her "Best Performances" February portfolio—in the Best Supporting Actor category alone she anticipated all five nominees, including long-shots Lucas Hedges and Michael Shannon. While the nominations for the Oscars were revealed on Tuesday, with about a month to go before the ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, the contours of the race for Hollywood's highest honor are already in plain view: Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea are critical darlings that pack an emotional wallop, but their box office may have stalled, for now; La La Land and Hidden Figures are critically adored and juggernaut crowdpleasers with booming box office figures; Emma Stone may be this year's Jennifer Lawrence; everyone loves a comeback story (we're looking at you Mel Gibson); and Viola Davis may be unstoppable, with co-star and director Denzel Washington looking mighty compelling for a career-third acting Academy Award. What happens next may depend on the campaigning that happens behind the scenes by studios, streaming services and actors to get The Town's attention and its vote, but already we can make some predictions that may come in handy for your friendly Oscars pool.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Lucas Hedges is vulnerable in Manchester by the Sea but he's also funny and kind of a smartass; you believe he's from that family and he mastered the accent even though he's from New York. His father is the director Peter Hedges and apparently Kenneth Lonergan met Lucas when he was still in a stroller. Then there's Jeff Bridges. What's exciting about Hell or High Water is that it feels original, like a new Western. There's a lot in that movie that raises questions existential questions. But, Mahershala Ali is the breakout performance of the year. He's also in Hidden Figures, which everyone forgets, and he's quite in good. He's been an actor for a long time, at least 20 years—he played Taraji P. Henson's husband in Benjamin Button—and he's a really amazing actor. In some ways, he's like Viola Davis. She'd been in a lot of movies but he'd been hiding in plain sight. That's the great thing about the right part at the right time.
Other Nominees: Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Dev Patel, Lion; Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea.
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, "Fences"
Why was Nicole Kidman nominated? Because Lion is a tearjerker and it's a well-crafted film, the kind the Academy loves. Nicole has a killer scene in the early part of the movie that you can play during the show. The thing about Nicole is that she's really an artist and she takes parts that challenge her and there's something very compelling about that; she's not someone who plays it safe. To Die For, The Paperboy, but I'm even talking about The Family Fang, which no one saw. She has a small part in a movie called Genius and she's great in that; she takes parts that intrigue her and that's brave. Michelle Williams is also brave. She went and visited, Manchester, the town, like 30 times and she'd hang out there just absorbing the people. And it's a small part! You gotta love that. Naomi Harris had to do that whole part in Moonlight in three days because of visa problems; to establish that bond with three actors and they're all children is very difficult. But why is Viola Davis going to win? Because she's done tons of great work, and she's due, and she's also great in the movie. Plus, she'll give a great speech and let's not underestimate the fact that people want a great speech. I would argue Meryl Streep got a nomination because she gave a great speech at the Golden Globes.
Other Nominees: Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea.
Best Lead Actress: Emma Stone, "La La Land"
It's a really tight race between Emma Stone, Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman. Isabelle Huppert is interesting because I think she benefitted from the Golden Globes. She has history on her aside in the sense she's been an actress for many years, and is very highly regarded as an actor's actor. Natalie Portman has on her side that she played Jackie Kennedy and she's magnificent in the film. Her previous Oscar counts against her a little bit, but this performance is seen as something of a return because when she won she disappeared for a while. She directed her movie, and it was very good, but not very many people saw it. Emma Stone is absolutely wonderful in the movie. Even though Natalie is young person, Emma represents the next generation of actors, like Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. She can do anything, and I think most people feel that way. This is a tight race, which is unusual for Best Actress; generally you're hard-pressed to find five great female roles and this year you have an abundance of riches. In any other year, Annette Bening and Amy Adams would have been nominated, Taraji P. Henson, too.
Other Nominees: Natalie Portman, Jackie; Ruth Negga, Loving; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins; Isabelle Huppert, Elle.
Best Lead Actor: Denzel Washington, "Fences"
I'm totally biased here because I really want Casey Affleck to win, but he's going to have his work cut out for him because a lot of people will want Denzel Washington to win. Denzel is an elder statesman, he directed the movie, and it's August Wilson; it's like doing Shakespeare. And he's incredible in the movie! He's astonishing, he's a genuine movie star. When he walks on-screen, the whole thing stops. He's got the range and the energy and he's big. There's something to be said for that. Just like Sidney Poitier or Cary Grant or Paul Newman, he's an old-school, break-your-heart genuine movie star. And that has its own power. Tom Hanks is an elder statesman too, but whatever reason Sully didn't resonate with the Academy and Tom Hanks doesn't campaign. Unfortunately, in this day and age, you have to work the movie. Viggo is a perfect example of this. He loved Captain Fantastic and he kept promoting it; everywhere I went there was an interview with him. Ryan Gosling learned to play the piano for the movie and he's great, but I don't think anyone thinks of him as the soul of the movie; they think it's Emma. And I'm sure Andrew Garfield is happy to be nominated Hacksaw Ridge but he really would have liked Silence acknowledged in some way. It's just a difficult movie to watch. It was a late release and it's hard on a screener; it's not the kind of movie you want to pop in and say, 'I want to watch Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver starve to death and look for a priest.' Manchester is not a breeze either, or Fences, but those movies are highly verbal and Silence is very quiet. Still, there's something innately holy about him; he's actively virtuous.
Other Nominees: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge.
Best Director: Damien Chazelle, "La La Land", or Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
It's a race between Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins. The takeaway of these nominations is the Academy is celebrating new blood and that's very exciting. Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins, Denis Villeneuve and, to some degree, Kenneth Lonergan are all people who are new to this party. Kenneth does something that's very difficult to do, which is that in the middle of bleak tragedy he can find humor and he's better than anyone at observing human nature, especially in families, and especially with siblings and parents. And for Mel Gibson, it's a welcome back party. Aside from his outburst, he has a lot of allies in Hollywood, people like Jodie Foster and Robert Downey Jr. I don't have a problem with this; I judge things on the work, and he made a good movie. Andrew Garfield was great in it and it tells a very American story; war movies like American Sniper have always had an audience in the Academy. Martin Scorsese, on the other hand, is more popular with the Academy when he deals with the devil than he does with saints, in general—look at Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed versus Kundun. Virtue is a difficult thing for people to watch, they like to have their virtue with some violence, which is something Mel Gibson understands very well.
Other Nominees: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival; Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea.
Best Picture: "La La Land"
The general rule of thumb with the Oscars is that the more below-the-line people, the members of various guilds, who vote in favor of nominating, the better your chances of winning are. The record nominations for La La Land bodes well. Hidden Figures is a big crowdpleaser and it's the kind of movie people used to make a lot and they don't anymore, it's a movie about beating the odds. You want to take your kids to it and everybody feels inspired in the end. And it helps that it's making money. And it works really well as a screener. That's how most people see movies now and that's a really strong factor in determining who gets nominated. It's timing was good because it came close to when the voting began. Timing matters a lot. It's a testament to Hell or High Water, which came out during the Cannes Film Festival, that it's still popular. The rest of the movies—Fences, La La Land—came out on Christmas. The race is now between La La Land and Moonlight. Once the nominations are in, everything chances. There's only so many things you can do between now and voting, so you're not going to massive parties for either movie. What you're going to see, if I were to guess, is a lot of Emma and Ryan. It's going to have its own momentum, and the fact that it's not nominated for a Screen Actors Guild may be a blessing in disguise because it makes it look like an underdog. Moonlight is, like I say, good for the planet because it says something about acceptance and tolerance. But I don't think people necessarily vote for the politically correct movie. It would be nice! But you vote alone, you don't vote in a room; it's not a caucus. They vote for things that make them happy, especially in Hollywood they vote for things that remind them of themselves, like Argo, where Hollywood saves the day.
Other Nominees: Moonlight; Manchester by the Sea; Arrival; Lion; Hacksaw Ridge; Hidden Figures; Fences; Hell or High Water.
Watch the 2017 Academy Award Nominees: