What starts out as a frontrunner when buzz builds in December can lose steam down the stretch during a long awards season, especially when that elusive momentum ebbs and flows.
When the 89th annual Academy Awards are presented Sunday night, what films will be the lasting impressions of 2016?
Can “La La Land” stay in the lead, and be the first musical to win Best Picture since 2000’s “Chicago”?
With its 14 nominations, tying a record along with “Titanic” and “All About Eve,” “La La Land” could have a historic night. The most ever wins is by three films, each with 11: “Titanic,” “Ben-Hur” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Hailed for its innovation as well as its homage to the past, “La La Land” could pick up director, cinematography, music score, song and more — but 11 may be too hard to achieve. There is a pesky backlash, so it could be vulnerable to an upset.
Eight other contenders vie for Best Picture, too, and I wouldn’t count any of them out, as there is not a weak one on the list. “Hidden Figures” has turned into a crowd pleaser, the kind of feel-good sentimental story people relate to, while “Moonlight” has been hailed for its message as well as its techniques.
The outcome is in the hands of some 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and surprises have been known to happen. This year’s membership is more diverse than in any moment in AMPAS’ revered and somewhat controversial history.
Here are my hunches as to what the envelopes will reveal Sunday night. The ceremony kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on ABC, with first-time host Jimmy Kimmel.
▪ Will Win: “La La Land”
▪ Should Win: “La La Land”
▪ Wild Card: “Moonlight”
Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. That reason, along with how superb and lovingly crafted “La La Land” is, makes it the clear favorite. Although “Moonlight” is waiting in the wings to swoop.
▪ Will Win: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
▪ Should Win: Chazelle
▪ Wild Card: Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
A true visionary, Chazelle showed promise with “Whiplash” and now gets the acclaim for pulling off a minor miracle. He won the Directors’ Guild, which is also a good indication.
▪ Will Win: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
▪ Should Win: Affleck
▪ Wild Card: Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Affleck’s gut-wrenching portrayal of a man shut down by unspeakable tragedy is so tightly controlled, it deserves every award he’s received. But it’s a marathon, and some backlash due to personal troubles persists.
It’s tough to win a third, but Denzel is beloved, and he always delivers.
▪ Will Win: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
▪ Should Win: Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
▪ Wild Card: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Portman goes through an emotional tsunami as the first lady during the days after JFK’s assassination. She not only looks the part, but captures all the nuances necessary.
Emma Stone’s Mia is tougher than she looks, and the acting range is impressive, not to mention singing and dancing. But is it really the best of the year? Not really.
Huppert plays a monster with such skill, it’s a chilling portrait that you can’t shake off — and yes, very disturbing.
Best Supporting Actor
▪ Will Win: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
▪ Should Win: Ali
▪ Wild Card: Dev Patel, “Lion”
Ali is tremendous as father-figure Juan. Just watch the swimming scene, and you’re sold. An actor of power and subtlety, he is destined to give us more worthy performances, but this one sears in your brain.
Best Supporting Actress
▪ Will Win: Viola Davis, “Fences”
▪ Should Win: Davis
▪ Wild Card: Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
It’s Viola’s to lose, and not just because she plays the lead. She’s the heart, soul and conscience of August Wilson’s volatile work.
▪ Best Foreign Film: “The Salesman”
▪ Best Animated Feature: “Zootopia”
▪ Best Documentary Feature: “13th”
▪ Best Original Screenplay: “Manchester by the Sea”
▪ Best Adapted Screenplay: “Moonlight”
▪ Best Cinematography: “La La Land”
▪ Best Editing: “Hacksaw Ridge”
▪ Best Costume Design: “Jackie”
▪ Best Original Song: “City of Stars” (although don’t discount Justin Timberlake or Lin-Manuel Miranda)
▪ Best Original Score: “La La Land”
▪ Best Visual Effects: This might be the only opportunity for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
▪ Best Production Design: “Fantastic Beasts”
▪ Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Star Trek Beyond”
▪ Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing: “Arrival”
▪ Best Animated Short: “Piper”
▪ Best Live Action Short: “Ennemis Interieurs”
▪ Best Documentary Short: “Joe’s Violin”