Oscar Watch: Latest predictions with good news for 'Moonlight' and 'Loving'

Last week’s initial Oscar predictions brought a query or two from readers questioning my certainty about the best picture chances of Jeff Nichols’ beautiful, moving civil rights drama “Loving.”

The film, opening in theaters Nov. 4, screened Saturday night for Oscar voters at the film academy’s Samuel L. Goldwyn Theater. Academy members gave lead actors Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton long, sustained standing ovations for their turns as Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple who fought Virginia to recognize their interracial marriage. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in 1967.

“Loving” also found respect with academy voters attending its premiere Thursday night, and Focus Features had to turn away about 30 people at a weekend Screen Actors Guild screening. The common thread through all three events was a deep appreciation for the sensitive way the filmmakers told the Lovings’ story, a vital piece of U.S. history that most in attendance marveled they didn’t know before seeing the movie.

These reactions confirmed my initial belief that “Loving” will earn a best picture nomination both for its artistry and because academy members like to reward movies that tell an essential story. It’s a vote they’ll feel good about making.

Which brings us to the Oscar Watch predictions, Week 2.

Here’s the deal: If I’ve already placed a movie or performance in the circle of trust in the lists below, it’s the gospel truth. A nomination is guaranteed. Prime contender spots are reserved for films, actors and directors on the bubble. They're (probably) deserving and could be nominated, but the remaining contenders need to be seen before putting them in the circle of trust.

As the yet-to-screen contenders are unveiled and academy members have a chance to delve into the work, I’ll adjust the predictions over the coming weeks until the academy reveals its picks on Jan. 24.

BEST PICTURE

Circle of trust

“La La Land”

“Manchester by the Sea”

“Moonlight”

"Loving”

Prime contenders

“Jackie”

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

“Sully”

“Lion”

“Hell or High Water”

“Toni Erdmann”

“20th Century Women”

“Arrival”

Not yet seen

“Hidden Figures”

“Fences”

“Silence”

“Live by Night”

“Allied”

Analysis: Some readers also questioned my confidence in “Moonlight,” but after grossing more than $400,000 in just four theaters this weekend, it’s clear that Barry Jenkins’ intimate coming-of-age drama is poised to become an indie and, perhaps, crossover hit. I’ve been beating the drum for this movie since March, and every step of the way — festival reactions, reviews and now box office — it has exceeded expectations. With a 99 rating on review aggregator Metacritic, it prompted the New York Times to ask, “Is this the year’s best movie?” Rolling Stone’s review gladly supplied the answer.

LEAD ACTRESS

Circle of trust

Emma Stone, “La La Land”

Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Ruth Negga, “Loving”

Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”

Prime contenders

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”

Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Jessica Chastain, “Miss Sloane”

Amy Adams, “Arrival”

Not yet seen

Viola Davis, “Fences”

Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”

Analysis: Voters are seeing Negga probably for the first time with “Loving” (unless there are a lot of closet “Preacher” fans in the academy), and they’re finding it hard to resist the 34-year-old Ethiopian-Irish actress both for the quiet conviction of her acting and the graceful intelligence she displays in interviews.

LEAD ACTOR

Circle of trust

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Prime contenders

Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”

Joel Edgerton, “Loving”

Tom Hanks, “Sully”

Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Miles Teller, “Bleed for This”

Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”

Not yet seen

Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Andrew Garfield, “Silence”

Michael Keaton, “The Founder”

Matthew McConaughey, “Gold”

Robert De Niro, “The Comedian”

Will Smith, “Collateral Beauty”

Analysis: Three thoughts for the week: 1) If Mel Gibson’s past didn’t pose so many complications, Garfield would probably be a lock this year for his committed turn as a true-life war hero in Gibson’s thrilling “Hacksaw Ridge.” 2) Edgerton’s longest run of dialogue in “Loving” consists of three, maybe four, lines. Not the kind of turn that usually pops in this category, but he’s so good in the unspoken moments that it might not matter. 3) There’s already a sequel to “Sully”? The best part about this “Saturday Night Live” sketch is Hanks’ total commitment to selling the premise of a Sully bitter at being relegated to co-pilot status. “Have you seen ‘Sully’? It’s about me.”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Circle of trust

Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”

Prime contenders

Nicole Kidman, “Lion”

Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women”

Felicity Jones, “A Monster Calls”

Not yet seen

Viola Davis, “Fences”

Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

Janelle Monáe, “Hidden Figures”

Analysis: The “Moonlight” buzz and box office further locks in Harris, who will also be seen later this year in the Will Smith movie “Collateral Beauty.” Playing the protagonist’s troubled mother, the British-born Harris filmed all her “Moonlight” scenes over a three-day weekend break from promoting her turn as Moneypenny in the last James Bond movie, “Spectre.” Her performance will floor you. The degree-of-difficulty only adds to its power.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Circle of trust

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Prime contenders

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

André Holland, “Moonlight”

Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Simon Helberg, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Aaron Eckhart, “Bleed for This”

Not yet seen

Stephen Henderson, “Fences”

Jovan Adepo, “Fences”

Liam Neeson, “Silence”

Analysis: Bridges earned a Gotham Awards nomination last week, which, in and of itself, isn’t headline news. But the nod did come in the lead actor category — the awards, voted on mostly by small committees of critics, don't have supporting groups — which again signifies the heft of Bridges’ role as the Texas Ranger on the brink of retirement in the great crime-western "Hell or High Water."

DIRECTOR

Circle of trust

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Prime contenders

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

Jeff Nichols, “Loving”

Pablo Larrain, “Jackie”

Ang Lee, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

Clint Eastwood, “Sully”

Garth Davis, “Lion”

Not yet seen

Martin Scorsese, “Silence”

Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Analysis: As noted in the best picture section, the critical and commercial reaction to “Moonlight” is making Jenkins' movie the indie to beat this awards season. The movie screens for academy members in Los Angeles on Sunday. I can’t wait to see how it plays with the matinee crowd.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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