Only three movies have won the best picture Oscar without their directors being nominated. And, yes, one of those rare occasions happened just four years ago when “Argo” took the Oscar in the time of the Great Ben Affleck Snub. But let’s be clear. It takes some pretty special circumstances — say, temporary insanity (“Driving Miss Daisy”) — for this to happen.
That almost-ironclad stat helps streamline this year’s best picture race for predictions purposes. So long, farewell, “Lion,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures” and “Fences.” Remember: It’s an honor just to be nominated.
How do the chances look for the remaining five movies across the Oscars board? Let’s take a look, shall we …
“LA LA LAND”
Number of nominations: 14
Should win: Picture, director, lead actress, film editing, cinematography, production design, costume design, score, song, sound mixing
Could win: Original screenplay, sound editing
Analysis: With 14 nominations, “La La Land” winning best picture is a foregone conclusion. The suspense on Oscar night hinges on whether it can tie or best the record for most wins, 11, shared by “Titanic,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Ben-Hur.” (I’m guessing you understand that it’s the 1959 “Ben-Hur,” not the plodding 2016 remake.)
That’s a tall order. Though, to be clear, I’d rather watch “La La Land” for an eighth or ninth time than clear my afternoon for any one of those aforementioned, overlong epics. One challenge for “La La Land” is that because two of its nominations came in the original song category, at most, it can win 13. Ryan Gosling has always been a long shot for lead actor, a race that Casey Affleck has dominated and one that offers a towering alternative in Denzel Washington. And lead actress Emma Stone faces her own challenges in a category packed with powerful performances. Her SAG Awards win boosts her prospects.
Even die-hard fans of Damien Chazelle’s musical were a little taken aback when Chazelle won the Golden Globe for screenplay over the likes of Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”). If Chazelle manages to pull off an upset and win the original screenplay Oscar, then all bets are off. It could well be a historic night.
Number of nominations: 8
Should win: Supporting actor, adapted screenplay
Could win: Director, cinematography
Analysis: From the moment it premiered at Telluride, “Moonlight” felt like the movie that America needed. It’s about seeing people different than yourself and understanding them, empathizing with them and connecting with them. Fundamentally, it’s about the necessity of human connection.
With eight Oscar nominations, “Moonlight’s” message obviously resonated with a broad swath of academy voters. Those who love “Moonlight” adore it in a way that makes them want to take the unconverted by the hand, lead them into a theater and then offer a handkerchief and a hug when it’s over.
There isn’t any precedent for a movie like “Moonlight” winning best picture. But then, has there ever been a movie like “Moonlight”? Its passionate fan base could well lead to an upset victory for Jenkins in the director category, though, more likely, he’ll come away with an Oscar for his superb screenplay.
“MANCHESTER BY THE SEA”
Number of nominations: 6
Should win: Lead actor, original screenplay
Could win: Other than the two cited, none
Analysis: Stories about the sexual harassment allegations in “Manchester” lead Casey Affleck’s past began appearing in earnest in November. (The charges were never proven, and the civil case was settled.) Nobody seemed to care. Then, after his Oscar nomination, “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu took to Twitter, calling on voters to pay attention to their role in condoning award recipients’ actions.
Some people started to care.
Whether the renewed media attention will sway any academy members’ minds is another matter. Affleck had won every acting prize leading up to the Oscars, until Denzel Washington took the SAG Awards honor Sunday. At the very least, the much-respected “Manchester” should come away with a win for the way writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s screenplay examined grief and the need for forgiveness.
Number of nominations: 6
Should win: Sound editing
Could win: Sound mixing
Analysis: Among “La La Land’s” competitors, the film possessing the elements that position it as a winner — key nominations for director and lead actor, as well as a handful of nods for crafts — is “Hacksaw.” Now, if it had just been directed by anyone but Mel Gibson …
But if this war drama had been made by anyone other than Gibson, it wouldn’t have been as good, as Gibson shoots battle scenes better than any other director working today. (We’ll see what Christopher Nolan has up his sleeve in “Dunkirk” later this year.) Gibson’s past still presents a problem for some people, though he clearly has many friends and supporters within the industry. Consider the six nominations as the win, with a possibility for an Oscar or two if “La La Land” doesn’t completely steamroll the competition.
Number of nominations: 8
Should win: None
Could win: Production design, cinematography
Analysis: The good news: Eight nominations! The bad news: All anyone wanted to talk about was the one nomination this sci-fi epic didn’t get — Amy Adams for lead actress. Moving forward, that’s a sign that even the movie’s skeletal squid aliens would understand without any help.