Oscar Watch: First round of predictions in wake of ‘Billy Lynn’s’ NYFF premiere

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’
From left: Garrett Hedlund, Ismael Cruz, Joe Alwyn and Vin Diesel in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”

Following the New York Film Festival premiere of Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” the main topic of discussion focused on “frame rate,” and Lee, sounding tentative and a bit nervous about the finished product, asked the audience for “feedback.” 

Not exactly the way you want to launch a best picture Oscar campaign.

Lee’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s inspired novel about an Iraq war hero trying to reconcile the hoopla of his homecoming with the trauma he suffered overseas entered the festival as one of the season’s most anticipated films. And it leaves with a mixed bag of impressions, with some appreciating its thoughtful look at the ambiguities of war and patriotism and others lamenting that its immersive 4K resolution, 120-per-second frame rate distracted and distanced them from the story. It’s sure to remain one of the year’s most debated movies.

The “Billy Lynn” premiere leads into our first set of Oscar Watch predictions. Here’s the deal: If a movie or performance is already placed among the nominees in the lists below, accept it as 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 (or roundly ignore, as was the case with “The Birth of a Nation”) the work, I’ll adjust the predictions accordingly over the next weeks and months.

So join me every Monday as we puzzle through the Oscar nomination picture until the academy reveals its picks on Jan. 24.


“La La Land,” left, and “Hidden Figures”
“La La Land,” left, and “Hidden Figures”
(Dale Robinette / Lionsgate; Hopper Stone )


Nomination locks

“La La Land”

“Manchester by the Sea”



Prime contenders


“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”




“Hell or High Water”

“Toni Erdmann”

“20th Century Women”


Not yet seen

“Hidden Figures”




“Live by Night”


Analysis: The projected nominees have been screened and battle-tested at film festivals. And since you have to go back a decade to “The Departed” to find a best picture winner that didn’t play at Cannes, Telluride, Venice or Toronto, we’ve probably already seen the Oscar-winning movie. (Congratulations, “La La Land”! This almost makes up for “Oliver!” winning. Almost.

Of course, “The Revenant” and “The Big Short” nearly changed that particular awards season dynamic last year. And it’s possible that one of this year’s late-breaking December releases throws a curve into this year’s race.

The crazy thing about that is that, if it happens, it might not be the new Martin Scorsese movie (“Silence”) or the adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play (“Fences”), but possibly the follow-up from the guy who made the Bill Murray comedy “St. Vincent.” That’s how good “Hidden Figures,” Ted Melfi’s movie based on the real stories of three black female math geniuses who helped NASA launch astronaut John Glenn into space in 1962, looked when it screened a handful of scenes at Toronto. It could be the sort of uplifting commercial movie that, like “The Help” and “The Blind Side,” makes serious inroads with populist members of the academy.


Isabelle Huppert, left, and Ruth Negga.
Isabelle Huppert, left, and Ruth Negga.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times )

Nomination locks

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: With four women staking solid claims on nominations, it’s likely that Davis will opt to be placed in the supporting category. Her “Fences” role has won Tonys both in supporting (awarded to Mary Alice in 1987) and lead (Davis herself for the 2010 revival) actress categories. I’ve been leaning toward Huppert for the fifth spot, but would like some indication that the academy won’t freak out over Paul Verhoeven’s rape-centered provocation before signing off. And Henson did look awesome in that “Hidden Figures” footage shown at Toronto.


Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times )

Nomination locks

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Prime contenders

Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”

Joel Edgerton, “Loving”

Tom Hanks, “Sully”

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: Where the lead actress race feels almost closed already, the men could find their ranks dominated by turns in December movies. And if Washington the director serves Washington the actor (and, judging from the “Fences” trailer, does he ever), it looks like he’ll have an Oscar to go along with the Tony he won for his lead turn in August Wilson’s play.


Naomie Harris, left, and Michelle Williams
Naomie Harris, left, and Michelle Williams
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times; Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times )

Nomination locks

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 Monae, “Hidden Figures”

Analysis: Can you win an Oscar for just one scene? Absolutely. Beatrice Straight did it for her four-minute emotional tour de force opposite William Holden in “Network” in 1977 and Judi Dench did it playing Queen Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love” two decades later.

I didn’t have a stopwatch on Michelle Williams in “Manchester by the Sea,” and even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to read it through the tears. But she has one tender, cathartic scene with Casey Affleck late in the movie that will take a sledgehammer to your heart. I’d rate it ahead of both Straight and Dench. Will that win Williams the Oscar? Too early to tell. But she will be justly celebrated.


Mahershala Ali from “Moonlight”
Mahershala Ali from “Moonlight”
(Grant Pollard / Invision )

Nomination locks

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Prime contenders

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Andre 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: Really, you could fill this entire category with the men of “Moonlight.” But it’s Ali’s soulful turn as the unlikely mentor to the story’s struggling young man that hits the hardest. The scene in which he teaches 10-year-old Chiron to swim is among the year’s best, a baptismal into a sea of hopeful possibility. So let’s plant the flag now in a category that will remain in flux until “Fences” screens next month.


From left: Damien Chazelle, Kenneth Lonergan, Barry Jenkins
From left: Damien Chazelle, Kenneth Lonergan, Barry Jenkins
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times )

Nomination locks

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 usual, some worthy names will be overlooked and there will be cries of “Did the movie just direct itself?” about the directors of the best picture nominees left off this list. (Eight or nine films will likely be nominated, but only five directors.)

I’m inclined to put Jenkins among the nominees now, as voters for the directors award love to reward relative newcomers with distinct, personal visions. (Think Lenny Abrahamson for “Room” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild’s” Benh Zeitlin.) But there have also been years where name brands have dominated. So it’s best to wait and see if Scorsese has found something approaching God with “Silence” and if Washington manages to free “Fences” from its stage roots.

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Twitter: @glennwhipp


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