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The Oscar Nominations We Expect, Want, and Simply Won’t Stand for

Natalie Portman is definitely getting a nod, ‘Sully’ should get more attention, and please, pay directors of color the attention they deserve

(Getty Images/Ringer Illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer Illustration)

Awards season enters its final stretch on Tuesday, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences releases the nominations for this year’s Oscars. Here, Ringer staffers give their predictions for the nominations we’re certain will happen, the ones we’d like to see most, and the nods we’ll be ready to grumble about vigorously.

BEST PICTURE

One Thing That Will Happen: ‘DeadpoolWill Get Nominated

In 2010, the academy expanded the Best Picture field from five films to upwards of 10 to make sure another Dark Knight situation — a critically appreciated and commercially successful hit, elbowed out of the running by more traditional awards fare — didn’t happen. This worked well last year, when films like The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road lined up against critical darlings like Room and Spotlight. That being said, I doubt that whoever at the Academy made that rule change ever imagined the nomination of an anti-superhero movie made up of elaborate dick jokes and Spin Doctors burns. But not all heroes wear capes — sometimes they wear full-body suits and say things like, “Your right leg is Thanksgiving and your left leg is Christmas. Can I come and visit you between the holidays?”

This year’s Academy Awards don’t need Deadpool. La La Land is well on its way to crossing $100 million at the domestic box office, Arrival should follow suit, and Hidden Figures will get there soon (though the latter two aren’t locks for nominations). Personally, I found Rogue One a more compelling blockbuster this year. Even if its plotlines were all rooted in 1977, it was more entertaining than Deadpool, which had a sense of humor that seemed straight out of the 1990s, like an anthology of unused jokes from Mallrats. There’s enough popular fare in the likely Best Picture nominees that Deadpool’s inclusion would be additive rather than essential. But it will still get nominated.

One Thing I Want to Happen: ‘O.J.: Made in America Gets a Nod

No documentary has ever been nominated for Best Picture, but if that was ever going to change, this year would be a great time for it. There was some talk at the end of last year that Ava DuVernay’s 13th could be in line for a Best Picture shout, but why not O.J.: Made In America? It is perhaps the most critically lauded piece of pop culture released in 2016, and it had a cursory run in movie theaters, qualifying it for the awards. And beyond its content, the questions surrounding its format — is it a piece of television or a movie? — could make it a progressive choice for the category. The lines between the two are ever-blurring. The Academy may be infatuated by its own traditions, but wouldn’t it be bold for it to acknowledge an accomplishment like Made in America?

One Thing I Will Not Abide Happening: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ Being Shut Out

Let. Amy. Adams. Read.

— Chris Ryan

BEST ACTRESS

One Thing That Will Happen: Ruth Negga and Natalie Portman Will Cash In

Roses are red, violets are blue, and playing a well-known historical figure at a crucial juncture in both their lives and the country’s history gets you an Oscar nomination. No matter that Loving (and Ruth Negga’s performance in it) is designed to undercut our expectations for Very Important True Stories, nor that Natalie Portman’s Jackie is an atonal arthouse film swaddled in a biopic. Both of them will be on Tuesday’s final list, even though neither is likely to take home a statue. (That honor will go to Emma Stone.) Loving and Jackie are oddly similar: Both are difficult — too quiet and too strange, respectively — films that are Trojan horsed by easy ideas. A Best Actress nod is the only nomination either is likely to get, and it’s a deserved yet limited honor we’ll have to make our peace with.

One Thing I Want to Happen: Let’s Salute Some Ladies of Distinction

Isabelle Huppert or Annette Bening is likely to slip in between Negga, Portman, Stone, Amy Adams, and an off-peak Meryl Streep (more on that in a moment). Either would make me overjoyed. The academy isn’t quite as friendly to foreign nominees as the Golden Globes, which just handed Huppert a statue for her work as a steely rape survivor in Elle — but the Globes may have put her immeasurably complicated performance over the edge. Bening, meanwhile, might have given the least flashy performance in the field; she’s not a uniquely gifted empath, like Adams, or a boozily traumatized widow in a pillbox, like Portman. Yet the work she does imbuing her character with personal and cultural history is astonishing even before she breaks it down with Billy Crudup, and the Oscars were into the last Mike Mills–facilitated portrait of one of his parents. I don’t dare to hope both will snag a nomination, but anything’s possible.

One Thing I Will Not Abide Happening: A Nomination for Lesser Meryl Streep

Friends, Romans, countrymen — it is time to bring the Meryl Streep Courtesy Nod to its desperately needed end. With three statuettes and a very recent lifetime achievement award under her belt, Meryl Streep does not need our validation. It is, in fact, slightly insulting to throw Meryl a nomination no matter how far her marquee role in any given year is from her astronomical heights, as seems to be the academy’s current policy. However more bearable she makes a Rob Thomas musical (Into the Woods being the MSCN’s true zenith), Streep shouldn’t be guaranteed one of five precious slots in any given acting category. And what proves a minor annoyance in duller Oscar years would be a true abomination in this one. A Florence Foster Jenkins nomination threatens to knock out Bening, or Huppert, or Negga, and it almost certainly forecloses the possibility of a surprise Taraji P. Henson breakthrough; even Meryl herself would have to admit any one of those snubs would be a damn shame. Just because an MSCN is all but locked in doesn’t make it any less unbearable.

— Alison Herman

BEST ACTOR

One Thing That Will Happen: Nothing Surprising

We already knew that this was a two-horse race, as confirmed by Casey Affleck’s Denzel-thanking Golden Globes acceptance speech. So Affleck’s extra-muted anguish in Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington’s not-muted-in-the-least anguish in Fences are as close to guarantees as we’ve got. But the real surprise is how little surprise is left here: Gold Derby’s odds have Affleck and Washington at one and two, followed by Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), and late-surging Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic). The next-most-likely nominees have odds no better than 50–1. So that’s what will happen: Three guys with great hair will win the right to lose to Casey Affleck or Denzel Washington.

One Thing That Should Happen: Tom Hanks’s ‘Sully’ Gets a Look

Forget Silence. For my money, Clint Eastwood’s sturdy black box Sully is the year’s best meditation on faith, doubt, and vocation. Sure, Tom Hanks needs Oscar recognition like we need 20 — 20! — movie musicals in development. But it’s been more than 15 years since Hanks’s last nomination (for Cast Away), and his Chesley Sullenberger hit me not so much for its technical accomplishment (it’s basically Tom Hanks + mustache) as for its invocation of a man staring down his own obsolescence. It’s not a spoiler to say that Sully wins the day, but Hanks makes it clear that the victory — any victory — is, in the long run, temporary. It’s not a nomination Tom Hanks needs — but it’s one he deserves.

One Thing I Will Not Abide Happening: A ‘Deadpool’ Long Shot

There’s so little wiggle room in the predicted nominees that there’s little risk of the unthinkable happening. I’ll say this, anyway: Ryan Reynolds seems like a chill guy, a dogged producer, and an excellent comedic actor. But please put Deadpool in a time capsule marked “2016 — horrible mistakes that seemed fun and harmless at the time” (you get one guess as to what else is in there) and bury it at the bottom of the ocean.

— Sam Schube

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

One Thing That Will Happen: An Upset

Earlier this month, Mahershala Ali — critical darling, year-end awards sweeper, and erstwhile Remy Danton — was finally denied an accolade at the Golden Globes, which handed its supporting actor prize to Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The Nocturnal Animals actor gave a performance that will likely be best remembered for one of cinema history’s more elegant toilet scenes, but the loss did reveal a crack in Ali’s campaign. Best Supporting Actor is a tricky prize to predict, a genre-blind grouping with arrhythmic patterns — side-playing movie stars, under-rewarded veterans, and flashy quasi-unknowns are all prone to pick up a statue. For every Christian Bale there is a Christoph Waltz, for every Christopher Plummer there is a Cuba Gooding Jr. This year’s crop is weaker than usual, which means a heat-seeker like Taylor-Johnson could swoop in. But I’m betting it’s his costar Michael Shannon, an extremely well-regarded actor who was nominated in 2009 for Revolutionary Road, who grabs Ali’s expected shine.

One Thing That Should Happen: The Once and Future King Ralph Shall Be Recognized

John Goodman is the most overlooked film actor of his generation. His television peers have recognized him 10 times at the Emmys, but he’s never even sniffed an Academy nomination. 10 Cloverfield Lane is far from Oscars fare, was released nearly a year ago, and has one of the goofiest endings I can recall. But Goodman’s performance — as a doomsday prepper who could be seen as an eerily prescient figure of the current climate — is one of the fiercest and funkiest of recent times.

Recalling his menacingly sweet work in Barton Fink and the recent The Gambler remake, Goodman toggles between big-hearted galoot and raging philosopher with grace and power. Reward this man, somebody. (I would also settle for Ralph Fiennes in A Bigger Splash, Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar!, or André Holland in Moonlight. None will happen.)

One Thing I Will Not Abide Happening: The Fop Foiling the Front-Runner

Hugh Grant is actually terrific in Florence Foster Jenkins, and has affirmed the longheld belief of Nine Months fans: He is a gifted seriocomic performer with more depth than he’s given credit for. But this movie is a trifle, and the prospect of his seizing the “We’ve always liked him and are glad he turned things around” winning narrative at the expense of Mahershala Ali would be deeply unfortunate.

— Sean Fennessey

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

One Thing That Will Happen: Viola Davis Will Win the Oscar

I’m skipping right past nominations on this one; Viola is as close to a lock as you can have at this point, and her performance in Fences is moving and worthy. So I’d like to use this opportunity to address the charges of “category fraud” that have plagued Viola Davis, future Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner. Some individuals have pointed out that her character, Rose, is technically the largest female role in Fences, and that Davis spends more time on screen than her fellow nominees. Fine. Maybe that’s true. Also: Who cares? We are arguing about arbitrary rules in a famous people pageant; the people who made this up also saw fit to make a Deadpool nomination a real possibility. Literally none of this matters except for the part when Great American Actress Viola Davis gets to stand up on the stage and accept a much-deserved award for her body of work. I want to see that. We all want to see that. Break as many bylaws as you have to.

One Thing I Want to Happen: #NotNicole

Davis, Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), and Naomie Harris (Moonlight) are all deserving and mostly guaranteed, which leaves us with two open spots. Here is where I say that I love Nicole Kidman (I do!) and that I’m truly excited for her Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries Emmy win for Big Little Lies (I am!). But the Lion nomination is inessential, and she’s taking up a spot that could go to Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) or Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women) or Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, though she deserves it for Moonlight, too). One of those women will get nominated anyway — the smart money says Spencer, since she was nominated for the Golden Globes and SAG Awards as well — but it’d be nice to see Monáe or Gerwig in the mix. This is the spot for newcomers! Make some room.

One Thing I Will Not Abide Happening: Playing Viola Off

Don’t do it.

— Amanda Dobbins

BEST DIRECTOR

One Thing That Will Happen: A Damien Chazelle–Barry Jenkins Throwdown

It’s impossible to discuss the likely nominations for Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins independently: You aren’t predicting either man’s triumph so much as you’re faced with an inevitable showdown. Bet your money on a showdown. I’m much more enamored of Jenkins’s lyrical, incisive direction of Moonlight, which is as much a product of the storied tradition of black independent filmmaking as it is a tribute to international greats like Claire Denis and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. But let’s be clear: There’s much to admire in Chazelle’s handling of his deliberately anachronistic La La Land, which at its very best doesn’t merely imitate past musicals so much as it liberates our understanding of contemporary L.A. through song and dance. (It’s a fictional fantasy, obvi.) La La Land is a deeply flawed movie, but also a tough one to get right. I admire the attempt, if not so much what it’s getting after.

One Thing I Want to Happen: ‘O.J.’ Gets Another Nod

There are plenty of unlikely directors I’d nevertheless love to see make the cut this year. Clint Eastwood’s Sully is a much richer and more vigorous view on the politics of American professionalism than you’d get from hearing Eastwood himself discuss politics — and thank God for that. I’m a softy for Martin Scorsese’s seemingly-hundred-year passion project Silence, too. But those are veteran masters working at the height of their prime: Neither nomination would be a risk, or even very imaginative. A nomination for Ezra Edelman, on the other hand, would be. O.J.: Made in America sat atop the cultural conversation last year, which is one reason it ought to be discussed in this category — as well as Best Picture. In some ways it seems like a shoo-in: It’s very clearly a monumental project (and you know the Oscars lo-o-o-ve importance). It’s long as hell, which implies that it was a ton of work (and you know the Oscars love to give an A for effort). And as important as it is, it’s also, quite simply, extremely entertaining. But: It’s a documentary. And though I know of no rule that says documentarians cannot be nominees, that seems to be the custom. It’s too bad. Edelman should be nominated — and could even win — for its nightmarish final episode alone.

One Thing I Will Not Abide Happening: #OscarsSoWhite — Again

Unlike most years, I’m not too worried about at least one complete hack sneaking into the proceedings. There’s no The Imitation Game to worry about — no Room from which the Oscars ought to escape. But what resonates, this year, is that diversity in filmmaking, and at every level of filmmaking — production, cinematography, sound mixing, whatever else — makes movies better. Makes us, the audience, better.

What I absolutely cannot abide is a year in which all five director nominees are white guys. It just wouldn’t make sense. Not only is it not reflective of contemporary Hollywood, it simply isn’t true. Are you really gonna tell me Spike Lee never deserved a Best Director nod — ever? Do the Right Thing, bruh. You really gonna tell me Morten Tyldum’s boring historical moralism in The Imitation Game was superior to Ava DuVernay’s richly observed, even journalistic, take on Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma? Thankfully, directors like Ang Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, and Steve McQueen have been nominated for the award in recent years — and have sometimes even won. Let’s make it the standard.

— K. Austin Collins