Breaking Down the Oscars: Categories to Watch

This week we are breaking down some of the top categories for the 2017 Academy Awards based on awards movies have already won, past Oscar voting trends, and some gut instinct. Today we’re looking at a few miscellaneous categories, including best director, animated feature, and documentary. For my analysis on these categories and more, read on:

Best Director

And the nominees are: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival; Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge; Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

This is a packed field. I would be satisfied seeing the trophy go any of the five ways. Denis Villeneuve will probably be seen as the weakest link here, even though five of the 12 films of his career have attracted multiple award nominations; Incendies was nominated for best foreign language film back in 2011. Academy voting trends show a stigma against sci-fi films and I think that will ultimately hold him down.

Mel Gibson is a tour de force in Hacksaw Ridge; the film flows with seamless transitions through sweet romance, drama and all-out war. I usually dread seeing war films because some of them can get too realistic for my comfort. However, Gibson crafted excellent action sequences that had me stunned. With Andrew Garfield in the lead, Gibson was able to create not just a film, but an entire journey.

I do think the gold will go to one of the directors of the chosen three films, though. All signs point to Damien Chazelle; he has scooped up the Critics Choice, Golden Globe and Directors Guild awards, and there is no sign of him stopping. Kenneth Lonergan’s seasoned seat in the directors’ chair is obvious, as he manages to create a lived-in atmosphere his actors soar in. If Hacksaw is an journey, Manchester is an experience. Barry Jenkins brought the entire story of his main character to life in less than two hours, an impressive feat for his second directing project.

This analysis really got me no closer to picking a favorite.

Should win: Mel Gibson

Will win: Damien Chazelle

Best Original Screenplay

And the nominees are: Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water; Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Mike Mills, 20th Century Woman

It is going to come down to the three films are that already nominated for a bunch of other awards. The Lobster is quirky and artsy, and I am sure 20th Century Woman is a riot (I have not seen that one yet). But I can not see either one winning. Hell or High Water has an outside chance, but I think we can expect this category to go to one of the two remaining nominees.

There is nothing particularly standout about La La Land’s screenplay. The film is all about flash – yes, the screenplay paves the way to do this, and yes, it is a really good screenplay. Still, I don't see a reason to choose it over Lonergan’s screenplay for Manchester, which slowly unravels its characters at the seams. Lonergan’s story rises and falls gradually, like waves lapping at sand on a beach. (By the sea, of course.) While both are good choices, Lonergan’s has a finesse that is rare to come by.

Should win: Kenneth Lonergan

Will win: Kenneth Lonergan

Best Adapted Screenplay

And the nominees are: Eric Heisserer, Arrival; August Wilson, Fences; Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder, Hidden Figures; Luke Davies, Lion; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

This is an easy victory for Moonlight. The film, based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, is a beautiful progression of an insecure boy to a man who must bury those insecurities. I predict the night will play out with Moonlight and La La Land alternatively winning awards, with this being a key victory for the former.

Fences is another strong choice. August Wilson, the playwright of the original, was able to complete a screenplay for his story before passing away in 2005, which Washington honored closely. Lion has the advantage of telling a true story, based on the book A Long Way Home written by Saroo Brierly, who is played by Dev Patel in the film. Also based on a true story, Hidden Figures has proven to be timely in the current political climate.

Everything in this category is worthy, but it is an easy call.

Should win: Barry Jenkins

Will win: Barry Jenkins

Best Animated Film

And the nominees are: Kubo and the Two Strings; Moana; My Life as a Zucchini; The Red Turtle; Zootopia

This is perhaps the most predictable category year-to-year. Disney and/or Pixar will invariably see their big releases of the year up for the trophy, while voters struggle to fill the remaining nomination slots with films from smaller production companies. Foreign animated films like My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle are inevitably kicked to the wayside as voters debate over which Disney film made their heart the fuzziest this year. Rango (2011) is the only non-Disney or Pixar film to win this category in the past decade.

It's often hard to complain about that, especially in a year like this; Disney put out strong releases such as Moana and Zootopia. The latter is one of my favorite films of the year, even though I believe Sing outranks it as the best animal movie of the year.

It would be refreshing to see an underdog like Kubo pull out the victory here. Studio LAIKA has consistently put out gorgeous stop motion films since 2009’s Coraline (which, surprise surprise, criminally lost its year to Pixar’s overrated Up). Kubo struggled at the box office despite an original story, breathtaking visuals and glowing reception. LAIKA is only four features deep; I am not sure how many more box office shrugs they can take. Kubo tells the story of an underdog struggling to defeat a powerful adversary – can life imitate art here?

Should win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Will win: Zootopia

Best Documentary – Feature

And the nominees are: Fire at Sea; I Am Not Your Negro; Life, Animated; O.J.: Made in America; 13th

This is yet another tough category, because each of these documentaries have social and cultural relevance today. Well maybe Made in America is the exception, but film adaptions to the O.J. Simpson trial have been very popular this year. Life, Animated tackles the story of a boy growing up with autism who has dreams of being an animator. I Am Not Your Negro is a gripping recount of many civil rights movements in America in the past few decades. 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, breaks down how racism in America is systematic. And Fire at Sea gives a firsthand look at what life for migrants is like.

Any of these films could get a boost from the current political climate, though Made in America still looks the strongest here. It was the most nominated doc of the year and also won key victories from the American Cinema Editors and Producers Guild. Still, I would not be surprised if any other documentary gains a last minute surge with voters.

Should win: 13th

Will win: O.J. Simpson: Made in America

Check out my Best Picture countdown here, and my analysis of the acting categories here.

What are your predictions? Who are you hoping will win? How wrong am I on some of these categories? Hit the comments below!