Every year, I pick my winners among the categories where I've seen the majority of nominees. This year, that makes 16 categories I've made my selections in. These reflect only who I'd vote to give the Oscar to if I could, and not an attempt to predict who will win. In the past my picks have largely coincided with the Academy's selections, but they can easily diverge, especially this year, where clear winners aren't apparent in many categories.
I've already posted my rankings of the films nominated here, and my pick is Moonlight. This category is fairly wide open this year, though, and I could see as many as five films (Moonlight, Lion, La La Land, Fences, and Hidden Figures) taking home the trophy. Actually, I'd be surprised if Lion did, but it would be a pleasant surprise.
In my Best Picture discussion, I talked about the amazing way the performances of the three actors portraying Chiron at different stages of his life manage to create a seamless character progression, and the credit for that has to be shared significantly with the director, Barry Jenkins. Working with kids is no easy feat, and Jenkins does so successfully and pulls great performances out of his adult cast members as well. The subject matter is handled sensitively yet realistically. And I'm not heaping praise on him just because he's a fellow FSU Seminole.
For me, this goes to Denzel Washington for Fences, just ahead of Casey Affleck and well ahead of Garfield, Mortensen, and Gosling. Affleck does well in a very understated performance, but Washington gave us the full Denzel. In some movies, you get loud Denzel. In others, you get authoritative Denzel. Sometimes you get defiant Denzel. In Fences, you get all three, plus a special treat: lost and vulnerable Denzel. He won a Tony playing Troy Maxson, and he deserves an Oscar for it, too.
I've seen neither Elle nor Jackie, so I only have three of five nominees to logically pick from. Ruth Negga was excellent in Loving, but a performance that consistently reserved doesn't really rise to win the statue. Meryl Streep turned in a typical Meryl Streep performance in Florence Foster Jenkins, and at this point she really needs to surprise to win a statue. Emma Stone was the only one of the three that really seemed to reach higher in her performance, adding in the song and dance to her repertoire. Stone isn't the most powerful singer, but she has a serviceable voice and is able to emote effectively while singing, and that's important if you want to win an Oscar while doing a musical. Thankfully she deftly avoided the histrionics that brought Anne Hathaway a statue a few years ago. Honestly, if Viola Davis had been put up for Best Actress like she should have been, my selection would have gone to her here.
Best Supporting Actor
For me, it's a race between Dev Patel and Jeff Bridges, both of whom, with a few modifications to their scripts, could have been considered leads for their movies. Patel ran the gambit of emotions in his film and also adopted a relatively believable Aussie accent, but Jeff Bridges absolutely owned his film. Years from now, if Hell or High Water is remembered for anything, it's not going to be how Chris Pine looked in a cowboy hat. Some might claim that Marcus Hamilton is a stereotypical Jeff Bridges role, but I'd point out that Alan Arkin took home an Oscar for playing a stereotypical Alan Arkin character in Little Miss Sunshine. But I'll be very happy for Patel if he wins instead.
Best Supporting Actress
To me, this isn't even a contest. Viola Davis should have been nominated for Best Actress for a role for which she already won Best Actress Tony. This is otherwise a strong category, with Michelle Williams in particular standing out, but all of those roles paled in importance compared to Rose Maxson, and Viola Davis Viola Davised the heck out of it. I'm beginning to think that it's about time for us to start having Meryl Streep vs. Viola Davis "greatest currently working actress" debates.
Best Original Screenplay
Of the nominees, I've not seen 20th Century Women. Among the others, my pick would have to be Manchester by the Sea. It's exceedingly funny and frequently poignant. Kenneth Lonergan did a great job directing his own script, but I think I'd give him more credit for the film's excellence as a writer.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Wow. I'd love to make it a five-way tie because I loved all five. If pressed for a single nominee to give the statue to, I'll pick Moonlight for its effective use of vernacular in support of its story, but really, there's nothing but winners here.
Best Animated Feature Film
A couple years ago, I came up with three criteria to use when picking a winner in this category. First, the winner should have received wide release. That limits things to Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Moana, which is conveniently the three films in this category that I've seen. Second, the winner should exhibit innovation if possible. Both Zootopia and Kubo would seem to fit, especially Kubo, which is also nominated for visual effects. Finally, the winner should be the film that, if shot as a live action flick, it would still have merit as a film. From this criteria, the clear winner for me is Kubo and the Two Strings, as a live action version could easily take the form of a Japanese version of a Yimou Zhang epic, while Zootopia would be a talking animal film and Moana would have the feel of a summer fun release. The 3D stop motion work on Kubo is absolutely stunning, which puts it further over the top for me.
Of the nominees, I've not seen Silence. This year, there's not a clear winner in my mind. My top two would probably be Lion and Arrival. I found Arrival to be the most visually stunning, but wonder how much credit should go to visual effects, leaving the door open for Lion in my ongoing inner debate. I'm going to stick with my gut reaction and give my statue to Arrival, which provided some really strong visuals.
Best Production Design
This is another category where everyone can make a strong claim to the statue. I'll go with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as it pulled off a nice blending of 1920s America and Harry Potter wizardry. But really, I could see any of these nominees winning.
Best Original Score
This would have to go to La La Land. It has the strongest themes throughout the film, and it's the only one I can find myself listening to multiple times. My second place would be Lion, which generates excellent ambiance for its scenes.
Best Original Song
Again, this has to go to the musical. "City of Stars" is not only a catchy tune, it also plays a major role in the film itself. I have to vote for importance.
Best Visual Effects
Of the nominees, I've not seen The Jungle Book. Of the remaining, it's a bit of a race between Doctor Strange, which did a great job translating the Dark Dimension to the screen and had all those fun city folding effects that reminded us all of Inception. Rogue One, though, was classic Star Wars. They even pushed technology forward a bit with their Grand Moff Tarkin and young Princess Leia insertions. Some found their appearances creepy, but it was a step forward in technology in service to story, and I feel that should be rewarded, so I'm giving Rogue One the nod.
Best Animated Short
It's a bit cliche to go with the Pixar film, but Piper had the best heart and was the most advanced in terms of craft. The story of a young sandpiper overcoming its fear of the water was extremely well done. I'd put Pearl behind it, having found its generational story endearing. I am much less enthused about Borrowed Time, which has gotten a lot of buzz. I just find it very cliched and not terribly deep.
Best Live Action Short
This was an unusually strong year for the live action shorts. I was all set to give my imaginary statue to Ennemis intérieurs, the claustrophobic (and timely) story of an interrogation of a Muslim immigrant in France. But then I was absolutely charmed by La femme et le TGV, the story of an older, lonely woman who rediscovers life thanks to her interactions with the man who blows by her house every day at 260 kph on the bullet train. La Femme is a lovely, uplifting story with good production value and an actual soundtrack, which introduced me to electro swing. I won't be surprised if Ennemis intérieurs wins the actual Oscar, though.