Film critics and awards pundits have been talking about Oscar frontrunners for months now, but now’s when the guessing game really starts to matter. This week marked the true beginning of awards season with the Gotham Awards, the National Board of Review’s list of winners, and yesterday’s New York Film Critics Circle picks. It’s still too early to tell who and what will win the gold come Oscar night, but when it comes to predictions, we’ve got you covered.

Will Moonlight get a Best Picture nomination? Can Isabelle Huppert secure a Best Actress nom for Elle? Which category is bound to be the most contentious? ScreenCrush has seen every big movie this year and we have a pretty solid idea of what will get nominated for the 2017 Oscars, which will be announced on January 24. Editor-in-Chief Matt Singer, Senior Editor Erin Whitney, and Associate Editor Britt Hayes break down the likely nominations in the top six Oscar categories (along with a few longshots to keep an eye out for) leading up to the ceremony on February 26.

Best Picture

Lionsgate
  • Fences
  • Jackie
  • La La Land
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

Right now, Best Picture looks like a three-way race between La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight. All three films have picked up early-season awards; Moonlight took home the Gotham for Best Feature, the National Board of Review picked Manchester as their top movie of 2016, and the New York Film Critics Circle (which, full disclosure, I am a member of) went for La La Land. Nominations for all three are all but guaranteed, but at this point a winner seems to close to call. Below that top tier, I expect to see nominations for the handsome and eclectic biopic Jackie and Fences, an intimate movie with some of the most dynamic performances of the year. That’s five solid picks, but the Best Picture category can have up to ten nominees in any given year, leaving room for more contenders like Arrival, Loving, or the crowd-pleasing and very timely Hidden Figures. – Matt Singer

Other Contenders: Arrival, Hidden Figures, Lion, Loving, Silence.


Best Director

A24
  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea
  • Martin Scorsese, Silence
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Director and Best Picture tend to line up pretty closely, which means our frontrunners for the latter — La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight — are also our frontrunners for the former. To winnow it down a little further, we predict a battle between Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins, because Manchester, beautifully acted though it is, feels a bit more like an accomplishment of writing than directing. So which will be? If pressed to guess, we’re leaning for Chazelle; Moonlight is a remarkable movie, but its visuals are relatively subdued compared to La La Land’s flashy camerawork and rich colors. The last two spots in this category are more of a mystery. Will voters fall for Denzel Washington’s Fences’ stunning performances, or will they get hung up on the film’s small scale and obvious origins as a stage play? Is Arrival too baffling for the notoriously old and stodgy Academy? Will the group connect with Martin Scorsese’s Silence? Could they find a relevant message in Jeff Nichols’ Loving? With so many questions still to be answered, this might be the most interesting Oscar category of the year. – MS

Other Contenders: Pablo Larrain (Jackie), Jeff Nichols (Loving), Denis Villeneuve (Arrival).


Best Actress

A24
  • Amy Adams, Arrival
  • Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone,- La La Land OR Isabelle Huppert, Elle
A cursory glance at potential Best Actress nominees reveals some clear-cut choices, like Natalie Portman’s title role in Jackie as the bereaved First Lady, or Amy Adams’ gripping performance as the brilliant linguist who makes a poignant discovery in Arrival. In my mind, Annette Bening’s win for 20th Century Women is a lock, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a repeat of 2011, when Portman’s role in Black Swan won over Bening’s in The Kids Are All Right. Ruth Negga’s lovely performance in Loving also seems a likely pick, but we’re split on the final spot between the Emma Stone’s ridiculously charming role in La La Land and Isabelle Huppert’s fierce turn in Elle. The latter’s nomination is becoming increasingly plausible with her recent nod from the Critics’ Choice Awards and honors from Gotham and NYFCC. But on the whole, the dizzyingly joyful La La Land is much more appealing to the Academy than a darkly comedic and challenging thriller in which sexual assault plays a prominent role. – Britt Hayes

Other Contenders: Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).


Best Actor

David Lee
    • Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea
    • Joel Edgerton, Loving
    • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
    • Tom Hanks, Sully
    • Denzel Washington, Fences

The Best Actor race isn’t as contentions as Best Actress. Two locks will likely go head-to-head: Casey Affleck for his Boston janitor in Manchester By the Sea, and Denzel Washington as Troy Maxon in the adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences. Both performances are some of the heaviest of the year, but both are also very different; while Affleck portrays a quiet, interior suffering, Washington’s Troy is fierce and loud. So far Affleck’s been gobbling up accolades, named Best Actor by the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and Gotham Awards. He may seem like the frontrunner at the moment, but it’s worth noting that while Manchester has been building awards steam since it debuted at Sundance, Fences only just recently screened for critics. I bet come Oscar voting, Washington will pose some heavy competition. As for the others, Tom Hanks’ Captain Sully is just the type of role to woo Academy members, while Ryan Gosling’s bound to get recognized for his singing-and-dancing in the too-delightful-to-resist La La Land. And while Joel Edgerton’s much quieter performance in Loving may get overlooked, I think the Academy will warm up to the Jeff Nichols biopic. – Erin Whitney

Other Contenders: Adam Driver (Paterson), Dev Patel (Lion), Warren Beatty (Rules Don’t Apply), Andrew Garfield (Silence).


Best Supporting Actress

Amazon Studios
  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion OR Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

If Viola Davis doesn’t win this category, it will be the most shocking thing to happen at the Oscars since Three 6 Mafia won for Best Original Song while Martin Scorsese remained empty-handed. Davis is a total lock for a nomination, if not for an outright win for her role in Fences, though she has some competition. Michelle Williams is the other clear favorite this season and has already won the NYFCC award for her supporting turn in Manchester by the Sea. As of now, the Best Supporting Actress category feels like a race between Davis and Williams, but Naomie Harris and Janelle Monae are also strong contenders for their acclaimed performances in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, respectively. Greta Gerwig might round out the list for 20th Century Women, which could serve as a silent double-nod for her part in Jackie. A win for Gerwig isn’t likely, though, given how much her fellow contenders are currently dominating the conversation. – BH

Other Contenders: Elle Fanning (20th Century Women), Lupita Nyong’o (Queen of Katwe), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Kristen Stewart (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk).


Best Supporting Actor

Paramount
  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  • Liam Neeson, Silence
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

This is the most uncertain category on our list. At this point, Lucas Hedges’ wise-cracking teenager in Manchester and Mahershala Ali’s tender drug dealer in Moonlight are most likely to get recognized. But even then, a whole lot is up in the air. The Academy is bound to love Jeff Bridges’ Texas lawman in Hell or High Water, and while Michael Shannon’s hilarious turn as a sheriff in Nocturnal Animals was a critics favorite this year, there’s a chance this category could go a few ways. There’s also some cause for concern for Moonlight here; while that movie has a lead character, the entire cast is arguably made up of supporting actors. Beyond Ali, voters could opt for Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, or Andre Holland. They could split the film’s support, potentially knocking Moonlight out of the category entirely. Or hey, maybe we’ll get a category full of Moonlight actors. I know I wouldn’t be mad. – EW

Other Contenders: Adam Driver (Silence), Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins), Stephen Henderson (Fences).

For more on the Oscar race, check out ScreenCrush’s new awards podcast And the Podcast Goes To… Our first episode, which you can listen to on iTunes and below on YouTube, features Erin, Britt, and Matt discussing our Oscar predictions and frontrunners. Subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss new episodes, debuting every other Wednesday.