So. The nominees for the 89th Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning, and it seems everyone on the planet wants to give their opinion on who’s going to win, who was left off the ballot, and who’s pulling for who. We didn’t want to be left out.

Leading the way in nominations is the musical resurrector La La Land with a total of 14, followed by Arrival and Moonlight each with eight, to go along with Hacksaw RidgeLion and Manchester by the Sea each with six. 

Check out the nominees for the major awards below…we’re going to call them “The Major Eight.” Man, is that terrible or what? Okay, let’s move on.

(If you’d like to see the entire list of nominees, click here)

Best Picture

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Best Director

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor

Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling – La La Land

Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Ruth Negga – Loving

Natalie Portman – Jackie

Emma Stone – La La Land

Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel – Lion

Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis – Fences

Naomie Harris – Moonlight

Nicole Kidman – Lion

Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Heisserer – Arrival

August Wilson – Fences

Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures

Luke Davies – Lion

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay

Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Mike Mills – 20th Century Women

Where shall we start? Let’s go with the heavy hitters. There are really only two films vying for Oscar night supremacy, and those films are La La Land and Moonlight. In that order. La La Land has brought the “magic” back to the movies while Moonlight has made it “okay” to examine homosexuality in a largely oppressive American culture. Clearly, the Academy favors La La Land as a film spectacle, awarding the filmmakers with 14 nominations, tied for the most ever nominations in Academy Award history. The only other films to reach 14 nominations are All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). La La Land has a chance at making history if they win at least 12 Golden Statues of the possible 13 they could win (received two nominations in the Best Original Song category), beating out Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) with the most awards won by a single film, each with eleven. That’s a tall order, especially with what seems to be a pretty competitive awards season. But one thing is clear, none of us truly know what Hollywood is thinking. That’s why we guess.

What film should win? Well, that depends on what you believe in. If you are the type of person that wants a movie to sweep you up and take you far away from all your troubles and hardships, chances are you’ll think La La Land should win. Or, if you’re the type of person that wants a film that challenges societal topics and social norms head-on with a battle of cognitive dissonance, then chances are that you’ll be rooting for Moonlight come February 26th. Maybe you fall somewhere in between. One thing is clear, the majority of people watching the Oscars will be rooting for La La Land, as the film has grossed about $175 million (foreign and domestic), while Moonlight has only grossed about $16 million (only released domestically). 

While there can be many comparisons between the groundbreaking territory Brokeback Mountain achieved (which controversially lost out to Crash for Best Picture) prior to Moonlight, the message of each film is completely different. Brokeback Mountain is strictly a love story while Moonlight is an examination of growing up black and gay in America. 

What does the Academy want to do here? Do they want to rewind the clock and bring musical mojo back to Hollywood? Or does the Academy want to reward risky film-making and be progressive as an art industry? We shall get their answer in about a month’s time.

At this point, La La Land is the heavy favorite going into February. Unless there’s a big uptick in box office gross for Moonlight, I don’t see the Barry Jenkins-directed film pulling off the upset. 

As for the major acting categories, it appears a lot closer than most would initially expect. There is at least one lock, that being Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea. But for the other three acting categories, it feels as if there are two to three options that can easily go home with a statue. For Best Actress, Natalie Portman seems like the favorite to win but Isabelle Huppert surprisingly beat her out at the Golden Globes, and Emma Stone has generated a lot of buzz for her performance (although not her singing). Plus, Natalie Portman has already won for Black Swan, so she definitely is not a lock. Also, do we really need to keep giving Meryl Streep nominations for awards? She already had nineteen. We get it, she’s the greatest actress of all time. Do we still have to give her a nimination every single year she makes a film? Seriously, can we not give Annette Bening a damn nomination for 20th Century Women? Come on, people.

I want to get back to the Best Actor category for a minute. Is there any way Casey Affleck loses and doesn’t become the most beloved of the Affleck brothers? I think the next favorite to win must be Denzel Washington for his performance in Fences. Can we see Andrew Garfield winning for Hacksaw Ridge? No. What about Ryan Gosling? Probably not. Viggo Mortensen. Nah. With the last three out, it’s between Denzel and Casey. I just can’t see the Academy giving Denzel his third statue over Casey who’s had the most celebrated performance this year. The story for Affleck is a much better one as well. An actor who’s been in his brother’s enormous shadow for the past 20 years. Has quietly paved his own way as a serious actor in Hollywood. Someone who shies away from the spotlight and avoids big “blockbuster” films. What’s not to love? It’s gotta be Casey. 

The front-runner for Best Supporting Actor is Mahershala Ali, right now. Jeff Bridges also gives a great performance in Hell or High Water, although it seems he gets a nomination each time he plays the same type of character (see Crazy HeartTrue Grit). Lucas Hedges is absolutely great in Manchester, but he doesn’t really have a chance. Same with Dev Patel for Lion, it’s just an honor to be nominated. There is one sneaky nominee this year, and that’s Michael Shannon for his performance in Nocturnal Animals. The case for Shannon is clear: he has a proven track-record of great acting without the recognition. He has been nominated once before for Best Supporting Actor in Revolutionary Road, but he seems like a guy the Academy could pull for because he’s been around for a really long time. The case against Mahershala Ali is that he’s relatively new to the film circuit. But, Ali has been sweeping up amongst critic and film society awards for his performance. So, I don’t really see anyone upsetting him at this point.

Now for the Best Supporting Actress award: Viola Davis. Moving right along.

Just kidding, I have to say something about this. In a semi-controversial decision by the Academy, Viola Davis has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress instead of Best Actress. If you have seen the film, it is very clear and evident that she plays the major actress role in Fences, but apparently the Academy doesn’t agree. Some people are upset about this, but the only people who really deserve to be upset are Naomie Harris and Michelle Williams. This is a savvy move by the Academy to get Viola Davis her first Oscar trophy, with this being her third nomination.

Now there’s a bit of history to this, so just bear with me. In 2011, The Help was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, two Best Supporting Actress nominees (Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer) and Best Actress for Viola Davis’ performance. Unfortunately for Davis, she went up against Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. Who do you think won that one? 

Oh, and guess who’s in the Best Actress category again this year. Yup, it’s Meryl. To go along with her, Davis would have to go up against Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Natalie Portman (Jackie), and Emma Stone (La La Land). No offense to Ruth Negga (Loving), but you aren’t winning, hun. So with Meryl jokes aside, this year seems to be very competitive in the Best Actress category. Clearly not a supporting actress in Fences, this is an obvious ploy to give Viola Davis her first Oscar win, and I just feel bad for Naomie Harris (Moonlight) and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea). This is Harris’ first nomination and will be Williams’ fourth nomination, with zero wins. 

Moving right along into the script writing categories, we start with Best Adapted Screenplay. I only see two real contenders this year, with August Wilson’s Fences and Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney). I could absolutely see Fences pulling the win out for this category, given its history on Broadway and how well it stands up today, but I’m giving the edge to Moonlight because I think this film will get a lot of love from the voters this year, even if it won’t be as much love as it deserves. I’m sure the other adapted screenplays are great, but they are merely place holders for the two heavyweights.

PLUG: Check out our podcast episode on Fences here. You can also check out our episode on Arrival compared to its source material Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang here. Our podcast episode on Hidden Figures should be coming mid-to-late February as well.

For the Best Original Screenplay category the two favorites are La La Land and Manchester by the Sea. My head says to go with La La Land as the film is primed for a big night, but my heart is going with Manchester by the Sea. Because La La Land is going to have a great night, I think they give this award to Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester. The film Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed is absolutely great, every part of the film was nailed to a tee. I think the Academy realizes how great this film really is and how it doesn’t really have a shot at Best Picture or Best Director, so I think giving Best Original Screenplay to Mr. Lonergan would be a more-than-fair consolation prize on the night. I know that sounds bad, but it’s on the outside looking in on Moonlight and La La Land

Well, those are the majority of my thoughts on this year’s “Major Eight” Oscar categories. If I gave you all of my thoughts, Erik surely wouldn’t allow me to write on here anymore. Don’t forget to check ABC at 7pm on Sunday, February 26th to watch the Oscars ceremony.

If you’d like to check out our content for “Season 2 – Oscar Contenders”, check here

Until next time.