We’re almost at the finish line of the nominations phase for the race to the 89th Academy Awards. On Jan 13th voting will end and there will be that always too quiet wait until Jan. 24th when the nominations are revealed and everyone overthinks every category and every nomination. In the meantime, the Golden Globes will try and wield some influence this Sunday, the Producers Guild and BAFTA will both announce their nominees on Jan. 10th, the DGA Awards will reveal their top five on Jan. 12th, distributors will attempt to avoid another “The Birth of a Nation” mistake at Sundance beginning on Jan. 19th and United States of America will formerly enter the Twilight Zone on Friday, Jan. 20th.

Yes, it’s going to be a very busy month and not to bring this post down (too late), but one of those days may be slightly more important than the other.

It goes with saying that “La La Land” is the frontrunner to win Best Picture and it would honestly be shocking if it didn’t win. That being said there are a ton of the questions about this year’s nominees and the telecast itself that need to be addressed as the new year is upon us.

Is Isabelle Huppert really out of the Best Actress race?
She’s got to be right? The “Elle” star was snubbed for a SAG Awards nomination along with “20th Century Women’s” Annette Bening in favor of “The Girl on The Train’s” Emily Blunt. No one expects Blunt to earn an Oscar nod (until she does), but if you go with the conceit that the other four nominees are Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Emma Stone and Natalie Portman who makes the cut? It was a bad sign that “Elle” was left off the Foreign Language shortlist and there is a ton of chatter that members simply do not want to watch the screener because of the film’s initial rape scene. Could that all be a red herring though? The acting brand of the Academy is less broad than the general membership of SAG that make up that organization’s nominating committee. Is it possible some will even vote for the legendary Huppert without even watching the film? Considering the surprising Marion Cotillard nod two years ago for “Two Days, One Night,” anything is possible.

Can we have more than one year without a controversy in the Best Original Song category?
Three years ago the infamous “Alone Yet Not Alone” was disqualified due to the fact one of its songwriters was a former Academy governor and used his position to effectively campaign for it. Last year many bickered whether Lady Gaga truly deserved songwriting credit on “It Happens To You” and then the telecast denied transgender singer and songwriter Anohni the opportunity to perform her nominated song “Manta Ray” on the telecast itself. This year, Kim Burrell, a popular Gospel singer who sings Pharrell’s “I See A Victory” from “Hidden Figures” gave an anti-gay sermon that set Twitter afire over the holiday break. It was always going to be a tough fight for ‘Victory’ to get in over another ‘Hidden”’ track, “Runnin,’” but how Burrell could be so tone deaf considering the film’s subject matter is jaw dropping. Let’s hope things calm down once the nominees themselves are revealed.

Who is the fifth Best Actor nominee?
Denzel Washington? In. Casey Affleck? In. Ryan Gosling? In. Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) In. But the fifth…? We’d love to give Bleecker Street enough credit to pull off back to back underdog nominations after Bryan Cranston earned a nod last year for “Trumbo,” but we’re not 100% convinced they can duplicate Viggo Mortensen’s SAG nod with the Academy. If not Viggo is it Tom Hanks? Does Joel Edgerton make a surprise comeback? Does Michael Keaton surprise? We’ll say this, after “Captain Fantastic” disappointed at the box office we never thought Viggo’s chances would be better than Isabelle’s but they are.

Who will announce and present the Best Picture Oscar?
It certainly won’t be Melania Trump. In 2013, Michelle Obama introduced the nominees for Best Picture from the White House. A little over a month before Bill Clinton surprised the Golden Globes audience by introducing “Lincoln.” Last year, Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga’s performance from “The Hunting Ground” at the 88th Academy Awards. Considering the past 12 months should we expect another historical moment this time around? Would the Academy troll the new administration in its first 100 days with the appearance of a newly former president or another of Trump’s “enemies”? It might be too on the nose, but even if its not political we’re expecting new show producers Jennifer Todd and Michael De Luca to have something dramatic up their sleeves.

Is the In Memoriam going to be more depressing at the Grammys or the Oscars?
The amount of talent lost in 2016 was not overhyped. Moreover, the fact that two legends — Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds — passed within days of each other will still weigh on the minds of many in the Dolby Theater in February. How Todd and Deluca handle the In Memoriam itself may define their thought process on the show itself. The Grammys, on the other hand, may need more breakout memorial tributes than the 3 hour plus telecast can handle. Needless to say, and more than recent years, there will be an air of sadness that hangs over both events.

Who (else) is going to get snubbed in the Best Documentary race?
The Academy may seriously need to consider expanding this field so it allows more nominees just as the Best Picture category does. There were already a number of notable omissions from the initial 15 shortlist (“Miss Sharon Jones,” “Trapped,” “Tickled,” “Newtown,” “Into the Inferno,” “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds”) and there are now, arguably, four or five outstanding docs that will get left out of the mix. There are always going to be snubs, but considering 105 qualified doesn’t it make sense to allow the committee to select up to 10?

Can Barry Jenkins really become the first African-American to win Best Director?
This question comes with a caveat. It assumes Denzel Washington will not get nominated for helming “Fences. If both Jenkins and Washington were in the field it may not (or maybe it would) drive home the fact this is a chance for the first African American to win a Best Director Oscar. There have only been three Black nominees before: John Singleton for “Boyz n the Hood,” Lee Daniels for “Precious” and Steve McQueen for “12 Years A Slave. Jenkins has already won more directing honors than his competition, “La La Land’s” Damien Chazelle. If Jenkins is the sole African American nominee will the Academy take into account that not only would his win be more than deserved, but a historical moment as well?

Is “Sully” or “Hacksaw Ridge” this year’s “Bridge of Spies”?
Considering its reception at Telluride, it’s positive critical response and its impressive box office ($233 million global) many (including this pundit) had assumed that Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” was a safe bet for a Best Picture nod for months, but so far there have been few signs amongst guild members to support that fact. “Hacksaw Ridge,” on the other hand, was a surprise hit and, as mentioned earlier, leading man Andrew Garfield is expected to get a Best Actor nomination. But, it’s also a Mel Gibson film and many of the positive reviews (it has a 71 on Metacritic, “Sully” earned a 74) note how melodramatic and, at times, hokey it is. And, again, it’s a Mel Gibson film. A year ago many believed “Bridge of Spies” was a fringe Best Picture nominee and might not make the field. It did as have other similar older skewing drama/thrillers since the field expanded such as “Captain Phillips,” “War Horse” and Eastwood’s own “American Sniper.” It’s not an exact science but there always seems to be one movie that fits in that “slot.” Are “Sully” or “Hacksaw Ridge” keeping that trend alive? Or will the fade into the night? The PGA and DGAs will truly tell the tale.

What big Oscar questions are on your mind as we turn the corner?

Gregory Ellwood’s Current Oscar Predictions:
Best Picture
Director
Best Actress
Best Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Original Screenplay
Adapted Screenplay
Editing
Cinematography 
Production Design
Animated Feature Film
Foreign Language Film
Documentary Feature
Original Score
Original Song
Costume Design
Makeup and Hairstyling
Visual Effects
Sound Mixing – Coming Soon
Sound Editing – Coming Soon

  • Pedro

    Isabelle Huppert deserves to be a contender for the Oscar, not a filler nominee.

  • Aramat79

    Steve McQueen is British, not American. Also, why must having more than one African American director in the category make it harder for one to win?