In fact, far more controversial were the events of 2016 outside the Oscars (of which I've already covered in length), and all eyes watching the ceremony must be curious just how much they'll be letting the hot-headed and fear-mongering current US President have it, and not merely in whatever material host Jimmy Kimmel has up his sleeve.
But I'm here to predict winners rather than events of the show, so like I've done every year for several years, I'll once again run through all of my final predictions for all 24 categories that the Academy will honor. And honestly, this is a very rare year in which the technical categories feel far more contested than the major categories, so those famous below the line categories that people pay less attention to could ultimately hurt my score. Still, this is as confident as I'll ever be, so without further ado, let's start from the bottom up...
Best Live Action Short: Enemies Within
Best Documentary Short: Joe's Violin
Best Animated Short: Blind Vaysha
As per usual, trying to hit all the short film categories is quite the challenge, and I'm essentially reduced to taking educated guesses and estimations for my final predictions. For Live-Action Short - where I've seen no nominees, I could see the timeliness and tightly wound tension of Enemies Within taking the victory, but watch out for Sing to be a spoiler. In Documentary Short - where I've seen four nominees, I personally feel The White Helmets is the film that deserves to win hands down, but I have a feeling that the emotional pull and touching subject matter of Joe's Violin will appeal to the voters in the end. As for Animated Short - where I've seen four nominees, I'm calling that the inventive premise and unique animation style of Blind Vaysha will garner enough support, although I wonder if something like Pear Cider and Cigarettes (atypical as it would be) could sneak in?
Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book
Obviously. Despite coming out almost a year ago, The Jungle Book has lost none of the momentum that its astonishing and seamless effects integration has built up. Maybe Rogue One could be a spoiler, especially if voters want to give Star Wars a win after Ex Machina's surprise triumph over The Force Awakens last year, but will the otherwise excellent effects work be able to overcome the tacky mo-cap Peter Cushing? I don't think so, so the Disney flick has it locked. Also, good on Kubo and the Two Strings for securing a hard-earned mention here, becoming the second animated feature to claim a nomination here.
Best Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge
"War. War never changes..." I feel pretty confident in saying that should La La Land win this category, it's going to sweep everywhere it's in contention. But the thing is I don't believe that's going to happen, so if the Best Picture heavyweight doesn't get it, who does? The strong trajectory for war films in this category leads me to side with Hacksaw Ridge, which will essentially serve as its token win of the night. I would love to see Deepwater Horizon or Arrival (one of the Best Picture nominees likely to go home with nothing) pull off a surprise win here, but I have to go with the Gibson film on this one.
Best Sound Mixing: La La Land
This is one category that the CAS rewarded film can look forward to running away with. It's fully deserved, too, as for a film that is all about experiencing the intricacies of Jazz, and pushing the unspoken art of cinema to its fullest potential, the way in which it weaves those sonic elements and memorable melodies is nothing short of brilliant.
Best Original Song: "City of Stars" - La La Land
You don't expect the Academy to nominate a beloved musical (an original musical, at that!), and not hand a trophy to one of its songs, do you? "City of Stars" has been the anthem of La La Land since before its release, and with all of the major awards bodies gravitating to it, it feels locked for a victory. Although, could the two songs from the film (the other being "Audtion") potentially split the vote, allowing another film to snag a victory? If so, I think the one that would benefit is Moana's "How Far I'll Go", itself a strong anthem of its movie, written by the still popular Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is only an O away from completing his coveted PEGOT narrative (and if Moana wins, *that's* why it wins). Regardless, I don't think it's gonna happen, and the trio of Hurwitz, Paul, and Pasek can sit back and enjoy their eventual triumph.
Best Original Score: La La Land
Let's just keep this moving, okay?
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Star Trek Beyond
I imagine any of the three nominees could win, but also have their reasons they couldn't. A Man Called Ove has the benefit of bearing an additional nomination in Foreign Language Film, but will the aging makeup be too subtle to Academy members? Star Trek Beyond has the flashiest and the most impressive makeup jobs (even rendering stars Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella unrecognizable beneath their prosthetics), but will the fact that the first film already won this award lead them to reward something else? As much as it pains me to call Suicide Squad an Oscar nominee, the varied and often creative makeup work was one of the only good things about it, but will the awful reception of the film lead voters to avoid it like the plague? At the end of the day, I'm thinking that the quantity - AND quality - of Star Trek will earn it the victory.
Best Costume Design: Jackie
It could just as easily go to La La Land in an aforementioned sweep, but given the impressive and iconic fashion of Jackie's titular first lady (coupled with the costumes almost feeling like storytelling devices in their own right), I see it going that way in the end, leading this to be one of the few categories La La Land loses.
Best Production Design: La La Land
Despite the Academy's reluctance of awarding contemporary films in this category, the dazzle, rich colors, and fabulous retro ingenuity should make this another one of the many easy technical wins for La La Land. Although, I am secretly hoping that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them pulls off a surprise win, even though the Academy has never taken too kindly to the Harry Potter universe, even when deserving to win this very category several times.
Best Film Editing: La La Land
Gotta be this one. So much brilliance in how the editing lets scenes linger on uninterrupted, and even when they do have cuts, they're so seamless you can't tell the difference. I'll look out for Hacksaw Ridge as a potential spoiler, but not enough to worry myself over.
Best Cinematography: La La Land
Has to be, right? I can't think of a film from 2016 with as many striking and instantly recognizable shots as this one. It personifies the picturesque beauty of cinema.
Best Documentary Feature: 13th
Some may think this an easy win for ESPN's miniseries OJ: Made in America, which already faced a big hurdle just making it into the five, but how many voters will have the patience for its demanding eight hour running time, or show bias against its mini-series roots? The one I'm predicting to win istead is 13th, whose scathing examination of very similar issues - as well as the unbalanced prison system - will sway voters, serving as a nice reward for Selma director Ava DuVernay.
Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman
If I'm being honest, I think the offbeat Toni Erdmann feels more like a winner than The Salesman. However, with the latest controversial travel ban issued targeting Muslim specific countries, I get the feeling that sympathy might sway over to Asghar Farhadi. So in a way, it would surely be a statement win, but given Farhadi's great previous track record and the strong response to his latest (despite having not seen it yet, I have to assume it's fantastic), that's not to say it would be a bad statement win.
Best Animated Feature: Zootopia
Almost a year later, and it feels like Zootopia's relevance only keeps growing and growing. This has all of the ingredients for a perfect winner: It's a big box office hit, a critical darling, an audience favorite, an industry favorite, the issues that it addresses are timely and extraordinarily well represented, and above all it's just a great, entertaining piece of filmmaking. There is a chance that Kubo could swoop in and steal its thunder on Oscar night, but I expect Disney to happily enjoy their win.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Ever since the Academy's ruling of the script as adapted was announced, this category has pretty much been viewed as Barry Jenkins' to lose. Hard for me to dislike it, even if I would have preferred Arrival.
Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
With the battle in Lead Actor being a tight two horse race, there is a chance that this could be the only win for Kenneth Lonergan's intentionally messy and tragically funny Manchester by the Sea. But could Damien Chazelle steal it away in the parade of La La Land victories? Could Hell or High Water be a dark horse waiting to strike? I say it's between Lonergan and Chazelle, with the former eking it out.
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis - Fences
Is there any doubt at all at this point?
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
Few could have probably seen Ali becoming such a massive contender for his small, but crucial and soulful supporting turn, but after claiming the lions share of critics wins, and a deserved victory at the SAG awards, I have a good feeling he'll repeat that victory during the Oscar ceremony. However, he's still not out of the woods, as one could easily see Dev Patel's larger and showier turn in Lion snatching it away, especially when he's got the backing of the notorious Harvey Weinstein, who'll no doubt be focusing all of his efforts here. Or even more unlikely, could the gift bags and appeal of Nocturnal Animals director Tom Ford pay off in a win for Michael Shannon, just like they did Aaron Taylor-Johnson at the Golden Globes? I highly doubt it, and it's still a two-horse race between Ali and Patel, of which I'm sticking firmly with the former. But I think it'll be close.
Best Lead Actress: Emma Stone - La La Land
Having won the Globe, the SAG, the BAFTA, and headlining the Best Picture frontrunner with a mesmerizing and charismatic leading turn, this looks like a comfortable victory for Stone. Even as many now change their predictions to Isabelle Huppert for her chilly turn in Elle, I still stubbornly stand by Stone. True, the two have never directly competed with each other, meaning that there's no precedent, but neither did Matthew McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio, the latter who many thought would win for The Wolf of Wall Street, before the award went the way of Matt on Oscar night. In addition to that, and being the only nomination for her film, a film that may be too cold or alienating to certain voters, while Huppert might be a beloved staple of her artform, she doesn't exactly have the narrative that someone like Julianne Moore did for Still Alice. All in all, this is Stone's to lose, deservedly so.
Best Lead Actor: Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
The Male acting categories are quite hard to call this year. It was presumed all season that Casey Affleck was the easy frontrunner, until the night of the SAGS when Denzel Washington won for Fences. Could Denzel become the next (as well as the seventh) actor to claim three victories in the acting categories? Could Casey Affleck's victory at the BAFTA's turn momentum back in his favor? I'm inclined to go with the latter, but neither result would shock me.
Best Director: Damien Chazelle - La La Land
I mean, come on.
Best Motion Picture of the Year: La La Land
It seemed to be building up to the inevitable backlash that almost all early frontrunners suffer from, where their success is so widespread and their hype so tremendous, that many either grow sick of the film, or find themselves disappointed by building their expectations so high. It was the case for films like Avatar, The Social Network, Boyhood, and even eventual winners like Argo and Spotlight that didn't earn as many trophies as initially thought. After the Golden Globes where it swept every category it was up for, this looked like it could have been the case for La La Land... Instead, the momentum just kept consistent, and the train kept rolling, all reaching a boiling point with a whopping tally of 14 Oscar nominations (tying the record with All About Eve and Titanic).
"City of Stars, you never shined so brightly..."
And so, until Sunday night, when we get to see if my guesses and (way overlong) logic are right, enjoy the show, and thanks for reading...