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Oscars 2017 predictions: Who should win, who should lose

Sorry "La La Land" fans.
Viola Davis Emma Stone Casey AffleckLionAsghar FarhadiFantastic Beasts

Oscar predicting is bulls—. It’s a science the way astrology is a science, which is to say it’s not one. It persists because people love following the Oscar race, even though it’s not really a race. It’s a waiting game — months of thumb-twiddling until the nominations come out and the awards actually happen. Till then no one knows nothin’.

But we can certainly make wild assumptions! If you need a leg-up on your Oscar pool, we’re movie experts, and the best we can give you is educated guesses. So we've broken down ALLLLL 24 categories. Don’t blame us if we’re wrong here and there, or even everywhere. But we’ll do you one better: We’ve also included who we’d vote for if we were a member of the Academy.

Best Picture
What Will Win:
“La La Land”
What Should Win: “Moonlight”
The one prognostication that seems like real science is this: The movie with the most nominations will (probably) claim the top prize. Some say “Moonlight” offers stiff competition, but it only has eight noms — almost half of “La La Land”’s haul. So, sorry, you beautiful, devastating yet ultimately hopeful look at a poor, black, gay kid: You’ll almost certainly lose to the happy (but, honestly, not that happy) musical. But you shouldn’t, and not only because you offer a timely message about empathy. You’re even better than timely. You’re a work of original, deeply felt art.

RELATED: Ryan Gosling was Oscar-nominated for the wrong performance

Best Actress
Who Will Win:
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Who Should Win: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Isabelle Huppert has been winning every award she’s qualified for, and rightly so. As a woman who deals very unusually, to put it mildly, with the aftermath of a sexual assault, she’s absolutely thrilling: by turns coiled and disarmingly playful. But these are the Oscars. They’ll probably go with the person Americans actually know, not France’s mightiest ice queen. We're excited because at least Huppert will snap more adorable pictures for her unexpectedly cute Instagram feed.

Best Actor
Who Will Win:
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Who Should Win: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
We’ll just say that Casey Affleck is a brilliant actor and has been forever, and his turn as a man who can’t articulate or deal with his bottomless guilt is second only to Huppert in “Elle.”

Best Supporting Actress
Who Will Win:
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Who Should Win: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Some have argued that Davis’ turn in “Fences” should be considered a leading role. We’re not so sure; the movie does push her into the limelight in its home stretch, but even after Denzel Washington’s hellion of a former-baseballer goes AWOL, it’s still really about him. His absence is as strong as his presence. But whatever: She’s nominated here, and she’s head and shoulders above the other nominees — even Octavia Spencer doing a masterclass in patience-as-strength in “Hidden Figures.”

Best Supporting Actor
Who Will Win:
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
We’ve spotted a couple “Will Dev Patel win an Oscar???” postsas we scrolled madly through Twitter en route to grim news stories. So we’ll bite: Maybe he will win for “Lion,” in which he mostly looks ashen and emotionally remote (but has great hair). We do worry that the death march of this awards season has made people forget how incredible Mahershala Ali is in “Moonlight,” though. We can’t get his performance out of his head: How he defies the expectations of his character, how he makes him a decent man who could still deal drugs, the way he deflates in his two final scenes. But who knows? At least "Nocturnal Animals"' Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t here to inexplicably steal his thunder, as he was at the Globes.

Best Director
Who Will Win:
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Damien Chazelle’s the new golden boy of Hollywood, but if “La La Land” must win Picture, can Barry Jenkins please go home with Director? Often the two awards are seen as one, but the Oscars have split them before, including last year. (“Spotlight” won Picture but Director went to “The Revenant”’s Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, again.) Jenkins winning would be a helluva success story, too: a filmmaker who couldn’t get a second feature off the ground for nine years, who makes history as the first black filmmaker to win the trophy (and the fourth ever nominated). Also, there’s the pesky notion that Jenkins deserves to win.

RELATED: Interview: Damien Chazelle on making "La La Land" a very Los Angeles movie

Best Original Screenplay
Who Will Win:
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Who Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Seriously, in a fight between a light retro musical and a precise study of grief and guilt that has an experimental structure and no obvious catharsis, do you really think the Academy will call it for the one about grief and guilt with no obvious catharsis?

Best Adapted Screenplay
Who Will Win:
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight”
This may wind up being “Moonlight”’s token win, which otherwise has to battle “La La Land,” like David fighting Goliath. At least “LLL” is not in this category.

Best Foreign-Language Film
What Will Win:
“The Salesman”
What Should Win:
“Toni Erdmann”
Yes, it will be a thumb-in-the-nose of Trump if the Oscars fete “The Salesman,” whose director, the great Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”), was once barred from visiting the U.S. for Oscar night because he lives in Iran. (Even after it the Muslim ban was stayed, Farhadi said he wouldn’t show, out of protest.)

“The Salesman”’s a great film. But it’s no “Toni Erdmann,” aka the hilarious three-hour German comedy (and our favorite film of the year). Giving the award to “Erdmann” won’t only be right-on — it will remind us that we shouldn’t only think about movies in terms of how “relevant” they are. Not that “The Salesman” is itself particularly “relevant”; it’s simply another of Farhadi’s deeply humanist works that reminds us not to demonize even those who do bad. Then again, even that message feels like it needs repeated these days.

Best Animated Feature
What Will Win:
“Zootopia”
What Should Win: “Kubo and the Two Strings”
Voters have two much-loved Disney films to choose from, but they may go for the one that’s not-so-secretly about discrimination, not the one about a fiery young girl who finds herself. Meanwhile, poor, ignored-by-moviegoers “Kubo and the Two Strings” is one of the year’s great feats — technically astounding and sneaky and wise about growing up surrounded by death and loss.

Best Animated Short
What Will Win:
“Piper”
What Should Win: “Blind Vaysha”
Pixar’s annual long-player, “Finding Dory,” got shut out of the Animated Feature category. But they may get a trophy anyway, thanks to their cute and technically pristine “Piper.” Still, we’d prefer if they went with the annual token wonder from the great National Film Board of Canada: a coarsely textured whatzit about a girl born with a bizarre condition, in which one eye sees the past and the other the future.

RELATED: Your guide to all of the Oscar-nominated shorts

Best Documentary Feature
What Will Win:
“13th”
What Should Win: “O.J.: Made in America”
This is honestly the tightest race in the Oscars. Four of these films are great (and also timely!), and the other (“Life, Animated”) is very, very good. You could define them by subject matter: Will AMPAS voters celebrate the one about refugees (“Fire at Sea”) or one of the three about race (“13th,” “I Am Not Your Negro” and “O.J.”)? On the other hand, that four of them are about matters of great current concern makes it easier to judge them on other merits as well: on form, on structure, on the rigor of each one’s arguments. In a way, “O.J.” has an unfair leg-up: It has eight hours to demonstrate its skill at all three, on top of ruminating on not just race, but also success and the way the media both gives us what we want and controls us. But “13th,” also excellent, is the blunt object that will send a strong message in the Black Lives Matter era.

Best Documentary Short
What Will Win:
“4.1 Miles”
What Should Win: “Extremis”
Like its longer non-fiction brethren, the short doc category is really about the issues. Two are about Syria, two are about refugees, one is about hospitals. The most uplifting involves the Holocaust. If that sounds like six shorts, it’s because one (“Watani: My Homeland”) is about Syria and refugees. Still, “4.1 Miles” might be the one that might actually change hearts and minds. It’s about refugees, and the Greek island civilians who come to their rescue, but it’s also the most compact (only 20 minutes) and the most inspirational.

Best Live-Action Short
What Will Win:
“Ennemis Interieurs”
What Should Win: “La Femme et le TGV”
Even the live-action shorts are filled with powder kegs. The award could go to “Silent Nights,” about a Ghanese immigrant trying to survive in Denmark. But it might actually go to “Ennemis Interieurs,” which observes as a longtime Algerian resident of Paris is grilled by an interrogator, who suspects him, flimsily, of terrorism. Needless to say, these are important issues — but the films are thin, didactic, 101. The fluffy, French “La Femme et le TGV,” about a lonely woman (Jane Birkin) who “flirts” via letters with a train conductor she’s never met IRL, isn’t much deeper, but it is charming.

Best Original Score
Who Will Win:
Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Who Should Win: Mica Levi, “Jackie”
It’s not a stretch to call this slot for the one that’s actually a musical, but the latest from Mica Levi — whose “Under the Skin” does more with three notes than most scores do with, like, we don’t know, eight — is so good it actually may work better when listened to on its own, on Spotify. When chained to “Jackie,” it makes an eccentric twist on the prestige picture even more eccentric.

Best Original Song
What Will Win:
“City Of Stars,” from “La La Land”
What Should Win: “How Far I’ll Go,” from “Moana”
“City of Stars” has been our unwanted earworm for months, and as punishment we’re saying we’d rather that song Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote for “Moana” won instead. Not that we can even hum it.

Best Cinematography
What Will Win:
“La La Land”
What Should Win: “Moonlight”
We’re guessing this will just be a kneejerk for-“La La Land” sitch, but “Moonlight” really is the more creatively filmed movie, where even the flashier shots (like the opening long take) serve a purpose. The entire movie is a vision of one character’s world, and the movie locks us into it and never lets us loose.

Best Costume Design
What Will Win:
“Jackie”
What Should Win: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
Four of the five here are for period films, and the Academy tends to equate excellence in costume design with how difficult it was to recreate a bygone period. So, it might go to “Jackie,” but we think it should go to “Fantastic Beasts,” which is not just about exhuming the 1930s, but also having original characters whose clothes define them, communicate something about them. And that’s harder work than finding the exact hue of Jackie O’s red dress.

Best Editing
What Will Win:
“La La Land”
What Should Win: “Moonlight”
Read this interview about how editor Joi McMillonbroke down the diner scene that eats up most of “Moonlight”’s third act and tell us “La La Land” should get another goldie for its towering pile.

Best Production Design
What Will Win:
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
What Should Win: “Hail, Caesar!”
“Fantastic Beasts” is bigger and more fantastical, but any “You Must Remember This” addict must have gone gaga over the Coen brothers recreating 1950s Hollywood: its cavernous artificial sets, that Esther Williams pool, the antiseptic beach house run by nerdy Communists, that bar set where Channing Tatum does the gayest musical number since the Village People movie “Can’t Stop the Music.”

Best Makeup and Styling
What Will Win:
“Suicide Squad”
What Should Win: “Suicide Squad”
Sure, give it to the one where the guy had to be turned into a lizard.

Best Sound Design
What Should Win:
“Arrival”
What Will Win: “Arrival”
The next two awards are the most Inside Baseball; even journalists have a hard time remembering the difference between Sound Design and Sound Mixing. This Variety article is a fine layman's read. And so we can say, with a sliver of confidence, that the most impressive feat of sound engineering was “Arrival.” They had to create those alien voices! We’re pretty sure AMPAS voters won’t shrug-emoticon and give it to “La La Land.”

Best Sound Mixing
What Will Win:
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
What Should Win: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Even after reading the aforementioned Variety piece, we’re still kind of just guessing here. But action movies are the most difficult to mix, especially when there’s even more aliens than there are in “Arrival.” So, “Rogue One,” yeah, let’s go with that.

Best Visual Effects
What Will Win:
“The Jungle Book”
What Should Win: “Kubo and the Two Strings”
Those anthropomorphized creatures in the live-action “Jungle Book” remake are something else. They look real, not CGI! Even cooler, we say: the next-level stop-motion in “Kubo,” especially that origami story that wows in the first act. Ditto that big eyeball sea monster. And that skeleton beast. Have people really not seen this?

The 89th Academy Awards will air on ABC on Sun., Feb. 26 starting at 7 p.m.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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