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Win Your Oscar Pool With Our Blisteringly Accurate Predictions

Oscar statues in a Hollywood back lot getting a last touch-up before the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday.
Frederic J. Brown
AFP/Getty Images
Oscar statues in a Hollywood back lot getting a last touch-up before the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday.

Look: You want to win your Oscar pool. We want you to win your Oscar pool.

In truth, we feel we owe it to you.

You took our advice on the Emmys, last September, and you did ... okay. Seventeen right, out of 27 categories. Which, yes, if you're the kind of egregiously unimaginative churl who clings, with a willfully hidebound insistence, to the "rules" of "math," works out to 62%. A "failing" "grade."

This meant that, yes okay, your awful friend Trish won the evening, and has been gloating about it for months, in that gratingly condescending way of hers. Like that time you went to see Arrival, and she waited until the movie started to lean over and whisper hotly in your ear, "It's not your fault, I mean who saw Bloodline's Ben Mendelsohn coming, right?"

This effrontery will not stand. Take heart: Tomorrow night, if you follow our picks below, Trish is going down.

REMINDER: The Pop Culture Happy Hour team (Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, producer Jessica Reedy and All Things Considered's Bob Mondello) will be live-blogging the Oscars tomorrow night, beginning at 6pm ET. Join us at oscars.npr.org

Know that we are applying precisely the same degree of sterile, empiricist rigor to our Oscar prognostications that we did to our Emmy picks.

Know, too, that in most of the major categories, odds-makers and have identified clear front-runners, and the conventional wisdom around their chances has remained remarkably stable, ever since the nominations were announced.


There's every reason to believe that this year, the conventional wisdom should be regarded with a pinch of salt. A shovelful of salt. A 40-pound Costco bag of Snowmelt.

Because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) — the members of which vote on the Oscars — took long-overdue steps last year to diversify and revivify their voting pool. A bit.

Let's look at the numbers. Some 6,004 active members voted for the 2016 Oscars last February. In June, AMPAS added 683 new members. Of this new group, 46% are women, 41% percent are people of color, and 41% are from 59 countries outside the U.S.

Encouraging? Sure. But the needle hasn't moved all that much: membership still stands at 89% male, and 73% white.

The Academy's a long way from woke, but it's sleeping lighter.

For our prognosticating purposes, what matters is that about 10% of those who are voting this year have never cast an Oscar ballot before. They're also younger, on average, than their fellows.

As a result, the conventional wisdom — the "Oscar buzz" that historically reflects the go-to, calcified, show-bizzy assumptions of Oscar-watchers who've been watching the Oscars for years — is less dependable than ever.

The picks below attempt to account for this new landscape. Inasmuch as they can. Which is not very much.

But, um, trust us anyway?

NPR's Searingly Scientific, Rigorously Discerned, Ferociously Objective Oscar Picks, Which Glow With The Soft Comforting Warmth Of Complete And Unutterable Rightness And Are Not Repeat NOT Wild Guesses So Just Get THAT Idea Out Of Your Head Right Now


  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight
  • The battle here's between Moonlight and La La Land. (This will be the last Oscar handed out tomorrow night, but if La La Land racks up some early categories, you'll know which way the evening's headed.) Many assume that Hollywood's long track record of rewarding movies about itself — "dreams made of flickering light and shadow" and whatnot — makes La La Land a shoo-in. But all those new members, and the post-election political climate, may be enough to give the smaller, moodier, achingly beautiful Moonlight the momentum it needs to take the trophy.

    ... But probably not. This is The Artist all over again.

    Who Will Win: La La Land


  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences
  • It's between Affleck and Washington, and Affleck's chances have been fading over the past few months. There's also the fact that it's such a hooded, inwardly directed performance — masterful, but unshowy in ways that might fly below some voters' radar. Smart money's on Washington: It's a big performance of an iconic American role in a work that's revered. Yes, he's won twice before (for best supporting in Glory and best actor in Training Day). Doesn't matter. If he wins tomorrow, he'll be the first black actor to take home three trophies.

    Who Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences


  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Negga was quiet and assured, Portman's performance was deeply divisive (I loved it, but I get how people thought it mannered), ditto Huppert, and Streep was Streeping to beat the band. With a stick. But La La Land's about dreams made of flickering light and shadow, have you heard? The only question is whether she'll dedicate it to her aunt who used to live in Paris.

    Who Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land


  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges,Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
  • One of the few locks of the night.

    Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight


  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
  • Another of the evening's absolute locks. You won't find bigger locks on the Panama Canal.

    Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences


  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia
  • There are those who will tell you that the actual best animated feature of the year, Kubo and the Two Strings, will win this year, because it just won a BAFTA, which has a great track record of picking this category's winners. Do not believe them.

    Who Will Win: Zootopia


  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Silence
  • Moonlight, Lion, and Arrivalfeatured cinematography that supported their stories, intensified them, invited audience to live inside them. Silence is old-school spectacle, gravid and gorgeous. It's also the Scorsese film's only nomination, and there's a solid chance that voters might single it out in an effort to honor its director. But then again, dreams made of flickering light and shadow blah blah blah.

    Who Will Win: La La Land


  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La land
  • Tough one. Historically, the Academy rewards period pictures, with all their showy bustles and bonnets and brooches. Which would argue for everything but La La Land. If you think the backlash against La La Land is strong enough that you're prepared to risk another loss to Trish (who's confident of a La La Land sweep), a good place to hop off the LLL train is the depot marked Jackie,which was meticulously stylish and sleek as hell. But if you do, you're braver than us. Because those dreams! They're made of flickering light! And shadow, also!

    Who Will Win: La La Land


  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  • Denis Villenueve, Arrival
  • Usually — in 64 out of the 88 past Oscar ceremonies, or 73% of the time — the best picture and best director awards go to the same film. But this year is anything but usual, and splits are getting more and more common. (2013: Argo/Life of Pi; 2014: 12 Years a Slave/Gravity; 2016: S potlight/The Revenant.) A split gives the Academy a chance to spread the love around, and in a year when there's a choice between a popular "dreams made of flickering light and shadow" choice and a lesser-seen critical darling, it's beginning to look a like Splitsville.

    Who Will Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight. (If he does, he'll be the first black director to win.)


  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • OJ: Made In America
  • 13th
  • Three out of the five nominees ( I Am Not Your Negro, OJ: Made in America and 13th) tackle race in America. The fight's between Ava DuVernay's magnificent 13th and the sprawling, 467-minute, deep dive into the OJ Simpson case. 13th makes a powerful and stirring argument, while OJ: Made in America dedicates itself to making the viewer place an achingly familiar event in a sweeping cultural context. (Its Hollywood setting does not hurt its chances.) OJ has the edge here — but if there's a knock against it, it's that it's a television project that got a VERY limited theatrical release to qualify for this award. The Academy may sniff at that.

    Who Will Win: OJ: Made in America


  • Extremis
  • 4.1 Miles
  • Joe's Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets
  • Extremis profiles a palliative care specialist treating terminally ill patients in an Oakland ICU. 4.1 Miles follows a captain in the Greek Coast Guard swept up in the ongoing migrant crisis, and both Watani: My Homeland and The White Helmets present a ground-level view of war-torn Syria. They are, in different ways, searing and stark. Only Joe's Violin — about a elderly man who lost much of his family in the Holocaust, and his decision to donate his beloved violin to the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls — offers anything like the faintest glimmer of hope. Voters will likely seize on that.

    Who Will Win: Joe's Violin


  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • Moonlight
  • Take a look at how that diner scene in Moonlight makes you live in the tension and uncertainty of the moment, and tell me it doesn't deserve the Oscar. The black beans and rice alone! But who are we kidding. It's a "dreams made of flickering light and shadow" world, and we're all just livin' in it.

    Who Will Win: La La Land


  • Land of Mine, Denmark
  • A Man Called Ove, Sweden
  • The Salesman, Iran
  • Tanna, Australia
  • Toni Erdmann, Germany
  • The Iranian writer/director Ashgar Farhadi won't be at the ceremony, but that doesn't matter.

    Who Will Win: The Salesman, Iran.


  • A Man Called Ove
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad
  • I know I keep harping on this, people, but seriously: If we allow the words "The Oscar-winning Suicide Squad" into the universe, I fervently believe they'll open a rift in spacetime from which will spill all manner of squamous gibbering eldritch horrors bent on our annihilation. It's a thing I worry about. Besides, there's a far better choice, which reflects how very far Star Trek has come from slapping a wad of spirit gum between the eyebrows of a day-player and shoving him in front of a camera.

    Who Will Win: Star Trek Beyond


  • Jackie
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Passengers
  • Moonlight's score was beautiful, Jackie's was ... impossible to miss ( BRAAAAMMMMM), Lion's did its work, and Passengers' was there also. ( Arrival's was overlooked, for what it's worth.) But La La Land's score is almost disquietingly hummable. Also? Not to put too fine a point on it? Dreams made of flickering light and shadow.

    Who Will Win: La La Land


  • "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)," La La Land
  • "Can't Stop the Feeling," Trolls
  • "City of Stars," La La Land
  • "The Empty Chair," Jim: The James Foley Story
  • "How Far I'll Go," Moana
  • Conventional wisdom says "City of Stars," from La La Land. And in its defense: "dreams made of flickering light and shadow," after all. But it's up against "Audition," a song which is so very "dreams made flickering light and shadow" it practically makes namaste-hands at you. They could split the vote, allowing something else to squeak in. Which is why we're flinging conventional wisdom to the four winds and going with our heart on this one. Because if "How Far I'll Go" wins, Lin-Manuel Miranda will: 1. Get the O in his EGOT, 2. Be the youngest EGOT-holder in history, and 3. Give an acceptance rap. Those are three good things, right there.

    Who Will Win: "How Far I'll Go," Moana


  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers
  • Arrival's alien ship is uncanny and unforgettable, and Fantastic Beastsis showy, but please people, let's not forget about dreams, and what they're made of. ( Psst it's flickering light and shadow, beeteedubs.)

    Who Will Win: La La Land


  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper
  • Piper's a Pixar short, and it's looking like the studio will miss out on the animated feature Oscar, so this will make a nice consolation prize.

    Who Will Win: Piper


  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme Et Le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode
  • Ennemis Interieurs,a tense, intimate, wonderfully acted film about a French policeman of Algerian descent interrogating a French-born Algerian man, plays with the viewer in ways that voters are likely to appreciate. ( Timecode is very cute, though; don't count it out.)

    Who Will Win: Ennemis Interieurs


  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully
  • On the one hand: Dreams made of flickering light and shadow. On the other: War is both hell, and hella noisy.

    Who Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge


  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
  • Three war films here ( Hacksaw Ridge, Rogue One, and 13 Hours). And if Hacksaw Ridge takes it, it'll be Kevin O'Connor's first win, having been nominated 21 times.

    But then again: flickering light, shadow, dreams etc.

    Who Will Win: La La Land


  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • The Jungle Book
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Doctor Strangewas trippy, Kubo and the Two Strings was breathtaking (and if it wins, it'll be the first animated film to do so - weird, right?), but the pure technical achievement of The Jungle Book will take the day.

    Who Will Win: The Jungle Book


  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Here's a chance for the Academy to recognize both La La Land and Moonlight by splitting the adapted/original writing awards. But it's also a chance for them to give the evening's only nod to the hugely popular Hidden Figures (if Octavia Spencer doesn't win).

    Who Will Win: Moonlight


  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • The Lobster
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • 20th Century Women
  • The Lobster was my favorite film of the year, and the writing category is historically where the Academy recognizes films that are too quirky to qualify for the mass appeal of best picture. Hell or High Water and, especially, 2 0th Century Women feature smart, unconventional scripts. La La Land made the list, despite its unremarkable screenplay, for reasons having to do with flickering light and shadow, which, I am reliably informed, are the stuff of dreams. But this is Manchester by the Sea's to lose.

    Who Will Win: Manchester by the Sea

    There you have it. Good luck! Deliver unto Trish a shattering defeat!

    Here's one last thing to keep in mind: Even if La La Land doesn't sweep all 14 of the categories in which it's nominated (and it won't, despite Trish's wild-eyed convictions), it just needs to win 11 of them to tie with record-holders Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic and Ben-Hur. Should it miss only two of its categories, it'll break the Oscar record.

    Regardless, you can be certain that the Oscar's orchestra will be playing snippets from La La Land's score many, many times tomorrow night. But which of its songs will they launch into, as members of the cast and/or crew clamber to the stage?

    Take bets at your Oscar party, before the night begins.

    Trish will say, "City of Stars," because it's nominated. Foolish Trish! Ridiculous, witless Trish! It's much too slow and somber! Ditto "Audition." No, the walk-up music needs to be more celebratory. It could be "Someone in the Crowd," of course.

    But no: The smart money's on "Another Day of Sun."

    So get ready, tomorrow night, for a lot of ba ba BA ba-BA ba-ba ba-ba, ba ba BA ba-BA ba-ba BA-ba, and also, as I trust we've made clear, for plenty of dreams made of flickering light and shadow.

    How many? Definitely not 14, and probably not 11, but at least eight of them, we're predicting.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.