Who will win and who should win in Oscars' major categories

Sunday night's Academy Awards have a little drama building, but it doesn't look like a year for many twist endings. Many of the major categories have clear frontrunners, especially given the Academy's tendency toward Hollywood self-congratulation. Here's my rundown of predictions for the night, as well as the winners I'd actually like to see.

Best Motion Picture



Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Manchester by the Sea


Will win: Hollywood loves movies about, well, Hollywood. But “La La Land” is also a love letter to movie musicals with a love story at its core. This one is hard to resist.

Actually deserves to win: I loved “La La Land,” and had it just a spot ahead of its main competition, “Moonlight,” in my year-end rankings. But given the subject matter of the latter, it would be a better moment on more than a few fronts.

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Will win: Damien Chazelle made a dazzling feature debut with “Whiplash,” and he's just 32 years old. He won't have to wait long, as he'll claim the statue for “La La Land.”

Actually deserves to win: “Moonlight” told a moving story about a young black man's experience with both poverty and his sexuality. Barry Jenkins' direction was the force that made it an emotional powerhouse.

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Will win: Not only did Emma Stone sing and dance in “La La Land,” but her aspiring-actress character had some great “audition” scenes that showed even more of her range.

Actually deserves to win: “Jackie” may have looked like obvious Oscar bait on the surface, but Natalie Portman gave a wide-ranging performance that was somehow more audacious than her turn in “Black Swan” — for which she won an Oscar.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Will win: When Denzel Washington brought his Tony-winning stage performance in “Fences” to the big screen, he was sure to be a frontrunner in this category. It's one of the night's closer races, but money is on Denzel collecting his third Oscar.

Actually deserves to win: Casey Affleck was the emotional core of “Manchester by the Sea.” It's the best performance of his career and one that firmly established he's the best actor in the family.

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Will win: Viola Davis is overdue on her third nomination, and winning two acting categories would make “Fences” one of the supporting stories in a night likely to be “La La Land” dominated.

Actually deserves to win: With the three distinct acts of “Moonlight,” Naomie Harris' performance as a crack-addicted mother was the one that arced throughout, and she nailed it.

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

Will win: Mahershala Ali's father figure in the first act of “Moonlight” is integral in establishing the narrative. He gets the nod in a movie full of powerful male performances.

Actually deserves to win: Honestly, I would have given the “Moonlight” nod to Trevante Rhodes, but it would be great to see young Lucas Hedges get some credit for “Manchester by the Sea.”

Best Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea

20th Century Women

Will win: Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's first film in years is also his best. “Manchester by the Sea” gets the nod in my favorite category.

Actually deserves to win: This is a personal pick, sure, but screenplays didn't get much more original this year than “The Lobster.”

Best Adapted Screenplay



Hidden Figures



Will win: Barry Jenkins' “Moonlight” tells a tale over three distinct points in the same young man's life. Here's a consolation prize for Best Picture.

Actually deserves to win: “Moonlight” was a challenging story to commit to the screen, and its success started with this screenplay.

Best Animated Feature

Kubo and the Two Strings


My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Will win: Oscar isn't always a popularity contest, but Disney's “Zootopia” was crowd-pleasing entertainment with a message.

Actually deserves to win: “The Red Turtle” is more of an art film, and this category doesn't often sway that way. But it should.

Best Documentary Feature

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

O.J.: Made in America


Will win: ESPN seems to have successfully sold “O.J.: Made in America” as a feature, even though its 467 minutes, although amazing, sure do feel like a TV miniseries.

Actually deserves to win: Viewing the films in this category is an amazing course in the African-American experience. Both “O.J.” and “13th” are amazing in their own right, but I'll give the slight edge to “I Am Not Your Negro.” Watch them all.