The second Moonlight premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September of 2016, it has been a major Oscar contender. And the buzz has not died down since. Now, after months of making the festival rounds and limited releases, Moonlight is in the home stretch, heading straight for the Oscars. There is no way that Moonlight won't be nominated for at least a good three to five Oscars, including Best Picture. But what are the chances of Moonlight winning an Oscar?
If I were a betting woman — which, for the record, I am not — I would put money on Moonlight taking home at least one Oscar, but more than that is tricky. It would be easy to say that Moonlight will be nominated for the six categories it is nominated for at the Golden Globes — Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score. But the Globes are not always exact predictors of the Academy Awards, and differences in categories between the two award shows can make all the difference in these tight races. Not to mention the last minute scandals and surprise box office hits that can also influence Oscar races.
It's tough to really narrow down Moonlight's Oscar chances, but here's what I've decided: Moonlight will receive at least five nominations, with an option for three more, and, of course, the possibility of a wildcard nomination. As for its chances of actually winning awards, let's examine the Oscar chances for Moonlight category by category, starting with the five most likely nominations — Best Original Score, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.
Best Original Score
Composer Nicholas Britell seems poised to earn a nomination for Best Original Score, but this is his first major project, and more experienced composers tend to take home the gold. Not to mention the fact that he'll probably be up against movies that are remembered for their music, like La La Land, which could significantly lower his chances.
Bottom line: Chances of a Britell win are extremely slim.
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali's star-making performance will undoubtedly earn him an Oscar nomination, and he's the heavy favorite to win. I'd say Ali has this one pretty much locked up, but you never know. What this might come down to is whether or not the Academy thinks someone else deserves the Oscar, not for their performance, but for their entire career (think Jeff Bridges or Hugh Grant).
Bottom Line: Ali will (and should) win.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Moonlight is in a tricky spot. The Academy has determined it should compete for Best Adapted Screenplay, while the Writer's Guild of America recently nominated it in the Original Screenplay category. Moving the script by Barry Jenkins over to the Adapted Screenplay category changes it's odds slightly, but definitely pushes it towards the front of the pack. For one thing, it takes it away from the highly competitive Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, and 20th Century Women, while also giving it a competitive edge over other adapted screenplays because it is overwhelmingly original.
Bottom Line: Moonlight has extremely good odds to win.
Barry Jenkins is on track for being nominated for Best Director for his first feature film, and that's no small feat. But, the odds of him winning are, well, confusing. Ever since the Academy decided to expand the category of Best Picture by having more nominees, Best Picture and Best Director winners have been tougher to predict because they are not always the same. Given the (slightly) more experienced directors likely to be nominated alongside Jenkins — Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Denzel Washington (Fences), Martin Scorcese (Silence), etc. — I would venture to say that Jenkins might win Best Director and lose Best Picture or win Best Picture and lose Best Director.
Bottom Line: Jenkins has a fair shot, but his chances vary greatly depending on the other nominees.
As stated above, Moonlight's chances of winning Best Picture are really anyone's guess. Yes, it is definitely a frontrunner, but until we find out the nominees, it's impossible to determine whether or not it truly has a big chance of winning.
Bottom Line: Best Picture is still anybody's game, but Moonlight is in the top three, no matter the other nominees.
Now, the categories below are ones that Moonlight will likely be nominated for, but don't have as much of a chance at winning as those above.
Best Supporting Actress
Naomie Harris was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in Moonlight, but it's essentially an accepted fact that Viola Davis will take home the award for her work in Fences.
Bottom Line: Harris is a long shot to win.
James Laxton deserves a nomination for his beautiful cinematography in Moonlight, but buzz around that category has been pretty low. Cinematography is one of the categories that the Academy recognizes, but the Golden Globes does not, which means it's farther outside the mainstream awards discussion. Moonlight is likely to go up against La La Land, Arrival, and Silence in the Best Cinematography race, which, as of now, seems wide open.
Bottom Line: There's a chance, but no guarantee.
Joi McMillion and Nat Sanders are in prime position to receive nominations for Best Editing for their work on Moonlight. Unfortunately, like Best Cinematography, Best Editing is a tough race to call so early in awards season.
Bottom Line: It's soon to call it.
Moonlight might not sweep the Oscars, but it will take home some awards, and the nominations alone should be enough to propel it into a must-see film across the world. The most important thing for a film is not to win awards, but to be seen and experienced. In that sense, Moonlight should only expect good things from the Academy come nomination day on Jan. 24 and awards day on Feb. 26.