At the Academy Awards, the Oscar for Best Picture is the biggest award of the show, and not just because it's the last category of the night. The winner of the award for Best Picture can, and occasionally does, send a very clear message to Hollywood producers and studios about what kind of movie audiences want to see. This year, there are nine films nominated for the top prize, but as for which movie will win the Best Picture Oscar, that's still up in the air. That's not to say there aren't some frontrunners, though.
The 2017 Oscar nominations were only just announced, and final voting doesn't close until Tuesday, Feb. 21, which means there is plenty of time for the Oscar race to change. However, at this point, with just under a month to go before Oscar night, most of the big award shows like the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, aka Oscar indictors, have already happened. This means that it's very unlikely for a film that hasn't won some kind of Best Picture or Best Cast award to come in and take home the Academy Award, and unfortunately, there are some nominated movies that, while perhaps deserving, simply will not gain any momentum as the awards approach.
Of the nine Best Picture nominees, it's safe to say that Hacksaw Ridge has the least chance of winning. Even though director Mel Gibson earned a nomination, he is still very much not forgiven for his controversial past in many Hollywood circles, and there's no way a religious war movie beats out La La Land or Moonlight for Best Picture. Two other very unlikely candidates to win the prize are Lion and Hell or High Water. Both are multiple nominees and very decent films, but the buzz simply isn't there. So, with Hell or High Water, Lion, and Hacksaw Ridge officially out of contention, let's take a deeper dive into the chances of the remaining six films, from least likely to most.
It is extremely unlikely that Fences will take home the award for Best Picture. However, Denzel Washington's recent SAG Award victory has thrown the Best Actor Oscar race, previously in Casey Affleck's pocket, for a loop. Washington's star power, Viola Davis' extraordinary work, and the continued public backlash against Affleck could give Fences some momentum as Oscar voting begins. That said, it's an extremely long shot, especially considering the fact that Washington wasn't nominated for Best Director.
5. Manchester By The Sea
Manchester by the Sea is an excellent and heartbreaking film that will not win Best Picture. With nominations for a majority of its cast — Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams — and nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Director for Kenneth Lonergan, the film is definitely in the running for Best Picture. But, like Fences, Manchester by the Sea is still a long shot for the award. What makes it so difficult to see Manchester by the Sea win is that the movie itself is not groundbreaking or particularly enlightening, like Moonlight. Nor is it a fun love letter to Hollywood, like La La Land. In other words, it lacks a certain spark that makes Best Picture nominees into Best Picture winners.
Arrival is not going to win Best Picture. The fact that Amy Adams was left off the Best Actress in a Leading Role nominations list could be an indication that the film won't have the votes to pull off a Best Picture win, and not only that, but Arrival has been steadily losing momentum as the Oscars approach, with no wins at the SAG Awards or the Golden Globes. With eight nominations, it's likely that Arrival will take home at least one award, but Best Picture probably won't be the one.
3. Hidden Figures
If you had asked me a few days ago if I thought Hidden Figures had a chance of winning the Best Picture Oscar, I would have said no. But, after the SAG Awards, anything is possible. Hidden Figures took home the SAG award for Oustanding Cast in a Motion Picture, an honor that last year went to Spotlight, which then went on to win Best Picture. Hidden Figures has more awards momentum now than ever, and it could ride that wave straight to the Oscars. The movie also might benefit from our current political climate. As more and more people feel disenfranchised, dismissed, and cast aside by the new president and his administration, movie lovers turn to films like Hidden Figures for inspiration. Voting for Hidden Figures to win Best Picture would send a message that, in Hollywood, they still believe in the need for equality for all minorities and all genders.
Moonlight is considered a heavy favorite to win Best Picture for one big reason: because it's really that good. But, history has shown that the movie that should win is not always the movie that does win. Moonlight is currently a bit stalled in Oscar momentum, with only a win for Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali looking certain as the show nears. A Director's Guild of America win for Best Director nominee Barry Jenkins could push Moonlight over the edge, but it's a tricky vote. My guess is that either Jenkins will win the Best Director Oscar and Moonlight will lose Best Picture, or Jenkins will lose Best Director and Moonlight will win Best Picture (like 12 Years a Slave did in 2014).
Like Hidden Figures, though, Moonlight could also benefit from the political climate, but it all depends on what kind of reaction Oscar voters has to politics. They will either want to show that they are here to represent inclusion and acceptance, even if the country's government is not, or they will want to show that Hollywood can be an escape from the real world. That last option would mean that the Oscar for Best Picture would go straight to...
1. La La Land
La La Land has all the makings of a Best Picture. A movie made in the image of old Hollywood classics, the movie musical will no doubt appeal to the same nostalgic Academy voters who awarded Best Picture to The Artist in 2012. Like Moonlight, a DGA Award win for director Damien Chazelle could push La La Land over the edge at the Oscars, but, for all intents and purposes, the film's Best Picture chances are about as equal as those of Moonlight.
Bottom Line: Moonlight and La La Land will be the two major contenders for Best Picture. Who wins will depend on how many members of the Academy want to celebrate a movie that celebrate movies, or a movie that celebrates humans underrepresented on screen. And that's anybody's guess.