By Nicole Sperling
January 23, 2017 at 03:51 PM EST
Dale Robinette

This awards season marks a moment for small films with big ideas. From the musical wonder created by Damien Chazelle in La La Land to the profound specificity found in Barry Jenkins’ stunning Moonlight to the ache of Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, the three movies likely to nab the most Oscar accolades come Tuesday morning all grab hold of the heartstrings and don’t let go. They also all happen to be independently financed works distributed without the help of the major studios. In fact, of the likely Best Picture nominees, Denis Villeneuve’s meditative sci-fi film Arrival and Denzel Washington’s domestic tragedy Fences are the only ones from a major studio (and the same one to boot, Paramount). That is, unless 20th Century Fox scores a nomination for its inspiring period drama, Hidden Figures.

This year,  even the more conventionally masculine films — like the Western Hell or High Water, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, and Washington’s Fences — are all highly emotive. And then there is Lion, Harvey Weinstein’s best shot at a Best Picture slot and a film that finds its power in sentiment.

Here are our Best Picture picks:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director

Wunderkinds Chazelle and Jenkins each re-imagined personal narratives in ambitiously creative ways, and New York playwright Lonergan never flinched from the paralyzing guilt that can haunt survivors of a tragedy. Who fills out the last two slots? French-Canadian filmmaker Villeneuve (Arrival) and Scottish director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) are the best bets for the final two slots, likely edging out veterans such as Martin Scorsese (Silence), Clint Eastwood (Sully), and Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge). Our predictions:

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress
With Natalie Portman’s layered study of Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie and Emma Stone’s vulnerable turn as an actress trying to make it by her own rules in La La Land, there are too many qualified candidates for the number of slots. Stone and Portman are locks. Academy members might find it hard to resist Meryl Streep, especially after her memorable Golden Globes speech, even though her light touch in Florence Foster Jenkins isn’t one of her best roles. Still, she may edge out Isabelle Huppert’s ferocious performance in the French film Elle and possibly Ruth Negga, the Ethiopian-Irish actress whose confident portrayal of Mildred Loving in Loving was a standout. There will likely be room for Amy Adams’ linguist from Arrival, but what about Annette Bening’s turn as an unconventional mother in Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women or Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train? Her role has already sparked love from SAG and BAFTA. This is one year the Academy would benefit from expanding their field of nominees. Here’s how we think the category will work out:

Amy Adams, Arrival
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Emma Stone, La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Natalie Portman, Jackie

Best Actor

Despite weathering headlines about his past conduct, including accusations of sexual harassment, Casey Affleck looks bound to land an Oscar nomination for Manchester by the Sea. Joining him will be Ryan Gosling for La La Land, Washington for Fences, and maybe Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge. Viggo Mortensen is likely to carve out that last slot after his SAG Awards nomination, leaving Tom Hanks’ performance in Sully out in the cold, along with Garfield’s turn in Silence. Our picks:

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington, Fences
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Best Supporting Actress

Every year, there is one race that’s all sewn up before the nominations are even announced. This year that sure thing is Viola Davis for her role as anguished housewife Rose in Fences. She already won the Tony for the same role in the play’s 2010 Broadway revival, and here she takes it deeper and to even greater effect. Manchester’s Michelle Williams has the only upset shot. Here’s our take:

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali isn’t around for long in Moonlight, but his influence on the main character is profound and long-lasting. His biggest competition comes from newcomer Lucas Hedges for his role as the teenager grieving the death of his father in Manchester. The kid’s the real deal, but he may have to wait his turn. Others that could sneak in include Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins and perhaps Ben Foster in Hell or High Water. Here is where we think it will end up:

Dev Patel, Lion
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

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