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Oscar predictions 2017: Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, and the other 8 technical categories

If La La Land cleans up here, it could break the all-time record. Can Arrival and Moonlight stop the sweep?

Amy Adams in Arrival
Can Arrival win any of the five technical Oscars it’s nominated for?
Paramount Pictures
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

There’s one big question hanging over the technical categories at the Oscars this year: Does La La Land just win everything?

Of the 10 technical categories, La La Land is nominated in eight. It only missed Makeup and Hairstyling and Visual Effects, two categories where it didn’t really have a realistic shot at a nomination. But it’s nominated everywhere else — including in categories where, to my mind, it’s legitimately lousy. (We’ll get to those in a second.)

How well La La Land does in these technical categories is probably the difference between it winning seven or eight Oscars and tying or breaking the all-time record for most Oscars won — currently held by Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which all won 11. If La La Land runs the table here, then it only needs to pick up another three awards to tie and another four to take the record. Both are very doable.

On the other hand, all of this La La Land focus shouldn’t neglect that there are some great nominees in all 10 of these categories. The Academy often uses technical categories to spread the wealth a bit, and it just might do that this year as well — only to a lesser extent than it usually does.

Here are predictions for all 10 technical categories at the Oscars.


Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land
Los Angeles is sure purty in La La Land.

Forget Silence, which received its only nomination here.

But even setting that film aside, the other four nominees here are all Best Picture nominees with viable claims to the win. Arrival’s Young and Lion’s Fraser are both exciting breakthrough talents, celebrating their first nominations here. (This is an unusually newbie-stuffed category: Only Prieto has been nominated before, and this is just his second nomination.) But those nominees are likely going to pale next to the two films that have been battling all awards season: La La Land and Moonlight.

Laxton’s Moonlight images are the most striking and painterly of the year. Even 10 years ago, when this category often went to the most obviously beautiful film, that would have been an advantage. But in recent years, the award has skewed more and more toward cinematographers who set up complicated shots, often with elaborate camera choreography. And if that’s the case, the advantage is Sandgren’s (terrific) La La Land work.

Will win: La La Land

Might win: Moonlight

Dark horse: Arrival

Should win: I love all five of these nominees, but would give Moonlight the edge for the way its images have stuck with me for months now.

Film Editing

Being nominated here is usually a good sign of Best Picture strength. Birdman was the first movie to win Best Picture (in 2015) without being nominated for Editing since Ordinary People managed the trick in 1981, and Birdman was constructed to seem like it didn’t have editing.

So, long story short: This is a good category to be nominated in and win if you’re going to win the big prize.

That would seem to favor Best Picture frontrunner La La Land, but that film is also constructed of long, long takes meant to show off the singing and dancing, which might artificially hamper it. The smart money is still probably on La La Land, but the voters will occasionally go for something flashier in this category. That could reward the war-movie chops of Hacksaw Ridge or the elaborate timeline dance of Arrival.

Will win: La La Land

Might win: Arrival

Dark horse: Hacksaw Ridge

Should win: I liked few 2016 movies as much as Arrival, and so much of that is due to how the editing keeps the film’s complicated narrative from becoming too hard to follow.

Production Design

This is one of those categories where a non-Best Picture nominee can compete, if only because it rewards, in essence, the best sets — and any movie can have great sets. (That’s why the genuinely awful Passengers is nominated here. The sets were pretty great!)

Still, the two Best Picture nominees here are breathtaking enough that one of them will probably win. Both are nominated, seemingly, for one major element. In La La Land, it’s the closing dance number, which takes place on a variety of bright, colorful sets meant to evoke old Hollywood musicals. In Arrival, it’s the aliens’ spaceship, which looks like no other spaceship you’ve seen in a movie.

I’m giving the edge to Arrival, because I have a sense Oscar voters won’t want to give everything to La La Land. But the second you start trying to predict which awards a film isn’t going to win, it’s probably going to win all of them anyway.

Will win: Arrival

Might win: La La Land

Dark horse: Hail, Caesar!

Should win: Hail, Caesar! is a fun romp through Hollywood history, and it recreates so many styles and moods that it deserves something for its troubles.

Costume Design

Natalie Portman played Jackie Kennedy in Jackie
Can Jackie win costume design for capturing Jackie Kennedy’s signature look?
Fox Searchlight

There are three plausible winners here. Fantastic Beasts Atwood is a three-time winner and perennial nominee in this category. Jackie’s Fontaine had to recreate the look and style of one of the most iconic fashion figures of all time. And La La Land’s Zophres is largely nominated (I would guess) for the scene where Emma Stone and her pals go out in color-coordinated dresses — but those dresses were great evidence of how simple but eye-catching costumes are still great.

Anyway, Jackie gets the edge for degree of difficulty, but beware the La La Land sweep.

Will win: Jackie

Might win: La La Land

Dark horse: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Should win: Those Jackie costumes really were something else.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Of these three nominees, only Ove has another nomination — for Foreign Language Film — which makes this the rare category at the Oscars without a Best Picture nominee.

The safe bet in categories like this is often “predict the nominee with the most obvious example of whatever it’s nominated for.” Sadly, that means Suicide Squad, which has elaborate makeup designs for its cast of supervillains. They’re quite good, don’t get me wrong. The movie’s just trash.

Will win: Suicide Squad

Might win: A Man Called Ove

Dark horse: Star Trek Beyond

Should win: Star Trek Beyond was one of my favorite blockbusters of last year, and its makeup work was nicely handled. Why not toss it a win?

Original Score

  • Jackie, Mica Levi
  • La La Land, Justin Hurwitz
  • Lion, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
  • Moonlight, Nicholas Britell
  • Passengers, Thomas Newman

And we’re back to categories crammed full of Best Picture nominees.

The music branch of the Academy, which determines the nominees here, is notoriously averse to newcomers, which makes it all the more welcome that four of these nominees — everybody but the 14-time nominee, never-winner Thomas Newman — are on their first Oscar nominations. (Hurwitz is also nominated twice in the Song category.)

Anyway, La La Land is a musical, with original songs, and the score both adapts those songs and introduces its own themes. Indeed, one of the most memorable pieces of music from this original musical has no words at all. It’s winning.

Will win: La La Land

Might win: Moonlight

Dark horse: Passengers (maybe Thomas Newman calls everybody and reminds them how many nominations he has, even though he’s never won; it could happen!)

Should win: All due respect to the gorgeous scores of La La Land, Moonlight, and Lion, but Mica Levi’s ominous, swooning Jackie score has been burbling around in my head since I saw the film in September.

Original Song

Moana and Maui on Moana’s boat
Moana had some catchy songs.
Walt Disney Studios
  • “Audition (The Fools who Dream),” La La Land, music by Justin Hurwitz, lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls, music and lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster
  • “City of Stars,” La La Land, music by Justin Hurwitz, lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • “The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story, music and lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
  • “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana, music and lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

This category, often an afterthought, is crazy competitive this year. You have a genuine superstar in Timberlake (whose Trolls song is super catchy). You have the hugely celebrated Lin-Manuel Miranda, who’s one Oscar away from his EGOT (and whose Moana song is super inspiring). You have two nominees from La La Land, this year’s Oscar behemoth. And you have Sting!

The big question is if the two La La Land songs split the vote, allowing room for Miranda or (less likely) Timberlake to swoop in and take the prize. My general feeling is that this might very well happen. “City of Stars” has been La La Land’s standard bearer for ages and ages, but it’s also not a particularly great song devoid of the context of the film. That goes even more so for “Audition,” which really works best if you’ve seen the movie.

I’m predicting Moana, but if a La La song wins, expect “City of Stars.”

Will win: “How Far I’ll Go”

Might win: “City of Stars”

Dark horse: “Can’t Stop the Feeling”

Should win: “Audition” is the emotional highpoint of La La Land, and if I don’t pick it, I’ll end up picking the Trolls song instead. So “Audition” it is!

Sound Mixing

  • Arrival, Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye
  • Hacksaw Ridge, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter Grace
  • La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, and Mac Ruth

The sound categories are often easy to predict: Look for a war movie. Barring that, look for a musical. Barring that, look for an action movie with some degree of critical cachet.

This year is tougher, though, because the sound categories are super weird. Arrival is here, which is an inspired nomination — the sound work in that film is great — but also not one you’d expect the membership of the Academy to notice. And I’m personally rooting for Hacksaw Ridge because its team includes Kevin O’Connell, who’s been nominated for 21 Oscars and never won, a record.

But I fear La La Land might win here, even though the sound work on that film is puzzlingly bad. It’s mixed so you can barely hear the singers in the opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” to the degree that I couldn’t pinpoint some of the lyrics until I listened to the soundtrack album. That seems like a fault in a musical, but La La Land fever could carry the day.

Will win: Hacksaw Ridge

Might win: La La Land

Dark horse: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Should win: Arrival, for its convincing alien soundscapes.

Sound Editing

  • Arrival, Sylvain Bellemare
  • Deepwater Horizon, Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli
  • Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
  • La La Land, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
  • Sully, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Just repeat a lot of what I said above, though I would guess Hacksaw has a greater advantage here, because its sound editing is more noticeable than La La Land’s. (Briefly: “Sound editing” rewards sound effects work — explosions and gunfire and whatnot — while “sound mixing” rewards the overall blend of sounds in the film, including dialogue, score, sound effects, and other elements.)

Will win: Hacksaw Ridge

Might win: Deepwater Horizon

Dark horse: La La Land

Should win: If I ever had an Oscar ballot, these categories would be where I voted for films I liked but hadn’t supported elsewhere. Sully it is!

Visual Effects

The Jungle Book
The animals in The Jungle Book almost looked real.
  • Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Justin Billington, and Burt Dalton
  • Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, and Paul Corbould
  • The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon
  • Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean, and Brad Schiff
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, and Neil Corbould

Here’s the other category without La La Land — or any Best Picture nominees at all, since Arrival was surprisingly snubbed here.

Yet this is a fascinating race between two Disney productions. (Then again, Disney dominates this category. Even the dark horse, Rogue One, is a Disney production.) The Jungle Book is essentially an animated film, featuring photorealistic, computer-generated jungle animals, who look real enough that you don’t question them as characters. Doctor Strange would be the first Oscar winner for the immensely profitable Marvel universe, and its mind-bending visuals were a constant delight.

It would be cool to see Strange win, but Jungle Book feels like the more obvious accomplishment.

Will win: The Jungle Book

Might win: Doctor Strange

Dark horse: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Should win: It would be really cool if this category went to an animated film, and the various creatures and items created for the stop-motion Kubo are terrific effects. Go, Kubo!

Watch: The Oscars' voting process awards safe movies

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