The winners in the Oscars’ acting categories tend to match the winners of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which took place last month — which means these categories generally don’t offer too many Oscar surprises.
Luckily, this was a stellar year for acting, with solid-to-great nominees in all four categories (though the absence of Amy Adams in the Best Actress category merits a side-eye). So even if this year’s wins aren’t surprising, they’ll at least be well-earned. Additionally, three of the four categories stand to be won by black performers — a marked change after two years of #OscarsSoWhite — which could make this an unprecedented year for the acting Oscars.
So while the acting Oscars can seem a little anticlimactic after so many months of awards season buildup, there’s still some potential this year for surprising — or at least satisfying — results.
Here are predictions for the Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress categories.
Actor in a Leading Role
- Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
- Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
- Ryan Gosling, La La Land
- Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
- Denzel Washington, Fences
A lot of people — including me — considered Casey Affleck a lock for this category all the way back to Manchester’s premiere at Sundance in January 2016. And if I had money on the winner, I’d still be somewhat nervous about betting against Affleck, who won a Golden Globe for the role. But sexual harassment allegations against him have dimmed his star a bit, making him less of a sure thing than he seemed a few months back.
Then there’s the matter of Denzel Washington in Fences: Washington won a Tony for the same role on Broadway (along with his co-star on both stage and screen, Viola Davis); he also directed the film, and his performance in it is one for the ages. Plus, everybody loves Denzel, who last won an Oscar in 2001 for Training Day. Plus, he took the SAG Award over this exact slate of nominees, which is a strong predictor for the Oscar.
I suppose some might say Ryan Gosling will win. I say nah.
Will win: Denzel Washington
Might win: Casey Affleck
Dark horse: Ryan Gosling
Should win: Denzel Washington, whose performance in Fences absolutely nails the audience to the wall
Actress in a Leading Role
- Isabelle Huppert, Elle
- Ruth Negga, Loving
- Natalie Portman, Jackie
- Emma Stone, La La Land
- Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Emma Stone is great, though her La La Land performance is hardly the best of these five (though it elevates an underwritten role). But she’s been performing well in this category all season, and La La Land is obviously beloved by the Academy. She also won a SAG Award and the Golden Globe for Actress in a Musical or Comedy for the role.
However: The Golden Globe for Actress in a Drama went to Isabelle Huppert — who wasn’t nominated for a SAG at all. Huppert was also on a hot streak with critics’ associations last fall, winning the award with many influential organizations, such as the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle — in many cases, for her performances in both Elle and L’avenir (Things to Come).
But Elle is a controversial film about rape, which might not do as well with Academy viewers. And in the end, the SAG Awards are still the best thermometer in the Oscar acting categories, since many SAG members are also voting for the Oscars, whereas the Globes and critical accolades are not peer awards.
Huppert could eke out a win if some of Stone’s votes go to Natalie Portman, whose portrayal of a bereaved Jackie Kennedy has been nominated for many awards this season, though she only won at a few more minor ceremonies.
Will win: Emma Stone
Might win: Isabelle Huppert
Dark horse: Natalie Portman
Should win: Huppert, whose performances are not just central to the films she’s in — they drive those films, which would have much less to offer without her in them. Stone will have a better role someday.
Actor in a Supporting Role
- Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
- Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
- Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
- Dev Patel, Lion
- Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Save for the Golden Globes, where Mahershala Ali was unexpectedly edged out by Nocturnal Animals’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ali has swept this category all year. That his performance in Moonlight as Juan, a drug dealer and father figure to the main character, is this memorable in a film full of memorable male roles is significant. A loss would be a huge upset. (Ali also has a fine turn in the audience favorite Hidden Figures.)
That said, Patel is good in Lion, a film the Academy seems to love more than most critics expected (it’s nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture). And his character also has an emotional arc that sticks with you after the film is over. It’s unlikely he beats Ali, but he’ll make a strong showing.
Lucas Hedges, who plays the nephew in Manchester By the Sea, is still a relative newcomer, and I don’t think he’ll actually win, but he’s been nominated a lot this year, and we’ll be hearing from him in the future.
Will win: Mahershala Ali
Might win: Dev Patel
Dark horse: Lucas Hedges
Should win: Ali, though it’s worth noting that Patel is only the third actor of Indian descent to be nominated in Oscar history, and if he won, he’d be only the second to win (after Ben Kingsley in 2004)
Actress in a Supporting Role
- Viola Davis, Fences
- Naomie Harris, Moonlight
- Nicole Kidman, Lion
- Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
- Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Davis has had this locked up almost from the start, and like Denzel Washington, she won a Tony for the same role on Broadway. Her performance is breathtaking, in a rather literal sense; I got lightheaded watching her cry and storm at Washington’s character. She also won the SAG Award in this category over this slate of nominees.
That said, Michelle Williams — whose role in Manchester By the Sea is relatively minor — was considered the frontrunner for much of the year, and her final scene with Affleck is as devastating and memorable as Davis’s performance. Naomie Harris has also been mentioned for the award several times, but it’s hard to imagine her beating Davis or Williams. And despite winning with the ensemble of Hidden Figures several times, including at the SAG Awards, Spencer isn’t going to win this alone in a slate this strong.
Will win: Viola Davis
Might win: Michelle Williams
Dark horse: Naomie Harris
Should win: Viola Davis — who’s been nominated twice before and never won. We can look forward to another great speech.