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Oscar Predictions: La La Land or Moonlight; Who Will Win Big?

Here's a handy cheat sheet on how to follow the show, and perhaps fill out a bracket.

CNN

Updated:February 24, 2017, 6:42 PM IST
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Oscar Predictions: La La Land or Moonlight; Who Will Win Big?
A still from the film.
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The Academy Awards can be perplexing, unless you're especially well versed in the difference between sound editing and sound mixing. But that doesn't mean you can't have a competitive advantage with your Oscar ballot, even if you don't have money riding on it.

Those who really want to master an Oscar-pool ballot are advised to study earlier award shows, especially the guild honors handed out by actors, directors, writers and producers. Even then, there are categories like short films that often amount to pool tiebreakers, where the winner probably has just as good a chance by throwing darts as educated guessing.

With that in mind, here's a handy cheat sheet on how to follow the show, and perhaps fill out a bracket.

BEST PICTURE

Arrival
Fences

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Despite the inevitable La La Land was overrated backlash, the City of Stars -- which has a history of honoring showbiz-related fare -- is virtually certain to make the musical's best-picture dreams come true.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

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

This ranks as one of the few major categories that's genuinely suspenseful. Affleck seemed like a sure thing early on, but controversy surrounding past sexual-harassment allegations and Washington's showy performance in Fences -- which he also directed -- have pushed him up into serious contention. Neither would be a surprise, but the latter seems like the more likely and sentimental choice.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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

Picking one actor from Moonlight is actually no mean feat, but Ali has dominated early awards and had a standout year, with his supporting role in Hidden Figures as well. Plus, he's charmed voters at other awards with his acceptance speeches, which doesn't hurt.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Isabelle Huppert in Elle
Ruth Negga in Loving
Natalie Portman in Jackie
Emma Stone in La La Land
Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins

There might not be a surer thing this year than Stone's Oscar -- she's already had multiple opportunities to thank everybody -- despite a strong lineup of contenders that includes Huppert's Golden Globe win on the drama side for the controversial Elle.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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

Who can deny that Viola Davis has award winning snot? Her crying scene in Fences (complete with the runny nose) had Oscars written all over it. It's not easy to share a spotlight with Denzel Washington, but Davis not only showed up for their scenes, she showed out. The other ladies in this category are extraordinary, but Davis acted her role from the top of her head to the tips of her toes and that's also where audiences felt it.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

It's two little movies against two Disney-released blockbusters, with Zootopia expected to come out on top. Let's just hope they don't let the sloth that works at the DMV accept the award, or the Oscars will run into Tuesday.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

La La Land should take this for the opening scene alone. The way the entire film is shot treats the city of Los Angeles as an additional character. As it should.

COSTUME DESIGN

Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land
Fantastic

All of the nominees in this category are worthy. But the costumes in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were magical.

DIRECTING

Arrival - Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge - Mel Gibson
La La Land - Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight - Barry Jenkins

Chazelle has received a lot of love for La La Land -- he's likely to receive more on Sunday. Barry Jenkins, however, could pull an upset with his deft handling of the extremely poignant, heartbreaking and raw Moonlight.

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
13th

O.J. Made in America managed to be as much a statement about celebrity and race relations in the United States as it was about a high profile murder case. It was incredibly compelling and almost literary in its storytelling. The doc deserves an Oscar.

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe's Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

The short doc about the Syrian Civil Defense, otherwise known as the White Helmets, has been touted as a frontrunner since almost the beginning. There couldn't be more drama than a story about a group of people who rush in after bombing to try and rescue survivors.

FILM EDITING
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

Assuming that La La Land has a big night, it figures to clean up in most of these technical categories, and has already earned honors from the editors' guild.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

An interesting category, and potentially one of the night's most political ones. Based on critical praise, Germany's Toni Erdmann would be the odds-on favorite. But President Trump's travel ban has thrust Iran's The Salesman into the news, with the director's decision to boycott the ceremony.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

As Oscar equations go, a no-brainer: Best picture + musical = best score.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) from La La Land
Can't Stop The Feeling from Trolls
City Of Stars from La La Land
The Empty Chair from Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I'll Go from Moana

Although there's a way-outside chance that the two nominations from La La Land could split the vote, City of Stars is the odds-on favorite. That said, parents with young kids can testify just how hard it is to get How Far I'll Go out of their heads.

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