- Best Picture
Most likely winner : La La Land. A heavy favourite and much has been written about the race between La La Land and Moonlight for the best Picture prize as representative of the two types of movies that pick up Oscars. La La Land is a backward looking film in the sense that it draws heavily on the history of film and is influenced by the past. It is a good film and despite having a bit of a backlash recently on its treatment of jazz and its female protagonist, it is a spectacle in every sense of the word.
Backup Pick : Moonlight. The best odds on this right now are 9/2 which is enough for second favourite but not really close (La La Land is at 1/9). While La La Land is backward looking and a film about the movies and making movies, Moonlight is a far more unique film. It isn't an original story or even an uncommon one; but it is a rarely portrayed one. Films in African-American communities that have a heavy drug component are common but too often cliche. Coming of age films in African American communities with any gay references are rare. This is a film that transcends stereotypes.
Most deserving : Arrival. A total longshot at 100/1 and definitely underrated. I think it's the best movie of the year and Denis Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today. It's not expected to make a good film out of the intricacies of communication methods but it's been done here. The film is a slow-burn thriller from start to finish and while many other films are good in the list, there's not others as original and entertaining as this.
- Best Adapted Screenplay
Most likely winner : Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney for Moonlight. This is a film that tells a story that is familiar. Drug problems in African American communities, problematic and distant parent figures; these are not new themes and can become dull quite quickly. It is the strength of the script that these familiar themes are never boring or cliched but always portrayed to give the viewer the ability to make their own decisions on what is being shown. It is difficult to show and not impart a skewed view. This takes trust of the viewer and this script trusts the viewer.
Backup Pick : Luke Davies for Lion. Second favourite at 8/1 but this one I don't agree with. The film starts strongly and after the frantic opening half it's inevitable that the second part would lag, but I think it drags too much. The closing scenes also seem a bit rushed and perhaps slightly overdone in the attempt to get the viewer to really feel the emotions. Solid enough but the strength of the film is in the acting and not the screenplay.
Most deserving :Eric Heisserer for Arrival. The novella is highly scientific with a lot devoted to mathematical methods and Fermant's least time principle. It is a great read but it doesn't set up well for a film because it's very much a stop-and-think kind of book. Hence it's a great achievement not just to adapt the novella but to catch the essence of the novella into the screenplay keeping the nuances of mathematical logic on the storyline but also making a movie that is essentially about linguistics a compelling one.
- Best Original Screenplay
Most likely winner : Damien Chazelle for La La Land. A front runner but I think the strength of the film lies in the acting (mostly by Emma Stone) and the music (composed by Justin Hurwitz, lyrics by Pasek and Paul). This means that the script's storyline, with its flaws about the saving of jazz (though there is a discussion about jazz evolving, so it's not as ignored as many articles make it out to be) and the female lead having a mostly passive role (when she was clearly the best person in the film) fall on Chazelle. The film is strong and the script is not a bad one, but it has more flaws in it than others nominated (such as The Lobster, Hell or High Water and Manchester by the Sea).
Backup Pick : Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea. The strength of the film is in the acting and the strong emotional performances shown by the actors. But an actor can only flesh out a performance so far without a quality script. Everything in this script set the actors up with what they needed for a captivating performance. In this sense it is the type of screenplay that becomes a foundation for the film rather than the driver, and it is a strong foundation indeed.
Most deserving: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for The Lobster. As far as original goes this is one of the most original screenplays of all time. A wholly bizarre black comedy that seems more like a Theatre of Absurd play than a 21st centre movie. Mostly straight-faced satire on the silly obsessions modern society has with modern relationships of the "you complete me" kind. The best movie about relationships in a long time is a dystopian one where single people get turned into animals if single too long. This is as original as it gets.