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Column: Who will win at the Oscars ... and who should

Pray for Jimmy Kimmel.

He's almost all that is likely to separate the 89th Academy Awards from a mass audience snoozefest Sunday evening.

Movie pros and fanatics will feel differently. The year 2016 was a very good one for movies and the movies and performances that are up for awards are very good ones. But none is the sort that make for gripping television for an audience of hundreds of millions around the globe.

Most of the year's best, to understate considerably, are not "popcorn movies." Or, to use another expression that was commonplace when this annual Oscar tipsheet was born in 1973, they're not "movie movies" either – not even "La La Land," that tribute to great Hollywood musicals of yore. They all border on "art films." Indy cinema is exhaustively represented. And that very narrowness of demographic appeal is exactly what makes many of them as good as they are, even if they're not things that rile up the popular bloodstream.

There is, in fact, only one big surprise mass audience hit in the Best Picture category that stands a chance of winning: "Hidden Figures." "Arrival" and "Hacksaw Ridge" and "Hell or High Water," are, more or less, commercial movies perfectly appropriate for gorging on an accompanying tub of popcorn at your favorite megaplex but they don't, as "Hidden Figures" so obviously does, combine big, fat box office with the sort of Big Statement that Oscar winning movies often like to make.

[READ: Simon's review of "La La Land," a likely Oscars favorite]

Kimmel is a lot better in the saddle as host than he is often given credit for being but unless he's at the very top of his form, it is going to be a somnolent ride for an American mass audience trying to maintain the same passionate interest in the proceedings that movie fans and pros will.

This much we know for sure about drama: Last year's sneering at #OscarsSoWhite will have been rendered completely moot by the end of the show, when a diverse roster of awardees is likely.

Here's how it all dopes out:

BEST PICTURE: "Arrival," "Fences," "Hacksaw Ridge," "Hell or High Water," "Hidden Figures," "La La Land," "Lion," "Manchester by the Sea."

The Likely Winner: "La La Land" was everyone's guess long before the presidential election. It would be hard to bet against. "Moonlight" was often mentioned as a "La La" alternative but, as good a movie as "Moonlight" is, it's just not a movie of Best Picture size.

What IS a "La La" alternative, I think, is "Hidden Figures" which was a surprise box office hit and is the kind of inspirational movie and education that Oscars have been partial to before.

Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) are three brilliant women working at NASA in "Hidden Figures." (20th Century Fox)

[RELATED: Simon's review of "Hidden Figures"]

"Hacksaw Ridge" would have been a contender if directed by someone else but the number of people willing to forgive Mel Gibson's past transgressions simply won't be high enough. "Lion" is a truly great uplifting tearjerker but not enough people will have seen it. If you're gutsy enough to take a flyer, opt for "Hidden Figures" but you'll be doing it against the odds.

My Preference: Either of two non-nominated films, "Nocturnal Animals" or "Captain Fantastic."

No, no, tell me the winner isn't ... Yes it is. It's probably "La La Land," which will please all those who ever appeared in or worked on high school musicals.

[RELATED: "La La Land" ties Oscar record for most nominations]

BEST ACTOR: 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."

The Likely Winner: The bad news for Affleck is that he was the favorite for so long that it gave a lot of people time to contemplate the past accusations of sexual misconduct against him and his general public alienation from the Hollywood Way of Things. He's a thorny fellow at the very least.

Casey Affleck, right, might not be a shoo-in for an Oscar. (Sundance Institute)

[READ: Simon discusses Affleck's performance in "Manchester by the Sea"]

Washington, on the other hand, is beloved and he was no surprise for the SAG Award in this category. He also directed his film "Fences." He won't win Best Director but it gives him extra cachet as an advocate for American Theater at the Movies that other actors will appreciate – a lot. I'm guessing Denzel, despite Affleck's early lead.

My Preference: Garfield, who was superb in two movies last year – "Hacksaw Ridge" and Martin Scorsese's "Silence."

No, no, tell me it's not ... Gosling. Good for him for learning how to dance and play the piano. But then almost everybody at MGM was taught to do that. In this field, he's no Oscar-winner – or at least shouldn't be.

[READ: Colin Dabkowski's "In Defense of 'La La Land' "]

BEST ACTRESS: Emma Stone in "La La Land," Natalie Portman in "Jackie," Ruth Negga in "Loving," Meryl Streep in "Florence Foster Jenkins," Isabelle Huppert in "Elle."

The Likely Winner: Stone. It's an award I can live with, if not get excited about. She was good and she's always that way. An award to Huppert would be an interesting Oscar to a whole glacial tradition of great French film actresses but it's an awfully long way to go just to be unconventional. But never underestimate Hollywood's secret streak of self-loathing. They might think an Oscar to her would give them "class" even though her film was contemptible.

My Preference: Portman. Not only does she seem to be underappreciated by the Oscars, so was the movie itself, which deserved to be a Best Picture nominee.

[READ: Simon reviews "Jackie," starring Natalie Portman]

Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in "Jackie." (Stephanie Branchu/20th Century Fox)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali in "Moonlight," Jeff Bridges in "Hell or High Water," Lucas Hedges in "Manchester by the Sea," Dev Patel in "Lion," Michael Shannon in "Nocturnal Animals."

The Likely Winner: The "Moonlight" consolation prize to Ali. The category, though, is so good that the only unfortunate winner would be Hedges for "Manchester by the Sea." Everyone else will be good enough to celebrate vigorously.

My Preference: Nothing except Hedges will make me the slightest bit unhappy though the one that would make me the happiest would be Shannon for the extraordinary "Nocturnal Animals."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis in "Fences," Naomie Harris in "Moonlight," Nicole Kidman in "Lion," Octavia Spencer in "Hidden Figures," Michelle Williams in "Manchester by the Sea."

The Likely Winner: The fix is in here. Davis' is a lead role, not a supporting role, which practically guarantees her an Oscar. Williams', on the other hand, is a tiny role with barely 10 minutes of screen time. Her great scene, though, is where the power of the entire movie resides. What she has going for her is that she's, more or less, the widow of Heath Ledger (they never married) which was, no doubt, something she called on directly in this lacerating film about grief. Davis, nevertheless, is a virtual gimme.

My Preference: As tiny as her part was, Williams' performance was extraordinary. But then, Davis' inexorable march to be the black equivalent of her friend Meryl Streep is more than fine with me.

[RELATED: Viola Davis supports Denzel Washington in "Fences"]

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in "Fences." (Paramount Pictures)

DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve in "Arrival," Mel Gibson in "Hacksaw Ridge," Damien Chazelle in "La La Land," Barry Jenkins in "Moonlight," Kenneth Lonergan in "Manchester by the Sea".

The Likely Winner: Unless the last-minute flight away from "La La Land" was immense, it's Chazelle's to lose.

My Preference: Again, for a non-nominated figure –Tom Ford for "Nocturnal Animals." In this field, either Villeneuve or, believe it or not, Gibson.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Luke Davies in "Lion," Eric Heisserer in "Arrival," Barry Jenkins in "Moonlight," Theodor Melfi and Allison Schroeder in "Hidden Figures," August Wilson in "Fences."

The Likely Winner: Another great category where no one is unworthy. How on earth do you pass up an opportunity to give a posthumous Oscar to August Wilson? If they do, it's a good test of the strength of "Hidden Figures." But then, what Jenkins did with "Moonlight" was completely remarkable. Tough category.

My Preference: None really. Too bad Davies is such an unlikely winner because that movie was the tearjerker of the year.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan in "Manchester by the Sea," Taylor Sheridan in "Hell or High Water," Damien Chazelle in "La La Land," Mike Mills, "Twentieth Century Women," Efthymis Fillippou and Yorgos Lanthimos in "The Lobster."

The Likely Winner: If not "La La Land" (and Chazelle's script abounds in unexpected felicities), this will be the consolation prize for "Manchester By the Sea."

My preference: Either "Manchester" or "La La" would be just peachy.

Chris Pine, left, and Ben Foster in a scene from the movie "Hell or High Water" directed by David Mackenzie. (Lorey Sebastian/CBS Films)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: "Arrival," "La La Land," "Lion," "Moonlight," "Silence."

The Likely Winner: A lot of "La La" was tough to do so a good guess would be Linus Sandgren for that film, which actually took over LA's 409 Freeway for a while. Again, though, there are no weak nominees here.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: "Fire at Sea," "I Am Not Your Negro," "Life, Animated," "OJ: Made in America" and "13th."

The Likely Winner: Another great category. Our award show obsession with O.J. Simpson as a subject makes it the prohibitive favorite but just to make it interesting, let's say that enough people were stunned by "I Am Not Your Negro" working from a hitherto unknown work by James Baldwin to give it an Oscar.

That would be a very interesting award indeed though our American obsession with sports spectacle points toward O.J.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "Toni Erdmann," "The Salesman," "A Man Called Ove," "Tanna" and "Land of Mine."

The Likely Winner: It would be amazing if "Toni Erdmann," which so impressed Hollywood that Jack Nicholson and Kristin Wiig are slated to star in an American version, were to come up short. But if it does, it will do so to "The Salesman" whose director refused to come to America in protest and for worry over what the new administration might mean to his trip.

If it's "The Salesman," it means that Hollywood took a gigantic political leap forward against the Trump administration.

Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), left, and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) are forced to relocate in "The Salesman," which has unexpected – and unsavory – side effects. (Habib Majidi/Cohen Media Group)

ORIGINAL SCORE: "La La Land," "Jackie," "Moonlight," "Lion," "Passengers."

The Likely Winner: Do you even need to ask? "La La Land."

ORIGINAL SONG: Yes, yes, yes, of course. "City of Stars" from "La La Land."

FILM EDITING: La-la-la-la-la, etc.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: "Kubo and the Two Strings," "Moana," "My Life as a Zucchini," "The Red Turtle" and "Zootopia."

The Likely Winner: Not as easy to call as you might think. Mavens in the category might go for "Kubo" or even "The Red Turtle" but, in a race between "Zootopia" and "Moana" the best guess would be "Zootopia."



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