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Which films could wind up the precursor favorites?

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Folks, we’re approaching the onset of precursor awards (also, it’s Election Day today, and please go vote). That glut of honors among the various critics groups and such will be our next clue as to how the Oscar season might shape up. Obviously, these don’t have a direct correlation with the Academy Awards, but perception can turn into reality. If something appears like the frontrunner, it can actually become the one to beat. Some years it happens, and some years it doesn’t. We’re still not completely sure what will ultimately happen this year, but I have a few hunches, as you’ll see below…

Here are the six best bets to dominate the precursor season:

20th century women20th Century Women – This is perhaps a long shot, but maybe a character study dramedy winds up catching fire? More likely is that Annette Bening shows up a bunch in Best Actress races, perhaps even winning a handful. There’s a chance that the screenplay catches on, but I doubt this will stand up to the rest of the contenders I’m listing. Still, anything is possible, so I included it anyway. Sit tight and we’ll see what happens…

FENCESFences – Going by the buzz over the weekend after that first SAG screening, people are going to love this one. Viola Davis could sweep the Best Supporting Actress race, with Denzel Washington likely to have a good showing in Best Actor. Not showing up with the more independent minded precursors will likely prevent it from overtly dominating, but especially once the Guilds kick in, we’ll be hearing about this one a whole lot.

Natalie Portman in JackieJackie – If not for the coldness of this admittedly brilliant tale, I’d put this as a likely precursor favorite. Natalie Portman is going to win a bunch of Actress prizes though, and that could help lead a real charge. Screenplay prizes for Noah Oppenheim and potentially even some Best Director attention for Pablo Larrain could be in the cards. The road may not be paved with tons of wins, but I suspect a whole host of nominations are to come during the season.

Ryan Gosling dark shotLa La Land – Should we see the precursors match the guilds and ultimately the Oscars, the smart money is on this musical dominating. Having just seen it yesterday, I’m still swooning. Seriously, it’s a masterpiece. As such, I suspect this could easily be the juggernaut of the precursor season. Damien Chazelle should clean up with Director prizes, while Emma Stone in Actress should go toe to toe with Bening and Portman. Below the line it’ll be a force as well. Unless something changes, this could cake walk to awards all season long, starting with the precursors, straight through the Guilds, and ending with being feted by the Academy.

Casey Affleck  Michele Williams Manchester by the SeaManchester by the Sea – Critics groups should fawn over this character study drama. Casey Affleck likely will win the majority of the Actor prizes this year, which will certainly have a positive impact elsewhere. Kenneth Lonergan’s screenplay is potentially going to be seen all over the place as well, be it in Best Original Screenplay fields or the more generic Best Screenplay categories. Expect a solidly large amount of attention for this one.

moonlight twoMoonlight – If there’s an indie likely to be the favorite of the precursor season, it’s this coming of age story. Barry Jenkins could see his flick surprise at a number of early awards stops, creating a strong narrative. If not La La Land, look to this one as the prime contender to dominate the early stage of the game. Especially in Director categories, it could be a force to reckon with. Sleep on this one at your own peril.

Stay tuned to see which film, if any, fares best during the precursors!

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