1. La La Land (Lionsgate)
Sweeping the Golden Globes with a record-breaking seven wins and then landing a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations only confirmed what we already knew: La La Land is the one to beat. It will cruise to a Best Picture victory, so the suspense lies in how many statues it can snag (it will need 11 to tie the record, which is quite possible).
2. Moonlight (A24)
Though it has won its fair share of prizes this season, Moonlight will have to settle for silver. Though if it were up to the critics (or me), it would handily nab gold. It will have a shot at a trophy in Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay, though it's no sure thing, so hopefully the year's best film doesn't go home empty-handed.
3. Manchester by the Sea (Roadside/Amazon)
This emotional drama from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan has been on awards watcher's radars since last year's Sundance Film Festival (more than a year ago). Similarly to Moonlight, it has two realistic shots at an Oscar: Actor and Original Screenplay, though neither category is a lock.
4. Hidden Figures (Fox)
A well-timed end-of-year release made sure this crowd-pleaser was peaking while voters had nominations ballots in hand. A win for Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards shows that it has the support of the actors (the Academy's largest branch), though likely not enough to pull off an upset victory.
5. Arrival (Paramount)
Though it has most of the key nominations typically needed for a Best Picture win, including directing, writing, and editing, Amy Adams' miss in Best Actress shows it might not speak as loudly to a consensus vote as its passionate fans would hope (myself among them). Unless it can pull off a surprise win in any of its eight nominated categories, it appears destined to end the season without any gold.
6. Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate)
Given its nomination tally (six in all, including Best Director for Mel Gibson), it's ostensibly in the mix - though is this really anyone's favorite film of the year? I shouldn't think so, but it has a very good shot at netting the Sound Editing prize, which is one more Oscar than some of its rivals will go home with.
7. Lion (Weinstein Co.)
Never underestimate a movie that can make grown men cry. This heartwarming film has resonated with voters and audiences and is sure to be #1 on a handful of ballots, though not likely enough to make a significant dent in this race. An upset screenplay win or a repeat of Dev Patel's Best Supporting Actor BAFTA win are the film's best angles at a statue.
8. Hell or High Water (CBS Films)
There is a great deal of admiration for David Mackenzie's modern-day cops and robbers neo-Western, which was enough to secure it four nominations, though the nominations will be its reward.
9. Fences (Paramount)
Fences is guaranteed at least one Oscar with Viola Davis a surefire Supporting Actress winner, to go along with the Tony she won for the same role. Denzel also picked up the Tony for that production and might join Viola with His and Hers Oscars if he can sneak past Casey Affleck for the win.