As Hollywood’s golden night creeps in, celebrities are picking their dresses and bookies are taking your bets.
But while La La Land’s success seemed undisputed just last month, February came bearing gifts.
Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight, a relatively low-budget independent production, seems to have dazzled its audience to the point of disturbing the winning odds of a Hollywood musical about, well, Hollywood musicals.
As far as official numbers go, Damien Chazelle’s movie is still the most likely winner in both best picture and best director categories.
Not only due to its previous success at major Guild Awards, but because of Hollywood’s long-lasting love affair with itself.
But the Academy can also be unpredictable – lest we forget Shakespeare In Love winning over Saving Private Ryan in 1999 – and the severe backlash it got last year for the lack of black talent could be compensated by awarding Jenkins.
Because bookies have been proven wrong in the past, Sky News film buff consider who will, who could and who should take the gong.
Best picture: Moonlight
While bookmakers continue to name La La Land as the one to beat, a severe backlash against the movie’s alleged “whitewashing” and unbearable lightness of topic signals Moonlight could turn the tables.
Barry Jenkins’ story of a black, gay man discovering himself in the rough, neon-lit streets of Miami has taken critics by storm, and could prove the necessary antidote for the Academy’s diversity issues.
Also, the last time a musical won best picture was Rob Marshall’s 2002 Chicago – one would think they’d learn from their mistakes.
If Moonlight takes the gong, it will be well deserved.
Best director: Damien Chazelle
It may appear contradictory but, when it comes to best picture and best director, the Academy has a history of splitting the difference.
Although nominated for best picture last year with Whiplash, the Academy snubbed Chazelle in the best director category.
This year, the 32-year-old Harvard scholar was hard to ignore and will likely become the youngest best director winner in Hollywood history.
His biggest challenge? Barry Jenkins.
Being the man behind the year’s most acclaimed film has its perks, and Jenkins auteur film, divided in three separate acts, could teach the Academy a thing or two about indie cinema.
Best leading actress: Natalie Portman
In perhaps the toughest category this year, Natalie Portman could be on her way to winning a second Academy Award.
If Emma Stone doesn’t, that is.
The La La Land star picked up the accolade at the SAG Awards last month – and pretty much every prize before – which lead to the assurance the Oscars would be no different.
But Portman’s nuanced, contained performance as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s superb biopic has been hauled by many as the year’s best.
We think Portman will take it. And if she doesn’t, she should.
Best leading actor: Denzel Washington
Snubbed in the best director category for his stage-like adaptation of August Wilson’s play, Washington might be compensated for his powerful performance as a frustrated bin man.
His biggest challenge will be to overcome Casey Affleck’s tense, layered New England man in Manchester By The Sea.
Affleck took home the Bafta and the Golden Globe, but the Academy is a somewhat more political beast, and Affleck’s accusations of sexual harassment could take a toll.
Affleck’s role is more complex and his ability to make a hateful man seem likeable is nothing short of brilliant but, ultimately, we think Washington will take the prize.
Best supporting actress: Viola Davis
The most straightforward award of the season, Viola Davis missing the best supporting actress award would be the biggest Oscar upset since Cate Blanchett lost to Gwyneth Paltrow in… Shakespeare In Love.
Best supporting actor: Mahershala Ali
Historically, recognising a small independent breakout star like Mahershala Ali isn’t exactly up the Academy’s alley – but this is no ordinary year.
With independent cinema slowly cavalcading into the mainstream – look at low-budget Hell Or High Water, grossing $27m – this is the time to turn our heads away from the big studios.
With small but central roles in both TV and film, Ali has proved this year he is a force to be reckoned with, but beating the likes of Jeff Bridges won’t be easy.
Best adapted screenplay: Moonlight
Best original screenplay: Hell Or High Water
Considered by most – including the Writers Guild – to be an original screenplay, Moonlight entered the Oscars race in the adapted category.
The Academy considered the fact that the movie is based on the unstaged play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.
That also makes it easier for Barry Jenkins screenplay to win, in a category free of the likes of Kenneth Lonnergan’s Manchester By The Sea.
It also makes Jenkins the first black writer to win the award.
Best original screenplay is a different battle altogether.
Against Lonnergan’s script is Taylor Sheridan’s highly praised, low-key Hell Or High Water.
Both critics and industry seem to agree that Sheridan is the best new screenwriter in town, after penning Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario last year.
Hell Or High Water has been described as a modern western, but it plays out as a sombre, socially relevant bank heist film, touching the heart of Donald Trump’s divided America.
Best animated film: Zootopia
Nowhere is the budget divide so clear as in this year’s best animated feature category.
Two Disney-produced blockbusters going against two small, independent movies.
Zootopia’s politically-charged themes will please the Academy, and ultimately make Dwayne Johnson’s Moana seem more of a children’s film that we’ve all already seen.
Away from the money crowd, Kubo And The Two Strings and The Red Turtle are two superb movies received with ravishing reviews
But they’re art house style and melancholic feel is unlikely to grab the Academy’s attention.
Best foreign language film: Toni Erdmann (or The Salesman)
This is where we keep our bets low. The critical success of this weird, offbeat comedy about a woman trying to relate to her estranged father may not exactly translate to the more conservative Academy.
But then again, it just might.
When it was first announced to open at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, the movie was announced in the less prestigious category Un Certain Regard.
Before the festival rolled its red carpet, the movie had won over so many hearts that it ran for the Palme d’Or instead.
Its widespread success was such, a US version of the movie featuring Jack Nicholson is already in pre-production.
If the Academy decides to get political, though, the award will most certainly be handed to Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman.
Farhadi being the Iranian director who boycotted the ceremony in protest of Donald Trump’s travel ban.