Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester By the Sea
Other Contenders - Nocturnal Animals, Deadpool, Florence Foster Jenkins, Zootopia, Loving, Sully, Jackie, I, Daniel Blake, Hail, Caesar!, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Moana, Captain Fantastic, The Jungle Book, 20th Century Women
Commentary - So these nine have been riding here for awhile now. I know that there were only 8 the last two years, but the first two years of this system, there were nine. I feel like our Best Picture nominees are going to come from this nine, even if there are eight. But Nocturnal Animals is rising. I feel like it is more of a Foxcatcher or Carol. A lot of love across the branches, but in the end respect, not passion enough to breakthrough into Best Picture. I am also on the lookout for Deadpool (which has done surprisingly well at the guilds), Florence Foster Jenkins (this year's Philomena?), and Zootopia (because its time for another animated film to make the cut. PS - It should have been Inside Out).
Denis Villeneuve "Arrival"
Damien Chazelle "La La Land"
Kenneth Lonergan "Manchester By the Sea"
Barry Jenkins "Moonlight"
Tom Ford "Nocturnal Animals"
Other Contenders - Garth Davis "Lion", David Mackenzie "Hell or High Water", Mel Gibson "Hacksaw Ridge", Ken Loach "I, Daniel Blake", Jon Favreau "The Jungle Book", Martin Scorsese "Silence", Denzel Washington "Fences", Stephen Frears "Florence Foster Jenkins", Clint Eastwood "Sully"
Commentary - So we know four: Villeneuve, Chazelle, Lonergan, Jenkins. Or at least we think so. This is the category for shockers. But I am reserving the shocker for the last slot. Davis got the DGA, but I don't see the director's branch repeating. Mackenzie would be awesome, Gibson is well respected despite personal issues, Washington could cross the actor/director threshold, Frears is always popular, and don't discount Loach, Eastwood, Favreau, or the great Marty Scorsese. But I am going out on a real limb here and predicting, like with Foxcatcher, that a top five director gets in without a Best Picture nomination. He got the Globe nod and the BAFTA, Nocturnal Animals is stylish and a technical feat. With this branch, and without a clear fifth slot, why not go with the out-of-the box shocker?