The annual big screen bun fight is almost upon us, with platitudes, blubbering, earnestness and false modesty in abundance - and that's just the hacks on the red carpet. Here's what we think will, and might, happen on Sunday night.

When the lights go down inside the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood gets down to the serious business of celebrating itself, and no matter how jaded we are about the whole jolly, we still end up watching and wishing.

Why? Because behind the cynicism we're still the wide-eyed fans who can't see any of the politicking and posturing and just want our favourites to win - that's the magic of the movies.

Here are our predictions for Sunday night and whether we're right or wrong, one thing is for sure: no sooner will the show have ended than we'll all be wondering who's going to be in the shake-up next year.

Best Picture
The Nominees:
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

The Favourite: La La Land
What We Think Will Win: Hidden Figures

If there's one thing Hollywood loves as much as putting bums on seats it's patting itself on the back, and La La Land's setting, its tributes to the Golden Age, and the heartstring tugging that comes with reminding Academy voters of their own early days in the business means it's the favourite. It's a great movie too, by the way.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

That said, the correlation between Best Picture and Director wins is becoming rarer and with La La Land's Damien Chazelle a shoo-in for the latter it doesn't mean his film will be honoured with the former. Last year, Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director for The Revenant but Spotlight was named Best Picture. The years 2014 (Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for Gravity, 12 Years a Slave was Best Picture) and 2013 (Ang Lee won Best Director for Life of Pi with Argo Best Picture) also saw splits. In total, it's happened 24 times in Oscars history... 

Janelle Monáe, Taraji P Henson and Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures

So, if La La Land isn't winning why are we plumping for US space race drama Hidden Figures? Well, after last year's #OscarsSoWhite outrage, this is the perfect opportunity to honour a film that has a brilliant ensemble cast, is based on true events about breaking down racial and gender barriers and has much more of a story to it than La La Land.

Simply put, Hidden Figures is too important not to win something - especially with the smog of doom around the Trump Presidency. Yes; you could also make that argument for Moonlight, but it may be just a bit too arty, whereas Hidden Figures is more mainstream and if you take a look back through the years, it's the crowd not critic-pleasers that usually do the business on the night.

Further proof needed? Well Hidden Figures won the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG) award for Best Ensemble - something that both Spotlight and Birdman also did on their way to Best Picture in 2016 and 2015. It has also been a bigger hit in the US than La La Land. Don't be too surprised is all we're saying!

Best Actor
The Nominees:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

The Favourite: Casey Affleck
Who We Think Will Win: Denzel Washington

The favourite as far back as the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016 - that's how long this particular Oscar odyssey has been going on - Manchester by the Sea star Casey Affleck's path up to those steps on Sunday night looked gilded all the way. 

Then along came the Screen Actors' Guild's spanner in the works which saw their award for Best Actor go to Denzel Washington. Suddenly, the race really became one. The Oscars have mirrored the SAG shindig every time since 2004 and in the 23 years of the SAG Awards they've only differed on the Best Actor winner on four occasions.

Not seeing eye-to-eye - Jovan Adepo and Denzel Washington in Fences

With wins already for Training Day (Best Actor) and Glory (Best Supporting Actor), Washington is still at the top of his game in Fences - ironically playing a character driven just as much by rage and guilt as Affleck's in Manchester by the Sea. The family drama sees the double Oscar winner directing himself in a role he won a Tony Award for on Broadway, and there are bigger, speech-driven scenes for his character than Affleck's low-key turn. 

Washington is also Hollywood royalty, and that will resonate with the Academy's older demographic much more than the younger man's work. There's usually one big shock on the night; it could well come here.

Best Actress
The Nominees:

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

The Favourite: Emma Stone
Who We Think Should Win: Natalie Portman 

The love-in for La La Land has been as lengthy as it has loquacious and has seen Emma Stone winning Golden Globes and Screen Actors' Guild gongs for her cloud-busting turn as Hollywood hopeful Mia. 

While the temptation to turn up the twee with such a role is immense, Stone played it just right to give us a character that audiences - charcoal cynics aside - could identify with as a kindred spirit.

Natalie Portman in Jackie

That said, while Stone is the favourite, her performance is not, to these eyes, the best of the bunch. That honour goes to Natalie Portman, whose emotional whirlwind as widowed First Lady Jackie Kennedy in Jackie is far more deserving of an Oscar - and that includes the one Portman herself received for Black Swan

One would imagine that a portrayal of a real-life social and political American icon would be the ultimate catnip for the Academy but maybe there's something just too raw and truthful in Portman's portrayal of grief that voting for the happy Hollywood ending is the easier option. Their - and our - loss. We'll still have our fingers crossed for a Portman upset on Sunday.

Best Supporting Actor
The Nominees:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

The Favourite: Mahershala Ali 
Who We Know Will Win: Mahershala Ali 

That great saying about how there are no small parts, only small actors comes to mind with the supporting shortlists - for some they're the most intriguing and exciting part of the whole Oscars shebang. This year has been another great year but, really, all the talk has been about one performance: Mahershala Ali's hypnotic turn as pusher-with-a-heart Juan in Moonlight

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

Granted, he (bizarrely) lost out to Nocturnal Animals' Aaron Taylor-Johnson at the Golden Globes, but the Screen Actors' Guild Awards are a great predictor of success - the Oscars have only diverged twice in the past ten years - and Ali now has a SAG Award at home.

From the minute Ali steps out of a car as Juan in Moonlight's first scene you're hooked - poise, power and vulnerability combining to create an unforgettable anti-hero. If the gold standard in this category is that you leave the cinema wanting to know so much more about the character, then Ali's work here towers over his fellow nominees - even Bridges as the salty lawman in Hell or High Water.

Best Supporting Actress
The Nominees:

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

The Favourite: Viola Davis
Who We Know Will Win: Viola Davis

Like Mahershala Ali in the Supporting Actor category, this contest is done and dusted and, again, the best performance will win. No disrespect to the great work of the other nominees, but Viola Davis has the most to do in Fences - and does it unforgettably. 

The linchpin of the family and the film - Viola Davis in Fences

Davis won the Tony Award for her role as Rose opposite co-star and director Denzel Washington on Broadway, and having been nominated in the past for Best Supporting Actress for Doubt and Best Actress for The Help - there's an argument she should've won for either or both - she will get her rightful reward this time.

Davis' is a performance of such power - all the way from quiet to explosive - that it measures up to anything we've seen in the last few decades. As the weary wife who has stood by her man, she is the heart of Fences, and while she's ended up in the Supporting Actress category for, it appears, matters of strategy, she should really be in the Best Actress shake-up. Just watch the bombshell moment in Fences that starts in the kitchen and ends up in the backyard - stunning work and recognition long overdue.

Best Director
The Nominees: 

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

The Favourite: Damien Chazelle
Who We Know Will Win: Damien Chazelle

This feels like such a foregone conclusion that it's as if the cleaners are already hoovering under the seats in the Dolby Theatre after the ceremony. Having been anointed at the Golden Globes, Directors' Guild Awards and the BAFTAs, La La Land's Damien Chazelle will be the youngest Best Director Oscar winner - 32 - when his name comes out of the envelope near the end of Sunday's show. If there are some doubts about La La Land landing Best Picture, there are none about the man behind the lens.

Damien Chazelle on the set of La La Land with Emma Stone

In terms of high wire filmmaking, Chazelle was the one director from this year's nominees who had the furthest to fall. And along with the bravura came the brownie points the showbusiness brethren love: Chazelle's musical romance reinvigorated a genre; was a mainstream audience favourite, made back over 10 times its $30m budget and, sealing the deal, is set in Hollywood.

Still not convinced? Take a look at the other directors shortlisted alongside Chazelle and ask yourself this question: whose movie is the one that you think most of the Academy voters have seen? That's a wrap people!

Best Original Song
The Nominees:

Audition (The Fools Who Dream), La La Land
Can't Stop the Feeling, Trolls
City of Stars, La La Land
The Empty Chair, Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I'll Go, Moana

The Favourite: City of Stars
What We Think Should Win: Can't Stop the Feeling

The Academy's appetite for a piano ballad is both legendary and insatiable and despite the fact that 91 songs were on the longlist this year - the largest number in Oscars history - the ivories dominate three of the five shortlisted songs. 

Combining a love letter to a city with quite the ego massage for people in the movie business, La La Land's City of Stars was always destined to be the aren't-we-great favourite - especially with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling singing its story of underdog hopes and dreams. 

But does City of Stars deserve to win? Not to our ears. For sheer joy, energy and lightning-in-a-bottle magic, Can't Stop the Feeling from Trolls is the standout song this year - a stone cold classic that will be passed from generation to generation in much the same way as the gems that inspired it. To get the Oscar, though, that's some ask. Spare a thought, too, for The Empty Chair, J Ralph and Sting's beautiful tribute to murdered American journalist James Foley. It deserves its own special Oscar. 



Harry Guerin