How do Oscar nominations affect Best Picture race: Who’s up (‘La La Land’) & who’s down (‘Arrival’)?

There were numerous surprises when the 2017 Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday morning, January 24 (see the complete list), so how do these nominations affect the race for Best Picture? When forecasting the Oscar winner, what matters isn’t just the total number of nominations but the categories those nominations came in. So below are a few key takeaways.

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La La Land
Just when you think the film can’t get any stronger in the Oscar race, it does. “La La Land” earned 14 nominations, tying the record for the most in Oscar history — only “All About Eve” (1950) and “Titanic” (1997) had ever earned that many — but just as significantly many of its competitors slightly under-performed. No other film earned nominations in the double digits, so “La La Land” has almost twice as many as its nearest competitors, “Arrival” and “Moonlight,” which have eight apiece.

But where those nominations came is just as important, and “La La Land” was nominated in every field that a film usually needs to signify an Oscar frontrunner: directing, writing, editing and acting. The only other film that ticked all those boxes was “Moonlight.” “La La Land” even earned a nomination for Best Sound Editing, which is significant because no musical has been nominated in that category since Disney’s animated film “Aladdin” (1992), demonstrating that every single branch of the academy is smitten with it.

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“Moonlight”
We predicted eight nominations for this indie drama, and it got eight nominations in exactly the categories we were expecting, including the most important fields: like “La La Land” it’s up for writing, directing, editing and acting. The fact that it did so well, combined with the fact “Arrival” and “Manchester by the Sea” slightly under-performed (more on that below), may just position this as the primary challenger to the seemingly indomitable “La La Land.”

Hacksaw Ridge
With only six nominations it’s tough to see how “Hacksaw Ridge” might threaten “La La Land” as the frontrunner, especially without a writing nomination, but the surprise bid for the embattled Mel Gibson as Best Director, in addition to nominations for its lead actor Andrew Garfield and for its editing, put “Hacksaw” in a stronger position than it was going into nominations morning.

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“Arrival”
It’s tied as the second most nominated film of the year with eight nominations. However, it missed two categories we were predicting it to get: Best Visual Effects and, more significantly, Best Actress (Amy Adams). “Arrival” always had an uphill climb to try to win Best Picture — no science-fiction film has ever done so — but Adams missing out is a significant slight, especially since we know how much the academy’s actors branch usually loves her: she’s been nominated five times before.

“Manchester by the Sea”
It’s nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Kenneth Lonergan) and Best Original Screenplay (also Lonergan), and it’s the only film to receive three acting nominations — for lead actor Casey Affleck and supporting players Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams. So it made the cut in its six most important categories. But the one it missed was still significant: Best Film Editing. “Birdman” (2014) is the only film since 1980 to win Best Picture without a nomination in that race. So it might be harder for the character-driven drama to position itself as an alternative to “La La Land.”

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