Will Oscars spread the wealth, or could ‘Moonlight’ & ‘Manchester by the Sea’ be shut out?

Even though there is only one real winner on Oscar night — whoever takes Best Picture — voters often like to spread the wealth. When “Spotlight” took home Best Picture last year “The Revenant,” “The Big Short” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” all won their fair share of trophies. And while “Birdman” was 2014’s big winner, “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” were given their respective consolation prizes.

But this is a different kind of Oscar cycle, and “La La Land’s” absolute dominance is throwing off the normal balance. “La La Land’s” two strongest competitors, “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea,” are favorites in several categories, but could they both go home empty-handed? Below, let’s take a look at their strongest chances and consider whether they may get shut out.

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Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali has been the frontrunner here since the beginning of awards season, sweeping through critics’ groups across the country. He has continued leading the pack through Oscar season with wins at the Critics’ Choice and SAG Awards, but had hiccups at the Golden Globes (Aaron Taylor-Johnson won for “Nocturnal Animals”) and more importantly at BAFTA (Dev Patel won for “Lion”). Johnson isn’t nominated at the Oscars, but Patel is in consideration. He plays the lead character in “Lion,” though only for the second half of the movie, giving him lots of time to steal the spotlight, much like the borderline-lead Supporting Actress frontrunner, Viola Davis (“Fences”). “Lion” is a Best Picture nominee without many other opportunities to win, so voters could take this opportunity to give it a moment to shine.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Like “Whiplash” two years ago, “Moonlight” moved from Original Screenplay to Adapted Screenplay midway through the season. While it is a chief competitor in this category, it is untested against its fellow adapted nominees like “Arrival,” “Fences,” and “Lion.” While “Moonlight” got a big boost from its Writers Guild win this past weekend, it was in the Original category, beating heavyweights “La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea.” We have little to no insight as to how it will behave on the other side of the Screenplay fence, and voters could be used to seeing “Arrival” or “Lion” checked off for this award, missing “Moonlight” by default.

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“Manchester by the Sea”

Best Actor
Casey Affleck was the runaway frontrunner in this category only a month ago. With tons of critics’ wins and a Golden Globe trophy, he was virtually undefeated in Best Actor contests. But he lost the most important precursor for acting categories, the Screen Actors Guild Award, to competitor Denzel Washington for “Fences.” While Affleck is a new presence at the Oscars, Washington is a legendary two-time winner whose star power could carry him to Oscar victory. Affleck scored a rebound victory at BAFTA where Washington was snubbed completely, but when they rematch this Sunday, it could be the third win for the “Fences” star.

Best Original Screenplay
As I mentioned above, the screenplay races this year have been unpredictable. While “Manchester” entered the season as the logical frontrunner, “La La Land’s” winning streak has become intrusive, achieving a tie at the Critics’ Choice Awards and stealing the combined Best Screenplay award at the Golden Globes. With “Moonlight” taking the prize from the Writers Guild, we’re left with a strong two-way battle between “La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea” for the Oscar. With the hit musical steamrolling through the season, it could pick up the Original Screenplay prize for its romantic dialogue and endearing story.

Perhaps “Moonlight” and “Manchester” will over-perform with extra acting or technical awards, but leading up to the big night it is possible both Best Picture spoilers could leave with no gold.

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