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Six Circuit: Which 2016 Best Picture Hopeful Strayed Far From the ‘Moonlight’?

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Welcome to the twenty-ninth entry in our Six Circuit series.

Even accounting for recency bias, the misreading of the 2016 Best Picture winner at the Oscars will go down as one of the most memorable telecast moments in the Academy’s history. Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were tasked with giving out the last award of the night. After Dunaway exclaimed “La La Land,” the cast and crew made their way excitedly to the stage. Behind them, a commotion began to stir. Producer Jordan Horowitz gave his thanks before announcing the true winners. “‘Moonlight,’ you guys won,” Horowitz declared. One could fill a magazine with full-page pictures of all the shocked faces in the audience. Star Trevante Rhodes appeared to nearly have a heart attack. Though the telecast ended with a fiasco, one thing was for certain. “Moonlight” is one of the best choices the Academy has ever made for Best Picture.


  • “Arrival”  — Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, and David Linde, Producers
  • “Fences”  — Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington and Todd Black, Producers
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”  — Bill Mechanic and David Permut, Producers
  • “Hell or High Water”  — Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn, Producers
  • “Hidden Figures”  — Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, and Theodore Melfi, Producers
  • “La La Land”  — Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt, Producers
  • “Lion”  — Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Angie Fielder, Producers
  • “Manchester by the Sea”  — Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, and Kevin J. Walsh, Producers
  • “Moonlight”  — Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers (WINNER)


moonlight filmWinners like “Moonlight” come once in a blue moon. Director Barry Jenkins‘ was a small indie about a black, gay man’s upbringing in Miami based on an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. To call it an underdog would be an understatement. Critics were wowed by the film, but it was only heading into the Oscars with Golden Globes and WGA wins (both times it was not up against “La La Land”). Meanwhile, the conversation was not “who would beat ‘La La Land'” but “how many awards could ‘La La Land’ win?” The musical had picked up every televised precursor under the sun and earned a record fourteen Oscar nominations (tying “Titanic” and “All About Eve”). Unfortunately, detractors came on hard for the film, and “Moonlight” was perfectly positioned to be the David that takes down Goliath.

It’s hard to say what would’ve been in third place. “Hidden Figures” had opened late, but was in the middle of a massive box office run that made it the highest-grossing of the category. Their SAG Ensemble win proves that people loved the crowd-pleaser. It may have come closer than we might have thought, especially under the preferential system. “Manchester by the Sea” was the other big winner of the night, taking home Best Actor (Casey Affleck) and Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan). The film’s hard subject matter makes it an impressive acting display. Yet, could it have cost it passion votes in Best Picture?

Most of the other movies were pretty assured to get a nomination for Best Picture but were farther from the win. “Arrival” was a top contender for a bit. Yet, the snub of leading lady Amy Adams in Best Actress shows less widespread support for a Best Picture winner in a competitive year. “Lion” tugged on heartstrings, but had to fight against “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” for the inspirational tearjerker votes. “Fences” entered the race with lots of buzz for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. By the time it was released, enough “it looks like a filmed play” notices had come out that its campaign became more about earning acting wins than Best Picture. Finally, both “Hell or High Water” and “Hacksaw Ridge” gave the predominantly white male Academy something masculine and dramatic to vote for. So which movie came in #10? Let’s take a look.


  • “20th Century Woman”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, National Board of Review
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Original Screenplay
  • “Captain Fantastic”
    • Precursors – SAG Awards, National Board of Review
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen)
  • “Deadpool”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, PGA Awards, WGA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Florence Foster Jenkins”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Costume Design
  • “I, Daniel Blake”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards, Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or (WINNER)
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Jackie”
    • Precursors – Independent Spirit Awards, Online Film & Television Association
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Costume Design, Original Score
  • “Loving”
    • Precursors – Critics Choice Awards, WGA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actress (Ruth Negga)
  • “Nocturnal Animals”
    • Precursors – WGA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon)
  • “Sing Street”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, National Board of Review
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Sully”
    • Precursors – Critics Choice Awards, National Board of Review
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Sound Editing


jackie venice 2After its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, pundits began ranking Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie” high on their Oscar lists. The off-beat film chronicles the life of Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) following the death of President John F. Kennedy. While the premise seems like Oscar catnip, the final product comes off much more avant-garde. Much of the film’s 90-minute run-time involves Jackie drinking wine in beautiful gowns as a baroque score hits the audience over the head with drama. All of that was meant as a compliment. Portman earned a nomination for Best Actress, along with Costume and Score nominations. However, the film never made it much further than the Independent Spirit Awards.

No matter the year, a Clint Eastwood project is guaranteed to make early Oscar predictions. His 2016 film “Sully” became a modest September hit, grossing $35 million opening weekend on its way to a $125 million domestic total. Despite its hit status, the Tom Hanks led film was widely seen as another “old man Clint” movie. Both the Critics Choice and National Board of Review cited the film in their top ten lists. Yet, Oscar didn’t look further than its Sound Editing nomination.

Finally, the BAFTA Awards adopted Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake” as their pet film of the year. The Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner entranced European audiences. Yet, the film never made a dent in the US box office or at any of the critics or televised awards. The British gave the film its moment in the sun with five BAFTA nominations, including Best Picture and a win in Best British Film. Yet, the Oscars were never going to bite.


Meryl StreepThe Golden Globes tend to favor movies with big stars, glitz and glamour and a musical number or two. Though movies have fudged their way into the Musical/Comedy category, the Hollywood Foreign Press can never resist a good musical. In the past, this has led to nominations for critically reviled musicals such as “Burlesque” and “Nine.” This year, the Golden Globes chose an indie musical with terrific reviews rather than a studio flop. “Sing Street” managed to win over the hearts of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. John Carney’s charming teen musical might have been a more serious contender if its soundtrack caught fire. Though the film is filled with great songs, none became as popular a sensation as “Falling Slowly” from “Once” was in 2007.

The other film the Golden Globes thrust into the Oscar spotlight was “Florence Foster Jenkins.” The film earned four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture. However, that was not the biggest story of the night. Cecil B. DeMille winner Meryl Streep delivered a galvanizing speech that took Donald Trump to task for his xenophobia and mocking of a disabled reporter. Many credit this speech with getting her nominated for Best Actress for the film. Had Hugh Grant also snuck into the Supporting Actor field, it could’ve been a sign that “Florence Foster Jenkins” was in 10th place.

The final Golden Globe nominee to not repeat at the Oscars was “20th Century Women.” Mike Mills’ personal tribute to his mother wound up with a surprise Best Original Screenplay nomination. Yet, it never lit fire in other precursors. This was mainly due to the film’s incredibly late release date. Had it opened earlier, there could’ve been the possibility for it to contend in Picture, Actress (Annette Bening), Supporting Actress (Greta Gerwig) or even Directing. 


deadpool1 gallery imageThe PGA Awards are usually a great barometer for which films will go on to a Best Picture nomination. This has been especially true during the expanded Best Picture lineup. Since 2010, roughly 88% of Best Picture nominees also earned a nomination at the PGA Awards. 

This year, all nine of the Best Picture nominees were also included in the PGA lineup. The only film at the PGA Awards to not earn a Best Picture nomination this year was “Deadpool,” the R-rated superhero comedy. Typically, the PGA Awards favor big-budget blockbusters that come close to Oscar recognition (think “Skyfall” or “Star Trek”). Like “Star Trek,” “Deadpool” also earned a nomination at the WGA Awards. Still, “Star Trek” wound up with four Oscar nominations. “Deadpool” received zero nominations. At this point, no superhero movie had ever earned a Best Picture nomination (“Black Panther” would accomplish this two years later). Even with guild support (including a DGA first time director nomination), “Deadpool” was not universally beloved or culturally significant enough to overcome superhero bias within the Academy.

Both “Loving” and “Nocturnal Animals” received lone guild nominations from the WGA Awards, only to wind up with one acting nomination a piece. “Loving,” which was also a Best Picture nominee at the Critics Choice Awards, was one of the biggest surprises on Oscar nomination morning. The small, quiet film was able to sneak Ruth Negga into a crowded Best Actress race. This sort of surprise illustrates pockets of passionate support. That it came from a different guild outside of the acting branch shows that love for the film extended to other groups. The same could be said of “Nocturnal Animals.” However, that film was received with much more divisive reactions. The Michael Shannon Supporting Actor nomination speaks to love for the actor more so than a love of the film.

Lastly, “Captain Fantastic” pulled off a surprise SAG Ensemble nomination at the SAG Awards. Matt Ross’ summer indie hit was always in play for Viggo Mortensen in Lead Actor. He was nominated at both the Oscars and SAG Awards. Yet, it was surprising that love for him and the film would bring with it a SAG Ensemble nomination. This early success had many thinking it could show up in Picture and Original Screenplay. Without the Original Screenplay nomination, support within the Academy seems to be concentrated only on Mortensen.



lovingWho do you think came in 6th place in the 2016 Best Picture race? Share with us in the comments below.


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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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Loving does seem most logical


Another well done article on these. Agreed, I remember thinking it was probably Loving at the time. I wish it were 20th Century Women or Jackie but I doubt either. I would personally have put in those two along with Captain Fantastic and Loving over Hidden Figures, Lion, Hacksaw Ridge and dare I say Arrival.

Sontag Twist

Actually it’s not true that Moonlight won its two major victories in the absence of La La Land. Yes, at the Globes, La La Land was in the comedy/musical race, but at WGA, Moonlight defeated both La La Land and Manchester by the Sea in original (where it was campaigned before the Academy’s decision to move it to adapted), which at the time was considered a huge upset and a sign that Moonlight has some real cachet. Of course, this didn’t change the perception that nothing was beating La La Land.

Raul Gama

Although this is not to show how Nocturnal Animals was the 10th spot, the film had much stronger showing throughout the season,

Aaron Taylor Johnsson win in Sup Actor, Director and Screenplay noms at the globes.

Nine noms at Bafta, agains with key nominations in Director, Screenplay, Best Actor, Supporting and so on..

and i think pretty much most of the guilds, editting, costum.. and critics awards too.

Joey Magidson

My heart says Deadpool or Jackie, but Loving seems about right

Matt St.Clair

Loving seems like a plausible choice. I’d love to believe that Jackie was, though.


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