Oscars 2017 predictions: Picking the winners in the visual tech categories

As we make our way through the 24 categories of nominees at the 2017 Oscars, some feature more marquee names than others. The acting categories get talked to death, because viewers know most of the stars involved.

The technical races feature few stars, but instead laud artisans working quietly behind the scenes. The winners in these categories are the ones who get played off by the band, or are used as bathroom breaks for the average viewer at home. It's understandable, if disappointing; not every category can be best picture.

Nonetheless, any Oscar predictions pool entrant who wants to win should know that the big money is to be found in these races. If the promise of great art being done in production design, visual effects and cinematography isn't enough as we break down these categories, the call of beating Frank in Accounting in your office pool should suffice.

Below, we break down the "should win" and "will win" picks in the five visual technical categories, plus best animated feature (since animation is a heavily visual medium), plus a "could win" for some outside shots if you're feeling feisty. Nominees in all categories can be found here.

Best visual effects

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'Disney

Star Wars: The Force Awakens couldn't take this Oscar home last year, losing to Ex Machina. So it's possible that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will suffer the same fate. But the competitors for its throne include Doctor Strange and The Jungle Book (oddly, all three are Disney movies from different individual studios), and neither makes an undeniable case for the win the way critical favorite Ex Machina did. This split between competitors should help Rogue One eke out the win.

Should win: Doctor Strange

Best film editing


We have now arrived at the part of our program where we plead that Oscar voters consider the visual majesty of Arrival, in this case arguing for its remarkably savvy editing. Editor Joe Walker gives the viewer a sense of circular and non-linear time before you even understand why that's important. But sadly, despite our pleas, we're quite certain that La La Land will pick this up on its way to a rather impressive sweep of its nominations. (If La La Land is weaker than expected, Moonlight could grab the trophy, but don't count on it.)

Should win: Arrival

Best costume design

'La La Land'Lionsgate

The easy shot against La La Land's costumes is that they look something like a Fanta commercial from the mid-2000s. But over at the Film Experience, Nathaniel Rogers wrote a lovely appreciation of designer Mary Zophres' work that elevates it in memory quite a bit. It still pales in comparison to Madeline Fontaine's work on Jackie, but it makes this particular La La Land win feel more earned.

Should win: Jackie

Best makeup and hairstyling

'Star Trek Beyond'Paramount

This is the only category that still nominates just three movies, which usually results in a couple of big-budget blockbusters and a random independent film competing for the prize. This year is no different, and while the Swedish A Man Called Ove could surprise, we'd place bets on Star Trek Beyond.

Should win: Star Trek Beyond

Best production design


Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte's work on Arrival is key. Everything about the heptapods' UFO is disarmingly sleek — compared aptly in the Hollywood Reporter to something you'd find in an Apple Store. Arrival's aliens aren't terrifying, just disarming, and the design team's work deserves huge kudos for that. But sure, Mia and Sebastian's La La Land apartments were cute.

Should win: Arrival

Best cinematography


Bradford Young is a genius who has shot movies like Selma, Middle of Nowhere, A Most Violent Year and Arrival. He is the first African-American to be nominated for best cinematography (and the second black man, after Elizabeth director of photography Remi Adefarasin). It is a small miracle he is nominated for his stunning Arrival work, so we won't complain too much when he loses to Linus Sandgren's roaming camera in La La Land.

Should win: Arrival

Best animated feature film


Color us shocked: This looked like a real horse race at one point. Disney had two critically acclaimed box office hits in the hunt, with Zootopia and Moana. A strong case could be made for either. Then Moana just hit odd obstacle after odd obstacle, with composer Lin-Manuel Miranda's Oscar chances seemingly vanishing in the face of La La Land and the Moana brand struggling outside of the multiplex. Suddenly, the Oscar was easily Zootopia's to win. It's a fantastic film and a deserving winner, but it is perplexing how quickly one of the year's most exciting races became a foregone conclusion.

Should win: Zootopia