Thursday, February 23, 2017

Predictions for the 89th Academy Awards

The Oscars are on Sunday, which means it's time for me to make probably inaccurate predictions! Here are my thoughts on who will win, who might win, and who should win in all categories, along with some brief (and in some cases not THAT brief) analysis of why. Feel free to discuss!

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD BE: Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Moonlight

Early on in the year, it became clear that there were three contenders for Best Picture. The grand nostalgic musical La La Land, the quiet drama Manchester by the Sea, and the surprise indie masterpiece Moonlight—the only one that hadn’t been regularly pegged as a contender even before its release. Since then, the buzz for Manchester by the Sea has faded a bit—it’s a good film which is still likely to pick up some other awards, but it’s too small a film to sustain the momentum it once built up. Conversely, La La Land has emerged as the clear frontrunner, picking up award after award. As La La Land’s star has risen, its critics are starting to become more vocal (as often happens to an Oscar frontrunner) and there are definitely some valid criticisms to make about La La Land. I enjoyed the film very much, but I think the strongest key to its Oscar success is that it’s just an objectively well-made film. That’s why it has so many nominations—because all of the individual elements are so impeccably done. Everyone in the Academy votes for Best Picture, and La La Land is going to be the nominee that will appeal most to those in the technical categories. Similarly, Oscar voters tend to like movies that comment on the industry itself—like recent winners The Artist, Argo, and Birdman. But Moonlight shouldn’t be counted out. An absolutely beautiful film, Moonlight’s emotional resonance is its strongest asset. It only had a fraction of La La Land’s budget and far less of a producers push behind it, and yet it’s still in the running. It’s the superior film, and this category has been known to have spoilers before. Plus, it should be mentioned, starting this year there was a push to make the Academy’s voting bloc more diverse—a win for Moonlight might be a good indicator that this is paying off.

WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
COULD WIN: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden

Best Director and Best Picture usually go hand in hand, but not always. So it makes sense that the contenders for this award are the same as for Best Picture. Damien Chazelle was marked as a rising star in the field after Whiplash, and his helming of La La Land is undeniably impressive. The film’s critics point to the screenplay far more than Chazelle’s work. And his work creating some of the film’s truly magical musical sequences mark him as the one to beat. Even if Moonlight goes on to win Best Picture, I still think this is Chazelle’s award to lose. I’ll be very happy if Chazelle wins, but I did personally respond more to the direction of Barry Jenkins. The visual narrative and emotional swells he created are wonderful, but Jenkins deserves it if only for making a role played by three actors still feel like one cohesive performance.

WILL WIN: Emma Stone, La La Land
COULD WIN: Natalie Portman, Jackie
SHOULD WIN: Natalie Portman, Jackie
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Elle Fanning, The Neon Demon

Natalie Portman became the frontrunner for this award as soon as anyone saw Jackie. Her absolute embodiment of Jackie Kennedy earned her rave reviews. And as soon as I saw the film, I understood why. Her performance is remarkable—she absolutely transforms and perfectly captures the essence of Jacqueline Kennedy. It’s the type of exemplary and ambitious performance that awards shows are designed to recognize. And my instincts still say there’s no way she can’t win. It was in fact my favorite performance of the year. And for a while, Portman was winning award after award after award. But for some reason the tide seems to be turning. As Jackie as a whole failed to resonate with voters, and La La Land continued to soar with voters, suddenly Emma Stone received a swell of attention from some of the Oscars’ most prominent precursor awards. Most notable, the SAG Awards. Perhaps it’s because Stone’s character is a struggling actor, and that’s something that resonated strongly with most of the SAG voters. Who knows why, but suddenly Stone has overtaken Portman to become the frontrunner in this category. I think Stone does lovely work in La La Land, but for her to win over Portman is frankly disgraceful. And yet, I think it’s going to happen. I’m predicting Stone will win, but I really hope I’m wrong.

WILL WIN: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
COULD WIN: Denzel Washington, Fences
SHOULD WIN: Denzel Washington, Fences
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane & Adam Driver, Paterson

If we were to judge by performance alone, this is Casey Affleck’s award hands down. Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is intensely personal, and often emotionally devastating. He carries the film beautifully and it is certainly the best work of his career. He’s already won lots of awards for his performance, and adding an Oscar to his belt seems almost inevitable. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he doesn’t have much competition in this category. Denzel Washington does good work, but his performance might have been improved if he hadn’t also been the film’s director—with no objective eye to watch his performance in a very theatrical film, he’s lacking the restraint that his co-stars demonstrate beautifully. Ryan Gosling is fine in La La Land, but his nomination here is far more for the movie itself than Gosling in particular. I haven’t seen Hacksaw Ridge and I’m not going to, and I’m sure Andrew Garfield is good in it, but I’ve not heard anything exemplary about his work. And the most laughable nominee is Viggo Mortensen—he’s a wonderful actor but he brings absolutely nothing to the table in Captain Fantastic. Frankly, I thought it was a disappointingly stupid movie, but I don’t see how even the film’s fans could argue that Mortensen deserves an Oscar for his work—the script just doesn’t give him anything interesting to do. So, yeah, this should be Affleck’s to run away with.

EXCEPT…since the film’s release, it has become known that Affleck is a piece of shit rapist. And that’s a big deal. His work is good, and I’m not suggesting people have to boycott Manchester by the Sea, but maybe this is not the type of person we should be giving major awards to? So, should he win? Absolutely not. Of his fellow nominees, Washington gives the best performance, and his win at the SAG Awards suggests that a lot of actors might be uncomfortable with Affleck taking home the top prize. Still, the Academy hasn’t had a problem giving awards to pieces of shit in the past (cough cough Mel Gibson is a fucking Oscar nominee in the year 2017 cough cough) so I still think he’s going to be the winner. I, however, will always dream of an alternate reality where the Oscar went to one of the far more interesting leading male performances that didn’t receive any awards attention this year: like Adam Driver’s masterclass in subtlety in Paterson or John Goodman’s terrifying performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, which to me was reminiscent of Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning work in Misery and should have been campaigned for as such.

WILL WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
COULD WIN: Naomie Harris, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Gillian Jacobs, Don’t Think Twice

When I saw Moonlight, one of my first thoughts was, “Well, Naomie Harris is going to win an Oscar.” In a strong ensemble cast, Harris is absolutely the standout—her work is undeniably powerful and personal. It is nuanced enough that it is respectful of the craft, while also having enough showy moments that Oscar voters will pay attention. And in any other year, I think that this would easily be Harris’ award. But, unfortunately, she’s up against Viola Davis. And Viola Davis is absolutely brilliant in Fences. To me, the performances are essentially neck and neck (I do think that Davis just barely ekes out Harris, but I’d be happy with either of them winning based on quality) but Davis has the story behind her to gain the Academy’s support. She’s been nominated so many times and never won before, so it’s her time. Luckily, just like when Julianne Moore won for Still Alice, “her time” manages to coincide with some of the best work of her prolific career.

WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: John Turturro, Mia Madre & Andre Holland, Moonlight & Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight

Yeah, there’s not too much to say here: it’s definitely gonna be Mahershala Ali. This is the only acting award that I think is a solid slam dunk. Ali has won pretty much every award going into this ceremony (with the exception of the Golden Globe, but those are fairly meaningless anyway) and they can pretty much engrave the Oscar with his name at this point.

Except…here’s the thing…and please don’t hate me…I don’t quite get why he is the supporting actor from Moonlight who’s getting all the attention. Don’t get me wrong, he’s wonderful, and he’s been consistently wonderful in everything he’s been in outside of Moonlight too, but I guess I didn’t find him to be as much of a standout in this ensemble as others did. Perhaps it’s because the performance was hyped up for me so much before I saw the film, but Ali is only in a small part of the movie, and after he left and didn’t come back, I was left thinking, “Oh, that’s it?” Again, he’s good, but with this strong of a cast, I just thought other performances were more effective and affecting. Ali is a strong presence, but his character Juan just isn’t written to showcase the numerous emotional layers of, for example, Kevin and Chiron, as played in their adult forms by Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes. Their performances stayed with me a lot more than Ali’s. So, of the nominees, I’ll admit that Ali doesn’t give what I think is truly the best supporting performance. For me, that’s the young Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea. But I’ll still cheer along with everyone when Ali wins since he’s the one who’s been destined to represent the superb ensemble of Moonlight.

WILL WIN: Manchester by the Sea
SHOULD WIN: Manchester by the Sea

While La La Land is poised to do very well this year, its screenplay isn’t exactly what people are most excited about. If it wins here, it’ll mostly be as a default win. Especially considering it’s up against the Manchester by the Sea, an acclaimed film whose screenplay is its greatest strength. Kenneth Lonergan has been nominated for his screenplays twice before and not won, and as he is unlikely to win Best Director or Best Picture, this is a good category for the Academy to finally send an award Lonergan’s way.

WILL WIN: Moonlight
COULD WIN: Arrival
SHOULD WIN: Moonlight

This category is rather strong this year. The Fences screenplay is attributed posthumously to the wonderful August Wilson, and the screenplay for Arrival gave us one of the best science fiction films in years. But, this award has to go to Moonlight. It’s simply too good—and offers the emotional strength that non-writers love, and the lyrical artistry of language that writers love. Plus, the writer’s branch of the Academy tends to be more consistently adventurous than, say, the Best Picture category.

WILL WIN: Zootopia
COULD WIN: Kubo and the Two Strings
SHOULD WIN: Zootopia (although, to be fair, I haven’t seen The Red Turtle yet and from what I’ve heard it’s brilliant and just might overtake Zootopia in my mind)

In just the past few years, this has become one of my absolute favorite Oscar categories. As the genre has advanced, a category which used to only have three nominees or so in it has somehow become spoiled for choice, and it’s genuinely competitive just to get a nomination. I also love how the nominees have become a mixture of big budget major studio films (this year, Disney films Zootopia and Moana) and smaller indie films (this year, Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle). Unfortunately, the heavy-hitters still have the advantage when it comes to the actual win. But the good news is that those heavy-hitters tend to be really good, and that’s the case here. Likely winner Zootopia is one of my favorite films of the year, and I think this animal film noir with a social justice bent is a more than worthy entry into the hall of animated film winners. But, this category could still surprise us, and if it does, my guess is that surprise will be Kubo and the Two Strings. I don’t think it’s as good a film as Zootopia overall, but the animation is pretty extraordinary, and Laika Studios has been nominated for every film they’ve made and still never won, so the Academy might think they’re overdue.

WILL WIN: Toni Erdmann (Germany)
COULD WIN: The Salesman (Iran)
SHOULD WIN: A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

For a while it looked like the German film Toni Erdmann, which was a hit ever since its premiere at Cannes, was the runaway favorite here. And for good reason—this wonderfully weird movie is funny, engaging, and wholly original. Plus, it’s crowd-pleasing enough that an American remake has already been announced starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. But, in the past few weeks, the Iranian film The Salesman has suddenly become a contender. Director Asghar Farhadi has won this award before for his masterpiece A Separation, and while I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve heard good things about his latest offering. Plus, it’s riding on buzz surrounding the news that Farhadi would not be allowed to enter the United States for the ceremony due to Donald Trump’s travel ban. In a political year, some Oscar voters might lean towards The Salesman just as a form of political protest which might give it the edge. Or, who knows, perhaps voters will go for the crowd-pleaser A Man Called Ove, which is also nominated for makeup and hairstyling. I know that I was quite taken with the surprising tearjerker, and ultimately liked it even more than Toni Erdmann.

Also, it’s worth noting, my two favorite foreignlanguage films of this yearThe Handmaiden and Mia Madre—weren’t even submitted as potential contenders for this award, which is a shame because they’re both excellent. Watch them!

WILL WIN: O.J.: Made in America

Pretty much everyone who has seen the 467 minute, five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America agrees it’s a masterpiece. And it has taken almost every Best Documentary Award offered so far this year. So it should be the obvious frontrunner, and it is. But I’m still wary—I think the fact that it was made for television and was only released briefly in theaters to qualify for the Oscars on a technicality might rub some Oscar voters the wrong way. If that happens, then perhaps another documentary will steal this award away from O.J.: Made in America, in which case my guess is the Ava DuVernay directed 13th.

WILL WIN: La Femme et le TGV
COULD WIN: Timecode, Ennemis interieurs
SHOULD WIN: Timecode

The shorts are always some of my favorite categories. I’ve gone out of my way to watch the nominees whenever I can for the past few years, and I’m always glad I did. There are always some real gems and so, once again, it’s time for my annual suggestion that people watch these short movies. Really, they’re great! And pay for them—these films are usually made by unknown filmmakers who have produced amazing work, and you get five movies for the price of one!

And, this year, the live action shorts are especially worth seeing. Even my least favorite, Sing, is still perfectly enjoyable and reasonably well done. And while my second least favorite, Silent Nights, at times falls into trite storytelling tropes, it’s remarkably well-made and well-acted. But these two are noticeably a step below the other three nominees, and I’d be happy if any of these three won.

Of my three favorites in this category, I think that Ennemis interieurs, a mostly two-person film about a French-Algerian man being interrogated on suspicion of terrorism, is relevant to the issues of today, and incredibly gripping and well-written, but I think it might be too wordy and quiet to actually take the prize. Instead, I think this award will go to La Femme et le TGV, about a French woman who begins exchanging letters with a stranger who rides the train past her house each day. It’s a sweet, surprising film, that is wonderfully romantic, and probably the nominee with the most universal appeal—which is why I think it will win. But, my personal favorite is the Spanish film Timecode, about two security guards who work day and night shifts and begin communicating to each other through recorded dances. It’s hilarious, but also strangely beautiful and is, to me, exactly what a short film should be: a simple story that would never work as a feature, but feels complete in the little time it has to tell its story. When I said, that the shorts always contain some gems, Timecode is exactly the kind of gem I’m talking about.

COULD WIN: Borrowed Time
SHOULD WIN: Blind Vaysha

I found the animated short films a bit underwhelming this year. It’s not that they were bad, but none of them excited me the way some nominees have in the past few years. As a result, I think the most likely winner will be the Pixar short Piper, which was shown before Finding Dory. Pixar actually hasn’t won this award in a while, and considering that they don’t have any nominee in the animated feature category this time around, they’re probably campaigning for Piper pretty hard—certainly far more than the resources of the other films’ productions companies would allow. But my personal favorite of this lineup was probably Blind Vaysha—a creepy Canadian folktale with some gorgeous animation.

WILL WIN: Joe’s Violin
SHOULD WIN: Extremis

Full disclosure: I’ve only been able to see three of the five nominees in this category, so it’s a bit tough to gauge. 4.1 Miles and Watani: My Homeland might be amazing movies that will win this category handily, but the three I have seen are still quite strong. I don’t think the award will go to The White Helmets, though. The short, about volunteer rescue workers in Syria, is powerful, but a bit plodding. I was far more taken with Extremis, a harrowing discussion of the decision doctors have to make to end the life of a patient. It’s gripping stuff, and really well done, but it’s incredibly depressing and might be too much for some viewers to consider. Far more palatable is Joe’s Violin, which tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who donated his violin to be used by a promising 12-year-old music student in the Bronx. Both of these films are good, but while Extremis will make its audience sad, Joe’s Violin will make them hopeful. And that’s more likely to earn votes from the Academy.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

La La Land would actually be a pretty unconventional winner in this category, which typically awards purely instrumental scores. But the original songs of La La Land, and the film’s overall celebration of music, have clearly impressed the Academy and it seems like the easy favorite here. If traditionalist voters want to shy away from lyrics, though, the other nominees are still quite strong, with my favorite of the lot being the score for Moonlight.

WILL WIN: “City of Stars”—La La Land
COULD WIN: “How Far I’ll Go”—Moana
SHOULD WIN: “Audition (Fools Who Dream)”—La La Land
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “Drive It Like You Stole It”—Sing Street

Just like with score, the fact that La La Land celebrates music so much means that its win in this category has been practically predetermined. The main question is which song it’ll be for? Of the two nominated songs from La La Land, I personally prefer “Audition,” but I have a feeling that the film’s recurring theme, “City of Stars” is the one the producers are pushing. There is a chance, of course, that voters will be split between the two songs, and that’ll allow another song to win—which means Lin-Manuel Miranda might ride his Hamilton buzz all the way to becoming the youngest ever EGOT winner for Moana.

Although, personally, I’m sad that no original song from John Carney’s utterly charming Sing Street made the cut. Especially Drive It Like You Stole It—which for me beat out every single one of La La Land’s individual musical numbers.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Hail, Caesar!

Haters of La La Land be warned: you’re about to get very, very angry. Because the common wisdom in picking the winners in this year’s technical categories seems to be, “just guess La La Land for everything.” But…it’s really not a bad strategy. And while it might not win every award it’s up for, barring a surprise, it’s going to win most of them. Starting with Production Design. Although if not, this might be a win for another love letter to old Hollywood, the otherwise ignored Coen Brothers comedy Hail, Caesar!

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

Again, La La Land is going to win all the technical awards. And, of the nominees, I do think it features the best cinematography. But part of me kind of wants to see Moonlight take this one. On an objective level, La La Land’s cinematography is better, but what Moonlight did on a fraction of the budget is pretty impressive, creating a rich and colorful visual narrative that serves the story perfectly.

WILL WIN: Star Trek Beyond

The old age makeup in A Man Called Ove is really impressive, but I don’t see how it’ll compete against the fantastical science fiction creatures in Star Trek Beyond. Also if the third and final nominee, Suicide Squad, actually wins an Oscar—even just an Oscar for makeup— I will lose my goddamn mind.

WILL WIN: La La Land

Again, it’s not smart to bet against La La Land, so I’m predicting it here. But I do have some reservations. I think the costumes in this film are good, and they’re definitely stylized, but this category tends to prefer period pieces over contemporary films. And if that’s the case, the stylish costumes of Allied might just pull an upset.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

Even more than Best Director, the award for Best Film Editing typically goes hand in hand with Best Picture. For that reason alone, La La Land and Moonlight are the frontrunners here. But I do think La La Land has the edge, even if Moonlight ultimately takes home the top prize. For one this, editor Tom Cross already won this award for his last collaboration with Damien Chazelle, Whiplash, and flashy musical numbers showcase ambitious film editing really, really well.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Arrival

Again, La La Land is the smart choice for the technical categories. Although, the use of sound in Arrival is really quite brilliant, so that might overtake it here. More on that in my discussion of the next category…

WILL WIN: Arrival
COULD WIN: Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land

Okay, so here I’m breaking with my tradition and going with Arrival. This film used sound editing to create an entire alien language. That’s pretty badass, and really impressive. If the voters know enough about sound editing, then Arrival will be the winner. Although, of course, it could still be La La Land. Or possibly even wartime drama Hacksaw Ridge, as war films often do well in this category.

WILL WIN: The Jungle Book
COULD WIN: Kubo and the Two Strings

This kind of has to be The Jungle Book. Not only was that film gorgeous, but it redefined what visual effects could really be. It’s the type of film this category is basically designed to recognize. But last year, Ex Machina scored a shocking win in this category, beating out films with a significantly larger budget. If an underdog can triumph again this year, it’ll be the visually stunning animation of Kubo and the Two Strings. This is only the second animated film to be nominated in this category (the first being The Nightmare Before Christmas) and it has earned its nomination for creating one of the most unique and distinct looks of any animated film ever.

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