It’s that time of year again, where we indulge our sadomasochistic side by watching that most tedious and masturbatory of annual displays, the Oscars. A seemingly never-ending event that will age you by at least three years by the time it mercifully comes to its self-congratulatory end, your eyes will inexplicably remain transfixed by the spectacle on TV, even as your body approaches a near-comatose state through sheer boredom.
And yet, this year’s ceremony promises to be different, and perhaps even a little stimulating. Perhaps you could even say, #OscarsSoWoke.
After being hilariously trolled by last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign — not to mention, 2016 host Chris Rock — the Academy made an effort to shake things up by diversifying its membership, adding 683 new members, a pool that breaks down to 46% female and 41% people of color. Judging from this year’s offerings, it worked.
And so the battle lines are now drawn: La La Land, a musical fantasy about white lovers in Hollywood, versus Moonlight, a searing drama about a black youth surviving in the projects of Miami. This contest is symptomatic of how serious the Oscars is – or isn’t – about promoting diversity. After two years in which not a single black actor showed up among the acting nominees, this year’s crop includes seven actors of color: Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, Naomie Harris, Ruth Negga, Dev Patel, Octavia Spencer and Denzel Washington.
And the need for diversity has been injected with new urgency by President Orange Goblin’s idiotic statements and policies —a fact that will surely manifest itself through a plethora of passionate speeches that will attack the current state of affairs and in so doing, add some spice to an otherwise dull proceedings.
Despite the vitriolic political backdrop, this Oscars season has nonetheless been predictable, straightforward, and in accordance with a certain paradigm forged decades ago. La La Land, the front-runner in nearly every category of note, fulfills a specific set of requirements that pundits have identified as appealing to the 6,500-plus voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It’s a movie about aspiring showbiz kids desperate to achieve their dreams in the City of Angels. Easy money.
So you’d be hedging your bets wisely if you picked it to smash every category in which it’s nominated. But where’s the fun in that? Some predictions invariably come from a more visceral and emotional place, informed by the gut and unencumbered by stats. So without further ado, allow me to present my winning picks for this year’s extravaganza.
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Hell or High Water
- Hidden Figures
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
Hollywood musical La La Land has won a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Critics Choice Award, and already received the Academy’s seal of approval with a record-tying 14 nominations. While the film is a charming breath of fresh air that does a phenomenal job representing the realities of human relationships, it comes off as insular and perhaps even frivolous when compared to Moonlight.
Moonlight creates a sense of empathy that few films do, and this is especially commendable given its extraordinary setting of a 1980s drug-ridden and poverty-stricken Miami. Few movies capture as original an experience as that of a black, gay boy growing up under those circumstances and fewer still manage to do so while maintaining mainstream appeal. Hollywood stereotypes–such as the drug-dealing bad guy (more on that later) and crack-addict mother–are turned on their heads in a display of life’s complexities, as stunning visual cinematography unfolds in the background. Though the film is, at many points, painful to watch, yet it manages to leave viewers with a sense of peace.
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: Moonlight
- Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
- Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
- Damien Chazelle – La La Land
- Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
- Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Again, this one comes down to La La Land versus Moonlight. Director’s Guild winner Chazelle is the favorite, no doubt, for his highly stylized, resourceful work. But while Best Picture and Best Director Oscars in most years go to the same film (over a 30-year span from 1983-2012, it’s happened 25 times), splits have been a trend of late, occurring in three of the past four years. It’s quite possible that Barry Jenkins might be rewarded here for his stunning work in Moonlight.
Will Win: Damien Chazelle
Should Win: Barry Jenkins
Should have been nominated: Tom Ford, for Nocturnal Animals
Best Supporting Actress
- Viola Davis – Fences
- Naomie Harris – Moonlight
- Nicole Kidman – Lion
- Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
- Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Viola Davis is beloved in Hollywood, and not only for her often on display, intelligent sense of humor. Davis has mastered roles in comedies, dramas, and on television, and her turn as Rosie Maxson in Fences is no different. She delivers one of the film’s most powerful monologues, in which she embodies the rage of every housewife who has given up her own dreams only to be mistreated. Davis has already won a Tony for playing Rose when Fences was on Broadway (and a Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award, SAG Award and BAFTA for the film version)–and she deserves an Oscar just the same.
Will Win: Viola Davis
Should Win: Viola Davis
Best Supporting Actor
- Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
- Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
- Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
- Dev Patel – Lion
- Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Though he didn’t win at the Golden Globes, or at the BAFTAs, I think Mahershala Ali—one of the many standouts in Moonlight—will still win at the Oscars. His SAG speech was emotional and stirring and very timely, making him an even stronger ambassador for his film than he already was. Moonlight is a film that was met with widespread respect in the industry, and the Academy will want to reward it with at least one or two trophies on Oscar night. Since La La Land seems destined to take many of the bigger prizes, this category has a good chance for the Academy to give Moonlight, and it’s terrific company of actors, a little recognition. Dev Patel, a BAFTA victor, is a potential upset win, but his late-season surge might not have arrived in time.
Will Win: Mahershala Ali
Could Win: Dev Patel
Should Win: Mahershala Ali
- Isabelle Huppert – Elle
- Ruth Negga – Loving
- Natalie Portman – Jackie
- Emma Stone – La La Land
- Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
If Amy Adams had landed a nomination here it might be a trickier category, but Emma Stone has had the momentum for a long while and Jackie lost a lot of luster upon release. So unless a huge amount of voters put Meryl Streep on top due to her Golden Globes speech, or there’s a groundswell of support for Isabelle Huppert, Stone should walk away with this one easily.
Will Win: Emma Stone
Should Win: Isabelle Huppert
Should Have Been Nominated: Amy Adams – Arrival
- Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
- Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
- Ryan Gosling – La La Land
- Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
- Denzel Washington – Fences
It’s very clear throughout Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences that what you’re watching is a play, put on screen, only a few degrees removed from one of those National Theatre live performances you can pay to watch in movie theaters. It’s some of the best, most visceral work Washington has done on-screen in years, and he’s bound to be rewarded.
Probably out of the running is Casey Affleck, who is very good in Manchester By The Sea, and is also an alleged sexual predator. Though he looked like a front-runner early on, taking home the Golden Globe much to the consternation of many, the allegations seem to finally be sticking enough to scupper his chances.
Will Win: Denzel Washington
Should Win: Casey Affleck
Best Original Screenplay
- Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
- La La Land – Damien Chazelle
- The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
- Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
- 20th Century Women – Mike Mills
We’ll know that the La La Land momentum is truly unstoppable if 32-year-old Damien Chazelle takes this award away from Kenneth Lonergan. But the early odds still favor the veteran screenwriter and playwright, who has been nominated twice previously in this category, for You Can Count on Me (2001) and Gangs of New York (2003). His screenplay for Manchester by the Sea is a tour de force of character development, narrative pacing, and flashback storytelling, not to mention a surprisingly high quotient of funny dialogue. Watch it once to experience the emotional impact; watch it again to admire Lonergan’s screenwriting machinery at work.
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: Manchester by the Sea
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Arrival – Eric Heisserer
- Fences – August Wilson
- Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
- Lion – Luke Davies
- Moonlight – Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
This one should hopefully be a very deserving win for Moonlight. The film was shifted to Best Adapted Screenplay due to a technicality, but that likely works in its favor as it’s not directly up against La La Land and Manchester. The Lion contingent could come out strong, or Arrival could pull off an upset, but I’m thinking this is the category where voters can safely show Moonlight some love without usurping their preference for La La Land or Manchester by the Sea.
Will Win: Moonlight
Could Win: Lion
Best Animated Feature Film
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- My Life as a Zucchini
- The Red Turtle
The big question is which Disney animated film is going home with a shiny Oscar on Sunday? I’m giving the edge to Zootopia, but there’s plenty of room for a Moana upset. Having said that, it’s the beautiful “Kubo and the Two Strings” that truly raises the bar for animated movies.
Will Win: Zootopia
Could Win: Moana
Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings
- Arrival – Bradford Young
- La La Land – Linus Sandgren
- Lion – Greig Fraser
- Moonlight – James Laxton
- Silence – Rodrigo Prieto
La La Land is spick and span, all right – those primary colors pop against the blue night sky, and Sandgren had to orchestrate some splashy long takes like that highway number at the start. He looks poised to ride a La La Land semi-sweep and win here for his first nomination. But it’s Laxton’s work that is truly the mesmerizing standout, He makes palm trees and lapping waves a textural backdrop that only Miami could provide. His hypnotic close-ups, meanwhile, frame every face like a religious portrait.
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win: Lion
Should Win: Moonlight