Saturday, February 25, 2017

2017 Oscar Predictions

First, the good news. As is usually the case, the Academy did admirable job highlighting the best in motion pictures this year with their nominations, shining a spotlight on lesser known films that would otherwise go overlooked by the general public. Sure, you'll always have some casual viewers tuning in who haven't heard of most of the nominees but there's just no way around that. You have to reward quality and hope after Sunday's show more people come away interested in these movies and commit to seeing them since they're really great. I'd rather the telecast lead with that story rather than issues related to politics or the diversity of nominees. The former I'm just plain tired of while the latter already took center stage last year, and honestly, was never the Academy's problem to solve. It was the industry's. While I don't anticipate either of those topics taking the night off, I just hope it doesn't unnecessarily usurp the primary objective: Celebrating the movies and worthy work of the nominees. It should be their night, even if I'm cringing at the thought of what they'll possibly say when they get to the podium. 

As for the new host, I don't have strong feelings either way on Jimmy Kimmel, but can conclusively condemn the laziness of the selection, which just reeks of shameless corporate synergy. I expect that from the other awards telecasts but (perhaps naively) regarded the Academy Awards as being above that, or at least doing a good enough job pretending to be. Part of the fun each year was guessing who would be a worthy choice as host and now that's apparently out the window in favor of making sure ABC gets free advertising for their talk show. Combine that with the mishandling of the nominations announcement, and I'm less than optimistic about a telecast that could still surprise under the best of circumstances.

What won't be a surprise is the La La Land taking home the lion's share of these awards. Tying Titanic and All About Eve in total number of nominations with 14, it won't win them all, but it should win at least 9. That's enough to make the evening a certifiable sweep. There just isn't a single emerging challenger strong enough to give it trouble and my predictions below reflect that. The best case scenario is that they at least spread the wealth a little bit to keep it interesting and the telecast stays under 5 hours. Unlike last year, when I had a horse in the race with Room, I can't say I'm as personally invested in Sunday's outcomes. If anything, that may be a plus and bode well for my predictions, sparing me an embarrassment like missing Best Picture. All my picks are below, along with some comments on the major categories. And as usual, I'll reserve the right to make adjustments right up until the show starts.

*Predicted Winners

Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Moana, John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer
My Life as a Zucchini, Claude Barras and Max Karli
The Red Turtle, Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki
Zootopia, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

Best Animated Short
Blind Vaysha, Theodore Ushev
Borrowed Time, Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Robert Valley and Cara Speller
Pearl, Patrick Osborne
Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

Best Documentary Feature
13th, Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish
Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Hebert Peck
Life, Animated, Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

Best Documentary Short Subject
4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki
Extremis, Dan Krauss
Joe’s Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen
Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis
The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Best Live Action Short Film
Ennemis Interieurs, Selim Azzazi
La Femme et le TGV, Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff
Silent Nights, Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson
Sing, Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy
Timecode, Juanjo Gimenez

Best Foreign Language Film
A Man Called Ove, Sweden
Land of Mine, Denmark
Tanna, Australia
The Salesman, Iran
Toni Erdmann, Germany

Best Film Editing
Arrival, Joe Walker
Hacksaw Ridge, John Gilbert
Hell or High Water, Jake Roberts
La La Land, Tom Cross
Moonlight, Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

Best Sound Editing
Arrival, Sylvain Bellemare
Deep Water Horizon, Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli
Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
La La Land, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Sully, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Best Sound Mixing
Arrival, Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye
Hacksaw Ridge, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

Best Production Design
Arrival, Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock
Hail, Caesar!, Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
La La Land, David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Passengers, Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena

Best Original Score
Jackie, Mica Levi
La La Land, Justin Hurwitz
Lion, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight, Nicholas Britell
Passengers, Thomas Newman

Best Original Song
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls — Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
“City of Stars,” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Best Makeup and Hair
A Man Called Ove, Eva von Bahr and Love Larson
Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
Suicide Squad, Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

Best Costume Design
Allied, Joanna Johnston
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Colleen Atwood
Florence Foster Jenkins, Consolata Boyle
Jackie, Madeline Fontaine
La La Land, Mary Zophres

Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

Best Cinematography
Bradford Young, Arrival
Linus Sandgren, La La Land
Greig Fraser, Lion
James Laxton, Moonlight
Rodrigo Prieto, Silence

Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival, Eric Heisserer
Fences, August Wilson
Hidden Figures, Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion, Luke Davies
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

*This is Moonlight's to lose and it isn't out of the realm of possibility that it does. A really strong category where really anything (yes, even Arrival) could sweep in and take it. Fences, Hidden Figures and Lion are all based on highly respected source material many could claim were improved upon or at least equaled by their cinematic adaptations. As tempted as they'll be to give a posthumous Oscar to August Wilson for Fences, more tempting will be rewarding Moonlight in a major category besides Supporting Actor since it's likely to lose both Picture and Director. While Barry Jenkins' script feels the least "adapted " of the five (controversially placed here due to it being based on an unproduced play) and Lion is really on an upswing, that shouldn't be enough to slow its momentum. Plus, everyone wants to see Jenkins make it to the podium at least once. Barry, that is. Not Florence Foster. 

Best Original Screenplay
20th Century Women, Mike Mills
Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan

*Another loaded category where they'll again want to go with a highly respected film not likely to win many other awards due to La La Land's expected dominance. Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is the most writerly of these, with its observant script tying the gut-wrenching performances as its strongest aspect. For Hell or High Water and especially The Lobster, their nominations are reward enough. Same for Mike Mills' 20th Century Women. The only remaining threat is La La Land and believe me it's a major one. If Chazelle takes this, watch out, since his screenplay is widely regarded as the film's weakest link. But when you're talking about a story that directly speaks to most of the Academy's voting body and their own perceived life experiences, anything's possible. It's a movie that's quite literally hitting them where they live. I'm still picking Manchester, but using a pencil.       

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

*Viola Davis has this in the bag in a race that may be the closest thing we have to a sure bet all night. Of course, that category is still Supporting Actress, which is historically known for major, shocking upsets. I don't foresee that this year, with Davis' biggest challenge coming in the form of Michelle Williams, whose devastating few minutes in Manchester by the Sea is exactly the kind of cameo-like performance the Academy can sometimes like to reward. Just not this year. Naomie Harris feels next in line, followed by Davis' The Help co-star Octavia Spencer and, in distant last, Nicole Kidman. There's still this feeling Viola is owed an Oscar after losing to Streep a few years ago, so the fact that she's deserving and basically carries the film in a role she already won a Tony for on Broadway, is just icing on the cake. The potential roadblock would be category fraud, as many see it as a lead rather than supporting performance. But it won't matter.    

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

*Imagine the possibility of Dev Patel's name being announced as the winner. With the steam Lion's been gaining, it could easily happen. But it won't. I'm writing off Mahershala Ali's Golden Globe loss to Nocturnal Animals' Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a complete fluke because he's winning this. He's likable, respected, humble and gave the performance of his life (and one of the best of the year) in Moonlight. His biggest threat is Patel, an actor few thought would ever see an Oscar ceremony again after starring in and seemingly peaking with Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire nearly nine years ago. Jeff Bridges' Texas Ranger in Hell or High Water is supposedly too reminiscent of other recent curmudgeonly roles he's had, there's a feeling Lucas Hedges still "has time," and as much as everyone loves Michael Shannon, this doesn't feel like his Oscar-winning part. We'll definitely know when it gets here. Expect the speech of the night from Ali.  

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

*As much as prognosticators have tried to hype this up as a tight race, it isn't. At least not anymore. It's all about Emma and at this point there's absolutely nothing standing between her and a statue that's coming a lot sooner in her career than many expected. Even those who don't care for La La Land (yes, there are some) have a hard time denying that she's undoubtedly the best thing in it. But it's definitely a different kind of Best Actress victory than Brie Larson's last year for Room, which was probably my favorite Oscar-winning performance of the past decade. It doesn't reach those raw depths, nor it is meant to, instead falling more on the entertainment side of the fence. So while comparisons will exist because of their ages and similar career trajectories up to this point, this strangely feels like a "one for us, one for them" type of win for Stone that's a return to how we perceive the Academy thinks after backing Larson last year.

Streep's annual token nomination is turning into such a bad joke I could actually see this harming her legacy if it continues. "It's a thrill just to be nominated" may actually be real statements uttered by Isabelle Huppert and Ruth Negga. The former has a much better chance based on a career of outstanding work and it was nice to see the latter sneak in, as her nomination for Loving was far from a sure thing. In fact, at one point it was a real long shot so it's great her career gets the bump. Speaking of bumps, that leaves us with Stone's biggest concern: Portman.

As a film, the character-driven Jackie just was just never received as a top tier player going into Awards season against the likes of heavier hitters like La La Land and Moonlight. She needed it to be to get the win. Combine that with having already won for Black Swan, her pregnancy preventing her from doing much promotion and the fact that Stone is untouchable right now, and it becomes an even steeper climb. Her only hope is that they make a political vote based on the subject matter, but if that were the case her film would have been nominated for more, including Best Picture. Mostly middle to older aged white males still comprise much of the Academy and we know how they love to vote for the hot, young ingenue. That only tips the scales further in Stone's favor.        

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

*The tightest contest of the night. while I wouldn't go as far as saying it could tilt either way, Denzel and Affleck are pretty close right now. Still, I'm favoring Affleck, if only because I can't imagine voters seeing that police station scene and not giving it to him based on that alone. And despite their fondness for actors who direct, Washington isn't exactly widely loved within the industry and hasn't stacked up the impressive number of notices and awards Affleck and Manchester has over the past few months. If Andrew Garfield wins, Adrien Brody will be somewhere cheering.

Mortensen really stands out as the most adventurous nomination here, but a very unlikely winner considering how Captain Fantastic was ignored in all other categories. Gosling's performance is La La Land is underappreciated and taken for granted, if only because his co-star's so good. But the best work he did over the past year was in The Nice Guys. The safe money's on Casey, but i wouldn't be completely shocked by a Denzel upset.  

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge,
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

*I still contend Damien Chazelle should have won Best Director for Whiplash a couple of years ago (when he went criminally un-nominated) so I'm completely fine with the foregone conclusion that he's getting this. La La Land is a far cry from that film, but he's deserving nonetheless, as his direction is the main reason a concept that had no business working at all ends up working magnificently. To pull that off is an achievement in itself, speaking to his talent and proving he's more than worthy of the statue, which could be seen as an investment in his bright future. Jenkins and Lonergan are his strongest competitors with the former having a legitimate chance if the voters don't feel like granting La La Land the sweep that's expected. Historically, Picture and Director rarely split, but it's been happening more in recent years (including last) so anything's possible. Arrival's Villeneuve feels like the odd man out here, while just seeing a nominated Mel Gibson at the Oscars and speculating on the reception he'll get, is reward enough for viewers and movie fans everywhere. He doesn't need the win and won't get it. Chazelle has this in the bag. 

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

*Since we already know La La Land is winning, let's try speculating on potential alternate scenarios, most of which seem illogical or ridiculous. That's how you know this is over. But it's here where we can start to factor in the cultural and political climate of the past year into the Oscar race. Perhaps sensing the frontrunner is too slight a choice, not diverse or "important" enough to represent 2016 as its Best Picture, voters look elsewhere. The most viable alternative would be Moonlight, a selection that would squash most criticisms leveled at the Academy through the years, such as their alleged slights against minorities and that Brokeback Mountain debacle from over a decade ago. Those aren't good reasons to reward a film with the industry's top prize but it's unfortunately the only scenario I foresee where they would. To rehab their image. What's unfortunate about their mindset is that the film is deserving on its own merits, even if history has proven something like this is just too challenging for them to endorse. They'll think the nomination is enough.

Lion fits more squarely in their wheelhouse and if there's an upset it would be a rousing, inspiring internationally flavored adaptation like this that spoils the party. But as much momentum as it's picked up, it's just not enough, peaking maybe just a little too late. There's some truth in that "Hidden Fences" joke since in voters' minds the two films will probably be interchangeable on their ballots, splitting votes and cancelling each other out. Manchester By the Sea has held strong but it's a depressing wrist-slitter, and no matter how well written and acted, the Academy rarely rewards those with Best Picture.

Hell or High Water, Arrival and the more respected Hacksaw Ridge are considered genre pictures that are well liked, but may not have gotten in without an expanded field. Even by process of elimination it would still be La La Land, if it didn't already have enough going for it. Universally beloved, unmatched technical prowess, gigantic scope, the comeback of the musical, well-liked actors, and a theme, story, and setting that's instantly relatable to the entire Academy, it can't possibly lose. It's their movie and they'll be tripping all over themselves to reward it. But you already knew that.        

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