Sunday, February 26, 2017

Academy Awards- Predictions and Comments

The Oscars are always political, but they will be more so than this go around. Last year, there was fury over no acting nominations for people of color. With a Black Muslim all but locked in to win a major award, and African American actors likely to take home at least two golden statues, tonight's ceremony will focus on the President rather than Hollywood.

Well, kind of. The biggest awards of the night are likely to go to classic Hollywood fare, La La Land. If this is the case, it will be the fourth time in six years that the Academy saw fit to honor a film at least partially about the show business industry (see The Artist, Argo, and Birdman). 

But while the ultimate winners may provide more evidence of Hollywood self-adulation, the nominees show Hollywood's ability to tell stories set all over the country and around the globe. Manchester by the Sea is a sympathetic portrait of New England's white working class, Hell or High Water is about economic desperation in the Southwest, and Hacksaw Ridge tells the tale of the stunning strength a rural Virginian derives from his faith.  Hidden Figures concerns discrimination against the black intellectual elite, while Fences shows the aftermath of discrimination against the black athletic elite. Moonlight is about growing up poor, black, and gay while Lion is one of the best portrayals of developing country poverty ever put on a film. For a bunch out-of-touch coastal elites, Hollywood directors, actors, and screenwriters sure seems better able to empathize with people from other backgrounds than the rest of the country. While it might be cool to hate on our celebrity brethren, perhaps we should try learning something from them instead.

Alas, onto the nominees. I'll use the reliable should win, will win, should have been nominated format.

Best Picture:

Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: Moonlight
Should Have Been Nominated: Silence

This is a pretty impressive group of nominees. While I'm not sure 2016 had a masterpiece, the overall depth of the year's films solidly exceeds any other year this decade with 2012 as a possible exception. Scorsese's brutal, brilliant, and ambiguous Silence was a little too much for audiences and Academy voters alike, and its absence from the final list is pretty glaring. But a lot to like here, and I think you could make valid arguments for just about every nominee. But it's La La Land's prize, barring a shocker.

Best Director: 

Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Should Win: Barry Jenkins: Moonlight
Should Have Been Nominated: Martin Scorsese, Silence

Same pattern here. Chazelle's win will be well deserved,  he is pretty clearly an auteur extraordinaire. But the vibrancy and color with which Jenkins imbues Moonlight is pretty stunning for a film that was once a play.

Best Actor:

Will Win: Denzel Washington. Fences
Should Win: Denzel Washington, Fences
Should Have Been Nominated: Andrew Garfield, Silence

Most money is on Casey Affleck, but I think Denzel will eke it out. He's beloved by the industry (and just about everyone), and the fact that he also directed himself will score him some bonus points with behind the camera voters. Garfield's deeply moving performance in Silence is significantly better than Ryan Gosling's solid but by-the-numbers turn in La La Land.

Best Actress:

Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land
Should Win: Ruth Negga, Loving
Should Have Been Nominated: Amy Adams, Arrival

The winner of this year's Oscar got an asterisk attached to their golden figure the moment Adams name was shockingly bypassed on nomination day.

Best Supporting Actor:

Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Should Win: Dev Patel, Lion
Should Have Been Nominated: Ashton Sanders, Moonlight

Ali has long been an incredibly underrated character actor so it will be nice to see him get some recognition. But Dev Patel keeps Lion from completely falling apart during its weak middle section, and then brings the film home to its deeply moving conclusion. Speaking of biases, the Academy seems to have something against younger actors: both Sanders' performance as teenage Chiron in Moonlight and Sunny Pawar as kid Siroo in Lion, deserved a nomination.

Best Supporting Actress:

Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences
Should Win; Viola Davis, Fences
Should Have Been Nominated: Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures

There are three performances here that would win in a normal year: You could make a plausible argument that the two best acted scenes of the year were when Michelle Williams runs into Casey Affleck on the street and Naomie Harris's tableside confession to Chiron in Moonlight. But Viola Davis's gargantuan performance in Fences, in a borderline lead role, will make her one of the most deserving winners of this category in the Academy's history. 

Best Original Screenplay:

Will Win: Kenneth Longergan, Manchester by the Sea
Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Should Have Been Nominated: Jeff Nichols, Loving

If La La Land wins this one, you know it's got picture and director locked up.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Will Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Should Win: Eric Heiserrer, Arrival
Should Have Been Nominated: Correct Nominees

This group of nominees forces the question: should the best screenplay that happens to be adapted to film win, or should the best screenplay taking into account the difficulties of adaptation take home the trophy. If its the former, Fences should win (in which case the deceased playwright August Wilson will win for his utterly brilliant work). Fences literally is a filmed version of the play- no adaptation necessary. Eric Heiserrer's job with Arrival involved actual adaptation, so for me, he gets the golden man.