After last year’s controversy, the Oscars return, with La La Land tying with Titanic for the most nominations ever. I might as well get this out of the way: I read an interview with an Oscar voter who said “I can’t understand how it got 14 nominations. I just don’t get it … I think because it’s set in LA and it’s about the industry and they’re all narcissists. It got more nominations than The Godfather. They’re mediocre singers and dancers, and there’s not one good song in the movie, as opposed to Singin’ in the Rain or other classic musicals. It’s a poor imitation. I’ll be embarrassed when it wins.”
Although the success of Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures does point to progress in terms of diversity, it’s worth noting that Best Director, Cinematography, Song and Original Screenplay are among the all-male categories this year, so there’s still work to be done. I am also staggered – staggered – that Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden is nowhere to be found this year. Is it down to the kind of release date quirk that means The Lobster is nominated this year, when it came out in 2015? Nonetheless, it’s an improvement from last year. For your consideration …
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Should win: Moonlight
Will win: La La Land
See above. La La Land is fine. It’s perfectly fine. But it’s about as plausibly the Best Picture as Adele’s 25 was the Best Album at the Grammys compared to Lemonade. Why reward a beautiful, heartbreaking, unique film about a gay person of colour coming of age when there’s an averagely-sung fairly forgettable musical out about how Hollywood is awesome and spellbinding and in which a white guy saves jazz? Hacksaw Ridge is an interesting choice, and I guess it means Hollywood has forgiven Mel Gibson, though that’s hardly surprising given Woody Allen and Roman Polanski’s awards records. It’s all moot though. To be clear: there is zero chance anything other than La La Land will win.
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Should win: Barry Jenkins
Will win: Damien Chazelle
There’s a bit of noise about Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester splitting the Picture/Director ticket; that tends to be the exception rather than the rule, and I’d be surprised if an across-the-board favourite like La La Land failed to do the double. Obviously Barry Jenkins should win for Moonlight; in fact it’d be nice if they cancelled the bulk of the ceremony and made everyone sit and watch it. But Mr Chazelle gave the people – by which I mean the old men that make up the Academy – what they wanted: an ode to how everything they do is great and LA is amazing. He deserved a statuette for Whiplash and didn’t get one, but this year it should go elsewhere.
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
Should win: Isabelle Huppert
Will win: Emma Stone
Egregious absences first: Rebecca Hall should be duking it out with Huppert for the win, with her astonishingly good performance as the lead in Christine. However, that film was about American audiences’ search for titillation being bad for society – kind of the opposite message to this year’s golden child, La La Land – and thus is nowhere to be found. Emma Stone is a superb, versatile actor with a great line in vulnerability but her unassailable odds to win this one are just crazy. I would take Anne Hathaway’s mad ten-minute turn in Les Miserables as a more credible award winner than this. At least she got dirty. Best Actress? Huppert could win it twice over this year with Elle and Things to Come, but in the absence of a Jennifer Lawrence performance to mindlessly nominate, the statue’s going to be atop the Stone toilet cistern come Monday morning.
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences
Should win: Viggo Mortensen
Will win: Casey Affleck
The buzz around Casey Affleck has exposed some of the more unsavoury aspects of his past, perhaps explaining why Affleck Sr. has tended to hog the limelight, even if he’s often a less interesting actor. In Hacksaw Ridge, thaaar be accents, so Andrew Garfield gets a nod. But listen: Viggo Mortensen has never won an Oscar. Shall I say it again? Viggo Mortensen has never won an Oscar! That’s no reason to just give him one, right? We wouldn’t do that with, say, Leo in The Revenant or Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart when they’d clearly made much better films previously? In an ideal world this tussle would be between Viggo and Denzel and I’d give the former the nod.
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Should win: Naomie Harris
Will win: Viola Davis
I was hoping Anja Taylor-Joy might sneak in here with a nomination for The Witch, though she’s such a talent she probably has years of awards ahead of her. Naomie Harris squeezed her part in Moonlight into three days of filming during the Spectre press tour (quite the juxtaposition of quality in projects there), and her slightly frenzied performance, which includes aging and different stages of addiction, is quite a feat. Michelle Williams has been strong in the early running, picking up gongs from the New York, Chicago, Florida, San Diego, Toronto and Vancouver Film Critics Circles; an Oscar would reflect the strongest of the post-Dawson’s Creek careers, with excellent work in films like Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine and My Week with Marilyn. Davis seems to be the favourite.
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
Should win: Mahershala Ali
Will win: Mahershala Ali
Finally, a favourite I can get on board with! Mahershala Ali capped a stellar few years which saw him rise through terrific TV work like House of Cards and Luke Cage, via Hollywood fare like Place Beyond the Pines and The Hunger Games franchise, with his moving, understated turn in Moonlight. As conflicted drug dealer and surrogate father Juan, he appears only in the first act of the film, though he casts a shadow over the central character for the subsequent two. He seems to be nailed on for the award at this point, which is fine with me, though it’s worth singling out Michael Shannon, whose Detective Bobby was far and away the best thing in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. And look at little Dev Patel! The boy from Skins done good.
Best of the Rest
Cinematography is notable in that it’s the only big nod for Martin Scorcese’s Silence, which is something of a snub for a director usually swimming in gongs. Moonlight‘s producers used a colourist to emulate classic film stocks and create the unique visual identity that each of its chapter has; but bookies have it as the 12-1 long shot. The favourite … do you need to ask? Other categories in which La La Land will clean up include, but are not limited to, costume design, editing, original score, original song, production design and sound mixing.
This year’s Documentary Feature nominees at least have their fingers on the pulse of modern America; three of the five (OJ: Made in America, I Am Not Your Negro and 13th) tackle race in the USA head-on, offering searing indictments and masterful advocacy. 13th is my pick, particularly for its poignancy in Trump’s America, but Fire At Sea won the Berlin Festival’s Golden Bear and would also be a strong choice. Shot on Lampedusa, the Sicilian island at the height of the ongoing European migrant crisis, then-Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi handed a DVD of the film to each of his 27 counterpart Heads of State at the European Council.
In the Animated Feature category, I’ll put my hands up and admit that I haven’t seen Zootopia, which was wonderfully received. But I did check out The Red Turtle – Studio Ghibli’s first co-production, with Michaël Dudok de Wit – at the London Film Festival. It has neither dialogue nor character names, and it tells the story of a shipwrecked man who looks for companionship on his desert island and finds only an uncooperative red turtle. An 80 minute fable about family, loss and longing that’s so overwhelmingly moving deserves any award it can get its hands on.
With regard to Best Foreign Language Film, I know what you’re thinking. Typo. The Handmaiden MUST be nominated, right? You’re indignant that it’s not a frontrunner for Best Picture, right? Well I’m sorry to say that it’s not even nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. I don’t know anymore, I really don’t. Park Chan Wook delivered a dazzling masterpiece, but Toni Erdmann has already been handpicked for a remake with Jack Nicholson – the ultimate Hollywood endorsement – so it must be a shoe-in.
Adapted Screenplay should be another win for Moonlight, and Hell or High Water was an interesting piece in the Original Screenplay category, but it’ll have to get past Manchester and that Ryan Gosling musical first. The Oscars also offer some respite for films that performed poorly last year; uber-turkey Suicide Squad has an outside chance of winning for Best Makeup! Remember, readers: gamble responsibly.