The Oscars are almost upon us; time for my yearly attempt to pretend I know anything about what Hollywood is thinking.
After last year’s #OscarsSoWhite kerfuffle, every acting category this year features at least one person of color, and four out of the nine Best Picture nominees revolve around non-white-bread protagonists. Let’s hope it’s not a temporary reaction, but a genuine trend toward equality and diversity. (Not to mention resistance to the current political climate.)
Let’s take a look at who may (or may not) go home with the gold:
BEST PICTURE La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s reinvented musical comedy is the one to beat, having already cleaned up at the pre-Oscar awards. Process out the four nominees that didn’t win nods for their directors, and it’s a five-movie race, including Hacksaw Ridge, Arrival, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea. I’d be just as happy if either of these last two won, but I loved La La Land, too.
BEST DIRECTOR Damien Chazelle, La La Land. He’s already been anointed by the DGA, an almost sure-fire precursor to Oscar gold. If it were up to me, I’d split the award between Chazelle—for the sheer audacity of getting a movie musical made at all—and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) for such a smart and precise look at contemporary black lives told in such an original, unexpected way.
BEST ACTOR Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea. He doesn’t say much, but he’s definitely got the buzz at the center of this haunting drama. Actors in comedies (much less musicals) are not taken as seriously as actors in dramas, so no gold for Ryan Gosling (La La Land) or the mighty Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic). Perennial contender Denzel Washington (Fences) already has two Oscars; Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) is the also-ran.
BEST ACTRESS Isabelle Huppert, Elle. Emma Stone (La La Land) may have some buzz, but in the pre-season accolades she’s won, she wasn’t up against Huppert. (They split the Globes for Musical/Comedy and Drama). You don’t find such gutsy roles for women of a certain age in U.S. films, and Huppert’s fearlessness onscreen and formidable career should sway Academy voters. (She’d get my vote.) Natalie Portman (Jackie), Ruth Negga (Loving), and annual nominee Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) round out the category.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Mahershala Ali, Moonlight. This may be the Academy’s one chance to honor this much-nominated film, and Ali (my favorite) grounds the movie with his solid, charismatic presence. Upset candidate might be Dev Patel (so appealing in Lion), or maybe even the much-beloved Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), over Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Viola Davis, Fences. She’s already won all other awards in this category, and she’ll persist over a very strong field: Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures).
BEST SCRIPT (ORIGINAL) Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea. Lonergan so deserves it for his moving story, sophisticated storytelling, and unexpected humor. I think he’ll edge out the scriptwriters for La La Land, 20th Century Women, Hell or High Water, and The Lobster.
BEST SCRIPT (ADAPTED) Luke Davies, Lion. Just a hunch, but this is a popular movie based on an irresistible true story. It might just squeak by over the scripts for Moonlight, Arrival, Fences, and Hidden Figures.
MISC: While I don’t perceive the popular La La Land as Oscar bait in the acting or script departments, I’d be very surprised if it didn’t dance off with the gold in the music categories: Best Song (probably “City of Stars,” this being Hollywood, and all), and Best Original Score. (Although I’d give the latter to Nicholas Britell, for Moonlight—especially those edgy string interludes, as profound and immediate as a heartbeat.) Also, look for La La Land to score for Production Design and Cinematography. But it might lose out in the Best Costume race to Madeline Fontaine’s retro ’60s-chic clothing in Jackie.
The Academy Awards will be handed out Sunday, Feb. 26. If my predictions don’t pan out, I’ll be available on Monday, Feb. 27, to blame them on alternative facts.