Thursday, December 14, 2017

Nomination Predictions for the 90th Academy Awards

For those who don't know, I was in grad school this past year, and that means that I've not had any time to maintain this blog. Sorry to my loyal readers! But, the good news is that now that we're in December, it's time for my annual overly-detailed analysis of the movie awards circuit! Time for me to spend hours poring through data to determine predictions which will ultimately be about 60% correct! Are you as excited as I am?!

This has been an exciting year for film, with some truly breakout movies emerging. I haven't had a chance to see everything I want to this year, but I must say this is the first year I've genuinely really liked all of the Awards-buzz movies that I've seen so far. That's pretty rare. Usually there are a few prestige films a year which I find to be kind of "meh," or even downright bad. But, this post is not about my personal opinions (although, don't worry, those will certainly be shared in about a month's time). This post is about what we can expect to see when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 23rd. It's certainly an unpredictable awards season. The Oscars famously ignore horror movies, comedies, and anything that's altogether too weird, but this year, some of the frontrunners that have emerged fit those categories. So, let's dive into this unusual Oscars season, and see who I think are the contenders in some of the major categories this year!



BEST PICTURE:
Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name, an early Oscars favorite.
DEFINITE:
Call Me By Your Name
Lady Bird
Get Out
The Shape of Water
The Post

If any of these films don’t make it into the Best Picture race, it’s going to be a bit of a shock, as all have a good amount of critical acclaim, and have been doing quite well at the awards leading up to the Oscars. Although it hasn’t been released yet, The Post has been getting strong reviews, but even if not, any film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks is bona fide Oscar fare. Call Me By Your Name had been my early pick to win the award up until it missed out on a SAG nomination for best cast, as no movie has won Best Picture at the Oscars without being nominated in that category for over twenty years. But it's still a shoo-in for a nomination, as the coming-of-age story/romance is both crowd-pleasing enough to gain mass appeal, but artsy enough for the often pretentious Oscar crowd. The Shape of Water, meanwhile, looks like it might be the first film directed by Guillermo del Toro to score a Best Picture nomination, and the Oscars love to recognize an auteur director for one of the more polished films of their career (as they did with Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel a few years ago). The other two entries on this list are particularly exciting because they’re not the typical Oscar fare. The Oscars famously doesn’t like comedies, so the fact that there’s so much love for the exquisite Lady Bird is really heartening. Especially as the industry grapples with the tide of sexism so ingrained in it, I think that a woman’s directorial debut which features women in all of the more prominent roles is the perfect movie for this year’s Oscars. And then if there’s a genre the Oscars dislike more than comedy, it’s horror, but Get Out has been riding a wave of acclaim ever since its release earlier this year. It’s such an amazing movie, which entered the national consciousness in a truly exceptional way. Get Out and Lady Bird are not the types of films the Oscars usually responds to, but given how much popular and critical success both films have, if they don’t earn nominations it will be a serious oversight on behalf of the Academy.

SOLID BETS:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Florida Project
Phantom Thread
Mudbound
Dunkirk

Even with the larger nomination list, this category always ends up being quite crowded. And these are all films with enough merit behind them to argue that they have a serious shot at a Best Picture nomination. Although, while I think all five of these films have a good chance of earning a Best Picture nomination, I think it’s unlikely that all five will, given how difficult it is for the Oscars to have ten nominees in this category. Phantom Thread seems like a good bet, teaming up Oscar favorites Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis, but since it hasn’t had a wide release yet, it’s tough to really know what the reaction will be to it, and whether it will buoy or muddle its Oscar chances. Mudbound has all the hallmarks of an Oscar winner, and features an insanely strong ensemble cast, but the Oscars has not proven receptive to films produced by Netflix in the past, outside of the documentary category. Remember when it snubbed Beasts of No Nation? I think Mudbound has a shot at a Best Picture nomination, but the resistance to the streaming service is real and might hold it back. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Florida Project have both been really acclaimed, but Three Billboards doesn’t have the same overwhelming support as some of my more definite bets, and The Florida Project is struggling with momentum—too many good films have come out since its release which have muddied the attention it initially received.. As for Dunkirk, Many would argue it’s one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, but it had an early release which means it has lost momentum since its release. Also, the strength of Dunkirk is that it has a wide scope and ensemble, but its lack of distinct memorable characters won’t help Oscar voters remember the film as a whole come awards time. It’ll definitely be nominated for technical awards, but Best Picture isn’t assured.

DARK HORSES:
The Big Sick
Darkest Hour
Molly’s Game
The Disaster Artist
Downsizing
I, Tonya
All the Money in the World
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It’s already a crowded field, but there are a few movies which might sneak into the nominees. The Big Sick and The Disaster Artist are two well-reviewed comedies that would need to rely on popular appeal to score a nomination. I, Tonya is in the awards discussion for its performances, which means that it’s already a part of the Oscars conversation, so perhaps it can piggy-back off that buzz to a Best Picture nomination (although that didn’t work for Jackie last year). Darkest Hour hasn’t had the overwhelming critical support that the producers probably hoped for, but it still feels so much like Oscar-bait, that it might sneak in on principle. Downsizing, Molly’s Game, and All the Money in the World haven’t been released yet, so like Phantom Thread, the reaction to them might help their chances, but all have enough of a pedigree behind them that they might be on the radar soon. Lastly, Star Wars: The Last Jedi doesn’t really have a chance, but given how it’s bound to generate excitement, you never know, it might make it into the race as a longshot.

My predictions: Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, The Post, Phantom Thread, Mudbound, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri


BEST DIRECTOR:
Guillermo del Toro overseeing a scene from The Shape of Water
DEFINITE:
Guillermo del Toro—The Shape of Water
Luca Guadagnino—Call Me by Your Name

Everyone loves Guillermo del Toro, and this looks like his year to finally score a Best Director nomination, especially as The Shape of Water is one of his more polished films thus far. Meanwhile, even after a disappointing showing in the SAG Award nominations, I think that Call Me by Your Name is an early Best Picture favorite, which means that Guadagnino in turn would have the best shot at a director nomination, as the direction of that film has often been touted as a strength. Things will certainly become clearer after the DGA nominations are announced, but since I'm writing this before those nominations, these seem like the two most reliable bets so far.

THE PRESTIGE FAVORITES:
Steven Spielberg—The Post
Paul Thomas Anderson—Phantom Thread
Christopher NolanDunkirk
 
As soon as these projects were announced, all three of these names entered the Best Director race. They’re all big enough names that the Oscars has to pay attention. And all three films have had a strong enough reception that they’ve remained in the conversation. The prestige alone puts them in the conversation, and the quality of their work keeps them there. That being said, these three directors aren’t infallible. Paul Thomas Anderson’s last film, Inherent Vice, was mostly ignored by the Oscars, and Steven Spielberg himself missed out on a director nomination for his last big Oscars picture, Bridge of Spies. And then there’s Christopher Nolan, who has never been nominated for Best Director. Does that make him overdue? Or will the Oscars continue to ignore him?

THE ROCKSTAR NEWBIES:
Greta Gerwig—Lady Bird
Jordan Peele—Get Out
Dee Rees—Mudbound
Aaron Sorkin—Molly’s Game

Gerwig, Peele, and Sorkin are all recognizable faces in entertainment, but all of them are making their directorial debuts. And while Dee Rees has directed films before, none of them have made quite as big a splash as Mudbound. So we have four (relatively) new directors with films in the Oscar conversation. This is especially exciting when we consider that, aside from Sorkin, these are all relatively young directors. And, more excitingly, none of them are white men. As the Oscars has been perpetually criticized for diversity, it would be such a shame if these directors were all shut out in favor of the three white men mentioned in my “prestige favorites” category. Frankly, I feel that Gerwig and Peele deserve better odds than they seemingly have given the sheer fanbases of their respective films, and I’m especially rooting for Dee Rees, who I think demonstrated the best direction of the year, and would just so happen to be the first woman of color to receive an Oscar nomination for directing.

A GOOD SHOT:
Sean Baker—The Florida Project
Martin McDonagh—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Much like the respective films they directed, Baker and McDonagh’s chances here widely depend on just how strong the awards support for their acclaimed films ends up being. I would certainly not count either of them out, but it’s hard to know whether to underestimate or overestimate these films’ chances. McDonagh especially has a sleeper chance of making it into the running, considering the film's strong showing at the SAG Awards.

UGH PLEASE NO:
Denis Villeneuve—Blade Runner 2049

This movie does not deserve any Oscars, as far as I’m concerned. But apparently some people think that Villeneuve will score a nomination for his follow-up to the far superior film Arrival. So I’m mentioning him. But I really don’t see it happening. I know a lot of people liked this movie more than I did, but even so, it was SUCH a box office disappointment, that it’s hard for me to imagine the Academy taking any notice.

My predictions: Guillermo del Toro, Luca Guadagnino, Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, Steven Spielberg

BEST ACTRESS:
In which I make the bold and unheard of declaration that Meryl Streep might get an Oscar nomination, this time for The Post
THE STRONGEST BETS:
Sally Hawkins—The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saoirse Ronan—Lady Bird
Margot Robbie—I, Tonya
Meryl Streep—The Post

An impressive lineup, this category seems to be the most set in stone. Hawkins, McDormand, Robbie, and Ronan have all received much acclaim for their respective films, and any could potentially win (although a frontrunner will likely emerge as the awards season goes on). The unknown here is Streep as, again, The Post hasn’t been released yet, and she's the onle one here who failed to earn a SAG nomination. But, it’s never wise to bet against Streep, especially at the Oscars. This category seems pretty cut and dry.

SPOILERS:
Annette Bening—Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Jessica Chastain—Molly’s Game
Judi Dench—Victoria & Abdul
Vicky Krieps—Phantom Thread
Diane Kruger—In the Fade

But the Oscar nominations are always filled with snubs and surprises, and this category is not immune. Hell, Sally Hawkins herself was seen as the favorite to win Best Actress several years ago for Happy-Go-Lucky and didn’t even gain a nomination. If someone sneaks into the category, it will be one of these five actresses. Bening probably has the best shot, depending on how much of a campaign producers put forward for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, although Krieps might be able to ride momentum depending on how Phantom Thread does. If the Academy responds to Molly’s Game, that of course helps Chastain’s chances, while Diane Kruger’s Cannes-winning performance might translate to a performance as long as voters actually see In the Fade. Lastly, there’s Dench playing Queen Victoria, which you’d think would be a match made in Oscar heaven, but the lukewarm reaction to the film as a whole, as well as the already crowded category considering the number of strong women-lead films, has dropped her out of the conversation. Although the SAG Award definitely boosted her chances.

I CAN DREAM:
Kristen Stewart—Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart is so good. Personal Shopper is the latest in a string of excellent performances from her that would have scored a nomination for most other actresses. Given that Robert Pattinson also has a potential (if not likely) Oscar nomination in the works, it would be really great to see both Twilight stars deservedly redeemed by the Academy this year. But, it’s really unlikely.

My predictions: Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep

BEST ACTOR:
James Franco, transformed into Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist
 DEFINITE:
Timothée Chalamet—Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis—Phantom Thread
James Franco—The Disaster Artist

Chalamet is the breakaway frontrunner in this category, and the newcomer seems poised to win out over several heavyweights here. The chief among them is Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Oscar for his last film with Paul Thomas Anderson, and will likely score another nomination this year. The surprise here is James Franco, whose strong work in The Disaster Artist as the worst actor of all time has really paid off. He had initially been seen as a potential upset nominee, but his odds have improved steadily as he picks up nomination after nomination, and now an Oscars showing seems all but assured.

YEAH SURE WHY NOT:
Tom Hanks—The Post
Gary Oldman—Darkest Hour

I have not seen The Post or Darkest Hour yet, but both of their lead actors definitely have Oscar buzz surrounding them. And I’m sure both are very good, but the buzz around their nominations does seem to have an air of resignation to it. Of course the Academy is going to nominate Tom Hanks for his Steven Spielberg historical drama. And of course the Academy is going to nominate Gary Oldman for playing Winston Churchill. But, that very inevitability is what might work against them. These are performances that seem to be well-liked as opposed to genuinely exciting. You shouldn’t bet against either of them getting a nomination, but the list does seem ripe for an upset. Especially considering that Darkest Hour is otherwise not creating much buzz, and Hanks failed to score a nomination for his last Spielberg Oscars drama.

NOW THIS WOULD BE INTERESTING:
Daniel Kaluuya—Get Out
Robert Pattinson—Good Time
Adam Sandler—The Meyerowitz Stories
Harry Dean Stanton—Lucky

All four of these nominees would be far more exciting than either Hanks or Oldman’s nominations. Pattinson scoring a nomination might be little more than a pipe dream of mine, as while his performance in Good Time deservedly earned rave reviews, that acclaim doesn’t seem to be translating into actual accolades. Similarly, Adam Sandler had a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding his career-best work in The Meyerowitz Stories, but that has failed to materialize this awards season. Then there’s Harry Dean Stanton, who gave his final film performance in Lucky, and who might be given a posthumous nomination for his strong last hurrah. But the most likely spoiler here looks like Daniel Kaluuya. When Get Out first premiered, everyone was talking about Jordan Peele, and deservedly so as Get Out is very much his vision. But in comparison, there wasn’t as much fervor about how fucking great Kaluuya is in this movie. Get Out is the rare horror movie where the hero is actually more interesting than the villains (as good as the villains are), and Kaluuya’s work shows strength, fear, and vulnerability in equal turns. Especially with a SAG nomination under his belt, it would be nice, and not inconceivable, to see Kaluuya sneak in under the wire here.

SOME FAINT BUZZ:
Jake Gyllenhaal—Stronger
Christian Bale—Hostiles
Denzel Washington—Roman J. Israel, Esq.

And then there are these performances. Neither Stronger or Hostiles has gained much Oscar buzz in any category outside of Leading Actor, which means that neither performance can ride on much momentum. But, both performances are acclaimed and they could easily upset here. Lastly, there’s Washington, who I would not have even considered a possibility if not for his surprising SAG nomination. But, I’m content enough to think of the SAG nomination as an aberration—people do not like that movie enough for him to really be a contender.

My predictions: Timothée Chalamet, Daniel Day-Lewis, James Franco, Gary Oldman, Daniel Kaluuya

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Mary J. Blige says goodbye to Jason Mitchell, both of whom are receiving buzz for their work in Mudbound
DEFINITE:
Laurie Metcalf—Lady Bird
Allison Janney—I, Tonya
Mary J. Blige—Mudbound
 
GOOD CHANCE:
Holly Hunter—The Big Sick

Mothers seem to be the big theme of the year here, as all four names I’ve just mentioned here seem destined for the Oscars this year, and all four exist in the film in relation to their child. Metcalf, Blige, and Janney have nominations practically sewn up, and Hunter seems like a strong bet, but perhaps not as assured. As great as she is in The Big Sick, her chances are helped less by her performance, and more by the fact that there seems to not be a lot of competition in this category. Which means that the fifth spot seems almost up for grabs.

WHO THE HELL KNOWS:
Hong Chau—Downsizing
Tiffany Haddish—Girl’s Trip
Octavia Spencer—The Shape of Water
Lesley Manville—Phantom Thread
Carey Mulligan—Mudbound
Kristin Scott Thomas—Darkest Hour
Lois Smith—Marjorie Prime
Kirsten Dunst—The Beguiled

The favorite amongst most pundits seems to be Octavia Spencer, but I’m not buying it. Spencer is obviously great, but her performance in The Shape of Water is not the film’s best, nor anything close to her career best. It’s good, but nothing I would deem Oscar-worthy. If she gets a nomination, it’s a show of support for the movie as a whole rather than her individual work. There’s much stronger work from Carey Mulligan in Mudbound, who definitely has a shot, but does seem to be overshadowed by her co-star Mary J. Blige in the awards conversation. If I’d put money on anyone, it would be Lesley Manville, whose chances might go way up once Phantom Thread is released. But again, this one really is a crapshoot and several performances I’ve mentioned here might sneak in. There especially seems to be support for Hong Chau, who many think is the standout performance in Downsizing, the otherwise unbuzzed about film from usual Oscar favorite Alexander Payne. And her SAG nomination The real surprise here is Tiffany Haddish. It is always unwise to bet on a broadly comedic performance for Oscar glory, but Haddish has become a breakout star with Girl’s Trip and has already won and/or been nominated for numerous awards by various critics. The Oscars are not out of the question for Haddish, but while I’d love to be more confident (and, frankly, should be more confident given the attention she’s received) I’ll believe it when I see it.

My predictions: Laurie Metcalf, Allison Janney, Mary J. Blige, Holly Hunter, Lesley Manville

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project is the only sure bet in this scattered category.
DEFINITE:
Willem Dafoe—The Florida Project

Dafoe has been the only consistent name on the awards circuit in this category. As the only famous face in the film’s cast, he also is the best chance for the Academy to show love to this indie darling.

PROBABLE:
Sam Rockwell—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Stuhlbarg—Call Me by Your Name
Armie Hammer—Call Me by Your Name
Jason MitchellMudbound
 
Mudbound has been having a bafflingly inconsistent awards run so far, with some ceremonies showering it with praise, and others ignoring it entirely. But where it’s recognized, it’s consistently recognized for its cast, and along with Mary J. Blige, Straight Outta Compton star Jason Mitchell has been identified as a standout. Similarly, Sam Rockwell has been having a good run with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and it looks likely that he’ll gain his long overdue first Oscar nomination for the film. And then there’s Call Me by Your Name. Armie Hammer should really be entered as a lead (and, frankly, I think he should be getting the buzz instead of Chalamet) but since he’s entered in the supporting category, you’d think he’d be a lock given the film’s acclaim. But, surprisingly, the awards ceremonies seem to be consistently recognizing Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance in a significantly smaller role instead. Then again, not only does Stuhlbarg steal the movie in one scene, but that scene is nothing but Stuhlbarg sitting on a couch talking. He’s great, and I honestly hope that both actors from the film can be recognized here.

UPSETS:
Richard Jenkins—The Shape of Water
Woody Harrelson—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Tracy Letts—Lady Bird
Ben Mendelsohn—Darkest Hour
Ray Morgan—Mudbound

It’s always dangerous to set anything in stone, and if there’s an upset, it’s going to be one of these five, all of whom do really strong work in films that have Oscar buzz for other performances. Stuhlbarg beats Letts in the “quiet fathers in an acclaimed coming-of-age story” narrative, and Harrelson’s performance has been forgotten by the Three Billboards producers campaigning for Rockwell. It’s shaky how much the Academy is going to respond to Darkest Hour at all, but if they’re paying attention, maybe they’ll also notice Mendelsohn, and Richard Jenkins does wonderful work in The Shape of Water and could ride that film’s momentum (as well as his surprisingly SAG nod) to a nomination. Lastly, there’s Rob Morgan. No one is really talking about him, and I probably have no business putting him on this list, especially since he’s competing against co-star Jason Mitchell. But, while Mitchell gives one of the best performances of the year, Morgan’s is even better, and I found him to be the single most standout member of Mudbound’s excellent ensemble cast. I’d love to see him and the film get more recognition than expected.

My predictions: Willem Dafoe, Sam Rockwell, Michael Stuhlbarg, Armie Hammer, Jason Mitchell

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Get Out has awards buzz for its screenplay early on, and that buzz has since transformed into Best Picture buzz as well.
PROBABLE:
Lady Bird
Get Out
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

SPOILERS:
The Post
The Big Sick
The Florida Project
The Meyerowitz Stories
Downsizing

What a fucking incredible category. This year featured numerous amazing original screenplays, with films that pushed boundaries and defied conventions. The word “original” in the category means simply that the script is not based on other material. But many of the screenplays this year were original in a grander sense. The five screenplays I listed as probable seem to be the five most likely candidates, but I could easily see The Florida Project sneaking into the nominations. I also expect that most of The Big Sick’s Oscar campaign is going to be based around the strength of its screenplay, and I imagine it would have better chances in a year where the field wasn’t so strong. Then there’s The Post, whose screenplay seems to be less noticeably strong than many of the other contenders here, but is the kind of historical Oscar bait that the Academy often recognizes over more unconventional work (see the win and nomination for The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything). Lastly, we have The Meyerowitz Stories and Downsizing, which shouldn’t be counted out if only for the fact that Noah Baumbach and Alexander Payne are often recognized in this category by the Academy.

My predictions: Lady Bird, Get Out, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Me, writing about the Adapted Screenplay category, as opposed to the Original Screenplay category.
DEFINITE:
Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Mudbound

MEH:
Molly’s Game
The Beguiled
Logan
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
First They Killed My Father
Last Flag Flying

This is a far weaker category than Original Screenplay. I don’t even have much to say about it. The most exciting thing is that because of how weak the category seems to be, it opens up the possibility for a lot of surprising picks that the Academy might not otherwise recognize. I’d love to see Logan score a nomination for example.

My predictions: Call Me by Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Mudbound, Molly’s Game, Logan

 
All my predictions aside, there's of course a chance that all the nominations will actually go to Boss Baby.

So, there you have it! My predictions in some of the Oscars' most prominent categories. What do you think? Are there movies and performances you think have a better chance than I'm giving them? Or are there predictions here which you think I'm dead wrong about? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Predictions for the 89th Academy Awards


The Oscars are on Sunday, which means it's time for me to make probably inaccurate predictions! Here are my thoughts on who will win, who might win, and who should win in all categories, along with some brief (and in some cases not THAT brief) analysis of why. Feel free to discuss!

BEST PICTURE:
WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD BE: Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Moonlight
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Paterson

Early on in the year, it became clear that there were three contenders for Best Picture. The grand nostalgic musical La La Land, the quiet drama Manchester by the Sea, and the surprise indie masterpiece Moonlight—the only one that hadn’t been regularly pegged as a contender even before its release. Since then, the buzz for Manchester by the Sea has faded a bit—it’s a good film which is still likely to pick up some other awards, but it’s too small a film to sustain the momentum it once built up. Conversely, La La Land has emerged as the clear frontrunner, picking up award after award. As La La Land’s star has risen, its critics are starting to become more vocal (as often happens to an Oscar frontrunner) and there are definitely some valid criticisms to make about La La Land. I enjoyed the film very much, but I think the strongest key to its Oscar success is that it’s just an objectively well-made film. That’s why it has so many nominations—because all of the individual elements are so impeccably done. Everyone in the Academy votes for Best Picture, and La La Land is going to be the nominee that will appeal most to those in the technical categories. Similarly, Oscar voters tend to like movies that comment on the industry itself—like recent winners The Artist, Argo, and Birdman. But Moonlight shouldn’t be counted out. An absolutely beautiful film, Moonlight’s emotional resonance is its strongest asset. It only had a fraction of La La Land’s budget and far less of a producers push behind it, and yet it’s still in the running. It’s the superior film, and this category has been known to have spoilers before. Plus, it should be mentioned, starting this year there was a push to make the Academy’s voting bloc more diverse—a win for Moonlight might be a good indicator that this is paying off.

BEST DIRECTOR:
WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
COULD WIN: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden

Best Director and Best Picture usually go hand in hand, but not always. So it makes sense that the contenders for this award are the same as for Best Picture. Damien Chazelle was marked as a rising star in the field after Whiplash, and his helming of La La Land is undeniably impressive. The film’s critics point to the screenplay far more than Chazelle’s work. And his work creating some of the film’s truly magical musical sequences mark him as the one to beat. Even if Moonlight goes on to win Best Picture, I still think this is Chazelle’s award to lose. I’ll be very happy if Chazelle wins, but I did personally respond more to the direction of Barry Jenkins. The visual narrative and emotional swells he created are wonderful, but Jenkins deserves it if only for making a role played by three actors still feel like one cohesive performance.

BEST ACTRESS:
WILL WIN: Emma Stone, La La Land
COULD WIN: Natalie Portman, Jackie
SHOULD WIN: Natalie Portman, Jackie
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Elle Fanning, The Neon Demon

Natalie Portman became the frontrunner for this award as soon as anyone saw Jackie. Her absolute embodiment of Jackie Kennedy earned her rave reviews. And as soon as I saw the film, I understood why. Her performance is remarkable—she absolutely transforms and perfectly captures the essence of Jacqueline Kennedy. It’s the type of exemplary and ambitious performance that awards shows are designed to recognize. And my instincts still say there’s no way she can’t win. It was in fact my favorite performance of the year. And for a while, Portman was winning award after award after award. But for some reason the tide seems to be turning. As Jackie as a whole failed to resonate with voters, and La La Land continued to soar with voters, suddenly Emma Stone received a swell of attention from some of the Oscars’ most prominent precursor awards. Most notable, the SAG Awards. Perhaps it’s because Stone’s character is a struggling actor, and that’s something that resonated strongly with most of the SAG voters. Who knows why, but suddenly Stone has overtaken Portman to become the frontrunner in this category. I think Stone does lovely work in La La Land, but for her to win over Portman is frankly disgraceful. And yet, I think it’s going to happen. I’m predicting Stone will win, but I really hope I’m wrong.

BEST ACTOR:
WILL WIN: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
COULD WIN: Denzel Washington, Fences
SHOULD WIN: Denzel Washington, Fences
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane & Adam Driver, Paterson

If we were to judge by performance alone, this is Casey Affleck’s award hands down. Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is intensely personal, and often emotionally devastating. He carries the film beautifully and it is certainly the best work of his career. He’s already won lots of awards for his performance, and adding an Oscar to his belt seems almost inevitable. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he doesn’t have much competition in this category. Denzel Washington does good work, but his performance might have been improved if he hadn’t also been the film’s director—with no objective eye to watch his performance in a very theatrical film, he’s lacking the restraint that his co-stars demonstrate beautifully. Ryan Gosling is fine in La La Land, but his nomination here is far more for the movie itself than Gosling in particular. I haven’t seen Hacksaw Ridge and I’m not going to, and I’m sure Andrew Garfield is good in it, but I’ve not heard anything exemplary about his work. And the most laughable nominee is Viggo Mortensen—he’s a wonderful actor but he brings absolutely nothing to the table in Captain Fantastic. Frankly, I thought it was a disappointingly stupid movie, but I don’t see how even the film’s fans could argue that Mortensen deserves an Oscar for his work—the script just doesn’t give him anything interesting to do. So, yeah, this should be Affleck’s to run away with.

EXCEPT…since the film’s release, it has become known that Affleck is a piece of shit rapist. And that’s a big deal. His work is good, and I’m not suggesting people have to boycott Manchester by the Sea, but maybe this is not the type of person we should be giving major awards to? So, should he win? Absolutely not. Of his fellow nominees, Washington gives the best performance, and his win at the SAG Awards suggests that a lot of actors might be uncomfortable with Affleck taking home the top prize. Still, the Academy hasn’t had a problem giving awards to pieces of shit in the past (cough cough Mel Gibson is a fucking Oscar nominee in the year 2017 cough cough) so I still think he’s going to be the winner. I, however, will always dream of an alternate reality where the Oscar went to one of the far more interesting leading male performances that didn’t receive any awards attention this year: like Adam Driver’s masterclass in subtlety in Paterson or John Goodman’s terrifying performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, which to me was reminiscent of Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning work in Misery and should have been campaigned for as such.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
WILL WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
COULD WIN: Naomie Harris, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Gillian Jacobs, Don’t Think Twice

When I saw Moonlight, one of my first thoughts was, “Well, Naomie Harris is going to win an Oscar.” In a strong ensemble cast, Harris is absolutely the standout—her work is undeniably powerful and personal. It is nuanced enough that it is respectful of the craft, while also having enough showy moments that Oscar voters will pay attention. And in any other year, I think that this would easily be Harris’ award. But, unfortunately, she’s up against Viola Davis. And Viola Davis is absolutely brilliant in Fences. To me, the performances are essentially neck and neck (I do think that Davis just barely ekes out Harris, but I’d be happy with either of them winning based on quality) but Davis has the story behind her to gain the Academy’s support. She’s been nominated so many times and never won before, so it’s her time. Luckily, just like when Julianne Moore won for Still Alice, “her time” manages to coincide with some of the best work of her prolific career.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: John Turturro, Mia Madre & Andre Holland, Moonlight & Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight

Yeah, there’s not too much to say here: it’s definitely gonna be Mahershala Ali. This is the only acting award that I think is a solid slam dunk. Ali has won pretty much every award going into this ceremony (with the exception of the Golden Globe, but those are fairly meaningless anyway) and they can pretty much engrave the Oscar with his name at this point.

Except…here’s the thing…and please don’t hate me…I don’t quite get why he is the supporting actor from Moonlight who’s getting all the attention. Don’t get me wrong, he’s wonderful, and he’s been consistently wonderful in everything he’s been in outside of Moonlight too, but I guess I didn’t find him to be as much of a standout in this ensemble as others did. Perhaps it’s because the performance was hyped up for me so much before I saw the film, but Ali is only in a small part of the movie, and after he left and didn’t come back, I was left thinking, “Oh, that’s it?” Again, he’s good, but with this strong of a cast, I just thought other performances were more effective and affecting. Ali is a strong presence, but his character Juan just isn’t written to showcase the numerous emotional layers of, for example, Kevin and Chiron, as played in their adult forms by Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes. Their performances stayed with me a lot more than Ali’s. So, of the nominees, I’ll admit that Ali doesn’t give what I think is truly the best supporting performance. For me, that’s the young Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea. But I’ll still cheer along with everyone when Ali wins since he’s the one who’s been destined to represent the superb ensemble of Moonlight.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
WILL WIN: Manchester by the Sea
COULD WIN: La La Land
SHOULD WIN: Manchester by the Sea
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Paterson

While La La Land is poised to do very well this year, its screenplay isn’t exactly what people are most excited about. If it wins here, it’ll mostly be as a default win. Especially considering it’s up against the Manchester by the Sea, an acclaimed film whose screenplay is its greatest strength. Kenneth Lonergan has been nominated for his screenplays twice before and not won, and as he is unlikely to win Best Director or Best Picture, this is a good category for the Academy to finally send an award Lonergan’s way.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
WILL WIN: Moonlight
COULD WIN: Arrival
SHOULD WIN: Moonlight
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: The Handmaiden

This category is rather strong this year. The Fences screenplay is attributed posthumously to the wonderful August Wilson, and the screenplay for Arrival gave us one of the best science fiction films in years. But, this award has to go to Moonlight. It’s simply too good—and offers the emotional strength that non-writers love, and the lyrical artistry of language that writers love. Plus, the writer’s branch of the Academy tends to be more consistently adventurous than, say, the Best Picture category.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
WILL WIN: Zootopia
COULD WIN: Kubo and the Two Strings
SHOULD WIN: Zootopia (although, to be fair, I haven’t seen The Red Turtle yet and from what I’ve heard it’s brilliant and just might overtake Zootopia in my mind)

In just the past few years, this has become one of my absolute favorite Oscar categories. As the genre has advanced, a category which used to only have three nominees or so in it has somehow become spoiled for choice, and it’s genuinely competitive just to get a nomination. I also love how the nominees have become a mixture of big budget major studio films (this year, Disney films Zootopia and Moana) and smaller indie films (this year, Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle). Unfortunately, the heavy-hitters still have the advantage when it comes to the actual win. But the good news is that those heavy-hitters tend to be really good, and that’s the case here. Likely winner Zootopia is one of my favorite films of the year, and I think this animal film noir with a social justice bent is a more than worthy entry into the hall of animated film winners. But, this category could still surprise us, and if it does, my guess is that surprise will be Kubo and the Two Strings. I don’t think it’s as good a film as Zootopia overall, but the animation is pretty extraordinary, and Laika Studios has been nominated for every film they’ve made and still never won, so the Academy might think they’re overdue.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
WILL WIN: Toni Erdmann (Germany)
COULD WIN: The Salesman (Iran)
SHOULD WIN: A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: The Handmaiden (Korea)

For a while it looked like the German film Toni Erdmann, which was a hit ever since its premiere at Cannes, was the runaway favorite here. And for good reason—this wonderfully weird movie is funny, engaging, and wholly original. Plus, it’s crowd-pleasing enough that an American remake has already been announced starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. But, in the past few weeks, the Iranian film The Salesman has suddenly become a contender. Director Asghar Farhadi has won this award before for his masterpiece A Separation, and while I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve heard good things about his latest offering. Plus, it’s riding on buzz surrounding the news that Farhadi would not be allowed to enter the United States for the ceremony due to Donald Trump’s travel ban. In a political year, some Oscar voters might lean towards The Salesman just as a form of political protest which might give it the edge. Or, who knows, perhaps voters will go for the crowd-pleaser A Man Called Ove, which is also nominated for makeup and hairstyling. I know that I was quite taken with the surprising tearjerker, and ultimately liked it even more than Toni Erdmann.

Also, it’s worth noting, my two favorite foreignlanguage films of this yearThe Handmaiden and Mia Madre—weren’t even submitted as potential contenders for this award, which is a shame because they’re both excellent. Watch them!

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
WILL WIN: O.J.: Made in America
COULD WIN: 13th

Pretty much everyone who has seen the 467 minute, five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America agrees it’s a masterpiece. And it has taken almost every Best Documentary Award offered so far this year. So it should be the obvious frontrunner, and it is. But I’m still wary—I think the fact that it was made for television and was only released briefly in theaters to qualify for the Oscars on a technicality might rub some Oscar voters the wrong way. If that happens, then perhaps another documentary will steal this award away from O.J.: Made in America, in which case my guess is the Ava DuVernay directed 13th.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:
WILL WIN: La Femme et le TGV
COULD WIN: Timecode, Ennemis interieurs
SHOULD WIN: Timecode

The shorts are always some of my favorite categories. I’ve gone out of my way to watch the nominees whenever I can for the past few years, and I’m always glad I did. There are always some real gems and so, once again, it’s time for my annual suggestion that people watch these short movies. Really, they’re great! And pay for them—these films are usually made by unknown filmmakers who have produced amazing work, and you get five movies for the price of one!

And, this year, the live action shorts are especially worth seeing. Even my least favorite, Sing, is still perfectly enjoyable and reasonably well done. And while my second least favorite, Silent Nights, at times falls into trite storytelling tropes, it’s remarkably well-made and well-acted. But these two are noticeably a step below the other three nominees, and I’d be happy if any of these three won.

Of my three favorites in this category, I think that Ennemis interieurs, a mostly two-person film about a French-Algerian man being interrogated on suspicion of terrorism, is relevant to the issues of today, and incredibly gripping and well-written, but I think it might be too wordy and quiet to actually take the prize. Instead, I think this award will go to La Femme et le TGV, about a French woman who begins exchanging letters with a stranger who rides the train past her house each day. It’s a sweet, surprising film, that is wonderfully romantic, and probably the nominee with the most universal appeal—which is why I think it will win. But, my personal favorite is the Spanish film Timecode, about two security guards who work day and night shifts and begin communicating to each other through recorded dances. It’s hilarious, but also strangely beautiful and is, to me, exactly what a short film should be: a simple story that would never work as a feature, but feels complete in the little time it has to tell its story. When I said, that the shorts always contain some gems, Timecode is exactly the kind of gem I’m talking about.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:
WILL WIN: Piper
COULD WIN: Borrowed Time
SHOULD WIN: Blind Vaysha

I found the animated short films a bit underwhelming this year. It’s not that they were bad, but none of them excited me the way some nominees have in the past few years. As a result, I think the most likely winner will be the Pixar short Piper, which was shown before Finding Dory. Pixar actually hasn’t won this award in a while, and considering that they don’t have any nominee in the animated feature category this time around, they’re probably campaigning for Piper pretty hard—certainly far more than the resources of the other films’ productions companies would allow. But my personal favorite of this lineup was probably Blind Vaysha—a creepy Canadian folktale with some gorgeous animation.

BEST DOCUMENTARY- SHORT SUBJECT:
WILL WIN: Joe’s Violin
SHOULD WIN: Extremis

Full disclosure: I’ve only been able to see three of the five nominees in this category, so it’s a bit tough to gauge. 4.1 Miles and Watani: My Homeland might be amazing movies that will win this category handily, but the three I have seen are still quite strong. I don’t think the award will go to The White Helmets, though. The short, about volunteer rescue workers in Syria, is powerful, but a bit plodding. I was far more taken with Extremis, a harrowing discussion of the decision doctors have to make to end the life of a patient. It’s gripping stuff, and really well done, but it’s incredibly depressing and might be too much for some viewers to consider. Far more palatable is Joe’s Violin, which tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who donated his violin to be used by a promising 12-year-old music student in the Bronx. Both of these films are good, but while Extremis will make its audience sad, Joe’s Violin will make them hopeful. And that’s more likely to earn votes from the Academy.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

La La Land would actually be a pretty unconventional winner in this category, which typically awards purely instrumental scores. But the original songs of La La Land, and the film’s overall celebration of music, have clearly impressed the Academy and it seems like the easy favorite here. If traditionalist voters want to shy away from lyrics, though, the other nominees are still quite strong, with my favorite of the lot being the score for Moonlight.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
WILL WIN: “City of Stars”—La La Land
COULD WIN: “How Far I’ll Go”—Moana
SHOULD WIN: “Audition (Fools Who Dream)”—La La Land
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “Drive It Like You Stole It”—Sing Street

Just like with score, the fact that La La Land celebrates music so much means that its win in this category has been practically predetermined. The main question is which song it’ll be for? Of the two nominated songs from La La Land, I personally prefer “Audition,” but I have a feeling that the film’s recurring theme, “City of Stars” is the one the producers are pushing. There is a chance, of course, that voters will be split between the two songs, and that’ll allow another song to win—which means Lin-Manuel Miranda might ride his Hamilton buzz all the way to becoming the youngest ever EGOT winner for Moana.

Although, personally, I’m sad that no original song from John Carney’s utterly charming Sing Street made the cut. Especially Drive It Like You Stole It—which for me beat out every single one of La La Land’s individual musical numbers.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:
WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Hail, Caesar!
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: The Neon Demon

Haters of La La Land be warned: you’re about to get very, very angry. Because the common wisdom in picking the winners in this year’s technical categories seems to be, “just guess La La Land for everything.” But…it’s really not a bad strategy. And while it might not win every award it’s up for, barring a surprise, it’s going to win most of them. Starting with Production Design. Although if not, this might be a win for another love letter to old Hollywood, the otherwise ignored Coen Brothers comedy Hail, Caesar!

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: La La Land
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Hardcore Henry

Again, La La Land is going to win all the technical awards. And, of the nominees, I do think it features the best cinematography. But part of me kind of wants to see Moonlight take this one. On an objective level, La La Land’s cinematography is better, but what Moonlight did on a fraction of the budget is pretty impressive, creating a rich and colorful visual narrative that serves the story perfectly.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:
WILL WIN: Star Trek Beyond

The old age makeup in A Man Called Ove is really impressive, but I don’t see how it’ll compete against the fantastical science fiction creatures in Star Trek Beyond. Also if the third and final nominee, Suicide Squad, actually wins an Oscar—even just an Oscar for makeup— I will lose my goddamn mind.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Allied

Again, it’s not smart to bet against La La Land, so I’m predicting it here. But I do have some reservations. I think the costumes in this film are good, and they’re definitely stylized, but this category tends to prefer period pieces over contemporary films. And if that’s the case, the stylish costumes of Allied might just pull an upset.

BEST FILM EDITING:
WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

Even more than Best Director, the award for Best Film Editing typically goes hand in hand with Best Picture. For that reason alone, La La Land and Moonlight are the frontrunners here. But I do think La La Land has the edge, even if Moonlight ultimately takes home the top prize. For one this, editor Tom Cross already won this award for his last collaboration with Damien Chazelle, Whiplash, and flashy musical numbers showcase ambitious film editing really, really well.

BEST SOUND MIXING:
WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Arrival

Again, La La Land is the smart choice for the technical categories. Although, the use of sound in Arrival is really quite brilliant, so that might overtake it here. More on that in my discussion of the next category…

BEST SOUND EDITING:
WILL WIN: Arrival
COULD WIN: Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land

Okay, so here I’m breaking with my tradition and going with Arrival. This film used sound editing to create an entire alien language. That’s pretty badass, and really impressive. If the voters know enough about sound editing, then Arrival will be the winner. Although, of course, it could still be La La Land. Or possibly even wartime drama Hacksaw Ridge, as war films often do well in this category.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
WILL WIN: The Jungle Book
COULD WIN: Kubo and the Two Strings

This kind of has to be The Jungle Book. Not only was that film gorgeous, but it redefined what visual effects could really be. It’s the type of film this category is basically designed to recognize. But last year, Ex Machina scored a shocking win in this category, beating out films with a significantly larger budget. If an underdog can triumph again this year, it’ll be the visually stunning animation of Kubo and the Two Strings. This is only the second animated film to be nominated in this category (the first being The Nightmare Before Christmas) and it has earned its nomination for creating one of the most unique and distinct looks of any animated film ever.