Sunday, March 6, 2016

I Try To Predict the 2017 Oscar Nominees Because I'm Insane

Well, another Oscar season is done. After all my analysis, and all of my hard work, I ended up predicting two thirds of the Oscar winners correctly, and I wear my "barely passing" badge with pride. Of a more pressing concern, the end of the Oscars means that I must once again try to come up with content that's not related to the 88th Academy Awards.

So let's talk about the 89th Academy Awards.

That's right, about a year in advance, I'm going to foolishly attempt to predict the nominees for next year's Oscars. At this time, film distributors are already thinking about next year's Oscar campaigns, and there are always lots of films that, on paper, are already clearly going to be contenders. At this point last year, people were already guessing that Bridge of Spies, The Revenant, and ultimate Best Picture winner Spotlight were going to be nominated for Best Picture. At the same time, Room was seen as a long shot, and absolutely no one would have expected Mad Max: Fury Road's Oscar dominance. Plus, there were plenty of films that, at this time of the year, seemed like Oscar gold but which ultimately fizzled out, such as Suffragette, Freeheld, and Concussion. Most amusingly for me, the film Sea of Trees, starring Matthew McConaughey, was being considered a major Oscar contender at this time last year...until it got booed at Cannes and will probably never get a theatrical release.

So, what I'm saying is that I in no way expect these predictions to be accurate, but it's fun to speculate. Some of the films I mention are going to inevitably end up being terrible, and some might not even be released this year. And there are going to be plenty of movies which come into play during the awards season that no one has even heard of yet. Basically, if these predictions end up being way off, I'm saying that you should cut me some slack, but if they end up being accurate, you should immediately accept that I am a wizard with intense psychic powers. It's win win! And without any further ado, let's dive into this ridiculous experiment and see my super early predictions for the 89th Academy Awards!

After a strong reception at Sundance, The Birth of a Nation has become the early "film to beat" for the 89th Academy Awards.
Two titles emerged out of the Sundance Film Festival with lots of buzz: Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation and Kenneth Lonergan's drama Manchester by the Sea. Given the acclaim both of these received, they seem like pretty safe bets for the Oscars race, and especially in the light of the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy, I imagine The Birth of a Nation will be particularly well-received. Another indication of a strong Oscar contender is pedigree, and Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Ang Lee, and Woody Allen all have offerings this year. Eastwood in particular has an Oscar-friendly film with Sully, starring Tom Hanks portraying famous hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger. Lee's entry this year is based on a novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and could benefit from the sense that Lee is overdue (despite winning Best Director twice, none of his films have ever won Best Picture). Woody Allen has been pretty hit and miss with the Oscars recently, but his film Cafe Society might be a dark horse contender. Scorsese's upcoming Silence is also a likely nominee, considering that anything he directs is automatically going to be on the Academy's radar (that Hugo scored a Best Picture nomination is proof of that). Speaking of Hugo, I think that we might once again see a children's movie score a Best Picture nomination because of its director next year. The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg, looks like it could be really fantastic. And if that doesn't perform as well as I'm expecting, I also see Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book as a potential contender, as that also looks like it could be excellent.

A title that has been getting a lot of attention is Passengers, a sci-fi film from The Imitation Game's director Morten Tyldum starring Oscar favorite Jennifer Lawrence and everybody favorite Chris Pratt. There's also a lot of buzz about The Light Between Oceans, based on the novel of the same name starring Michael Fassbender and recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander. There are high hopes for two historical drama romances, the first being A United Kingdom about a British woman (Rosamund Pike) who marries the ruler of Botswana (David Oyelowo). The second is The Promise, where a love triangle forms between Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, and Charlotte Le Bon during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. One of my more anticipated films this year is La La Land, a musical directed by Whiplash's Damien Chazelle which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Two years ago, Whiplash came out of nowhere to be a formidable Oscar film, and I think a musical could be right up his alley considering the musical emphasis in Whiplash, and an earlier obscure film of Chazelle's called Grand Piano.

There's also the usual Oscar buzz surrounding movies about historical figures. Lyndon B. Johnson has become a surprisingly popular figure recently and is going to be played by Woody Harrelson in the film LBJ, directed by Rob Reiner. Oliver Stone is also hoping for Oscar glory with Snowden, a film which was initially going to be released this year, but was pushed back (presumably because Stone hadn't finished it yet). The Oscars love literary adaptations, which could bode well for The Girl on the Train and The Sense of an Ending, and the Academy loves movies about issues, which might scores a point for Miss Sloane, a movie about gun control starring Jessica Chastain. Chastain is also in another potential Oscar contender, The Zookeeper's Wife, which is directed by Whale Rider's Niki Caro.

Lastly there are some wild cards. If Finding Dory is as strong a Pixar sequel as Toy Story 3, it could easily be nominated. Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi film Story of Your Life could be a surprise critical success, as could Money Monster, a thriller directed by Jodie Foster. Michael Keaton has starred in the last two Best Picture winners, and he's back this year in The Founder, a biopic about the founder of McDonald's. And the last film that's currently on my Oscar radar is Deep Water, based on a documentary, which will follow Colin Firth as he sails around the world.

The Birth of a Nation
Manchester by the Sea
La La Land
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
The BFG 
The Light Between Oceans
A United Kingdom

The Promise
Finding Dory
Miss Sloane
The Sense of an Ending
The Founder
Money Monster
The Jungle Book
The Zookeeper's Wife
Story of Your Life
The Girl on the Train
Cafe Society
Deep Water

Clint Eastwood having a chat with Tom Hanks while filming Sully.
Considering the typical overlap between this category and Best Picture, the contenders are very much the same in this category so I won't go into as much detail. In fact, the only director I've listed whose film I DIDN'T list in the Best Picture category is the great Pedro Almodovar, who scored a surprise Best Director nomination for Talk to Her, and will be back this year with a film called Julieta. Obviously big names like Scorsese, Eastwood, Lee, and Spielberg are going to be in play, but the Academy also does like newcomers, so I think that Nate Parker and Damien Chazelle both have a good chance of scoring their first nominations. There's also been a lot of talk about how so few women have been nominated for this award, and there are several prominent female directors who should hopefully be a part of the conversation this year. Jodie Foster is stepping behind the camera for Money Monster. There's also Niki Caro, whose film Whale Rider was a surprise hit years ago, and who hasn't really made a major feature film since, but might be back with The Zookeeper's Wife. Lastly, there's Amma Asante, who is a relative newcomer (although she directed Belle from a couple years ago) whose work on A United Kingdom puts her in the position to potentially be the first woman of color to be nominated in this category.

Nate Parker: The Birth of a Nation
Martin Scorsese: Silence
Ang Lee: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Damien Chazelle: La La Land
Clint Eastwood: Sully 
Steven Spielberg: The BFG
Amma Asante: A United Kingdom
Morten Tyldum: Passengers
Kenneth Lonergan: Manchester by the Sea
Derek Cianfrance: The Light Between Two Oceans
Jodie Foster: Money Monster
Denis Villeneuve: Story of Your Life
James Marsh: Deep Water
Niki Caro: The Zookeeper's Wife
Oliver Stone: Snowden
John Madden: Miss Sloane
Rob Reiner: LBJ
Ritesh Batra: The Sense of an Ending
Pedro Almodovar: Julieta
Woody Allen: Cafe Society
I have high hopes for the musical La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
The best indicator we have to go on is that this category tends to reward portrayals of real people. For the past three years, four of the five nominated performances have been based on actual people (compared to, in those same years, a maximum of two nominees being based on real people in the Best Actress category). That bodes well for Tom Hanks in Sully, Woody Harrelson in LBJ, Nate Parker in The Birth of a Nation, and David Oyelowo in A United Kingdom. This could also be good for Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Snowden, although the film's pushed back release date worries me, which is why I've ranked it lower than I think most oddsmakers would. Other portrayals of real people include Colin Firth in Deep Water, although the film seems like it's going to be pretty small scale and is a longshot to be a major player at this point. There's also Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead, but the initial reaction to this film has been decidedly muted which could hurt his chances.

Someone who has gotten a far stronger initial reaction to their performance is Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, who seems likely to be in the conversation here, as early buzz from Sundance has put him in a great position for the awards season. If The Light Between Oceans and La La Land do as well as I think they will, we might see nominations for their leading men, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling respectively, both of whom have been nominated before but not won. If The Promise does well, then it could potentially have two actors in the running: Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac. One of them might be moved to the supporting category, but it's hard to tell which one that would be. Martin Scorsese has had a good track record with performers getting nominations, and Silence star Andrew Garfield is certainly talented enough to potentially earn his first nomination after being snubbed for The Social Network. Meanwhile, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk stars a complete unknown named Joe Alwyn, who might be a surprise entrant should the movie do as well as expected.

The Sense of an Ending and Money Monster are wild cards, but if they gain momentum after their releases, there might be buzz for their stars (Jim Broadbent and George Clooney, respectively). We also have Michael Shannon as a father who discovers his son has superpowers in the soon to be released indie sci-fi flick Midnight Special. It's not typical Oscar fare, but this role could really speak to Shannon's significant strengths and could build momentum if it is well received. There's also Lion, where Dev Patel plays a man trying to locate his adopted parents. Very little is known about it at this point, so it's not on anyone's radar, but I feel it could potentially be an awards season dark horse. Lastly, let's take a look at the two children's movies which I've said could be Oscar contenders. The Jungle Book star Neel Sethi might be a breakout star, although the Oscar track record with child actors is decidedly iffy. There's also Mark Rylance in The BFG. Fresh off his Oscar win for Bridge of Spies, Rylance definitely has the Academy's attention and might be the first motion-capture performance to receive a nomination if the Academy is willing to consider it.

Tom Hanks: Sully
Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea
Nate Parker: The Birth of a Nation
Woody Harrelson: LBJ
Ryan Gosling: La La Land
Andrew Garfield: Silence
Michael Fassbender: The Light Between Oceans
David Oyelowo: A United Kingdom
Oscar Isaac: The Promise
Christian Bale: The Promise
Joe Alwyn: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Jim Broadbent: The Sense of an Ending
Colin Firth: Deep Water
Michael Shannon: Midnight Special
George Clooney: Money Monster
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Snowden
Don Cheadle: Miles Ahead
Dev Patel: Lion
Neel Sethi: The Jungle Book
Mark Rylance: The BFG

Meryl Streep might score an incredible 20th Academy Award nomination this year for Florence Foster Jenkins
The Best Actress category is almost always more difficult to predict than the Best Actor category, as the nominees tend to fit into less of a seemingly concrete mold. It's rare that a dark horse nominee makes it into Best Actor, but the Best Actress category often has one or two in contention (like Charlotte Rampling this year, or Marion Cotillard last year). That's why my predictions here are focusing on some more unconventional Oscar movies, such as perennial nominees Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in the sci-fi movies Passengers and Story of Your Life. It's also never wise to bet against Meryl Streep, and she's back in the race this year playing notoriously awful opera "singer" Florence Foster Jenkins in a movie accurately named Florence Foster Jenkins. This role has the potential to be akin to her portrayal of Julia Child, and might earn her another record-making Oscar nomination in turn.

On the more conventional side, we see Alicia Vikander in The Light Between Two Oceans, Emma Stone in La La Land, and Rosamund Pike in A United Kingdom. All of them have been nominated before, and all are in films which seem like they could be in the Academy's favor. We also have Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train and Rampling in The Sense of an Ending--both literary adaptations which might end up being awards season favorites far more than I've predicted. Jessica Chastain, who was last nominated for Zero Dark Thirty, stars in both Miss Sloane and The Zookeeper's Wife, and either one could end up getting her recognition again this year.

On the wild card side, we have the young Ruby Barnhill in The BFG, although again the Academy's record with child actors is dodgy. Natalie Portman is playing Jackie Kennedy in a movie called Jackie, but it's unseen at the moment if that movie will even be finished in time for the Oscars next year. Another movie that could potentially do better than I'm expecting is Hidden Figures, the true story of the black, female mathematicians who were responsible for the launch and safe return of astronaut John Glenn. Even less is known about this movie than the others I've mentioned, which is why I'm not discussing it more, but I'm hoping that this film ends up being a surprise hit, and if it's successful, there might be Oscar nominations in the works for Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer. Lastly, there's Naomie Harris, who I thought should have been a supporting actress contender for her work in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and who's starring in Moonlight, based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Jennifer Lawrence: Passengers
Meryl Streep: Florence Foster Jenkins
Amy Adams: Story of Your Life
Alicia Vikander: The Light Between Oceans
Emma Stone: La La Land
Emily Blunt: The Girl on the Train
Rosamund Pike: A United Kingdom
Jessica Chastain: Miss Sloane
Jessica Chastain: The Zookeeper's Wife
Natalie Portman: Jackie
Ruby Barnhill: The BFG
Taraji P. Henson: Hidden Figures
Octavia Spencer: Hidden Figures
Charlotte Rampling: The Sense of an Ending
Naomie Harris: Moonlight

Patrick Stewart has early buzz for his performance in Green Room.
The supporting categories are a lot harder to assess this early on. It's far more likely for an unexpected entry to emerge here thanks to a scene-stealing performance (for example, absolutely no one could have predicted that Sylvester Stallone would have been nominated at this time last year). Plus, it's not even clear who actually is a supporting role, and many of the names I mentioned above could show up in the supporting categories as well. Ultimately the sheer volume of supporting roles makes the data impossible to analyze, even by the standards of this post. All of the predictions I'm making are wild guesses, but the guesses for these categories are especially uneducated.

When I look at the movies I think will be major contenders for Best Picture, many of them have star-studded casts and it's tough to know how big of a role each person will be playing. Still, a few names stuck out to me as ones to watch. On the men's side, I have high hopes for Richard Jenkins, who's playing Senator Richard Russell, Lyndon Johnson's mentor and then chief opposition in LBJ. He always does good work, and I feel like depending on the script he might steal the whole film. There's also Adam Driver, who has continued to grow more and more popular, and might score his first Oscar nomination for Silence. I also think that Jeremy Renner might be a contender for Story of Your Life should the movie receive sufficient Oscar buzz, as in American Hustle, he already proved a capable co-star for Amy Adams. Some people are also mentioning Kyle Chandler in Manchester by the Sea, which is definitely a possibility, but from the film's description it sounds like he might have too small of a role so I'm leaving him off of my list for now.

The supporting categories often feature a wider variety of roles, as the more quirky or unconventional performances tend to do better here than in the leading category. In particular, this category seems to be quite fond of villains, which explains the wins for Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash to name a few. This year, I think that there's potential for Jack O'Connell in Money Monster. O'Connell got lots of attention two years ago for giving two really strong performances in a really great movie called Starred Up, and a not so great movie called Unbroken. This year, he's in Money Monster where he plays a man who takes a Jim Cramer-esque TV financial guru hostage after losing everything following the man's advice. It's a role that seems destined to be both menacing and sympathetic, which the Oscars tend to reward. Another villain in contention is Patrick Stewart in Green Room, who has never been nominated for an Oscar before. Although the film won't have a public release until April, the early buzz on his performance as the leader of a gang of white supremacists has been incredibly positive, and reminds me of the kind of buzz that Simmons had for Whiplash two years ago. Considering how rarely the Academy recognizes horror films, I don't think Green Room will be talked about too much in other categories, but Stewart's performance seems like the early frontrunner.

In her first awards bait role since 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong'o might rejoin the Oscars conversation for Queen of Katwe.
On the women's side, the closest thing to a frontrunner we have right now is Laura Linney in Sully, playing the wife of pilot Chesley Sullenberger. We don't know yet how big her role actually will be, but assuming her role is more than a glorified cameo, she will likely be considered. I also think that Rachel Weisz might have a shot for The Light Between Oceans, especially if the leading performances from Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander get the attention I think they will. Depending on how big of a role she has, there's also nominee potential for Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea. Next there's Melissa Leo and Shailene Woodley, both in Snowden. I haven't ranked Snowden too highly in any of the other categories, and I might very well be underestimating its chances, but at the moment, I think that Leo or Woodley might be the film's best shot at a nomination. Of the two, the one I'm giving the edge to is Woodley. I obviously know nothing of their roles, and Leo is always incredible, but Woodley's nomination feels like it's a long time coming as a string of solid performances has marked her as a rising Hollywood star. I think she was snubbed in this category a few years ago when she was the only good part of Best Picture nominee The Descendants. The last supporting actress who really stood out to me as a potential contender was Lupita Nyong'o in a movie called Queen of Katwe, where she'll be playing the mother of a Ugandan chess prodigy. Chess movies tend to not do very well at the Oscars (like this year's Pawn Sacrifice) because as exciting as chess can be to play, it's somewhat difficult to make dramatically interesting. But After Nyong'o's previous win in this category, this will hopefully be the role that puts her back into awards consideration.

Best Supporting Actor:
Patrick Stewart: Green Room
Richard Jenkins: LBJ
Adam Driver: Silence
Jack O'Connell: Money Monster
Jeremy Renner: Story of Your Life

Best Supporting Actress:
Laura Linney: Sully
Rachel Weisz: The Light Between Oceans
Michelle Williams: Manchester by the Sea
Shailene Woodley: Snowden
Lupita Nyong'o: Queen of Katwe

So, those are my thoughts. I must admit, I'm kind of curious to look back on this in a year and see which of these predictions were spot on, and which ones were just completely off base. Is there an upcoming movie that you think I should have included? And of the movies I've mentioned is there one you're particularly excited for? Let me know in the comments!