Oscar Predictions: Will La La Land Clean Up?
Studying abroad can’t keep us down! We’re back for our first movie article of 2017 with a breakdown of the grandaddy of all award shows: the Academy Awards. Thankfully there isn’t as much negativity surrounding this year’s Oscars. The 2016 edition, you may recall, was marred by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Nonetheless, Jimmy Kimmel should have plenty of political material to work into his opening monologue when he hosts the 89th edition of film’s top awards ceremony.
The three words you’ll probably hear most this Sunday night are La La Land, as the Los Angeles-based musical, which stars Oscar nominees Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, tied a record with a whopping fourteen nominations. It’s not necessarily a lock to clean up, though. Moonlight, a story about the life of a young black man struggling to grow up amid difficult circumstances in Miami, is nominated in eight categories, and it is likely La La Land’s top competition for best picture. Other notable films include Arrival, which also landed an impressive eight nominations, and Manchester by the Sea, which is well-represented in the acting categories.
But let’s not beat around the bush any longer. Excluding some of the more obscure categories like sound mixing and best documentary short, here are our awards predictions for the major categories at this year’s Oscars.
Andrew Garfield Hacksaw Ridge
Casey Affleck Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington Fences
Ryan Gosling La La Land
Viggo Mortensen Captain Fantastic
With all due respect to the other nominees, this award is a two-dog fight. Gosling, as much as we enjoyed his role as Sebastian in La La Land, suffers from a lack of emotional punch. While he captures his character perfectly, the top two contenders simply had much more powerful, moving performances. The two actors I’m talking about are Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. While Affleck may have burst into the awards contention, this is the last word we would use to describe his character. If nothing else, he epitomizes the opposite, bottling up every negative emotion imaginable until it sucks the life out of him. And yet in life’s ironic humor, his character is tasked with raising his teenage nephew, a job requiring incredible emotional output. Casey Affleck does an almost perfect job playing a lifeless man still living, who gives his life to the raising of his late brother’s son.
Washington, on the other hand, plays a man bubbling over with emotion, sometimes going from cajoling to bitterly angry in a matter of seconds. All the while, he hides his own demons behind the shroud of his boisterous nature. The role required incredible range from Washington upon which he delivers. However, the hyperbole of some of the character’s soliloquies play into the strength of an actor who easily adds emphasis to his roles.
The performances by both Washington and Affleck are Oscar-winning efforts. However, the award should go to the actor who pushed their boundaries, expanded on their repertoire, and added to their talent the most. The answer to all three is Casey Affleck, which is why, based on previous award show success this year and our analysis, we believe he will and should win this award.
Emma Stone La La Land
Isabelle Huppert Elle
Meryl Streep Florence Foster Jenkins
Natalie Portman Jackie
Ruth Negga Loving
Stone is undoubtedly the favorite thanks to recent wins at some of the other prominent major award shows, namely the Golden Globes and the BAFTA Awards. Frankly, she really doesn’t have too much competition in this category either, particularly since Amy Adams was snubbed for her performance in Arrival. By cleaning up at every turn, she’s basically silenced most of the momentum for her fellow nominees, especially Portman, who surprisingly hasn’t received a major award for her highly-acclaimed performance as Jackie Kennedy.
The only wild card is Huppert for her role in Elle, which is a film, admittedly, that neither of us have seen (has anyone, honestly?). She’s worth mentioning, though, because while Stone won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a comedy, Huppert won for Best Actress in a drama. Globe winners for drama have received seventeen of the previous twenty-five Oscars for Best Actress, so an upset could be on the horizon.
Nonetheless, we believe Emma Stone will hang on for a well-deserved win for her tender, multi-faceted performance in La La Land.
Best Supporting Actor
Dev Patel Lion
Jeff Bridges Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges Manchester by the Sea
Mahershala Ali Moonlight
Michael Shannon Nocturnal Animals
Of all the categories, this one provides the most intrigue. Jeff Bridges does a good job in Hell or High Water, but it’s right in his archetype, losing difficulty for him and thus his deservingness to win. Michael Shannon is excellent in Nocturnal Animals, buts it’s interesting that he got the nomination for the movie over Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who won this award at the Golden Globes. Frankly, they both could’ve been nominated, but their competition between each other reduces both of their chances, making it unlikely for Shannon to bring home the hardware.
This leaves us with Mahershala Ali and Lucas Hedges. Ali does an outstanding job in Moonlight, showing his incredible capability and his capacity for Oscar-caliber performances. Unfortunately, this role isn’t the winning ticket for him, despite being the early favorite. His lack of screen-time and tangible importance to the plot makes his role not particularly meaningful, which is a shame given his unbelievable performance and clear talent. On the other hand, Hedges does an excellent job capturing the emotions necessary for his role as a grieving son, with a couple scenes standing out in particular. Although several nominees go above and beyond their scripted characters, Hedges was lucky enough to have had the most impactful role of the nominees, which is why we initially thought he should win.
And then we saw Lion. Dev Patel will steal this award, although he shouldn’t have been nominated for it in the first place. He should have been nominated for Best Actor for his role in Lion, and he would have a shot at winning it, too. Building on his already incredible talent, we have witnessed the complete maturity of Patel, from a slumdog making an incredible game show run, to a young adult finding his long lost family. If the Academy has half a brain, Dev Patel should run away with this award.
Best Supporting Actress
Michelle Williams Manchester by the Sea
Nicole Kidman Lion
Octavia Spencer Hidden Figures
Viola Davis Fences
Without question, this is the easiest race to call. Heck, the New York Times even published an article recently questioning why the other four nominees continue bothering to show up at each awards ceremony. Davis will win best supporting actress for her role in Fences as she has for 29 other awards ceremonies since November. The only debate, really, is whether she should’ve qualified for Best Actress, given how much screen-time she received for her masterful performance as a nurturing, yet frustrated wife struggling to raise a family in 1950’s Pittsburgh.
With that said, we feel obliged to recognize that in any given year, the four other nominees might have taken home the prize. Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman, in particular, stand out; the former provided a couple of unforgettable moments in Manchester by the Sea despite her relatively limited screen-time, while the latter delivered an understated, yet ultimately powerful performance playing an adopted mother in Lion.
Barry Jenkins Moonlight
Damien Chazelle La La Land
Denis Villeneuve Arrival
Kenneth Lonergan Manchester by the Sea
Mel Gibson Hacksaw Ridge
The Academy tends to give this award to the director who executes the most impressive theatrical feat. A quick recap of the three most recent winners:
● 2014: Alfonso Cuaron wins for Gravity, a film hailed as a technical masterpiece for its extensive long takes and fantastic CGI
● 2015: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is honored for Birdman, a film also praised for its long takes, which were arranged in such a way to make it look as if the film flowed seamlessly from beginning to end without more than a couple of cuts
● 2016: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu wins again for The Revenant, a film which featured breathtaking cinematography thanks to shooting on-location in some of the coldest, most-northern points on Earth
We could trace back even further, but the point should be clear. So which director pulled off the most spectacular cinematic triumph in 2016? It’s not much of a contest. Damien Chazelle, for La La Land. He practically clinched this award within the film’s first five minutes thanks to the unforgettable opening sequence. Not only that, but the thirty-one year old successfully breathed life into movie musicals, a genre that had been dead for practically fifty years. The other four directors, particularly Villeneuve, all produced admirable work, but Chazelle should--and will--take home his first gold statue.
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
As mentioned in the intro, the primary challenger to La La Land is Moonlight. Overwhelming praise for Barry Jenkins’ picture aside, neither of us is certain that it is Best Picture caliber. It’s certainly a movie worthy of discussion, but Moonlight’s important subject matter alone doesn’t make it worthy of being honored as the year’s top film. Without spoiling many of the details, our biggest critique is that the film chose to abandon its most intriguing storylines concerning the relationships between Ali’s patriarchal character, the film’s protagonist, a young boy named Chiron and the boy’s crack-addicted mother, played by Harris. We also had issues with the film’s rather unremarkable ending, but we’ll leave it at that so this discussion doesn’t get too spoilery.
Other contending films like Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, and Fences will hopefully be recognized in some way or another during this Sunday’s ceremony. We also hope that Lion finds some Oscar success, considering that we thought it was easily the year’s biggest surprise. These films’ hopes of winning Best Picture, however, are slim to none.
That leaves La La Land as our pick to win, and it can’t be overstated how deserving it is. For starters, it was the first movie either of us felt compelled to actually see twice in theaters. This was likely because the film successfully blended invigorating song-and-dance sequences with tender--and at times, melancholic--moments as we followed the romantic relationship between Stone’s Mia and Gosling’s Sebastian during the pursuit of their respective dreams.
The ending, in particular, resonated deeply. The final moments serve as a depressing but beautiful realization that they both could not pursue their passion for each other and their passion for their dreams. Ultimately, the end reveals the sad reality that one would undoubtedly suffocate the other. It’s certainly possible that others might have entirely different views of the ending, but these emotional complexities that the film arouses are yet another reason why La La Land is a triumph. The film, quite simply, is both magical and unforgettable. So whether you loved La La Land or merely liked it, prepare for it to be hailed as the defining film of 2016.