Sunday, February 26, 2017

Can't Stop the La La: 2017 Oscars Precidtions

Oscar day is officially here (by a couple hours)! Although it usually leaves me feeling frustrated (see: The King's Speech over The Social Network) or thoroughly meh (last year's Spotlight win), it really is one of my favorite days of the year. This year should be an especially interesting ceremony. Although the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of last year is behind us—this year's nominees are welcomingly diverse—the perceived racial overtones of the La La Land vs. Moonlight competition for several major awards could become the dominant storyline of the ceremony. I hope it doesn't—films don't have a race, people—but it has to be mentioned given the perhaps outsized importance placed on films in general and the Oscars specifically in pop culture. That out of the way, I'm going to try to keep my predictions brief this year, having gotten most of my opining out of the way in my top films of 2016 post. Besides, many of the major categories seem all but decided (with a couple notable exceptions). I got 6/8 major categories right last year and did okay on my Mad Max–heavy picks in the technical categories. I'm on a multi-year losing streak in my annual Oscar pool, so here's hoping I can end that this year. (I'm also on a multi-year streak of seeing all the major nominees... not that it's helped with these predictions.)

Gold = predicted winner

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

This one's really easy—Viola Davis is going to win. The other nominees all gave fine performances (especially Williams, although I'd have preferred Janelle Monae over Spencer for Fences), but Davis—who, yes, is actually a co-lead in Fences—has won just about every precursor award and will add a (probably overdue) Oscar to her trophy case. I can't wait for her speech!

My Non-Existent Vote: Davis

Best Supporting Actor
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Dev Patel – Lion
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

The supporting acting categories are usually some of the first categories of the night, and when Mahershala Ali wins in this category—and he will—#OscarsSoWhite will officially be dead (for this year at least). Bridges, Patel, Hedges, and (especially) Shannon were all deserving nominees, but Ali is the clear standout and will be a very deserving winner. Also looking forward to his speech.

My Non-Existent Vote: Ali

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Emma Stone – La La Land
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Three categories, three locks—prepare your speech, Emma Stone. (She'd better thank her aunt.) There was a time when it looked like Natalie Portman (whose performance/imitation really didn't really do much for me) or Huppert (the most deserving winner here, in my eyes) was the frontrunner, but other than Huppert's Golden Globe, Stone has picked up most of the precursors. She was very good in La La Land and will be the first native Arizonan to win Oscar gold. (Grand Canyon state shoutout!)

My Non-Existent Vote: Huppert

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Three of these guys really have no business here, at least for these particular films. Mortensen was the best part of a deeply flawed film, but I didn't see much awards-worthy in his performance. Garfield and Gosling were both far, far superior in Silence and The Nice Guys, respectively. But none of them is a contender, as this will come down to Affleck vs. Washington—and, more specifically, Affleck's sexual harassment allegations and stash of precursors vs. Denzel's SAG win (typically a very strong indicator). Going on nothing more than a hunch, I think Denzel's late charge comes up just short and Casey Affleck takes home the statue to taunt his brother with. (I know he has two, but none of them is for acting.) His speech should be... interesting.

My Non-Existent Vote: Affleck

Best Adapted Screenplay
Luke Davies – Lion
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
August Wilson – Fences

Heisserer or Schroeder/Melfi have an outside shot, but Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney are the favorites and will likely win here. This is the Academy's best chance to reward Jenkins (although I hope that isn't the case), but at least he shouldn't go home empty-handed. I slightly prefer Heisserer's script myself, while the Hidden Figures script was a solid crowd-pleaser and Lion really fell apart in the second half. As for Fences, Wilson has been dead for 12 years, so I'm not sure how much "adapting" was going on there. (It's a powerful script/film though.)

My Non-Existent Vote: Heisserer

Best Original Screenplay
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

This figures to be one of the few major categories for which it's nominated that La La Land doesn't win. I see the Academy rewarding Kenneth Lonergan here much as Jenkins above for the highly regarded (and deserving) Manchester. If it turns into a historical night for La La Land (a distinct possibility), Chazelle could win for the weakest of these nominees. My vote would go to Mills, but Sheridan (I quite enjoyed High Water) and Lanthimos/Filippou (I did not enjoy The Lobster but the writing was strong) are also worthy.

My Non-Existent Vote: Mills

Best Director
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

I usually fuck myself over in a category or two by going with my heart over my head. But not this year. So I will resignedly mark down Damien Chazelle on my Oscar ballot before the ceremony. He's just won too many precursors and the milieu of La La Land is basically sweet, sticky crack cocaine (I don't really know much about drugs) to Oscar voters. I really like the movie and it is well directed (although Whiplash was better in both aspects), but Jenkins and Moonlight are clearly superior. (And I still think he has a tiny chance at a major upset.) But this is also clearly a case where Moonlight will have the more lasting legacy, so I won't fret. Both Lonergan and Villeneuve would make fine choices in many other years, and may eventually claim a statue of their own. Gibson does not belong in this race, and that's all I have to say about that.

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

I would say Moonlight has a chance here, but realistically, this is Trump's America—a still largely white (and anonymous) voting body is not going to pick the (again, superior) film about a gay black man over the whitebread throwback musical. So, La La Land it is. Again, I liked the film, but it's just so obviously the wrong choice, especially this year. (I had much more to say about this in my top films write-up if you're interested.) Of the rest of the nominees, they run the gamut from outstanding (Arrival, Manchester) to very good (High Water, Fences, Figures) to just okay (Lion, Hacksaw). Overall, another pretty strong group of nominees. Here's hoping the nominees are just as good this time next year.

Onto the rest of the categories, lightning-round style...

Best Animated Film 
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer
Kubo and the Two Strings (which I meant to see) has an outside shot, but Zootopia is easily the best bet on the board. The only nominee I saw—Moana—was great and would get my vote.
My Non-Existent Vote: Moana

Best Foreign Language Film
The Salesman – Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
Iranian Farhadi (who will not be at the ceremony) has an Oscar (for 2011's excellent A Separation), but a win in the political climate of 2017 would be doubly sweet. (It'll be Toni Erdmann otherwise.)
My Non-Existent Vote: Abstain (have not seen any of the nominees)

Best Documentary Feature
OJ: Made in America – Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
Going chalk here, as I'm not a documentary fan, so I again have not seen any of the nominees. Most prognosticators have OJ winning here, so that's my pick. If not, it'll be 13th, seemingly.
My Non-Existent Vote: Abstain (have not seen any of the nominees)

Best Documentary Short
The White Helmets – Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
This could cost me the Oscar pool—I'm going against the Holocaust one (Joe's Violin). Of the three(!) nominees about Syria/Syrians, my five minutes of research gives this one the best chance.
My Non-Existent Vote: Abstain (have not seen any of the nominees)

Best Animated Short
Piper – Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer
I usually see these and this year is no exception. And unfortunately, it looks like the worst of the nominees—Pixar's Piper—will take this. Blind Vaysha or Pear Cider and Cigarettes are far better.
My Non-Existent Vote: Pear Cider and Cigarettes – Robert Valley and Cara Speller

Best Live Action Short
Ennemis Intérieurs – Sélim Azzazi
So say the prognosticators. This one about an Algerian Muslim applying for French citizenship was okay, but I preferred the more lighthearted Sing and Timecode.
My Non-Existent Vote: Sing – Kristóf Deák and Anna Udvardy

Best Score
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land 
This is quite possibly the lock of the night. It's a fine score—amiably nostalgic—but Mica Levi's score for Jackie is better (better still is her score for 2013's Under the Skin).
My Non-Existent Vote: Mica Levi – Jackie

Best Original Song
"City of Stars" – Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul (from La La Land)
Even in a category with a JT banger and an absolute scorcher from Moana, the humming song from La La Land is going to win. But it's a good song, so no complaints. (And it's better than "Audition.")  
My Non-Existent Vote: "How Far I'll Go" – Lin-Manuel Miranda (from Moana) (and for the EGOT)

Best Cinematography
Linus Sandgren – La La Land 
I badly want this to be Moonlight or Arrival, but it seems that this one is La La Land's to lose. It's a great-looking movie, but its visuals aren't as tied in to character or theme quite like the other two.
My Non-Existent Vote: James Laxton – Moonlight

Best Editing
Joe Walker – Arrival
I'm going against the grain and the potential La La Land juggernaut here, but did anyone watch La La Land and say, "Man, that was well edited?" Meanwhile, that's exactly what I said about Arrival.
My Non-Existent Vote: Walker

Best Production Design
David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco – La La Land
Again, La La Land is a good looking movie, but these two didn't have a particularly difficult job—recreate contemporary Los Angeles. Yawn. But it's a fairly weak category, so whatevs.
My Non-Existent Vote: Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh – Hail, Caesar!

Best Costume Design
Madeline Fontaine – Jackie
Coleen Atwood (Fantastic Beasts...) is a beast, and it's probably unwise to bet against La La Land, but Jackie O's clothes were actually important to the film (and memorable), so I'll pick it here.
My Non-Existent Vote: Fontaine

Best Makeup And Hairstyling
Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo – Star Trek Beyond
So, the alien chick in this kind of gave me a weird boner, which is as good a reason as any to go with it over freaking Suicide Squad and a film I've never heard of.
My Non-Existent Vote: Harlow and Alonzo

Best Sound Mixing
Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow – La La Land
"Hmmm, the sound categories... oh, La La Land is a musical! Let's put that." – Most Oscar voters, presumably. Sadly, Kevin O'Connell stays on the scheid.
My Non-Existent Vote: Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye – Arrival

Best Sound Editing
Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright – Hacksaw Ridge
Honestly, I have even less of an idea about the sound categories this year than usual. But musicals and war films typically do well, so I'll split it and give the sound effects award to the war film.
My Non-Existent Vote: Mackenzie and Wright

Best Visual Effects
Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon – The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book is the obvious choice here for turning an L.A. soundstage into an entire jungle. Doctor Strange would be a worthy winner as well, but Jungle Book likely has this locked up.
My Non-Existent Vote: Legato, Valdez, Jones, and Lemmon

There it is—24/24. Mark it down. And all in once place this year! I wish everyone the best of luck in their Oscar pools, and for the love of god please let Moonlight (and Jenkins) win.

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