22 February 2017

One More Oscar Preview

Well folks, the long Academy Awards Season is finally coming to a head this Sunday, and although we won't be trolling through every category there is, we thought this a fine opportunity to slog through the most prestigious race, the Best Picture category. We can at least begin to examine what makes these films tick and what their odds are in the major categories. With nine mostly okay films to dig through, they represent a good chunk of this year's nominations. So let's go from least likely to most likely to win Best Picture:

Hint: we'll cover this soon.
#9: Arrival

Nominations: 9
Predicted Wins: Production Design

Arrival is weirdly treading water between great and irrelevant more and more, with some people really digging it, but most seemingly disinterested in its brilliant screenplay. I think it deserves consideration for Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography, but it's leaning towards neither. Production design tends to be a bit more friendly to films like this, but director Villeneuve has little history with the Academy, and considering this couldn't even carry Amy Adams to a nomination, the Academy appears to have little love for it.

#8: Hell or High Water

Nominations: 3
Predicted Wins: 0

I saw this back in December and sort of liked it, although that passion has grown quite a bit since then. This is in many ways the ultimate underdog film - a Best Picture nominee without much of a following, pedigree, or nominations under its belt, but almost universally loved by those who have experienced it. Love residue for Jeff Bridges was burned off with Crazy Heart (2009), and despite work here equal to anything he's ever done, his old grizzled cowboy shtick is wearing thin. The real stars are Ben Foster and Chris Pine, who haven't gotten much love or notoriety at all. There's virtually no chance of the flick winning a statue.

#7: Hidden Figures

Nominations: 3
Predicted Wins: 0

Hidden Figures gets a lot of points by virtue of being mainstream popular and earning that SAG Ensemble win. Still, that's more a product of every other film here not really being an ensemble at all, yet still widely respected by the acting branch of the Academy. Hidden Figures, despite all its Oscar bait wrapped up in a decently non-bait-y package, feels like it came on too late, with perhaps too much saccharine appeal rather than offering the hard brutal look at race relations the Academy seems to favor both this year and in the past.

#6: Hacksaw Ridge

Nominations: 6
Predicted Wins: Sound Editing

This is a lock for Sound Editing, which has gone to the sort of action film with high art pedigree like Hacksaw Ridge every year since forever. Its nominations are strong, and in surprisingly redemptive categories like Andrew Garfield's Best Actor and Mel Gibson's Best Director. It also fits that popularity bill that Hidden Figures hit (odd bedfellows for sure), but if it didn't work for American Sniper (2014), which seems to be the easiest modern equivalent, it won't work for Hacksaw.

#5: Fences

Nominations: 4
Predicted Wins: Viola Davis, Best Actress

This could easily become two wins if Denzel's surge maintains and he upsets Casey Affleck, but there just isn't enough else around this film to warrant a Best Picture nomination. It's all excellent heady family drama stuff, but it's also very much a filmed play, which is fine for story and all, but not really for best picture. There's some chance that the acting branch just loves every great actor involved here, but it doesn't have the wide appeal to go along with the acting love that even lesser nominees have here.

#4: Lion

Nominations: 6
Predicted Wins: 0

I didn't call any category for Lion, but more and more it's looking like it could through down some upsets, notably for Dev Patel in Supporting Actor and in Cinematography. It's weirdly somehow the hottest film going into the Award ceremony, but really, no one has watched it, and there's nothing exceptionally sexy about the premise. Sure the little Indian kid flashback thing worked for Slumdog Millionaire (2008) - like, crazily good, but that had such a sexy premise. Sexy premises are a thing! Shut up! Just because your mom likes it doesn't mean it's suddenly an Oscar frontrunner.

#3: Manchester by the Sea

Nominations: 6
Predicted Wins: Casey Affleck, Best Actor; Best Original Screenplay

It's always fascinating to see the sort of narratives that develop around films, particularly when ya'll have to vote for them. La La Land has embodies this sort of relentless, the point of dick-sucking, optimism, while Manchester by the Sea has this endless aura of bummerville. By all means it's pretty good but also an endless depressing spiral. That's the driving narrative here, and it'll be hard to escape. Still, the momentum it once had will be hard to stop, and although Casey Affleck is less a given than he once was, I'm convinced that La La Land is mortal and Manchester will steal at least one award from it.

#2: Moonlight

Nominations: 8
Predicted Wins: Mahershala Ali, Best Supporting Actor; Best Adapted Screenplay

Moonlight is the closest thing that can threaten La La Land, and it's arguably even more well-liked by critics, although there's just no way that it pulls the insider upset. Ali is not nearly as strong as one might have thought months ago, with Dev Patel threatening and Aaron Taylor-Johnson upsetting him at the Golden Globes (though not nominated here). There are a lot of areas where it can gain traction, though, including Cinematography, which more and more seems like that one category where La La Land will lose its sweep. La La wins more than Moonlight loses Best Picture

#1: La La Land

Nominations: 14 in 13 categories
Predicted Wins: Emma Stone, Best Actress; Cinematography, Editing, Score, Song, Sound Mixing, Director, Picture

Nine wins might be a bit too much, but the only one I have doubts on since my initial predictions is that pesky Cinematography I keep bitching about. There's a lot going for this, mostly the fact that it totally sucks up to the Hollywood dream. I'll contend that it is in fact about a bit more than that - that its themes of dreams coming true are actually more complex and universal. The point is, there seems to be a coherent La La Land backlash that I'm not on board with, and you better believe that Hollywood isn't on board with. It doesn't even prop up actors at the expense of executives or hold any kind of damning commentary on the faults of the system or industry, while extolling living in Los Angeles as a special and magical way of life. In short, yeah, this will win everything. I still liked it, everyone did, it'll win Best Picture.

We have just a few short days left! Which films are you predicting to win?!

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