Friday, August 26, 2016

First Oscar Predictions for 2016!

After a long four month stretch, the summer movie season is finally coming to an end this weekend. Next week, we're off to the races with the fall festival circuit and Oscar season. The Venice Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday with the world premiere of Damien Chazelle's La La Land, followed by premieres for Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Nocturnal Animals, and more. Telluride isn't far behind, and the biggest festival of them all, TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), is preparing to kick things into high gear. Not to mention the fact that several films with potential Oscar quality will begin to debut in the early goings of September. The Light Between Oceans, Sully, Snowden, and American Honey all seem like would-be Oscar players, and it could prove to be an interesting month at the movies.

But with all of that said, here's the truth as of August 26- we don't know how many of these films will turn out. Sure, there are a few contenders from Sundance, Cannes, and the summer months of the year, but most of the major players have not been seen yet. It's always fun to take a random projection right before the festival insanity, which is what I'm doing today. So here we go! Here are my first predictions for the 2017 Oscars!

BEST PICTURE


1. Manchester by the Sea
2. La La Land
3. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
4. Moonlight
5. Loving
6. Arrival
7. Bleed for This
8. Fences
9. Nocturnal Animals
10. The Birth of a Nation

11. Lion
12. Allied
13. American Pastoral
14. The Light Between Oceans
15. Passengers

If you had asked me about this two weeks ago, The Birth of a Nation would have topped this list. After a rapturous reception at Sundance, Nate Parker's directorial smash seemed like a surefire contender to lead the Oscar pack, especially after last year's #OscarsSoWhite backlash. But in the course of a few weeks, things changed rather quickly. Parker's 1999 rape case during his time at Penn State came to light, and although that was common knowledge to some industry insiders in the past, the news of the woman's suicide came as a shock to everyone. The horrific details of the case were gut-churning, and honestly, I'm not sure that Parker's career will ever recover from this. I'll be seeing the film at Toronto (hopefully, this ticket situation could be fun), which is being billed as the new starting point for Fox Searchlight. But with such ugliness surrounding the film, I don't see how it has any chance of winning.

Which brings us to my current front-runner- Manchester by the Sea. Kenneth Lonergan's family drama was highly acclaimed coming out of Sundance, and countless critics have listed it as their favorite film of the year. It's my #1 as of now, simply because it's the only surefire nominee that anybody has really seen so far. But while Manchester is leading the ranks right now, it comes with one small note- if La La Land is as mesmerizing as it looks, I'm fairly certain that it will win Best Picture. We haven't seen a big screen musical like this in years, and as The Artist proved back in 2011, the Academy sure does love their nostalgia. If the critical and audience reception meets in the middle to form a consensus that La La Land is one of the year's best, I think it will be very hard to beat. Plus, it's playing in the exact same festival slots as the last two Best Picture winners. That has to count for something.

La La Land is in very good shape, but there are plenty of other films that are filled with promise. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is shaping up to be the technical achievement of the year, with much buzz surrounding Ang Lee's attempt at hyper-realistic 120 frames-per-second camerawork. The film looks a tad sappy, but if anyone can pull this off, it's Lee. Moonlight is my dark horse pick right now, a buzzy title from A24 that popped up on everybody's radar this month after a sensational first trailer. It looks like a breathtaking achievement, and it'll be playing at Telluride and TIFF. If reception is good there, it'll take off. On the other hand, Loving already has a bit of a head start from playing at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a warm reception. It looks very low-key, and I think it might be more of a performance player, but there's no doubt that it has a chance.

Arrival also looks terrific, and everything that I've heard points to it being one of the best films of the year. Denis Villeneuve has been in contention mostly for technical categories with Prisoners and Sicario, and I think this is his big chance to take a huge Oscars leap forward. Bleed for This is rather high on my list, but I think the one-two punch of Telluride and Toronto makes it a film to watch out for. Miles Teller looks superb, and the buzz is beginning to pick up. If there's one breakout that surprises everybody, it's going to be this one. Fences is being touted as a favorite based on its talent alone, which I totally understand. Denzel Washington is directing and starring in an adaptation of a hugely successful, Tony-winning play alongside Viola Davis, which follows an African-American family in the 1950s. It sounds fascinating, and if Washington gets it right, this will dominate. Nocturnal Animals rounds out my top ten (no need to talk about the aforementioned Birth of a Nation again), and it sure is a compelling flick. We haven't seen a trailer yet for Tom Ford's first movie in seven years, but the cast (Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and more) is jaw-dropping, and the double whammy of Telluride and Toronto is a good sign. It could be too dark or too genre-y for the Academy, but as of now, it's a favorite.

Finally, there are plenty of films on the fringe line that could definitely be players in the big race. Lion is being touted as Harvey Weinstein's big play this year, and with a world premiere at Toronto, the Dev Patel-starred flick is firmly established as one to watch (I might catch it in Toronto, but that's up in the air). Allied is on my list based on pedigree alone (Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Robert Zemeckis- need I say more?), and I must admit that I'm looking forward to it quite a bit based on the comparisons drawn to Casablanca. American Pastoral wasn't on anybody's radar a few months ago, but with good buzz and a world premiere at TIFF, this could be a genuine player. We won't have to wait long to get a look at The Light Between Oceans, which opens next week. My screening is on Monday night, and as a huge fan of Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines, I'm excited. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander are an unstoppable duo, so who knows? This could be a huge surprise. To wrap things up, I have Passengers at #15. Is it this year's Martian? Is it purely a commercial play? I don't know, because they won't release the damn trailer. But on paper, it's a contender.

BEST DIRECTOR


1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
2. Ang Lee, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
3. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
4. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
5. Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Even though Manchester by the Sea is my favorite for Best Picture, I'm fairly certain that Kenneth Lonergan won't win Best Director. Why? Because the Academy tends not to value understated directorial work. They like the flashy, daring, and dynamic stuff. Just look at who won the last two Best Director statues. Like Tom McCarthy last year, Lonergan will get the nomination, but he won't come close to a win. Right now, Damien Chazelle is the favorite, and he'll be riding off the Academy goodwill for Whiplash. La La Land has so much working in its favor, and if Chazelle proves to be just as thrilling of a filmmaker with his third film, Oscar glory could be headed his way. But before he can do that, he'll have to face down the always strong Ang Lee, who has won two Oscars in the past (but never Best Picture, oddly enough). The fact that he's a former winner might work against him, but the sheer technical genius of Billy Lynn might be too much for the director's branch to ignore.

Denis Villeneuve is a contender for Arrival as well. A nomination would firmly establish him as one of the premiere directorial voices in the world, and if Arrival lives up to the hype, this could certainly happen. Finally, I think that Barry Jenkins has a good shot for Moonlight. I'm not familiar with his previous work, but judging by the trailer and the word-of-mouth, Jenkins has crafted something both ambitious and intimate, a stunning epic that grapples with weighty themes. I'm imagining Moonlight as this year's Room- the smaller movie that comes out of nowhere to stun the Academy. If the film breaks out, Jenkins could find himself at the forefront of the Oscar race.

BEST ACTOR


1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
2. Miles Teller, Bleed for This
3. Denzel Washington, Fences
4. Joel Edgerton, Loving
5. Ryan Gosling, La La Land

So many people have praised Casey Affleck to no end for his turn in Manchester by the Sea that there was almost no way that I couldn't put him at the top of this list. 2016 is looking like a somewhat lackluster year for this category, although I could be surprised coming out of TIFF. I think that Miles Teller gets a nomination for his work in Bleed for This. The trailer centers around his performance, and it looks like a tough, gritty showcase. If the movie falls flat, he'll obviously be out of the race, but I'm bullish on this one. Denzel seems like a sure thing for Fences, a movie that could receive all kinds of acting nominations with the right push from Paramount. Joel Edgerton also has a strong shot for a nomination, especially if Loving catches fire in the next few months. And to be honest, Ryan Gosling is just a placeholder in the fifth slot. Nobody else stuck out to me as a strong contender, but I'm hoping that changes soon.

BEST ACTRESS


1. Ruth Negga, Loving
2. Emma Stone, La La Land
3. Viola Davis, Fences
4. Amy Adams, Arrival
5. Alicia Vikander, The Light Between Oceans

Critics enjoyed Loving, but coming out of Cannes, most of the attention was centered around Ruth Negga's performance. With roles in Warcraft and Preacher, her star status is growing, and as long as none of the nominees prove to be a dominating force, Negga could easily be this year's Alicia Vikander and win the Oscar. Emma Stone looks great in La La Land, and if that film ends up being as emotional as it looks, I can see Stone receiving another nomination. Everybody's talking about Viola Davis' role in Fences, and it's easy to see why many feel that she's due- after all, she should have taken home the trophy back in 2011. If Davis manages to deliver a performance that matches Negga's, she'll come out on top. To round things out, I have Amy Adams and Alicia Vikander in the #4 and #5 slots. It's tough to make these picks, sight unseen, but both are perennial Oscar favorites.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
2. Kyle Chandler, Manchester by the Sea
3. Steve Martin, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
4. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
5. Aaron Eckhart, Bleed for This

This category is tough to predict right now, but I have Mahershala Ali for Moonlight on top. In all honesty, the supporting star of Moonlight could end up being Trevante Rhodes, but until I see the film, I don't know how it will all play out. Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges are both in good shape for their work in Manchester by the Sea, although the Academy does seem to have an aversion to nominating two performances from the same film. Gold Derby's odds race is bullish on Steve Martin for Billy Lynn right now, and even though he's included in the list, I'm split on whether he's actually got a shot. Finally, Aaron Eckhart has two supporting roles in big Oscar movies this year- Sully and Bleed for This. My guess is that he'll get a nomination for the latter, going based on the trailer alone.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
2. Naomie Harris, Moonlight
3. Rachel Weisz, The Light Between Oceans
4. Dakota Fanning, American Pastoral
5. Kristen Stewart, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Supporting Actress is a little easier to sort out, simply because I've heard a lot of talk about Michelle Williams and Naomie Harris' performances. They're the clear favorites in my mind, and ultimately, I firmly believe that one of them will walk home with the statue. Rachel Weisz could play spoiler for her role in The Light Between Oceans, which looks devastating and absolutely heartbreaking. Dakota Fanning looks pretty solid in American Pastoral as well, and after years of solid work in the aftermath of Twilight, Kristen Stewart is due for a nomination. Billy Lynn could be her big chance.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1. Manchester by the Sea
2. La La Land
3. The Birth of a Nation
4. The Lobster
5. Loving

The Screenplay categories are a tough nut to crack in the early goings. What's adapted? What's original? Who knows? However, I'm fairly certain that Manchester by the Sea is an original work from Lonergan, and I'm also fairly certain that it will win. This doesn't seem like the kind of category that La La Land could take, even though I'm firmly expecting a nomination. Birth of a Nation is another possibility, although I genuinely don't think that it will win anything (especially with Parker's co-defendant, Jean Celestin, serving as the co-writer). The Lobster will get the quirky nomination for the year, and as long as it wasn't based off of any specific material, Loving will be nominated in this category too.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1. Moonlight
2. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
3. Fences
4. Arrival
5. Nocturnal Animals

While Original Screenplay is looking kinda sparse at the moment, Adapted Screenplay is loaded. Look for Moonlight, Billy Lynn, and Fences to lock up nominations in the early goings. I think Arrival also has a very solid shot, as this is a category that manages to be pretty sci-fi friendly. Nocturnal Animals is a more shaky pick, but this kind of pulpy material often succeeds in this category as well.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

1. Zootopia
2. Moana
3. Finding Dory
4. Kubo and the Two Strings
5. Sausage Party

It has been an outstanding year for animation so far, and I've seen and loved four out of the five films listed above. Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Kubo are sure things, and Moana almost seems like a shoo-in as well even though nobody has seen. I hope that the brilliant Sausage Party gets a nomination, but the directorial branch is notoriously fickle. Garth Jennings' Sing is certainly a contender, and I'm sure that some indie animated film (like The Red Turtle, set to play Toronto) will pop up and win a nomination. One thing is for certain- this category will be unpredictable.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

1. "Audition" from La La Land
2. "Drive It Like You Stole It" from Sing Street
3. Whatever Lin-Manuel Miranda comes up with for Moana
4. "The Great Beyond" from Sausage Party
5. "I'm So Humble" from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

I don't really have a clue what is going to happen with this category. I mostly put this here because there are so many films this year that have featured amazing songs. La La Land and Moana haven't been seen yet, but with the talent involved, they're sure things. Meanwhile, you pretty much could fill up the entire category with songs from Sing Street, the best film of the year so far and one of the best big-screen musicals ever. "Drive It Like You Stole It" feels like the obvious choice from that film. Sausage Party has a shot based on the prestige of Alan Menken, but "The Great Beyond" is really, really filthy. And finally, if something from Popstar doesn't get nominated, I'll be sad. I've got "I'm So Humble" lined up for a nomination right now.

That's it for my first round of Oscar predictions. I'll be back after Toronto with more on the Oscar race!

Images courtesy of Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate Films, and Focus Features

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