Saturday, October 8, 2016

Oscar Update 10/8/16- 'La La Land' leads; 'Live by Night' and 'Silence' join the race

The days of Toronto, Telluride, and Venice are long gone. New York just kicked off.

What's next for the Oscar race?

This is the question on everyone's minds as we enter the next stage of the awards season, a stage that will find Hollywood turning their eyes to the New York Film Festival and AFI Fest. New York opened last week with Ava DuVernay's critically-acclaimed documentary 13th, a scathing indictment of the criminal justice system (it's on Netflix now) and a new Oscar favorite. The festival will continue over the next few days with James Gray's The Lost City of Z (which won't hit until 2017) and Ang Lee's hotly anticipated Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. After that, AFI Fest will see the premiere of Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply, and there's the possibility that Allied and a few other favorites could premiere at the Los Angeles-based festival as well.

In addition to that, we're getting a clearer picture of what films will be debuting in limited release before the end of 2016. Ben Affleck's Live by Night was announced for an Oscar-qualifying run earlier this week, and it will be accompanied by Martin Scorsese's Silence, Peter Berg's Patriots Day, Mike Mills' 20th Century Women, and likely Theo Melfi's Hidden Figures. All of these films have a good chance to jump into the Oscar race, just like The Big Short and American Sniper did in years past.

But here's the truth of the matter- coming out of Toronto, Venice, and Telluride, we already have a pretty good idea of what will be contending for the big prizes. After impressive showings, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, and Jackie are here to stay. Some films changed the game, others bombed big time, but the picture is much clearer than it was in early August. As of today, here are my predictions for the main categories of the 2017 Oscars.

BEST PICTURE


1. La La Land
2. Manchester by the Sea
3. Fences
4. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
5. Silence
6. Moonlight
7. Loving
8. Live by Night
9. Lion
10. Jackie

11. Arrival
12. Nocturnal Animals
13. 20th Century Women
14. Patriots Day
15. Hell or High Water

I said back in August that if La La Land ended up being as good as it looked, it would win Best Picture. Well, if early buzz is to be believed, it's living up to the hype. Damien Chazelle's musical is wrecking audiences- people are literally going crazy for this film. If there's no surprise contender that jumps out of nowhere, this will win Best Picture. I'm calling it right now. Manchester by the Sea has a chance as well, but I think that there's a better chance for Kenneth Lonergan's family drama in categories like Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Fences released a great trailer, and if Denzel Washington's adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play does well with critics, the Academy's diversity push could send this to the top of the list. I'm still uncertain about Billy Lynn, but we'll see soon enough- the film premieres at NYFF on October 14.

Silence is at #5 on the list, because you simply can never underestimate Martin Scorsese. His drama about Jesuit priests in Japan could be a tough sit for Academy members, but I think it'll make the cut. Moonlight is one of my favorite movies of the year, and if there's a comparison to be made, it's to Lenny Abrahamson's Room, which took the Academy by storm last year. Barry Jenkins' film is jaw-dropping and beautifully poetic, and there's no justice if it doesn't make the cut. Loving and Lion are both well-liked films, both of which will benefit from the preferential ballot system. Live by Night feels like a contender, simply because Warner Bros. bumped the release up so far in order to get this into the Oscar race. Affleck is a perennial favorite, and after his snub for Argo, he could find his way into the Best Director race as well. Finally, Jackie exploded at Venice and Toronto, making it a major contender in many categories. Fox Searchlight needs a new contender after Birth of a Nation fell flat, and this is it.

As of now, I have five movies that are just missing the cut. Arrival is being pushed hard by Paramount, but I don't trust the Academy with science fiction. Nocturnal Animals is a great piece of work, but it's too dark, brutal, and confusing for the Oscars. Plus, the word out of Toronto wasn't nearly as rapturous as the word coming from Venice after the film's world premiere. 20th Century Women has a real shot to invade the top ten, and I've heard so many great things about Mike Mills' latest. Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon won't make the cut in any significant way, but Patriots Day has a real chance. The trailer released earlier this week is haunting and visceral, and this could be in the Oscar wheelhouse. And finally, Hell or High Water still has a very good chance to sneak in- it's one of the best reviewed films of the year.

BEST DIRECTOR


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

Bubble Line: Jeff Nichols, Loving
Ben Affleck, Live by Night
Denzel Washington, Fences

Damien Chazelle is going to win Best Director. I know that he would be the youngest winner in the history of the category, but after the one-two punch of Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle is Hollywood's new whiz kid. Ang Lee and Martin Scorsese are two of the usual suspects, and if their respective films are good, they'll snag nominations. Barry Jenkins' Moonlight is an achievement too impressive to ignore, and I hope that the Academy recognizes that. To round out the top five, Kenneth Lonergan will probably make the cut based on how well-liked Manchester is. This is a universally-adored film, and Lonergan will be recognized for his piece of work.

My feeling is that Jeff Nichols will miss the cut simply because of how understated his work is in Loving, while depending on the reaction to their respective films, Affleck or Washington could sneak in. But for now, I'm fairly confident in my top five.

BEST ACTOR


1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
2. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
3. Joel Edgerton, Loving
4. Denzel Washington, Fences
5. Tom Hanks, Sully

Bubble Line: Michael Keaton, The Founder
Miles Teller, Bleed for This
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals
Dev Patel, Lion

This is an unusually weak year for the Best Actor category, and unless someone surprises out of nowhere, Casey Affleck seems set to win his first Oscar for his beloved performance in Manchester by the Sea. Ryan Gosling, Joel Edgerton, and Tom Hanks are likely nominations, while Denzel is currently set as the wild card. If he stuns in Fences, Washington could be on his way to a third Oscar. As of right now, I have several actors on the outside looking in. Michael Keaton looked like a sure thing a few months ago, but I haven't heard much about The Founder in a while. It seems to still be in play, but will Weinstein push it? Or will he shift his attention to Lion and Gold? We really don't know.

Miles Teller could still get nominated for his work in the boxing drama Bleed for This, but the film had a muted reception at Telluride and Toronto. Reviews are okay, with many critics singling out Teller's performance as the best part of the film. He could sneak in if the situation works. Meanwhile, there's talk that Dev Patel could be campaigned in supporting for Lion, since his character apparently doesn't appear until later in the film. This seems like an odd choice considering how empty the Best Actor category is, but somehow, the state of the Supporting category is even more dire. So Patel's fate is up in the air. And finally, Jake Gyllenhaal could definitely enter the campaign for his performance in Nocturnal Animals, which is unquestionably a lead role (Amy Adams is the central character, but Gyllenhaal has more screentime). He's great, and I'd love to see a nomination for him.

BEST ACTRESS


1. Emma Stone, La La Land
2. Natalie Portman, Jackie
3. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
4. Viola Davis, Fences
5. Amy Adams, Arrival

Bubble Line: Ruth Negga, Loving
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

While the Best Actor race is unusually weak, the Actress race is very, very strong this year. Emma Stone won the Best Actress award in Venice, putting her in prime position for a win in February. She looked like a sure thing for a few days, but once Jackie premiered, Natalie Portman changed everything. Her performance as a grieving Jackie Kennedy drew universal acclaim, thrusting Portman into the thick of the awards conversation. If she gains more momentum, she could be a true force to be reckoned with. Annette Bening is also gaining steam after the warm reception to 20th Century Women, where her performance is being singled out as one of the best parts of the film. She could fade, but right now, I think she's in the thick of the race. On the other hand, Viola Davis is in the same position as Dev Patel- she could go supporting or lead, depending on the state of the race. I have a feeling she'll shift to supporting, but she'll be listed in this category until we hear otherwise. And finally, after two great performances this year, Amy Adams has to get some kind of recognition. I think Arrival is her best bet.

Ruth Negga has a good chance as well, and if Davis moves to supporting or Bening's momentum tapers off, she'll be the first one in. Isabelle Huppert has a shot, but Elle is too dark, brooding, and disturbing for the Academy. Sony Pictures Classics is going to have a real problem with actually getting people to watch that one. On the other hand, Paramount will have no problem getting the Academy to see Florence Foster Jenkins. It's just a matter of the voters deciding that Streep's performance is so good that it warrants another nomination in such a strong year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
2. Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
3. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
4. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
5. Liam Neeson, Silence

Bubble Line: Steve Martin, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Jovan Adepo, Fences

This is another category that seems to be pretty light at the moment, with only Mahershala Ali and Michael Shannon standing out as sure things. Moonlight could get a broad range of recognition, but Ali seems like the movie's best bet, especially after his star turn as the villain in Marvel's Luke Cage. It'd be cool to see Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes join the race as well, but Ali seems like the front-runner. On the other hand, Shannon delivers one of the best performances of the year as a grizzled, deadpan Texas sheriff in Tom Ford's slick thriller, and after years of stunning performances, he could be due. Jeff Bridges seems set for a nomination as well, and there are plenty of critics raving about Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea. Liam Neeson surprisingly only has one Oscar nomination, so if he's really great in Silence, there could be a "He's due" movement for the veteran actor.

The same could be said for Steve Martin, who has never even received a nomination. For some reason, I still feel shaky about the size and importance of his role in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, but we'll find out soon enough. Finally, Jovan Adepo has an outside chance for his role in Fences. He's highlighted in the trailer, and if he has a large enough part in the movie, Adepo could sneak in.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


1. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
2. Kristen Stewart, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
3. Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls
4. Naomie Harris, Moonlight
5. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women

Bubble Line: Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women

The supporting category is in flux because of the Viola Davis situation (there are also some rumblings about Annette Bening shifting to supporting), which means that Michelle Williams will continue to be the front-runner here. Her performance is slightly more divisive than initially thought, but this feels like her year. Kristen Stewart also seems like a sure thing for Billy Lynn (she has a really emotional moment in the trailer), and Naomie Harris is in good shape to be nominated for Moonlight. A Monster Calls feels like a movie that is right in the Academy's wheelhouse, and although it likely won't make the Best Picture cut, a great way to honor the movie would be a nomination for Felicity Jones' extraordinary work. 20th Century Women reviews dropped yesterday, and everyone is raving about Greta Gerwig's performance in the film. Her stock is steadily rising and she could certainly snag a nomination.

Hidden Figures is still on shaky ground at this point, but if the movie gets a platform release, expect at least a few nominations. With the one-two punch of this NASA drama and Moonlight, I think Janelle Monae is the film's best shot. Nicole Kidman could be in contention as well for Lion, and if the Academy falls hard for 20th Century Women, Elle Fanning has a chance to join the race.

After attempting to predict the screenplay categories back in August, I've decided that I'm going to hold out until we get more information. That race is unclear. I'll be back next week with another update after the New York Film Festival wraps up.

Images courtesy of Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, and A24

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