Friday, November 18, 2016

Oscar Update: 11/18/16

My last Oscar update came in early October, and since then........surprisingly, not much has changed. The front-runners have remained the same, some of the unseen players delivered as expected, and along the way, a few movies have fallen flat. The Best Picture race has narrowed significantly, and while a few films have gained significant momentum, I don't see much changing between now and January 24 (the day that Oscar nominations are announced). We're still waiting on Martin Scorsese's Silence, but so many people already have it penciled in for a Best Picture slot that I don't think its premiere will shake up the race at all. Peter Berg's Patriots Day could have an impact after its strong reception at AFI Fest yesterday and I'm still not entirely sure where things stand with Hidden Figures and Live by Night, but these are pretty much the only unknowns left. The lower categories are beginning to take shape as well, and we could see several very competitive races across the board. Without further delay, here are my current Oscar predictions.

BEST PICTURE


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

1. La La Land
2. Fences
3. Manchester by the Sea
4. Moonlight
5. Silence
6. Arrival
7. Loving
8. Lion
9. Hell or High Water
10. Hidden Figures or Patriots Day

It's going to be La La Land vs. Fences for Best Picture. After the rapturous reception at the latter's November 5th premiere, Denzel Washington's directorial feature was firmly established as a major player in the Oscar race. Things are setting up for a battle between Washington's bleak play adaptation and Damien Chazelle's splashy musical, and at the moment, I'm giving the edge to La La Land. I saw the film on Tuesday, and it's a masterful movie musical that is heartbreaking and joyful in equal measure. Even as someone who came in with sky-high expectations, the film blew me away. It's the kind of old Hollywood escapism that Oscar voters are going to crave this year, and the fact that it's so exceptionally made and lovingly crafted will only help matters. Fences has the political advantage, coming off a year where the Academy failed to nominate a single African-American actor before embracing diversity measures in the subsequent months. As an adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences should get plenty of love from the Actors' branch, which has been known to carry films in the past. The review embargo doesn't break until later this month, but there's reason to believe that Fences could go the distance.

Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight are two of the best reviewed films of the year, and both will have their strong supporters in the Academy. Manchester's best chance lies with Casey Affleck, who has been the favorite in the Best Actor category since the film premiered at Sundance, while Moonlight could win accolades for supporting actor Mahershala Ali, the dynamite screenplay, and other technical categories. Silence, of course, is the great unknown of the season. Nobody has even come close to seeing Martin Scorsese's film yet, and it probably won't happen until late November or early December. However, there's a good deal of buzz behind it, and Paramount has enough faith in the film to let it loose in an Oscar season that's already quite crowded for them. Arrival is one of Paramount's other releases, and after a strong box office and critical showing last week (I absolutely adored it), the film's Oscar stock is steadily rising. I think a Best Picture nomination is close to certain. Loving and Lion are both nice crowd-pleasers that will work well with Oscar voters, bringing us to a total of eight nominees. There's still a lot of love out there for David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water, which broke out in a big way back in August. A nomination is possible, especially if CBS Films rolls with a big campaign.

For the #10 slot, I have a tie between Patriots Day and Hidden Figures. Last night was the closing gala for the former at AFI, and I have a feeling that Fox will unleash a wave of reviews for Hidden Figures in the near future as they ratchet up their campaign. Both films are Oscar bait in some way, and I have a feeling that one of them will get a Best Picture nomination. On a side note- if you had asked me before yesterday, I would have certainly mentioned Ben Affleck's Live by Night as a Best Picture nominee and even potential winner. The film screened for guild members earlier this week and for specific press on Wednesday. Affleck seemed to downplay the film, saying that it wasn't originally meant to be an Oscar movie. The embargo on reviews and social media reactions doesn't lift until December 21, which is a bad sign. Maybe this one turns around in the near future, but I just don't see it at the moment.

BEST DIRECTOR


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
2. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
3. Martin Scorsese, Silence
4. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
5. Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

As long as La La Land maintains its momentum, Damien Chazelle will win Best Director. The 31-year old filmmaker has made two of the best films of the decade so far, and even though it's still early in his career, it's time for Chazelle to get the recognition he deserves. Barry Jenkins and Kenneth Lonergan are solid bets to get nominations, and assuming that Silence delivers as expected, Scorsese will be nominated as well. For the fifth slot, there are two good options- Denis Villeneuve and Denzel Washington. Villeneuve has had a spectacular string of hits, including critically acclaimed films like Prisoners, Sicario, and now, Arrival. It could be time for him to get some recognition from the Academy. On the other hand, Washington's Fences is expected to be a major player, and a Best Picture and Director nomination often go hand in hand. But with the inherently stage-y nature (sight unseen, of course) of the film, there's a chance that Washington could be left without a nomination. I've got Villeneuve right now, but things could change if momentum shifts to Fences.

BEST ACTOR


Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions

1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
2. Denzel Washington, Fences
3. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
4. Joel Edgerton, Loving
5. Andrew Garfield, Silence/Hacksaw Ridge

This one will go down to the wire, with Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington fighting it out until the final moments of the season. Affleck was the early favorite for his turn in Manchester by the Sea, which received rave reviews at Sundance and nearly every subsequent festival. He was considered to be a lock for a win, but then came Denzel Washington. The acclaimed and beloved actor has won two Academy Awards in the past (Glory, Training Day), but as the focal point of Fences, Washington reportedly delivers his best performance yet. I'm still waiting to see how the reviews shake out for the film, but it's safe to say that Washington is a front-runner in this race. As for the other nominees, Ryan Gosling feels like a lock to get a nod from the Academy. Emma Stone is undoubtedly more impressive in La La Land, but the film would be impossible without his empathetic, charming performance. Joel Edgerton's quiet, muted turn in Loving should gain some attention as well, and with two high profile releases in a short period of time, Andrew Garfield is in prime shape to get a nomination.

BEST ACTRESS


Image courtesy of Liosngate

1. Emma Stone, La La Land
2. Natalie Portman, Jackie
3. Amy Adams, Arrival
4. Ruth Negga, Loving
5. Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures

It's another close race in the Best Actress category, which is refreshing considering that Best Actor and Actress are often locked up early in the race. Emma Stone jumped out to an early lead after winning the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for La La Land, but later in the week, Natalie Portman surged forward with a towering, buzzy performance in Jackie. Portman is said to be at her career-best in Pablo Larrain's biopic of the former First Lady, which could put her in prime shape to win a second Oscar. However, the fact that she's won before could be the thing that hurts her the most. For that reason, Stone is the favorite. Amy Adams should get a nomination for her turn as Louise Banks in Arrival, although this all depends on how the Academy embraces Villeneuve's heady sci-fi. Ruth Negga will also likely be nominated for Loving, which has done very well at the box office so far. Finally, I have Taraji P. Henson in the #5 slot for Hidden Figures. Early reports are that she's great in the film, and at this point, I like her over Annette Bening in 20th Century Women.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


Image courtesy of A24

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

Best Supporting Actor was looking pretty slim in the past, but I think that the category is beginning to shape up nicely. Mahershala Ali is the current odds-on favorite for his heartbreaking performance in Moonlight, although I must say that I'm not expecting a win. Ali is great as Juan, a drug dealer and father figure for Chiron, but it's a muted role with a limited amount of screentime. There's a prime opportunity for Liam Neeson, who has only been nominated for one Oscar, to win the gold for Silence. Nobody has seen the film, but it could be one of those "he's due" situations. I don't believe that Nocturnal Animals will be embraced by many members of the Academy, but Michael Shannon's deadly serious, darkly funny performance is too dazzling to ignore. Hell or High Water is one of those films that many awards voters seem to really enjoy, and even if the film gets snubbed for Best Picture, Jeff Bridges will get a nomination for supporting actor. And finally, Lucas Hedges is considered to be one of the rising stars of Oscar season, sharing the screen with Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. He's in good shape for some recognition.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


Image Credit: IMDB 

1. Viola Davis, Fences
2. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
3. Naomie Harris, Moonlight
4. Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures
5. Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls

Michelle Williams probably thought that she had the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in the bag for her highly acclaimed performance in Manchester by the Sea. But then Viola Davis came along. In a controversial move, the star of Fences decided to move to the Supporting Actress category. At this point, she's pretty much a lock to win, especially after losing in a close race in 2011 to Meryl Streep. Williams has a shot, but I don't think she can compete with the role that Davis has. I imagine that Naomie Harris and Janelle Monae will receive nominations as well, with Monae serving double duty in Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Finally, I'm holding out hope that Felicity Jones gets a nomination for A Monster Calls. It's a great film, and with Jones' rising star status in Rogue One, I hope that the Academy recognizes her excellent performance.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY


Image courtesy of CBS Films

1. Manchester by the Sea
2. Moonlight
3. Hell or High Water
4. La La Land
5. The Lobster

Original Screenplay is always the category where the writers' branch likes to acknowledge bold, thoughtful titles, and that will happen this year as well. I have The Lobster and Hell or High Water penciled in for nominations, as well as perennial favorites like La La Land and Moonlight (this is based on a play, but Gold Derby has it as original, so I'm sticking with it). But in the end, Manchester by the Sea is the clear favorite at this point and it has been since the start of the season. I can't imagine a world where it doesn't win, even with the excellent work by Barry Jenkins, Taylor Sheridan, and Damien Chazelle.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY


Image courtesy of Focus Features

1. Fences
2. Arrival
3. Silence
4. Hidden Figures
5. A Monster Calls

It'll be interesting to see how the writers respond to Fences, since it's pretty much a verbatim adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning work. Will the Academy recognize Washington's work with Fences, or will they view his contributions as too minimal? I have it in the #1 slot right now, but that could change. Arrival and Silence feel like locks, and while I'm a little less certain about the chances for Hidden Figures and A Monster Calls, those films are in good shape too. The screenplay categories are beginning to take shape, but there's still a lot to be discovered. We'll see more in the future.

Finally, here are some of my initial projections in the smaller categories in the Oscar race. No data yet on Best Documentary Feature or Best Original Song.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE


Image courtesy of Focus Features

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

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

1. La La Land
2. Arrival
3. Moonlight
4. Silence
5. Live by Night

BEST COSTUME DESIGN


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

1. La La Land
2. Live by Night
3. Silence
4. Allied
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

BEST FILM EDITING


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

1. La La Land
2. Arrival
3. Hacksaw Ridge
4. Moonlight
5. Jackie

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING


Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

1. Jackie
2. Hidden Figures
3. Hail, Caesar!

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

1. La La Land
2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
3. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
4. Silence
5. Hail, Caesar!

BEST SCORE


Image courtesy of Focus Features

1. La La Land
2. Jackie
3. Arrival
4. Nocturnal Animals
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST SOUND EDITING


Image Credit: IMDB

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2. Hacksaw Ridge
3. La La Land
4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
5. Passengers

BEST SOUND MIXING


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

1. La La Land
2. Hacksaw Ridge
3. Silence
4. Live by Night
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS


Image courtesy of Sony

1. The Jungle Book
2. Passengers
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
4. Doctor Strange
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

That's it for now, but I'll be back in a few weeks with more Oscar predictions.

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