La La Land wins!
Wins what? Whatever! If you don’t have the energy to put effort into your Oscar guesses this year, assume that La La Land will win the 13 categories in which it has nominations and you’ll probably be right at least half the time.
Though this juggernaut romance-musical set in dreamy Hollywood is getting much of the attention, there are other solid films nominated for the 89th Academy Awards. After a season of regular Entertainment Weekly and Vulture readership, consulting GoldDerby.com and FiveThirtyEight, occasionally listening to podcasts for Vulture and Vanity Fair and scanning assorted other internety things, here are my best guesses for who will win, my grumpy two cents about who should win, suggestions for movies that should have made the cut and movies worth watching in these final days of award season. See if I can continue my streak of getting about two-thirds of my predictions correct on Sunday, Feb. 26, at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
• Best picture Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight
Will win: La La Land. I get it, but at this point I’m more exhausted than charmed by this romance. I have yet to read or listen to anything that doesn’t give La La Land a lock on the big prize. (Of course, by the laws of 2016-2017, that might mean the winner is, like, Hacksaw Ridge.)
Should win: Arrival. A smart sci-fi with a strong female performance at its center, Arrival was a pleasant surprise.
Missing: Deadpool? Honestly, I didn’t think it was great cinema but nor was I impressed by the first half of Hacksaw Ridge so why not a swearing comic book character who is doing something new with the genre? Also, I’d add Eye in the Sky, a smart movie about modern warfare (featuring Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren), and The Shallows, a strong suspense movie.
What to watch: All of this year’s best picture nominees are well worth your time. See Arrival and Hell or High Water now (both available for home viewing). Hidden Figures is a solid movie (and, with a PG rating, suitable for older-kids family movie night); it’s still in theaters and worth the price of admission.
Hacksaw Ridge (available for home viewing now) and Lion (available on March 7, according to iTunes) are both movies with true stories more interesting than the movies based on them but I’d still recommend a home viewing when you’re up for a war movie or a drama, respectively. Put Fences on your must-watch list as soon as it becomes available for home viewing (for purchase Feb. 24 on iTunes); it is a solid, well-acted drama that is heavy but not too bleak. Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, both available now for home viewing, are well worth a watch but are definitely movies to watch when you have time (and the emotional energy) for well-crafted but downbeat stories.
La La Land is also still in theaters but I’m going to suggest you wait. Don’t see it in theaters, don’t see it when it is first available for home-viewing. Wait until, maybe, next January, when you need an infusion of joy and sun and maybe you’ll be able to view it the way people who saw it at film festivals in early fall viewed the movie — as a delightful surprise.
• Best director Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight.
Will win: Damien Chazelle. The movie feels inevitable at this point. Maybe Lonergan or Jenkins could sneak in there, but I doubt it.
Should win: Kenneth Lonergan. A look at real people and messy lives, Manchester by the Sea is all the more devastating because of Lonergan’s understated style.
• Best actress Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, Emma Stone in La La Land, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins.
Will win: Emma Stone. Everybody everywhere seems to agree it’s Stone, even though, to me, the character feels thin compared to competitors.
Should win: Ruth Negga. Actually for me it’s a toss-up between Negga’s strong, understated Mildred Loving and Natalie Portman’s crazypants Jackie Kennedy. (Note: I did not see Elle, which will be available for home viewing March 14, according to iTunes.)
Missing: Emily Blunt. Granted, most of The Girl on the Train is fancy silliness, but Blunt is doing serious work. I would also accept Hailee Steinfeld for getting the horrors of teenage life right in The Edge of Seventeen and Taraji P. Henson for Hidden Figures because seriously how did Meryl Streep get a nod for the just-OK Florence Foster Jenkins and Henson not get a nomination?
What to watch: Jackie and Loving are available for home viewing and both are interesting movies about their moment in history.
• Best actor Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington in Fences.
Will win: Denzel Washington. As one of the podcasts I listen to (Little Gold Men, perhaps?) pointed out, Washington, who didn’t win a Golden Globe but did win the SAG award, is both a blockbuster-type movie star and a serious actor — in other words, living the dream.
Should win: Casey Affleck in a photo finish with Washington. Washington is a thisclose second only because his performance, though excellent, feels performance-y. Affleck meanwhile feels like a guy who is two heartbeats away from being crushed to death by his own grief but has managed to keep a shell of himself active in the world.
Missing: Chris Pine or Ben Foster for Hell or High Water. Parker Sawyers also did a standout job of playing a young law student on a first date wrestling with issues about career and race — without letting his character, one Barack Obama in Southside with You, feel like a Saturday Night Live impersonation.
What to watch: Captain Fantastic (available for home viewing now) is a strange but sweet movie about a strange but sweet family. Mortensen is solid as the loving but flawed father trying to keep his family together after the death of his wife.
• Best animated film Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia
Will win: Kubo and the Two Strings. This lovely story, told with origami-style visuals, benefits from the fact that there are two strong Disney competitors, Zootopia and Moana. Zootopia won the Golden Globe; Moana has the delightful music. I feel like this is one of those categories where a bunch of good choices creates an opening for a slightly lesser-known competitor.
Should win: Moana. I really liked Kubo and the Two Strings and Zootopia (and I haven’t seen My Life as a Zucchini or The Red Turtle, both of which are slated to open at Boston-area theaters as soon as this weekend). But Moana made me feel good about the world we live in, in addition to having beautiful visuals, well-crafted songs and a fun story.
What to watch: Moana probably is good for ages 6 or so and up with Kubo and Zootopia (both of which have dark moments) better for later-elementary-aged viewers. These three are all available at a sofaplex near you.
Other categories (with likely winners bolded and my pick underlined):
• Best supporting actress: Viola Davis in Fences, Naomie Harris in Moonlight, Nicole Kidman in Lion, Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea. Davis seems like the clear favorite and her performance is by far the standout.
• Best supporting actor: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals. I haven’t seen Nocturnal Animals but of the other four I think Ali probably gave the top performance and has the best shot at the Oscar, possibly one of the few categories where Moonlight is really competitive.
• Best original screenplay: Taylor Sheridan for Hell or High Water, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for The Lobster, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, Mike Mills for 20th Century Women. Though Golden Derby is predicting a win for Manchester by the Sea, I feel like La La Land could load up on awards. While I really like Manchester by the Sea (and haven’t seen 20th Century Women), I’d like to see the gritty modern Western with a wry sense of humor get something.
• Best adapted screenplay: Eric Heisserer for Arrival, August Wilson for Fences, Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi for Hidden Figures, Luke Davies for Lion, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney for Moonlight. This is where Moonlight will get its recognition. And while a win for Moonlight here would be deserved, I think I’d throw my vote to Arrival for doing something different and thought-provoking with the genre. Wilson’s Fences also has a strong case.
• Best documentary: Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O.J.: Made in America, 13th. A five-part ESPN production, O.J.: Made in America weaves the history of Los Angeles, the African-American community in L.A., the history of the L.A. police department and the relationship between the African-American community and the LAPD around the story of O.J.’s life. By the time we get to his trial and the resulting acquittal, we have a good sense of the context in which it all played out. I have not yet seen Fire at Sea (available on iTunes now) or I Am Not Your Negro (which is currently screening in Boston-area theaters and is scheduled to come to Red River Theatres in Concord on March 3). O.J.: Made in America, Life, Animated (the story of journalist Ron Suskind’s now adult son Owen, who has autism, and the way Disney animated movies helped him to connect with his family and the world) and 13th (by Selma director Ava DuVernay, this documentary is about race and mass incarceration) are all available now for home viewing.
• Best original song: “Audition,” La La Land; “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls; “City of Stars,” La La Land; “The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story; “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana. The predictors seem to be giving the edge to “City of Stars,” but “Audition” is the emotional climax of the movie. Personally, I’m all about the Moana songs, my favorite of which is probably “You’re Welcome.”
• Best documentary short: 4.1 Miles; Extremis; Joe’s Violin; Watani: My Homeland; The White Helmets. All really strong entries but I’d put Watani just a little ahead of the pack for looking at Syria and the refugee crisis through the story of a woman and her children who, in addition to the war, have standard child/teen concerns. I’d give the awards edge to Joe’s Violin because Watani, The White Helmets and 4.1 Miles are similar enough in subject that they might split the vote and Joe’s Violin is probably the most uplifting of the movies.
• Best animated short: Blind Vaysha, Borrowed Time, Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Pearl, Piper. Maybe it’s cliché for Pixar to always win but the story is sweet and the visuals are amazing.
• Best live action short: Ennemis Interieurs, La Femme et le TGV, Silent Nights, Sing, Time Code. If charming dance and romance is what you like, Timecode has it (and perhaps Silent Nights and Ennemis Interieurs will split the vote of the politics-minded). Personally, I like the resistance to injustice funnily demonstrated by kids in a choir in Sing. (Live-action and animation shorts, at least, appear to be available for home viewing as of Feb. 21. See shorts.tv/theoscarshorts.)