The 2017 Academy Award ceremony will conclude the awards season fervor that has spanned several months. Here are my predictions for some of the most highly anticipated awards that will be presented on Sunday evening.
Nominees: La La Land, Arrival, Lion, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester by the Sea, Fences
Predicted Winner: La La Land
If there is any doubt left, this will be a fight between La La Land, an ingenious and heartfelt film, and Moonlight, a tender and personal tale exploring self-identity.
But before we delve into that, let us take a look at the other nominees. The nomination for Arrival is a pleasant surprise, since Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi has not gained the accolade and attention that it deserves. Unfortunately, the genre of sci-fi has only won Best Picture once at the Oscars. Furthermore, Arrival was nominated 27 times as the best film of the year for various other film awards but went on to win none of them. All this information indicates that it is highly unlikely that this emotionally rich and philosophically complex tale about love and time will clinch Best Picture.
In fact, the same applies to most of the other films in this category. The critically acclaimed films Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Fences have all failed in their quest for any best film prize. While Hell or High Water, the intense thriller about kinship and poverty, conquered two best film awards and two second places, such an amount is infinitesimal compared to the more than 20 wins for the front runners. The nomination for Hidden Figures, on the other hand, is more a gesture for political correctness than a recognition for the film’s quality—it is a good film, but elevating it to Oscar-worthy status is a stretch.
Manchester by the Sea is another powerful contender for this category considering its 42 nominations across the season and 10 wins for first and second places. However, one could say that the film is merely a sad story without much of a resolution. Decades of Oscar Best Pictures suggest that the Academy prefers inspirational tales whose views on life are more romantic or idealized than those in Manchester by the Sea.
Let’s shift our gaze back to the remaining two. La La Land has an edge over its rival firstly because it is a combination of what Oscar voters love best—there is the relentless pursuit of the dream, the grand tribute to Hollywood and the sincere love for films (by the way, Oscar voters LOVE movies about movies — go check recent successes like Birdman, Argo and The Artist). Even more importantly, La La Land clinched the Producers Guild Awards (PGA), which are hailed as one of the most reliable predictors for the Oscars due to the overwhelming overlap of voter population. In the past five years, four of the five films that triumphed at the PGA went on to reap victory at the Oscars. In the end, we’ll likely see a city of stars during the night of the Oscar ceremony.
Nominees: Denis Villeneuve, Barry Jenkins, Kenneth Lonergan, Damien Chazelle, Mel Gibson
Predicted Winner: Damien Chazelle
While this award used to be more predictable (as there were significant overlaps between Best Picture and Best Director), the pattern seems less apparent in the last five years. As with the struggle for Best Picture, the race for Best Director is a tight one between Damien Chazelle for La La Land and Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. Kenneth Lonergan remains a remote possibility, as the directorship of Manchester by the Sea is largely overshadowed by its seamless acting and screenplay. Amid the uncertainties, however, Chazelle is still in favor to win due to his Directors Guild triumph (four of the award winners in the last five years later became Oscar favorites). Furthermore, an examination of recent years’ trends would reveal that Oscar-voters like to honor directors for their technical flairs—Inarritu’s work in Birdman and The Revenant; Lee’s revolutionary employment of 3D in Life of Pi. Similarly, La La Land has too many technically glaring moments, the opening single-take and the ending montage for example. That adds to the possibility for Chazelle to win the grand prize. However, that is not to deny the chances for Barry Jenkins, as the Academy might use the Best Director award as a way to offer recognition towards the film’s quality as well as to make a political statement against the current Presidential administration’s racism and homophobia.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominees: Andrew Garfield, Ryan Gosling, Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Viggo Mortensen
Predicted Winner: Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck’s journey to win Best Actor seemed to be the least suspenseful until Denzel Washington won at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. A look at the statistics is even less reassuring for Affleck’s Best Actor prospect, as the SAG successfully predicted all the Oscar Best Actor winners in the past five years. However, Affleck’s subtle, nuanced yet heart-wrenching performance in Manchester by the Sea has earned him a total of 38 best actor victories across the entire season while Denzel Washington’s powerful and precise portrayal of the protagonist in Fences brought him five wins. In consideration of that, the odds are still slightly in favor of Casey Affleck.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominees: Isabelle Huppert, Emma Stone, Ruth Negga, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman
Predicted Winner: Isabelle Huppert
Isabelle Huppert, one of the finest actresses in the business today, well deserves the title. She is the anchor in Elle, where her convincing portrayal of an independent and morally complex woman enlivens the entire film. The fact that she has never been nominated for an Oscar before speaks volumes about the award’s limitations in acknowledging the true talents of this industry, and a victory for her would be a long overdue gesture for the Academy to recognize and commend her lifetime achievements as an actress.