Friday, February 24, 2017

The 89th Academy Awards Preview & Predictions

Well it's that time again folks.  The 89th Academy Awards are upon us, and that means Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I are back to give you our picks.  It's an eclectic bunch of films this year, and as usual I'm scrambling to catch up and see as many as possible before the ceremony.  Jimmy Kimmel is the host this year - an unusual choice I must say.  Kimmel sort of conveys a dorky everyman quality not normally associated with such an extravagant ceremony.  So this'll be interesting. 

As with last year we'll pick the ten main categories plus an obscure tie breaker so there will be a clear winner.  Drinan killed me in the predictions last year so I'm out for revenge.  So let's get to it....

Best Picture

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By the Sea

Justin: Wow, a musical, a sci-fi movie, a western crime drama, a war movie, and five other dramas.  Pretty diverse buncha films up for the big award this year.  I've only seen four of these so far and hope to catch at least two or three more by the 26th.  I loved Arrival, a rare sci-fi alien film that's about real ideas and the human condition moreso than it is about aliens and spaceships.  It was so refreshing to see a movie about this subject matter that was understated and thoughtful.  I also loved Manchester By the Sea, a quietly tragic drama about a lonely man carrying a horrible burden from his past.  Moonlight was a deeply touching, brilliantly acted film that at times reminded me of Boyhood and Brokeback Mountain.  La La Land.....well, if you read our discussion HERE, you know neither Mike nor I was particularly impressed by Hollywood's latest love letter to itself.  I'll be pretty goddamn pissed if LLL wins Best Picture, quite frankly.  As for the other five, I'm very much interested in Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion, and Fences, and less interested in Hidden Figures.  But I'm sure I'll see all five of them at some point.  But what's important here is which film I think is going to take home the gold.  It's clearly between the dual Golden Globe winners, La La Land and Moonlight.  I could see this going either way actually.  On one hand, LLL is about Hollywood, and Hollywood loves that.  On the other hand, Moonlight has "underdog Oscar winner" written all over it, plus the Academy has taken quite some flak in recent years for only seeming to honor white actors and filmmakers.  So it's really a question of whether the Academy can turn off the "Hollywood is awesome" blinders for a minute and get out of its own way.  I'm going to be optimistic and say yes.

Prediction: Moonlight

Mike: I've slacked this year at getting to the theater and have only seen five of the nominees. Like you, I loved Arrival for the reasons you mentioned. Such an original idea and delivered brilliantly. Hell or High Water I found to be very good as well and at times gave me a No Country For Old Men type feeling...maybe it was the Texas desert, might've been Jeff Bridges. I originally thought this would be a three picture race between La La Land, Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea, however Manchester's stock fell way down in this category as soon as LLL began garnering rave reviews. In the meantime, Moonlight is the brilliant little engine that could and is easily my favorite of the nominees. Such a perfect film with incredible acting from the entire cast. I'm easily rooting for Moonlight to win this, however I think it's La La Land's. LLL is a throwback musical that is heavily saturated with classic MGM musical material. Plus, it's about Hollywood and, as we've all learned when Crash won Best Picture, L.A. is in love with itself. I am not as optimistic as Justin, but I do hope he wins this category.

Prediction: La La Land

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Justin: Well they've taken the most diverse cross-section of Best Pic nominees and included their directors in this category.  Denis Villeneuve lent a quiet, meditative feel to Arrival and I was so impressed with his work here I'm excited to see his previous (and upcoming) films.  Mel Gibson's inclusion here is pretty staggering considering his fall from grace a few years back.  But I'm glad to see that he's put all that behind him and returned to making quality films; say what you will about him personally but I've always considered him a very gifted actor and director.  Chazelle really should've won this award two years ago for Whiplash, but he's got a very real chance to make up for it here.  Lonergan's gift for pacing and emotional weight made Manchester By the Sea a deeply compelling human drama.  Barry Jenkins (like Chazelle) has only directed two feature films and has displayed prodigious skill in doing so.  As with the Best Pic category I see this coming down to two candidates - Chazelle and Jenkins.  In either case we'll be getting a first-time Best Director, so that's historic.  But for me Chazelle failed to capture the magical touch he demonstrated with Whiplash.  La La Land to me barely felt like a musical and lacked the splendor one associates with films like that.  Jenkins on the other hand conveyed a very personal, intimate character arc with real visual flair.  So in a perfect world Jenkins should take this.  But I have a sneaking suspicion the Academy has a full-on boner for Chazelle's work, so I'm gonna pick him.

Prediction: Damien Chazelle

Mike: Denis Villeneuve is a really impressive director. I loved his drug cartel-themed Sicario and Prisoners with Jake Gyllenhaal. His film Enemy also starring Jake Gyllenhaal is currently in my Amazon watchlist queue and I'm very much looking forward to watching. BUT I DIGRESS!!! His film Arrival was another excellent film in his resume and like I said in my Best Picture summary, the delivery of how that story unfolded was brilliant and seamless. I'm also impressed with how Mel Gibson has found his way back in Hollywood's good graces following his controversial behavior. It would make for a nice redemption story if he were able to snag Mr. Oscar on this comeback trail. Kenneth Lonergan did a wonderful job with Manchester By The Sea but you're right, this is between Chazelle and Jenkins. With Moonlight, Barry Jenkins brought forth an exquisite story and was able to get his actors to display such humanity and emotion that it's almost uncanny. However, since he's a relative newcomer I think he also will get passed up for this award in favor of Chazelle. Whiplash was a great movie and he did a spectacular job with it as it won him a ton of industry praise. With La La Land being a musical, I think they will lean in his direction. Once again, I'll be rooting for Barry Jenkins since I feel he deserves it more than Chazelle.

Prediction: Damien Chazelle

Best Actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Justin: I've only seen two of these performances, and I liked one a helluva lot more than the other.  Casey Affleck gave a career turn as the emotionally broken Lee Chandler, conveying the quiet despondence of a man who's learned to bury his intolerably unpleasant feelings and memories as deep as he can.  Ryan Gosling was fine in La La Land, but not remotely what I would call Oscar-worthy.  I would've said Affleck and Gosling are the frontrunners, but Denzel Washington won the SAG Award a few weeks ago, which puts him high in contention as well.  Still I think I'm gonna stick with Affleck, who really put himself on the map as an accomplished lead actor with Manchester.

Prediction: Casey Affleck

Mike: Like Justin, I only saw two of the nominees. Also like Justin, I don't feel Ryan Gosling's performance in La La Land was Oscar-worthy. What, because he sings and dances he deserves it? Nope, sorry. Ever since I saw it, I thought Affleck was the clear frontrunner for this award. He was flat out amazing in Manchester By The Sea, his best performance on film...ever. However, I feel the tide has shifted away from his favor due to his past sexual assault rearing it's ugly head back around. Denzel's performance in Fences has been getting nothing but raves and earned him the SAG Award which is historically a pretty good Oscar indicator and I don't see that changing this year.

Prediction: Denzel Washington

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Justin: First off, hey Oscar....STOP NOMINATING MERYL STREEP!  She doesn't need any more nominations.  She's already got the lifetime record locked up forever and ever.  No one is ever going to duplicate that feat.  So unless she gives a performance that cures cancer when you watch it, maybe open up a slot for someone else from now on, huh??  Look, Streep is one of the all-time great actors, period.  This is not in any way a knock against her.  But why does she need this?  How the fuck is Amy Adams not here for Arrival, or Annette Bening for 20th Century Women?  Fuckin' hell.  Anyway, the only performance of this bunch I've seen thus far is Emma Stone in La La Land, and she also happens to be the favorite to win.  Ya know what, I'm actually okay with that.  Stone was one of the things I really liked about LLL; she conveyed much more nuance than is generally required for a musical, particularly in the audition scenes where she had to be convincing as a talented actress but not convincing enough that she'd actually be cast in these roles.  I could see Isabelle Huppert pulling off the upset here but I'm pretty sure Emma Stone's got this one.

Prediction: Emma Stone

Mike: It's getting sickening how the Academy seemingly just nominates Streep by default. She's a legend and one of the greatest actors of all time without question, but are we serious here? This is probably the sixth or seventh time she's been nominated for Best Actress for a role that isn't really Oscar-worthy (Devil Wears Prada? really? Julie & Julia? Fuck outta here). Anyways, this category became one of the easiest ones to predict. Early in the year it seemed this would be Natalie Portman's to lose for her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy BUT La La Land turned the tide and now Emma Stone is a sure bet to win this.

Prediction: Emma Stone

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Justin: I've seen two of these thus far - Ali and Hedges.  Both were really great.  Hedges fully embodied this outwardly confident but internally crumbling teenager whose life has been thrown into chaos, while Ali was a deeply flawed but gentle father-figure who must accept partial responsibility for unwittingly destroying the household of the very child he's taken under his wing.  I'd be happy with either of these winning, and I think these are the two favorites.  I'll go with Ali because I think Moonlight is generally going to fare much better than Manchester.

Prediction: Mahershala Ali

Mike: I've seen three of these performances. Jeff Bridges was really good as Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton and is deserving of the nomination. However, there really wasn't much to his character outside of that. In my Best Picture summary, I said that Hell or High Water gave me a No Country For Old Men feel and Bridges was one of the reasons for it since his character was very similar to Tommy Lee Jones' in that movie. Lucas Hedges was fantastic in Manchester By The Sea. He did a great job balancing the normalcy of being a teenager while coping with the death of his father. He was very subtle with what he gave off emotionally and was the perfect fit alongside Affleck. I wouldn't mind it if he won for that performance but for me, this is Mahershala's to lose. He played that role perfectly and handled the emotional conflict of the character who clearly cared for a young Chiron and wanted to be a father figure to him while realizing his role in the dysfunction of the boy's life. Such a heavy role to carry in the film and I don't think he could've been any better.

Prediction: Mahershala Ali

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea)

Justin: I've only seen two of these as well, from the same two films.  Naomie Harris was wonderfully convincing as Paula, the drug-addled mother of the main character in Moonlight, but also brought forth the tender regret of a parent who knows she's doing wrong by her son.  Michelle Williams was nominated here I think for one scene (You know the one), but what a fucking scene.  Williams knows how to break your heart with a performance, and in Manchester By the Sea she breaks it, stomps on it, and grinds it into powder.  I'd be fine with either of these women taking the gold, but I think it'll probably be Viola Davis in Fences.  She won the SAG Award, plus she kinda got boned by the Academy a few years ago for The Help, losing to, you guessed it, Meryl Streep.  She's due.

Prediction: Viola Davis

Mike: Fucking Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady is what cost Viola Davis Best Actress for The Help. So she puts on a British accent and BOOM! Oscar. That's the reason she got nominated for Music Of The Heart too. Whatever. Anyways, Naomie Harris was great in Moonlight. Her character was intense, sickening and really easy to dislike in the beginning and then became very likable and sympathetic toward the end. It was a damn near flawless performance. I agree with Justin that Michelle Williams is only nominated here due to one scene, but it smacks you in the face. It's been a couple of months since I saw that movie but I can still hear her deliver the line "I should fucking burn in hell for what I said to you." Seriously, no shit, my eyes just welled up with tears as I typed that quote. I can't get over it! It's a classic scene but she's barely in the movie enough to warrant a win here. I haven't seen Fences yet but just from the trailers you can see the impact Viola Davis' performance has in that film. Getting railroaded for The Help could be classified as an "Oscar Crime" and she should definitely make up for it this year with this role.

Prediction: Viola Davis

Best Original Screenplay

Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimis Filippou (The Lobster)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
Mike Mills (20th Century Women)

Justin: This one's pretty much a lock.  Personally I'd give it to Lonergan, whose screenplay for Manchester was masterfully subtle and left room for lots of uncomfortable silence.  But it's gonna go to Chazelle, who for me didn't show nearly the same brilliance or inventiveness he showed with Whiplash.  Whatever...

Prediction: Damien Chazelle

Mike: Yeah, I'm in full agreement here. This award should go to Lonergan. His brilliant storytelling, how he developed his characters throughout the story and how he wrote the dialogue that left enough room for the actors to showcase their talent when there wasn't any dialogue. It's unfortunate it will get passed up here. Chazelle's screenplay, in my opinion, was nothing more than a bunch of tributes and throwbacks. It's heavily saturated with Singin' In The Rain influence and there's nothing really original about it, but the film is fucking tank right now and he will certainly win.

Prediction: Damien Chazelle

Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
August Wilson (Fences)
Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures)
Luke Davies (Lion)
Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight)

Justin: I loved Heisserer's writing in Arrival, dealing with lofty concepts like fate, inevitability, time paradoxes, etc.  But Jenkins and McCraney's touching, emotionally charged coming of age story should and will win this award.

Prediction: Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney

Mike: There's a part of me that feels this could be a trap category. I think the favorite here is Moonlight and deservedly so. It was such a human story filled with anger, compassion, tragedy and love, one that didn't take the bait on obvious themes and continued to focus on the characters. Arrival was also great. The script almost felt like it could've tripped over itself with the number of themes and concepts it took on but it's delivery and how it was set up made for a fluid experience. However, I wouldn't overlook Allison Schroeder for Hidden Figures in this category. Her story has been getting a lot of attention lately and is killing it at the box office. She could play spoiler, but I'm sticking with the favorite, Moonlight.

Fun Fact: If August Wilson manages an upset in this category, he would be the first posthumous winner since Sidney Howard for Gone With The Wind.

Prediction: Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alving McCraney

Best Cinematography

Bradford Young (Arrival)
Linus Sandgren (La La Land)
Grieg Fraser (Lion)
James Laxton (Moonlight)
Rodrigo Prieto (Silence)

Justin: Woo-hoo!  I've actually seen four of these.  Young's washed-out color palette and handheld photography in Arrival made for an unusual-looking alien contact film that felt totally believable and realistic.  Sandgren also went for real-world quirkiness with La La Land, eschewing the traditionally lavish, sweeping camera moves we usually see in a musical while still finding room for vibrant colors and some surrealistic moments.  James Laxton's photography in Moonlight was highly inventive, taking a story that could've looked flat and giving us unexpected camera angles and moves.  Rodrigo Prieto's work may have been the most impressive of this bunch.  As a film, Silence was a hard sell, but photographically I'm not sure there was a more beautiful film all year.  If the story of Silence doesn't fully draw you in, the visuals will.  I think once again this comes down to Moonlight vs. La La Land, and since I see the Academy going with the underdog in the Best Picture category, I see them playing it safe here.

Prediction: Linus Sandgren

Mike: Such a collection of beautiful looking films. I've only seen three of the nominees and I was more impressed with Bradford Young for Arrival. It was simply breathtaking from the panoramic shot of the alien craft with the sea of clouds behind it, to the upside down angle once inside the alien craft. All of it was mesmerizing. Moonlight also stood out to me as well with the various angles and the spectacular use of light to really intensify a scene. In the end, I think Linus Sandgren's massive use of various, vibrant colors in La La Land takes home the gold. The camera work in a few of the musical numbers were pretty spectacular, especially in the planetarium scene.

Prediction: Linus Sandgren

Best Original Score

Mica Levi (Jackie)
Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)
Dustin O'Halloran & Hauschka (Lion)
Nicholas Britell (Moonlight)
Thomas Newman (Passengers)

Justin: Britell should be all over this award for his fantastically moody score for Moonlight.  But he's up against a musical.  A musical which for me lacked any great songs.  But it's a musical.  And the Academy loves musicals.

Prediction: Justin Hurwitz

Mike: Yeah, this is Hurwitz's to lose and it's annoying as hell. I agree with Justin that La La Land lacked memorable songs but going a step further (and I'm not sure how much this plays into it) I didn't feel any of the songs added anything to the story or the characters. The only one I felt was worth anything was "City of Stars" which emphasized the gist of the movie but even that song was your run of the mill type track. I found Britell's score for Moonlight to match the rhythm of the film and the emotion and identity of the characters. "Chiron's Theme" keeps popping up in the film but with changes in pitch and key which coincides with the changes and metamorphosis that the character Chiron undergoes. It's a more methodical score than La La Land. Hurwitz is the favorite in this category, but I'm taking a leap here.

Prediction: Nicholas Britell

Tie-Breaker: Best Documentary Short

4.1 Miles
Joe's Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Justin: This is as good a tie-breaker as any.  I don't have the first fuckin' clue about any of these movies.  Two of them have to do with Syrian refugees, oddly.  One is about a Holocaust survivor's violin, one is about a Coast Guard captain saving migrants, and one is about people making end-of-life decisions.  Take your pick.

Prediction: I'll go with Extremis I guess.  Sounds the most interesting.

Mike: I've only seen The White Helmets out of this category and I thought it was really good and interesting. It's a great story coming out of war torn Syria which is a hot topic of an issue lately so I think I'm going to settle on that.

Prediction: The White Helmets

And that's our take on the 89th Oscars.  Should be a fun show as usual, and hopefully the 14 nominations for this overrated musical won't translate to a ridiculous sweep.  Christ, Oscar, get your gold head outta your tightly sculpted ass!

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