Opinion: 89th Academy Awards will get some winners right, some wrong
It’s that special time of year again, when all the entertainment bloggers gather together online to complain about award shows. With The Oscars coming up, journalists and casual movie fans across the nation are getting their hot takes ready to go following their inevitable disappointment. Everyone’s got an opinion that they’re dying to share, but below you’ll find the definitive, objective answer to who should, and will, win an Oscar this year.
Note: I’m only covering major awards for which I’ve seen the films.
Should win: “Moonlight”
Will win: “La La Land”
I’ve written about “Moonlight” for The Lantern twice now, and both times I’ve said it’s the best movie in years. That hasn’t changed. Anyone who still hasn’t seen this film owes it to themselves to take the time to do so. That being said, “La La Land” is going to win best picture and it’s not even fun waiting for it to happen. A movie doesn’t get nominated for 14 categories and not win best picture. The narrative — Hollywood centered, focused on a love story between two beautiful, white artists — is prime Oscar bait. It has a rising star of a director and is based in the style and history of classical Hollywood. It’s everything that the Academy looks for in a movie that isn’t a biopic. “Moonlight” is its only real competition, and it sadly only has a moonshot of a chance at winning. Don’t get me wrong, “La La Land” is an excellent film, but it’s not the best of the year.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Should win: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Will win: Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Up until the SAG awards, I would have had Casey Affleck as having this award on lock. But the winner of the SAG award for best lead actor has won the same award at the Oscars for 12 years in a row, and that’s enough to change my mind. While Denzel Washington’s performance commands the viewer’s attention and commitment to the story he’s telling, it’s so over-the-top and glosses over the subtle power of August Wilson’s dialogue with a high level of dramatics. Affleck is the total opposite, utilizing the most minor of facial expressions to truly capture the grief and struggle of his character. It just might not match up to the thunderous performance given by Washington.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Should win: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Will win: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Barring any unforeseen turn where Meryl Streep wins for her speech at the Golden Globes, Emma Stone will be crowned the best lead actress. And not at all undeservedly, as her performance as Mia in “La La Land” anchored that film. Plus, she’s in the movie of the year, giving her much more weight in the minds of the voters. Natalie Portman could have won had “Jackie” been more of a hit, the same goes for Ruth Negga. Despite her scary good performance in “Elle,” Isabelle Huppert is going to be held back by the film’s challenging, erotic narrative about sexual violence. Likewise, her low-key performance as a sociopath doesn’t have the same appeal as Stone’s sweetheart of a character.
Best Supporting Actor
Should win: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Will win: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Dev Patel took home this award for “Lion” at the BAFTAs, and Mahershala Ali’s number of scenes in “Moonlight” are far fewer. What Ali does with that time, however, is one of the most beautiful, understated performances of any category in the past year. Ali should win this award, though it could be easy to see Patel or even Jeff Bridges — whose portrayal of a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement in “Hell or High Water” contributed much of the film’s impact — sway the Academy voters.
Best Supporting Actress
Should win: Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Will win: Viola Davis, “Fences”
This category isn’t even fair, considering Viola Davis is only here because the film studio didn’t think she could win leading actress. Don’t be fooled: Davis is a co-lead alongside Denzel Washington, and the sheer amount of work she does in “Fences” should disqualify her as a supporting actress. That being said, while her performance is certainly powerful, Naomie Harris is much more subtle and nuanced, especially impressive considering she filmed all of her scenes in a three-day period.
Should win: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
Will win: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
Best picture and best director often go hand in hand, and this year won’t be any different. Mel Gibson is a surprise nominee (because of his past and because “Hacksaw Ridge” wasn’t particularly memorable), and “Manchester by the Sea” is a bit plain in its direction. Denis Villeneuve did an incredible job with “Arrival,” but the movie itself isn’t big enough to win him an award. And while I’ll defend Barry Jenkins and “Moonlight” to my death, Damien Chazelle’s handling of all the moving parts in “La La Land” should net him this award as he proves his ability to blaze a new path within a familiar classical Hollywood style.
Best Documentary (Feature)
Should win: “I Am Not Your Negro”
Will win: “Life, Animated”
Again, a tricky category. While “Life, Animated,” the story of a man living with autism who learns to communicate through Disney films, is great and moving in its own way, the other documentaries have their downfalls keeping them from winning. “O.J.: Made in America” is simply too long to garner the necessary votes from the much maligned Academy voters, and “Fire at Sea” will be seen as either too depressing or too foreign. Likewise, “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro,” though having radically different content and styles, both focus on racial issues and will likely split the votes. The latter, however, is one of the finest films of 2016, and it deserves this award despite its unconventional structure.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Should win: “Moonlight”
Will win: “Moonlight”
“Moonlight” is probably going to be robbed of the more sterling awards it deserves, but best adapted screenplay should be a lock. “Arrival”’s impact comes more from its visuals and the story it’s based on than the actual screenplay itself, and “Fences” is a direct adaptation of the original August Wilson play. “Lion” and “Hidden Figures” are only here because they’re good movies and the Academy needed to fill spots. “Moonlight” feels real every second it’s on screen, thanks in part to Barry Jenkins’ screenplay.
Best Original Screenplay
Should win: “20th Century Women”
Will win: “Manchester by the Sea”
This is a tough one. “Manchester by the Sea” is not an undeserving victor; Kenneth Lonergan’s dialogue is delicate and exact in its execution, and it carries a narrative otherwise light in heavy plot events. “Hell or High Water” and “The Lobster” also have merits of truly original, engaging screenplays. “La La Land” is just here because it needed to be nominated for everything. “20th Century Women” is a movie about the ‘70s with a timeless message, its screenplay shifting from hilarious to heart wrenching without missing a beat. And after being skipped over for so many nominations that it deserved, it should get best original screenplay.