89th Academy Awards: Picks and Predictions

How much to award shows truly mean anymore?  How much credibility do they still hold?   The glamour surrounding them seems somehow cheaper than it once did and the winners are often questionable (take Argo winning best picture in 2012).  To no fault of their own, the members of the Academy are only human, therefore bias, and it’s unlikely that their votes truly boil down to which nominee has the most talent, which is the most deserving.  The ceremonies are hyper-infused with politics as the Hollywood community sees it as an open forum to preach their opinions, which has taken a tiring toll.  So why do we keep watching?  Why is it so vital for film fans to tune into the Academy Awards faithfully, each and every year?

It’s easy to pass off awards as superficial and meaningless statues that ultimately mean nothing and don’t determine talent.  But even still each and every aspiring filmmaker can’t help but practice acceptance speeches in bathroom mirrors and dream of the cool metal of that shiny gold statue against the palm of their hand.  No matter how many times award shows are written off as meaningless there is still something undeniably enchanting that pulls us in each year to watch Hollywood indulge themselves.  Possibly the satisfying culmination of a year of film, the energy of so many industry giants in one room or the knowledge that for one night everything is about movies!

So here we are again, at another Academy Award ceremony.  This past year gave way to some meaningful, very real and human films centered primarily around family.  From underlying themes of motherhood showcased in Arrival, Lion and even Moonlight to the strength of the human spirit in Manchester by the Sea and Hacksaw Ridge, the unconditionality of family in Fences and Hell or High Water, the exploration of race, gender and sisterhood in Hidden Figures and the larger than life dream of La La Land.  But, not everyone can be a winner.  Below are my picks and predictions for the 89th Academy Awards.


Original Screenplay

This is just one of the fourteen categories that La La Land is nominated in and if the trend of adoration surrounding it continues through Oscars night than the phenomenal original stories nominated alongside it (Hell or High Water, The Lobster) don’t have a chance.  But, take away its visually striking aesthetic, La La Land isn’t as original as it seems.  In fact, struggling artists isn’t anything new; neither is a cheesy love story.  But, everyone seems to think it’s the most original film in years so it will likely take home the writing award.

My Pick

Of all the nominees in this category, none captured the human spirit as horrifically and brutally yet majestically as Manchester by the Sea.  Kenneth Lonergan’s dialogue is graceful, realistic and at times very funny and though the story is depressing to its core and almost too heavy to be enjoyable it is beautifully honest.

Adapted Screenplay

Hidden Figures just about has it made to win.  It’s an inspiring true story that fits perfectly into the big conversations of race, gender and equality that the whole world seems to be having at this moment in time.

My Pick

I’m not usually one for sci-fi but Denis Villeneuve’s neo alien flick is brilliant and really not about aliens at all.  Villeneuve weaves together the story with such grace and skill.  It’s smart, brilliantly written and pulls off a twist ending without feeling cheesy.

Production Design

If La La Land deserves to win anything, it’s in the visual categories as much of its appeal are the stunning dream-like frames that create as a narrative of their own.

Original Song

“City of Stars”, the subtle and sweet yet annoyingly catchy La La Land theme, seems the obvious winner.  However, Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” has a likely chance as well.  It could go to either.

My Pick

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”.  Not so much for its musical value but its message, however foolhardy, to dreamers everywhere.

Original Score

Moonlight’s bold and eerie violin score gives the film a unique mood that moves perfectly with the script.  It’s simultaneously subtle and large and creates a dramatic theatrical atmosphere that is distinctive among the other nominees.

Editing

What makes Arrival so ingenious is its nonlinear structure that doesn’t come together until the end.  It’s extremely complex yet graceful in delivery; a wonderful achievement in editing.

Directing

One of the hardest categories to call and it seems the ball could roll in any direction.  Once again, the obvious choice would be Damien Chazelle for La La Land but it also seems that the Academy might lean toward Barry Jenkins for Moonlight or quite possibly pardoning Mel Gibson with a win.

My Pick

If the Academy actually voted for talent shown on the given film, Denis Villeneuve should and would win for weaving a breathtaking and complex story in Arrival.  Its many layers are intricate but with the gentle hand of a master, Villeneuve handled it perfectly to create a masterpiece.

Costume Design

It’s as though Madeline Fontaine resurrected Jackie Kennedy’s famous pink suit directly from pictures taken on 11/22/63.  The rest of the costumes in the film are equally accurate and beautiful and a key piece in the storytelling of Jackie.  

Cinematography

Again, if La La Land is going to take home anything it should be for its striking visuals.  It will likely take home the cinematography award.

My Pick

Moonlight‘s camera work is more subtle compared to La La Land but equally beautiful.  I would also love to see Silence win the only Oscar it was nominated for.  Rodrigo Prieto works with a soft hand that balances the harsh story line with the beautiful and barren landscape.

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis is the star of Fences.  Her ardent monologues are the heart around which the rest of the mediocre film revolves around.  Her talent truly shines as she brings to life Rose Maxson; a woman who stands by her husband through the worst of times but gets little credit for it.

Supporting Actor

Another tough category to predict.  While each gave a great performance, one nominee does not greatly stand out over the others so the trophy could possibly go to anyone and it might be the wild card of the night.  The most likely, however, is Mahershala Ali for Moonlight.

Leading Actress

Emma Stone already has a Golden Globe and BAFTA under her belt with a very likely Oscar to come.  However, Isabelle Huppert, who won a best actress Golden Globe in the drama category, is favored by critics and just might sweep in at the last second.

My Pick

For Jackie, Natalie Portman completely transforms into the prior first lady, emulating Jackie outstandingly.  It is a breathtaking performance to watch; one that is beyond deserving of an Oscar.

Leading Actor

Ryan Gosling took home a Golden Globe for his performance in La La Land but unlike Emma Stone, did not win the BAFTA he was also nominated for.  However, regardless of talent he is the most likely candidate to take home the Oscar.  Casey Affleck also has a good chance as he was the most popular nominee with critics who called his performance in Manchester by the Sea “career-making”.

My Pick

Captain Fantastic is my favorite film of last year and though he has no chance, I would absolutely love to see Viggo Mortensen win.  With Captain Fantastic he was able to show his immense talent and range.

Best Picture

Each and every best picture nominee is outstanding in its own right but all signs have been pointing toward La La Land taking home the top prize.  However, it’s not as given as people have predicted.  The Revenant was the La La Land of last year; it was just as hyped, just as “revolutionary”, the forefront of every conversation and the pegged best picture winner.  But in the end, Spotlight triumphed and therefore it is an educated assumption to say that Hidden Figures will win best picture tonight.  Why is this?  Well, both La La Land and The Revenant are larger than life epic art pieces with a signature element (a musical, the infamous bear attack) that are over the top in visuals but are not as special in story.  The same goes for Spotlight and Hidden Figures which are real life accounts that are minimal in frills and fancy production but rich in human story which is ultimately what audiences want.  One could also make a case for Moonlight but it is more of an art film while Hidden Figures is very grounded and brings to light momentous issues of race, gender, feminism and innovation that are the forefront of the current national conversation.

My Pick

Out of all the nominees, Lion and Arrival are the most emotionally moving but not outright depressing like Manchester by the Sea or La La Land‘s ending.  Though at first glance they don’t seem to have anything in common, their shared themes of motherhood and communication are beautiful and positively deserving of the Academy Award for best picture.

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