OpinionOscars

Oscar Talk (I): The Race Has Just Begun

September 24, 2016
13 min read

The campaigning has begun.

My friend and our Editor-in-Chief Gautam has gone way, way out on a limb predicting La La Land as the likely winner for Best Picture, and he could very well be right. He has shown a knack for predicting winners for quite a few years now. The film is earning ovations FROM CRITICS and audiences who have seen the film, and the sort of reviews that send films to the Oscar race.

Actress Emma Stone is the new IT girl, gives a big movie star performance in the film and should easily earn a nomination for Best Actress. But there are a lot of movies to be seen yet, and though I do not disagree with Gautam, I am not going that far to declare a winner just yet. There are performances within the actors races, I might be inclined to claim winners, but not film or director, not just yet. Decisions have to be made about Silence, which along with Allied, Live By Night and Miss Sloane we need to see before any real hard decisions can be made.

At this writing, I have seen three performances I believe are for the ages. Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester By the Sea, and Natalie Portman in Jackie. Do you know how rare it is to have three such performances in a single year? Incredibly rare.

Is it the sort of year that could see a masterpiece like ‘Hell or High Water‘ totally overlooked. Just as it the sort of year that sees Steven Spielberg’s magnificent The BFG ignored by audiences.

So much depends on whether or not Paramount releases Silence this year or forces us to wait till next year for the Scorsese film. If the film is not released, it opens a lot of categories for other films, but I think in the end they will release it, it is after all Scorsese and they finished well over a year ago. One of the perks of being Scorsese is that he can edit as long as he wants and the film is ready when he says it is ready. Paramount must have learned a lesson with Shutter Island, bumping it till February after a much touted December release was slated. The film became his highest grossing film and would have figured in the Oscar race had it not been released so early. I just cannot imagine them making the same mistake again.

All of that said, here are the top six categories and a glance at who is in the race, who if falling out, and who is about to jump in.

BEST PICTURE

Though La La Land is a top contender there are other films to consider, and the musical MUST survive the backlash that should hit about New Year’s time. Yes, La La Land is a distinct possibility for Best Picture, a nominee for sure, likely the film with the most nominations, but there are other pictures in the race, some still to be seen. If Paramount decides to release the long awaited, forever in the editing room Martin Scorsese film Silence, it is difficult to imagine the film will not be in the race. Five of the last six Scorsese films have been Oscar nominees for Best Picture and Director, with The Departed (2006) winning the award and his long overdue Best Director award. Ben Affleck has apparently jumped into the race with his December release Live By Night, a noir epic with Affleck as the star, and the science fiction epic Arrival seems a sure thing for the Academy. Three months ago The Birth of a Nation would have been a shoo in for Best Picture consideration, but now, I am not so sure. Is it deserving…maybe, but given the scandal from Parkers past, it seems a distant hopeful now.  Manchester By the Sea might be the best film I see this year and should be nominated but could be too bleak for the Academy. Jackie has a tremendous performance from Natalie Portman, but the most annoying score I can remember hearing in years. Loving might slip in, Moonlight could get there too with the right campaign. Hell or High Water has been universally acclaimed but being a late summer release could slip out of sight, and Sully is well liked enough, so who knows. Four unseen films should make the cut, the aforementioned Silence, and Ben Affleck directed Live By Night, as well as Denzel Washington’s Fences, adapted from the famous play, and Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson directs a true life war epic. An outside chance must go to Allied, the Brad Pitt starring Robert Zemeckis WWII film, though his divorce might ruin that. And finally Bill Lynns Long Halftime Walk, directed by two time Oscar winner Ang Lee, which has a chance to be his first Oscar winning Best Picture. I know there has been a great deal of buzz for Loving and Moonlight, but I cannot see either one making the cut, they just do not feel like Oscar movies to me. Hidden Figures is getting strong buzz, and is said to be a feel good film about black women helping getting America into space, so possibly. But then who knows, as William Goldman so famously said, nobody knows anything. A guess right now, knowing what we know and IF they release Silence, the Best Picture category could look like this.

POTENTIAL NOMINEES

1. LA LA LAND  2. SILENCE  3. FENCES  4. LIVE BY NIGHT  5. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA  6. ARRIVAL 7. THE BIRTH OF A NATION  8. HELL OR HIGH WATER   9. BILLY LYNNS LONG HALFTIME WALK       10. HACKSAW RIDGE

BEST DIRECTOR

Count on La LA Land helmer, Damien Chazelle, count on Martin Scorsese if Silence is released, and count on Ben Affleck for Live By Night. They love Scorsese, having nominated for five of the last six features, while it is pretty clear Affleck was burned in 2012 when Argo won Best Picture, he won the DGA with no Oscar nomination, which as criminal. All of the films Affleck has directed have been Oscar worthy films, he is a much better director than actor, but he has found his groove there too.  The other two spots will be fought over by the likes of Ang Lee for Bill Lynns Long Halftime Walk, Denzel Washington for Fences, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Denis Villenueve for Arrival, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By the Sea, or Nate Parker for The Birth of a Nation. Long shots are Jon Favreau for The Jungle Book, Warren Beatty for Rules Dont Apply, David McKenzie for Hell or High Water, even Robert Zemeckis for Allied. If they were watching Steven Spielberg would be a nominee for The BFG, but one of his most interesting and admired films failed…incredible.

POTENTIAL NOMINEES

1. DAMIEN CHAZELLE    2. MARTIN SCORSESE   3. BEN AFFLECK  4. ANG LEE  5. DENZEL WASHINGTON

BEST ACTOR

If I see another performance this year better than Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea I will be astonished, but the younger Affleck gives a haunting, tortured performance for the ages in this masterful film. They should really just polish the thing and give it to him now, but you never know how they work. The men who could challenge him for Best Actor could be big brother Ben in Live By Night, though I think they like him better as a director than an actor, though they owe him and they know it. Andrew Garfield is considered a double threat for Hacksaw Ridge, and if Silence gets released (I know, broken record) that, though I think they will go for the war hero, Ryan Gosling could slide in on multiple nods for La La Land, while Denzel Washington is a shoo-in for Fences. Tom Hanks could land his first nomination since Cast Away (2000) as Sully, while Michael Keaton, enjoying a comeback should be in the mix for The Founder, and if nominated is real threat to win. In Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is terrific, and could be in the race for his first nomination if the film is widely accepted. Two box office titans, Brad Pitt for Allied, and Will Smith for Collateral Damage could make the cut, but I am sensing the Academy is going in a different direction. Miles Teller could land his first nomination for his role a real life boxer in Bleed for This and should they forgive Nate Parker, in this a year of diversity they just might he could be among the final five, though I suspect a Directing nod is more likely for him. Oscar darling Matthew McConaughey could be back in the race for the late arriving Gold, Joel Edgerton was making noise till we saw that Ruth Negga all but blows him off the screen, Viggo Mortenson cannot be discounted for Captain Fantastic, and finally Chris Pine should get some attention for his riveting performance in Hell or High Water.

POTENTIAL NOMINEES

1. CASEY AFFLECK  2. BEN AFFLECK  3. MICHAEL KEATON  4. DENZEL WASHINGTON  5. VIGGO MORTENSON

BEST ACTRESS

Without a doubt the most intense category of the year with a bounty of great performances from some of the most talented ladies in the business, both old and new. At this writing, the two frontrunners without peer are Natalie Portman for her stunning, for the ages work in Jackie and Emma Stone for her lovely performance in La La Land, which has caused movie audiences to fall in love with her as they did Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990). Viola Davis seems a likely nominee for Best Actress for Fences, though there are rumors she might go supporting to better her chances (stupid). Amy Adams was brilliant in Arrival, is beloved within the industry and seems a good bet, as does Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins, which incredibly would be her 20th nomination (second is Nicholson at 12), and two-time winner Sally Field for Hello! My Name is Doris. The gifted Jessica Chastain is a threat every time she makes a film and looks terrific in Miss Sloane, which should land her in the race, and the often nominated never won Annette Bening could be in the mix for 20th Century Woman if the film gets the attention it might need. Marion Cotillard, a winner in 2007 could land a third nod for her work in Allied, though the recent Pitt scandal might have killed her chances. Taraji P. Henson could land a nomination for Hidden Figures which is burning up the critics screening rooms, Ruth Negga was the best thing in Loving and is expected to be in the race as a nominee,  Jennifer Lawrence could jump in late with Passengers and Emily Blunt might break through at last in The Girl on the Train. And lastly Isabelle Huppert could land a nomination for her ferocious performance as an avenging rape victim in Elle.

POTENTIAL NOMINEES

1.NATALIE PORTMAN   2. EMMA STONE   3. JESSICA CHASTAIN  4. VIOLA DAVIS  5. TARAJI P. HENSON

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

A couple of industry veterans could land in this category, Warren Beatty as Howard Hughes in Rules Don’t Apply and Kevin Costner in Hidden Figures with Beatty given the edge for the win. Michael Shannon was superb in Nocturnal Animals and could land in the race, and there has been odd support for Hugh Grant, befuddled as always in Florence Foster Jenkins. Is it polite to say Grant is one of those actors I cannot bear to even watch on screen? Sorry. Lucas Hedges is being discussed as a nominee as the angst ridden teen in Manchester By the Sea, and veteran Jeff Bridges is impressing everyone who sees Hell or High Water, and could land here with a co-star, the electrifying Ben Foster. Both Liam Neeson and the great Adam Driver are strong possibilities for Silence if it gets a release and Stephen Henderson should nail himself a nod for Fences. There was a lot of admiration for Timothy Spall as Holocaust denier David Irving in Denial, a frightening portrait of evil masked as an amicable father. Armie Hammer was a contender until the past of director-star Nate Parker came back to bite him on the butt, and Steve Martin has been discussed as a nominee for Billy Lynns Long Halftime Walk since he was cast, which would be his first nomination. Peter Saarsgard is being discussed as a nominee for his performance as Bobby Kennedy in Jackie, but for me it was one of the least performances of the character I have ever seen, with no effort to even capture the voice or speech pattern. Or perhaps Portman simply blew him off the screen, she did everyone else. Aaron Eckhart could earn his first nomination for one of two films, Sully and Bleed for This, though it is a tough category, and he may be lost in the shuffle or there simply might five better performances.

POTENTIAL NOMINEES

1. WARREN BEATTY   2. KEVIN COSTNER   3. JEFF BRIDGES  4. ADAM DRIVER  5. TIMOTHY SPALL

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

With her performance in Manchester By the Sea, Michelle Williams is the frontrunner for the award and rightly so. Her painful sequence with Casey Affleck when they encounter one another on the street is simply one of the best scenes in American cinema…period.  Naomi Harris should earn a nod for her vicious mother in Moonlight, a stunning performance along the lines of Monique in Precious (2009). Long suffering because of Twilight actress Kristen Stewart should earn further respect in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk with a first nomination, though let’s not forget she won the New York Film Critics Award last year for supporting actress. For a seething seven minute scene in Nocturnal Animals Laura Linney could earn a nomination as the social status obsessed mother who seems to spit venom when she speaks. Nicole Kidman turned heads in Lion at TIFF and could earn another nod, while Dakota Fanning, the best thing, by far in American Pastoral could land in the race with her first nomination. Amy Adams could end up with nominations for Best Actress (Arrival) and supporting actress for her work in Nocturnal Animals. Felicity Jones was astounding as the dying mom in A Monster Calls, and veteran Margo Martindale is again in the mix for The Hollers, and Molly Shannon has been earning raves for her work in Other People.

POTENTIAL NOMINEES

1. MICHELLE WILLIAMS   2. FELICTY JONES  3. KRISTEN STEWART  4. LAURA LINNEY  5. NAOMI HARRIS

The race has just begun.

SPONSORED LINKS