89th Academy Awards: Predictions and Choices

As I do every year now, I made sure to watch every nominee for Best Picture prior to the ceremony, which is today, February 26 2017.  It was a more difficult lift than usual given my late start (I didn’t really begin in earnest until late January, just a few days before the nominees were announced) and the fact that an unusually high number of nominees were already mostly out of theaters.

 

A note on the movie theaters where I saw the nominees: Because I was largely unable to leave Austin during this time, I leaned heavily on Alamo Drafthouse Cinema locations to get through the movies.  Of the nine Best Picture nominees, only two – Lion and Hidden Figures, the first and last ones I watched respectively – were not seen at an Alamo Drafthouse.  Lion was the only movie I didn’t see in Austin period; I saw it at the Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco when I was visiting there in January.  I saw Hidden Figures at Violet Crown Cinema in downtown Austin.  Of the remaining seven that I saw at an Alamo Drafthouse, I saw one (Moonlight) at the Village location, one (Hell or High Water) at the Slaughter Lane location, two (Manchester by the Sea and Arrival) at the South Lamar location, and three (La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, and Fences) at the Lakeline location.  Since the Lakeline location got the most movies, I decided that I’d watch the Oscars there tonight.

 

I’ll put my predictions and preferences for the top eight categories in a table format.  I’ll put the movies and performances I haven’t seen at the bottom, separate from the actual rankings.

 

Best Picture

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Arrival La La Land La La Land
Fences Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge Fences
Hell or High Water Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures Manchester by the Sea
La La Land Moonlight
Lion Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea Hacksaw Ridge
Moonlight Lion
Comments: This race has largely been a battle between La La Land and Moonlight.  Between those two I pick La La Land easily, and out of all the nominees it was a hard choice between La La Land and Arrival, but in the end I give it to La La Land by a hair.  La La Land is currently the solid favorite to win the prize.  I’m surprised Hell or High Water was nominated, but in a good way – I thought it was released too early in the year and didn’t generate enough buzz to keep it from being overlooked.  I really don’t see why Hacksaw Ridge and Lion were even nominated; to me they were meh average-type films.  Hidden Figures was also a largely okay movie on the merits; I wonder if its nomination was propelled by its racism/sexism-based subject matter.

 

Best Director

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Denis Villeneuve for Arrival Damien Chazelle for La La Land Damien Chazelle for La La Land
Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge Denis Villeneuve for Arrival
Damien Chazelle for La La Land Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge
Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Barry Jenkins for Moonlight Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea
Comments: There were a ton of fantastically well-directed movies this year, and any one of these men deserve the prize.  Chazelle’s direction in La La Land was masterful and very much worthy of the win.  Villeneuve’s handling of Arrival was stunningly excellent as well.  Despite not being a big fan of the movies overall, Hacksaw Ridge and Moonlight were both well-directed, which is why I put their directors ahead of Lonergan, who did a great job himself but not quite up to what the rest of the nominees put out.  The race is once again largely a La La Land versus Moonlight battle, and once again La La Land is ahead.

 

Best Actor

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea Denzel Washington for Fences Denzel Washington for Fences
Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
Ryan Gosling for La La Land Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic Ryan Gosling for La La Land
Denzel Washington for Fences Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic (haven’t seen)
Comments: This race has been a battle between Washington and Affleck, with Washington having the slight lead.  Incidentally, this reflects my own personal feelings as well.  Washington and Affleck both did fantastic jobs in their roles, and I say this as someone who thinks Washington is often overrated.  In the end I give it to Washington by a small edge.  Garfield did a good job, but not enough to top the others.  Gosling was whatever; I don’t know if he should’ve even been nominated.

 

Best Actress

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Isabelle Huppert for Elle No preference (aside from not wanting Meryl Streep to win) Emma Stone for La La Land
Ruth Negga for Loving
Natalie Portman for Jackie
Emma Stone for La La Land
Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins
Comments: The current favorite is Stone, though there’s some rumbling that either Huppert or Portman could swoop in and nab the prize.  I have not seen any of these performances aside from Stone’s, and I wasn’t really impressed with Stone’s anyway, so I did not rank them or state any preference, aside from being Anyone But Streep.  No, I haven’t seen Florence Foster Jenkins but I don’t care – Streep is the most overrated actress of our time (her Best Actress win for The Iron Lady was an outrage) and I don’t want her being nominated for any more Oscars, let alone winning them.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Mahershala Ali for Moonlight Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea
Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Dev Patel for Lion Dev Patel for Lion
Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals (haven’t seen)
Comments: Let me start out by saying that, just as is the case with the movie he’s in, I have no idea why Patel is in Oscars contention.  His performance was… whatever.  I mean he wasn’t dumbly gaping at the screen with his mouth slightly ajar the whole time like he was in Slumdog Millionaire, so I guess there’s some improvement.  But… really?  And if he’s going to be up for an Oscar, why in the Supporting Actor category?  He’s in the movie for at least half the time and usually the adult actors are the ones who are considered the Lead.  Moving on… Ali was good though I think his performance is overrated.  So in the end it was a battle between the two “-dges”: Bridges versus Hedges.  Both were very good and Hedges in particular surprised me with his bold and layered performance.  But Bridges really stole the show in his movie and I had to give it to him by a hair.  The race is largely Ali’s to lose, though there’s an outside chance that Patel (ugh, why!) could win.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Viola Davis for Fences Viola Davis for Fences Viola Davis for Fences
Naomie Harris for Moonlight Naomie Harris for Moonlight
Nicole Kidman for Lion Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea
Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures Nicole Kidman for Lion
Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures
Comments: The top and bottom of this pack were easy.  For the top, easiest pick ever: Davis.  Her performance blows most I’ve seen in any movie this past year out of the water.  In fact, the biggest outrage is that she’s even in the Supporting category when she should’ve been Lead – she’s in the movie something like 80 percent of the time.  For the bottom: Kidman and Spencer.  Call it the Lion Syndrome: this phenomenon where a decently okay movie somehow gets Oscar nominations out of nowhere.  Kidman is barely in the movie and she has like one scene where she’s sick so she croaks to her son in a weak voice.  Spencer’s performance was even more whatever – she did fine, but her character, and the resulting performance, was pretty generic.  In fact, I feel like I’ve seen Spencer give basically the same performance in one or two of her other roles before.  That left Harris and Williams to battle it out for the middle spots, and in the end, even though I’m a big Williams fan, I gave a slight edge to Harris, in large part because Harris just has more screen time and more material to work with.  It doesn’t matter though – Davis has a solid lock on this category, and it’s very well-deserved.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Hell or High Water La La Land La La Land
La La Land Hell or High Water
The Lobster Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea The Lobster
20th Century Women 20th Century Women (haven’t seen)
Comments: This seems to be a hotly contested race between La La Land and Manchester by the SeaLa La Land looks set to win in a bunch of categories so that could portend a win here too, or maybe voters will pick Manchester just to give non-La La Land movies a few crumbs.  I’ll go with La La Land as my prediction for the winner, but it could really go either way.  While I do like La La Land’s script, I’m also partial to Hell or High WaterManchester was decent and it had its moments.  In the end I had to rank it above The Lobster, which I did not think had an impressive script.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Arrival Arrival Moonlight
Fences Fences
Hidden Figures Hidden Figures
Lion Lion
Moonlight Moonlight
Comments: Look at that – the alphabetical order is the same as my personal preference order!  Total coincidence, of course.  Moonlight has been playing second fiddle to La La Land for most of this awards season, so of course for the one category where they’re not facing each other Moonlight gets to really shine and become the solid favorite for the win.  That’s not to my liking – as someone who thought it was fine but not great, I didn’t think Moonlight’s screenplay was one of its strengths.  Plus, it was easy for me to choose Arrival as my top pick – one of the smartest and most mature scripts I’ve ever seen.  Fences was also pretty good – though eclipsed by Arrival – and Hidden Figures, despite being another good-but-not-great movie overall, did keep things interesting, even if its script wandered into gaggingly clichéd territory at times.  My bewilderment at Lion’s award success continues here, as its script really is as average as the movie itself.  Even so, it’s still better than Moonlight’s – which is the one that will end up winning the award, how’s that.

 

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