The Oscars are always political, but the 89th Academy Awards function and the selections will no doubt be more so than ever. Already, the directors of the five nominated films in the Best Foreign Language category have issued a joint statement about rising xenophobia worldwide. Mentions of Donald Trump are expected to dominate winners’ speeches. And last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign is likely to be a major factor in the choices this year, which already has an unprecedented number of non-white nominees.
With just a day to go for the announcement, here are my predictions for the four most high-profile gongs of Oscars 2017:
BEST PICTURE NOMINEES:
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
With 14 nominations and universal critical acclaim, La La Land is the odds-on favourite to pick up the most prestigious trophy of the night. The film shares the record for most noms ever with All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). The big question on the big day will be whether it will equal or beat the record for maximum wins, held by Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) each with 11 trophies to its credit.
Statistics by and large seem to favour La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s deliciously energetic yet contemplative musical has already scooped up Best Picture awards at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes (in the musical or comedy category). It also won the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Award, considered a strong indicator of who will bag the top Oscar. Since its inception in 1990, 19 out of 28 PGA winners have gone on to carry away the Best Picture Oscar.
If La La Land does not win, the film with the best chance of pulling off an upset is Moonlight, a poor black boy’s journey to adulthood under the crushing burden of a neglectful, drug-addicted mother, racial prejudice, homophobia and poverty. Already, Moonlight has taken home the Best Picture Golden Globe in the drama category.
Personally though, this is not my favourite of the nominated films. Moonlight was moving and thematically relevant but not, to my mind, as deeply satisfying as some of the other films in this category. Clearly, most critics across the world and in India disagree with me. So be it.
In a contest between La La Land and Moonlight, I would pick La La Land, a film of profound sadness despite its apparent liveliness. But my personal favourite from this shortlist is not even La La Land. My vote goes to the immensely inspiring and uplifting Hidden Figures. The true story of how black women overcame excruciating racial and gender discrimination to play a key role in America’s space programme is, to my mind, the most beautiful – and beautifully acted – film of the nine in contention. I am deriving hope from an award it won this season that, like PGA, is considered highly predictive
Hidden Figures walked off with the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the year’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. Since 2008, six winners of SAG’s best cast award have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar. Could this year be the seventh?
Likely winner: La La Land
Possible spoiler, very close: Moonlight
My personal favourite:Hidden Figures
My second choice (and very close):La La Land
BEST DIRECTOR NOMINEES:
Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Damien Chazelle for La La Land
Dennis Villeneuve for Arrival
Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea
Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge
This one is as neck-and-neck as the Best Picture race. If La La Land wins the top honour this year, then it is possible that Academy members may choose to compensate Moonlight by electing Barry Jenkins as Best Director.
Still, this season’s trends favour Chazelle. He dominated the Golden Globes where he won Best Director and Best Screenplay trophies, picked up a BAFTA for Best Director and won the highly prophetic Directors Guild of America Award. That last one is a statistical clincher, since the DGA winner has gone on to get the equivalent Oscar all but seven times since 1948.
For the record, Chazelle should have received a Best Director nomination at the 2015 Oscars for his cracking music-themed film Whiplash. As things stand, this is his first Best Director Oscar nom.
Likely winner: Damien Chazelle
Likely spoiler (and very close): Barry Jenkins
My personal favourite: Damien Chazelle
Should have been nominated: Theodore Melfi for Hidden Figures
BEST ACTRESS NOMINEES:
Emma Stone for La La Land
Isabelle Huppert for Elle
Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins
Natalie Portman for Jackie
Ruth Negga for Loving
In a category filled with brilliant women all of whom delivered brilliant performances, Emma Stone is a frontrunner going by the season’s trends. Her turn as a young woman who defies socially prescribed choices to follow her dreams, took her out of her career comfort zone into a genre that required her to sing and dance in addition to act on screen. She did all three with equal aplomb.
She has already won the year’s Golden Globe (in the comedy or musical category), SAG and BAFTA Awards. Her performance in La La Land has earned her accolades across platforms, from the popular to the hard-core arty and serious, including 2016’s Best Actress trophy at Venice, the world’s oldest film festival. Although Natalie Portman beat her at the Critics Choice Awards and Isabelle Huppert won the Best Actress Golden Globe in the drama category, Stone is seen as a shoo-in for an Oscar. A loss for her will be a big surprise.
Most likely winner: Emma Stone
Closest competitors: Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman
My personal favourite (tough one): Emma Stone
Should have been nominated: Taraji P Henson for Hidden Figures
BEST ACTOR NOMINEES:
Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge
Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington for Fences
Ryan Gosling for La La Land
Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic
This category is harder to predict than the Best Actress this year because the awards season has not thrown up a clear frontrunner. Casey Affleck beat out Andrew Garfield, Denzel Washington and Viggo Mortensen to a Golden Globe in the drama category, while Ryan Gosling won a Globe in the musical or comedy category. Washington was not nominated for a BAFTA, the other four were; the prize went to Affleck. And all five gentlemen were in contention at the SAG Awards, where Washington emerged the winner.
Still, in a year when political correctness will be more at play than ever before, Academy voters may hesitate to vote for Affleck considering the cloud of sexual harassment charges he carries as baggage. Likewise, Washington may have an edge because of the manner in which the Academy has been shamed for its pro-white bias in recent years.
If Washington does win though, it would be a pity if the victory is attributed to anything but his stellar turn in Fences. As a householder who invites both sympathy and disgust (the latter is quite an achievement for a man with such a naturally likeable personality) he walked that fine line between being hard to love yet hard to hate on screen. Washington deserves to be named Best Actor at this year’s Oscars, not because of the colour of his skin, but because he did indeed deliver the year’s best performance by any male artiste in 2016.
Likely winner: Denzel Washington
Possible spoiler: Ryan Gosling
My personal favourite: Denzel Washington
My second choice: Ryan Gosling
Published Date: Feb 26, 2017 08:22 am | Updated Date: Feb 26, 2017 11:04 pm