I Am DB

January 22, 2018

Oscars 2017: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 6:45 pm
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Has it been a year already? It seems only yesterday I bolted upright on my couch when one of La La Land‘s producers declared that a mistake had been made and Moonlight was the Best Picture winner. Now here we are, a new year’s worth of films to consider, and me showing up at the last minute as usual to hear myself talk. Oh the fun!  Let’s get to it…

BEST PICTURE
This year’s most nominated film will easily be The Shape of Water, and its inevitable field-leading haul trickles down from here, where it will almost certainly be joined by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, Lady Bird and Get Out. It will mark an especially impressive journey for the latter film, which debuted last February the weekend that the Oscars were handed out. Despite being met with glowing reviews, few could have expected (hoped, maybe, but probably not expected) that when next year’s Oscar season came around, Get Out would be among the top contenders. An of-the-moment social satire blending horror and comedy, it’s a far cry from the kind of movie typically nominated by the Academy, or given serious attention by groups annually celebrating the best in film. But Get Out has been a fixture all season long, and actually leads the field in Best Picture wins from the critics associations across the country that end up shaping the field of contenders each year during what we in the business of Oscar soothsaying sometimes refer to as Phase 1.

As always, it gets difficult from here, as there could be anywhere from five to ten nominees in this category, depending on how many ballots are turned in and how the votes fall. In the six years since the five-to-ten rule took effect, we’ve had four years with nine nominees and two years with eight. Surely one of these days, we’ll see a different number, but I’m going with nine because…well, I gotta go with something.

Call Me By Your Name is a likely nominee, and after that it really is a guessing game as to what will have enough support to crack the list. In addition to these six films, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) nominated The PostThe Big Sick, Molly’s Game, I, Tonya and Wonder Woman. Will some of these repeat with the Academy? The PGA has a guaranteed 1o-film slate (well, 11 this year, due to a tie), which the Academy does not. The PGA can also be counted on to go with some popular picks that rarely break through with the Academy. Wonder Woman fits that bill this year, and though I’d normally dismiss it from having a chance, it’s not out of the question given the current climate of female empowerment. Wonder Woman is fun, but it’s a more important movie than it is a great one, so while some Academy members will probably vote for it to celebrate what it represents, it still faces tough odds.

The Post would seem like a lock, given the several timely issues it hits on, as well as the Oscar-friendly combination of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. But it missed out on nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Writers Guild of America (WGA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in addition to coming up short in all six of its categories at the Golden Globes, leading many to believe it hasn’t caught on within the industry as expected. I do think the contingent that supported Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies will champion this one too, but then again their loyalty may lie elsewhere this time around. Each year is its own beast. Perhaps those voters will go for Darkest Hour this time around.

The Big Sick is well-liked but probably to light to score here, whereas I could definitely see I, Tonya getting in. It seems to have taken people by pleasant surprise, and feels like the kind of underdog that surges late. Molly’s Game, despite strong reviews and Aaron Sorkin’s cache, doesn’t have the momentum it needs to push through.

Looking beyond the PGA’s choices still leaves a few possibilities. Darkest Hour, mentioned above, was hailed as an across-the-board contender when it played at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals in September, but its central performance aside, it didn’t make much noise during Phase 1. That doesn’t always mean anything; critics and Academy members don’t necessarily think the same way, and Darkest Hour – a robust historical drama energized by a powerful lead performance – certainly meets the criteria of an Academy-friendly movie…though as the demographics slowly begin to change with newer, younger, more diverse members joining the ranks in the last few years, that criteria could be starting to shift.

The Florida Project is a critical favorite, but I can’t gauge how deep the love goes with the Academy. I’m guessing it will make the cut, but it’s the choice I’m least confident in. There’s also Mudbound, which has the gravitas usually found in Best Picture nominees but might suffer for being distributed by Netflix. Silly as it seems, I’ve been reading that many voters seem to hold that against the movie even though the streaming service did give the movie a brief theatrical release. It would be a shame if voters denied Mudbound for such a petty reason, but even if the Netflix factor doesn’t enter into most minds the movie still may not have quite the must-see buzz it needs to go the distance with the full Academy.

Others in the mix that could get lucky but are relative longshots for one reason or another are Phantom Thread, The Disaster Artist, and All the Money in the World.

Predictions:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Florida Project

Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal Picks:
Blade Runner 2049
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
Logan

Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST DIRECTOR
The Shape of Water‘s Guillermo del Toro will lead the way, finally getting the nomination he should have received 11 years ago for Pan’s Labyrinth. Expect him to be joined by the even more egregiously overdue Christopher Nolan. I’ve been burned before, betting on the directors branch to recognize Nolan, but Dunkirk is much more in the Academy’s sweet spot than The Dark Knight or Inception were, and if they passed him over this time it would be a pretty shocking and baffling slap in the face. He picked up a DGA nomination – his fourth from that group, I might add – and seems poised to finally get an Oscar nod to match. He’d better, or I take a torch to the Linwood Dunn Theater.

Speaking of the DGA, they also nominated del Toro, Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jordan Peele for Get Out, and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. The Peele and Gerwig nominations were welcome news for those films’ advocates after both missed out on nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which hands out the Golden Globes, and BAFTA. There will be no shortage of negative commentary if either of them are overlooked by the Academy, but it could absolutely happen. The Oscar nominees for directing seldom match up with the DGA picks, and del Toro and Nolan are the only ones who feel like safe bets. McDonagh could find himself the odd man out too, so this will be one of the most eagerly anticipated categories of the nomination announcement. Even though neither Gerwig or Peele make my list of personal picks, I kinda hope they both get nominated just so we can skip the outrage from people who don’t understand how this process works and/or can’t possibly conceive of the notion that not everything is about race and gender.

Why aren’t Peele or Gerwig on my list? Well, not that my personal picks matter in the slightest to anyone but me, but it’s because as much as I liked their movies – and I really really did – and as great as their work is, there’s only room for five nominees, and I feel that some different films stand out as achievements in directing. It’s not because I’m racist and it’s not because I’m sexist and it’s not because I have an unconscious bias. I’ve actually read articles suggesting that such mindsets are the reason that Peele and Gerwig have not been nominated by other groups. In past years my own picks have included black directors, female directors, and black female directors. This year, my choices happen to not include either demographic. But I’ve got Guillermo del Toro, so there you go. Diversity.

So…assuming the Academy is not of the same mind as the DGA, who else is in the running? If Darkest Hour had fared better in Phase 1 I’d have thought Joe Wright might finally bag a nomination (he should have had one a decade ago for Atonement). But even BAFTA failed to nominate him despite a strong overall showing for the film, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll show up here. Call Me By Your Name‘s Luca Guadagnino faces more favorable odds, and I would not be at all surprised to see directors put forth Sean Baker for the intimate, naturalistic performances he drew from his non-professional child actors in The Florida Project (and the non-professional adults, for that matter). Ridley Scott managed the seemingly impossible and certainly audacious self-imposed task of completely replacing Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, bringing Christopher Plummer onboard and re-convening other cast and crew members on location six weeks before the movie’s scheduled release date. This wasn’t just a matter of re-shooting all the scenes for a role which, while not the lead, is substantial. Plummer wasn’t delivering an identical performance to Spacey’s that could simply be dropped into the already-assembled film. He brought his own rhythm and pacing to the part, necessitating major post-production overhauls.  In fact, screenwriter David Scarpa claims that some scenes with Spacey that had been cut from the film found their way back in because Plummer was so good. If that’s true, it would have made the post-production schedule even more daunting. But Scott and his crew pulled it off, with the movie’s release getting pushed back a mere three days. All of this to say that fellow directors could certainly throw their vote to Scott in admiration not just for the decision to remove Spacey from the film and save everyone else’s hard work from undeserved ignominy, but for the sheer madness of what he attempted…and accomplished

All that said, while the movie has been favorably reviewed, it doesn’t seem to have caught fire, so a nomination for Scott would be perceived as directly commending the unique circumstances rather than his overall work on the movie. Interestingly, All the Money in the World was already moving on an accelerated schedule – filming began in May – with the goal of getting it into theaters by the end of the year, which was also the case with The Post. Steven Spielberg began putting that movie together in March almost immediately after reading the script. Spielberg and Scott are known to be among the fastest-moving, most efficient directors working. But it may not be enough this year to get Spielberg into the final five, even if The Post makes the Best Picture cut.

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is a remote possibility, but I think the movie is more likely to be a surprise Best Picture nominee than Jenkins is to score individual recognition. When the directors branch deviates from the DGA, it often does so in favor of an admired auteur with a passionate fan base, from David Lynch for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive to Krzysztof Kieslowski for Red to Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. This year, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve or even relative newcomer Dee Rees could benefit from that sort of goodwill for Phantom ThreadBlade Runner 2049, or Mudbound, respectively, though all are long shots if their movies are not nominated for Best Picture. Back in ye olde days of five Best Picture nominees, it was as common for the Picture/Director nominees to not match up as it was for the Academy/DGA choices. Since the field expanded in 2010, however, Miller is the only director to be nominated without a corresponding Best Picture shout-out. All that aside, neither Anderson, Villeneuve or Rees – whatever their films’ Best Picture fates – would be outside-the-box choices. Each received a handful of citations from the critics, and Villeneuve scored a BAFTA nomination. If the directors branch really wanted to go their own way, wouldn’t it be something if they stood up for Darren Aronofsky’s batshit crazy, polarizing but fiercely visionary mother!? Or Edgar Wright’s meticulously assembled popcorn ditty Baby Driver? Or Yorgos Lanthimos’ gripping, unsettling The Killing of a Sacred Deer?

Fun to think about…but don’t count on anything like that happening. When all is said and done, it would not surprise me one bit if this were a year where the DGA and the Academy lined up. I’ve read that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a extremely well-liked by a lot of members, which bodes well for McDonagh. The Golden Globe ceremony, during which Natalie Portman pointedly introduced the “all-male” directing nominees (immediately after Oprah brought the house down with a feminist call to arms, it should be noted) fell smack in the middle of the voting period. Anybody who was undecided or on the fence about Gerwig might have been inspired to help her get recognized by the Academy. Peele is probably the most vulnerable, having directed the film furthest outside the Academy’s comfort zone as far as genre goes. But he’s been such a presence in Phase 1 that, while it’s not hard to imagine him missing, it’s less hard to imagine him getting in.

And hey, maybe we’ll all be surprised and Vin Diesel will finally be right in predicting some Oscar love for The Fast and The Furious series.

Predictions: 
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Edgar Wright – Baby Driver
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Sean Baker – The Florida Project

Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

BEST ACTRESS
We’ve still got a long way to go before women hold positions behind the camera in the quantity they should, and before they’re front and center in well-developed on-camera roles at the same rate as their male counterparts. But perhaps there’s some encouragement to be found in yet another year where there is such impressive competition for the five Best Actress slots. We’re looking at another heartbreaker where some excellent work is going to be crowded out. It’s a good problem to have, though one unlikely to be felt by Sally Hawkins or Frances McDormand, or probably Saoirse Ronan, all of whom are as close to locks as you can get.

As I, Tonya‘s popularity grew throughout the season, so too did Margot Robbie’s chances, to the point that she now feels like a pretty good bet, though not a guarantee. These four actress scored SAG nominations, alongside Judi Dench for Victoria & Abdul. That’s one of the few films with Oscar chances in the main categories that I missed, so while I can’t speak to Dench’s performance – a reprisal of Queen Victoria, who she was nominated for playing in the 1996 film Mrs. Brown – I can say that I’d be surprised if she makes it. Delightful as Dench looks in the movie, and as much as she is appreciated by Academy members, the competition feels too stiff this year for her to score a nomination in what looks like a performance she could probably give in her sleep.

An ocean away, BAFTA gave a rather surprising nomination – alongside Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie – to Annette Bening for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. She’s great in the movie, playing real-life (and Oscar-winning) actress Gloria Grahame in the final few years of her life, when she fell into a relationship with a much younger man before dying of cancer at age 57. The surprise of the nomination is that it’s the only high-profile mention Bening has received his year. That’s not a commentary on her performance, but rather on the film’s under-the-radar status (it was one of the very last releases of 2017). It’s too bad she’s not deeper in the mix, because she’s terrific in the film. But she’ll sit the race out again, just as she did last year for an even more deserving turn in 20th Century Women (an omission that remains one of 2016’s most disappointing).

Assuming that Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie are all in, then laws of science, nature and Oscar would dictate that Meryl Streep be the fifth nominee. In The Post, she gives a wonderfully understated performance as a newspaper owner trying to find her voice in the male-dominated (you’re kidding!) world of publishing circa 1971, while also facing a daunting decision that could result in her imprisonment for defying a government-issued court order. As with the Best Picture race, some pundits see The Post‘s lukewarm showing  on the award circuit as evidence of too little support. Yet nominations for each branch come from within, and plenty of actors will vote for Streep regardless of whether they include the movie in their Best Picture tally. Also, I’m not reading too much into the film’s no-show with SAG; I think it may have been unveiled too close to the end of the voting period for it to make a dent. So…will Streep get in?

If not, Jessica Chastain is the most likely to round out the category, playing a ski champion-turned-poker madame in Molly’s Game. Actors love Sorkin’s scripts, and they will appreciate Chastain’s dexterity with the writer’s trademark, fast-paced dialogue as well as the strength and intelligence she gives the character. Both Chastain and Streep have been regular nominees among the national and regional critics groups, though neither as consistent as the other four ladies already mentioned. It’s a sign of how many worthy performances there are this year that two as good as theirs are on the bubble.

The dark horse contenders are Michelle Williams, typically terrific in All the Money in the World, and if voters are more enamored of Phantom Thread than expected, Vicky Krieps, a fresh face who goes toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis. In a weaker year they might have had a better shot, as would last year’s winner Emma Stone for her take on Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes or even Jennifer Lawrence, who certainly gave her all in mother!, whatever people may think of the film. Also deserving of mention are the stars of two potential nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Daniela Vega for A Fantastic Woman and Diane Kruger for In the Fade. Both play women dealing with grief and resulting challenges after the deaths of loved ones, and each has received wide acclaim, though neither is likely to break into this crowded contest.

A few months ago I’d assumed that Kate Winslet would be firmly in the mix, if not the frontrunner, but unfortunately Wonder Wheel didn’t live up to its promise. Of course, given the resurgence of the Woody Allen controversy in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Winslet may be grateful to be out of the circus this year, where she would surely have faced a lot of awkward questions about working with Allen.

Predictions:
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Personal:
Same

BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman, nominated only once before, has been considered the favorite to win this award ever since Darkest Hour‘s festival premieres last September. He remains the frontrunner, but first, the nomination. The revered veteran’s most formidable competition comes from relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet, for Call Me By Your Name. Possibly familiar to people from Season 2 of Homeland or a small role as Matthew McConaughey’s son in Interstellar, Chalamet broke through this year with supporting roles in Lady Bird and Hostiles, and his emotionally rich leading turn in CMBYN. Meanwhile, Phantom Thread‘s reunion of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis should earn the three-time Best Actor winner another nomination, though contrary to popular belief, Day-Lewis doesn’t get nominated just for showing up. He’s missed before, and if Phantom Thread hasn’t connected with voters, he could miss again. But it doesc seem unlikely, especially considering that this is supposedly his final performance before he leaves acting behind. Hopefully his retirement will be more like Michael Jordan’s than Gene Hackman’s, and seven years from now Anderson or Martin Scorsese will track him down in a tiny village in Belize, hand-making candles…blowing glass…beekeeping…restoring frescoes..something like that, and convince him to step in front of the camera again. Until that universal wish is fulfilled, I expect voters will send him off with one more nomination.

Another strong bet seems to be Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya, but I’m really not sure what to do there. Personally, I don’t get it. A fine performance, but Best Actor? I just don’t see it. I know better…usually…than to let personal opinions (or maybe potential cluelessness in this case, since I don’t understand what I’m missing) keep me from predicting what I think will happen…but when you remove from the equation all the nominations Kaluuya has collected so far – and he’s collected all the big ones – I wouldn’t think he’d get nominated. Only because he does have SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA and BAFTA noms am I even considering him a contender. Having all those feathers in your cap is no guarantee of a nomination, but it sure goes a long way toward making you look secure. There’s also the delicate matter that as far as acting goes, Kaluuya’s track record so far makes him the best shot at avoiding another #OscarsSoWhite year. The only other real potential there comes in the Supporting Actress category, which we’ll get to, but none of the relevant contenders there are on solid ground. Even if individual voters are thinking about #OscarsSoWhite when making their choice, they have no idea how their fellow branch members are voting, so how can they know if an actor of color will end up getting nominated? I have to believe, perhaps naively, that they simply vote for their preferences, regardless of the possible optics. (Another reason the whole #OscarsSoWhite movement is misguided, but I’m not getting into that here.)

SAG’s nominees, in addition to Kaluuya, Chalamet and Oldman, were Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. and James Franco for The Disaster Artist. Franco makes for another tough call. His  performance, though committed and hilarious, never felt like a sure-thing with the Academy to begin with, but now accusations of sexual misconduct have clouded the waters even further. Those stories emerged in the wake of Franco’s Golden Globe win, which came early in the Oscar voting period. But at first it was just one or two casual accusations on Twitter. It wasn’t until the end of the end of the week, a day before Oscar voting ended, that five claims against him came out in a Los Angeles Times story. Who knows how many voters submit their ballots that late in the game. The majority of people voting for Franco had probably already done so by then, so I don’t think the allegations will have much impact. The question of his nomination boils down to the normal factor of how popular his performance was among voters. And I still don’t know what to think about that. If he does get nominated, it’s sure to raise plenty of internet ire, with cries of the Academy supporting his alleged behavior – claims that, as usual with the matters, will be largely misinformed and misdirected. If he doesn’t get nominated, it will be seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement when in fact that probably had little to do with it.

As for Denzel, he plays enjoyably against type in Roman J. Israel, Esq. as an idealistic, socially-awkward lawyer battling the system, but the movie fell through the cracks. Admired as he is, his chances don’t look good. Had Phantom Thread been screened for SAG members in time for their voting, I suspect Day-Lewis would have been nominated, knocking out Washington or Kaluuya (I know, I know…that doesn’t look good…but I’m just reading the room.) Then again, if my instincts about Franco and/or Kaluuya prove correct, Washington’s odds increase significantly. Oh, what to do? BAFTA retains Kaluuya, Oldman and Chalamet, but jettisons Franco and Washington in favor of Day-Lewis and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool‘s Jamie Bell. He’s good in the film as Annette Bening’s young lover, but can probably chalk his nomination up to a home turf advantage. An Oscar nomination is not in the cards.

Back in October, Jake Gyllenhaal and Andrew Garfield appeared to be in the running, each for playing real-life men who faced significant physical challenges: Garfield in Breathe as Robin Cavendish, who became paralyzed from the neck down due to polio and lived years longer than expected, eventually helping to invent a wheelchair with a built-in respirator; and Gyllenhaal in Stronger as Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon bombing victim who lost both his legs. Breathe was met with tepid reviews that quickly took Garfield out of the running, but Gyllenhaal’s faded fortune is more surprising. Both the movie and his performance earned great reviews, and he was expected to be more of a presence during the season. He got a few mentions from critics groups, but was otherwise overlooked. It will be nice when Gyllenhaal finally gets nominated again one of these days. He’s still only been in the running once, for Brokeback Mountain, but after Zodiac, Source Code (yes, I’m serious), Nightcrawler and now his, he’s way past due.

Christian Bale in Hostiles, Hugh Jackman in Logan, and Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes (when is the Academy going to acknowledge that motion capture visual effects technology can not mask a great piece of acting?) all deserve to be serious contenders, but they’re all on the sidelines. Ditto Robert Pattinson, who got some love from the critics for a change-of-pace role in Good Time, but I don’t see most Academy voters finding much appeal in this grungy crime drama. The one last real possibility is Tom Hanks for The Post. Hanks hasn’t been nominated since 2001, coming up a bridesmaid for Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks and Sully. It’s probably going to happen again this year, but he’s definitely in the second tier of possibilities, especially if we’re underestimating The Post. He brings urgency, honor and a slightly mischievous wit to his take on editor Ben Bradlee (who Jason Robards won an Oscar for playing in All the President’s Men.) If I’m right to doubt Franco and/or Kaluuya, Hanks could make it. 

Predictions:
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks – The Post

Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Personal:
Christian Bale – Hostiles
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Hugh Jackman – Logan
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The two leading contenders in this category are both celebrated actresses with long and distinguished careers, but both would be first-time Oscar nominees. While moving regularly between film and television, Allison Janney’s most notable work has been on the smaller screen, and she’s won multiple Emmys for The West Wing and Mom. Laurie Metcalf, though she has appeared in several films, is far better known for television and stage work, having won three Emmys for Roseanne and a Tony for A Doll’s Hose, Part 2. Both play strong-willed mothers to equally strong-willed daughters: Janney in I, Tonya and Metcalf in Lady Bird, and both are about to add Oscar nominee to their impressive lists of accolades.

Beyond these two, this field is hard to pin down, with a number of actresses on relatively equal footing. Maybe The Big Sick‘s Holly Hunter, as another strong-willed mother, is a better bet than most of the competition, but even she is far from a sure thing. Janney, Metcalf and Hunter are SAG nominees along with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound and Hong Chau for Downsizing. Blige got a lot of nominations from critics groups, but I’m not sold on her Oscar chances. She’s good in the movie, and definitely disappears into the character, leaving behind any thoughts of the star musician with whom we’re all familiar. But putting aside how much of a dent Mudbound will make with the Academy given the rumored anti-Netflix sentiment I mentioned in the Best Picture section, the role lacks the kind of showcase scenes usually needed for an Oscar nomination. As for Chau, she’s the highlight of a film that generally fell short of expectations (I liked it), and while some critics have taken issue with the her broken-English accent that they see as caricature, I think her choices make sense, and her performance runs much deeper than that surface concern. But she will have to overcome the otherwise underwhelming reception met by Downsizing. I think she can do it. I’m sure voters made a point to see the movie, as its director and co-writer Alexander Payne is an Academy favorite and two-time screenwriting winner. Excitement about whatever he’s doing is inevitable, and it would be hard to imagine Chau not leaving a lingering impression on those who watched.

All five of these actresses were nominated by the BFCA, along with Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water and Tiffany Hadish for Girls Trip. Like Blige, Spencer picked up a number of nominations from critics, but whether Academy members feel the part has enough going for it to rise to the level of Oscar nomination is hard to say. She’s well-liked and definitely entertaining in a movie that is among the season’s most beloved,   so that helps. Hadish, meanwhile, broke out as a wild party girl on a trip to New Orleans with her best friends, and she has some truly hilarious moments in a role that earned her comparisons to Melissa McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids. She garnered a handful of mentions throughout Phase 1, most notably a win from the New York Film Critics Circle, one of the only critics groups that carries any real weight. Still, broad comedies and their performances face an uphill battle for Oscar nominations; Bridesmaids was a rare exception. Hadish may not be as lucky.

The BFCA has a larger field of nominees than most other organizations, so consideration of the BAFTA nominees brings the list back down to the usual five. Their slate included Janney, Metcalf and Spencer, as well as Lesley Manville of Phantom Thread and Kristen Scott Thomas of Darkest Hour. I don’t see it happening for Thomas. There’s very little for her to do in Darkest Hour (she plays Churchill’s wife), and her BAFTA recognition, like Jamie Bell’s, was probably helped by being a local favorite. Manville has some biting moments in Phantom Thread, but it’s a chilly performance that’s probably appreciated more by the critics, and like many of the women we’re talking about here, the part may not give her enough to do to justify Oscar recognition….though I fully admit that’s a consideration I can’t help bringing to the analysis, and there are plenty of past nominees and winners who defy it, so…everyone has their own take on these things. 

Two actresses who definitely have enough to do in their film to be worthy of a nomination are The Florida Project‘s Brooklynn Prince (6 years old when she made the movie) and Bria Vinaite, who plays her single mother. Prince had done some commercials, but here was front and center as the main character of a feature-length film. Vinaite was an entrepreneur with a marijuana-themed clothing line who director Sean Baker discovered on Instagram. Both actresses are nonstop engaging, and absolutely worthy of consideration, though I always wonder with performers as young as Prince how much of what they’re doing is “acting” vs natural behavior, albeit guided by a director and played to the camera. Regardless, a straight line can be drawn from the Academy’s 2012 anointment of Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild to Prince. (The same is true of that whole movie – a Best Picture and Best Director nominee – and The Florida Project.) So Prince could get lucky, but I’d feel better about her chances if SAG, which has been more favorable to child actors, had nominated her first. Then again, Wallis made it without SAG. She did have a BFCA nomination though, giving her at least one significant group’s recognition. Prince won the BFCA’s Best Young Actor/Actress category, but didn’t crack the main acting races. Oh, and for what it’s worth while we’re on the subject of young actresses, Logan‘s Dafne Keen was also excellent, and the nature of that performance is less reliant on normal childlike behavior…unless it’s normal for young children to ferociously decapitate people who try and hurt them, using metal claws that grow from their hands. No? I didn’t think so. As such, I might be so bold as to say that Keen is even more deserving of a nomination for her impactful performance than the adorable Prince.

A few other actresses that garnered a bit of attention from critics but are far off on the sidelines are Tatiana Maslany for Stronger, Nicole Kidman for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Melissa Leo for Novitiate. There was actually a brief period there where it looked like Leo might have a shot for her role as a demanding Reverend Mother struggling with sweeping reforms in the Catholic Church circa early 1960s, but I think she would have needed more nominations in Phase 1 to keep her in Academy voters’ minds. It’s strange that the movie’s distributor Sony Pictures Classics didn’t put a bit more muscle behind Leo. They’re usually good Oscar campaigners who get results, but it seems most of their attention this year went to Call Me By Your Name. (They also distributed Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, but failed to mount an aggressive campaign for Annette Bening.)

Lastly, a few actresses deserving of mention who received pretty much none: Get Out‘s Allison Williams and Betty Gabriel (especially good as an odd, mysterious maid), The Lost City of Z‘s Sienna Miller, and Hostiles‘ Rosamund Pike. And most surprising? Nary a mention of Michelle Pfeiffer in mother!. I thought at least a few critics groups would have her among their nominees or runner-ups, but she was completely absent.

Predictions:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Betty Gabriel – Get Out

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The one place where The Florida Project is almost sure to score a nomination is here, for Willem Dafoe’s kind, beleaguered motel manager. At first he looked like a runaway favorite among critics groups, but Sam Rockwell has caught up, if not quite closed the gap, for his dim, mama’s boy deputy in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Dafoe and Rockwell could be joined by the latter’s co-star Woody Harrelson, whose role provided some of the movie’s more surprising and emotional moments. When Three Billboards emerged from the Telluride/Toronto/Venice film festival trifecta with roaring buzz, the reviews focused largely on Frances McDormand and Rockwell. But when the awards game began a few months later, Harrelson started to get his due as well. He picked up SAG and BAFTA nominations, proving an unexpectedly sturdy player in a race where Rockwell was expected to carry the movie’s torch solo. (Rockwell too was nominated by SAG and BAFTA, as well the BFCA and HFPA. He’s already won the last two.)

If Harrelson does join Rockwell as an Oscar nominee, it throws a wrench into a category where, early on, an entirely different film seemed poised to offer a pair of nominees. It was Call Me By Your Name and its stars Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg who were thought to be a dual threat here. And they still may be. Perhaps the category could shake out with Dafoe, Rockwell, Harrelson, Hammer and Stuhlbarg. But I doubt it, because we haven’t gotten to Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water yet. We will in a moment, but first, Call Me‘s two contenders. Both have fared well in the precursor awards, with some critics groups nominating each of them, some going with Stuhlbarg only, others with just Hammer. Working against Stuhlbarg is that  throughout most of the movie he appears in short bursts with nothing out of the ordinary to do…until that much talked about scene he has at the end. Make no mistake, whatever recognition Stuhlbarg has received for this movie is entirely about That Scene. Actors have won Oscars for what were essentially one-scene-knockouts (Beatrice Straight in Network and Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables come immediately to mind), so certainly Stuhlbarg could be nominated on the strength of that one powerful moment. He won’t be hurt by having been in some of the year’s other most acclaimed films and TV shows (The Shape of WaterThe Post, and Fargo). In fact, Stuhlbarg is in at least one of every year’s best films and/or TV shows. Seriously, Michael Stuhlbarg is fucking awesome. He’s surely accumulated enough goodwill from fellow actors to help him score a nomination for what boils down to a few unforgettable minutes. But will he?

I mentioned Richard Jenkins, who’s a SAG nominee along with Dafoe, Rockwell, and Harrelson. (Neither Hammer nor Stuhlbarg made the guild’s cut, not that that wrecks their Oscar chances by any means). Jenkins, the always-terrific character actor who has probably worked with half of the members in the branch, shines as a source of both humor and pathos in The Shape of Water. With nominations from several critics groups, he has plenty of momentum.

Another spoiler who could upset what for most of Phase 1 looked like a tight race between the six actors already discussed? Christopher Plummer. We covered Ridley Scott’s 11th hour re-shoots of All the Money in the World, but here the focus shifts to the man who had to step into a difficult situation with little time to prepare or research, and in a mere 9 days, deliver a performance all his own, calibrating it to the rest of a movie that was already in the can. It takes a real pro to pull that off; someone who can come in without any ego or bullshit, who’s there to get down to work and help tell the story. Not only did Plummer meet those needs behind the scenes, he delivered a performance that pops and crackles with exactly the kind of energy and star quality that the part demanded to begin with. Although not the central figure in the movie, J. Paul Getty needs to be scene-stealer. While we’ll never know what the results were, it’s easy to see why Kevin Spacey was chosen for the role in the first place. Upon casting Plummer, Scott said that’s who he wanted all along, but ended up with Spacey because the studio wanted a bigger star. Ironic that in the end, Scott got what he wanted, the movie got what it needed, and the studio might get bragging rights if Plummer lands a nomination. Surely his fellow actors will be impressed with the effort and the outcome.

With now seven top contenders, I think Hammer is the one who falls out first. That leaves six, all with compelling attributes in their favor, vying for five spots. I have no idea which one will get left out…or if more than one will miss in favor of a surprise. There are plenty of people lurking on the periphery who’ve been heralded by critics and other groups, or who at least earned impressive reviews and who could find themselves nominated against the odds. There’s Patrick Stewart as a mostly-but-not-entirely diminished Charles Xavier in Logan; Idris Elba, who gets arguably the most quintessential Aaron Sorkin monologue in Molly’s Game and crushes it; Steve Carell, who mines depth and nuance in what could have been a one-note take on Billie Jean King’s chauvinist challenger Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes (and who, in something of a surprise, picked up a SAG nomination); Ray Romano in The Big Sick, who, like Carell, started out in comedy but has grown into an actor with genuine dramatic chops, and here gets to blend the two sides nicely; Jason Mitchell as a young African-American struggling with the indignity of Jim Crow-Mississippi after tasting tolerance as a WWII tank commander in Mudbound; Barry Keoghan as an awkward teen who wreaks unnerving havoc on a surgeon and his family in The Killing of a Sacred Deer; and Keoghan’s Dunkirk co-star Mark Rylance, as a civilian boat captain sailing across the English Channel to help rescue soldiers trapped on the beach. Of all these outliers, I think Carell and Elba are the only ones who would have any real shot of breaking in, and still the odds are slim, even for Carell with his SAG and Golden Globe Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy nominations. Maybe Rylance could sneak in if enough members of the acting branch were determined to recognize Dunkirk…but highly unlikely.

There are a few others I’d be remiss not to mention who are eminently worthy of attention this year. Mary J. Blige reaped most of the individual praise from Mudbound‘s acclaimed ensemble, with some love leftover for Jason Mitchell, but I was most impressed by the one actor in the cast I wasn’t familiar with: Rob Morgan, who brought wonderful shadings to his weary sharecropper. Steve Zahn stole the show as Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes, proving perhaps even more than Andy Serkis this time around how much an actor’s own persona and talent can shine through the visual effects in a motion capture performance. Gil Birmingham, perhaps most familiar as Jeff Bridges’ partner in last year’s Hell or High Water, was heartbreaking as the father of a teenage girl whose mysterious death on a harshly cold, remote Indian reservation is at the center of Wind River. And finally, Michael Shannon as the cruel project leader at the government lab that employs Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water. Shannon was terrific, and has twice come from considerably far behind to be nominated for an Oscar. Maybe he’ll crash the party again.

Predictions:
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water 
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes
Rob Morgan – Mudbound

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water

Steve Zahn – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Whatever happens with Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig and Martin McDonagh in the Best Director category, all three should be safe here for Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. Three Billboards was ruled ineligible for the WGA Awards due to being made outside of the guild’s guidelines – a fate which befalls at least one frontrunner every year. Other disqualified scripts include Darkest Hour, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Coco, though none of those were expected to penetrate a tight race. (Then again, Darkest Hour seems to be on an upswing, so it has a shot.) WGA’s nominees, in addition to Get Out and Lady Bird, are Steven Rogers for I, Tonya, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani for The Big Sick, and Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor for The Shape of Water. BAFTA’s slate, meanwhile, is almost the same, but drops The Big Sick in favor of Three Billboards.

The surprise out of these precursors is the momentum for I, Tonya. Landing both the BAFTA and WGA nominations doesn’t mean anything for certain, but it shows support from two organizations who share membership with the Academy and who had other promising choices to elevate, most notably The Post and Phantom Thread. The Post was widely expected to be a major contender here, but being passed over by the WGA and BAFTA does not bode well. As for Paul Thomas Anderson, you never know what will happen. Writers love him, but Phantom Thread might be among his less accessible work, more akin to The Master than There Will Be Blood or Boogie Nights. The Master was nominated by the WGA, but not the Academy. His last movie, Inherent Vice, saw those results flipped.

One other longshot possibility is Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, but while his fellow writers have a better track record of recognizing him than the directors branch (he was nominated for Memento and InceptionDunkirk is a more visceral film, with a deliberate lack of dialogue and character development – two things that writers rightfully value. Many of them no doubt still understand the importance of good screenwriting in creating something like Dunkirk, but they are more likely to celebrate films that stand as showcases for their craft.

In a more wide open year, we might be talking about Wind River, another excellent screenplay from Taylor Sheridan, who was nominated last year for Hell or High Water and robbed of a nomination the year prior for Sicario. But the race seems to have solidified around nine movies, four of which are vying for the one spot that doesn’t appear to be spoken for. However it shakes out, there’s bound to be some disappointment. I’m afraid The Big Sick is going to fall by the wayside. I hated omitting it from my personal picks, but something had to give. It was almost as consistent a nominee among critics groups as the other four frontrunners, and had been hailed as a likely screenwriting contender as far back as its Sundance premiere a year ago. There’s plenty of love for it, but the late-blooming I, Tonya many have eclipsed its chances.

Predictions:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Unlike its counterpart, the Adapted Screenplay category feels much more fluid. Or maybe it’s not fluidity so much as there being fewer sure things. In fact, the only lock in my mind is Call Me By Your Name. Most pundits would add The Disaster Artist, and they’re probably right, but I could see it missing. It’s a broad comedy in a category that tends to prefer its comedy more elegant and sophisticated (think Sideways, Wonder Boys, American Splendor, Up in the Air…). Then again, Borat picked up a nomination here, so what the hell do I know? The Disaster Artist has the underlying theme of pursuing your dreams no matter what, and surely that resonates with anyone who’s become successful enough in the movie business to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Call Me and Disaster Artist are among the WGA nominees, along with Mudbound, Molly’s Game and Logan. I was thrilled to see Logan cited by the guild. Between that and other more mainstream/commercial films like Blade Runner 2049 (recognized, as was Logan, with nominations from several critics groups), War for the Planet of the Apes and Thor: Ragnarok (and some might say Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), 2017 provided numerous examples that even franchise movies and comic book adaptations can be as intelligent, emotional and complex as any other drama traditionally recognized in awards season.

In a different year, Logan might appear to be the beneficiary of the WGA deeming one or two more “typical” choices ineligible, but this year none of those excluded scripts on the adapted side are frontrunners. Victoria & Abdul and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool are the most notable victims, and neither was really in the race. Liverpool did get a BAFTA nomination, but their Adapted Screenplay slate is not much of a barometer for the Oscar this year. They also nominated Call Me By Your Name and Molly’s Game, but their remaining two slots went to movies that didn’t open in the U.S. in 2017: Paddington 2 and The Death of Stalin. It’s not inconceivable, therefore that the Oscar nominations could match the WGA’s picks down the line. But if we assume there’s likely to be one difference, possible nominees are the The Beguiled, The Lost City of ZHostiles, or the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049.

Predictions:
Sofia Coppola – The Beguiled
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound

Personal:
Hampton Fancher, Michael Green – Blade Runner 2049
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name
Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green – Logan
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

This is one of the few categories where I have seen almost none of the contenders, for one of three reasons:

-It was an underwhelming year for mainstream choices, and very little of what was out there looked interesting or appealing.

-With the exception of Loving Vincent, which had great word of mouth and enjoyed a long run at theaters, most of the independent animated offerings were difficult to find.

-The few indie films that could be found were playing only for the one-week engagements necessary to qualify. I’d hoped to see The Breadwinner and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, but I wasn’t able to get to either of them during their brief windows of availability.

26 films were submitted for consideration, and assuming they all met the requirements – such as that one-week engagement in Los Angeles – five films can be nominated. The slate of studio-released animation this year looked pretty bland. The Boss Baby, Despicable Me 3, Captain Underpants…not really screaming Oscar-worthy to me. Let’s hope this means it will be one of those years where more indie films shine through…although there’s a new rule that might not bode well for outside-the-box thinking. As with all other categories except for Best Picture, nominees are selected by members of the appropriate branch. This year, for the first time, Best Animated Feature was opened up to the entire Academy. That might pose a challenge for any of those movies that couldn’t be widely seen to get included. On the other hand, it’s not truly an everyone-can-vote situation. According to the rules, a nominating committee will be responsible for the voting. Anyone in the Academy can join the committee, but you must be on the committee to participate. Hopefully this means that only the truly engaged will take part (it could end up being all or mostly members of the animation branch anyway) and those smaller, less publicized films will get a fair shake.

I expect Coco, Loving Vincent and The Breadwinner to make the list, but I have no idea what might join them. The studio films all seem so undeserving, and I know too little about the independent options and how they’ve been received to hazard any well-informed guess about what might show up. I’m basically throwing a dart at the list.

Predictions:
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children
The Breadwinner

Coco
Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Personal:
N/A

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The great Roger Deakins, still awaiting his first win, should pick up his 14th nomination thanks to Blade Runner 2049. His stiffest competition will come from the other two sure things: Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk and Dan Lausten for The Shape of Water. All three were nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and by BAFTA, and by pretty much every single critics group that gives out a cinematography honor. Their fellow ASC nominees are Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour and Rachel Morrison for Mudbound, and I suspect one of them will be replaced in the Academy’s line-up.

Morrison is the first woman to be nominated for the ASC’s award, and should she receive an Oscar nomination, she’ll have the same distinction with the Academy. It would be an especially resonant victory given all that’s happening this year, but she faces tough competition, and is probably more likely than Delbonnel to be the ASC contender who misses out on an Oscar nomination. Darkest Hour‘s use of light and shadow is striking in a way that Oscar voters tend to reward, whereas Mudbound‘s lensing is understated, naturalistic…very unshowy, which is not the easiest path to the Oscars. It will be fellow cinematographers evaluating the field, of course, and many will no doubt appreciate her work. But there are other potential nominees that are equally effective while also being more overtly “pretty” or visually stimulating. Personally, I must have missed something, because I saw Mudbound twice and neither time was I particular struck by its photography. Which isn’t to say I thought the film was not well shot. It just didn’t stand out to me as one of the year’s best achievements. And I understand that my knowledge of cinematography (and most elements of filmmaking, for that matter) is casual and that I’m most certainly unaware of all the elements that should be considered when judging it.

There is plenty of other impressive work that could break in should the Academy drop Mudbound or Darkest Hour. Ed Lachman won raves for Wonderstruck, shooting on film and using black and white for the 1920’s half of the movie while giving the 1970’s scenes the warm, grainy look of many of that period’s notable New York-set films, like The French Connection. Three time winner Vittorio Storaro brought light and color to Wonder Wheel that popped off the screen; quite atypical for Woody Allen’s movies, which aren’t usually standouts in this area. Call Me By Your Name‘s Sayombhu Mukdeeprom captured the beauty of an Italian villa and helped evoke an impressive sense of mood in the lighting as the protagonist’s lazy summer days bleed into night and back again. And in mother!, Matthew Libatique keeps the camera close to Jennifer Lawrence at all times such that the audience discovers the story’s increasingly bizarre twists and turns right along with her. The Lost City of Z, War for the Planet of the Apes, Hostiles, Murder on the Orient Express, A Ghost Story and, don’t laugh, Kong: Skull Island are all worthy of attention.

Predictions:
Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom – Call Me By Your Name
Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour

Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Dan Lausten – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Same


BEST FILM EDITING

This category shares a special friendship with Best Picture, and many will say that it’s nearly impossible to win the big award without an editing nomination. The numbers bear that out, but is it just coincidence or do voters really make the connection? Birdman defied this historical pattern when it won the top prize in 2015 without an editing nod. It was the first since Ordinary People in 1980. All of this to say that Best Editing tends to be filled with the Best Picture frontrunners. But it also makes room on occasion for a well-received action movie that is otherwise not a contender in most top-tier categories. Air Force One, Crimson Tide, Speed, Terminator 2, and Die Hard were all nominated for Best Film Editing, while The Matrix and The Bourne Ultimatum both pulled off wins. This year, it would be something of a crime if Baby Driver didn’t secure a spot. Nearly every moment of this movie is meticulously timed to the music playing in the central character’s earphones, and the precision and creativity with which the movie is assembled makes it one of the year’s standout achievements in this field.

Assuming the editors branch does the right thing here in regards to Baby Driver, the rest of the slots will likely be occupied by the top Best Picture contenders…though that still leaves a lot of possibilities. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water are looking good for recognition, but it will be a battle between Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, I, Tonya, Molly’s Game, Darkest Hour and The Post for the remaining spaces. With the exception of Darkest Hour, all of these films picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), which splits their award into categories for Drama and Comedy/Musical. Their roster included Blade Runner 2049 as well, which was also included by BAFTA, the BFCA and several critics groups, giving it major spoiler potential.

Predictions:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Get Out

The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
The Post

The Shape of Water

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Blade Runner 2049 leads the way here, with The Shape of Water right behind it. Dunkirk is a strong likelihood too, as we move away from some of the contemporary-set films dominating the top categories and get into period pieces, fantasy and sci-fi. The former two meet in Beauty and Beast, where the ornate castle looms large and incorporates period design with plenty of fantastical flourishes. Other period stand-outs that could be included are Darkest HourPhantom Thread, Murder on the Orient Express and Wonderstruck. Beyond Blade Runner, there are also some excellent sci-fi contenders in Alien: Covenant, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Downsizing would be a worthy inclusion here, and while it doesn’t have a chance, it deserves mention for perfectly capturing the way the world-changing technology at the movie’s center would be sold and marketed to consumers. The entire layout of the Leisureland exposition hall, and pretty much every aspect of how that entire location is presented, not to mention the luxurious mansions and, later in the film, the more lower income quarters where Hong Chau brings Matt Damon…all the design elements are so spot-on that you might be fooled into thinking the whole downsizing enterprise actually exists. The Art Directors Guild has a Contemporary category, and they did well to nominate this alongside the familiar titles like Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards. (Logan was the category’s fifth nominee.)

Across their Period and Fantasy categories the guild also nominated The Post, War for the Planet of the Apes and Wonder Woman alongside a few titles I mentioned above, so any of them could conceivably show up, but I’d be surprised. 

Predictions:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

Personal:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, contemporary films rarely get recognized here, even if arguments could be made for Lady Bird, Get Out or I, Tonya. And if there were an award for best single costume piece of the year, you’d have to consider Frances McDormand’s blue jumpsuit (if that’s what it is) in Three Billboards. It’s essentially her superhero outfit. But, like the Production Design category, this one is all about period and fantasy, which means we’re often looking at the same group of films between the two. Beauty and the Beast should be sitting pretty here, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk could repeat as well. I could see The Shape of Water going either way. It’s on slightly less solid ground for costume design than in most other below-the-line categories, but will probably be swept in. 

If you’re going to make a movie about a famous clothing designer, the costumes had better meet the highest standard so that we can buy into the character’s stature as an icon in his field. Phantom Thread succeeds with flying colors and should easily get nominated. Murder on the Orient Express could make the cut, and The Greatest Showman may also find recognition here. Wonder Woman, Victoria & Abdul and Mudbound are possibilities too. (Can we at least give an Oscar to Mary J. Blige’s sunglasses? Maybe there really does need to be a category for best individual costume piece.) Blade Runner 2049 has picked up a few notices, including one from the Costume Designers Guild (CDG), but I can’t get behind that, if only for the head-scratching choice of having Harrison Ford in a generic grey T-shirt and jeans, utterly failing to draw any connection between the Deckard of the original film and the Deckard of the film’s present day.

Speaking of the CDG, I was disappointed that with an entire category dedicated to Contemporary costumes they still failed to nominate Baby Driver, which featured many memorable looks courtesy of designer Courtney Hoffman. Baby’s jacket, simple though it was, nevertheless stood out, not unlike McDormand’s blue jumpsuit in Three Billboards. Lily James’ waitress outfit was an inventive variation on an everyday look; Jamie Foxx’s red-on-red shirt and jacket combo popped; and Eisa Gonzalez’s ensembles had as much attitude as her character. I wouldn’t expect an Oscar nomination, however worthy the costumes are, but the guild pass is a pretty glaring oversight.

Predictions:
Beauty and the Beast
Dunkirk
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water

Personal:
Baby Driver
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
The Greatest Showman

Phantom Thread

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
I’ve written at length before (is there any other way to write?) about the problems with the guidelines for this category and how the contenders are judged, so I’ll move past that and just get to the guess work. As always, it’s a tricky category to nail down, as it’s one of the few where voters look beyond the same films that tend to show up in so many other categories. To be fair, those films often don’t have a song in play, but even still the branch members have been known to come up with some left-field choices in this race.

There are 70 songs in the running this year, and to my point above, none of them are from Lady Bird, Get Out, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Molly’s Game, The Post, Phantom Thread….you get the idea. In fact, the only film among the top contenders that could show up here is Call Me By Your Name, and it likely will. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens contributed two songs to the movie, both of which are featured prominently. If voters choose only one, it will probably be “Mystery of Love,” although “Visions of Gideon,” which is more repetitive, is arguably a more memorable melody and plays over the film’s affecting ending moments. Both have a viable shot at a nomination.

Under the current system of judging, songs that appear in the actual movie and not just over end credits are often thought to have an advantage, which is always good news for musicals. This year, Beauty and The Beast and The Greatest Showman can expect to carry on the tradition. For Beauty and the Beast, Alan Menken – the animated film’s original composer – returned and contributed some new songs, written with Tim Rice. Of the two submitted, “Evermore” might be the stronger candidate, although the other, “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” is also graced with that Disneydust which is so much catnip to Oscar voters, so maybe both could land a spot. From The Greatest Showman comes “This is Me,” a rousing anthem of empowerment sung by Keala Settle, who plays a bearded lady in P.T. Barnum’s circus. It’s a showstopper that should have no problem landing a nomination. I’m not sure why no other songs from the film were submitted. It could have put forth up to three, but perhaps the studio felt they had a better chance of a nomination by keeping the focus on one song. Too bad; I’m sure “A Million Dreams” would have been nominated alongside “This is Me,” and although only two songs from a single film can ultimately make the final five, “Rewrite the Stars” would also have been a deserving contender.

While not exactly a musical, the protagonist of Pixar’s Coco is a young boy with aspirations of singing professionally, so the movie does include song performances. The most resonant – and the only one submitted – is “Remember Me,” which is performed various times throughout the film, by various characters and in various styles. Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal and Anthony Gonzalez all have a go, and it’s that last rendition that makes for one of the most emotionally affecting moments in the movie (and there are many such moments throughout Coco). The song is simple and brief, but that final version packs a punch at a crucial moment in the movie, which should assure it a nomination. 

There’s one song I would have loved to see included, but it was not eligible. “I Get Overwhelmed,” from A Ghost Story, could not be submitted because composer Daniel Hart did not specifically write it for the movie, even though he sent it to writer/director David Lowery before using it anywhere else. It became an inspiration to Lowery as he was finishing the script and scouting locations, and he ended up writing a scene into the film in which he could use the song. I wish the rules should be flexible enough to accommodate a situation like that, where a song has not been previously released commercially, and the film and song are clearly in sync with each other. 

Predictions:
Evermore – Beauty and the Beast
Mighty River – Mudbound
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name
Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman

Personal:
Love and Lies – Band Aid
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name

Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman
Visions of Gideon – Call Me By Your Name


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

After a brief respite from the season’s usual suspects, they’re back in play for Best Original Score, and will likely dominate the category. The Shape of Water is in for sure, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are good bets too. Most will say that Phantom Thread is a guarantee, but I’m less certain. It probably will make it, but composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame is a rock musician first and a film composer second. It would not surprise me if some members of the branch were not so quick to embrace him.

Blade Runner 2049 was nominated by most critics groups who give out a score award, but I’d wager the movie’s heavily dissonant style, while no doubt effective in the movie, is not many voters’ cup of tea. In fact, the same quality could hurt Dunkirk, though that score has a bit more melody and, like the scores in all of Christopher Nolan’s movies, vigorously propels the action. John Williams, the most nominated person alive, has two chances this year with The Post and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He was nominated for The Force Awakens, but I don’t think he’ll be back for the sequel, which offered no new themes or standout pieces. It was a good Star Wars score, but not original enough to merit a nomination. I also didn’t feel that The Post offered his strongest work, but it underscores the movie nicely enough, and given how revered Williams is, you can never count him out.

Others that picked up some love from the critics were War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonderstruck and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I would love to see the Academy recognize Apes, which was easily one of the strongest scores of the year and offered multiple recurring and memorable motifs.

There are always plenty of worthy scores in the running, too many to consider them all fairly and fully, but among those that warrant mention are A Ghost Story, Logan, Victoria & Abdul, Loving Vincent, Thor: Ragnarok, and Murder on the Orient Express. I don’t expect any, other than possibly Victoria & Abdul, to surprise, but I’d be happy if any did.

Predictions:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
John Williams – The Post
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
Michael Giacchino – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy always does us a favor by narrowing this field down considerably in December, leaving only seven possibilities, from which three will be chosen. This year’s list features Bright, Darkest Hour, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, I, Tonya, Victoria & Abdul and Wonder.

Well we already know what’s going to win this award come March, so it goes without saying that Darkest Hour will be nominated for Gary Oldman’s stunning transformation into Winston Churchill. Guardians of the Galaxy is a shoo-in too. Nearly every character in the movie sports significant makeup effects, and the work is too vast, too varied and too good to be ignored. But damn if I have any inkling as to where the third nomination will go. I’d maybe rule out Bright, but I haven’t actually seen it; I’ve only looked at pictures. (Ditto Victoria & Abdul and Wonder). They all seem like feasible contenders, from what I can tell.

I would have liked to see It on this list. I thought it would make the cut of seven, if perhaps not the final three. Maybe the nomination committee members are scared of clowns.

Predictions:
Darkest Hour
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Wonder

Personal:
Darkest Hour
Ghost in the Shell
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Here too, the Academy makes things slightly easier by trimming the field – first to 20 films in early December, then to 10 a few weeks later. The remaining hopefuls are Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Okja, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and War for the Planet of the Apes.

I once again had a chance to attend the Visual Effects Bakeoff, a gathering of branch members at which 10 minutes worth of footage from each film is shown, accompanied by brief commentary from the potential nominees. After the presentation, the members cast their votes. Being in the room can provide a sense of how the voters feel about the work, and can also help illuminate challenges faced in creating the effects that you might not have been aware of otherwise. It definitely helped me make my picks last year.

This time around, I’m not sure anything I saw or sensed moved the needle too much. All of the work was impressive, though I’d guess that Valerian would be the first to go. It felt like the sheer amount of VFX in the movie was its most impressive attribute, but I can’t see it surviving to the final five. Everything else seemed possible and, to my untrained eye, worthy of a nomination. It’s almost more a matter of determining what feels like it “has to be there” and working back from there. I’d wager that Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes have to be there above all. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water cover the “prestige” films that are usually represented, and Dunkirk should appeal in particular to the branch members who work on practical effects rather than CGI. With The Shape of Water, I got the sense that people in the room were especially impressed with how effects were used to enhance the creature suit worn by actor Doug Jones and make the character feel more organic and otherworldly.

That leaves Star Wars, which will probably get in because the effects are top notch and Star Wars is pretty much the reason every member of the branch works in VFX to begin with. That said, I can’t think of anything in The Last Jedi that breaks significant new ground, so it feels like the most vulnerable of the “has-to-be-there” group. Okja‘s giant pig and its playful relationship with its young owner seemed to strike an emotional chord with the crowd, so if there’s a surprise, that could be it. But as I said, nearly everything looked impressive to me. I wish there was room for Guardians of the Galaxy and Kong.

Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

Personal:
Same

BEST SOUND EDITING / BEST SOUND MIXING
Okay, so I’m running short of time to finish this up, and we’ve come to the two categories about which I know the least, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Each of these races will probably feature three or four of the same movies, so I’ll just lay my cards on the table and see what happens.

Sound Editing Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman

Sound Mixing Predictions:
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I might have found a place for Coco or Transformers: The Last Knight somewhere in there, but it’s been several years since any animated films have shown up in these categories, and the last Transformers movie, unlike all of its predecessors, wasn’t nominated, so maybe the voters have heard enough of that franchise. As for my personal picks, I always say that my lack of understanding of what really goes into this craft – which I’m sure is shared by most Academy members – makes me wish there were a single category  honoring overall Sound Design, which seems like it might be a little bit easier for the layperson. In my lack of understanding, this year I would nominate Baby Driver, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes.

 

No doubt to your great relief, that’s all I’ve got. Nominations will be announced Tuesday morning in two parts, beginning at the odd time of 5:22am PT. May fortune favor your picks, as long as they don’t conflict with mine. 

 

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September 10, 2017

20 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in What’s Left of 2017

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 4:45 pm
Tags: , ,

Since 2009, I’ve been writing about anywhere from 20-30 movies that I’m excited about in the coming year, which I usually post shortly after the Oscars. Last year, I didn’t get the list out until May, but most of the movies I was anticipating were still to come, so okay, no big deal. My intention this year was to get it out in January, since there were actually some February releases I wanted to include.

That didn’t really work out.

Nor did May.

Or July.

And so The Lego Batman Movie, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, Song to Song, Beauty and the Beast, Trainspotting 2, The Great Wall, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Detroit and Dunkirk have all passed by.

Now, as we enter my favorite movie season of the year, plenty of titles from my original list are yet to arrive, so in an effort to not totally abandon this blog, and to not completely waste the time I’d already put into this post, I’ve reconfigured it as a sort of Fall Movie Preview, informed by some recent developments at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. Even this late in the year I have no problem coming up with a list of 20 movies, and could easily have included more that I’m eager to see. No doubt many of these will come up again in my Oscar posts. But for now, consider…

20.
LAST FLAG FLYING

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan
Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburnce, J. Quinton Johnson, Yul Vasquez
Release Date: November 3

Among the many films that come up when people talk about the great American cinema of the 1970’s is Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, which starred Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as Navy officers tasked with escorting a younger, sentenced cadet (Randy Quaid) to prison. It was adapted by Robert Towne from a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, and in 2005 the novelist published a follow-up that dropped in on the three characters post 9/11. From the time it was published, Richard Linklater has wanted to adapt the semi-sequel for the screen, and originally hoped to reunite Nicholson and Quaid, with Morgan Freeman replacing Young, who died in 2001. Sadly, that ship has sailed, with Nicholson essentially retired and Quaid, well…let’s just say Quaid is otherwise occupied and leave it at that. Still, it’s hard to wallow in regret over what might have been when the newly assembled trio is as impressive and promising as Carell, Cranston and Fishburne. And in the end, Linklater — collaborating with Ponicsan on the script — ended up shifting direction a bit by not making the film a direct sequel to The Last Detail, but rather more of a spiritual one in which the trio of leads play different characters. Either way, as far as I’m concerned. Having only seen The Last Detail once, my interest in this movie was never about that one. I’m just excited by the promise of this filmmaker and these actors.

19.
THE CURRENT WAR

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Michael Mitnick
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Macfayden, Katherine Waterston
Release Date: December 22

In Christopher Nolan’s 2006 drama The Prestige, two illusionists in the 1800’s engage in an increasingly intense rivalry to dazzle audiences with a particularly astonishing trick. Though fictional, the characters interact with very real inventor Nikola Tesla, who makes a key contribution to their efforts. In The Current War, Tesla once again factors into the rivalry of two competitors, this time the real-life pioneers Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, as they race to implement the most effective system of delivering electricity to the masses. Cumberbatch and Shannon take on Edison and Westinghouse, respectively, and if Me and Earl and the Dying Girl helmer Gomez-Rejon seems an odd choice for this larger-scale, more cinematic material, he has plenty of experience telling stories of competition and of light and dark as a veteran director of Glee and American Horror Story. As for Tesla, those who can’t get enough of him — nor afford the car that bears his name — can look forward to him being front and center in a potential upcoming film about his relationship with Mark Twain. In the meantime, Nicholas Hoult assumes the mantle from Nolan’s Tesla, the late David Bowie.

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18.

THE DISASTER ARTIST
Director: James Franco
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress, Zac Efron, Ari Graynor, Melanie Griffith, Josh Hutcherson, Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Jacki Weaver
Release Date: December 1

If you live in a major city, there’s a very good chance that on any given weekend, there’s a theater somewhere offering a midnight screening of The Room, a 2003 movie so notoriously awful that it has garnered a devoted cult following and been called the worst movie of all time. One of The Room‘s stars, Greg Sestero, wrote a book about his experience working on the project and his relationship with its fascinating writer, director and lead actor, Tommy Wiseau. In this comedic but affectionate adaptation of that book, James Franco takes on the role of Wiseau, with his brother Dave playing Sestero. Based on the highly favorable reaction to the film upon its debut earlier this year at the South by Southwest festival, the filmmaking team may have spun gold from the dreck, crafting an Ed Wood-like homage that aims to celebrate the passion more than mock the results. After seeing the first teaser trailer for The Disaster Artist, I had my doubts that Wiseau could have performed as poorly as Franco’s interpretation suggests. I was wrong. I’ve never seen The Room; I generally feel that there are too many good movies worth seeing to waste time on the bad ones, even those of the so-bad-they’re good variety. But The Disaster Artist may force me to make an exception.

17.
DARKEST HOUR
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Gary Oldman, Stephen Dillane, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Kristin Scott Thomas
Release Date: November 22

While the pedigree of this movie – Atonement director Wright, The Theory of Everything screenwriter McCarten, and a fine cast headed by Oldman – would automatically put it on my list of movies to see, it probably wouldn’t have made the jump to this list had it not just premiered to a thunderous reception at the Venice Film Festival, where Oldman was instantly elevated to frontrunner status in this year’s Best Actor race for his performance as Winston Churchill. That’s all well and good, and no doubt I’ll have more to say about it if I manage to do my usual Oscar write-ups come January. But the movie was celebrated beyond just Oldman’s work. It was hailed as an across-the-board triumph that tells the story of Churchill’s early days in office with vigor and passion, bringing the history of Britain’s stand against Nazi Germany to thrilling life. In addition, by focusing on a narrow period of Churchill’s life rather than going the cradle-to-grave biopic route, it stands to follow in the sterling footsteps of films like Capote and Lincoln by using a specific event from the subject’s life to tell a larger story about who and what they were. As always, I avoided getting too deep into the reviews and reactions, but what I gleaned left no doubt that the movie was now one to anticipate with great expectations.

16.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley
Release Date: November 10

As a director, Kenneth Branagh has brought several famous characters of literature to the screen, from Hamlet to Thor to Jack Ryan. Now he’s about to give us a new interpretation of Agatha Christie’s enduring detective Hercule Poirot in one of her – and her character’s – most famous cases. In addition to directing, Branagh will play Poirot, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Orson Welles, Albert Finney, and Peter Ustinov. The gallery of passengers/suspects provides a grand ensemble opportunity, and Branagh has stacked the movie with an impressive and eclectic cast that includes his hero and regular collaborator Jacobi; Hamilton Tony-winner Odom Jr.; Star Wars: The Force Awakens breakout Ridley; the luminous Pfeiffer, who has worked only occasionally in recent years but appears to be staging a welcome comeback; and Depp, smartly joining a classy ensemble that doesn’t require him to shoulder the movie on his own, but which may amount to more than his recent blink-of-an-eye cameos in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Into the Woods. Branagh has big shoes to fill, not just doing justice to Christie’s book, but also working in the shadow of Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed 1974 version which earned six Oscar nominations and boasted an equally impressive — perhaps even starrier — roster of actors. But the results look promising.

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15.
WONDER WHEEL

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Kate Winslet, James Belushi, Max Casella, Tony Sirico, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake
Release Date: December 1

Until recently, details were typically scarce regarding Allen’s latest effort, other than its 1950’s Coney Island setting. With nothing to go on, including whether or not it was a comedy or a drama, and knowing that the enduring auteur’s output is always hit or miss, it was the presence of Winslet that landed Wonder Wheel on my list. I hoped that having an especially special talent like her – the first cast member announced last summer – meant this was something he tailored to her, and that he rose to the occasion and provided her with a film and a role worthy of her gifts, just as he did with Blue Jasmine in 2013 for our other magnificent Kate…or Cate, as it were. Now we know more about the film, and there’s reason to think my hope will be rewarded. Winslet plays the wife of a carousel operator, who falls for a lifeguard (guess which one is played by Belushi and which one by Timberlake!). Her emotional conundrum becomes more complicated when her husband’s daughter (Temple) from a previous marriage turns up after a long absence and also has eyes for the lifeguard, setting up what Winslet described in Entertainment Weekly as her character’s “great unraveling.” According to the same EW piece, Allen has long wanted to work with Winslet; it almost happened a decade ago on Match Point, until she had to drop out due to a pregnancy and was replaced by Scarlett Johannson). He says he knew it would take one of the great actresses of our time to bring the necessary depth to this character. Knowing Allen’s track record with writing great roles for actors, I have a really good feeling about this one and the likelihood that we’re going to get something superb from Winslet.

14.
THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)
Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Candice Bergen, Judd Hirsch, Sakina Jaffrey, Elizabeth Marvel, Rebecca Miller, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten
Release Date: October 13

Baumbach’s latest story of family dysfunction, which bowed to strong reviews at the Cannes Film Festival, casts Hoffman as Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor who, while celebrated, never quite received the recognition he felt he deserved. Sandler, Stiller and Marvel (a dynamic character actress getting increasingly larger roles, including the President-Elect on the recent season of Homeland) play his children, all of whom are brought together by a pair of events concerning Harold. I’m a big fan of Baumbach’s 2005 and 2007 films The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, but haven’t been much enamored with his output since. The word out of Cannes was that his latest is more in the vein of those earlier films, so I’m crossing my fingers that those murmurings prove true. Particular praise at the festival was centered on Sandler, who dazzled critics with a performance that served as a reminder of what directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and James L. Brooks have long seen in him. Those directors, and a few others over the years, have cast Sandler in more dramatic material, and he has always risen admirably to the challenge, even if he usually chooses to avoid those sorts of genuine acting opportunities in favor of palling around with buddies Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock or David Spade on lazy, clichéd comedies. His performance here was so acclaimed, in fact, that many critics were calling it Oscar-worthy. Though the movie is being distributed by Netflix, the company apparently plans to give it a limited theatrical release the same day it debuts for streaming, which would indeed qualify it for awards consideration. Whether it can break into the race is another matter, but for now I just hope the movie is a reward in and of itself.

13.
COCO
Director: 
Lee Unkrich
Writer:
Adrian Molina
Cast:
Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal, Alfonso Arau, Anthony Gonzalez, Edward James Olmos, Renée Victor
Release Date:
November 22

No, it’a not the long-awaited Conan O’Brien biopic about the struggles of a tall, thin ginger to overcome his physical handicaps and conquer the world of late-night comedy. It’s the next movie from Pixar, set in Mexico on the annual Día de los Muertos holiday. It follows Miguel, a music-loving boy from a music-hating family, who dreams of breaking away from the successful shoemaking business that has been handed down for generations and instead charting his own course as a performer. When he discovers a magical guitar that transports him to the Land of the Dead, he seeks out his ancestors as well as his idol, singer Ernesto de la Cruz, uncovering secrets from both that will affect him profoundly back in the real world…if he can get there. Like all of Pixar’s movies — the non-sequels, especially — this one has been in development for a long time, but will arrive at an ideal moment when diversity is top of mind not just in the entertainment industry but in the world-at-large. Given some of the political conversations going on right now, it will be especially welcome for moviegoers from all backgrounds and age groups to see a culture that doesn’t get enough mainstream exposure depicted in all of its rich and vibrant glory by Disney and Pixar, two giants of animation who know how to lure the masses.

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12.
SUBURBICON

Director: George Clooney
Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Cast: Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Julianne Moore, Glenn Fleshler, Noah Jupe
Release Date: November 3

The Coen Brothers don’t have a new movie coming out this year, but here’s the next best thing: a script they wrote, directed by one of their frequent stars, and starring three of their past collaborators in Damon, Moore and Isaac. (It almost featured two more, but Woody Harrelson had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and Josh Brolin’s small role was cut). While Clooney won’t appear onscreen, he’s worked with the Coens enough by now to have a firm grasp of their style, which should help him successfully translate their script to the screen.  It’s an older effort that the brothers considered making in the late 90’s, and which Clooney and Heslov have re-worked to bring it up to date thematically, although it takes place in the 50’s. I’ve heard varying plot descriptions, so I’m not sure what’s true and what’s not, but the story may involve a man who tries to have his wife killed in order to be with her sister. It’s said to be in the Fargo/Burn After Reading vein of other violent comedies from the Coens. We’ll see if Clooney and company can deliver something that feels at home with the originators’  own projects.

11.
MOLLY’S GAME
Director/Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Bill Camp, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner, Brian d’Arcy James, Idris Elba, Graham Greene, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong
Release Date: November 22

Aaron Sorkin’s scripts have been directed by an A-list roster of filmmakers. David Fincher, Rob Reiner, Bennett Miller, Danny Boyle and Mike Nichols have all had the pleasure of bringing Sorkin’s words to the big screen. Not for nothing though, Sorkin has been atop the creative ladder long enough that his own time behind the camera seems quite overdue. He’ll finally make the leap with Molly’s Game, adapted from a memoir by Molly Bloom, who as a young woman had Olympic goals as a member of the U.S. national ski team. When that dream failed to materialize, she went to Los Angeles where she got a job as a waitress. Many people go to Hollywood and wait tables on their way to becoming movie stars, but Bloom’s path led her in a different and even more fascinating direction. Her smarts and entrepreneurial nature eventually led to her running a high-stakes underground poker game attended regularly by major Hollywood players including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck. But apparently the Russian mob had ties to the game as well, and because Bloom was taking a cut of the pot, legal lines were crossed and the FBI shut down the game and arrested her. (We’ve all been there, right?) It’s a compelling story that should translate nicely to film, especially with this impressive cast getting to dig into the always-delicious dialogue at which Sorkin excels.

10.
IT

Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Chosen Jacobs, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Owen Teague, Finn Wolfhard
Release Date: September 8

I’m a little late on this one, which opened Thursday night, but since I haven’t seen it yet, it still falls under “looking forward.”

The random surge of popularity in the work of Stephen King — The Dark Tower on the big screen and Mr. Mercedes and The Mist on the small – continues here, and the time couldn’t be more right for a film adaptation of the author’s seminal success It, which was published in 1986 during his most prolific and celebrated period. Fueled by the popularity of last summer’s surprise Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things, It has a chance to capitalize on the renewed interest in King’s 80’s oeuvre that was so lovingly evoked by that series. In fact, one of the film’s producers actually used Stranger Things as a reference point for the tone of the film, a tactic made even more ironic by the fact that filmmaker brothers Matt and Ross Duffer created Stranger Things after Warner Bros. denied them the chance to make the It film, presumably unwilling to hand over so prized a property to a relatively untested duo.

The massive, 1,100+ page novel follows a group of seven bullied friends in Derry, Maine – who refer to themselves as The Loser’s Club – as they contend with an ageless, shapeshifting, child-eating demon who favors the form of a clown called Pennywise. This year’s release is the first of a two-part adaptation, focusing on the kids and their battles with Pennywise. The second film will continue their story in adulthood…those who survive to see it, at least.

Although I went through my own Stephen King phase as a teenager, I never got around to reading It, nor did I see the 1990 ABC miniseries that would probably be forgettable if not for Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise creeping its way into the pop culture consciousness. The role in this new adaptation will be played by Bill Skarsgård (son of Good Will Hunting/Thor star Stellan, brother of True Blood/Big Little Lies star Alexander). The cast of endangered youths includes the excellent Jaeden Lieberher, and yes,  Stranger Things‘ soulful breakout Finn Wolfhard.

Still, there are concerns. It was originally to be helmed by Cary Fukunaga, the terrific director behind the bold 2011 Jane Eyre adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, the harrowing Beasts of No Nation, and the entire first season of HBO’s True Detective. He’s a filmmaker who has demonstrated a talent for finding horror in realistic settings. When his take on King’s story clashed with the studio’s, he left the project and was replaced by Andy Muschetti, whose only feature credit is the decently-reviewed 2013 Jessica Chastain horror film, Mama. Fukunaga has said that he wanted to treat It like a character drama, teasing out the horror less overtly, whereas the studio wanted a typical, mainstream horror movie…a fact which is no less disappointing for being so predictable. Seldom does any good come from studio executives overriding the vision of a singular filmmaker. Muschetti will surely give the studio what it wanted, but will that be the best thing?

In the end, maybe it will. Reviews have been mostly kind, and as we speak the movie is doing bang-up business and smashing various box office records, so…fingers crossed. If it turns out to be a disappointment, well, at least we’ve got a second season of  Stranger Things to look forward to next month. #JusticeForBarb

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9.
THOR: RAGNAROK

Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Eric Pearson
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Sam Neill, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban
Release Date: November 3

Those of you to study these lists each year, riddle over them, puzzle them out, try to analyze my endgame, those of you who have taken a devoted, scholarly approach to my work, may have noticed that few of the previous Marvel films — only Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man — have been included on this list, even though I’ve said in many other posts that I’m a big fan of the whole series. So why Thor: Ragnarok? Because like Guardians and Ant-Man, it looks like a real curveball that will somewhat shake up the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The first Thor had a lot of enjoyable humor, born out of its fish-out-of-water set-up that found the Asgardian god stuck on earth in a tiny desert town. Thor: The Dark World…well, I can’t say I remember too much about it, though I don’t recall it going for as many laughs. But in perhaps the boldest directorial choice yet on Marvel’s part (even bolder than Edgar Wright for Ant-Man, had that panned out), they handed the reins of this installment to New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, best known for his comic sensibility on such hilarious and acclaimed indies as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Waititi is a delightfully offbeat choice, and everything we’ve seen of Ragnarok thus far paint it as a delightfully offbeat entry in the MCU. Ruffalo has described it — perhaps jokingly — as both a road-movie and a buddy-comedy between Thor and Hulk (the only two Avengers who were MIA from Captain America: Civil War). Waititi has also stated that he took inspiration from the 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon, and that he would have loved the movie to have a soundtrack by Queen just as that film did. In that spirit of fun, the teaser trailer – rocking out to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” – gives off a vibe that feels like an 80s arcade game come to life. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

8.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Director/Writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Clarke Peters, Sam Rockwell, Nick Searcy
Release Date: November 10

Movie nerd that I am, I’ve been tracking movies for years. That is, I keep a list of movies being made by actors, writers, directors, even producers that I’m interested in. So it came as a surprise to me when I first saw the red band trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri debut on the internet back in March or April, considering that despite the impressive cast and a writer/director whose work I’ve enjoyed, I had never heard of it. So I watched the trailer.

It immediately went on the list. Does this require further explanation?

If nothing else, the trailer promised a showcase role for McDormand, and there can never be enough of those. Now that the film has screened at the Venice Film Festival (where it was just awarded the prize for Best Screenplay), the actress has indeed been praised, but the loudest buzz has been centered around Sam Rockwell. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman hailed the performance as a “revelation,” which is pretty staggering praise considering that Rockwell is hardly an actor whose gifts have been hidden. He has done fantastic work — both comedic and dramatic — in any number of movies from Galaxy Quest to Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to Choke, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Conviction. (I’ll forgive his participation in the ill-advised Poltergeist remake.) There are plenty more juicy turns where those came from; this is not someone who’s been hovering on the precipice of a breakthrough. The attention around his performance is additionally surprising since the trailer doesn’t feature all that much of him, and what it does show suggests a performance more in a comedic “dumb guy” vein than the darker, multifaceted character described in reactions to the movie. So if that trailer wasn’t reason enough to put this movie high on the list, it sounds like Rockwell’s work is another.

7.
THE POST
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Liz Hannah
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford, Zach Woods
Release Date: December 22

This is not the Steven Spielberg movie I expected to be on this list. For some time, the legendary director has had two movies in the works: an adaptation of the novel Ready Player One, which long ago finished shooting but has extensive visual effects requirements that will prevent it from being out before 2018, and The Kidnapping of Edgaro Mortara, a true story set to star Oscar Isaac and Mark Rylance that was initially expected this year. Apparently, however, the difficulty in finding the right child actor to play the title role led to a delay that opened up a window in Spielberg’s schedule. So now we’ll get The Post, which was first announced in March and came together remarkably quickly to allow it into theaters at the end of the year.

The topical true story is set in 1971 and casts Streep as Kay Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, and Hanks as the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee, as the two defy the Nixon administration by supporting The New York Times‘ efforts to publish the leaked Pentagon Papers, which called into serious question the United States’ ongoing involvement in the Vietnam War. Amidst threats and talk of treason from the White House, journalists banded together and defended their right to publish the leaked materials, eventually leading to a landmark Supreme Court case. Given the current relationship between the President and the press, it’s easy to see why Spielberg would gravitate toward this subject. As he did with Lincoln, the director has lined up an all-star support team to bolster his main players, and a review of the impressive cast list reveals some fun and surprising connections, like Mr. Show buds David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, and real-life couple Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts.

6.
mother!
Director/Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Domhnall Gleeson, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Release Date: September 15

Darren Aronofsky went to great lengths to keep this movie’s secrets under wraps. We didn’t get a trailer until maybe a month ago, and unlike many trailers that give away too much of the story, this one definitely emphasized tone over plot. And that tone is one of freak-out terror. The movie has now been seen at the Venice Film Festival, where it inspired impassioned reactions all over the map. Whether critics and audiences cheered or booed it, they definitely felt strongly and it generated plenty of talk, which is exactly what Aronofksy wanted. The set-up is that a couple’s quiet life is disrupted by the presence of unwanted visitors, but even after seeing it, many critics seemed to question what it was about at heart. They all agreed, however, that it was an audacious, over-the-top, absolutely insane trip down a deep dark hole. I’m fascinated to see what it’s all about…and a little scared.

5.
THE SHAPE OF WATER

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Release Date: December 8

The latest film from the endlessly imaginative del Toro debuted last week at the Venice Film Festival to rapturous responses and this weekend it won the festival’s top prize. Set in the U.S. in 1963, Hawkins and Spencer play workers at a secretive government laboratory (is there any other kind?) who discover a shocking experiment involving an aquatic creature. I’ve avoided reading much about it beyond the basic description that it’s a beauty-and-the-beast-like story, but I know del Toro said that he and his team spent more than half a year designing and crafting the amphibious character. The prominent presence of a creature should come as no surprise to del Toro fans, nor should the painstaking lengths that went into birthing it. This is a guy who truly loves, connects with and has deep empathy for what the rest of us might casually refer to as monsters. His affection for them and the thought he puts into them is why his movies are among the few that still feature bold, original, frightening creations while most movie monsters these days are uninspired and forgettable. The Cold War backdrop suggests that The Shape of Water will hew more closely to del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth and other work like The Devil’s Backbone than his more action-oriented projects like Pacific Rim and Blade, and a cursory scan at the reviews out of Venice bear that out. Marrying the supernatural and the historical is del Toro’s sweet spot, which makes this new film – now graced with glowing reviews – especially promising.

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4.
DOWNSIZING

Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Cast: Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Hong Chau, Joaquin de Almeida, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris, Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: December 25

Alexander Payne made his reputation on sharply-observed portraits of simple, everyday folks, but his newest finds him making an unexpected turn into what sounds like Charlie Kaufman country. The script has been floating around for many years, and the plot may have morphed somewhat during that long development period, but the core idea remains: people shrinking themselves down to a smaller size in order to simplify their lives. I know that’s a rather simplistic description, but while the movie has now played at Venice and Telluride, meaning there’s more about it to glean, I’m avoiding anything further. Fans of Payne’s early work will be happy to know that the movie reunites him with his writing partner Jim Taylor over a decade after they last collaborated on (and won Oscars for) Sideways, and they’ve put together a fine cast headed by Damon, after earlier stalled attempts to get the movie off the ground included Reese Witherspoon, Paul Giamatti and Sacha Baron Cohen. Regardless of the characters’ size, I’m expecting big things.

3.
BLADE RUNNER 2049

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Cast: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Hiam Abbass, Barkhad Abdi, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, David Dastmalchian, Sylvia Hoeks, Lennie James, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos, Robin Wright
Release Date: October 6

35 years after its release, Blade Runner — one of the most acclaimed, admired, revered science-fiction films of all time — is getting a follow-up.

This is a bad idea.

The thing about Blade Runner is that it’s not merely a beloved film. It’s a studied film. It’s a film valued as much by critics and scholars as by fans and cinephiles. The movie’s reputation developed over time; it was not a hit upon initial release. It worked its way into the culture and earned its reputation through conversation and analysis and reconsideration. So in today’s corporate-guided Hollywood landscape ruled by desire for the familiar and for quick-fixes rather than things lasting and meaningful, is there any reason to be optimistic about the movie’s prospects?

The answer is yes, and it’s a big reason: Denis Villeneuve. There have been worrisome rumblings of a Blade Runner sequel for years, but hearing that Villeneuve would take the reins was a game-changer. Because this dude is phenomenal. One of the best directors working today, and yet one who is still flying under the radar of general public recognition even after earning an already overdue Best Director Oscar nomination last year for the Amy Adams sci-fi drama Arrival. Over the last few years he’s been putting out top-notch work (Prisoners, Sicario) and anything he’s doing is worth getting excited about, sight unseen. He also has master cinematographer Roger Deakins onboard, and the trailers for the film have demonstrated expectedly striking, gorgeous visuals. Is it too early to hope this movie could finally end Deakins incomprehensible losing-streak at the Oscars?

Villeneuve has assembled a strong cast for the sequel set decades after the original, led by Ryan Gosling as a new blade runner – a law enforcement agent tasked with tracking down and “retiring” genetically-engineered androids nearly indistinguishable from humans. Serving in that role has him following in the figurative and apparently literal footsteps of Harrison Ford’s blade runner Rick Deckard. Ford is returning, and he’s had both good and not-so-good results in other instances of revisiting years-old characters/films. Original co-screenwriter Hampton Fancher is also back, this time collaborating with Michael Green, who was likely brought to the project by producer and original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, for whom Green did some story work on Alien: Covenant. Having Scott, Ford and Fancher all involved again is encouraging, but by no means a sign that the movie will be good. Our best hope that the sequel will live up to the reputation of its predecessor is Villeneuve. I’m dying to see what he does.

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2.
UNTITLED PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON PROJECT

Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Release Date: December 25

A decade after their colossal collaboration on There Will Be Blood – a span during which each has only made two other features – Anderson and Day-Lewis are re-teaming. There’s really not much more that needs to be said…which is a good thing, since there’s really not much more than can be said. Almost nothing is known about the movie at this point, other than that it takes place in the fashion world of 1950’s New York…and even that detail is sketchy, since a later report cited London as the setting. Some writers have taken to calling the movie Phantom Threads, but at this stage that’s a working title only. So the movie has no name, it has no substantial plot synopsis, and it barely seems to have a supporting cast to speak of, with only two actresses mentioned when the film quietly began production earlier this year. When news of the film first broke, Vulture took a swing at guessing what — or more accurately, who — the subject might be, based on the New York locale. It was well-considered speculation, but if the movie is set in London, that might render the guess incorrect. Whatever or whoever the subject is barely matters right now. When either of these guys makes a movie, it’s headline news as far as I’m concerned. And if Day-Lewis is to be believed, his recent out-of-nowhere retirement announcement will make this his final film. I’m not sure I buy that this is the three-time Best Actor Oscar winner’s swan song, but if it is, it’s tough to imagine a better way to go out than by re-uniting with PTA. There will be glory.

1.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Director/Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran
Release Date: December 15

J.J. Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan brought the Star Wars saga back in fine form with 2015’s The Force Awakens, and now they hand the baton off to Rian Johnson to tell the middle chapter of the sequel trilogy. The inventive writer/director behind Brick and Looper now gets to fill in the gaps while furthering the journeys of new heroes and villains Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn and Poe Dameron. After being much discussed but little seen in The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker will at last feature prominently, while Princess Leia (she may be General Organa now, but she’ll always be Princess to me) will also find her screen time increased, giving us a last chance to enjoy Carrie Fisher in her defining role. Fans continue to speculate on such mysteries as Rey’s lineage and Supreme Leader Snoke’s identity, but I haven’t engaged much in those guessing games. I’m just excited to delve deeper into the lives of the characters, find out about new additions Dern, del Toro and Tran (all of whom have now now been introduced thanks to Vanity Fair‘s summer cover story), and see what’s become of Luke Skywalker. With a filmmaker as creative as Rian Johnson, I’m confidant the series is in good hands…for now.

 

 

February 25, 2017

Oscars 2016: The Envelope Please

Better late than never, right? I’d promise you that one day I will actually complete this post more than 24 hours before the show begins, but I don’t know if I have it in me to keep doing these long enough to fulfill that pledge. So for what it’s worth at this point, here are my Oscar predictions and requisite over-explanation.

BEST SOUND MIXING AND BEST SOUND EDITING

Sound Mixing:
Arrival – Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye
Hacksaw Ridge – Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
La La Land – Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

Sound Editing:
Arrival – Sylvain Bellemare
Deepwater Horizon – Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli
Hacksaw Ridge – Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
La La Land – Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Sully – Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

X

Get ready — you’re going to see the words La La Land a lot in this post. (Is La even a word?) Here in the Sound categories, it throws us a curveball. I pointed out when predicting the nominees that musicals have a great track record getting nominated for Sound Mixing, and not such a great one getting nominated for Sound Editing. This year, however, the Sound branch cited La La Land in both categories. I have to assume that most voters from other branches don’t much understand the difference between the two categories, nor what constitutes a great achievement in either of them. If La La Land had just been nominated for Mixing, I’m sure they would have voted for it, and the Sound Editing award would have gone elsewhere. But now that they can vote for it in both categories, will they? And if they decide to go with two different movies, will they honor La La Land in Mixing, where musicals have traditionally succeeded? Or will they honor it in Editing because, hey, they’re actors and cinematographers and costume designers, and they don’t know in which category musicals have traditionally succeeded? Since the impossibility of knowing is even more acute here than in other categories where it’s impossible to know but you still kinda know, I’ll be a traditionalist and predict that La La Land takes the award for Sound Mixing, but not Sound Editing. In that category, any of the nominees feel like viable winners, but I’m going with Hacksaw Ridge. When in doubt, voters might equate the chaotic noise of war with the best achievement in sound. Or, you know…not.

Personal: I rarely have strong feelings about the outcome of these races, being admittedly ignorant about how to judge the work. However, knowing that Sound Editing involves the creation of the aural components, my vote in that race would go to Arrival, as the only nominee of the five that had to imagine otherworldly sounds as opposed to re-creating earthbound ones.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Deepwater Horizon – Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange – Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
The Jungle Book – Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
Kubo and the Two Strings – Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

X

All five nominees boast stellar work that seemed to take certain VFX challenges further than they had been taken before, but the complexity and sheer amount of work that went into The Jungle Book has to be acknowledged. This wasn’t just about adding talking animals that looked believable. This whole damn movie was shot on a soundstage in downtown Los Angeles. The young star Neel Sethi was working on bluescreen and greenscreen stages with only small portions of the jungle set constructed for him to interact with. A boulder here, a small patch of grass there, a short sandy pathway over there….everything else around him was created in a computer. EVERYTHING. Think about that for a minute. Here’s the trailer for the movie. Watch it, and realize that other than what Sethi is actually physically touching at any given moment (not including the animals, of course) and perhaps what’s in his immediate vicinity, the rest of it is computer-generated. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Movie Magic at its most astonishing.

The problem is that voters don’t have the best track record of recognizing Movie Magic at its most astonishing. The good news this year is that there isn’t a Best Picture nominee to muddy the waters, as the inclusion of a prestige film often hijacks this award from a movie that features truly amazing and/or groundbreaking work. That’s how you get Gladiator beating The Perfect Storm, or Hugo over Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But that won’t be an issue this time, leaving a clear pathway for The Jungle Book. But you never know. Watch out for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Personal: It’s gotta be The Jungle Book.

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BEST HAIRSTYLING AND MAKEUP
A Man Called Ove – Eva von Bahr and Love Larson
Star Trek Beyond – Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
Suicide Squad – Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

X

None of the three nominees are movies that lit it up with the Academy, so voters are a bit off the grid here. Don’t discount Suicide Squad just because it seemed to be derided by critics and audiences. Even without having seen it, I know there was an impressive variety to the work. But I’ll put my money on Star Trek Beyond, because Trek is a known quantity to voters whether they saw the movie or not.

Personal: Judging just by pictures from Suicide Squad, the work looks impressive. But Star Trek Beyond is the only one of the three I’ve seen, so I suppose it gets my vote by default. The new alien designs — especially the one sported by Sofia Boutella — do look Oscar-worthy to me. There’s something about that design that makes me want to eat ice cream. What’s that about?

X

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Jackie – Mica Levi
La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
Lion – Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight – Nicholas Brittel
Passengers – Thomas Newman

X

When Disney musicals had their resurgence in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Oscar voters proved keen to award not just their memorable songs, but also their orchestral scores. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, AladdinThe Lion King and Pocahontas all took home the Oscar for Best Original Score even though you kind of got the feeling members were just voting for the scores as a way to vote for the overall music in the movie. I love those soundtracks (well, the first three anyway), but did the scores really deserve to win? Maybe. Maybe not. I bring it up because we’re in a similar situation this year, with La La Land poised to take this prize even though maybe, possibly, perhaps its actual instrumental score isn’t really as strong or memorable as some of its songs. It has a nice theme, for sure, but does the full score really merit an Oscar? Many will think so, and they will vote for it, and it will win.

Personal: I’m probably not being fair. La La Land‘s score is good, and functions successfully in the movie, which is ultimately what should matter with this award, even if — as I say every year — I’m always looking for something that stands tall on its own, apart from the movie. On that score (no pun intended) I think La La Land comes up a little short. It’s between Jackie and Moonlight for me, because both take a similarly unexpected approach to their subject matter. I admire the stylistic choices of both, but found Jackie‘s to be more memorable.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls — Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
City of Stars – La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
How Far I’ll Go – Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

X

You avid Hamilton fans eager for Lin-Manuel Miranda to complete his EGOT with an Oscar win had better put your hopes on hold. Despite contributing music to the latest animated film from Disney — as well-trod a path to success in this category as it is in Best Original Score — it’s not going to happen this year. But fear not; Miranda will have plenty of future chances. With a Mary Poppins sequel in the works and a secretive animated project with Sony a few years off, he’s not throwing away his shot.

The winning film will be La La Land, and this time it should be. The only question is which of the movie’s two nominated songs will emerge victorious: “City of Stars,” or “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)?” Nearly every pundit seems to be banking on the former, and that’s the smart bet. I’m going against the grain, however, and guessing that “Audition” pulls off an upset. First of all, there are really two versions of “City of Stars:” Ryan Gosling’s solo version, which has that memorable whistle going for it, but which is basically one verse; and Gosling’s duet with Emma Stone, which is longer, and has additional verses and alternate lyrics. I’d wager that when most people think of the song, they think of the solo, “whistling” version. But will they remember how brief it is? Will they care?

Then you have Stone’s solo, “Audition,” which is one of the most stirring moments in the movie, and a scene that I think people are more likely to remember than either of the scenes “City of Stars” figures into. It marks a major turning point in the story and furthers the journey of the characters; “City of Stars” doesn’t. It also has more evocative lyrics. Voters may not notice or care about these facts, especially with the powerful hook of that whistle echoing in their heads. So I don’t know. If voters are trying to recall the songs long after seeing the movie, “City of Stars” is probably the one that comes to mind. But if they really remember the moments in which the songs play and how they felt when they watched the movie, I’m convinced they’d vote for “Audition.” It’s not the wise move, but I’m sticking my neck out.

Personal: “City of Stars” is wonderful, so I don’t mean to knock it. I just think “Audition” is better. Gosling’s version of “Stars” is tinged with a touching melancholy, befitting the movie’s bittersweet resolution. The duet version, meanwhile, warmly speaks to the joys of finding love. But to me, “Audition” is the song that truly captures the full, blooming, in-love-with-art-and-artists spirit that infuses every frame of the movie, and it too is bittersweet, as it speaks to the struggle of reaching for an elusive dream. Plus, as I was saying, it has a more crucial function in the film. I certainly won’t be upset if “City of Stars” goes all the way, but “Audition” is the more deserving; an ultimately richer song that better encapsulates the themes of the movie.

X

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Allied – Joanna Johnston
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Colleen Atwood
Florence Foster Jenkins – Consolata Boyle
Jackie – Madeline Fontaine
La La Land – Mary Zophres

X

As I said in the previous post, Jackie has beautiful costumes, but many of them are re-creations of well-documented outfits worn by Jackie Kennedy, and to me that means the movie really doesn’t deserve the nomination. A win would be disappointing. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) went there anyway, while the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) instead awarded Hidden Figures in its Period category. Figures is not among the Oscar nominees, nor is Doctor Strange, which took the prize in the guild’s Fantasy category (besting Kubo and the Two Strings, unfortunately). The only CDG winner included among Oscar’s five nominees is La La Land, which won in the Contemporary category. I think it will come out on top at the Oscars as well. Emma Stone sports one striking dress after another, and I imagine at least a few of those will be top of mind for many voters. On the other hand, Academy voters usually favor period pieces and fantasies — or a melding of the two — in the design categories. You have to go back to 1994 and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for the last time this award went to a contemporary-set film. Before that? 1979(!) and All That Jazz. So history is against La La Land, but I think the bold colors will prove hard to resist, plus the styles are frequently old-fashioned, which helps lend a period feel to this modern musical.

Personal: La La Land. Those colors, those dresses…pretty much everything Emma Stone wears in this movie is splendid, forget about the rest of the cast. I liked the costumes in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, particularly Newt’s outfit, but I’ve got to give it up for La La Land.

X

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Arrival – Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock
Hail, Caesar! – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
La La Land – David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Passengers – Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena

X

In another category where movies with non-stylized contemporary settings rarely come out on top, La La Land is again likely to defy tradition. The movie is a tribute, among many things, to Technicolor musicals of Hollywood’s heyday, and just as in the Costume Design category, color is key. It’s not so much that the sets and locations are all striking in and of themselves, but rather what the design team did to make ordinary locales pop off the screen. The only other nominee that feels like a potential threat is Arrival, for the compelling interior of the alien craft, so unlike other such settings we’ve seen before. Still, that’s a single and sparse location, and most of the movie takes place outside the ship in more drab or ordinary settings.

Personal: La La Land. Every wall, every windowpane, every prop, every single strip, dash and dot of color seems carefully considered and absolutely deliberate. The cumulative effect is an eye-popping visual palette that feels familiar and new all at once.

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BEST FILM EDITING
Arrival – Joe Walker
Hacksaw Ridge – John Gilbert
Hell or High Water – Jake Roberts
La La Land – Tom Cross
Moonlight – Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

X

Any outcome feels possible in this category, where the kind of movie that wins is more varied than in some of the other “crafts” categories. Hacksaw Ridge has brutally intense battle scenes but also plenty of quieter, well-paced character drama. Hell or High Water feels tight and efficiently assembled as it moves between the bank robbing brothers and the Texas rangers investigating them. Moonlight divides one character’s story into three distinct chapters, each one feeling complete yet complimentary to the others. Arrival plays with time in unexpected ways that take on greater significance after the movie has ended. And La La Land moves between the fast-paced energy of big musical numbers and intimate moments of a romantic relationship with ease, where it could have left us with whiplash. (Get it?! Whiplash?!!?) The voters could throw us a curveball, but I have a feeling enough of them will associate editing with the rhythms of a musical and cast their vote for La La Land.

Personal: I wouldn’t be disappointed to see any of these take the prize, but I’d vote for Arrival. Amy Adams’ character experiences flashes throughout the story, and as we start to understand what they mean and why she’s having them, the way they interact with her current circumstances becomes crucial to unlocking the movie’s mysteries.

X

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arrival – Bradford Young
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Lion – Greig Fraser
Moonlight – James Laxton
Silence – Rodrigo Prieto

X

In making my nomination predictions last month, I pointed out that the Academy’s nominees usually don’t match up with those from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and that I thought Greig Fraser’s work on Lion would be the ASC nominee to miss with the Academy. Well, I blew that one. Not only did the Academy’s picks mirror the ASC’s exactly, but Fraser and Lion went on to win the ASC prize. Does that mean Fraser has the Oscar in his sights as well? Probably not. La La Land‘s Linus Sandgren is the frontrunner here. The Academy at large is more likely to remember the play of light (often spotlight) that transports us in and out the movie’s many musical numbers, as well as how the camerawork shows off the rainbow of colors captured within the costume and production design. Part of the reason the colors jump off the screen so vividly is due to the way the lighting illuminates them. All elements of a movie obviously rely on and play off each other, but La La Land‘s costumes, production design and camerawork function in particularly harmonious tandem. It’s hard to imagine the movie winning one and not the other two…though in fact, we don’t need to imagine it. BAFTA spread the love in these categories, giving Cinematography to La La Land, Costume Design to Jackie and Production Design to Fantastic Beasts. So it’s possible. But unlikely, I’m guessing.

Personal: La La Land, for the way the lighting makes the bright colors glow, dance and suck you whole into the world of the movie. Sandgren also gets credit for taking better advantage of Emma Stone than perhaps any cinematographer who’s ever filmed her. She has such an expressive face, so the camera loves her right off the bat. Sandgren really revels in that gift, often holding her in close-up and allowing her to be riveting simply in the act of looking. She brings that to the table, but he has to be there to capture it in all its effectiveness.

X

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Moana – John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer
My Life as a Zucchini – Claude Barras and Max Karli
The Red Turtle – Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

X

This has been an exciting category to watch throughout the season, with Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings running in near lockstep with critics organizations. Zootopia took the Golden Globe and the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) prize, but Kubo got the BAFTA. Most of the guilds don’t have a category for animation, but those that do — the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the American Cinema Editors (ACE) — went with Zootopia, and it was also the big winner at the Annie Awards, though I’ve never considered those to be much of a factor with the Oscars. You’d like to think that people only vote in a category if they’ve seen all of the nominees, but some probably vote regardless, and if that applies to anyone with this category, it’s probable that Zootopia — one of the highest-grossing movies of the year — was seen by a lot more people than Kubo…and I’d wager was playing in a lot more family rooms over  Christmas vacation. Kubo has made too strong a showing to be counted out, surprising consistently throughout the season with a Best Visual Effects nomination, a groundbreaking nomination from the Costume Designers Guild, and more critics awards than people may have expected. At the end of the day though, the math seems to favor Zootopia.

Personal: Kubo and the Two Strings. Hey, Zootopia is terrific and I’ll hardly be despondent if it wins. But smart, sly, funny and touching as it is, it’s still cut from the familiar cloth of wide-eyed animals occupying bright, cheerful, landscapes. Thematically too, we’ve seen similar efforts rewarded before. Kubo, on the other hand, is a real original, with arresting visuals and the daring to tell a darker story than the typical plucky animated fare. Plus, Laika Studios has been putting out excellent work from the start. Each of its previous three films has been nominated, but none have come this close to the prize before. Who knows when they will again. The movie deserves this win, and so does the studio. (Speaking, by the way, of voting without seeing all the nominees, I still haven’t been able to see The Red Turtle or My Life as a Zucchini. The latter is just now opening, and the former played only for a limited time and not anywhere very accessible for me. I hope to catch them both, but would be surprised if either lured me away from Kubo.)

X

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Fences – August Wilson
Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion – Luke Davies
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

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The Writers Guild of America (WGA) honored Arrival in this category, but I’m sure you remember from my predictions post — because you studied it and committed it to memory — that the WGA placed Moonlight in the Original Screenplay category (where it won) while the Academy considers it an adaptation. Really though, we don’t need the guild to provide guidance in this case. Against La La Land and Manchester by the Sea in the Original category, it would have been a battle. But in the Adapted column, Moonlight should sail smoothly to victory. The movie is universally admired, and writer/director Barry Jenkins seems to have charmed and impressed everybody who’s encountered him during the months he’s been promoting the movie at Q&As, festivals, award ceremonies, etc. I think many voters want to not just recognize the movie; they want to recognize Jenkins specifically, and since he’s not one of the producers, that leaves this category or Best Director as the place to do it. He’ll get a lot of votes in both, but he’ll get more here. Arrival has spoiler potential, and without Moonlight to contend with I think its structure and surprises would carry it to a win. But it does have to contend with Moonlight, so that’s that.

Personal: I wouldn’t have said this if I hadn’t had the chance to see it a second time, but since I did, my pick has to be Arrival. Not just for the whoa-factor, but for making an engaging movie about a rather abstract concept. With a story about humans and aliens trying to establish a baseline of communication with two entirely different systems, the movie becomes about the fragility and delicacy of language. How do we ask them complicated questions about their purpose on Earth? Do they even understand what a question is? How do we correctly interpret their attempt to use a word that even among our own kind can be misunderstood and construed in different ways? There’s nothing inherently cinematic about this, but Eric Heisserer’s script presents it as gripping, high-stakes drama, and even though it rather conveniently bypasses the nuts-and-bolts of how the humans come to understand and “decode” the alien language — and vice versa — the script has the courage to be about something scholarly and intellectual while still having great humanity and feeling. No easy task.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women – Mike Mills

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One of the hardest-to-call races this year finds La La Land squaring off against Manchester by the Sea. They tied with the BFCA. La La Land won the Golden Globe. Manchester won the BAFTA. The WGA by-passed them both in favor of Moonlight. So where does that leave us? I don’t know that enough voters — even those who liked La La Land — will think that its screenplay is as much a winning achievement as certain other components or the film as a whole. The heartache and humanity of Manchester seems more the stuff of great screenplays, and since Kenneth Lonergan is unlikely to factor into many Best Director votes, this is the place to reward him. If there are enough voters who love La La Land and just rubber-stamp it up and down their ballot, then surely they’ll choose it here too. But I think this will be one of the few places it misses.

Personal: I love the originality of The Lobster, but I don’t quite love the movie. Really, these are all great (though La La Land is the weakest as a screenplay nominee). But my pick is Manchester by the Sea. Lonergan took somebody else’s skeletal premise — it was actually John Krasinski who birthed the seed of the idea — and made it completely his own, sublimely marrying humor born of character conflict with harrowing circumstances and heartbreaking sadness, to create something deeply moving and unexpectedly funny. Few movies I’ve seen strike the balance so honestly and effectively, and it’s just a great story that seems miraculously imaginative yet completely, believably mundane.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

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This year’s acting nominations may have put the #OscarsSoWhite issue on the back burner, but nominations aren’t enough. Some of these folks have to win! And they will, starting here with Moonlight‘s Mahershala Ali, who has nearly swept the circuit so far. He did endure two surprise, high-profile losses on his path to the Kodak Theatre — the Golden Globe went to Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Nocturnal Animals and the BAFTA went to Dev Patel for Lion. But Taylor-Johnson isn’t nominated for the Oscar, and Patel may have benefitted somewhat from a home field advantage in England, and perhaps even some lingering residual love for Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t see him repeating at the Oscars, and can’t really imagine any of these guys coming from behind to overtake Ali. If Jeff Bridges were still seeking his first win, things might be different. But he’s got an Oscar now, so I don’t expect him to collect a second this year, beloved as he is. He’ll get a fair share of votes, I’m sure, but Ali will be crowned the champ.

Personal: Mahershala Ali. My only hesitation is that the part is so small, and I’m always saying that roles should be larger than this to be worthy of an Oscar win. But Ali does so much so beautifully with his limited screentime, and his impact is felt even when he’s not there. His character defies the expected archetype, and Ali makes him wholly believable, speaking volumes while talking softly…and sometimes without talking at all.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

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This is your safest bet of the night. Viola Davis probably already has the Oscar at home, engraved, on her shelf, in need of a polish. The ceremony is just a sham for the public. Some may argue that she belongs in the lead actress category, but given the history with the role on Broadway, lead and supporting were both deemed legitimate pathways. In Best Actress, it might not have been so cut and dry. In Supporting Actress, her fellow nominees can’t compete. They’re all good, but Viola has more screentime, her character is easily the most fully drawn of the five, and she just plain totally crushes it. She’s deeply admired and respected by her peers, and this role seemed to be waiting for her to come along. I was disappointed when she didn’t win Best Actress for The Help, partly because she had such good odds and who knew if she’d come that close again. I’m glad I was wrong.

And she still should have won for The Help.

Personal: Viola’s time has come, and I’m right there with her.

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BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

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For the longest time, this was shaping up to be as sure a thing as Viola Davis: Casey Affleck won nearly every single award there was to win, cutting what looked like a clear path to the Oscar stage. Then last month, he was toppled at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards by Denzel Washington, and now this is being called one of the toughest races of the year to call. Since the first SAG Awards in 1994, only four times has the Best Actor winner not gone on to win the Oscar, and the last time was 2003. I throw that out there just for trivia; I put far less trust in those kinds of stats than other pundits. But it’s a fact that had many people shifting their prediction from Affleck to Washington.

The bigger threat is the renewed coverage of sexual harassment charges leveled at Affleck in 2010 by two female colleagues from I’m Not There, his mockumentary collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix. The situation was brought up here and there during Phase One of awards season, but didn’t gain much traction (which, as noted by many of the people who did cover it, stood in stark contrast to the controversy that erupted around Nate Parker and The Birth of a Nation). The chatter got a little louder right after the nominations were announced, most notably from Constance Wu, the lead actress on the hit ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Wu shamed the Academy for nominating Affleck, yet still the story didn’t blow up. But it could well be steadily simmering below the surface, and it’s impossible to know whether or not it will impact voters’ decisions significantly. Was it part of the reason Affleck lost the SAG award? Possibly. The reason could also have had less to do with denying Affleck than it did awarding Washington, who had never won a SAG award. The organization has occasionally leaned toward a greatly admired actor who has not previously won. In a tight Best Actress race, Julie Christie won the SAG award in 2007 for Away From Her; the Oscar went to Marion Cotillard. The same year, SAG’s Supporting Actress winner was Ruby Dee, but the Oscars chose Tilda Swinton. In 2002, Christopher Walken got the Supporting Actor SAG for Catch Me If You Can; Chris Cooper won the Oscar. SAG’s voters may simply have felt that Washington was due.

Affleck rebounded a few weeks later and won the BAFTA, which like SAG, has some crossover membership with the Academy. But Washington was not nominated for a BAFTA, so there’s that. Plus, he’s a two-time Oscar winner already, so voters who think about that sort of thing won’t feel any pressure to finally award one of the great actors of all time. And hey, maybe Washington won the SAG award because big, showy performances like the one he gives in Fences tend to capture more awards than quiet, inward ones like Affleck’s in Manchester by the Sea. Academy voters could go with Washington for the same reason. His performance is like a big, jagged bolt of lightning; Affleck’s is like the electric current running invisibly inside the wall.

Bottom line, this went from slam dunk to nailbiter. No doubt, Affleck will lose votes from people who can’t ignore his alleged behavior, regardless of their feelings about the performance. Yet controversies like this one haven’t stopped the Academy from handing Oscars to Roman Polanski or Woody Allen. Have things changed in the era of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief? One writer asked if Affleck could win in a post-women’s march world. I think he can. My gut tells me that despite the recent twist in the road, this will go down exactly the way it seemed destined to in the first place. In the end, Affleck will pull it off…but from other predictions I’ve seen so far, I appear to be in the minority.

Personal: I don’t have strong feelings about the outcome, surprisingly. I enjoyed all these performances tremendously, and consider Ryan Gosling’s the only one that doesn’t feel substantial enough to win. Judge me if you will, but part of me wants to see Affleck get it just because when someone wins pretty much everything along the way, it’s a bummer to see them lose in the end, no matter how predictable winning is at that point. But if Washington captured his first Oscar in 16 years, or Mortensen somehow shocked us all, I couldn’t argue.

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BEST ACTRESS
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

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When the critics were having their say, this was a race between Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert, with Portman looking like the Oscar frontrunner since Huppert faced the challenge of starring in a foreign language film with a difficult subject matter. Even with a surprise Golden Globe win over Portman in the Drama category, Huppert’s odds remain low. Portman’s have receded as well, however, with Jackie being embraced less enthusiastically by the Academy than by critics. Instead, it’s Emma Stone who’s emerged as the late-season frontrunner. Some thought as far back as November that she was right in the thick of it, but her fortunes seemed to fade as one critics group after another went with Portman and Huppert. Now Stone has come back from behind, fueled by winning the Golden Globe Musical/Comedy award, the SAG and the BAFTA. And everyone loves Emma Stone. They won’t vote for her just because of that, but if they were put off by divisive films like Jackie and Elle, they may feel okay about voting for Stone. Portman could still pull an upset, but at this point it looks like Emma’s got this. For those unsure how it will turn out, keep an eye on Best Original Song. Stone could triumph regardless of that outcome of course, but if it goes to “Audition,” she’s your winner.

Personal: As I said in my nominations post, I haven’t seen Elle. I hate going into Oscar night having not seen all the nominees in the main categories, but from what I know of that movie, I couldn’t stomach seeing in a theater. Of the remaining four, I’d pick Portman. Emma Stone is wonderful in La La Land, but I don’t see hers as an Oscar-winning performance. Portman, on the other hand, did transformative work. That odd Jackie Bouvier accent did some of the heavy-lifting, but there’s a lot more than that going on in her work. She presents us with a woman who has played the passive role of doting wife, hostess, and First Lady, then swiftly finds her strength and resilience when confronted with the shock and horror of her husband’s assassination. Portman shows us Jackie’s grief and uncertainly mingling with the need to step up and control how JFK’s death and the immediate aftermath are seen by the world and immortalized by history. Her performance is fiery and understated all at once.

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BEST DIRECTOR
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

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Damien Chazelle won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA and most importantly, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award, which has failed to augur the Oscar winner only seven times in its 69 years…and in three of those cases, the DGA winner wasn’t nominated for the Oscar. In fact, in the entire grand game that is Oscar predicting, the DGA is the most meaningful precursor. So considering his victory there, and the general acclaim for La La Land, Chazelle is the man to beat. The only one who can is Barry Jenkins. As I said in the Adapted Screenplay section, I think there are a lot of Academy members who want Jenkins to go home with an Oscar. I said he’ll get a lot of votes for the Screenplay — more than he will here, I think — but he will get a lot of votes here. Probably not enough to overtake Chazelle, but this is a politically tumultuous year where voters looking to not just honor great filmmaking but also make a statement (we’ll get into that a bit more in a minute) could do both by voting for Jenkins.

Personal: I admit to favoring directors who take the helm of epic productions with physical and visual challenges and a daring that extends beyond the narrative and into the production itself. So while I recognize the skill involved in directing character-driven dramas like Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight, I’m inevitably drawn to something like La La Land, which makes Chazelle my choice. But I would have no problem seeing Barry Jenkins take this. He created a small miracle with Moonlight, and it’s a beautiful and assured piece of work. (Of course, so is La La Land. Ack! Making choices is hard.)

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BEST PICTURE
Arrival – Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, David Linde
Fences – Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Todd Black
Hacksaw Ridge – Bill Mechanic, David Permut
Hell or High Water – Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn
Hidden Figures – Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin & Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, Theodore Melfi
La La Land – Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt
Lion – Emile Sherman & Iain Canning, Angie Fielder
Manchester By the Sea – Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, Kevin Walsh
Moonlight – Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner

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Since Best Picture and Best Director usually go to the same movie, our starting point is that La La Land is the presumptive winner. Not that Chazelle’s Best Director odds alone are boosting La La Land to frontrunner status. The movie’s been thrilling audiences in and out of the industry since it first debuted at the Venice Film Festival in August, landing at the Telluride and Toronto festivals a few weeks later. Although it didn’t actually come out until early December, it has been considered the probable film to beat ever since those early festivals, and that status has been solidified with victories at the Golden Globes (Musical/Comedy), BAFTA and PGA Awards. Many pundits look to the PGA award in the same way they look at the DGA, particularly because in 2009, the PGA adopted the same voting procedure — the preferential ballot — that is used to determine the Best Picture Oscar. Since then, only last year did the PGA winner not go on to take the Oscar. (The PGA had a tie in 2013; one of the two winners — 12 Years a Slave — got the Oscar.

Is there any reason to think La La Land could lose? Well, sure…we can almost find reasons to doubt and wonder. This year, there’s that politics factor. Things are pretty ugly in the world right now. The movies people choose to support — be they “regular” people deciding what to see on a Saturday night or journalists and filmmakers voting for awards — reflect the times, and so the question this year is whether voters want escapism or want to make a statement. La La Land represents escapism. It would be unfair to dismiss the movie as fluff or ignore the honest things it has to say about art and love and the difficult choices some people make between the two. It may arrive at a bittersweet conclusion, but by and large La La Land makes people feel good. Members who want their vote to speak for their conscience could choose movies that celebrate the sort of characters who are undervalued or victimized in our current political climate. Moonlight‘s protagonist is a gay black boy trying to navigate a confusing world. Hidden Figures shines a light on brilliant African-American women who played a major role in launching Americans into space. Lion follows an Indian boy separated from his family and eventually raised by adoptive parents in Tasmania, who years later falls into an obsessive search to find his home. Hell or High Water involves the corruption of banks and the power they hold over ordinary, struggling people. Fences celebrates those people too, those left behind by institutions that saw them as less than. Arrival focuses on the importance of working across cultures — both earthly and extraterrestrial — to achieve a common, positive goal…and how refusal to cooperate could doom us all. So…there are a lot of ways Academy members could use their vote this year to say something that matters.

Still, of all these movies, Moonlight is the only one that could take down La La Land. I could stretch that and call Hidden Figures an incredible long shot, but for all of its pleasures and for highlighting a tragically unknown piece of history, it’s a pretty standard piece of entertainment by Oscar’s yardstick. Consider too, that a victory for Moonlight (or Hidden Figures or Fences) would be the ultimate rebuke to the last two years of #OscarsSoWhite. La La Land, after all, is pretty damn white…not that I think cries of racism will be too prevalent this year if La La Land takes the top two prizes. Oh, and on that point, could we see a Director/Picture split this year? It’s happened 24 times in Oscar’s 88 years, last year being the most recent. If it were to happen this year, which way would it go? Barry Jenkins wins Best Director but La La Land takes Best Picture? Or Moonlight for Picture and Damien Chazelle for Director? In 2013, Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for Gravity, which boasted incredible technical and visual achievements, while Best Picture went to the powerful, human-scale drama of 12 Years a Slave. Could we see a similar situation this year?

Maybe. Surprises can always happen, but after spinning all of this supposition, the smart money is on things going exactly as the momentum indicates they will…and the momentum is with La La Land.

Personal: When I add up all of the beautiful individual elements of La La Land, I have arrive at that as the movie to which I’m most partial. But Moonlight is exquisite and it would be really wonderful to see something so delicate and humanist win Best Picture. So I’m split between the two. And I loved Manchester by the Sea as well.

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THE REST
As usual, I can be of little help with Best Documentary Feature, Best Foreign Language Film, or the animated, live-action and documentary shorts. O.J.: Made in America appears to be the favorite for Documentary Feature, assuming voters made time for all eight hours of it. If not, look for I Am Not Your Negro or 13th to step up. As for Foreign Language Film, I haven’t detected a consensus, but I do know that there’s been a movement encouraging people to vote for Iran’s entry, The Salesman, as a middle finger to our Infant-in-Chief’s Muslim travel ban. Before the ban was struck down, the film’s director, Asghar Farhadi — whose excellent film A Separation won this award in 2011 — stated that even if accommodations were made that enabled him to attend, he would not, in protest of the policy. Although he could come now, he has chosen not to, saying he will be represented by two prominent Iranian-Americans. I know The Salesman was well-received, and maybe it would have won if none of this nonsense had happened. If it does win, there will be no way to know if the bulk of votes it collected were because it was members’ favorite movie among the five or because they wanted to make a statement. In my eyes, people should vote for the movie they think is the best, and not for something different because they think it will send a message. In this case especially, the people who need to hear the message won’t be listening, and even if they were, they don’t care. There are better, more effective ways to protest.

Regardless of whether or not this category becomes a political moment during the ceremony, we can definitely expect it to be a politically-charged evening, where many artists will mix their gratitude with expressions of dismay about the state of the world and our nation, and call for peace, tolerance and love. This is anathema to many, who think celebrities should keep their mouths shut when it comes to politics and that award show acceptance speeches (and presentations) should focus on the honors at hand and nothing more. But I’m all for some impassioned commentary on Oscar night. It will certainly make for a more interesting and more emotional show than listening to winner after winner recite a list of names. If the Academy or the ABC Network are worried about this, they shouldn’t be. Awards season so far has been marked by such speeches, most prominently Meryl Streep’s instant-classic takedown of the Asshole-in-Chief at the Golden Globe Awards, and the amazing, rousing call to arms from David Harbour on behalf of the Stranger Things cast when they won Best Ensemble in a Drama Series at the SAG Awards.

These memorable moments have only helped their respective shows by bringing them more attention and generating momentous web traffic. Many other speeches at both events found winners speaking to our fractured times. At the Academy’s annual Nominee’s Luncheon earlier this month, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs addressed travel ban-related absences and set a tone for a political Oscar night. Film journalists like Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman and past Oscar winners like novelist John Irving have written opinion pieces to encourage winners to speak their minds. A few days ago, Michael Moore reflected on his controversial speech from 2003 when he won Best Documentary for Bowling for Columbine days after President Bush launched the war in Iraq, and was essentially booed off the stage. This came a day after Yahoo! published a detailed account of how Moore’s infamous moment came to pass. Just on Friday, the directors of the five Best Foreign Language Film nominees released a joint statement calling for “freedom of expression and human dignity.” Politics have a long history of finding their way into the Oscars, and this year promises to be rife with examples.

JIMMY
Despite the potential for fireworks, it’s still an awards show at the end of the day, and it needs to be fun. With Jimmy Kimmel as host, that shouldn’t be a problem. He pulled hosting duties at the Emmy Awards last fall and hit a home run. Terrific cold open…

…terrific monologue…

…and many terrific moments throughout the evening.

(If you don’t get it, you didn’t watch the monologue video).

We can also expect Kimmel to have some fun with his nemesis Matt Damon, who will be in attendance as one of the nominated producers of Manchester by the Sea. Damon crashed the Emmys in brilliant fashion, and no doubt Kimmel will be looking for revenge.

He should more than up to the task of keeping the show entertaining, though it must be said that late night’s other Jimmy threw down the gauntlet with his cold open at the Golden Globes, so Kimmel has his work cut out for him on that front.

Alright, I’ve left you precious little time to mentally prepare for the big night, so I will finally leave you at peace and wish your choices good luck, unless they conflict with my choices, in which case screw you. Here’s a ballot if you still need one, and one last video that you’ve probably seen already, but I’ll include anyway because it’s great and has some fun with a certain bound-for-glory musical.

February 19, 2017

Oscars 2016: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 6:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Class of 2016 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and actually see who these people are.)

Complete List Of Nominees

With everything going on in the world, it seems particularly frivolous to spend the kind of time I do writing about, reading about, and thinking about the Academy Awards. But I’m much better equipped to talk about this than I am about the more important things going on, and since there are countless people vastly more qualified to discuss and dissect and spotlight those things — some of those people in my very own family — I’m going to stick with what I’m good at and focus on something that makes me happy, since every day there are a dozen reasons to cry.

Actually, that may not be the most ideal way to draw the line, since looking at recent movies also gives us a dozen reasons to cry. Lion, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea — which delivers one of the most devastating scenes of this year, or last year, or 1983, or 1971…I could go on — these are just some of the movies that lately gave us reasons to cry. But these are cathartic tears, the kind made possible by art’s capacity to move us. Good tears, in other words.

Once again, I’m pretty late with this post – external forces are partly to blame this time — but Oscar voting only started last Monday and closes on Tuesday, so somehow I feel like that lets me off the hook a little bit. I’m not sure why voting didn’t start much sooner after the nominees were announced, but oh well. We’re here now. Phase Two of awards season began at the unfathomable hour of 5:18am on Tuesday, January 24, when the nominees were unveiled in a two-part video produced by the Academy. This was a departure from the tradition of having the nominees announced live by the Academy President and an actor or actress in a room full of journalists and publicists at the unfathomable hour of 5:38am. The video featured past Oscar winner and nominees — including Marcia Gay Harden, Ken Watanabe, Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and writer/director Jason Reitman — talking about their experiences, interspersed with a lady robot reading off the nominations in each category. It was a nice experiment, but maybe could be adjusted in the future, as it wasn’t entirely successful. The interviews included some trite, “most amazing moment of my life” kind of recollections, and the revelation of the nominees themselves were even more dry than they typically are in the live format. At least with an audience you get some gasps and cheers. Here, just that alarmingly neutral female voice. There weren’t even pictures of the films or actors as each nominee was read. There’s got to be a way to have a little more fun with this kind of format, and to maybe get a couple of those participating actors to actually read the nominees. Filming ahead of time obviously makes that difficult since the nominees can not be revealed until that morning, but making magic is what Hollywood does. I believe in you, Academy! And whatever you do, bring back Gabourey Sidibe, cause she was the best part of this thing.

As for the nominations themselves, I was a pretty happy man that morning, as much as I can be at the unfathomable hour of 5:18. Not only did I do pretty well with my predictions, but there were several cases where I might have missed a call but found one of my personal picks nominated instead. There were at least three times where I audibly exclaimed, and I don’t remember that happening in many an early Oscar morning. Of the 19 categories in which I made predictions, I went 100% in five (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Animated Feature, Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and missed by one in 11. I’m good with that.

Here are some thoughts I had on certain categories…

BEST PICTURE
These Best Picture numbers keep getting the best of me. After three years of nine nominees beginning in 2011, I continued predicting nine, but the last two years yielded only eight. So this year I went with eight…and they nominated nine. I did get those eight correct, and right up until publication I was debating whether to add Hidden Figures —and whether to add it as a ninth, or slide it in and take out Fences or Hacksaw Ridge. I decided to stick with eight and keep my initial list intact, but it was great to see Hidden Figures included. It’s a satisfying crowdpleaser bolstered by terrific reviews and genuine social and historical significance that hit its stride at exactly the right time, in the middle of the voting period. The rest of the line-up went as pundits seemed to expect. I could have seen Fences or Hacksaw Ridge having lost enough momentum to be passed over, but they held on.

BEST DIRECTOR
As is usually the case, the Academy’s picks did not perfectly align with those made by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), and I was correct that it would be Lion helmer Garth Davis who missed the cut. I thought Martin Scorsese might get the fifth slot, but instead it went to another previous winner, Mel Gibson. This seemed to surprise many people, but not me so much. The industry’s warm embrace of Hacksaw Ridge since its early November debut, and Gibson’s inclusion in the award season melee — from Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations to a seat at The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual roundtable of directors — were high-profile evidence that the industry had accepted Gibson back into the fold and moved on from the public displays of bad behavior that so damaged his reputation over the past decade.

Then again, Gibson was never quite the pariah during these past years that everyone seems to think he was. He’s always had A-list friends in his corner — like Jodie Foster and Robert Downey, Jr. — who stood by him and expressed their firm belief that the person who did and said those things is not the person Gibson is at heart. Beyond that, he continued to find employment. Foster directed him in the The Beaver; he starred in the Warner Bros. revenge thriller Edge of Darkness, which was a modest hit in 2010; and he took on the antagonist roles in the popcorn action flicks Machete Kills and The Expendables 3. They aren’t exactly Hamlet, but they have an audience. So Gibson never fully went away; he just hasn’t been this openly welcomed in a long time. Perhaps the applause that greet his name when this category comes up on Oscar night will be a bit quieter than that of his fellow nominees; surely not everyone in the room will have forgotten past events. Or maybe his name will be greeted as enthusiastically as the others. The fact that he got the nomination is a victory.

I also need to mention Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and how great it is to see him score his first Oscar nomination (he directed 2010 Best Foreign Language Film nominee Incendies, but that award goes to the country, not the filmmaker, so although he would have accepted the prize had the movie won, he wasn’t the nominee). I’ve been high on Villeneuve since he landed on my radar with his 2013 kidnapping drama Prisoners, and he was among my personal picks in this category last year for Sicario. This guy is a fantastic director, fully in command of the medium and the stories he’s telling. He wasn’t among my personal choices this year, but I only recently had the chance to watch Arrival for a second time, and I definitely got more out of it this time. I might have included it personally in several categories if I’d had a chance to see it twice before the nominations. Whether I would have included him or not, I’m excited by his nomination.

BEST ACTOR
Of the five nominees, Viggo Mortensen was the one who felt the most vulnerable going in, even with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination under his belt. But he made it, along his four fellow SAG contenders, and I have to acknowledge it, because Viggo Mortensen is awesome. A great actor and class act all the way (scroll to the end of this recent interview for his story about the dinner he organized for his Captain Fantastic kids after the SAG Awards). He’s one of those actors — Sigourney Weaver, Ed Harris, Bill Murray and Michael Keaton are others that come to mind — who I really really want to see win an Oscar, so with every new role they take on that sounds like it has that sort of potential, I get excited for them and hope that the movie and performance are good enough, and catch the right wave of attention and bring them into the award season orbit. He’s not going to win, but I love that he got the nomination.

I was also happy to see Andrew Garfield score his first nomination. It should have been his second, but he missed out in 2010 for The Social Network. His character is Hacksaw Ridge is a tricky one, so unflappably earnest and pure that he could have come off as laughable. But Garfield found his way into the character’s core and sold the role 100% and then some. It’s been great to see him celebrated for it throughout the season.

BEST ACTRESS
The biggest surprise of the morning in terms of an expected nomination that did not come to pass was easily Amy Adams’ absence from the Best Actress list. It’s perplexing for a couple of reasons. One, as I mentioned in the previous post, the Academy adores Adams. Two, the movie was obviously embraced across the Academy, with recognition above the line — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay — and below the line, from Cinematography to Sound Mixing. Given how central her performance and her character’s emotional state is to the entire fabric of the movie, her omission is rather stunning. With nominations not only from nearly every critics organization during Phase One, but also from key bodies like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (distributor of the Golden Globes), BFCA, SAG and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Adams was considered nearly as sure a thing as sure things Natalie Portman and Emma Stone.

We have to remember, though, that each branch nominates its own, so looking at all the other mentions Arrival earned doesn’t ultimately matter. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, and although Adams missed out amongst her peers, I’d wager she collected plenty of votes and came awfully close to making the list.

The question of who took Adams’ perceived spot has a different answer depending on how you saw the nominations going. Some might say it was Elle‘s Isabelle Huppert. By this point in the season, however, I felt Huppert was a good bet. So to me, the surprise is Ruth Negga. She didn’t came out-of-nowhere, having remained consistently in the mix since Loving‘s early November release (in fact the buzz for her and the movie really started last May at the Cannes Film Festival). But given the number of compelling performances that could have been nominated this year, Negga had become a longer shot, and she represents the only nomination received by Loving. I was thrilled to see her recognized, as she was one of my personal picks, but it was a fiercely competitive field, and any number of actresses deserved a spot only to miss out. Chief among them in my eyes are Rebecca Hall and Annette Bening. It was never expected to happen for Hall, unfortunately, but Bening was firmly in the running, so her omission is tough to take. She’s wonderful in 20th Century Women — dry, relaxed, introspective…I’ve never seen her play anyone quite like the character she plays here, and I’m sad she wasn’t honored for it.

I certainly would have preferred to see Bening over Meryl Streep, who earned her 20th nomination, breaking a record previously held by Meryl Streep. I love Meryl as much as anyone, and I enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins quite a bit — more than I expected to. I have nothing bad to say about Streep’s performance; there was just stronger work this year that deserved recognition.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
One the most pleasant surprises among this year’s nominations was Michael Shannon, recognized for his intense, oddly comedic and sad portrayal of a West Texas detective working a case sometimes outside the boundaries of the law. Shannon earned strong reviews and awards buzz when the movie came out, but as the season unfolded it was his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson who took people by surprise with the most visible recognition (though Shannon was nominated by the BFCA). Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award, and pulled off a huge upset by winning the former. That had led most pundits to expect that if anyone from Nocturnal Animals managed a nomination, it would be him. So it came somewhat out of left-field when Shannon’s name closed out the Academy’s list of Supporting Actor nominees. It’s the actor’s second nomination — his first was in 2008 for Revolutionary Road, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates — and in both cases he came up from behind as a long shot. Many people thought he’d be in the running last year for the drama 99 Homes after he earned Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nominations. It didn’t happen, but his peers celebrated him this year even without any of those accolades boosting his visibility. The nomination is even more surprising because it represents the only one collected by Nocturnal Animals, a film which several other organizations honored in multiple categories. BAFTA was especially high on it, citing it in nine races.

If anyone is seen as missing out at Shannon’s expense, it’s probably Hugh Grant. He received career-best notices for his work opposite Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, and odds looked good for him to receive his first nomination. Some pundits seem to think that category confusion may have cost him the honor, as his Golden Globe nomination came for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) while his other nominations – SAG and BAFTA among them – were for Supporting Actor. I’m not convinced this was a factor. The Golden Globes have a bit more room to play with given their separation of drama and comedy, but Grant’s role pretty clearly is a Supporting one, and I’d be surprised if those Academy voters who did include him on their ballots did so in the Lead Actor category vs. Supporting.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cheers to the writers for honoring the bizarre and imaginative screenplay for The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. It didn’t pick up any other nominations, but its premise and execution had to earn it a place here. Hell or High Water, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea were all favorites, but it was tough trying to surmise what might get the fifth spot. I guessed Captain Fantastic, and I know that was a popular choice among other players of this game. I’d have been pleased with that, but I was also happy to see Mike Mills nominated for 20th Century Women, which begins with the great idea of a single mother enlisting the help of two other women in her life to help educate her teenage son in how to be a good man. Mills’ mother was the inspiration for Annette Bening’s character, just as his father inspired the character that Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing in Mills’ previous film, Beginners. His script is personal, warm, and generous to all of its characters. Terrific choice by the branch.

It’s also worth pointing out that Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan got his first nomination, a year after missing out for Sicario, which as mentioned above was directed by Denis Villeneuve. That movie should have brought nominations for both of them. Nice to see them both here this year.

BEST FILM EDITING
I was a little surprised to see Manchester by the Sea miss out on this. This category tends to include the leading Best Picture nominees whether or not they seem to feature the most effective editing, but Manchester does take a somewhat non-linear approach to its story by withholding details of the event that defines Casey Affleck’s character when we meet him. It isn’t until midway through the film that we learn what happened to him, and even then the story is doled out in small fragments within a single sequence.

One nomination of note: Joi Mcmillan, co-editor of Moonlight, becomes the first African-American woman nominated for an Oscar in this category. With the #OscarsSoWhite movement still active in calling attention to the scarcity of women and people of color in behind-the-scenes positions, this recognition is great to see.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Another of my audible exclamations on the morning of the nominations came when Passengers was nominated for Best Production Design. Not only was it among my five personal picks, but I specifically made a point of praising the movie’s design and wondering why no one was talking about it as a contender in this area despite the Academy’s frequent recognition of more traditional “spaceship” movies. Too often, movies that aren’t seen as the Academy’s cup of tea are overlooked in areas where they nevertheless stand out, and not given the consideration they deserve. Although it was released at the height of awards season, Passengers was always a commercial play more than an awards one, but good for Academy voters who gave it a look and recognized its achievement in specific areas, regardless of its overall reception or its intended audience. Further demonstrating the movie’s achievement in this realm: The Art Directors Guild handed Passengers the prize in their Fantasy category, where it topped Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

This is one of two categories where my predictions were off by two; I got Arrival, La La Land and Fantastic Beasts; I missed Jackie and Silence. But those two slots went to Passengers and another of my personal picks, Hail, Caesar! (its sole nomination), so I have no complaints.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The nominees here include Jackie, a movie I would have nominated in several categories (sorry, Aunt Geri). This, however, was not one of them, even if it was among my predictions. I would agree that Jackie boasts some of the most striking and beautiful costumes onscreen this year, but when many of those costumes are re-creations of already famous outfits — even iconic, in the case of the pink suit from the day of the assassination — then it irks me to see the results, however impressive, honored over work that didn’t have the benefit of countless photographs and even film footage to guide the design team. While clothes that Mrs. Kennedy wore in more private moments might have had to be imagined, many if not most of the outfits in Jackie are based on things actually worn by the former First Lady and those around her. I don’t want to minimize the difficulties, challenges or ultimate achievement that go into re-creating the design elements — be they costumes or sets — of true-life events, but when you’re singling out the five best achievements of the year, it has always seemed unfair to me when films that had the advantage of historical evidence are celebrated over original works.

Original work like the kind featured in Kubo and the Two Strings, whose vestiary praises I sung in the previous post. Failing to nominate the exceptional work in Kubo — which would have made it the first animated film to receive such an honor, though not the first to deserve it — was a huge missed opportunity for the Costume Design branch. I would love to know if it got a lot of votes and lost by a small number, or if there weren’t many voters who gave it serious consideration. I have to believe the former, because I don’t see how anyone who works as a costume designer and takes their craft seriously could fail to pay due attention to such sumptuous work.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG
In the previous post I mentioned that with so many strong contenders in the mix, the category probably couldn’t handle three songs from La La Land, which would mean the exclusion of John Legend’s contribution, “Start a Fire.” However I had forgotten the current rule that no more than two songs from a movie can get nominated, so as it turned out the category really couldn’t handle three. But the two expected tunes from La La Land — “City of Stars” and  “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — made the cut. With 91 songs to choose from, there are obviously a lot of ways for this category to go, but I’m pretty disappointed by the absence of Sia’s “Never Give Up” from Lion and especially “Drive It Like You Stole It” from the sadly underseen Sing Street – omissions that are all the more frustrating when they were partially kept at bay by Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls. Okay, everyone loves JT, and the song was an instant hit when it came out last May (seven months before the movie’s release, to capitalize on its summery vibe). It was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S., and it’s fun and energizing and will probably make for a great production number on Oscar night that will have the crowd grooving. But c’mon, this song is the the sugariest stick of bubblegum you could imagine. I’m not saying a song has to be deep or particularly substantive to deserve an Oscar nomination, but “Drive It Like You Stole It” is just as infectious as “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — more so, to my ear — and definitely more interesting lyrically. It doesn’t strive to be much more than a catchy pop song either, but it has a little bit more to say than “feel the music, get up and dance.”

Oh well. What’s done is done. But you should go watch Sing Street. Right now.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Another of my most pleasant nomination surprises came in this category, and once again it was for Passengers. I mentioned Thomas Newman’s score in my predictions post, but didn’t think it had much of a chance. I even lamented that I pushed it off of my personal picks, but it was right there for me, essentially on even ground with the five scores I did pick as my own choices. Newman is Hollywood royalty (his father Alfred is one of the most famous film composers of all time, whose work includes this brief but iconic piece) and a beloved composer who has been nominated in this category 12 times before (and maddeningly, is still seeking his first win). Whether or not his stature among his peers helped him this year or they just dug the music, it was a nomination I was happy to see. Ditto for Mica Levi’s Jackie score, which was also one of my personal picks, but one I thought might be too odd and untraditional to penetrate deeply enough into the ranks of the music branch. Happily, they surprised me. Less happily, they also surprised me by passing over Abel Korzeniowski’s lush, romantic Nocturnal Animals score, which has a classic, old-school Hollywood feel that I thought would be a big appeal to this crowd. Maybe it was, but not enough so to crack the final five.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Most people with an interest in visual effects were probably surprised by the inclusion of Deepwater Horizon, and I would have been too had I not attended the branch’s Bake-Off event, as I discussed in the previous post. Hearing the VFX supervisor talk about his team’s work made me realize how deserving the movie was, and I was glad the voters felt the same way. The bigger question mark was whether or not they would honor the stop-motion animated Kubo and the Two Strings. I wasn’t sure they would, as my predictions showed, nor was I sure they should, as my commentary expressed. But despite my mixed feelings, I have to say that seeing the movie show up on the list of nominees brought me a big smile. Even though I didn’t include it among my personal picks, I knew what a triumph it was for everyone up at Laika Entertainment to receive this nomination — only the second ever for an animated film.

I thought the spot that ended up going to Kubo would be given to Arrival, given the branch’s frequent tendency to nominate at least one “prestige” film. Among the ten films left in the running when the Bake-Off was held, Arrival was the only one in serious running for Best Picture and other top awards, so history led me to expect it among the final five. The movie’s visual effects look great, but in a tough year that also could have resulted in deserved nominations for Passengers and Captain America: Civil War, I think the final picks represent a terrific array of work.

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BEST SOUND MIXING AND BEST SOUND EDITING

When discussing the sound categories in my predictions post, and the wide array of films from which they could come, I named 16 titles that I thought represented the field. Even with that many, I still left one off that ended up getting nominated for Sound Mixing: Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, a movie that came out way the hell back in January 2016, the day after last year’s Oscar nominations were announced. I was an idiot not to have kept this movie on my radar; Bay’s movies tend to do well in the sound categories, and had I remembered it, I definitely would have had it among my list of movies to consider, whether or not I’d have ultimately predicted a nomination. So that was a glaring oversight on my part.

I didn’t include La La Land in my predictions for Sound Editing because musicals and music-centric movies never get nominated here. Sound Mixing, yes. Sound Editing, no. I knew this movie could potentially be the one to change that, but I went with precedent. Sure enough, it came through, pushing La La Land to a record-tying 14 nominations, and ruining all future chances when making predictions in this category of saying, “Musicals never get nominated for Sound Editing.” So thanks for that, Academy. As if this isn’t hard enough…

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
As usual, I didn’t make predictions in this category, having not seen any of the films in the mix. But I was aware of the movies in the running, and aware that one of the most frequent winners from critic’s groups was O.J.: Made in America, a nearly eight-hour sociological deep dive into the life, professional career and downfall of O.J. Simpson. The project was created for television as part of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, but because it was briefly exhibited in movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles, it qualified for Oscar consideration and made the cut. Count me among the contingent that finds this unfair. Yes, technically the movie qualifies. But this was not created to be a theatrical documentary, and it’s not right that other films — which were intended to be films (not epic television projects) and had to work within a traditional theatrical running time — should have to be measured against a piece that had hours more to explore its subject and tell its story. Regardless of how good it is – and by all accounts it’s an incredible piece of work – it shouldn’t be considered alongside other films whose directors had to make harder choices about what to sacrifice and what to focus on. The movie is considered the frontrunner, but if I were one of the other nominated filmmakers, I’d find it extremely frustrating not to be judged on a relatively even playing field.

On a more positive note, the great Ava DuVernay — who should have been a Best Director nominee in 2014 for Selma — is a nominee now for her doc 13th, which argues that the mass incarceration of African-Americans is effectively the continuation of slavery. Hopefully this is the first of many Oscar nominations DuVernay will collect in time. (By the way, 13th‘s distributor Netflix has addressed the disparity in running time with O.J.: Made in America by putting out billboards and banner ads that highlight its more traditional length.)

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Now then…I can’t wrap this post up without commenting on one aspect of this year’s nominations that has already been frequently-discussed. Much of the reporting in the minutes and days after the announcement centered on the inclusion of several actors of color among the nominees, as well as three films in the Best Picture category focused on African-American characters. Many outlets were quick to declare #OscarsSoWhite a thing of the past. This year’s nominations indeed take us in the direction we should be heading, but let’s not be too quick to declare Hollywood a post-racial paradise of inclusion.

First of all, none of these movies — Moonlight, Fences or Hidden Figures — arrived in theaters as a reaction to the past two years’ unfortunate lack of diverse stories and performers nominated for Oscars. Movies take a long time to make. They take a long time to write, a long time to gestate and develop, and a long time to land financing. That’s all before the cast and crew takes shape and the movie actually gets shot and then edited and assembled in post-production. It doesn’t happen in a year’s time. It seldom happens in even two years’ time. That means these movies were already in the works. If anything, they may have been put on an accelerated track for release to ensure they hit theaters within a year of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but whenever they were going to arrive, the important thing to remember is that they were going to arrive.    Whether or not they would have gained traction with the Academy in a different year would be subject to all the other movies in the mix, but you can safely bet they would all still have been in play. The fact remains, however, that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will be hiding in the wings, ready to be dusted off and displayed again anytime the year’s most celebrated movies do not reflect the diversity of the real world.

Of course, directing that rallying cry at the Oscars was misguided from the start, as the problem is not with the Oscars but with the studios and producers who decide with their millions of dollars what movies get made. The more movies depicting varied cultural, racial and sexual characters and experiences, the more likely that audiences will find those movies, that critics will champion those movies, and that award-giving bodies will honor those movies. It’s all about what gets made. That’s where the focus should be. The Academy has been making big moves toward diversity for longer than the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has existed, and as positive and important as those moves are, they’re not going to solve the problem of more diverse representation at the Oscars. So by all means, enjoy the representation featured among this year’s  nominees, but don’t yet claim the battle for diversity is won. Let’s see how things look in two years, four years and beyond. That’s the test.

Now with that said, let’s end things on a fun note…assuming that you find any of this fun. Each year in my Favorite Movies of the Year post, I put forth some nominations for Oscar categories that don’t exist but are fun to consider. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to complete one of those posts since the 2013 list, so I’m transferring my fake Oscar categories here instead. From my one-man Academy, which is not bound by the five-roster rule, my categories and nominees are:

BEST POSTER

[Larger Versions: The Birth of a Nation (Noose); The Birth of a Nation (Flag); Patriots Day; Certain Women; 13th; The Handmaiden; Jackie; Pride & Prejudice & Zombies; De Palma]

BEST TRAILER
Fences (Teaser #1); La La Land (City of Stars Teaser); La La Land (Audition Teaser); Zoolander 2 (Teaser)

BEST CASTING
Captain Fantastic – Jeanne McCarthy
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin, Richard Hicks
Indignation – Avy Kaufman
Little Men – Avy Kaufman
Loving – Francine Maisler
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez
Other People – Allison Jones
Silence – Ellen Lewis

BEST ENSEMBLE
20th Century Women; A Bigger Splash; Captain Fantastic; Fences; Hidden Figures; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight; Nocturnal Animals; Other People; Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Julian Dennison – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Sunny Pawar – Lion
Lewis McDougall – A Monster Calls
Angourie Rice – The Nice Guys
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
Neel Sethi – The Jungle Book
Hayden Setzo – The Edge of Seventeen
Theo Taplitz – Little Men

BEST BODY OF WORK
Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Moonlight)
Michael Shannon (Complete Unknown, Midnight Special, Loving, Nocturnal Animals)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Arrival, Doctor Strange, Miles Ahead, Miss Sloane)
Rachel Weisz (Complete Unknown, Denial, The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster)
The Woods (Captain Fantastic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Jungle Book, The Lobster, Pete’s Dragon, Swiss Army Man, The Witch)

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
20th Century Women; Deadpool; Everybody Wants Some!; La La Land; Sing Street

BEST OPENING CREDITS
10 Cloverfield Lane; Deadpool; Nocturnal Animals; A Monster Calls

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
A Bigger Splash; Deadpool; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings

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January 23, 2017

Oscars 2016: Nominations Eve – My Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

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I was going to kick off this post talking somewhat extensively about a movie that premiered right around this time last year, at the Sundance Film Festival, in the wake of the second consecutive year of all-white acting nominees and the resulting rise of #OscarsSoWhite. The Birth of a Nation took home the festival’s  Grand Jury and Audience Prizes for Drama, and sold to Fox Searchlight for a record-setting $17.5 million. It was instantly proclaimed the front-runner for the next year’s Oscars. Then in the few months leading up to its October release, it became mired in controversy stemming from director/co-writer/leading man Nate Parker’s involvement in a sexual assault lawsuit years earlier, when he was in college. Parker’s past became the narrative around the movie, and by the time it came out, it was DOA. It has been almost entirely absent from the awards season, and no one even seemed to be talking about that fate.

I should have written what I wanted to about all of that earlier and had it ready to go, but I didn’t, and now there’s no time. There’s more than enough material out there to consume for anyone who missed the story at the time and wants to learn more. But I thought it was worth mentioning, especially since #OscarsSoWhite is not going to be a problem this year even without The Birth of a Nation in the running.

BEST PICTURE
So that’s all I’ll say about the movie that won’t get nominated for Best Picture. Let’s talk about the ones that will, starting with La La Land (which will easily be the year’s most nominated film), Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Rock solid, those are. We can also reasonably expect Hell or High Water, Lion and Arrival, all of which have demonstrated impressive staying power throughout the critics awards and guild nominations. That puts us at six, and of course we don’t know what the magic number will be. We’re now in the sixth year of Best Picture yielding anywhere between five and ten nominees depending on how the numbers play out. The first three years saw nine nominations, while the last two gave us eight. So as always, it gets trickier as we proceed. FencesHacksaw Ridge, Loving and Jackie are sure to have strong support among the ranks, but Loving‘s bare-bones simplicity and Jackie‘s ethereal intimacy probably don’t play as broadly as Fences and Hacksaw. Sully is a longshot at this point, having been eclipsed by too many other options since its September release, but a nomination isn’t impossible. Much more recent arrivals Silence and Hidden Figures were once thought to be certain contenders, but the reception for Silence has largely lived up to its title, while Hidden Figures – popular crowd-pleaser though it is – might lose ground to Lion as the year’s biggest heart-tugger. Both Figures and Lion found favor with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), but that group nominates a guaranteed slate of ten movies, and always leans commercial where the Academy leans prestigious. To that point, the PGA nominated Deadpool, whose other notable accolades include Best Picture and Best Actor nominations (Musical/Comedy) at the Golden Globes. But despite a super sincere pitch for inclusion, don’t expect the the wiseass mutant to show up in the Academy’s above-the-line races. Anyway, Hidden Figures walks the commercial/prestigious line, but is still a tough call. It went into successful wide release in the middle of the voting period, so might that help? I can see it going either way.

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Predictions:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
20th Century Women
Fences
Jackie
La La Land
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
A Monster Calls
Moonlight
Silence
Sully

BEST DIRECTOR
The Big Three lead us off here as well, in the forms of Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea). Alongside this trio, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) put forth Denis Villeneuve for Arrival and Garth Davis for Lion. The latter selection took me aback, even coming just one day after it was nominated by another guild I hadn’t expected (which we’ll get to further down). I wasn’t sensing that Lion was that big a player, and I’m still skeptical it will hit the same notes with the Academy. The DGA nominees almost never match up with the Academy’s picks five-for-five, and I have to think that Davis will be the odd man out. Villeneuve seems like a good bet to repeat with the Academy, especially given that Arrival – unlike Lion – has been a more visible player across the top categories during the precursor phase…though Lion has done well.

The director’s branch sometimes uses that fifth slot to celebrate a helmer who has been largely overlooked by other groups, as was the case the past two years with Room‘s Lenny Abrahamson and Foxcatcher‘s Bennett Miller, respectively. On that possibility, never underestimate directors’ esteem for Martin Scorsese. Although Silence didn’t make much noise in the precursor phase (c’mon, these puns are begging to be used), it was one of the very last movies of the year to begin screening within the industry, and it certainly hasn’t been poorly received. It’s just gotten lost in the year-end glut. It has its admirers, and the fact that it’s been a decades-long dream of Scorsese’s to make it, and that it was surely a difficult production to finance and mount, might fuel its chances. Directors who respect Scorsese for continuing to push himself and create artful, challenging films may well want to show him their appreciation.

Still, there are others in the mix. Mel Gibson found himself back in Hollywood’s good graces with Hacksaw Ridge, which left many viewers breathless with its intense battle scenes and moved by its celebration of old fashioned heroism. David Mackenzie’s direction of Hell or High Water doesn’t call attention to itself, which the movie’s fans will likely appreciate. The same could be said for Jeff Nichols and Loving, but his odds seem distant. On the other side of the coin are a pair of movies whose directorial style is front and center: Pablo Larraín’s Jackie and Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Both men have found a fair amount of love from the critics, but their work might be too divisive to earn enough votes within the Academy…though I’d give better odds to Larraín. One last possibility worth mentioning is Denzel Washington, who delivered a forceful screen version of Fences. Powerful as the movie is, however, it retains the feeling of a play, and stands more as a showcase of acting and writing than directing.

Predictions:
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Martin Scorsese – Silence

Personal Picks:
Pablo Larraín – Jackie
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
J.A. Bayona – A Monster Calls

BEST ACTOR
Given the astonishing dominance of Casey Affleck, who has picked up nearly every single critic’s award there is for his aching performance in Manchester by the Sea, nominating four other guys feels like a formality. But that’s how it works,  so when Casey arrives onstage to collect the prize, he can acknowledge his fellow nominees Denzel Washington – the only other super-sure thing – and almost definitely Ryan Gosling. Andrew Garfield is a bit less definite, but still right on the edge of almost definite. Along with Affleck, Washington, Gosling and Garfield, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) went with Viggo Mortensen, an excellent choice that could easily repeat with the Academy. There are usually one or two differences between SAG nominees and Oscar nominees, but there’s also usually one category a year where the two bodies match up, and this year Best Actor could be the one. Although the most vulnerable of the five, Mortensen also has a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and was a Golden Globe nominee.

Overall, the field isn’t nearly as crowded as usual, making for a less painful process of elimination to round out the category if the Academy passes on Viggo (or Garfield or even Gosling). Loving‘s Joel Edgerton has stayed in the mix thanks to several critic’s groups nominations, but it’s hard to gauge how that movie will do. Everything about Loving is quiet and unassuming, and especially when it comes to acting, those aren’t necessarily the performances that get recognized. Adam Driver has also been nominated by quite a few critics groups for his turn in Paterson, but he faces the same challenges as Edgerton in a movie that’s almost surely been seen less widely. Plus, Jim Jarmusch films have never exactly caught on with the Academy. Driver would need a passionate and sizable fan base within the acting branch.

Tom Hanks gave yet another of his reliable and understated – many would argue undervalued – performances in Sully, and after 16 years since his last nomination, he’s long overdue for another. Sully could be the one to bring him back, especially given the thinner-than-usual slate of contenders. The movie doesn’t give him the kind of unforgettable scene he had at the end of Captain Phillips, for which he was widely expected to be nominated, but 2012 was a maddeningly competitive year for Best Actor. Michael Keaton and Matthew McConaughey were at one time expected to be in the thick of the race for their vibrant performances in The Founder and Gold, respectively, but The Weinstein Company – distributor of both films – totally dropped the ball with the releases, dumping them into the packed December market with minimally-publicized one-week qualifying runs before releasing them wide this month (The Founder this past Friday, Gold this coming Friday.) Harvey Weinstein is usually much smarter and savvier than this, and The Founder is especially head-scratching since it was initially set for release in August, when it would have had breathing room and Keaton – whose hot streak continues with another excellent performance – could have built up some momentum. But for whatever reason – possibly financial limitations? – TWC put all their muscle behind Lion (which, admittedly, will work out well for them) and hung The Founder and Gold out to dry.

The remaining names in the mix face slim odds, despite having popped up in high-profile places. Deadpool‘s Ryan Reynolds and The Lobster‘s Colin Farrell both earned Golden Globe nominations in the Musical/Comedy category, while Jake Gyllenhaal raised eyebrows with a BAFTA nomination for Nocturnal Animals that displaced Denzel Washington. In fact, I learned in the wake of that surprise that BAFTA has never nominated Denzel Washington. NEVER! Not for Glory, not for Malcolm X, not for The Hurricane, not for Carbon Copy…what the hell is that about? Did Denzel do something early in his career to offend the Brits?

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Don Cheadle gave a great performance as Miles Davis way back in the April release Miles Ahead, but it’s been long forgotten save for one nomination in the precursor phase. Cheers to you, North Texas Film Critics Association!

Predictions:
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST ACTRESS
For the second year in a row – noteworthy because, sadly, it’s not usually the case – the Best Actress conversation has far more deserving nominees than available space. Actually, it’s not that the pool is especially large as much as it is robust. Better to have a surplus of great work than a dearth, but it makes for difficult choices and unfortunate omissions. Emma Stone and Natalie Portman needn’t worry about this, as their spots are assured. Amy Adams is a near lock too, after Arrival went from a bubble candidate upon its release to a bona fide awards season darling. Her almost-certain nomination will be the sixth she’s collected in 11 years. (She has yet to win, but make no mistake: the Academy loves Amy Adams.)

Isabelle Huppert has pulled in major acclaim – and lots of precursor awards – for Elle, and is a good bet for a nomination, but faces obstacles. The movie is smaller, without the kind of marketing muscle that the likes of La La Land, Jackie and Arrival have in their corner. It’s a movie that voters will need to seek out rather than wandering into a screening any night of the week anywhere in Hollywood. Motivation to see the film shouldn’t be a problem given how much attention Huppert has garnered. She has rivaled Portman nearly neck-and-neck for prizes from critic’s groups, and has come out better so far when it comes to higher profile wins. The New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics – three of only five standard critics groups that really matter on their own – gave their award to Huppert, and she also bested Portman at the Golden Globes, taking the award for the Drama category. Despite all of this, the movie is still something of an outsider, which could impact Huppert’s chances to some degree. Plus, for all the attention she’s received, she was passed over by BAFTA and SAG. Unlike all these critics groups, SAG and BAFTA actually share members with the Academy, so their selections can offer clues. But they also shouldn’t be overestimated; just last year, Charlotte Rampling scored a Best Actress nod at the Oscars, and Huppert fits a nearly identical pattern: veteran performer, acclaimed international star never before nominated by the Academy, earning some of the best review of her long career, landing a lot of wins and/or nominations during the precursor phase but missing out with SAG and BAFTA…if it could happen for Rampling – who also didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination, let alone the win – it could surely happen for Huppert. Still, there’s one key difference that should be mentioned, and that’s subject matter. Elle deals with a rape and its aftermath (other things too, but the rape is what sets the story going), and overall it subject matter is “difficult.” That might deter some voters from pursuing it. (Huppert’s is the only performance in the Best Actress conversation that I haven’t seen. I’d love to check out her work, but knowing what the movie is at least partially about, I know I don’t have the stomach for it. Not on the big screen at least. Maybe I can eventually give it a try at home.)

Speaking of SAG and BAFTA, both groups shared a rather baffling inclusion: Emily Blunt for The Girl on the Train. Don’t get me wrong: I love Blunt, and would have been thrilled to see her nominated for The Devil Wear Prada and Sicario. But The Girl on the Train? Despite its origins as a popular best-seller, the movie landed softly, middling in both its critical and box office reception, and for reason. She was good, and most reviews singled her out as the best thing about the movie, but still…it’s hard to justify such high profile honors when there was much more impressive work in the mix. (Plus – and of course this has nothing to do with the quality of the performance – but the character was so unsympathetic that I spent most of the movie’s duration wanting to violently shake her and give her a couple of good slaps across the face…not feelings I usually have toward people). Anyway, these nominations mean we have to talk about Blunt. Now we’ve talked about her, and I think that’s as far as she goes. I just can’t imagine the Academy affording her a spot given the competition.

No, I’m afraid the last spot may go to Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins. I say “afraid” because it’s a safe and unimaginative choice. Look, we all know Meryl Streep is a marvel (well, most of us), and she does it again in Jenkins as a wealthy socialite whose determination to be an opera singer is matched by her complete lack of talent. As we’ve seen in movies like Postcards from the Edge and A Prairie Home Companion, Streep has a lovely singing voice, so it may have required a unique skill set to suppress her natural ability and come off as such a disaster. The movie is charming and it’s a delightful performance, yes. Plus, outside factors always come into play, and Streep’s chances were no doubt boosted by the memorable speech she gave at the Golden Globes while accepting a lifetime achievement award. That went down smack in the middle of the Oscar voting period, and it almost surely won her some votes. But the fact is there’s richer, more complicated, more nuanced and simply more deserving work this year, and it will be a disappointment if voters rubber-stamp Streep for what is ultimately a lightweight offering.


One such performance that belongs here is Annette Bening’s in 20th Century Women, and when the movie debuted at the AFI Fest in November, she was touted as a highly likely nominee alongside Portman and Stone. But that was before Adams and Huppert surged, and before Streep picked up nominations from SAG and BAFTA; nominations that I believe mean more for her than for Blunt because she was already in the mix, whereas Blunt feels like a kooky outlier choice. Bening could still break through, but she’s looking more and more like a longshot. Ditto for Ruth Negga, who gave a beautiful breakout performance in Loving as a modest wife and mother who quietly but defiantly challenges the county’s discriminatory interracial marriage laws. Negga, like her co-star Joel Edgerton, may pay the price for the subtlety of the performance and the overall film. But if it turns out to have stuck with enough voters, Negga could have a shot.

Like Bening, Taraji P. Henson started generating talk when Hidden Figures finally bowed late in the season, but it may have been too late. She probably would have needed one major nomination elsewhere in order to have a fighting chance at the Oscars. Without one, she’s probably out. Jessica Chastain gave another fierce and worthy performance in Miss Sloane, but she and the movie were largely buried under higher profile releases. Also shamefully lost in the shuffle this season was the terrific coming of age comedy The Edge of Seventeen, anchored by a superb Hailee Steinfeld performance. She never earned buzz as an awards possibility, but she should have. She received a deserved Golden Globe nomination in the Musical/Comedy category, but that was the extent of her presence. Finally, I have to mention the most disappointing example of neglect in any acting category of the year: Rebecca Hall in Christine. She did get some critic’s group mentions here and there, but none from the ones that mattered (unless we count runner-up to Huppert from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association). As a real-life, troubled news reporter who shot herself on the air, Hall’s performance was like nothing we’ve seen her do before, and she captured the character’s pain and disappointment and social awkwardness with dry wit and deep pathos. She should be in the thick of any legitimate Best Actress conversation.

Predictions:
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Personal Picks:
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
You could pretty much stack this category with the five principal male performances from Moonlight and be done with it. That’s how good Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes (playing main character Chiron at ages 9, 16 and 26, respectively), André Holland and Mahershala Ali all are. But short of a major surprise, it’s Ali who will get the nomination. He’s completely run this category in the precursor phase and is the heavy favorite to win the award. I’m a bit surprised by his domination, not because he isn’t great – he is – but because he doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time, and because the other performances are also so good. Personally I’d give the nomination to Rhodes, who not only has the larger role, but arguably the greater challenge as well: connecting the adult Chiron in the movie’s final third to the younger actors who played him in the earlier segments. Regardless, Ali is a sure thing.

The only other likely lock is Hell or High Water‘s Jeff Bridges, who’s been a consistent nominee, winner or runner-up so far. A surprising number of critics groups also cited his co-star Ben Foster, but I don’t expect that to continue with the Academy. Ironically, the actor most deserving of award attention for Hell or High Water is the one who hasn’t gotten any: Chris Pine. Bridges and Foster are terrific, but we’ve seen both actors play similar characters before. Bridges, especially, could play this guy in his sleep. Pine was the real revelation, and reviews repeatedly said as much when the movie came out last summer. Unfortunately the role – although the lead one among the three – isn’t dominant enough for Pine to have broken through as a Best Actor contender. Too bad.

Dev Patel is probably in for Lion, nearly a decade after his breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire brought him within striking distance of a nomination. Lucas Hedges is a strong possibility for Manchester by the Sea, but there are some potential stumbling blocks. Although Hedges has been a fixture among nominees from regional critics, he was passed over by the Golden Globes and BAFTA. He did land BFCA and SAG nominations, but SAG in particular has always been generous to young actors, and at 20 – not a kid anymore, but not far off – Hedges is in a bit of a grey zone with the Academy. They don’t often nominate young performers, and when they do, girls have a better track record than guys. If nominated, he would be the youngest male in either lead or supporting categories to be nominated since Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense in 1999. Since then, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kiera Knightley, Abigail Breslin, Ellen Page, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence, Hailee Steinfeld and Quvenzhané Wallis have all been nominated while between Osment’s then-age and Hedges’ current age. This is hardly a scientific argument, or a demonstration that Hedges won’t get the nod, but it’s not as certain as Manchester‘s expected presence or Hedges’ success thus far might lead you to believe. He could easily be among the overlooked.

For the one – or maybe two – remaining spots, we could look to Hugh Grant, who earned some of his best notices ever for Florence Foster Jenkins, and who scored with the Globes, SAG and BAFTA. His co-star Simon Helberg – also Golden Globe nominated – is deserving as well, but a long shot at best. Michael Shannon has been a critic’s favorite for Nocturnal Animals, but was ignored by most major entities (the BFCA cited him) while to everyone’s surprise, his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson scored nominations from BAFTA, as well as truly shocking Golden Globe victory over Mahershala Ali. I’m not expecting his good luck will extend to the Oscars (or that Shannon will manage to break through) but clearly the performance is sticking with people. In advance of Hidden Figures‘ release, Kevin Costner was generating a lot of talk, but he hasn’t been singled out by any group, so at this point a nomination would be a surprising.

I’m also compelled to mention three performances that haven’t had much traction, but deserve consideration. First, Alden Ehrenreich, the up-and-comer who stole the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! out from under a jacked cast boasting Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannsson, Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton. Second, one of Ehrenreich’s scene partners in Caesar: Ralph Fiennes, who did blazing, boisterous work opposite Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash. Lastly, John Goodman as a creepy, unpredictable survivalist in 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s crazy that Goodman has still never been nominated for an Oscar, and although the Academy rarely honors commercial horror/thriller/sci-fi movies like 10 Cloverfield, Goodman’s excellent performance would be a welcome exception. All three actors have received a smattering of recognition amongst the critic’s awards, but the odds of any getting Oscar love are slim to none.

Predictions:
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion

Personal Picks:
Alden Ehrenreich – Hail, Caesar!
Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
As awards season was unfolding, one big question affecting people’s early predictions was whether Viola Davis would be pushed as a lead or supporting actress for Fences. Davis won a Lead Actress Tony Award for the role in a 2010 stage revival. The same part also earned Mary Alice a Tony Award in the original Broadway production, but her win was in the Featured Actress category (the Tony’s equivalent of Supporting). So while category fraud often finds leading performances shuffled into the supporting categories because odds of winning might be better there – see Rooney Mara and winner Alicia Vikander last year – there was precedent for Davis to go either way. It was reportedly Davis herself who, after watching a final cut of the film, felt her performance belonged in the Supporting race. Once people got a look at Fences, there was no question she’d be nominated; only where she’s be placed. Count her in.

She’s sure to be joined by Michelle Williams, who’s role in Manchester by the Sea is small but in one particular scene packs such a punch that it could actually leave people physically bruised. Moonlight‘s Naomie Harris is also a sure bet, playing a mother whose drug addiction continually gets in the way of her love for her son. All three of these actresses are playing mothers and/or wives, and motherhood is a big theme among the potential nominees this year. In Lion, Nicole Kidman plays the devoted adoptive mother of two Indian boys; in Queen of Katwe, Lupita Nyong’o is a mother concerned that her daughter’s success as a chess prodigy will build up hopes that can’t be fulfilled; and both Other People‘s Molly Shannon and A Monster Calls‘ Felicity Jones play mothers dying of cancer, fighting to ensure their children will be okay when they’re gone. Unfortunately, most of these terrific performances have received too little award attention to stand much chance of getting nominated, save for Kidman, whose chances look good thanks to nominations from SAG, BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the BFCA.

Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe both play wives and mothers in Hidden Figures, though their domestic roles take a back seat to their professional roles in the story of African-American women’s contribution to NASA’s space program in the 1960’s. Monáe was nominated by the BFCA, and Spencer was nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG award and is on many pundits’ list of expected Oscar nominees. I’m not sure what to expect. Her performance (and Monáe’s) are enjoyable, but don’t merit Oscar attention in my view. Not that my view has any impact on what will actually happen. But I just don’t know if I see it happening. Another option that’s vexing me is Greta Gerwig, who plays a bohemian artist boarding with a mother and her teenage son in 20th Century Women. Several critics’ organization’s nominated her, but I don’t know if the movie has managed to make an impression on enough Academy voters.

One actress who has has done well with critics but who has little prayer with the Academy is Certain Women‘s Lily Gladstone, a young actress who plays a ranch worker so lonely that she wanders into a night class just to be in the company of other people, and then begins to yearn for the instructor, played by Kristen Stewart. The movie also stars Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, but it’s Gladstone who has resonated. There’s no way the movie has been seen by enough people for her to crack the race, and even if it had, her performance, open-hearted as it may be, is so understated and quiet that she makes Loving‘s Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton look like they’re playing Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in What’s Opera, Doc?

Predictions:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Lupita Nyong’o – Queen of Katwe
Molly Shannon – Other People
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
As evidenced by the preceding sections, and this annual post I’ve been doing for far too long, Oscar predictions are based in no small part on what other organizations have nominated. The most important place to look when it comes to the screenplay awards is the Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominations. Yet this always proves tricky, since the WGA plays by its own rules. If a movie is written by a non-guild member, or if the production operates outside of certain guild guidelines, it is deemed ineligible for consideration. Inevitably, this occurs every year with movies that are prominently in the running. In the category of Original Screenplay, this year’s affected movies include Florence Foster Jenkins, The Lobster, Paterson, Everybody Wants Some! and Miss Sloane. Of these, only The Lobster seems a possibility for the Oscars, and its chances would have been strong with the WGA had it been eligible.

As it is, the WGA’s nominees this year are Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Loving and Moonlight. The first two will surely be nominated, and it’s hard to imagine La La Land missing out even if its screenplay is pretty simple and straightforward. However we now come to another wrench in the gears; one which is less frequent than the yearly WGA ineligibilities. The Academy ruled last month that Moonlight and Loving will be considered in the Adapted category, not Original. Moonlight is based on a play Tarell Alvin McRaney, titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McRaney receives a Story By credit on the film, though his material was significantly altered by Jenkins. Loving was partially informed and inspired by the 2011 documentary short The Loving Story, whose creator Nancy Buirski is among Loving‘s credited producers. Both Jenkins and Loving writer/director Jeff Nichols have been open about the source material that influenced their scripts…but we’ll save this for the next section. For now, we’re left with a race that looks quite different than it might have, and which the WGA now provides even less help in forecasting.

Two assumed slots are up for the taking, and will probably be filled from a short but potent list of challengers, topped by The Lobster. There were few films this year more original than this one, set in a world where single adults are forced to find a mate or else be turned into an animal. That’s an extremely simplistic description, but it will have to do until you see it for yourself. Despite the WGA’s ruling, I would be surprised if members of the writer’s branch didn’t support this one en masse. The movie feels like something Charlie Kaufman would have come up with, and given the good luck his films have had, surely The Lobster is on the shortlist of many a voter. Beyond that, the best bets are Captain Fantastic, 20th Century Women, Zootopia and Jackie. I have no sense of which one will come out on top, or if something else altogether might surprise. There’s no shortage of films that haven’t found traction on the awards circuit despite terrific scripts. Could we see Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Edge of Seventeen, Sing Street, Other People, or The Founder? I doubt it. But I wouldn’t mind being wrong.

Predictions:
Matt Ross – Captain Fantastic
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Taika Waititi – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

XX
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Interestingly, the name of this category technically used to be Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, and while I don’t know the circumstances around when or even if that officially changed, I do know that the last time a presenter of this award used that phrase was at the 2007 Oscars. Ever since then they’ve called it Best Adapted Screenplay. (How do I know this? Because I went to YouTube and started watching clips of this category until I found the turning point. That’s how dedicated I am to bringing you thorough commentary. That’s also why I’m never done until the nominations are hours away. This is my curse.) I bring it up because the literal interpretation of the category seems relevant in regards to Moonlight and Loving. The play that Barry Jenkins adapted was not produced or published (in fact, McCraney says it wasn’t really a play at all; that he never wrote it down in the way a play is written). Loving, though based on real events that are part of public record, was by Jeff Nichols’ own admission based in part on the documentary. So the Academy’s classification of Loving as adapted seems cut-and-dry to me. I’d be curious to know why the WGA saw it differently. As for Moonlight, it’s clearly adapted from another medium, but I wonder if it would have been considered an Original were the Academy still calling the category Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.

In any case…they’re here now, and Moonlight will definitely be among the nominees, while Loving is a possibility. Fewer adapted scripts than originals were ruled ineligible by the the WGA; the most prominent was Lion, which is a good bet to land with the Academy. In the absence of the three movies mentioned so far, the WGA’s nominees were Arrival, Deadpool, Fences, Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals. Arrival will make the cut, and Fences looks good too. The WGA nominees often include some fun, commercial choices that tend to be ignored by the Academy (Trainwreck, Guardians of the Galaxy and Looper are recent examples), but they can usually be accommodated because of the more expected contenders that are disqualified. Translation: Deadpool probably won’t be a factor in your Oscar pool. It’s not an impossibility, but definitely not a likelihood. Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals both stand a chance, each having scored BFCA and BAFTA nominations along with mentions from other groups during the season. (BAFTA was especially taken with Nocturnal Animals, awarding it nine nominations. I don’t expect it will do quite as well with the stateside Academy.) This is one of the few areas where Silence has garnered a bit of attention, and I’ll say again that it was a late arrival, which could account for why it has struggled to gain traction in a field that is overcrowded, as always. Maybe it will surprise us with a decent showing.

Predictions:
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
August Wilson – Fences
Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
Luke Davies – Lion
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-Kyung- The Handmaiden
August Wilson – Fences
Jeff Nichols – Loving
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Depending on the number of eligible films, there can be anywhere from two to five nominees for Animated Feature, and with 27 submissions this year, there should be no problem with at least 16 successfully qualifying, meaning we can expect a full slate of five nominees. Two of those will for sure go to Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings, which have dominated the critics’ awards with an almost equal number of wins (Kubo comes out just ahead). The category could easily be filled out by five mainstream releases, but the voters almost always include one or more lesser known films, often foreign, independent or both. Moana will probably make it, but I feel like Finding Dory is surprisingly difficult to call. Pixar movies have won this award in eight of the 15 years it’s existed. Only twice have they lost (Monsters Inc., Cars), and only three times have they not been nominated: for Cars 2, Monsters University and The Good Dinosaur…which we can probably all agree are the three weakest movies they’ve produced during that time period. Finding Dory has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and was the second highest grossing film of the year. The problem is really that despite being universally well-received, it still seems to have been eclipsed by the three non-Pixar movies previously mentioned, and there are a lot of acclaimed indie films in the running (six of the most notable are highlighted in this Hollywood Reporter piece). Even though Dory has plenty of acclaim, does anyone think it matches the original, which won this award in 2003? And will members of the animation branch, when faced with something original vs. a sequel, go for the sequel? In a less crowded year with movies that look less interesting, maybe. This year, I’m not so sure. Or hey, maybe they’ll go with Seth Rogan’s hilariously raunchy Sausage Party, celebrating that animation can be totally adult-centric with a hard-R rating.

Regrettably, most of the smaller animated movies eluded me this year, or ran in theaters only briefly, just long enough to qualify for consideration. My personal list, therefore, is completely filled out by big studio picks. I have a feeling it would look slightly different had I been able to see some less-exposed contenders.

Predictions:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Personal Picks:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sausage Party
Sing
Zootopia

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
As we move into the below-the-line categories, La La Land will be as much of a presence as it was above, starting here with a nomination for Linus Sandgren. He was among the lensers selected by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), along with Bradford Young for Arrival, James Laxton for Moonlight, Rodrigo Prieto for Silence and Greig Fraser for Lion. Fraser’s nomination was a shock to me (it’s the other one I referred to above in the Best Director section when I mentioned my surprise over its presence on the DGA’s list.) I just don’t remember coming away from Lion thinking that the cinematography was among the year’s very best, and since the Oscar nominees are unlikely to align with the ASC picks, I’m once again left to think Lion will miss. Maybe I’m underestimating it.

If the Academy veers from the five ASC choices – either dropping Lion or perhaps something else – Nocturnal Animals could find its way in. Tom Ford’s movies can be counted on to look great, and Seamus McGarvey’s work on the movie is stylish and foreboding. Those adjectives may be even more appropriate to describe Natasha Braier’s gorgeous images in The Neon Demon, but unfortunately I don’t see the Academy going anywhere near that batshit crazy movie. (Nocturnal Animals is pretty batshit crazy too, actually, but The Neon Demon…Jesus, that movie is fuckin’ nuts.) The cinematographer’s branch has shown an affinity for Asian cinema over the years, which could bode well for The Handmaiden. There’s also been some recognition from critics groups for Hell or High Water, shot by Giles Nuttgens. I don’t expect it to make the cut, but it’s not out of the question.

Predictions:
Bradford Young – Arrival
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Seamus McGarvey – Nocturnal Animals
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

Personal Picks:
Stéphane Fontaine – Jackie
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Natasha Braier – The Neon Demon
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

XX
BEST FILM EDITING

Best Editing tends to mirror Best Picture closely, anointing that category’s favorites alongside possibly a “respectable” action movie. (Sometimes you get something that hits both buttons, like last year’s winner Mad Max: Fury Road.) This year’s Best Picture leaders La La LandMoonlight and Manchester by the Sea are all expected to score here, though it’s conceivable that either of the latter two could be usurped by any number of other prestige dramas. Arrival relies heavily on the success of its editing, and Hacksaw Ridge benefits from having intense war sequences. These movies all picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), though La La Land was in their Musical or Comedy category. Hell or High Water held the fifth spot in the Drama category. Across the pond, BAFTA also went with La La, Manchester, Arrival and Hacksaw, but swapped Nocturnal Animals for Moonlight. ACE’s Musical/Comedy category was rounded out by Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar! and The Lobster. I’m doubtful any of these can break through into a race of just five, but Deadpool and The Jungle Book could conceivably crash the party.

For me, Jackie is right up there in terms of deserving recognition alongside those three, but I expect it will be overlooked. I would also think Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day – two intense, real-life dramas from Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, each balancing a lot of moving parts – will have their supporters within the branch, as will Sully, which portrays the Miracle on the Hudson multiple times, from different angles and for different storytelling purposes throughout its running time. Had Sully caught on as a stronger contender in the top categories, I’d have given it better odds here. Lion could show up if it turns out to play across the Academy better than I’m expecting, as could Hidden Figures or Silence. I suppose we should also consider Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as a distant possibility, as The Force Awakens made a somewhat surprising appearance here last year. That movie had an ACE nomination, however, which Rogue One doesn’t. Not that an ACE nod is a prerequisite for an Oscar nod, but for a long shot like Rogue One, chances that it will make the cut without precedent from the guild seem slim.

Predictions:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Jackie
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Sully

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
As always, period pieces and science-fiction/fantasy films rule the day in the design categories, so naturally La La Land – which is neither – leads us off. True, contemporary films with “real-world” settings are seldom recognized in this category, but La La Land may be the most gorgeously color-coorindated movie since Dick Tracy, which took home the award in this category in 1990. Seriously, look at how the green of the pencil eraser interacts with the green of the pencil itself and the green on Emma’s shirt and the blue reflected on the window. Colors….pretty….

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Moving into more traditional territory for this category, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could bring three-time winner Stuart Craig back to the race. The production designer on all eight Harry Potter movies, Craig returned for this spin-off where the 1920’s setting allowed him to blend period details into the fantasy elements of the wizarding world that earned him four nominations for the Potter movies. The unique design of the alien crafts in Arrival – both interior and exterior – make that movie a prime contender here, and Passengers should be in the thick of the conversation too. Although it earned a nomination from the Art Director’s Guild (ADG) in their Fantasy category, it didn’t show up with any critic’s groups that give out awards in this category. But many of those organizations, as well as the Academy, love to nominate “spaceship movies” even when the spaceships in question all look pretty much the same time and time again. Given the Production Design branch’s recognition in the last three years of Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian, certainly they should be taking a close look at the more imaginative, unique design of Passengers‘ enormous ship, designed to be a playground of luxury for its inhabitants on their journey to a new life in the cosmos. Elsewhere in the area of Fantasy, Doctor Strange is worthy of attention, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brought some fresh locations and design elements to the 40 year-old galaxy far, far away.

On the period side, Jackie was frequently cited by critic’s groups for its re-creation of the Kennedy-era White House, while the 1790’s English setting of Love & Friendship also earned some attention. Silence and The Handmaiden spotlight different but equally impressive depictions of Asian locales, with the former taking place in 1600’s Japan and the latter in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 1900s. Hail, Caesar! not only offers up renderings of old time Hollywood, but gets to show off plenty of variety thanks to its primary setting: a movie studio where one soundstage is occupied by a Roman epic, another by an elaborate musical number in a swimming pool, and so on through a variety of film genres.

Finally, to circle back around to the contemporary – and the batshit crazy – Nocturnal Animals is another viable possibility, while The Neon Demon is worthy but probably not viable. Even batshit crazy has a scale.

Predictions:
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Jackie
La La Land
Silence

Personal Picks:
Arrival
Hail, Caesar!
The Handmaiden
La La Land
Passengers

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Kicking things off with a guaranteed spot is, you guessed it, La La Land!  It would be getting annoying by now if it wasn’t eminently worthy in category after category. Generally though, the same rules apply in Costume Design as they do in Production Design: period, fantasy and sci-fi films dominate. As such, many of the same titles vying for a Production Design nomination are in the mix here too: Jackie and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are both solid possibilities; Love & Friendship and Hidden Figures are stronger contenders for their costumes than their sets; and Silence, The Handmaiden, Nocturnal Animals, Doctor Strange and Rogue One have about the same odds here as they do there, which are not great, but not impossible.

This is actually one of the most competitive categories of the year, with a plethora of stylish threads on display and jockeying for a position on the coveted list of five. Other challengers include the dapper duds and elaborate gowns seen in Florence Foster Jenkins; and Live By Night, Allied and Rules Don’t Apply. I group that trio together because, although set in three different 20th century decades – the 20’s, the 40’s and the 60’s, respectively – each one features immaculately tailored and beautifully designed outfits that seem like they could all be found in one decade-spanning epic.

There are two spoilers that must be mentioned. First, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, given that its predecessor earned a nomination in 2012 and it does feature some stunning pieces. Second, a little-seen Kate Winslet vehicle called The Dressmaker. The Australian film came and went from American theaters, but a Google search of its costumes clearly shows that it should not be underestimated. The Costume Designers branch has never had a problem nominating movies that were barely seen by audiences but which stood out for their incredible sartorial achievements. Remember The Invisible Woman? W.E.? 2010’s The Tempest? Bright Star? Angels and Insects? Probably not. But the Academy’s Costume Design branch did.

Lastly: if I had the power to influence the Academy in just one of its choices across all categories, I would use it to ensure that they nominate Kubo and the Two Strings for Best Costume Design. Animated films never seem to break through – if they get considered at all – in these crafts categories, and that needs to change. In this case, Kubo is as worthy of consideration as any other movie in the field, and if there was a better single costume all year than the one adorning Kubo‘s chilling villains The Sisters, I didn’t see it. The Costume Designer’s Guild (CDG) recognized the film’s achievement, nominating it in their Fantasy category – the first time they’ve accorded a nomination to an animated film. Do the right thing, Academy, and follow the CDG’s example.

Predictions:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Personal Picks:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hidden Figures
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

This is probably the most difficult category to call each year, given how many possibilities there are and how open the voters are to looking beyond the usual suspects and nominating songs from movies no one has ever heard of. That’s a good thing, of course, but it makes predicting the nominees extra challenging. Of course, I wouldn’t exactly call the music branch voters – or the rules they play by – enlightened. This is a category in need of serious procedural overhaul, and the utterly illogical guidelines complicate guessmaking. For one thing, voters are sent video clips of the songs as they appear in the movie, which can work against songs that play over end credits or that seem less integral to the plot. If the Academy wants to change the category to Best Use of a Song in a Movie, then this methodology is appropriate. But when the category is simply meant to recognize the best songs, it shouldn’t matter how they’re used. Voters should receive audio only, not video, and judge the songs simply on their musical merits. But wait, it gets better. Clips submitted to the Academy for consideration and in turn sent to the voters can not exceed three minutes. So if the song runs five minutes, or four minutes, or 3:06, well, tough shit. The clip will cut off and that’s that. How is this possibly allowed, or considered an effective way of evaluating a piece of music? The branch leaders would probably argue that the time limit exists to expedite the judging process to some degree. Perhaps the better way to do that, however, would be to revise the submission guidelines in the first place, tightening up the qualifications so that you don’t wind up with a list of 91 songs for consideration. 91 songs! That’s how many are in play this year. The last three years all had between 70 and 80.

So…where to begin with trying to predict which five songs from a list of 91 will make the cut? Well, once again we can begin with La La Land, which actually cuts the field down by two. “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” are standouts in the film and standouts in the field, and given the expected love for the film, both songs are sure to get in…though for what it’s worth, only “City of Stars” picked up a Golden Globe nomination. A third song from La La Land – “Start a Fire,” sung by John Legend – is also on the list (a maximum of three songs per film can be submitted), but beloved as the movie is and catchy as Legend’s track is, the category probably can’t handle three songs from one movie. That’s because unlike last year, which featured a dreadful pool of offerings – a dreadpool, if you will – there are actually a lot of worthy songs this time around. Moana has two in the running, and in a weaker year – or just a year without La La Land, both of them might have been able to pick up nods, but I expect that “How Far I’ll Go” will get a slot over “We Know the Way.” I’m surprised the powers that be at Disney didn’t also submit the fun and bouncy “You’re Welcome,” which is sung – quite respectably, if I do say so – by Dwayne Johnson. For my money it’s a better choice than “We Know the Way.”

Those are the relatively easy picks. After that it gets hard. Maybe because I loved the movie so much, I have to think one of the tunes from Sing Street will be included, and while voters could go with the slow-building ballad “Go Now” sung by Adam Levine, I don’t see how anyone can resist “Drive It Like You Stole It.” That’s just a no-brainer to me, although it does touch on the frustrating elements of the music branch’s voting system. One one hand, the song is featured in a big fantasy sequence involving a school dance, so the clip might appeal to voters looking for selections that have story impact. On the other hand, they’ll be missing most of the context, because there are things going on in that scene that won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the whole movie. So does seeing how the song is used in the movie help its chances, hurt them, or make no difference? Also, the song is about three-and-a-half minutes long, so the ending will be cut off. Brilliant, music branch. Way to go.

Plenty of rock and pop stars are in the mix, with some of them having taken on a music supervisory role for entire movies. In addition to voicing a lead character, Justin Timberlake oversaw the music for the animated Trolls, contributing the relentlessly upbeat “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Pharrell played a large role in the music of Hidden Figures, and could find his song “Runnin’” in the runn…in the mix. Common contributes the searing and topical “Letter to the Free” to Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th, which explores the mass incarceration of black men in America. Sia has three songs on the list, with “Never Give Up” from Lion definitely a standout for me. Feeling like the category could use some Iggy Pop? Well, he’s here too, with the title track of Matthew McConaughey’s Gold. The list goes on, and obviously I can’t go through all of these. If you’re interested in an overview, The Wrap‘s Steve Pond listened to all 91 and offered his thoughts. I did listen to a whole bunch of them, and found many that I liked, some of which surprised me, like Shakira’s “Try Everything” from Zootopia; Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens” from Suicide Squad (unfamiliar with the band, I expected something numbing, bombastic and forgettable, and instead found it sort of charmingly creepy and low-key); and “Even More Mine” from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Not exactly a must-see for me, but I found the song – sung by actress/singer/Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson – to be quite lovely and touching, with a nice melody.

I don’t expect to see any of those three nominated, but any of the previous four could make it. Others we might see? Perhaps “The Empty Chair,” from the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story.  A collaboration between Sting and J. Ralph, both past nominees. (Ralph has been nominated twice, each time an unexpected choice from a way-under-the-radar movie.) Or maybe “The Rules Don’t Apply,” from Warren Beatty’s movie of the same name (minus the “the.”), although I really hope not. The melody is bland, the lyrics are terrible and there are so many more deserving songs on the list. But it was nominated for a Golden Globe and BFCA award, so it’s not out of the question. Three-time winner and all-around songwriting legend Burt Bacharach has a contender this year, “Dancing With Your Shadow,” from a movie called Po that I’ve never heard of. But he collaborated with Sheryl Crow, and you have to think voters will pay attention to someone of Bacharach’s stature…although come to think of it, I seem to recall that the  clip package and accompanying list of songs sent to voters do not include names of the songwriters, in order to make sure the works are judged on their merits and not by who was involved. If voters are feeling bold and good-humored, they might honor Sausage Party‘s “The Great Beyond,” where the Broadway musical skills of The Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin composer Alan Menken meet the weed-addled mind of Seth Rogen. The song is okay, but it would make me smile to see it nominated.

Okay, I can’t do this anymore. It’s time to move on.

Predictions:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Personal Picks:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
Letter to the Free – 13th
Never Give Up – Lion

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

At 145, the number of eligible scores is even more staggering than the number of songs, but the nominees are much more likely to be pulled from a relatively small and familiar pool, which makes for easier – or at least, less difficult – prognostication. Once again, La La Land leads the pack, and Moonlight will probably join it. Another leading contender was thought to be Arrival, but the Academy disqualified it (along with Manchester by the Sea and Silence) because it featured non-original contributions that the music branch felt would be indistinguishable to voters from the original music by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. It’s too bad, as Jóhannsson’s score is quite unique and effective.

Mica Levi’s score for Jackie was a major presence on the critic’s circuit, and not unlike Moonlight, takes a  unusual approach to an emotional character study. Lion also received a lot of deserved attention from critic’s groups and should resonate with voters. Other scores that seem to be in the mix are Nocturnal Animals, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water and Hacksaw Ridge. I would add The Neon Demon, Swiss Army Man and Passengers as being worthy of nominations, though I doubt they’ll break in. I hated pushing Passengers off my own list, but these are sacrifices one must make.

Predictions:
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch – Hidden Figures
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

Personal Picks:
Mica Levi – Jackie
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Cliff Martinez – The Neon Demon
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The three nominees for Makeup and Hairstyling will come from a list of seven semi-finalists offering Deadpool, The Dressmaker, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hail, Caesar!, A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad. It’s a rather underwhelming list, with the emphasis apparently less on the makeup and more on the hair…although even in that area, I can’t quite see what Florence Foster Jenkins or Hail, Caesar! have to offer that’s so impressive as to be shortlisted for an Oscar. A Man Called Ove is a Swedish film sporting work from makeup artists Love Larson and Eva von Bahr, who were nominated last year for another movie you’d never heard of: The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Like that film, A Man Called Ove features aging work, and if their effort was good enough to make the shortlist last year, it may be again this year.

Predictions:
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Personal Picks:
Seeing as I haven’t seen three of the nominees and only half of the remaining four make sense to me as contenders, I can’t say I really have any.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Like the Makeup and Hairstyling Branch, the Visual Effects branch has helped us narrow down the field this year by beginning with a list of 20 contenders, then whittling that down to 10: Arrival, The BFG, Captain America: Civil War, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Passengers and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a strong list, with only two that I would dismiss: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The BFG. Both feature good work, but in the case of Fantastic Beasts, the strongest elements are undermined by some spottier contributions (the CG goblins populating a speakeasy were noticeably subpar), while the title character in The BFG – realized through a motion capture performance by last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance – couldn’t climb out of the Uncanny Valley, close to the upper slope though he was.

The only one of the 10 films that will also be a player in top categories is Arrival, and since the branch usually likes to include at least one such movie among its selections, that may earn a spot by default…not that the work isn’t good on its own merits. Like pretty much all of the Marvel movies, Captain America features seamless work that looks terrific, but it may be overshadowed by its showier cousin, Doctor Strange, which sports work that is equally polished but more eye-popping, even if some of it hearkens noticeably back to 2010’s winner, Inception.

I had the opportunity to attend the branch’s Bake-Off event this year, where the teams behind each of the 10 remaining films present clips of their work and discuss techniques used and challenges encountered. The big surprise for me – and from what I could tell, just about everyone else in the room – was Deepwater Horizon. Most probably assumed that the majority of the movie’s effects were achieved practically, on set in real time with the actors. As it turns out, the demands of the true story about the 2010 oil rig explosion were too intense to be accomplished at the necessary scale with practical effects. Instead, a massive portion of the work was achieved through CGI, though you would never guess to watch it. CG fire – just one part of the movie’s demanding work – is always a challenge to visual effects artists, but the Deepwater Horizon VFX crew tamed the beast and enhanced the reality with smoke, ash and embers that were all added in post-production. This was a movie I’d have assumed would be dismissed had I not attended the Bake-Off. Now I’ll be straight-up pissed – and quite surprised – if it doesn’t get nominated.

The most interesting selection in the running is Kubo and the Two Strings. I have mixed feelings about this, which go back to the only other example of a stop-motion animated movie being nominated in this category: 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It never felt right to me, since stop-motion essentially is a visual effect in the first place. How do you separate the visual effects from the animation technique when the animation technique is a visual effect? How do you fairly measure a movie that is one giant special effect against movies that blend special effects into real-world environments? On the other hand, the movie did utilize visual effects beyond the stop-motion, just as any live action movie would, and the crew at the Bake-Off emphasized that in their presentation, so why shouldn’t it have a chance? Certainly the crew was thrilled to be invited and given an opportunity to make their case, and they made an enthusiastic and impassioned plea for consideration. The crowd did seem impressed, but I couldn’t gauge if they were impressed with the visual effects specifically, or with the general impressive feat of doing a stop-motion animated feature.

Another category with some tough decisions to be made.

Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Personal Picks:
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Passengers
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST SOUND EDITING/BEST SOUND MIXING
After Best Sound Mixing turned out to be one of only two or three categories in which I was 100% correct in my predictions last year, maybe I should approach it with more confidence this year. As always, let me drop what is surely an overly simplistic explanation of what the two categories are all about. To lift directly from last year’s post, sound editors create and/or fix sounds that couldn’t be recorded during filming or were not usable, while sound mixers combine all the elements – dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. – into a balanced whole.

More often than not, at least in recent years, the categories are almost identical with one unique nominee in each. You might think La La Land would be a sure thing in both areas, but I’m not so sure. Going back to 2000, every time there has been a movie with a heavy musical component, it has been nominated only for Sound Mixing. Whiplash, Inside Llewyn Davis, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, Walk the Line, Ray, Chicago, Moulin Rouge – all nominated for Mixing, none nominated for Editing. And in none of those years did the Editing category feature a music-heavy film that wasn’t nominated for Mixing. Now, eventually this pattern will end, and it’s not like music is the only sound in any of these movies; an Editing nomination could happen on other merits. But I’m going to side with history and say that La La Land gets the Mixing nomination, but not Editing. (If I’m wrong, and if I’m right about it’s chances in every other category, it will land 14 nominations, tying All About Eve and Titanic as the most nominated films of all time.)

These categories are also among the hardest to predict, since a) the criteria are less obvious to me – I can look at costumes or visual effects and form a reasonable opinion – and b) the nominees can come from anywhere: respected dramas, blockbuster action movies, animated adventures…there are a lot of options. I’m figuring this year’s crop will come from Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, Kubo and the Two Strings, Sully, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Doctor Strange, Arrival, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Passengers and Patriots Day. That may seem like a kitchen sink list, but trust me, there’s a strategy that goes into narrowing down the field…or if not strategy, at least a sense of vague intuition. Hey, shut up, you try doing this!

Sound Editing Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
The Jungle Book
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Sound Mixing Predictions: 
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Because the two categories are so difficult for most people outside of the sound field to make sense of, I always say that there should be one award, designated Best Sound Design, recognizing the overall aural experience of a movie. The rest of us are still poorly equipped to really judge even that, but we can probably  at least come up with a list that makes some sense to our untrained ears. With that said, I admit my ignorance and forego making personal picks in the two actual categories, instead naming my picks for the fake category of Best Sound Design. And this year, it looks pretty similar to my predictions: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Passengers, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Usually I have some more interesting variations in there, but not so much this time around.

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And there we have it. I hope it wasn’t as torturous for you to read as it was for me to write. Nominations are announced tomorrow morning at the absolutely unholy time of 5:18am PST. That’s a half-hour earlier than the usual unholy time, but apparently the Academy is trying something new this year. In the past, the nominations have been announced live in a room full of press and publicists. This year, the nominees will be unveiled via a “global live stream” on Oscars.com, Oscars.org and broadcast on Good Morning, America. In addition to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, several past winners and nominees will participate, including Brie Larson, Ken Watanabe, Jason Reitman, Jennifer Hudson and Emmanuel Lubezki. I’m not sure why the new procedure requires a start time half an hour earlier than what was already painfully early, but I’m an addict, so I’ll be awake to get my fix. For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs from a movie this year. It won’t be nominated for Best Original Song, because, well,  it’s not original. But it’s a classic, given an appealingly fresh take.

 

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