The Santa Clara
February 22, 2017
Best Picture All signs point to “La La Land”—the inoffensive crowd-pleaser about good-looking white people chasing their dreams. Sigh. A ballsier voting base would give the award to the sprawling “Moonlight,” hauntingly brilliant “Manchester by the Sea” or powerfully acted “Fences.” But Hollywood loves Hollywood—especially when Hollywood sings about how much they love Hollywood—so don’t be surprised when “La La Land” takes the top prize.
Best Director Once again, “La La Land” will win. People oohh’d and aahh’d at Damien Chazelle’s use of primary colors, sweeping nighttime shots of L.A. landmarks and command of his two charismatic leads. Personally, I’d love to see this prize go to any of the other nominees. Denis Villeneuve’s work on “Arrival” was masterful, Barry Jenkins and Kenneth Lonergan instilled intimacy into “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea,” respectively and even noted misogynist, racist, anti-Semite ex-alcoholic Mel Gibson crafted a heart-stopping, head-spinning war film with “Hacksaw Ridge.” In short, anyone but Chazelle will satisfy, but I’m not holding my breath.
Best Actor It’s a two-horse race between Denzel Washington for “Fences” and Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea.” It’s tough to say who deserves it more. Denzel was towering in his hate-to-love-him, loveto-hate-him performance as Troy Maxson, whereas Affleck brought a quiet resilience to his performance as the tragedy-struck Lee Chandler. Whichever way it goes, one thing is for sure: it’s earned. Having said that, I predict Denzel.
Best Actress Emma Stone’s my gal in this race. She was the one silver lining in the oversaturated and overrated “La La Land”—completely outshining her co-star Ryan Gosling. In particular, her acting in the climactic audition scene was a work of heartfelt genius. Though delightful in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” Meryl Streep has enough of these things. Give one to the kid.
Best Supporting Actor After winning the SAG Award, Mahershala Ali is most likely going to snag the Oscar. But my dark horse in this race is 20-year-old Lucas Hedges. His portrayal of Patrick Chandler—a hot-headed yet insecure teenager who just lost his father—in “Manchester by the Sea” deftly complemented Affleck’s own remarkable performance. Even if Hedges doesn’t win, he’s a talent worth keeping an eye on.
Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis. No question. The Academy owes her about a million Oscars for overlooking her gut-wrenching performance in “The Help,” but her work in “Fences” is the pinnacle of her already impressive career. She cries and slobbers and fights and screams and DAMMIT just give her the award already! Side note—Michelle Williams is flat-out magnificent in her limited screen time in “Manchester by the Sea.” Any other year, she would be the clear-cut winner.
Best Original Screenplay Acclaimed playwright Kenneth Lonergan should take home the prize for his perfectly-paced and disturbingly realistic “Manchester by the Sea.” However, don’t be surprised if the Academy chooses to hand it to Damien Chazelle for “La La Land,” even though the “musical” was severely lacking in musical numbers and overstuffed with melodramatic dialogue.
Best Adapted Screenplay The late August Wilson should get the prize for his “Fences” screenplay, based on his universally-praised play of the same name. The timeless themes and rich, overlapping dialogue make it a literary masterpiece. It’s possible “Moonlight” steals the award, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Best Documentary If you haven’t seen “OJ: Made in America,” you are missing out. Sure, it’s 467 minutes long and mainly about a court case that happened over 20 years ago, but it could be the greatest documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s entertaining, edifying and nightmarish. Not only is it a portrait of a madman, it’s a portrait of a madly divided nation—still madly divided all these years later. It should be in the running for Best Picture as far as I’m concerned.
Best Animated Feature “Zootopia”—though at times fun and carefree—focuses on big time issues like race, prejudice and social justice. It’s one of the riskier animated films to ever get a big studio release, but it proved that kids too can understand and empathize with controversial issues. As good as some of the other nominees are (“Moana” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” in particular), “Zootopia” deserves the award for its biting social commentary and all-around execution.
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