Thursday, February 23, 2017

Leigh Monson's 2017 Oscar Predictions and Picks: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?

This Sunday will see the awards ceremony for the 2017 Academy Awards, and this year has been more contentious than most. Who will win? More importantly, who should win? Below, I share my thoughts on how you can game your office's Oscar pool.

(It should be noted that I have seen nearly every nominated film, but a couple slipped through the cracks. The only films I haven't seen are: Fire at Sea; My Life as a Zucchini; Land of Mine.)

Best Picture
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Moonlight
Other nominees: Arrival; Fences; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water; Hidden Figures; Lion; Manchester by the Sea

The three top contenders for Best Picture are La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea, and the overwhelming awards season love for La La Land is likely to carry it to a Best Picture victory. Personally, I'm just fine with that, as there are some much worse nominees up for consideration, but for my money Moonlight was the best film of the year, for the performances, direction, editing and writing are some of the best the year had to offer.

Will Win: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Other nominees: Denis Villeneuve – Arrival; Mel Gibson - Hacksaw Ridge; Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea

Chazelle is likely to win for his feel-good mastery of choreography and integrating music into his kinetic throwback to Golden Age Hollywood, but I can't help but feel that Jenkins is, once again, more deserving. I can maybe see a world where the Academy divides the pie by giving La La Land Best Picture and reserving the Directing award for Jenkins, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part.

Actor in a Leading Role
Will Win: Denzel Washington – Fences
Leigh's Pick: Denzel Washington – Fences
Other nominees: Casey Affleck- Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling – La La Land; Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic

Casey Affleck seemed like the clear frontrunner for this award until the Screen Actors Guild gave the prize to Washington. Considering the massive overlap between SAG and the Academy's voting body, Washington seems likely to win, and I agree with that choice. Affleck was the best part of Manchester by the Sea, but Fences was built entirely on its performances and wouldn't have been a successful film otherwise. Washington nailed it.

Actress in a Leading Role
Will Win: Emma Stone – La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Other nominees: Ruth Negga – Loving; Natalie Portman – Jackie; Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

The SAG Awards highlighted Stone as the frontrunner in this category, but frankly I just don't see it. Natalie Portman in Jackie and Isabelle Huppert in Elle are the clear frontrunners in terms of overall quality, but I must give my preference to Huppert's darkly complex portrait of a disturbing woman coping with the consequences of her own rape. It's a masterful performance that deserves every recognition.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Will Win: Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Leigh's Pick: Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Other nominees: Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea; Dev Patel – Lion; Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

As far as I'm concerned, this one is a no brainer. As great as Michael Shannon and Jeff Bridges were in their respective films, Mahershala Ali's portrayal of a sympathetic drug dealer and father figure to a young fatherless gay kid was truly inspired. Between Moonlight and Luke Cage, Ali had a killer year as a performer, and he deserves every accolade he gets.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Will Win: Viola Davis – Fences
Leigh's Pick: Viola Davis – Fences
Other nominees: Naomie Harris – Moonlight; Nicole Kidman – Lion; Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Though I object to Davis's categorization as a supporting actress, she gave the single most powerful performance of the listed nominees. Her strongest competition is likely Michelle Williams, but if there were ever a dark horse in this race, it's Naomie Harris for her role in Moonlight. Regardless, this is one of the most competitive races this year in terms of raw quality of performance.

Original Screenplay
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Hell or High Water
Other nominees: The Lobster; Manchester by the Sea; 20th Century Women

If La La Land doesn't win, I guarantee that Manchester by the Sea will, but I genuinely think that Hell or High Water had the snappiest dialogue and the best thematic underpinnings of the bunch. It may not be the favorite to win, but it's a film that I intend to revisit more often than either of the frontrunners, and that's due largely to the intelligence of the social commentary at play in Hell or High Water's screenplay.

Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Moonlight
Leigh's Pick: Moonlight
Other nominees: Arrival; Fences; Hidden Figures; Lion

I've gone on record with my dissent toward categorizing Moonlight as an adapted screenplay, but here we are, and that recategorization makes it the clear frontrunner. Were it not for Moonlight, Arrival would be the likely winner, but Moonlight is a transcendent piece of cinema that deserves recognition as such, particularly for a screenplay that knows the Black and queer experiences back to front and communicates them in empathetic and compelling detail.

Foreign Language Film
Will Win: Toni Erdmann
Leigh's Pick: The Salesman
Other nominees: Land of Mine; A Man Called Ove; Tanna

Between Elle being the biggest Oscar snub of the year and Toni Erdmann getting a U.S. remake later this year, it seems pretty unlikely that anything other than Toni Erdmann will take the top prize. The Salesman could pull an upset victory in solidarity with Iranian filmmaker’s Asghar Farhadi’s decision to not attend the Oscars in protest of the Muslim immigration ban, and I think that win would actually be much more deserved, as the The Salesman is a tighter, more resonant story than any of the competitors.

Animated Feature Film
Will Win: Zootopia
Leigh's Pick: Zootopia
Other nominees: Kubo and the Two Strings; Moana; My Life as a Zucchini; The Red Turtle

It's really tempting to want Kubo and the Two Strings to win based purely on being a different sort of contender compared to the more conventionally animated competition, but hands down, Zootopia deserves the win. Its brilliant world-building and biting commentary on American race relations make it not only one of the best animated films of the year, but one of the best films of the year, period.

Animated Short Subject
Will Win: Piper
Leigh's Pick: Piper
Other nominees: Blind Vaysha; Borrowed Time; Pear Cider and Cigarettes; Pearl

The short subject categories are infamously hard to predict, and the animated shorts in particular this year run a wide gamut of styles and structures, making it hard to weigh them against one another in any sort of measure of which is empirically “best.” Personally, I found Borrowed Time and Pear Cider and Cigarettes to be pretty worthy contenders, but one can’t deny the inherent Pixar charm of Piper, and when betting on an uncertain race, Pixar is the horse in which you invest your hopes.

Documentary Feature
Will Win: O.J.: Made in America
Leigh's Pick: I Am Not Your Negro
Other nominees: Fire at Sea; Life, Animated; 13th

O.J.: Made in America is a great documentary, but I object to its inclusion as a nominee because it is clearly structured as a five part miniseries for television broadcast, not as a seven and a half hour film. Even so, it's likely to win, and it's not even the best documentary on the list. Both 13th and I Am Not Your Negro are more powerful experiences, and the latter is such a raw emotional punch in the gut that I can't help but root for it.

Documentary Short Subject
Will Win: Watani: My Homeland
Leigh's Pick: Watani: My Homeland
Other nominees: Extremis; 4.1 Miles; Joe's Violin; The White Helmets

Three of the nominees this year deal with the bombing of Aleppo, refugees fleeing wartorn regions, or both, so it’s hard to pick which of them will speak most to Academy voters. Watani: My Homeland tells a very personal tale of a widow and her four children fleeing Aleppo to find a better life as refugees in Germany, and that angle will probably win out against the objective journalism of 4.1 Miles and The White Helmets. However, if the three films end up sufficiently splitting the vote, we might just see Extremis, the look at whether life-sustaining machinery is worth it for terminal patients, slip by with a dark horse victory.

Live Action Short Subject
Will Win: Ennemis Intérieurs
Leigh's Pick: Ennemis Intérieurs
Other nominees: La Femme et le TGV; Silent Nights; Sing; Timecode

This year’s fictional short subjects cover a wide breadth of subject matter and tones, but I think the overall best and most poignant is the politically charged Ennemis Intérieurs. Directly addressing the issues of racism and xenophobia in French immigration and domestic policy, this is a film that feels too politically prescient to not win, and in terms of compelling storytelling, this one takes the cake. If you’re looking for a less serious runner up though, Timecode is incredibly charming.

Will Win: Lion
Leigh's Pick: Moonlight
Other nominees: Arrival; La La Land; Silence

Lion may seem like an odd choice to win until you realize that the American Society of Cinematographers gave it their top honors, so they must see something in the film that I do not. La La Land may squeeze out a win here for how it captured its showy choreographed dance sequences, but that's not the cinematography I enjoyed most. My pick is (surprise, surprise) Moonlight, as it has some of the most narratively illuminating moments driven by a simple shift in camera perspective, and the graceful, natural movements of the camera are unobtrusive as they are elegant.

Film Editing
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Moonlight
Other nominees: Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water

See the same reasons as Cinematography. In both La La Land and Moonlight, the editing and camerawork are so closely intertwined that it's hard to separate the impact that either one independently had on the film, but in both cases I think Moonlight is the stronger contender.

Original Score
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Moonlight
Other nominees: Jackie; Lion; Passengers

This one is obvious, and there's no getting around the fact that the musical is going to win the music categories. But the haunting and uplifting notes of Moonlight's score have really struck a chord with me. Another close contender is the score from Jackie, which is also highly deserving in its overbearing ominousness.

Original Song
Will Win: "City of Stars" – La La Land
Leigh's Pick: "How Far I'll Go" – Moana
Other nominees: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" – La La Land; "Can't Stop the Feeling" – Trolls; "The Empty Chair" – Jim: The James Foley Story

Again, the winner is obvious, but my unpopular opinion here is that "City of Stars" and "Audition" are among the weakest tracks from La La Land's soundtrack. "How Far I'll Go" may not be my favorite song from Moana, but I think it's easily the best of the nominated selections.

Production Design
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: La La Land
Other nominees: Arrival; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Hail, Caesar!; Passengers

See? I'm not entirely against La La Land! I think the film looks absolutely gorgeous, particularly in how it knows how to use its color palette to convey a poppy atmosphere that doesn't lose sight of the real drama at play within it. It looks great, and definitely deserves to be recognized for that.

Costume Design
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Allied
Other nominees: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Florence Foster Jenkins; Jackie

Quite frankly, La La Land's nomination baffles me, as the clothes in the film aren't so much costumes as they are casual hipster dresswear, and that doesn't strike me as award-worthy, no matter how good the actors look in them. Allied, on the other hand, is a gorgeous period piece that takes full advantage of World War II style to clothe Marion Cotillard in some of the finest dresses money can buy.

Visual Effects
Will Win: The Jungle Book
Leigh's Pick: The Jungle Book
Other nominees: Deepwater Horizon; Doctor Strange; Kubo and the Two Strings; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

They created an entire jungle and near photo-realistic animals using computers. The answer is obvious.

Makeup and Hairstyling
Will Win: Star Trek Beyond
Leigh's Pick: Star Trek Beyond
Other nominees: A Man Called Ove; Suicide Squad

I will never understand a contingent of the Academy's fascination with old age makeup, but A Man Called Ove just isn't going to win. Between Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad, I sincerely hope that the alien makeup of the former is awarded over the merely decent looking Killer Croc of the latter. Suicide Squad is a bad enough film that it should have been snubbed, no matter how good the makeup job was.

Sound Editing
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Arrival
Other nominees: Deepwater Horizon; Hacksaw Ridge; Sully

Sound Mixing
Will Win: La La Land
Leigh's Pick: Arrival
Other nominees: Hacksaw Ridge; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

The Sound Editing and Mixing awards are more likely than not going to the acclaimed musical, but the ominous tones of Arrival were some of the heaviest beats I felt all year. The alien sounds and emphasis on auditory stimulus inherent in the narrative were some of the most investing I've heard all year.

So what do you think? Are my picks on point? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

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