I binge-watched too many movies this weekend, and as the fog cleared, I came to some very important conclusions about what’s likely to occur tonight. Here you go:
La La Land stands above the pack going into this year’s Academy Awards, tying the record for 14 total nominations. Fresh off complete dominance at the Golden Globes, the nostalgia-drenched Hollywood musical set in, well, Hollywood, is a clear favorite.
I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a clean sweep this year, however. La La Land is going up against 8 serious contenders featuring some powerhouse performances.
Though La La Land has all the momentum, there are very few categories that can be considered absolute locks. Mahershala Ali seems to be way out in front in the race for the Best Supporting actor, with his performance in Moonlight. Viola Davis is also widely regarded as a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress for her role opposite Denzel Washington in Fences.
Categories up and down the list will keep things interesting. A closely contested Best Actor category is up for grabs, and there is room for an upset for Best Actress. Although Emma Stone is on fire after several other wins for her starring role in La La Land, Natalie Portman has garnered great critical acclaim for her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy.
But for the moment let’s focus on the biggest prize of all. Here are the other films looking to steal the statue from this year’s favorite.
Hell or High Water was one of the bigger surprises in this year’s lineup. The plot line gives the impression that you’ve seen this movie before: bank robbing brothers, an aging soon to be retired Texas Ranger trying to track them down, but there’s so much more to this film. Jeff Bridges, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor, steals scenes as the cranky, battle-tested and weary Marcus Hamilton.
Chris Pine does well in a subtle starring role. Ben Foster, who plays Pine’s unhinged ex-con brother, is the perfect counterbalance for the two. Underneath the violent, deceptive surface of this film, is a commentary on the banking system which has put so many in desperate situations. Situations like the one that the Howard brothers look to solve using extreme measures.
A fine film, but not one with much chance of landing the top prize Sunday night. Another surprise this year, with about as much chance of winning, is Arrival.
Probably the biggest snub at this year’s awards was the omission of Amy Adams in the Best Actress category. Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguistics professor, who is tasked with translating the communications of one of the 12 UFO’s that have landed around the world.
Wonderful performances from Adam’s costars also helped level this film to the upper tier. Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg play the military brass pushing Adams to the edge, while Jeremy Renner tries to hold it all together. This is not your typical alien invasion movie, and is worth a couple of viewings.
Another long-shot nomination was Hacksaw Ridge.
Mel Gibson makes his directorial comeback in this true WWII story about Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector who wished to serve as an army medic. The fact that this is a true story salvages the film, which would be considered a bit of a stretch otherwise. As in lesser war movies, the largely forgettable first half sets up for the big battle finish. Vince Vaughn who tried his best, is not exactly terrifying as Doss’s drill sergeant. An extravagant battle scene capped off the film featuring the kind of gore and severed limbs you would expect in a Mel Gibson WWII movie. That being said, it is a remarkable story and I would put it on the list with films like Cinderella Man, as an example of an movie-ready true story that seems like it should have been made years ago.
Now that those are out-of-the-way we get into the real contenders.
Moonlight won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, and is probably best equipped to challenge La La Land. The coming of age tale follows a young black man grow up in Miami. As a young child, he befriends a drug dealer played outstandingly by Mahershala Ali, a lock for Best Supporting Actor. On top of the challenges of growing up poor with a drug addicted mother, young Chiron also must come to terms with his own sexuality.
This film got a lot of buzz immediately after release, and deservedly so. I would not be surprised if it got the upset.
Manchester by the Sea was filmed just up the road on the north shore of Massachusetts and features one of the two finest leading male acting performances of the year. Casey Affleck is perfect as the deeply flawed and troubled Lee Chandler. After the death of his brother, he is forced to return to his old home town where he himself faced unspeakable tragedy. His brother’s Will left Lee in charge of his teenage nephew, who is played by Lucas Hedges in a breakout role, and derails the simple almost nonexistent life he leads.
Best Picture or not, Affleck’s performance as a man completely at the end of his rope is remarkable. There’s only one other actor standing in Affleck’s way of the Best Actor award, and that’s Denzel Washington.
I was expecting big things from Fences, and I was not disappointed. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are nothing short of incredible, acting out their respective roles beautifully in this adaptation of August Wilson’s play. Washington plays Troy Maxson, a former Negro League ball player who now supports his family as a garbage man. Viola Davis who plays his faithful wife, burned at least a few scenes into my memory with a performance that will likely earn her the Best Supporting Actress award.
Washington’s performance, though perhaps better suited for the stage, ranges from charming to haunting, to frightening, to pathetic and is the centerpiece of this fantastic film.
The true story of three black, female mathematicians and their pivotal roles at NASA during the space race is an easy formula for some feel good cinema. To an extent, it is just that, but Hidden Figures achieves so much more. The three solid performances, Octavia Spencer’s up for Best Supporting Actress, help illustrate just what it must have been like for these women to be marginalized at the time for both their race and their sex.
They fight and earn the respect of many of those whom reviled them. Kevin Costner plays to perfection the hardnosed Al Harrison, a very Kevin Costner role.
For those who really want their heartstrings tuned, there’s Lion. The film about a 5-year-old impoverished Indian boy who gets separated from his family, adopted by an Australian couple, and embarks on a quest to reconnect with his family, is a sleeper candidate. If Moonlight and La La Land end up splitting the votes than it could open things up for a surprise and that very well may be Lion.
The harrowing tale of young Saroo, from the Calcutta train station he ends up at, to the Australian University he eventually attends is truly amazing. This is the kind of film that has Oscar written all over it. Multiple languages, great camera work, exotic locations, and sneaky good performances.
If it weren’t for Viola Davis, Nicole Kidman’s performance as Saroo’s adopted mother could very well be the favorite to win Best Supporting actress, though I still wouldn’t count her out. Also nominated are Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, for their punishingly emotional Original Score.
And lastly the big one, La La Land.
The critical response speaks for itself on this one. Crushing all competitors this awards season, this tinsel town throw back is sure to have a big night on Sunday. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are charming together, thanks to Stone picking up the slack whenever they sing and dance together. Gosling’s best moves are behind they piano as he plays a big dreaming Jazz pianist, reduced to plucking out Christmas carols at a local bar.
Stone plays an actress who breaks from her job at a studio café to face rejection at every audition. The two meet after an angry exchange on the freeway then setting off this visually stunning musical.
Jimmy Kimmel will host the 89th annual Academy Awards, live from LA. When the show starts at 7pm, all eyes will be on him seeing if he can live up to the job. After that, the big question is whether these fantastic films can breathe under the smothering of the wildly acclaimed La La Land.
It’s hard not to see this love-letter to LA racking up the statues on movie’s biggest night.