Oscars 2017: Predictions

Usually I do a “Will Win” and “Should Win” but this year I feel that I agree with most of what will end up winning. So instead, I’m going to do a “My Win” and put who I would vote for if I was an Oscar voter. Again, I’d like to reiterate that I do largely agree with who is going to end up winning on Oscar night, and that any alternative choices are really more of my other favorites this year.

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Best Picture

Will Win: La La Land

My Win: Manchester by the Sea or Hidden Figures

Since Hollywood is in love with itself, La La Land – a twisted homage of the class studio musicals – is the clear winner and a lock for Best Picture.While I certainly admire a lot of aspects of La La Land, I do admit that on my second viewing the film’s spell lost its luster. (Although I do not subscribe to the hyperbolic reactionary hate its been getting lately) I do agree that this should get Best Picture, but I also adored Manchester by the Sea, quite possibly one of the most beautiful examinations of tragedy and family dynamics I’ve seen. I also wish Hidden Figures, while receiving tremendous box office success, got more recognition. It is one of those feel-good life stories can be universally adored as well as an integral story about WOC that begs to be told. To see Hidden Figures win Best Picture would be quite a wonderful feat.

Best Director

Will Win: Damien Chazelle for La La Land

My Win: Damien Chazelle for La La Land

Like many categories this year, I find it next to impossible to pick my own winner. The directing for all of the nominees, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, and yes, I did think Mel Gibson’s work in Hacksaw Ridge was incredible, I know that is problematic. Chazelle is certainly the lock for this category, and I do believe he deserves it for visionary his pet/dream project. However, some may argue that Chazelle isn’t really doing anything original and instead co-opting, rather than homaging, his Hollywood influences.

Best Actor

Will Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea

My Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea

I know the problematic history surrounded Casey Affleck, and I understand that my support contributes to that. But at the same time, his performance in Manchester by the Sea is one of the greatest male performances I have ever seen.

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Best Actress

Will Win: Emma Stone for La La Land

My Win: Natalie Portman for Jackie

La La Land is definitely the role of a lifetime for Emma Stone, and I do think she was perfect for it. Her particular comedic flair really shines through in the musical numbers. I do wish that she had a bit more vocal power, though perhaps that fits with La La Land‘s aesthetic of “regular” people in a half-real half-Hollywood dream. “The Fools Who Dream” scene is definitely the height of her performance, and after I first saw the film I declared it as the singular lock for her Oscar win. However, I must also acknowledge the strength of Portman’s performance as Jackie O. Portman manages to skate past the cliched traps that a weaker actor would have fallen into, and this is no easy task with such an iconic figure. Her tour de force performance culminates in the raw, emotional post-assassination scene.

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight

My Win: Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals 

This is another strong category with many potential winners. Ali is the clear front runner, and I definitely support that. I would also have trouble choosing between Lucas Hedges, the young nominee from Manchester by the Sea who brought an equal amount of emotional gravitas and wry humor. Another personal favorite of mine is Dev Patel for Lion. I would also be inclined to choose Michael Shannon, an underrated actor that always brings his A game. He brings a certain eerie understatement to his frequently twisted and dark characters. His role in Nocturnal Animals as a caustic and vengeful cop left a strong impression on me long after the end credits rolled.

Best Supporting Actress:

Will Win: Viola Davis for Fences

My Win: Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea

Viola Davis was absolutely incredible in Fences and is long overdue for an Oscar. (Sorry, but I’ll never get over Streep winning for The Iron Lady. Davis should’ve won for The Help.) If not for Fences, I would vote for Michelle Williams. Williams always delivers a nuanced and tender performance, and this is never more true than in her small but heart-wrenching scene as a grieving mother begging for forgiveness.

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Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Kenneth Logerman for Manchester by the Sea

My Win: Kenneth Logerman for Manchester by the Sea

La La Land is another possible win, and The Lobster also deserves recognition here for its twisted Brechtian romance, but I would ultimately choose Logerman’s devastating American tragedy. His deliberate use of flashbacks is some of the most finely crafted storytelling I’ve seen in recent times.

Best Adapted Screenplay: 

Will Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney for Moonlight

My Win: Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder Hidden Figures

Moonlight has been (rightfully) highly regarded by critics, but also overshadowed by La La Land‘s success. This category may be one of the few wins that it wins. Arrival and Lion are other worthy choices, but in my opinion Fences is too close to the play to win. I would choose Hidden Figures because the writers were able to craft an emotional and soaring story from a non-fiction account of historical figures that we have neglected to honor.

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Linus Sandgren for La La Land

My Win: Rodrigo Prieto for Silence 

La La Land is all about its “look,” one that evokes the Technicolor heyday of Old Hollywood. The film will likely sweep the awards this year, and the cinematography category will be another likely win. I think Moonlight is another strong contender for its gorgeous pastel and neon Miami landscapes. But Silence‘s imagery really stuck out to me, from the idyllic rolling Japanese hillsides to the dark, unsettling prisoner camps made barely discernible by the small licks of fire.

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Best Film Editing

Will Win: Tom Cross for La La Land

My Win: John Gilbert for Hacksaw Ridge

I would vote for Hacksaw Ridge for its elegant battle sequences and the tight pacing of the leading character’s heroic rescues. However, La La Land‘s well-crafted musical sequences will edge all other nominees out.

Best Original Score

Will Win: Justin Hurwitz for La La Land

My Win: Mica Levi for Jackie

Hurwitz’s sweeping, jazz-influenced score will likely win, but Levi’s haunting, discordant score added to both the grandiosity of the Camelot myth and the tragedy of the Kennedy family’s life.

Best Visual Effects

Will Win:Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Dan Lemmon for The  Jungle Book

My Win: John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal T. Hickel, Neil Corbould for Rouge One: A Star Wars Story

I still have yet to see The Jungle Book, but I’ve heard the praise its received for the astounding CGI animal characters and environments. I’m certain I’d agree, but I’d also like to acknowledge Rouge One for its fantastic mix of both practical and computer effects, as well as its well-crafted use of scale.

Best Costume Design:

Will Win: Madeline Fontaine for Jackie

My Win: Madeline Fontaine for Jackie

Fantastic Beasts and Allied have stunning period costumes, but this category is actually between La La Land and Jackie, although I think Jackie has more of an edge. Fontaine had the difficult task of capturing Jackie O’s iconic historical fashion sense. I think it would be a shame for La La Land to win for what looks like budget ModCloth dresses.

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Top 10: 2016

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1. Manchester By the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is a masterful character piece that explores the frailties and intricacies of grief and familial tragedy. Writer and director Kenneth Lonnergan expertly weaves his narrative’s past and present through haunting extended flashbacks that manage to convey the minute preciousness of human life. Casey Afleck gives one of the finest male performances of all time, carrying his character’s engulfing pain in every glance, his hunched shoulders, and quiet repose. Michelle Williams matches his caliber (though, no surprise there as she always delivers a fine performance) in an anticipatory and devastating final scene. Manchester by the Sea does not completely wallow in gloom, as there are many humorous moments and traces of the family comedy genre. This is a testament to the film’s power, as Lonnergan and the actors manage to convey life’s ever-flowing and perpetual amalgam of pain and pleasure within seemingly infinitesimal gestures, glances, and moments.

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2. Hacksaw Ridge

“War is hell” they say, and perhaps no other film since Saving Private Ryan expresses this sentiment best as Hacksaw Ridge. The horrific carnage of the gritty and graphic battle sequences convey the psychological devastation of war and provide extraordinary stakes for its lead character, Desmond Doss. Doss is an outcast in his squad for his strong Christian beliefs and refusal to carry a gun in battle. Yet, he miraculously manages to save hundreds of his fellow soldiers. Andrew Garfield gives a powerful performance as Doss, providing the film’s central heart and intensity and a character the audience can truly root for. Doss proves the immense power of committing your convictions. Hacksaw Ridge is a gripping and inspiring story of passion, dedication, and a death-defying heroism like you’ve never seen.  Even if you are not particularly religious, it is hard not to be moved by this incredible story and Gibson’s sweeping vision.

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3. Christine

Christine perhaps the only film to so accurately express the traumas of depression. The minutiae of mental illness is found in director Antonio Campos’ uncomfortable close-ups and lingering shots. Rebecca Hall gives one of the finest female performances I’ve ever seen as Christine Chubbuck, a young news reporter who killed herself on a live broadcast in the 1970s. Hall expertly dives into the bleak waters of her character’s emotional turmoil. Her lack of nominations and awards buzz is absolutely astounding. Christine gets under the skin of its lead character, delving into her private life in ways that may be too close for comfort. Campos eradicates the potentialities of sick voyeurism in his refusal to sensationalize her death. It is simply a devastating outcome of a terrible mental illness and unhappy life. Christine is a raw and powerful viewing experience that will haunt you.

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4. La La Land

La La Land has received an overwhelming amount of praise and Oscar buzz, and I believe rightfully so. It is Damien Chazelle’s innovative and spirited vision that accounts for the film’s success. The visuals, more so than the thin singing voices of its otherwise charismatic leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, or even the story itself, is what makes La La Land so special. Chazelle’s impeccable eye for rhythm established in Whiplash flourishes in the musical medium. What is so intriguing about the film is that it functions as both a homage and reversion of the Old Hollywood musical. The spirits of Singin’ in the Rain or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are readily felt, yet Chazelle foregrounds his story with a modern sensibility. The heart of La La Land’s magic spell is its ability to blend fantasy with reality and 1950s cinematic traditions with contemporary ideals. It stands as a melancholic ode to artists, the “fools who dream,” and is an overall majestic cinematic experience.

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5. The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’ Brechtian comedy is a strange, surrealist portrait of a dystopian world perhaps not so far from our own. The film’s eccentric sensibilities work to reveal the oddities of modern courtship, our societal rules for the perusal and cultivation of an “adult relationship.” The Lobster suggests that it is not the film itself, but rather our need to build a society terrified of singledom and predicated on the acquirement of a soulmate that is truly absurd. The Lobster manages to expose the ego-centrism, shallowness, and narcissism of online dating, where we hinge equating traits and interests on the entirety of our future with another human. Colin Farrell and Rachel Wesiz lead the film with strong performances that match the film’s offbeat tenor.

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6. Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann is a bizarre and charming family dramedy sure to elicit plenty of smiles and belly-laughs, one that plays on the inherent embarrassment all children feel of their parents. It tells the story of a practical jokester father who feels he is growing apart from his corporate professional daughter. He disguises himself as her CEO’s “life coach,” a bold, quirky weirdo who is unafraid of any situation, to be a part of her life again, break her out of her shell, and rekindle their former closeness. The film features one of the most memorable scenes of the year, the daughter singing Whitney Houston’s hit “The Greatest Love of All.” Despite its daunting length, it never feels slow. Toni Erdmann is one of the most unique films of the year, one that builds to a side-splitting and poignant climax.

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7. Jackie

Director Pablo Larrain departs from the patterns of a typical biopic to present a subjective experience of Jacqueline Kennedy’s fight to maintain composure and sanity in the aftermath of her prolific husband’s untimely and horrific death. We infiltrate the privacy of the alpine White House walls to view the First Lady’s struggle to uphold her trademark dignity and poise despite the threat of collapse. Jackie is more of a psychological portrait and performance showpiece than a strong film in and of itself. This is anchored by Natalie Portman’s enthralling performance. Portman manages to side-step any clichéd traps that befall an actor playing this iconic American figure. Most importantly, Jackie meditates on the ideas of constructing legacy, and how at many times a woman’s contribution can be overshadowed by their male counterpart.

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8. Indignation

Indignation manages to capture the quiet poeticism of Phillip Roth’s writing, no easy task. Helmed by a talented writer-director James Schamus, Indignation explores a teenager’s sexual awakening and challenge of authority within the stifling conventionalism of 1950s America. Indignation is the kind of film that allows its actors to breathe and Logan Lerman leads the charge with a compelling and curious grace. His drawn-out and agonizing diatribe with the Dean, played by Tracy Letts, is one of the most memorable scenes of the year. Schamus’ strict period details convey the characters’ oppressive world, but the narrative’s subtext of death and darkness, especially with war on the horizon, subverts the presentational beauty of the 1950s. Indignation leaves you with the terrifying and arresting idea that every small decision you make could potentially lead to the utmost doom.

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9. Lion

Lion is one of the most undeniably uplifting films of this year. A sweeping and grand journey across oceans and continents, Lion is based on the incredible true story of a young Indian boy seperated from his family after falling asleep on a train. After several frightening encounters navigating the slums of India, Saroo is adopted by a wealthy white Australian couple. Dev Patel plays Saroo as a conflicted adult torn between his love for his adopted family and yearning to return to his origins. Saroo cannot correctly remember the name of the village he comes from, so he must resort to using Google Earth to find his hometown. This is an arduous and near-impossible task, much like finding a needle in a haystack. Lion’s ending has an emotional punch that will wring a fountainous flow of tears out of you. Lion is about the power of family, both those bound to you by blood and the family you can create with others. Lion is truly one of the must-see films of 2016, and a film that will be remembered for its earnest and passionate spirit.

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10. Green Room 

Once Green Room grabs you, it never lets go. A punk band travels to a last minute booking for a group of Neo-Nazis in a decrepit backwoods hideaway. After witnessing a murder backstage, they bargain with the club’s sadistic owner to escape the sordid confines of the green room alive. This dirty, chaotic environment only exacerbates the film’s grisly terror. Since no character seems to be safe from the Neo-Nazi’s barbaric awfulness, the film maintains nail-biting tension and keeps you guessing throughout the entirety of their great escape. Gorehounds will relish in the film’s brutal violent surprises. Green Room is one of the finest horror thrill-rides in recent years.

Honorable Mentions: MoonlightNocturnal Animals, Loving, The Witch, Hell or High Water