No matter what happens, the Oscars are still pointing us to some good films.
Emma Stone as Mia Dolan and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder in La La Land, 2016. Summit Entertainment | Moviestills.DB
The red carpet has been shampooed, the stage polished, the tuxes pressed and the dresses fitted. The Oscars are Sunday night—it’s nearly time to hand out Hollywood’s most prestigious awards.
But while the Oscars may be the entertainment world’s biggest gala, let’s be honest: Who really wants to stay up late enough to watch the whole show? One can stomach only so many acceptance speeches and awkward musical numbers.
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Thankfully, dear reader, I have access to a Hollywood crystal ball—or, at least, an inordinate amount of foolhardy confidence. I’ll tell you, right here and now, who’ll win the night’s biggest prizes (probably). And I won’t stop there, no ma’am; I’ll also tell you who I think really deserves to thank their families, agents and household pets before being politely but insistently played off the Dolby Theater stage. So, let’s begin…
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, La La Land, 2016. Summit Entertainment | Moviestills.DB
Will win: La La Land. The musical has a lot going for it. First, it’s all about Hollywood, and if there’s one thing that Hollywood loves, it’s a movie about itself. Second, it’s a musical—a bit of a subversive musical, mind you, but in a year in which everything feels so serious, it’s nice to reward a movie that actually makes you smile. And third, it’s …. well, awfully good.
Should win: Lion. Yes, La La Land is charming and thoughtful and it stars two incredibly charismatic stars in Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. And yes, it made me smile. But only Lion made me smile and cry at the same time. This little movie is harsh and sweet and, ultimately, inspirational. While not many people have seen this hidden gem of a movie, I think everyone should.
Damien Chazelle, directing Ryan Gosling in La La Land, 2016. Black Label Media | Gilbert film | Collection ChristopheL
Will win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land. Chazelle did something pretty amazing this year: He made a real, honest-to-goodness musical in a jaded, cynical age and made almost everyone love it. La La Land is both an homage to old, Golden Age Hollywood and a pic that feels fresh and original. He’s the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar, and few would argue. Except for me.
Should win: Martin Scorsese, Silence. Scorsese is considered by many to be America’s greatest living director, and Silence is arguably his most personal, most heartfelt film. It took him 28 years to bring Shusaku Endo’s classic book about difficult faith to the silver screen and, as far as I’m concerned, it was well worth the wait. And yet the guy wasn’t even nominated. Two months after seeing it, I still think about it almost every day. And that’s surely a sign of a great work of art.
Will win: Emma Stone, La La Land. Getting the idea that it could be a La La Land-slide? Stone was charming as Mia, and she indeed had a chance to show off her acting chops. But …
Should win: Natalie Portman, Jackie. Portman took on the role of Jacqueline Kennedy, one of the best-known, most-documented women in the world until her death in 1994. And yet Portman still managed to bring unexpected depth and complexity to the role. In a deeply poignant performance that showed Jackie to be a caring mom, faithful Catholic, and a wife fiercely defensive of her wandering husband’s place in history, Portman knocked my socks off.
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Will win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea. This is arguably one of the year’s most competitive categories, but the majority of Oscar prognosticators are giving the nod to Affleck for his understated, painful turn as a grieving, deeply scarred man asked to serve as guardian for his dead brother’s teenage son. The movie is difficult to watch, but Affleck makes it worthwhile—telegraphing his pain, anger, and uncertainty without ever seeming to change his expression.
Should win: Denzel Washington, Fences. Experts believe that if Affleck doesn’t win for Best Actor, Washington will. And even though it would be his third Oscar, he deserves it. As Fences’ problematic protagonist Troy Maxson, Washington must play both hero and villain, a working-class titan and a bitter, cheating tyrant. Washington makes both sides of this character believable.
Best Supporting Actress
Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences, 2016. Paramount Pictures | Moviestills.DB
Will win: Viola Davis, Fences. There’s not a surer bet in this year’s Oscars. Davis has won every major award leading up to the Academy Awards for her powerful turn as Troy’s wife, Rose. The character is the true hero of the film—a dutiful, loving wife and mother pushed to the very edge by her husband. Marriage is supposed to be a forever thing: “Til death do us part.” Thanks to Davis’ portrayal here, those sacred vows have never looked more complex, more painful and, in their own difficult way, more beautiful.
Should win: Davis. I’d love to go off script here and tell you that, hey, Naomie Harris from Moonlight or Michelle Williams from Manchester by the Sea deserves this statue. But I’d be lying. As good as all these nominees were (and as much as I think that Davis should’ve been nominated in the Best Actress category, not Supporting), I didn’t see a better acting performance than Davis’s this year anywhere.
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali and Barry Jenkins in Moonlight, 2016. David Bornfriend | Collection ChristopheL | AFP
Will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight. Ali’s turn as a kind-hearted drug dealer is pretty great, and it doesn’t hurt that he appears in another Oscar-nominated film—Hidden Figures—either. He was my pick, too. Until I saw …
Should win: Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals. If Ali doesn’t take home the Oscar, most folks believe Lion’s Dev Patel will. But as much as I loved Lion, Patel’s role is more a lead than a supporting character. For his limited screentime, Michael Shannon’s turn as a stoic, terminally ill sheriff determined to bring a bad man to justice deserves the Oscar.
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So maybe the Academy won’t get everything right come Sunday. But still, the grand dame is doing her job just fine. The Oscars are sparking conversation and debate and, at least this year, pointing us to some pretty good films. And that, in my opinion, is what they’re all about.
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