I feel I should preface this by acknowledging that the Oscar ceremony is one of the most over-discussed, reductive topics in pop culture, and any attempt at original observation is a fool’s errand. With that in mind, here is The 730 Review’s Oscar preview.
The biggest, the best, the most encompassing of all awards, this year’s Best Picture Oscar seems destined for the crowd-pleasing smash hit La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s all-singing, all-dancing romp is the clear favourite, and expect it to scoop up several major prizes. Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea are both outside contenders, and vastly more thoughtful films, while Hell or High Water is a brilliant, unusual neo-western with no hope in hell of winning.
The consensus seems to be that this is a 50-50 toss-up between Casey Affleck (for Manchester by the Sea) and Denzel Washington (for Fences): two very different types of performances. Affleck plays a janitor left devastated by personal tragedy, unable to overcome his own demons. It is a powerful exercise in naturalism, a largely understated but fully realised portrait of a hostile and intensely troubled man. Fences, meanwhile, sees Washington adapt August Wilson’s towering stage play for the screen, transferring his lead character’s fire-cracker energy and fierce loquaciousness effectively in the process. That the performance is too ‘stagey’ is the chief criticism, but if a wonderful play-like intensity is what the Academy voters are feeling, it might just bag its lead (and director) an incredible third Oscar win.
This looks likely to go to Emma Stone. Which she probably deserves. The La La Land star is musically proficient and properly charismatic, deserving of the popular adoration. Natalie Portman accomplishes what is perhaps the harder feat in the Kennedy biopic Jackie, but her chances of success aren’t helped by the film’s daringly arthouse vibe. Meryl Streep is also nominated. Who saw that one coming? No such luck for Anette Benning, who was snubbed for her brilliant role in Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women.
Best Supporting Actor/Actress
A strong category for both genders. The standouts for the men are Mahershala Ali for Moonlight and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals. Viola Davis (Fences) is the hotly-tipped favourite for Best Supporting Actress, but Michele Williams is gut-wrenching in her few scenes in Manchester By the Sea, so an upset could potentially be on the cards.
Animated Feature Film
I’ve not seen any of the others, so I’m pretty ill-equipped to offer an opinion, but The Red Turtle is absolute poetry and would be a worthy, if unlikely, winner.
Hard to call. La La Land’s colour palette and general visual verve stands it in good stead. Moonlight and Arrival both have an arresting sense of style, but for my money it is Martin Scorsese’s Silence which was the best example of American cinematography last year. Capturing the cold brutality of 17th century Japan with a rare, stark beauty, Rodrigo Prieto’s aesthetic was the best thing about this already-very-good religious epic.
It’s curious that Mel Gibson should have been nominated for Hacksaw Ridge, which is a good but not exceptional slice of gruesome military history. Denis Villeneuve did a great job with Arrival but owes a huge debt to the style of box office bigwig Christopher Nolan. Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and even Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea) are all real possibilities, although it is most likely the young Chazelle who will take home this honour.
These are but 8 of a total 24 categories, many of which will no doubt be scooped up by this year’s particular darling La La Land. While much of the ceremony will be business as usual, the clips that are likely to circulate around the internet over the coming days will be the speeches. Expect to witness speech after speech of Trump-bashing ire, as Hollywood’s finest will certainly use their given platform to score some sincere political points. In a year when the director of one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Picture has been prevented from attending the ceremony as a result of the US’s bigoted, oppressive immigration policy, the spectre of the American socio-political landscape looms unavoidably large. How will the yellow-haired despot react? As always, the ceremony will be broadcast to millions of viewers the world over, but for once, the intended audience may well be one furious 70 year-old man.