- One can count on three things on Oscar night:
(1) There will be at least one African-American award winner in the major categories after none were nominated in the 20 acting categories last year. The diversity issue that surrounded the last two years has been put to bed - at least for a year. This year a record-tying (with 2007) seven minority actors and a record six black actors are on the list. For the first time, three black actresses are competing in the same category (Best Supporting Actress) and the first time there has been a black actor in all four major acting categories. However, the Academy still has a way to go nominating women in the director and cinematography categories where none again have been nominated. And only one woman made the ten nominated screenplays list: Allison Schroeder who co-wrote Hidden Figures.
(2) La La Land will walk off with at least 5 (of its 14 nominated) statuettes including Best Picture and Best Director (see my predictions below)
(3) There will be at least one political speech - probably more (and watch out if Streep gets a chance to be alone at the podium - see below).
- This years thankless hosting job goes to the brilliant Jimmy Kimmel after Chris Rock did an admirable job at last years extravaganza. Kimmel (who, IMHO, is the absolute best of the late night talk show hosts), hopefully, will make this more about entertainment and direct his barbs to the industry and audience instead of the White House. However, considering the current political climate and the, it seems, constant never-ending negative utterances for the past couple of months from the left-coast, this thought appears to be in the wishful-thinking category.
- Well deserved: La La Land tying the 89th Academy Award nomination record of 14 nominations along with 1950's All About Eve and 1997's Titanic. Will it tie or win more than the record 11 held by Titanic and three others? We will know around midnight tomorrow for what was, hands-down, the best film of the year that was devoid of big flashy contenders.
- The 2nd best film of the year that practically nobody saw: Hell or High Water. Released during the late summer, the film has grossed just under $27 million. I was thrilled to see this one make the final list. The modern "western" mystery/suspense drama boasts one of the best original scripts of the year by Terry Sheridan (2015's Sicerio) accompanied by terrific acting across the board (Jeff Bridges is nominated in the Supporting Actor category).
- The most obvious nomination snub: Deadpool. There are 10 Best Picture category slots available. Again this year, the Academy has failed to fill all ten. One that should have been included in the list is this brilliant comedy/science fiction/fantasy film. Despite earning more that $348 million(!), its way early February release date, and the fact that science fiction films and comedies are never a fav of the Academy were probably determining factors. Two Golden Globe nominations (including one for Best Picture) as well as from the Writers Guild and the Producers Guild did nothing to bring support to the incredibly clever superhero movie. Too bad as this film definitely deserved to be honored here.
- The 2nd most obvious snub: Amy Adams - despite glowing reviews as the central actor and driving force in Arrival and her equally excellent work in Nocturnal Animals. I'm thinking the two roles might have canceled each other out in the nomination voting for the actress who has tied Deborah Kerr and Glenn Close for the most noms (5) without winning.
- The 3rd most obvious snub: Pixar's animated Finding Dory despite the almost universal positive reviews coupled with its earning of over $1 billion worldwide. Was the fact that it was a sequel to Finding Nemo a factor? Possibly - but it didn't hurt the brilliant Toy Story 3 which won 2011..
- The biggest resurrection and comeback: Mel Gibson, nominated for Best Director Hacksaw Ridge. Although he earned his directing chops for 1995's Braveheart, his other directorial efforts since have not come close to equally the success of that film. And considering his near disgraced image and numerous controversies over the years, Gibson appears to have been forgiven by The Academy and has come full-circle with this major recognition.
-They should make a separate category for Meryl Streep. Now nominated for a record 20th(!) time (including three wins), I fully expect her name to be on the acting list every year she appears in a movie. After her controversial alt-leftist accepting speech at The Golden Globes, one has to wonder if the overwhelming liberal voting Academy members mark their ballot for her if for no other reason than to hear more of the same on the industry's biggest stage. Stay tuned.
- Both Denzel Washington (Best Actor) and Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress) for Fences became the most nominated Black actors (the former with seven and the latter with three) and each are likely to win (see below).
- A nomination for Tom Hanks was usually considered as much as a lock as a Meryl Streep nom. However, he has curiously been overlooked since 2000 (Cast Away) even though his work in Sully as the "miracle on the Hudson" captain had garnered almost universal praise.
- Poor Kevin O'Connell. He holds the thankless record of most nominations without a win harking back to 1984's Terms of Endearment. His sound mixing for Hacksaw Ridge is his 21st nomination. However, I wouldn't bet the mortgage on this being the year the streak is broken as he is up against La La Land - the likely winner.
- Finally, if August Wilson (who died in 2005) wins for Best Adapted Screenplay for his Pulitzer Prize winner Fences, he will be the first black posthumous winner and the 2nd posthumous winner in this category since Sidney Howard for Gone With The Wind in 1939.
The envelope, please . . .
What will win: La La Land
(Very Extreme) Upset Possibility: Moonlight
What should win: La La Land
Although I listed Moonlight as an upset possibility, the outstanding independent film has little chance of winning. La La Land is a virtual lock for many reasons. Besides being the best movie I screened this year, it encompasses the reasoning I expounded in my earlier review comparing it to 2010's Best Picture award winner Silent Movie. Hollywood loves throwback films that have all but disappeared from their landscape. Not only does it hearken back to the musical genre so prevalent in films during the glory days of Hollywood past, and not only is it based in La La Land, it is also masterfully crafted. At its heart, it is infused with an emotional romantic theme complete with a stand-out score and choreography and is beautifully acted by two of today's most talented actors. After winning almost every major award this year, a upset here would be considered monumental.
Who will win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Upset possibility: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Who should win: Damien Chazelle
Rarely does the Academy bestow this award to a director of a film that doesn't win the big prize. Don't expect this to be one of those years. Chazelle took six years to bring his dream to the big screen, and his patience and skillful talent will pay off in spades Sunday night. If anything, his direction in the spectacular opening ten minutes of the film alone be enough to qualify for the win! Jenkins is an obvious talent that bears watching in the future. His directorial effort for the indie Moonlight , like Chazelle's 2014 Whiplash, puts him high in the running but not nearly enough to overtake the eventual winner.
BEST LEADING ACTOR
Who will win: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Upset possibility: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Who should win: Denzel Washington
The diversity issue ends with the likely win by Denzel who delivers an absolute tour
de force as the lead in Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play. Washington gives a mesmerizing performance as the patriarch of a struggling black family in 1950's Pittsburgh. However, if Affleck wins, it would not be a total surprise. His acting as the morose center of the character-driven drama by Kenneth Lonergan, is understated but sure. Consider also that Casey is up against one of the premier actors of this generation. And then there is that diversity issue hanging over the voting members as well.
BEST LEADING ACTRESS
Who will win: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Upset possibility: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Who should win: Isabelle Huppert
One of the toughest categories to handicap. The great French actress who since 1971 has appeared in over 100 films and TV productions and has won a multitude number of awards over her career, receives The Oscar on her first try as a strong willed sexual assault victim in search of her attacker in director Paul Verhoeven's riveting mystery drama. Of course Emma Stone has to be considered as part of the La La Land tsunami; however, I feel that The Academy will acknowledge the better performance. Stone was certainly wonderful as the female love interest in the musical, but, overall, Huppert gives the more memorable performance. An extreme upset possibility could be the Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga who was nominated at Cannes for her role as Mildred Loving in the interracial civil rights true story.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Upset possibility: Dev Patel (Lion)
Who should win: Mahershala Ali
The Academy needs to deliver at least one major award to the universally acclaimed indie Moonlight and this category seems to fit the bill. Ali (Netflix's House of Cards) gives a memorable performance as a drug dealer who befriends the young central character in the coming-of-age drama and is certain to walk up to the podium to accept. A longshot could be the English actor Dev Patel (2008's Slumdog Millionaire) portraying the Australian-adopted Indian who, as an adult, searches to locate his birthplace.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Viola Davis (Fences)
Upset possibility: Naomic Harris (Moonlight)
Who should win: Viola Davis
The first black actress to be nominated for three Academy acting awards (including 2008's Doubt and 2011's The Help) will continue the burial of the diversity issue and will finally wins a much deserved win. Much has been made of the fact that she easily could have been placed in the Best Actress category since she is afforded an incredible amount of screen time. However, her presence on this list definitely gives her the best chance of winning where her closest competition is Naomic Harris as the crack-addicted mother of the central character. Her commanding performance, however, does not come close to topping Davis' inspired turn as the matriarch in August Wilson's drama.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
What will win: The Salesman (Iran)
Upset possibility: Toni Erdmann (Germany)
What should win: Toni Erdmann
Politics rears its ugly head as The Academy picks controversy over common sense. The world knows about The Salesman's director Asghar Farhad (2011 Foreign Language winner A Separation) and his proclamation of boycotting the ceremony due to the President's travel policy. And what better way to honor that action by the left-leaning Academy delivering him The Oscar. A much better film, however, is the ambitiously moving Toni Erdmann, written and directed by Maren Ade, which practically swept The European Awards. Alas, politics will probably win out.
Who will win: Linus Sandgren (La La Land)
Upset possibility: James Laxton (Moonlight)
Who should win: Linus Sandgren and James Laxon (tie)
In any other year James Laxton might have been a shoo-in. The film's title is based
on Tarrell Alvin McCraney's deeply personal "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" and Laxton's superb cinematography powerfully reflects the images on the screen. Unfortunately, Sangren's work is equally notable conveying the look and feel of 1950's Hollywood. The reality is that voters in this category in the past have tended to favor musicals - which, more than likely, will put Sangren on the podium. As unlikely as ties are in Oscar's history, I would be totally OK if one was announced here.
BEST FILM EDITING
Who will win: Tom Cross (La La Land)
Upset possibility: Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon (Moonlight)
Who should win: Tom Cross
Mark up yet another win in the technical categories for La La Land. Although Moonlight's editing was distinctive, Cross' editing, especially during the musical production scenes and the incredibly moving finale, cannot be overlooked in the final analysis.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Who will win: Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)
(Extreme) Upset possibility: Nicholas Britell (Moonlight)
Who should win: Justin Hurwitz
A great musical certainly demands a great memorable score and Hurwitz will win the Oscar in one of the slam-dunk locks of the night. Hurwitz is currently riding high on Broadway writing the music for Dear Evan Hansen along with his lyric writing pal Justin Paul (who will assuredly win for Best song-see below). Britell wrote a beautifully haunting score for Moonlight but will finish a distant second to Hurwitz in this category.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
What will win: "City of Stars" (La La Land)
(Extreme) Upset possibility: "The Empty Chair" (Jim: The James Foley Story)
What should win: "City of Stars"
Another virtual lock is the evocative number performed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone that is one of the few winning songs in recent years that will actually linger long after the show ends. Of course, even though it is competing with another worthy La La Land nominee, "The Fools Who Dream", it is nowhere as potent and should not cancel out the votes for "City of Stars". However, if it does, then look for the J. Ralph and Sting number "The Empty Chair" to possible slip in. Nonetheless, my ducats are on writer Justin Hurwitz along with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul accepting the statuettes.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who will win: Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Upset possibility: Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
Who should win: Taylor Sheridan
As mentioned above, I absolutely loved Taylor Sheridan's script which made Hell or High Water so memorable. My heart yearns for Sheridan winning. However, my head screams Lonergan's script if, for no other reason, because the Academy would love to honor the indie film that has garnered so many incredibly positive reviews.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who will win: Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney from "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" (Moonlight)
Upset possibility: August Wilson (posthumous) from Fences by August Wilson (Fences)
Who should win: Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney
This should be another win for the powerful Moonlight, although it will be hard to overlook a script by a Pulitzer Prize winner. However, despite that the Academy rarely accords a posthumous Oscar, Wilson's intelligent insightful script comes across more as a play (from which it was adapted) on the screen.
What will win: O.J.: Made in America
(Extreme) Upset possibility: I Am Not Your Negro
What should win: O.J.: Made in America
Traditionally a strong category, an argument could be made for any of the nominees winning. However, this powerful 467 minute masterpiece by director Ezra Edelman (who was nominated for his wonderful 2013 documentary Cutie and the Boxer) that interrelates race, sports, media and politics before, during and after the infamous murder trial of the century, stands head and shoulder about the other outstanding films on this list. That being said, if any film has a chance of upsetting it would be director Raoul Peck's film based on ideas expounded by American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic, James Baldwin. Considering the current racial climate a win by this film would hardly be a major surprise.