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Celebrating cinema with the Academy Awards

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Predicting the Oscar winners for 2017

The time has come once again for Hollywood to come together and celebrate its best and brightest. Time for tuxedos and ballgowns and inane red carpet chatter. Time for disappointed grins and rambling speeches and loads of tiny gold statues.

Time for the 89th Academy Awards.

This is the biggest celebration of cinema on the American pop culture calendar, so while I recognize that the Oscars have plenty of shortcomings, my love of the movies takes precedence. Sure, there are things that could (and should) change, but even a flawed Oscar night is still Oscar night.

(As an aside, this story marks the 10th Oscar preview that I have written in my tenure at The Maine Edge. My first one was back in 2008; time certainly flies. And while the accuracy of my predictions may have varied over the years, my passion never has.)

This past year saw some great movies receive numerous nominations, but it’s looking like just a few of those films are poised to scoop up the majority of the hardware. Of course, the Academy has managed to sprinkle in a few surprises in recent years, so don’t be surprised if conventional (and/or my) wisdom is off once or twice this time around.

And with that, my usual disclaimer: the choices made here aren’t always necessarily the films that I believe SHOULD win, but rather the ones that WILL win. Yes, they’re often one and the same, but my personal opinions sometimes diverge significantly; any outliers will be addressed as we go.

Ladies and gentlemen – I give you The Maine Edge’s 2017 Oscar predictions.

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Best Actor

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”

Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”

Denzel Washington, “Fences”

All five of these performances were exceptional in their own right, but in the end, it boils down to a two-horse race. Gosling was solid in “La La Land,” but it doesn’t measure up to the other work in this category. Add to that the fact that the Academy is unlikely to allow the film to sweep and the result is that he’ll have to content himself with his Golden Globe. Mortensen is one of his generation’s most underrated talents, but he’ll have to keep waiting – “Captain Fantastic” never generated the buzz necessary to elevate his little-seen performance. Garfield’s outstanding work in “Hacksaw Ridge” might have had some legs in years past, but he had the misfortune of going up against a pair of incredible performances. He’ll get one someday, but not this time around. That’s because the winner is going to be either Affleck or Washington. Affleck has been a favorite for his subtle and powerful take on a bitter and broken man in “Manchester by the Sea,” a performance that might outshine anything his famous brother has ever done. But we’ve seen a late surge in support for Washington for his work in “Fences” – a role for which he won a Tony in the stage version and is in the conversation for one of the best self-directed film performances in decades. The win could go to either one, but when everything else is even, you’ve got to go with Denzel.

Prediction: Denzel Washington, “Fences”

 

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”

Ruth Negga, “Loving”

Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Emma Stone, “La La Land”

Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

The Best Actress race appears to be a relatively competitive one, but in this case, looks can be deceiving. By all accounts, Ruth Negga is wonderful in “Loving,” but the truth is that the film never made much of an impact even by the lower standards of “important” films; her chances suffer simply because not many people saw her. Isabelle Huppert’s candidacy suffers similarly – for a performer in a foreign film to pull a win requires zeitgeist-grabbing work in the service of a film that cannot be ignored, and alas, “Elle” is not that film. This is Streep’s zillionth nomination (OK, fine – her 20th), but while her performance in “Florence Foster Jenkins” was very good, it kind of feels like her reputation provided the boost necessary to land on this list. Portman looked like a potential lock – she has established awards bona fides and was playing a noted and tragic real-life figure from American history; she might well deserve the win, frankly. However, this award really appears to be Emma Stone’s to lose. Every indication is that Stone is in line to land the win – and her first Oscar - for her work in “La La Land.” The momentum is in her favor and she will likely ride the movie’s overall success to victory.

Prediction: Emma Stone, “La La Land”

 

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

It seems like this is perhaps the most consistently competitive – and surprising – of the four acting categories. Even when there’s a seeming consensus, the Academy can throw a curveball. Still, this one seems fairly cut and dried. Hedges, while talented, likely benefited from “Manchester by the Seas” rising tide raising his particular boat. He’s a distant fifth here. Michael Shannon is one of those character guys that I would love to see rewarded with some hardware; unfortunately, while this nomination is deserved, he’s going to have to settle for being happy to be here. “Nocturnal Animals” never quite managed to resonate like it needed to. As for Bridges, he’s Hollywood royalty – he’s got a famous name, half a dozen Oscar nominations and a win. His work in “Hell or High Water” has received universal acclaim, but the Academy has already seen him do the cowboy thing. Patel has a puncher’s chance for his work in “Lion” – and in a different year, he’d probably even be the favorite – but he s the misfortune of going against Ali. Granted, Ali somehow lost the Golden Globe, but even so, there’s little doubt that his portrayal of drug dealer Juan in “Moonlight” warrants a win. But it’s Best Supporting Actor, so who the hell knows?

Prediction: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

 

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, “Fences”

Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”

Nicole Kidman, “Lion”

Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

This category – always an intriguing race – is particularly fascinating this year. There are some absolutely outstanding performances here, many of which are given by actresses with a serious awards pedigree. And yet, for all of that, it might be the most locked-down of any of the performance groups. This is the fourth Oscar nomination for both Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman (Kidman has a win for “The Hours”), but despite excellent performances, they’re both more or less also-rans here. In a different year, perhaps – but this time around, they’re out of luck. Despite a heartbreakingly powerful turn in “Moonlight,” Naomie Harris likely doesn’t have the juice to pull out a win. It’s a great performance that simply hasn’t generated the necessary buzz. And Octavia Spencer was great in “Hidden Figures,” but it wasn’t necessarily a transformative turn; while there’s been a late surge of support for the film, it almost certainly isn’t enough to elevate her. That’s because Viola Davis – whose nomination for “Fences” makes her the most-nominated African-American woman in Academy Awards history – delivered an absolutely transcendent performance. Couple that with an across-the-board respect for her body of work and there’s no doubt that Davis is a (completely deserved) shoo-in for the win.

Prediction: Viola Davis, “Fences”

 

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”

Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

Maybe the biggest surprise in this category is the fact that Denzel Washington was left off the list, although looking at this quintet, you’d be hard-pressed to choose who gets left off. Gibson always shines when telling tales of ordinary men forced into extraordinary (and incredibly violent) circumstances; “Hacksaw Ridge” is good, but he’ll have to content himself with the nomination and a potential image rehabilitation and redemption. Villeneuve is an incredibly compelling storyteller and visual stylist who is almost certainly going to win one of these someday. However, despite great work, the Academy is unlikely to reward genre fare like “Arrival” – elevated as it might be – in this category. The other three nominees bunch at the top. Lonergan’s incredible gifts are on full display in “Manchester by the Sea,” creating a sad and intimate epic whose story unfolds as much through what isn’t said as what it. And I’d love to see Jenkins – whose “Moonlight” is the best movie of the year as far as I’m concerned – rewarded for his daring insights and bold, innovative choices. Both of them would be deserving winners. However, I think this one is going to go to Chazelle. There are few things that the Academy loves more than celebrating Hollywood itself; “La La Land” is a fantastic example of just that. He won’t be an unreasonable winner, to be sure – I’m just not sure that he’s the most deserving.

Prediction: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

 

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I LOVE the fact that this category was expanded. Five Best Picture nominees was never enough; it’s great to allow a little more room for recognition of excellence in this category.

This year sees nine nominees, and while only a few have a real chance at winning the award, the others all deserve to have a place at the table.

“Arrival” is the sort of film for which this expansion was intended. A high-concept sci-fi film, this type of popular movie would probably have struggled to make an appearance outside the technical categories in years past. Another genre offering that sits in a similar boat is “Hell or High Water” (though the Academy is less reticent about rewarding Westerns). Both are excellent films that likely don’t make this list pre-expansion.

War movies tend to get a bit more love, so it’s no surprise to see the excellent “Hacksaw Ridge” here. However, while Hollywood loves a good redemption story, it seems unlikely that Mel Gibson’s former pariah status is completely forgotten. Again – great movie, won’t win. Staying in the “based on a true story” vein, “Hidden Figures” is a movie that has proven unexpectedly popular since its release. It’s a compelling and well-made film, but it hasn’t found the traction necessary to make a Best Picture push.

“Lion” suffers from simply not having enough eyeballs on it; a small film like this requires word-of-mouth buzz to have any shot. People just didn’t see it. “Fences” is a great film based on a great play starring some phenomenal actors – two of whom seem likely to take home some hardware of their own. However, precedent is stacked against it – only twice since in the past 85 years has a film won Best Picture without a Directing nomination, and Denzel was snubbed in that category.

“Manchester by the Sea” is an outstanding film that probably comes up just short in terms of the necessary support. I’m guessing they’ll have to content themselves with the Best Original Screenplay award that I’d be shocked if they didn’t win. And sadly, I think “Moonlight” – my personal choice for the year’s best film – will come up just short. It’ll snag a couple of wins – Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay – but it’ll miss out on the bigger ones that it also deserves.

It’s “La La Land” for the win. In fact, “La La Land” is going to win a LOT of these trophies. It won’t sweep its 14 nominations, but it’ll manage double digits or close to it – including the coveted Best Picture. It’s a film that I personally loved – a wonderful movie – but while it’s probably the Best Picture, I don’t believe it to be the best picture.  

Prediction: “La La Land”

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Best Original Screenplay

Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, “The Lobster”

Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Mike Mills, “20th Century Women”

Prediction: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Heisserer, “The Arrival”

August Wilson, “Fences”

Alison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, “Hidden Figures”

Luke Davies, “Lion”

Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight”

Prediction: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight”

 

Best Animated Feature Film

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Prediction - Zootopia

 

Cinematography

Arrival

La La Land

Lion

Moonlight

Silence

Prediction: La La Land

 

Costume Design

Allied

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Florence Foster Jenkins

Jackie

La La Land

Prediction: La La Land

 

Documentary Feature

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

O.J.: Made in America

13th

Prediction: O.J.: Made in America

 

Documentary Short Subject

Extremis

4.1 Miles

Joe’s Violin

Watani: My Homeland

The White Helmets

Prediction: Extremis

 

Film Editing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

La La Land

Moonlight

Prediction: La La Land

 

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine (Denmark)

A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

The Salesman (Iran)

Tanna (Australia)

Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Prediction: The Salesman

 

Makeup and Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove

Star Trek Beyond

Suicide Squad

Prediction: Star Trek Beyond

 

Music (Original Score)

Jackie

La La Land

Lion

Moonlight

Passengers

Prediction: La La Land

 

Music (Original Song)

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – La La Land

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls

“City of Stars” – La La Land

“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story

“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

Prediction: “City of Stars” – La La Land

 

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar!

La La Land

Passengers

Prediction: La La Land

 

Short Film (Animated)

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Prediction: Piper

 

Short Film (Live Action)

Ennemis Interieurs

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Prediction: Ennemis Interieurs

 

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Prediction: Hacksaw Ridge

 

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Prediction: La La Land

 

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Prediction: The Jungle Book

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