After last year’s OscarsSoWhite controversy condemned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, diversity refreshingly steps into the spotlight as the 89th annual Academy Awards honors the best cinema of 2016 Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Seven actors and one director of color will compete in the major categories representing a banner year for filmmaking. In an attempt to clean up old voting habits, 683 new members were added to the over 6,000 total membership including production designer Hannah Beachler, a Wright State University alumna. In fact, 46 percent of new members were female while 41 percent represented people of color. More progress should be made (the membership is still 89 percent white and 73 percent male), but the initial effects were noticeable in the nominations and could have greater impact when envelopes are opened.
As always, anything is possible on Oscar night, specifically in terms of the amount of politically-charged acceptance speeches and the suspenseful announcement of best picture. Here are my predictions in the top six categories.
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Overlooked: 13th; 20th Century Women; American Honey; Arrival; Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened; The Birth of a Nation; Equity; Free State of Jones; Indignation; Jackie; Krisha; The Light Between Oceans; The Lobster; Loving; O.J. Made in America; Miles Ahead; Race; Remember?; Silence; Sing Street
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: Moonlight
By and large, the Academy got it right. Nine wonderful films have been recognized and deservedly so. Will Hollywood rally to embrace lighthearted escapism (La La Land), the trials and tribulations of the African-American experience (Fences, Hidden Figures, Moonlight), touching stories of redemption and reunion (Lion, Manchester by the Sea), sci-fi contemplativeness (Arrival), or gripping accounts of battle in war (Hacksaw Ridge) and out West (Hell or High Water)? La La Land, a musical love letter to Los Angeles, seems unstoppable thanks to its imaginative originality and colorful fantasy, but if this category is about which film makes the strongest statement for our times, the coming-of-age Moonlight is a daring achievement for African-American cinema that will be studied for decades. Still, watch out for uplifting and inspiring crowd-pleaser Hidden Figures, the highest-grossing nominee raking in $142 million and counting. An upset is within reason.
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Overlooked: Andrea Arnold, American Honey; John Carney, Sing Street; Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead; Derek Cianfrance, The Light Between Oceans;; Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster; Pablo Larrain, Jackie; Ang Lee, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water; Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures; Meera Menon, Equity; Mike Mills, 20th Century Women; Jeff Nichols, Loving; Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation; James Schamus, Indignation; Martin Scorcese, Silence; Trey Edward Shults, Krisha; Denzel Washington, Fences
Will Win: Chazelle
Should Win: Jenkins
Chazelle’s particularly skillful homages to bygone Hollywood musicals are of a mature pedigree far beyond his years, but the beautiful subtlety and gripping intimacy Jenkins established took realistic storytelling to captivating heights.
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain America
Denzel Washington, Fences
Overlooked: Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead; Joel Edgerton, Loving; Colin Farrell, The Lobster; Michael Fassbender, The Light Between Oceans; Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash; Ben Foster, Hell or High Water; Andrew Garfield, Silence; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Snowden; Tom Hanks, Sully; Alex Hibbert, Moonlight; Tom Hiddleston, I Saw the Light; Stephan James, Race; Logan Lerman, Indignation; Matthew McConaughey, Free State of Jones; Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation; Chris Pine, Hell or High Water; Christopher Plummer, Remember?; Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight; Ashton Sanders, Moonlight; Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Sing Street
Will Win/Should Win: Washington
Last fall, it seemed the splendidly understated Affleck was the clear favorite, but Washington’s dynamic finesse as the scorned and disillusioned Troy Maxson (coupled with the fact that he directed himself) grew too powerful to ignore in the homestretch. Affleck could still prevail, but Washington, in top form, simply delivered one of his most tremendous, roof-raising portrayals, placing him in good standing to become the first African-American actor to win three Oscars and the sixth actor overall to receive three Oscars (joining an illustrious group consisting of Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson, and Meryl Streep).
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Overlooked: Amy Adams, Arrival; Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship; Annette Bening, 20th Century Women; Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train; Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane; Krisha Fairchild, Krisha; Sally Field, Hello, My Name is Doris; Anna Gunn, Equity; Rebecca Hall, Christine; Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures; Sasha Lane, American Honey; Susan Sarandon, The Meddler; Tilda Swinton, A Bigger Splash; Alicia Vikander, The Light Between Oceans; Rachel Weisz, Denial
Will Win: Stone
Should Win: Huppert
All signs point to Stone, the darling of the awards season, for solidifying her triple threat status as aspiring actress Mia, but don’t discount French powerhouse Huppert for her compelling yet tremendously cool portrayal of a video game executive provocatively flirting with danger and desire. After all, the foreign voting block cannot be brushed aside considering British theater veteran Mark Rylance’s upset win last year for best supporting actor in Bridge of Spies against Creed favorite Sylvester Stallone. The sheer breadth of Huppert’s mesmerizing work would be a cinch in a less competitive year, but the immensely likeable Stone, so luminous and heartbreaking, will ride La La Land’s palpable momentum.
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
Overlooked: Jovan Adepo, Fences; Kevin Costner, Hidden Figures; Garrett Hedlund, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences; Andre Holland, Moonlight; Russell Hornsby, Fences; Jeremy Irons, Race; Richard Jenkins, The Hollars; Jharrel Jerome, Moonlight; Nick Kroll, Loving; Yosuke Kubozuka, Silence; Shia LaBeouf, American Honey; Tracy Letts, Indignation; Mark McKenna, Sing Street; Jack Reynor, Sing Street; Timothy Spall, Denial; Patrick Stewart, Green Room; Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals; Ben Whishaw, The Lobster; Mykelti Williamson, Fences
Will Win/Should Win: Ali
A truly excellent group. It’s particularly great to see Patel included having missed the cut here for 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. Bridges, Patel and newcomer Hedges are major threats, but this category belongs to Ali, whose poignant and soulful portrayal of Juan, a drug dealer-turned-unexpected father figure, fuels Moonlight’s pensive magic.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Overlooked: Lucy Boynton, Sing Street; Linda Emond, Indignation; Tyne Daly, Hello, My Name is Doris; Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women; Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women; Riley Keough, American Honey; Aja Naomi King, The Birth of a Nation; Margo Martindale, The Hollars; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Free State of Jones and Miss Sloane; Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures; Alysia Reiner, Equity; Kristen Stewart, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; Sarah Megan Thomas, Equity; Rachel Weisz, The Light Between Oceans and The Lobster
Will Win/Should Win: Davis
Let’s face it. Davis’ Oscar was probably engraved sometime last month. It’s still shocking she didn’t win for 2011’s The Help. Barring an upset, expect Davis to receive a lengthy standing ovation for her absolutely riveting portrayal of housewife Rose Maxon. Her acceptance speech could be the highlight of the evening. Keep your tissues handy.
The 89th annual Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will be telecast live Sun. Feb. 26 on ABC at 8:30 p.m.