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Saturday, February 25, 2017

The 89th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director

There's little suspense for this year's Best Picture and Best Director Oscar. Once La La Land was released, it seized the lead and has fought back all comers. There is a backlash among some that it is frivolous in these perilous times, but the movies don't have to wallow in our fears; sometimes they deflect them. Of course, La La Land is also about Hollywood. This will be the third film in the last six years, following The Artist and Argo, to win with that subject matter.

Usually when looking at a slate of Best Picture nominees, you can eliminate the films that don't have a Best Director nomination. Only two films since World War II, Driving Miss Daisy and Argo, have won Best Picture without a director nomination. Even after the expansion of the Best Picture list, this has held true. So sorry, Lion, Hell or High Water, Fences, and Hidden Figures, the odds are against you. Hidden Figures, which interestingly is the highest grossing of the nine, did win the SAG award for Best Ensemble, but La La Land wasn't nominated because basically it's a two-character film. Also interesting--the film that has the highest box office gross of the nominees rarely wins.

So that leaves four films battling La La Land. If, in a shock the size of the San Francisco earthquake would occur, I believe Moonlight would win. In fact, some are suggesting a La La Land/Barry Jenkins split might happen, because it has become a trend in the last twenty years to honor two different films in the two categories, when before they almost always were the same film. I don't think that's going to happen--Damien Chazelle won the DGA award, the most reliable predictor of the Best Picture and Best Director awards. But Moonlight has both critical approval and a zeitgeist in these xenophobic times--it's about gay black men.

That leaves three films, and I think their chances are in roughly this order: Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, which is my favorite film of the year but probably too much of a downer for Academy voters (but a likely winner for Best Original Screenplay); Arrival, directed by Denis Villenueve, a thoughtful science fiction film that seems to have gotten lost in the dust (but did pick up a WGA award for Best Adapted Screenplay), and Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, which is half a good film. That Gibson was nominated for Best Director counts as a "comeback," but I don't expect him or the film to have a ghost of a chance.

The real suspense is how many awards La La Land wins. The record is a three-way tie at 11: Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Return of the King. La La Land has 14 nominations. Unless there's a tie in the Best Song category, it can only win 13. Eleven seems like a safe bet, as Ryan Gosling doesn't figure to win, and Original Screenplay seems like a long-shot. But stranger things have happened, and sweeps can overcome good judgment. I also think La La Land may lose Best Costumes, since that award always goes to period films. But then again, who can forget Emma Stone's yellow dress?

Here are my complete picks:

Best Picture: La La Land
Best Director: Damien Chazelle
Best Actor: Casey Affleck
Best Actress: Emma Stone
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis
Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman
Best Animated Film: Zootopia
Best Cinematography: La La Land
Best Editing: La La Land
Best Production Design: La La Land
Best Costume Design: Jackie
Best Song: City of Stars
Best Musical Score: La La Land
Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America
Best Documentary Short Subject: White Helmets
 Best Makeup and Hairstyles: Star Trek Beyond
Best Animated Short Subject: Piper
Best Live Action Short Subject: Sing
Best Sound Editing: La La Land
Best Sound Mixing: La La Land
Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

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