It has been exciting to have a year where no clear frontrunner has presented itself in the Oscar race. Birth of a Nation went down in a blaze of controversy and bad reviews. La La Land, often considered the frontrunner, failed to receive a SAG nomination for best ensemble. The last time a film won Best Picture without that was Braveheart in 1995. Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea have been close behind La La Land, winning critical acting and directing awards from critics associations. This weekend’s Golden Globe awards and the SAG awards happening later this month, will likely reveal a likely Oscar winner.
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Hell or High Water
Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, as shown by recent Best Picture winners The Artist and Birdman, that odds are Damien Chazelle’s tribute to classic musicals, La La Land, will be walking away with a Best Picture Oscar come February. The film has been much beloved since its debut at Venice in September and has coasted on a wave of goodwill and nominations ever since. With great performances from Ryan Gosling and, especially, Emma Stone and sharp direction coupled with stunning cinematography, a win in this category would not be undeserved. Nipping at its heels is Moonlight. Once seen as an underdog, it had a stellar opening weekend, the second best limited release opening this year, right behind La La Land. Moonlight is director Barry Jenkins second film and has been called a masterpiece. The story is told through three actors all playing the same person at different phases of his life. They are all able to convey the same thoughtfulness and loneliness that defines the character. If the past two years of #oscarssowhite coupled with the recent election makes the Academy lean in a more political direction, Moonlight could come out on top.
Those two films could split the vote, giving the third frontrunner, Manchester by the Sea, an edge. Casey Affleck is the current favorite to win Best Actor and the quiet film about loss will likely play well with older members of the Academy. However, Kenneth Lonergan’s direction is less flashy than Chazelle and Jenkins and the sexual assault allegations made against Affleck will put off some voters. Fences will find its way into the Best Picture race mostly on star power. It serves as the directorial debut of its star, Denzel Washington and the Academy loves an actor turned director. Viola Davis as Washington’s wife gives the film’s most powerful performance, but Washington builds up to his peak too early in the film and has nowhere else to go for the remainder. Fences is adapted from the play of the same name that Washington and Davis both received Tonys for, however Washington retains too much of the theatrical set up of that production, rarely leaving the family’s backyard, in a way that feels very claustrophobic.
If the Academy can forgive Mel Gibson of his past sins, Hacksaw Ridge will likely find a place here. No one is arguing over whether Gibson is a good director and the film has earned Andrew Garfield multiple nominations for his performance as a pacifist soldier in World War II over his performance as a Jesuit missionary in 17th century Japan in Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Silence has had trouble gaining steam due to its late in the game release, it’s tough subject matter and its nearly three hour runtime. It is the film most likely to be left at the bottom of the screener pile. In spite of that, it is rare for the Academy to pass up an opportunity to nominate a Scorsese film, so expect to see it there.
Hell or High Water, about two brothers who rob their money back from the banks in the modern American west, is shot beautifully. I’ve never seen a used car dealership look so vibrant. Written by Taylor Sheridan, whose previous film Sicario, was well reviewed, Hell or High Water has developed a strong group of supporters that will likely carry it to a nomination. That film will likely also be joined by a film from another Sicario alum, Arrival, directed by Sicario director Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams as a linguist tasked with translating a new language spoken by Earth’s new alien visitors, the film has excellent performances from Adams and Jeremy Renner and a twist that is neither too complicated nor too easy to see coming. With a $47 million dollar budget, not much compared to other sci-fi fare such as Interstellar’s $165 million or Gravity’s $100 million, the aliens and the ship that they arrive in never veer into camp. Villeneuve shows only what needs to be shown. Read more about Arrival from one of Light House’s student critics here.
On the Bubble:
I would love to see Jeff Nichols’ smaller movie about interracial marriage, Loving, find a way into this category. I wouldn’t count out Jackie, though the Academy might think that a nomination for its star, Natalie Portman, is all the recognition the film needs. Lion, a true story about an adopted man in Australia trying to find his biological family in India that he was separated from as a boy, is the kind of tear jerking true story that the Academy has a soft spot for. The quirky Viggo Mortensen film Captain Fantastic could have gained enough attention from its SAG and Golden Globe nominations to have earned a spot.
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Chandler Ferrebee is an aspiring filmmaker and program support intern at Light House Studio.