The Super Bow is upon us. It’s Sunday, and tonight are the Academy Awards. Most of the races appear to be settled, with one major exception, which I’ll go over below. For the most part, tonight’s awards would seem to be upset and drama free. I hope this isn’t the case. I hope we get a couple of surprises, but I sincerely doubt it. Read below to see why:
Best Supporting Actress Nominees:
Viola Davis (Fences)
Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Who will win: Viola Davis
Viola Davis will win this because her performance in Fences is stunning. She most likely should have won an Oscar back in 2011 for The Help rather than Streep winning for a cartoonish portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady. That wrong will be righted tonight. It will partly be righted because of a shrewd decision by Paramount to run Davis as a Supporting actress rather than a lead, and by the Oscars complete lack of oversight for not seeing that this was a lead performance. However, Viola will win for her role as Rose Maxon after years of heartbreak at the award gala, and it will be richly deserved.
Who should win: Naomie Harris
Now, let’s play a what if. What if the Oscars had decided to place Davis’ performance in the correct category, lead actress? Some would say that Michelle Williams would emerge as the clear front running. I would say, that it would clear the field for someone like Naomie Harris to come on strong and snatch the award. Her performance as a crack addict mother with a gay son is the type that typically would have made her a runaway winner. Instead, she is a forgotten also ran. Anyone who has seen Moonlight, should have been blown away by her portrayal of the effects drugs can have on the person and the people around them. Harris proved that Bonds’ women can carve out their own career from the weighty franchise.
Best Supporting Actor Nominees:
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Who will/should win: Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali will and should win. If you couldn’t tell, I loved Moonlight. It was everything a film should be, that is a vehicle to break stereotypes for the creation of a new world out look. Ali’s turn as Juan, a drug dealer who takes in Chiron, a scared young homosexual boy, takes the image of the black drug dealer from your local news to your local heart. Ali has been a star on the rise for the past couple of years, and this award should catapult him among the likes of the best actors in Hollywood. The person who could possibly snatch this award from him, would be the surprise nominee, Michael Shannon. Shannon’s performance in Nocturnal Animals came the closest of the above to make the cut with Mahershala, and Shannon is well like and respected. If there is an upset, expect Shannon to walk away with it.
Best Actress Nominees:
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Who will/should win: Natalie Portman
This is the one category that does not appear to be settled. It’s also the one that’s ripe for an upset. Emma Stone is the front runner. She won the SAG, Golden Globe, and BAFTA for her performance in La La Land. However, Isabelle Huppert also won the Golden Globe for Elle. This would be a major upset, considering that Portman has not taken any of the major awards home with her. But in my eyes, no actress had a greater degree of difficulty in their performance. Yes, Stone had to dance and sing, neither she did particularly well. Nevertheless, Portman was competing against a ghost. She had to do a biopic of someone well-known, an icon really, Jackie Kennedy.
When an actress does an homage to someone as famous as Jacqueline Kennedy, it can turn either extremely campy or too SNL-ish quickly. When it’s someone well-known, then comparisons can be more readily made between the real life version and the acted. It’s a very easy trap to fall into. Secondly, Portman carries the film. There isn’t a scene that she isn’t in. The film lives and dies with her. Lastly, the way the film was shot. Jackie features about 70-80% worth of extreme close-ups. So not only does Portman have nowhere to hide in terms of screen time, but the camera is always uncomfortably leeching upon her. There’s no obvious sign that Portman will win. It’s just a gut feeling that I have. If not her, then expect Emma Stone to get the win.
Best Actor Nominees:
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Denzel Washington (Fences)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Who will/should win: Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck has been a ship that’s been taking on water. His run to Best Actor seemed unstoppable until his past came back into full view. His sexual harassment lawsuits have tainted what should have been a celebration of his performance, and probably slowed Manchester By the Sea’s momentum for best picture. Nevertheless, I do not believe it will be enough to cause Denzel Washington to sneak in. Terrible as it may be to say, but the Academy Awards are supposed to judge the best “performances.”
To my knowledge, there is no character clause in the Academy’s voting guidelines. Therefore, the voters should only be judging what is on the screen. That is, to separate the art from the artist. If Affleck’s performance was good enough to win without the harassment lawsuits, then it should be good enough to stand with it. A less “deserving” performance or representation of art should not be awarded because the awarding of the most deserving would be distasteful to some. If the Academy wanted to ignore Affleck’s performance then it shouldn’t have nominated him at all. But he’s been nominated. He’s in this field. And he’s been singled out as the best performer. The Academy should represent the performance you want to see 20 years from now, not the person you can’t stand to see today.
Best Director Nominees:
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Who will win: Damien Chazelle
Who should win: Barry Jenkins
Damien Chazelle will win best director for La La Land. This is a partial waving of the white flag. He’ll win because La La Land is a well crafted film, and a musical. There are those that will assume that the degree of difficult was greater for Chazelle because of all the moving parts in said musical, leaving out that there was only one major dance routine, and the rest of the film was par for the course in terms of the normal challenges any director faces. But Chazelle will be awarded because there’s a good chance that he should have won for Whiplash.
Much has been said of La La Land and race. But one bit of racial history that has not been mentioned often enough, is the fact that no African American has ever won Best Director, male or female. Not Lee Daniels (Precious). Not Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave). Not John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood). And unfortunately Barry Jenkins will join this very short list. He is only the fourth black director to be honored with a nomination in the 88 year history of the Academy Awards, and the third in the last seven years. I still think somewhere Alfonso Cuaron feels guilty that he won it for Gravity rather than McQueen for 12 Years a Slave. It seemed as if Jenkins would break through, for his stunning portrayal of a rarely told story of black homosexuality in an urban setting, but once again, African Americans will have to wait till next year.
Best Picture Nominees:
Manchester By the Sea
La La Land
Hell or High Water
Who will win: La La Land
Who REALLY REALLY REALLY should win: Moonlight
I’ve given up. I’m tired of fighting it. La La Land will win best picture. Yes, Academy voters have been down this road before. Would anyone put La La Land into the top 20 movie musicals of all-time? Probably not. It’s musical light, with two leads who can’t dance and can’t sing. It’s Hollywood celebrating Hollywood. It’s the golden couple of every white girl’s fantasy. The songs aren’t that memorable, and the cast not that diverse. It has all the markings of a cringe worthy pick when looked back upon 20 years from now. Dated references. Poor technique. Little to do with plot. It stands to join the ranks of Shakespeare in Love and The King’s Speech for the why and how did they win categories, with La La Land being very close to the Shakespeare in Love craze.
Meanwhile, here’s little ole Moonlight off in the corner. Moonlight isn’t like La La Land. For one, it’s not telling the same drawn out story that’s been told since Singin’ in the Rain. In fact, its story is one that is rarely represented on-screen. The struggling sexuality of black homosexuality. It doesn’t cast itself of cliches and stock characters. It remakes the stock characters to fit its own narrative drive. The urban African American community is still one of the most difficult communities to be gay in. The reliance on gangs and masculine bravado with God fearing church lessons make it a biblical minefield to find one’s sexuality. This isn’t an argument against weighty and non-weighty films. I’m all for musicals winning, when they’re fantastic musicals, such as Chicago. But La La Land isn’t to that level.
Moonlight is a unique character portrait. As unique as Chiron, the scared young gay boy who has to navigate crack dens. It also represents the moment we live in. In a day when inclusivity is questioned and decreed unlawful. When transgender children have no bathrooms to use. When our borders are closing and we grasp so dearly to the stereotypes that keep our world “sane.” Moonlight is an outgrowth of that. And yes, it is great to reward escapism. But La La Land isn’t grand escapism. It’s the $80 Greyhound bus to San Jose with stale peanuts for breakfast food. The Academy should reward those who can only see Hollywood as a distant dream on a tv screen. It should reward Moonlight.