What will win: Jumped up “controversy” aside, “La La Land” has all the momentum as we move towards Oscar night. It scooped up the top award at both the PGAs, DGAs and BAFTAs, swept every category it was nominated for at the Golden Globes — setting a new record in the process — and was nominated for a whopping fourteen Oscars, tying for another record. Even those who hate the film must admit that it is the objective favorite of the show, and it holds a strong chance of winning the eleven Academy Awards needed to tie yet another all-time record.
What should win: As well it should, because “La La Land” is delightful. There’s a reason it is garnering so much love. The cinematography is beautiful, the story is eminently relatable, Damien Chazelle’s (“Whiplash”) direction is flawless — his single-take musical numbers are a marvel — and the songs are memorable and speak to the film’s deeper themes. That’s without even mentioning the absurdly charming performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the latter of whom gave us the heartrendingly emotional “Audition” scene. Is it perfect? No, but it is doubtlessly the best film nominated and the singular most entertaining film of the year.
— Jeremiah Vanderhelm, Daily Arts Writer
Who will win: Hopefully, this year’s Oscars will have at least one major upset. Sitting through the four-hour long ceremony needs to have some sort of payoff. However, this certainly won’t be the case for Best Director. In three out of the past four ceremonies, the winner for Best Director went home without a similar trophy for Best Picture. This year will probably end this streak, and audiences can expect to see Damien Chazelle with more hardware than he could ever possibly carry. The 32 year-old’s “La La Land,” a musical reincarnation of Hollywood’s past, deserves praise. Still, by the time he wins this award, along with everything else, audiences may be a bit frustrated that their four hour-long commitment didn’t pay off.
Who should win: Barry Jenkins brought to life one of the most stunning and compelling movies in recent history with “Moonlight.” His work will be remembered for decades to come, so clearly he deserves the highest recognition for a director. But really, Jenkins doesn't need an Oscar to showcase his masterful talent. At this point, it would be secondary. Chazelle can walk away with the award, but Jenkins will prove to be the true winner for years to come. Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) in previous, less competitive years would be the frontrunner. Sadly, he’ll also have to wait his turn, considering that nothing’s stopping Chazelle from winning this year’s prize.
— Will Stewart, Daily Arts Writer
Who will win: Casey Affleck’s performance as Lee Chandler in “Manchester by the Sea” is nuanced, yet powerful. The loner handyman with a mysteriously tragic past is portrayed on screen as equally enigmatic and sensitive. Particularly when interacting with his orphaned, teenage nephew (a stellar performance by newcomer Lucas Hedges), Affleck’s Lee is awkwardly endearing. Their banter ranges from dark humor to tender revelations, all while maintaining impressively rugged Boston accents (reminiscent of another Affleck’s magnum opus, “Good Will Hunting”). Affleck will not only get the Oscar for inducing the largest collective sob from viewers since “Beaches,” but because he created a narrative on screen so raw and subtle, that the other actors in the category (an especially impressive lot this year) pale in comparison.
Who should win: Viggo Mortensen certainly knows how to wield a sword, as evidenced by his portrayal of Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but can he raise six children in the wilderness by himself? The answer is a resounding yes. In “Captain Fantastic,” Mortensen plays Ben Cash, a radical idealist who along with his wife, decides to raise their six children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The eccentrically brilliant children are trained in everything from hunting and survival skills to theoretical physics and Marxist theory. The Cash kids are as charming and quirky as the variety of actors who play them. Mortensen will not get the Oscar, but his performance as a father trying to reconcile his steadfast philosophies with the well being of his children is heartbreakingly honest and deserves recognition beyond “Noam Chomsky Day.”
— Rebecca Portman, For the Daily
Who will win: Marion Cotillard won in 2007 for “La Vie en Rose,” becoming the first woman to win for a French-speaking role. Ten years later, Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) could follow Cotillard’s path for her portrayal of rape victim Michele Leblanc. That is, if “La La Land” weren’t released in the same year. Emma Stone (“La La Land”) will win this category with ease, even against the beloved Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”). Stone’s performance, including the beautifully sung “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” covers all of the Oscar-worthy territory.
Who should win: Filmic depictions of presidents and their lives are like gold for the Oscars. Movies about first ladies apparently aren’t as successful. Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie,” shockingly, was snubbed in almost every category, barely getting any recognition it deserved. Fortunately, Natalie Portman’s (“Black Swan”) accurate portrayal of ex-first lady Jackie Kennedy was one of three nominations the film did receive, and rightfully so. She brilliantly brought to life the tragedy of JFK’s assassination. In many ways, Portman’s performance is the archetype for a perfect depiction of a historical figure. Imitating each of her many idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, Portman lived up to the great challenge of not over-acting. She won’t win, but she certainly deserves her second Oscar after this performance.
— Will Stewart, Daily Arts Writer
Best Supporting Actor
Who will win: Some performances are stellar for their front-facing exuberance. Even harder is keeping a vivid character reserved and internal, with a complex morality bubbling and churning beneath the surface while life passes before the character’s eyes. Mahershala Ali’s Juan, the drug-dealing surrogate father to young Chiron in “Moonlight,” is the highlight of a phenomenal cast, precisely because his carefully quiet character pops off the screen. Though Juan only appears in the first third of the film, his presence is felt throughout, not only because of his influence on Chiron, but also because Ali weaves an indelibly gnarled charm into his character.
Who should win: There’s a bias against young actors when recognizing achievement, partly because they’re simply lesser known, partly because they typically lack the experience to pull off a great performance. Nevertheless, Lucas Hedges is perfect as Patrick Chandler, the grieving, complicated nephew at the center of Kenneth Lonergan’s brilliant “Manchester by the Sea.” Hedges acts with a stunning naturalism that rivals few other young performers. His mental breakdown about two-thirds through the film throws the audience into the same emotional explosion as his own, while his comedic timing is flawless (see: any scene with his amateur punk band).
— Daniel Hensel, Daily Film Editor
Best Supporting Actress
Who should and will win: I’m still confused as to why Viola Davis was nominated for “supporting actress” rather than a lead, for her portrayal of Rose Maxson in Denzel Washington’s adaptation of “Fences.” (Edit: I have been told this has to do with money. I still don’t understand.) Regardless, she should win. Her portrayal of Rose’s strength, both in times of relative contentment and even more so in times of strife, is striking in its rawness. The scene in which she confronts her husband after he blindly complains to her, not bothering to recognize that she might have sacrificed dreams and aspirations too, is one of the most powerful scenes between two people in recent cinematic history.
— Sophia Kaufman, Daily Book Editor
Best Original Screenplay
What will win: It comes as a surprise to almost no one that “La La Land” is poised to clean up at this year’s awards. After taking home top honors in this category at the Golden Globes, it looks likely that “La La Land” will do it again. While deserving of many of the statues it will pick up next week, the film’s screenplay is among the weakest of the nominees. The real magic of “La La Land” is its visual splendor, the story is structurally familiar and the dialogue leans pretty heavily on Gosling and Stone’s — especially Stone’s — natural charm. Alas, the Academy has a hard time passing up hype and anything about itself.
What should win: This is a tough one. “20th Century Women” and “The Lobster,” both films that, tragically, are only nominated in this category, are on par with “Manchester By the Sea.” But, it’s Kenneth Lonergan’s darkly funny screenplay that deserves top honors. Lonergan masters the tricky art of flashbacks and writes characters with a precision unseen this award season. Lee Chandler is one of the most fully fleshed out, powerful characters of the year. The film’s structure is perfect, the way it at once opens up and caves in on itself, revealing and concealing. “Manchester By the Sea” is master class example of how movies are born on paper.
— Madeleine Gaudin, Senior Arts Editor
Best Adapted Screenplay
What will win: Had “Moonlight” not jumped over to the adapted category, I’d say “Arrival,” which scooped up the prize at the Writers Guild Awards, was a sure win. The short story it’s adapted from is absolutely fantastic. However, Barry Jenkins’s screenplay is going to be impossible to top. “Moonlight” is too quiet, too perfectly understated to lend itself to awards in the Best Picture and Best Director categories — the Academy prefers the grandeur of something like “La La Land.” What is does fit are the Academy’s ideals for writing. It’s going to win in this category because it deserves the top of the ticket honors, but it’s sadly not going to win them.
What should win: One of the oddities in this year’s award season is the flip-flopping the “Moonlight” screenplay has done between the adapted and original screenplay categories. The screenplay won best original at the Writers Guild Awards last Sunday, but is nominated as an adapted screenplay at the Oscars. In any writing category, “Moonlight” deserves the win. Barry Jenkins’s transformation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished, unperformed play is incredible and truly deserving on all the honors it can get.
— Madeleine Gaudin, Senior Arts Editor
Best Animated Feature
What will win: “Zootopia” has been acclaimed for its topical and careful exploration of heavy issues of race, discrimination and social stereotypes and its ability to distill those weighty ideas into a form kids can easily understand. The Oscars are suckers for movies that make complicated, ugly histories and ideas as simple and pleasant as possible, and “Zootopia” will be no exception. That’s not to say that “Zootopia” is reductive or not socially conscious, just that it won't be surprising if the only way the Oscars can address race issues will be through the animated movie that explains it to them slowly, carefully and in a language children can understand.
What should win: “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a gorgeous stop-motion picture about a young Japanese boy with magical powers who must go on an epic journey to find the truth about his family and himself. It’s a beautiful movie from start to finish (the animation alone will take your breath away), but what’s really striking is the elegance with which the story is told. Every aspect of this film is graceful and beautiful — from its score to the acting to the visuals — it’ll transport you to another world filled with color and music, and leave you falling in love with storytelling all over again.
— Asif Becher, Daily Arts Writer
Best Documentary Feature
Who will win: “13th,” Ava DuVernay’s dissection of how the 13th Amendment precipitated the development of a prison industrial complex that functions as a modern form of slavery, is both one of the best documentaries of the year and one of the most relevant. It’s an intelligent, incisive breakdown of how racism finds new ways to adapt and hide itself, and a necessary reminder of how central racial inequality is to the American experience. The country is run by Breitbart bloggers screaming about Black crime and a dude whose experiences with the Black community extend to denying it housing and hanging out with Ben Carson. Few documentaries have ever been so immediate and so fitting. I suspect the Academy will feel the same way.
Who should win: “O.J.: Made in America,” Ezra Edelman’s five-part documentary epic, is not just the best documentary of 2016, but quite possibly the year’s best film. Tracking the life of O.J. Simpson from his childhood in L.A., through his starring roles as a running back and accused murderer, to his failed rap career and conviction for armed robbery, Edelman weaves the racial history of L.A. and its tensions through Simpson’s story. It’s one of the best portraits of an American icon you’ll ever see and an even better portrait of the culture that made him.
— Karl Williams, Daily Arts Writer
Best Original Score
What will win: Justin Hurwitz’s score for “La La Land” is a lovely throwback to the golden age musicals of Hollywood — Judy Garland and Gene Kelly and the like — stuffed with jazzy brass and sweeping strings. And while much of the movie’s music are songs, not a score, the dance interlude at the Griffith Park Observatory and certainly the manic dream sequence in the finale count as the two highlights of the film, both of which are unsung. Hurwitz weaves the film’s few recurring musical themes into an intoxicating score, sonically illuminating the lavender sunset that hangs behind Mia and Sebastian.
What should win: The first thing you hear in “Jackie” is a haunting orchestral chord, sustained for a second, then a glissando down, like the Doppler effect. Mica Levi’s score is poetic for a film about a woman and her husband, whose life and presidency, respectively, are tragically defined by a split second in black convertible in Dallas. Those chords, and other themes, come back repeatedly, echoing but changed: down the octave, or laced with other notes, much like the memory of her husband that Jackie Kennedy was determined to preserve.
— Daniel Hensel, Daily Film Editor