It’s that time of year again! Tonight is the 89th Academy Awards ceremony! So, just like last year, I’ll be laying out some predictions based on what movies and actors/actresses I think should win the top awards based the films I’ve seen. Here we go:
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
This category is particularly difficult since I (shockingly) saw all of the nominees this year and each one of them did an incredible job bringing their respective character to life. My top pick would have to be Andrew Garfield since I was so impressed by his portrayal of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge. His performance carried the film and captured the essence of who Desmond was and why he fought in the way he did. After seeing Garfield pull off such an emotional and powerful performance, its hard to believe that I was first introduced to him as Peter Parker from the Amazing Spiderman reboot.
Ryan Gosling did an excellent job in La La Land and was arguably the best performer in the film. I found the fact that he studied the piano for the role to be incredible. However, he split the spotlight with Emma Stone pretty evenly. Casey Affleck’s portrayal of Lee in Manchester by the Sea was familiar and honest. He really helped the audience get into the head of that character without every saying very much about his own inner feelings. Denzel Washington played the pivotal character in Fences and did an amazing job. In fact, I would say he is a close second for me. His performance was very real and emotional, but Troy was such an unlikable character. Viggo Mortensen also did an incredible job as Ben in Captain Fantastic. He managed to keep the character grounded between manipulative cult leader and loving father. It was difficult to determine Ben’s exact intentions, which I believe is exactly what the film wanted. At times, you hated him and, at other times, you sympathized with him. Like Troy, I was less interested in what Ben wanted as much as what he would do.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Unfortunately, I only managed to see one of the five performances nominated for this category this year. So, Emma Stone in La La Land it is! Based on the amount of positive buzz around La La Land, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Emma took home the award. She did a phenomenal job of showcasing what an actor can do while still remaining relatable with her positive energy and emotional openness. She was able to make Mia into someone we could sympathize with, while staying true to the character’s unlikable traits.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
The only one of the five nominees that I did not get to see was Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals. This is another category filmed with exceptional performances, but my top choice is Mahershala Ali, who played Juan in Moonlight. He only appeared in the first act of the film, but his influence could be felt throughout (much like how his character’s influence on Chiron could be seen throughout the latter two-thirds of the movie). Every scene that he was in carried so much emotion, wisdom, and kindness, despite his character being flawed. Like everything in Moonlight, Juan felt less like an actor and more like a real person.
I absolutely love Dev Patel’s acting and thought he did a great job in Lion. Saroo’s pain and desperation were palpable and relatable despite his unorthodox situation. Yet, Dev was completely outshined by Sunny Pawar, who played Saroo as a child. Lucas Hedges made Patrick Chandler feel like a real person in Manchester by the Sea, but with the exception of one very emotional scene, his role didn’t really make him stand out as much as some of the other nominees. Jeff Bridges portrayed Marcus in Hell or High Water in a way that made the film feel more like the westerns that most of us are familiar with. His Texas ranger character wasn’t exactly the most unique, but he was extremely likable and relatable. There is one scene towards the end of the film, in which Bridges reacts to something he’s just witnessed, that I would argue is the most powerfully acted moment in Hell or High Water.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
This is another category where I managed to see all the performances and had a difficult time deciding who was my favorite. Like for the previous category, I’m going to have to give this one to Moonlight. Naomie Harris did such an incredible job of playing Chiron’s crack addicted mother and, like all the characters in Moonlight, Paula felt more like a real person than a created individual. The look in her eyes during a few of the scenes was haunting and really stuck with me after watching the film.
Octavia Spencer was wonderful as Dorothy in Hidden Figures, but had her screen time split between herself, Taraji, and Janelle, due to the setup of the movie. Hidden Figures relied on several powerful performances instead of focusing around a single actress. Nicole Kidman did a great job as Sue in Lion and could easily take home the award for her powerful adoption speech at the end, but she (like Dev) was outshined by Sunny. Viola Davis is an interesting choice for supporting actress since other than Denzel, she was the star of Fences. In a movie where everyone other than Troy was an ancillary character, Viola’s Ruth served as the anchor through which the audience could relate to the film. Michelle Williams did a great job as Randi in Manchester by the Sea, though she was only featured in a few scenes throughout. Like Nicole Kidman, she only had one truly remarkable scene, which came towards the end of the film.
This is another difficult category, as all five directors did impeccable jobs crafting the visual aspects of their film to fit the story. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) utilized slow motion and quick cuts to accentuate the action, illicit emotion, and keep us in the moment with the actors. Damien Chazelle (La La Land) used lighting and other techniques to make La La Land feel like both a musical and a movie, while maintaining magical realism throughout. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) managed to create a tone that was extremely realistic, while feeling like memories or dreams. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) really captured the bleakness of his film’s story by using the dreary landscapes of New England to set the mood.
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) is my top choice for this category since the way the film was presented to the audience was so closely intertwined with its plot. The directing, writing, acting, and music for Arrival all had to fit together like pieces of a puzzle for the film to function. On top of this, Villeneuve’s directing job captured the ethereal nature of the plot in a way that many other directors couldn’t have.
- Fences (My Rating: 6 out of 10) – While Fences had a lot of meaning and emotion, it was my least favorite of the nominees because it felt a little too much like a play than a movie. It felt very confined, which was probably intentional due to the fences metaphor, and had a lot of slow moments. There was far more dialogue than action and, overall, it felt as though Denzel could have created a filmed version of the play and gotten the same outcome. With that said, I appreciated the ideas presented in Fences, such as how parents shape the lives of their children even if their children try to become completely different people and how in life there are both victories and defeats that we must all endure.
- Hidden Figures (My Rating: 7 out of 10) – My favorite thing about Hidden Figures was definitely all the incredible actors and actresses that the film brought together. Each one of the leads and supporting characters added something to the movie and made it more well rounded. The film had a lot of great points to make about discrimination and wasn’t subtle about making them, but still took the time to show different viewpoints on all sides of the issue. In terms of story, there wasn’t as much conflict and suspense as I would have liked. In addition, after reading up on the real life women being portrayed, I found that racism didn’t affect them personally as much as the film implied.
- La La Land (My Rating: 7 out of 10) – While many people see La La Land as the clear favorite for best picture this year, I found it to be good, but not incredible. The plot was definitely relatable, especially for artistic individuals who have to struggle with balancing their personal lives and ambitions. It used cliches in interesting ways and took the story in surprising directions, but things felt a little rushed towards the end. Overall, it was a fanciful and charming movie that told a very honest story about relationships and art.
- Manchester by the Sea (My Rating: 7 out of 10) – While extremely bleak throughout, Manchester by the Sea is at its core a very honest story about people and their struggle to get through life. I wouldn’t want to see it again anytime soon, but I appreciated how real all the interactions were. All the actors sold their characters and made the film seem less like something that was being acted out and more like a window into real people’s lives. I just wish that the film would have ended less abruptly and that there would have been more of an arc for the characters.
- Moonlight (My Rating: 7 out of 10) – Moonlight was definitely one of my favorites out of this year’s best picture nominees. It was gorgeously shot and acted in a way that made everything on the screen seem completely real (or at least like someone’s vivid memories of real events). Like Captain Fantastic and Fences, it explored the idea of how the people we are around and the experiences we have shape us into the people we grow up to be, whether we like it or not. While the film speaks directly to the difficulties faced by individuals who are gay in a culture that doesn’t accept them, it can relate to anyone who has felt like they don’t fit in or can’t build connections with those around them. Moonlight would have been higher on my list if we had gotten a little more closure at the end.
- Hell or High Water (My Rating: 7 out of 10) – Out of all the nominations this year, Hell or High Water was one of the most familiar feeling films. It had a realistic and small cast of characters with specific intentions, personalities, and goals. I loved the way the filmmakers took the classic western genre and put a modern twist on it, while staying true to the overall feel of those movies. The story was tight and the acting was perfectly executed, but there wasn’t really a strong message as far as I could see.
- Arrival (My Rating: 7.5 out of 10) – An excellent science fiction film that utilized every element of its production to tell its story. It dealt with ideas that were highly conceptual and fantastic, but told a story that was very human at its center. Like Kubo and the Two Strings, one of the main ideas behind Arrival is that there are highs and lows in life, but if we have the right outlook, the high points will always be worth fighting through the lows. I loved that Arrival makes its audiences think, but I felt like it was lacking in emotional resonance when compared to other films on this list. In addition, the twist was unique and a really awesome concept to see on film, but it was also confusing and required some post-view reading.
- Lion (My Rating: 8 out of 10) – Like many of this year’s nominees, Lion explores themes about family and characters figuring out who they are. The fact that it is based on a true story makes the film even more powerful. The first act of this movie is undoubtedly among the best pieces of film that I have ever seen. However, the strong opener and incredible acting by Sunny Pawar caused the second act to feel underwhelming and slow.
- Hacksaw Ridge (My Rating: 8.5 out of 10) – My top pick for best picture is unlikely to win the award, but it was definitely the film that moved me the most this year. Hacksaw Ridge explores so much about Desmond Doss during its run time and is able to illicit so much emotion. It is difficult to watch at times, but portrays the horrors of war in a realistic way. The film shows that humans can be horrible to one another, but can also be incredibly selfless. Desmond’s story is inspirational and miraculous, but Gibson and Garfield portray his experiences and mindset without being preachy. This is not a film about God or belief, but about the strength of convictions and the goodness that people are capable of.