This Oscar season is not the strongest showing the film industry has had. From the slew of films that have embellished the silver screen in 2016, there were few I would qualify as quality, substantive films. However, of the few films that do show quality and substance, it is quite the batch of excellence. I’d rather not get into how unimpressed I was with Hacksaw Ridge — yet another overzealously religious and lackluster film from the directive mind of Mel Gibson, which I find to be undeserving of any of its nominations this year — or how absolutely floored I am that Nocturnal Animals, my absolute favorite film of 2016, was all but overlooked by the Academy, so I will instead predict which nominees will win the “Big Five” Oscar categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay (Adapted or Original). So, without further ado, here are my 89th Academy Award Predictions.
Best Picture: La La Land
I know, I’m selling out already. But let’s get open thing straight: La La Land was a fantastic film. It follows the fateful love story of two artists trying to make it in Hollywood. Unoriginal premise, yes, but so well-executed. Even I went into the theater so wanting to despise what was about be displayed on screen, almost solely because everyone thus far had loved it. I had also heard tidbits of the movie’s music and was not the slightest bit impressed, which is usually a red flag for any musical. I also am still not a fan of Ryan Gosling as a dramatic actor, because he’s generally only good for playing the generic heartthrob in a romance movie. However, I was taken aback by each minute of the film. While I was correct that the music is by no means impressive or even that “good,” there were so many other things that masked this and made the film something truly special. The vibrant colors, encapsulating visual elements, electric acting performances, captivating storytelling, and innovative cinematography all made this movie glow and jump out at the viewer with a certain nuanced look and feel which set it apart as the most unique film of 2016.
Best Director: Damien Chazelle, for La La Land
Yes, I’m aware, he just so happened to direct La La Land. And boy, did he do a brilliant job. The amount of effort he put into perfecting each and every scene shines through very intensely with every second of this film’s 128-minute runtime. It takes a special mind to direct a musical, and Chazelle proved to the viewer that he was up for the unique challenge. Every camera angle, frame, shot, and performance is a testament to his talent as a director who can foster such an amazing creation into being. His distinct style, which was shown to us in another one of his notably wonderful films, 2014’s Whiplash, is also on display here, only at a new, more deserving level of expertise.
Best Actress: Emma Stone, for La La Land
Yup. Another La La Land-er. Can you blame me, though? The nominee list in this category is quite the line-up this year, with Academy Award-winners Meryl Streep and Natalie Portman both nominated (Meryl for a record 20th time). Still, I think that Emma Stone showed us something special this year. She’s usually cast as the funny, unconventional female lead in comedies, but she truly branched out as an effective dramatic actress in 2011’s The Help. Since then, she’s given the film industry very solid dramatic performances, which earned her the first of two Oscar nominations for her supporting role in 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). She now has her second with this year’s performance, where she plays a struggling young actress who falls for a smooth-talking jazz pianist, which explodes onto the screen in ways I didn’t think she would be able to accomplish as an actress. Her abilities as both a dialogue deliverer and an expressive façade (in the best sense of the word) will warm and break your heart multiple times throughout your viewing.
Best Actor: Denzel Washington, for Fences
Denzel Washington has revolutionized acting throughout his thirty plus years on the big screen. He is also no stranger to the Oscar limelight, winning first in 1990 for his supporting role in the Civil War drama Glory, and then again in 2002 for his lead role in the crime thriller Training Day. He’s garnered six nominations in conjunction with those two wins; his performance in Fences was one of them. This performance was, by no small margin, the strongest performance of 2016. Washington plays a middle-aged, trash-collecting family man whose intimidation of his two sons and infidelity against his wife places him in an atypically precarious family situation. This entire film, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, is a character piece, and he plays the most essential and difficult of characters. However, his chops are revealed to us once again in such amazing breadth and uncannily perfect execution that you lose sight of the actor and become enthralled and pulled into understanding the character instead.
Best Screenplay (Adapted or Original): Moonlight
Based on the play, Moonlight Makes Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, an African-American boy who grows up in an urban slum of Miami and struggles with his sexuality, a drug-addicted mother, and bullying at school. While some might compare it to Boyhood in its storytelling and premise, I believe it stands on its own as a well-made and uniquely told film. Barry Jenkins, who wrote the screenplay, also shows us his talented style as a relative novice to the world of professional directing, which is that of simplicity, sharpness, and great attention to detail. The movie itself has amazing performances from the various actors who play Chiron, especially Alex Hibbert, who plays “Little” Chiron, and from Naomie Harris, who has garnered a well-deserved Oscar nod for her supporting performance. It is an altogether captivating, sobering, and interesting take on the coming-of-age genre that will leave you with a satisfyingly poignant impression as you exit the theater.