By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
2016 was an outstanding year for films and many of those will be recognized on Sunday night when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences converges on Hollywood to hand out this year’s Oscars.
While a lot of films will hear their names called out as nominees this weekend, I think we’ll actually see a relatively small number of them actually go home with trophies.
Calling this year’s class “top heavy” would be an understatement. I expect the year’s most-nominated film – “La La Land” with 13 – to be the night’s biggest winner, with “Moonlight” – tied for second with eight nominations – to bring home its fair share of awards, too. The film tied with “Moonlight” with eight nominations – “Arrival” – will likely not follow suit, which is a shame, but it faces pretty stiff competition throughout its categories.
I’m far from an expert on these things, but by the time things get underway, I will have seen every film nominated outside of Best Foreign Language Film, the documentaries and the shorts – although I will have seen more than half of those, too.
So, here’s how I think Sunday night will shake out.
The winner: La La Land
Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice, etc., etc., etc. Not only was “La La Land” a fantastic film, but this is a movie about Hollywood, by Hollywood, for Hollywood. Let’s face it, Hollywood loves nothing more than patting itself on the back. Not giving its top award to a film that’s basically a 2-hour love letter to itself would be the exact opposite of that. So, like, a punch in the face? If it doesn’t win, it’ll likely be because “Moonlight” resonated with voters enough to pull of one of the biggest upsets ever … but don’t be the mortgage on that happening.
The winner: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Take all of the reasons I think “La La Land” will win Best Picture and replace the name of the movie with “Chazelle” and you have my rationale. It was my favorite movie of 2016 and Chazelle is the man behind all of it. Again, it would be a huge upset if he didn’t win, but if it were to happen it’ll be because of Barry Jenkins and “Moonlight.”
The winner: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
A lot of people are predicting that Affleck’s past might have caught up to him and that’s probably true to a point. And had there been criminal charges filed against him, I think it would cast a huge shadow over his performance and his chances. But, given that the cases went away for many years through out-of-court settlements, many voters won’t look at it as negatively. Plus, his performance as the tortured everyman in the year’s most depressing film is better than any of its competition. If Affleck doesn’t win, I think it’ll go to Denzel Washington for “Fences.” I, however, just don’t see it. “Fences” was little more than a big screen recreation of the play and Washington simply recreated the character he played hundreds of times before.
The winner: Emma Stone – La La Land
A likeable actress with previous critical acclaim in an almost universally-beloved film is a pretty tall order to overcome. I just don’t see anyone in this category – including MERYL – taking this award home. Stone sang, danced and charmed her way through the entire film, pretty much overpowering a very on-his-game Ryan Gosling to steal the show.
Best Supporting Actor
The winner: Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Going into the Golden Globes I was 100% sure Ali would win the award … and then he was upset by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”). Taylor-Johnson won’t be around to play spoiler this time, although Ali faces stout competition from Jeff Bridges for “Hell or High Water” and Michael Shannon for “Nocturnal Animals.” I’d be satisfied if any of these three – or even Dev Patel for “Lion” – were to win, but given Ali’s powerful performance and last year’s #OscarSoWhite fiasco, I think this is a lock. If there’s an upset, look for it to come from Bridges.
Best Supporting Actress
The winner: Viola Davis – Fences
Had she been nominated for Best Actress, not only would Davis’ performance as Rose Maxson in “Fences” be a frontrunner for the award, but it would be in the correct category. She will win for her powerful performance in an otherwise ho-hum movie, and one could easily argue that “Fences” is Rose’s story rather than Troy’s. Again, I don’t see an upset, but if there’s one to be had it’ll be Michelle Williams for “Manchester by the Sea.”
Best Original Screenplay
The winner: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
I’d love to see something quirky like “The Lobster” or the highly underrated and overlooked “20th Century Women” walk away with this award, but Chazelle created an absolute beast this year and if I think “La La Land” is the Best Picture with the Best Director, I can’t really go any other way.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The winners: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
If there was a second-place trophy handed out, “Moonlight” would need a wheelbarrow to carry home all of its hardware. But here, in this category, I don’t see anything that can touch it. Jenkins and McCraney took the latter’s play and turned it into a heartfelt, emotional journey that eschews stereotypes and embraces diversity in almost every way imaginable. Giving the award to any other film in this category would be wrong. If, however, it were to happen, I think it would be for “Arrival” – another outstanding, albeit completely different, film that will be overlooked most everywhere else. This could be the “make good” category for it, but I’d be shocked.
Best Animated Feature
The winner: Zootopia
My heart says “Kubo and the Two Strings,” but my head is telling me to pick the Disney juggernaut instead. If this category was simply for Best Animation, this would be Kubo in a landslide. However, this category takes story and animation into consideration, and while “Zootopia” is miles behind “Kubo” in terms of animation, its story was far superior. Plus it has the Disney cachet to go along with an excellent film.
Best Original Score
The winner: Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Seriously, what other film is going to win this?
Best Original Song
The winner: City of Stars – La La Land
I do think “City of Stars,” which won this award at the Golden Globes will end up winning the award, but it’s not as big of a slam dunk as Best Original Score. “How,” you ask? Well, one of its biggest competitors is “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from, you guessed it – “La La Land.” It’s entirely possible that the two songs split the “La La” love, which would allow Justin Timberlake and company to swoop in with “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” or Lin-Manuel Miranda to win for “How Far I’ll Go.” Honestly, the only song I see with no chance to win is J. Ralph and Sting’s “The Empty Chair.”
Best Foreign Language Film
The winner: Toni Erdmann (Germany)
This is a complete and total guess as all of the Foreign Language Films I saw this year were cut out during the preliminary rounds. However, all of my critic friends I talked to can’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed the German entry, so I’m trusting their taste.
Best Documentary Feature
The winner: O.J.: Made in America
I hate the fact that a 5-part TV miniseries that did the absolute bare minimum to meet the Academy’s eligibility criteria is a) even in the discussion and b) probably going to win. I also hate that once it does I’ll feel compelled to sit down and watch a 10-hour production. I’m cheering for the wonderful and heartfelt “Life, Animated,” but I don’t think it’s in the cards.
Best Documentary Short Subject
The winner: 4.1 Miles
At the time of this writing I’ve seen two of the five nominees. By Sunday that number should be four. Right now I’m leaning toward the story of Greek Coast Guard members tasked with rescuing refugees from the unforgiving waters of the Aegean Sea.
Best Live Action Short Film
The winner: Timecode
Honestly, I’ve never heard of any of the nominees and I haven’t been given access to any of them – as is often the case with short films.
Best Animated Short Film
The winner: Pearl
This is another tough one, as I’ve only seen two of the five films. I’m leaning toward Patrick Osborne and “Pearl” as not only did his team create a beautiful story, but a fully-immersive film experience. “Pearl” can be viewed as a regular old film, where it’s above average, or it can be viewed on a mobile device as a 360-degree experience, where it’s amazing. Detail, detail, detail. Is it enough to upend juggernaut Pixar and its entry “Piper?” I think it is.
Best Sound Editing
The winners: Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli – Deepwater Horizon
Best Sound Mixing
The winners: Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye – Arrival
Best Production Design
The winners: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco – La La Land
The winner: Linus Sandgren – La La Land
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
The winners: Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo – Star Trek Beyond
Best Costume Design
The winner: Madeline Fontaine – Jackie
Best Film Editing
The winner: Tom Cross – La La Land
Best Visual Effects
The winners: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon – The Jungle Book
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.