The world burns around us, but art moves ever forward, trying its best to understand, filter and give us something to grasp onto. With all that’s going on, it may seem silly this year (as perhaps every year) to care about the Oscars and what congratulations Hollywood may hand itself.
It’s hard to disagree, but it’s also hard not to feel that the frivolity is the point. The Oscars are a celebration of the power of cinema and the ways in which it spreads empathy and escapism. Why not get swept up in a competition between a selection of films that do exactly that? Let’s take a look at the competition as we ramp up for Feb. 26.
The desire to escape is why La La Land looks to be the big winner of the 89th Academy Awards. The original musical by Damien Chazelle is a Technicolor whirlwind, an emotional and grounded story that brings its audience on a (literal) flight among the stars, a love letter to the transportational power of cinema. Perhaps the sweeping romance of it all is why it ties the record for most nominations ever (14).
This leads us to the big question: whether or not La La Land can take the all-time record (11, a tie between Ben-Hur, Titanic and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). It has a shot. Out of its 14 nominations, it’s eligible to win a maximum of 13 given that two of its nominations are both in Best Original Song.
Realistically, it can only win 12 thanks to the Best Actor competition, where Ryan Gosling is the solid 3rd place. Best Actor is a dead heat between Denzel Washington for Fences and Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea; Affleck has the momentum and an overwhelming critical love for him (with a series of sexual harassment allegations from his past that might hurt his chances) and Washington has industry clout (including a Screen Actors Guild Award, the members of which compose much of the Oscar voting body) and equal universal praise. That one will be a nailbiter.
This isn’t true for any of the other Acting races. Emma Stone’s central turn in the overall frontrunner La La Land will net her a first Oscar win. Mahershala Ali’s majestic performance in Moonlight has had a number of surprising challengers, but Ali took home the Screen Actors Guild prize, which shows us where the Oscar wind is blowing. Viola Davis, reprising her Tony-winning role in Fences, has had this on lock since she was announced.
The rest of the main Awards look to be there for La La Land to sweep. Right now, the film is the odds-on favorite for Best Director, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song for “City of Stars,” Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Screenplay. That brings it to 11, a tie for the all-time record. So, who else is going to win?
There are a few challengers dotted throughout, of course. Best Original Screenplay may go to Manchester by the Sea, as Lonergan’s difficult and nuanced writing garnered more critical recognition and La La Land seems more indebted to its showy camerawork than its script. Best Costume Design might go to the unconventional biopic Jackie and its replication of the iconic fashions of the Kennedy-era White House. Best Director may go to Barry Jenkins for the beautiful and heartbreaking Moonlight. But despite all that, La La Land is the juggernaut that your smart money is on the whole night.
So, what about where La La Land isn’t nominated?
Best Visual Effects will likely go to The Jungle Book for its major innovations in motion capture technology. Best Makeup and Hairstyling is likely going to Star Trek Beyond, as it has less baggage than major competitor Suicide Squad. Best Adapted Screenplay is going to Moonlight, based on the still unpublished play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by the film’s Terrell Alvin McCraney.
For those of you taking notes for your Oscar party betting, that just leaves Best Animated, Best Foreign Language and Best Documentary. Best Animated is Disney and Zootopia’s award to lose, though Kubo and the Two Strings has mounted an impressive campaign. Best Documentary is a fiery competition between some vital works (check out I Am Not Your Negro, it’s vital), but nothing has accumulated buzz like OJ: Made In America, the eight-hour long documentary on the life of OJ Simpson that blurs the line between TV and film. Fun fact: If OJ: Made In America wins, it will be the longest film ever to win an Oscar.
A month ago I would have told you Toni Erdmann was the frontrunner for Foreign Language, but this category is all about name recognition, and thanks to Trump’s travel ban leading famed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi to skip the ceremony, his film The Salesman looks to be a clear steal and a potential political knockout.
It’s most likely a year of few surprises, but I’ve said that before. Whatever the ceremony, the Oscars offer to take us away — and don’t we all need that right now?