Friday, December 09, 2016

Oscar Acting Predictions

All right-as you may remember vaguely, this blog used to evenly talk about both politics and movies.  Then Voldemort somehow beat Hermione Granger in the presidential election, and all perspective got lost.  But, we're in the heart of awards season (the Golden Globe nominations are on Monday!!!!), and as a result I need to start discussing the awards landscape, and while I'll do final predictions in a month, I wanted to start a conversation specifically about the twenty acting races that are up this year, and who will be in/out as of right now.  This is the time before precursors ruin interesting ideas, so we may either marvel at my Nostradamus-style abilities here or this will be some hilarious time capsule.  Since it's the best category (both in general, and specifically in 2016, let's begin with Best Actress):

Best Actress

I haven't loved 2016 as a cinematic year, I'm going to be honest.  There have been some marvelous pieces of work out this year, like every year, but if you judge on a curve I haven't been wild about 2016, but this category proves the exception. Like last year Best Actress towers above the competition in terms of both quantity and quality of nominees.

I will say, for the record, that I'm predicting Oscar's, and not my own, favorites (those will come on January 20th for the year.  And it's hard to see Oscar denying either Natalie Portman (Jackie) or Emma Stone (La La Land).  I think you could make an argument that one of these two women is bound to win, though I need to see the movies before I can tell specifically which one (I am willing to bet already that they split the Golden Globes).  The other name that I'm feeling pretty hard right now is Isabelle Huppert (Elle), whose movie is having a moment (it's going wider than your average foreign-language film, and she has two films in theaters right now-plus, Charlotte Rampling last year kind of proved that there's an appetite for recognizing legends even if they don't speak English).

The other two could go a few different directions.  Annette Bening is still on the hunt for an Oscar, and 20th Century Women has strong reviews, but I keep getting the feeling that this movie is going to get lost in the shuffle.  I might be proven wrong, but the buzz on it is almost entirely screener-based, and we saw how that worked out for Selma a couple of years ago.  It's the type of movie that could have been a contender in a lot more categories had it smartly gone in September and built buzz-it's breaking late, so it'll have to make it to the top of screener piles in a hurry.

Ruth Negga's work in Loving is gaining praise, but it's very subdued for Oscar and she's not a household name.  Taraji Henson is a household name, and I keep thinking her work in Hidden Figures could factor, but she'll have to sink a few precursors (a Globe nod would go a long way).  Sally Field is also looking to get back into the conversation with a Globe citation, though we may have too many viable contenders for her to crack for the surprise hit Hello My Name is Doris.  Jessica Chastain is in a similar position, where a dramatic December lead by an Oscar-nominated actress could have cracked this race in a normal year, this is too full of a contest.  It's also not out of the question that the flagrant voting fraud of Viola Davis (Fences) could get pushed up, but Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander proved last year that this wasn't a particularly important distinction for AMPAS anymore.

But that doesn't mean that some Oscar tropes couldn't be in play this year, namely two of his favorite actresses making yet another push for a nomination: Amy Adams (Arrival) and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).  Both women have a near 50% nominations record in the past dozen years with Oscar, and so to count out either (particularly with both looking like they'll get a Globes citation) would be foolish.  It's worth noting that they have missed in that time span as well (Streep for Ricky and the Flash, Adams for Enchanted/Big Eyes), but as a general rule they hit.  The question is-can both of them take out Bening/Huppert/Henson/Negga?

My Predictions: Amy Adams, Annette Bening, Isabelle Huppert, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone (Bening is in fifth place, for the record, and I think she's far more vulnerable than pundits are saying)

Best Actor

I am not always a fan of where Oscar heads with this category, but you can generally make the argument that it's a solid batch of actors that they assemble, but man is that going to be hard to argue this year.  I cannot remember a time in recent memory where Best Actor had this few legitimate contenders, and the questionable names that are being brought forth-perhaps 2006?  Either way, there's really only two names that seem certain to be included: Denzel Washington and Casey Affleck.

The stars of Fences and Manchester by the Sea have a few things that could battle against them for actually winning the trophy (it's Washington's third play, Affleck's legal issues in the wake of a Trump victory aren't really a great combination for the actor), but the nominations are set.  There are about 6-7 names I could see joining them, all of which carry baggage heavy enough that it could hurt in getting into the final five.

Chief amongst this group is Tom Hanks (Sully).  Hanks is a cherished figure in Hollywood and at the Oscars, but he's had trouble sinking baskets recently with AMPAS, even for arguably great work in Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies (both movies that got Best Picture nominations).  His work in Sully is middling (I couldn't stand the movie personally), but Oscar has gone for less.  I wonder, though, if enough AMPAS members will remember, or will want to honor Clint Eastwood in a year where his passion for Republican causes might hurt more than most.

Other actors have stronger debits by Oscar standards.  Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Joel Edgerton (Loving), and Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) have to play sentimental men, the first two in love stories, and the third as a pacifist; these are not the types of roles Oscar usually gravitates toward for lead male actor. Theoretically Garfield could make it for Silence, but most of the raves there have gone to the supporting players.  Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic) and Adam Driver (Paterson) are getting raves, but for movies that few people saw.  Michael Keaton (The Founder), Matthew McConaughey (Gold), and Ben Affleck (Live By Night) have been Oscar-blessed in the past, but these movies are pretty under-the-radar for pictures starring such major-name movie stars-is it because they aren't any good?

That leaves Warren Beatty.  Rules Don't Apply was dreadful and slow, but Beatty is Oscar royalty, and will be out campaigning alongside his wife.  He knows everyone in the Academy, and it's a weak year where he could well score a Globe citation.  It'd be a bit shallow, but people sometimes go for the legend coming back one last time regardless of how dreadful his picture is (see also Robert Duvall in The Judge)-my gut is saying that Beatty might be the fifth place horse no one has the guts to bet upon here, so I'm going to do it.

My Predictions: Casey Affleck, Warren Beatty, Ryan Gosling, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington

Best Supporting Actress

Ooph does this race look like it's rallying behind the same five actresses quickly (perhaps in part because this is one of the weaker fields for this category I've seen in a while, particularly when it comes to Oscar-friendly roles).  You have obvious future winner Viola Davis (Fences), taking a page from the category fraud playbook and going for supporting even though she surely could have been nominated (though not necessarily won) in lead.  You have the trio of mothers (of various stripes) that have started to become lockstep nominees: Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), and Nicole Kidman (Lion).  And then you have the up-and-coming starlet route for Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women), who is getting best-in-show buzz amongst that film's supporting cast.

Those are probably the nominees, but let's entertain for a second that one of them (probably Gerwig, for the same reasons I'm suspect on Bening's nod), is vulnerable.  Who is the biggest threat to join the five?  One could argue that it's Janelle Monae, who is everywhere this year and has a standout role in Hidden Figures that could beg attention.  Her costar Octavia Spencer was once Oscar-blessed, and you could argue that AMPAS owes her for skipping out on the brilliant work in Fruitvale Station she did a few years back.  Molly Shannon is a dark horse contender for Other People (being on SNL all of those years people have at least heard of her in the acting branch), though that movie may be too small and too sad-looking to make it into a bunch of VCR's.  Lily Gladstone is getting some buzz for Certain Women, but like Shannon, will enough people see it?

And finally there's the strange case of one Helen Mirren.  Mirren has been a serious threat in multiple precursors in recent years for Hitchcock and Trumbo, but when it came to the Oscars she was nowhere to be found despite being a past winner with an impressive collection of nominations.  She's back again this year for Eye in the Sky, and she's a name I'm expecting to make it with the Globes on Monday (probably over Harris or Gerwig)-can she sustain that to finally nab her fifth nomination?  How many times can you be invited to the precursor dance and still get snubbed for the prom?

My Predictions: Viola Davis, Greta Gerwig, Naomie Harris, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams (I'm convinced one of the Hidden Figures stars could make it, but only if it's clear which one is where to place the bet-for now, I'm sticking with Gerwig.)

Best Supporting Actor

Please, please, please awards season-don't screw this one up.  I think Supporting Actor has been a great blessing this year, and has a number of very different performances in play, but every year the season falls in love with the same five works regardless of their worthiness.  I hope that we get a year like 2006 where everything is all over the place to reward these riches.

Probably the most likely nomination is Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), who combines that rarity here of Oscar favorite and splashy, standout role.  His costar Ben Foster could be a contender, but they haven't double-dipped in this race since 1991 and I don't see that happening this year.  Mahershala Ali has also become a pretty solid favorite, though his film is small and he's very much a supporting part (they like "near leads" in this category), so he's not 100% certain.  Still a good bet, though.

Even if Ali doesn't, there are plenty of men who fit that bill of near lead.  You could make the argument that Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea), Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins), Dev Patel (Lion), and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash) should be considered in lead, though with varying levels of sincerity (Grant, in particular, is a ridiculous citation here).  Issei Ogata and Liam Neeson are both toward the top of the list of actors from Silence, and in Neeson's case if the movie catches on (and he's significant enough) I could see that being a serious contender for the win considering his fame and current reputation, but the lack of buzz for him makes me wonder if he's just not that important in the picture.  Fences also has dueling figures, with Stephen Henderson and Mykelti Williamson both possibilities, but I want to see some precursor love for one of them before I place a bet, as this play frequently will go for different characters for awards' love.  And of course there's Michael Shannon, who is getting the lion's share of love for Nocturnal Animals, though that film could be too dark for AMPAS and they recently skipped him for 99 Homes (though he was in so many movies this year he might Jessica Chastain-himself to a nomination).

Which leaves us with Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures), who is getting solid reviews for the film and feels like the sort of place the HFPA might go on Monday.  Costner was once an Oscar favorite and could be back again (no one remembers The Postman anymore, right?), but it would be eyebrow-raising if he made it while his three African-American costars all were skipped (which I'm currently predicting).  Will Oscar be self-aware enough to realize that before the press does, though?  Considering the past couple of years, I'm guessing not.

My Predictions: Mahershala Ali, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner, Hugh Grant, Dev Patel

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