The Academy Awards, the legendary ceremony for honoring the best films of the prior year, will have its 89th show this Sunday on ABC. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, “La La Land” leads the pack with a record-tying 14 nominations, while “Arrival” and “Moonlight” have eight nominations each.
Will “La La Land” win Best Picture? Will “Moonlight” beat it unexpectedly? Will Meryl Streep win her fourth Oscar? No one can know for a fact, but I made sure to chime in on the months-long debate.
Best Visual Effects
Will Win: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Should Win: “The Jungle Book”
Why: Simply put, Jon Favreau’s “Jungle Book” has some of the best visual effects of the modern era, if not ever. He’s stated several times that he intended it to be his “Avatar,” where filming entirely took place on Los Angeles sound stages and the animals were created with performance capture and voice work. While I think it deserves the accolade, the Academy primarily awards later releases, from October to December. That said, “Rogue One” has a chance to beat it. Despite some of its problems, the effects work to resurrect Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia was pretty impressive, even though “Jungle” was a better film with better visuals.
Will Win: James Laxton, “Moonlight”
Should Win: James Laxton, “Moonlight”
Why: Even if you haven’t seen “Moonlight,” the image of Mahershala Ali holding young Chiron in the water is instantly recognizable. It’s a testament to James Laxton’s skill that he made Naomie Harris’ crack fiend a terrifying maternal presence in some cases, merely through symmetrical shot compositions. This category has some tremendous entries this season, especially “Silence” and “Arrival,” but I think the Academy’s inclination to award the best film as much as possible gives “Moonlight” another edge.
Best Animated Feature
Will Win: “Zootopia”
Should Win: “Zootopia”
Why: I have a soft spot for animated films modeled after classic genres, so upon seeing “Zootopia” for the first time, it entertained me in the best way. The greatest animation treats the medium as a storytelling device, and “Zootopia” fits that tradition as a great police procedural set in a world of anthropomorphized animals. Also, the hilarious mystery addressed institutionalized racism better than most live-action films try to do.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight”
Should Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight”
Why: “Moonlight” has some of the finest directing, camerawork and acting of 2016, but its best factor is the script, which was adapted from McCraney’s play “In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue.” Not only does it capture of the vernacular of impoverished communities, its use of three acts preserves its theatrical roots, making no other details matter except for the content on screen. It’s a refreshing method of storytelling that keeps the themes rich and leaves everything else ambiguous, which is precisely how life is.
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Why: It takes great writing to make any unlikable character watchable, but to write multiple unlikable characters and bask in their overwhelming dread takes really immaculate scripting to be palatable. Kenneth Lonergan does so in this beautiful tragedy, where Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams wouldn’t have been as good without such a meaty script.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Should Win: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Why: Out of any category, this one’s no contest. When you’re directed by one of our greatest living actors — Denzel Washington — in an adaptation of a Tony-winning play, you’re bound to give an outstanding performance. In this great drama, about a black man left behind by the American Dream, Viola Davis was the perfect anchor to Denzel’s imperfect character. In doing so, she magnified the complexities of his role, as well as the plight of black women during Jim Crow times.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Should Win: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Why: Ali has killed it for quite some time, mostly known to “House of Cards” and “Hunger Games” fans before 2016. Now he’s gained more exposure as a fantastic villain on “Luke Cage” and a love interest in “Hidden Figures.” But even though he’s in “Moonlight” for one single act, he transforms the drug dealer stereotype into a character who’s equally heartbreaking and paternal. For nothing else, I want Ali to win so he can give another speech empowering the Muslim community.
Will Win: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Should Win: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Why: I’ve argued for a while that, acting-wise, Casey is the more interesting of the Afflecks. Either of them would’ve nailed the role of a jaded, depressed Massachusett without a smidgen of hope, but the younger Affleck had the daunting task of acting against several thespians, and outdid them in every way. Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, who literally won the gold by staring at the sky for three hours, Affleck turned in a powerhouse performance in the most naturalistic film of 2016.
Will Win: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Should Win: Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Why: While “Moonlight” is marginally stronger than “La La Land,” the Academy has a strange habit of splitting Best Picture and Director. It didn’t make sense when “Spotlight” won Picture and lost Director, and it’s irritating how “Argo” won Picture without Ben Affleck nominated for directing. However, I’ll be pleased if Chazelle takes it this year. For his brilliant emulation of MGM musicals, Chazelle painstakingly applied cinéma vérité approaches to the Old Hollywood mold, often achieving spectacular numbers through long shots. For my money, Chazelle is Jenkins’ only competition.
Will Win: “Moonlight”
Should Win: “Moonlight”
Why: Now there’s some modern classics in this category. “La La Land” will be remembered fondly, “Hell or High Water” was the biggest indie hit of the year and “Arrival” is one of the greatest alien invasion movies ever made. But none of these films had the emotion or power of “Moonlight,” a coming-of-age masterpiece centering on three periods in a gay black man’s life, where his masculinity and identity are challenged by his ghetto upbringing. The way Barry Jenkins experimented with memory, minutia and of course, lighting, exemplifies a genius using his toolbox to portray the intricacies of the human condition. And the film achieves immortality through highlighting a demographic without ever ripping off “Boyz n the Hood” or “Menace II Society.”
Even if “Moonlight” loses, make it your top rental after the Oscars end.
Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins