Politics will play Role in Oscars
By Sandra Olmsted
This year, the Oscar race has at least three additional political factors to consider when choosing predictions and, of course, one other factor that couldn’t be forgotten, is the spending by the studio to promote their film to the voting membership.
First, there is the long-standing politics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the group of elite members who vote for the nominated films.
Second, art is always political in terms of what one likes and understands.
Third, there are the current political issues, many of which Hollywood notables have already weighed in on, such as immigration and racism.
Finally, there are the new members of the Academy who were added last year in order to increase diversity in the membership. In short, this year is pretty much a free for all, toss up, and hard to predict.
The Best Picture is the big one at stake and here’s a thought on how the voting might go. Arrival is science fiction and probably unlikely to win in any case, no matter how split the voting. While Fences has an African American cast, crew, and writer in its favor, at least some Oscar voters are going to pass on it because the filmmakers stuck more to a “filmed play” rather than opening the script up to embrace cinematic language and arts.
Despite the pacifism honored along side the common soldier in Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s racist remarks 2010 will work against the film. On the other hand, Hell Or High Water, a neo-Western which goes after big banks’ bad practices, hits several of the marks for a come from behind win.
Hidden Figures is told in a fairly conventional style, has mediations on human rights, and encourages math and science among women and minorities.
La La Land, the love letter to Hollywood which might bring back the big musical, could either be the big winner giving all the dreamers a chance to sing and dance on screen or a footnote due to politics and vote splitting.
Lion, which I found to be truly a great film, showcases the human condition in a deeply-touching, true story, but will probably not raise to a win.
Manchester by the Sea is a favorite among many critics and seems to speak to men; however, I think the voters with think it’s too long, conventional, and the story structure problematic.
Moonlight, the story of a gay child’s coming of age and search for love in a horrible environment, is one of the films that might benefit from a split vote. Not only does it have political messages about acceptance, the right be loved, and poverty in America, but it has quality filmmaking and use of cinematic language.
So, in my estimation, it comes down to Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures or La La Land, or Moonlight with either La La Land winning out right or Hell or High Water winning on the split vote.
For Best Director, I think the Academy will go for Barry Jenkins of Moonlight because his film is not only good filmmaking and has an African American director/writer, cast, and crew, but because it is a genuine, universal mediation on identity and acceptance.
For Best Actress, the front runners are Ruth Negga for her powerful performance in Loving, Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins, and Natalie Portman for Jackie because each will satisfy both the great performance and the political element.
Streep, having already made a political statement, might have an edge because the dust up over that was good publicity for her performance. Of the three, Postman is a longer shot and less direct political message. Negga’s performance which showcased a mother’s concern for her family transcended race and could help her win. My money is still on Streep, a long time Academy member and favorite.
For Best Actor, I have to go with Denzel Washington (Fences) over Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) because Affleck’s role as written is too one note and the character doesn’t have the range of emotions that Washington’s role allows. Ryan Gosling is good in La La Land, yet some say not great. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) and Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) are solid performances but not as memorable or political charged as Washington’s.
The Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories are often harder to pick. For Best Supporting Actress, I am going with Viola Davis in Fences because she has been nominated in acting categories twice, and I think the voters will think it is her time to be honored. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) could arguably be the second choice, but the roles of Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), and especially Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) are too small and/or too one note.
The Best Actor race is a bit more difficult. Mahershala Ali’s performance in Moonlight is extremely memorable and should win; however, Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) is an Academy favorite and multiple nominee.
The writing Oscars are another animal. For Best Original Screenplay, Taylor Sheridan’s Hell or High Water script, La La Land’s script by Damien Chazelle, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea script are all worthy contenders. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou’s script for The Lobster is not as compelling a story, and the film came out very early in the year and likely (and hopefully) has been forgotten.
Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women script has a male character coming of age, strong women, and an interesting story. If it had been written by a woman, I would say it would win, but I think La La Land and Damien Chazelle’s passion for the Hollywood musical will win.
Best Adapted Screenplay category is a real toss up. Moonlight landed in this category because it’s adapted from an unproduced play; however, the studio lobbied hard for this placement to avoid competing against Manchester By The Sea and La La Land.
As it stands, I think Moonlight will win, not because it is so much political, but the script is strong and embraces the cinematic art.
For Best Animated Feature, Disney’s Zootopia and Moana are heavily favored. Although I think Zootopia is a lot more fun, Moana is my pick to win for the political and business reasons.
In this year’s race, this is as close I can come to predicting the Oscars. Once the new members of the Academy have settled in and how they will vote becomes more apparent, predicting will get easier. FYI, the voting is over now, so any additional political developments won’t have any influence for this year.
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