It seems likely that Damien Chazelle will snatch this award for La La Land, but it would be a pyrrhic victory, given that his far-superior breakout feature Whiplash didn’t even earn him a nomination. Chazelle manages to mine the classic trope box of old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, but doesn’t add anything new to the equation. Kenneth Lonergan similarly takes cues from emotionally bleak, realist dramas, but seems to be able to draw out better performances from his cast. In an ideal world, however, the prize would go to Barry Jenkins for his even-handed portrayal of a gay black man growing up in poverty, Moonlight. Moonlight’s plot is never overshadowed by Jenkins’ mastery with the camera, despite the numerous awe-inspiring shots. The fact that this is only Jenkins’ second feature – and his first on a major budget – makes his achievement all the more astounding.
A short time ago, it seemed that Casey Affleck had this award locked down for his performance as an emotionally-repressed, grief-stricken janitor in Manchester by the Sea – and so he should, his performance is great. But nothing is certain in Oscar-world (except my judgments on what should win; those are infallible). With the increased attention on Affleck, sexual harassment lawsuits have come to light, which could put a dent in his chances. And who’s that coming up on the horizon? Why, it’s Denzel Washington, whose performance in Fences, which he also directed, has been in second place behind Affleck all awards season. He could prove to be a challenger to Affleck, especially since Hollywood would never rehabilitate or celebrate anyone who’s been accused of sexual harassment… oh wait. It’s probably Affleck’s year then.
Just one gripe before I get on with the predictions: it is a complete travesty that Rebecca Hall has not been nominated for her central turn in Christine. Anyway, moving on… Meryl Streep has her customary annual nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins, but she has no chance of winning. Similarly Ruth Negga doesn’t seem to stand much of a chance, but it’s great to see her break through. This leaves us with a three-horse race. Emma Stone has been garnering a number of awards for her turn in La La Land, but I think (or hope) the role is too light to stand up to the Academy. As such, the award will likely go to Natalie Portman for her portentously campy performance in Jackie, and she would be a worthy winner; but for me, Isbelle Huppert’s powerhouse performance as rape-victim-turned-avenger in Elle deserves to take home the top prize.
Best Supporting Actor
A rare category in which La La Land isn’t nominated, the Best Supporting Actor award is also noticeable in having the only nomination for Nocturnal Animals, which was widely seen to be one of the main snubs of this year’s awards. Lucas Hedges is a welcome addition to the shortlist for his explosive performance in Manchester by the Sea, and Dev Patel could provide some competition for this category, for his role in Lion, in which he was able to display great emotional control. The award is most likely to go, deservedly, to Mahershala Ali for his role of Juan in Moonlight. Juan is only present in a few scenes in the film – he’s a neighbourhood gang member and drug dealer who becomes a father figure for the young Chiron – but he makes a powerful impact, leaving an impression on the remainder of the film.
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting ActressViola Davis is widely predicted to take home this award for her role as Rose Lee Maxson in Fences. Michelle Williams’ performance, also up, in Manchester by the Sea was a complete stand-out of the film for me, a deeply powerful performance born out of a chasm of grief. Octavia Spencer and Nicole Kidman were good in Hidden Figures and Lion, respectively, but at this point the nods seem like… well, little more than just nods. For me, it would be fantastic if Naomie Harris were to take home the top prize for her astonishing performance in Moonlight: in a film bursting at the seams with incredible actors, Harris left the strongest impression as a crack-addicted mother, whose narrative arc never quite reaches redemption, but comes damn close. Plus she filmed it in three days – girl’s got skill.