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Movie Review: Picks and Predictions for the 89th Academy Awards


By Bob Garver

The nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were announced this past Tuesday. I was reasonably happy with them, though I wish the Academy would have shown some love to Martin Scorsese’s underappreciated “Silence.” Here are my thoughts on ten major categories, who I want to win, who I think will win, and in some cases who’s so sure to win that a lot of analysis isn’t necessary. Sadly, that’s true of many of the major categories, and it’s the lesser ones that inspire the most debate.

(Note: I tried to see as many of these movies as I could, but a few slipped through my fingers. Those films are marked with a star, though I don’t think any of them have enough momentum to be taken seriously in their respective categories.)

Best Picture

“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water”
“Hidden Figures”
“La La Land”
“Manchester by the Sea”

The Academy didn’t nominate “La La Land” for 14 awards just so they could give Best Picture to something else. It’s sure to win.

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

If I had my way, Best Picture and Best Director would always match up. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I still expect Chazelle to win.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

If there’s one award that’s locked up tighter than “La La Land” for Best Picture, it’s Casey Affleck winning Best Actor for playing possibly the most haunted character in cinematic history.

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

It seems like everybody has taken a turn at being the favorite for this category throughout awards season. The Academy tends to reward portrayals of powerful historical figures, so my prediction leans toward Portman, followed by Stone because of all the “La La Land” love, but the other three aren’t as unlikely as less-likely nominees in other categories.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

I was thrilled to see Michael Shannon score a surprise nomination. He was by far the best thing about “Nocturnal Animals” and I was genuinely perplexed that his non-nominated co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson (a terrifying villain, but a bit one-note) had been getting all the awards season spotlight up to this point. But he isn’t winning an Oscar for a film that clearly turned off a lot of voters. I expect it to go to Ali, who makes the most of his alarmingly brief performance.

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Davis is the favorite here because she’s been pushed harder, she has a hit TV show, and this marks a record-breaking third nomination for an African-American actress. As thrilling as it would be to see her win, I’m inclined to go with Harris, the only player from the outstanding ensemble of “Moonlight” to pull triple duty and appear in all three phases of the film.

Best Original Screenplay

“Hell or High Water”
“La La Land”
“The Lobster”*
“Manchester by the Sea”
“20th Century Women”

“Manchester by the Sea” is effortlessly one of the funniest films of the year and, more notoriously, one of the saddest. “La La Land,” while far from the vapid fluff piece some people dismiss it as, just doesn’t take the same pains in developing its characters. I wouldn’t even say “La La Land” is my second choice here, that would be “Hell or High Water.” I’m really passionate about “Manchester” on this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Hidden Figures”

“Moonlight” is my favorite kind of adapted screenplay, the kind where everybody sounds so natural that it doesn’t sound like there’s a screenplay at all, let alone an adapted one. Easy choice – “Moonlight.”

Best Animated Feature

“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“My Life as a Zucchini”*
“The Red Turtle”*

So the Academy found room for not one but two movies that haven’t played on more than 15 screens in the U.S., but they didn’t have room for “Finding Dory?” Fine, I’ll go with one of the other Disney movies. I’d be perfectly happy with “Zootopia,” but I’ll give the edge to “Moana” because of the songs.

Best Original Song

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” “La La Land”
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “Trolls”
“City of Stars,” “La La Land”
“The Empty Chair,” “Jim: The James Foley Story”*
“How Far I’ll Go,” “Moana”

Speaking of the songs from “Moana,” I’d love to see “How Far I’ll Go” win here. It’s super-catchy and it would make Lin-Manuel Miranda the youngest EGOT winner ever. But I just don’t see it. The song hasn’t caught on the way I thought it would, and “La La Land” prides itself on being a musical so much that to lose in this category would be an embarrassment. The question is which of the two nominated songs will actually win? “City of Stars” is constantly present in the film, whereas “Audition” makes for a spellbinding single scene. I’ll give it to “Audition,” but it’s close. Maybe the two “La La Land” songs can cancel each other out and “How Far I’ll Go” can sneak in a win. But probably not.

The 89th Academy Awards air Sunday, February 26th at 7pm Eastern/4pm Pacific on ABC.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.