2017 Oscars Picks & Predictions by Jimmy Willden, Special to AMFM Magazine

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2016 was quite a year for those rooting for the little guy; one not to be reckoned with. In fact, of the films nominated, only one (Hidden Figures) has made over $100 million at the box office; the rest remain little gems just now being discovered by general audiences -- thanks to the Academy Awards push.

We also watched as 2016 waved goodbye to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. While I personally believe that race neutrality is definitely a hot button and important issue -- I hated seeing my favorite actress of the year, Amy Adams, get passed over for the sake of correcting wrong-doings by the Academy in the past. Is it controversial for me to say this now? So be it, because we all know it’s the truth.

2016 was quite a year for those rooting for the little guy; one not to be reckoned with. In fact, of the films nominated, only one (Hidden Figures) has made over $100 million at the box office; the rest remain little gems just now being discovered by general audiences — thanks to the Academy Awards push.

We also watched as 2016 waved goodbye to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. While I personally believe that race neutrality is definitely a hot button and important issue — I hated seeing my favorite actress of the year, Amy Adams, get passed over for the sake of correcting wrong-doings by the Academy in the past. Is it controversial for me to say this now? So be it, because we all know it’s the truth.

That being said, we have the nominations at hand — and there are some amazing films and performances from 2016, each racking up an impressive lot of awards — not the least of which, of course, is La La Land.

La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, garnered a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations, and has nearly swept awards season, unencumbered. With Chazelle’s strong vision and the subsequent execution of it, along with Gosling and Stone’s chemistry and performances, of course this lovely reinvigoration of the musical has become this year’s awards season darling.

And then there’s Moonlight, the little shoe-string budget film literally plucked from the life of its writer/director, Barry Jenkins. Extremely personal, gut-wrenching, and raw, Moonlight succeeds where many films that have tried to tackle similar themes have failed — it left you with a lingering emotion to hold on to afterwards.

Lastly, let’s talk about Manchester by the Sea. Originally envisioned as a Matt Damon-helmed vehicle, the directing role finally went to its writer, Kenneth Lonergan. What Lonergan eventually crafted ended up being my favorite film of the year. Dealing with grief in the most upmost-and-personal way that I’ve seen it dealt with on screen in a long time, Manchester leaves you loving and hating the main characters, flawlessly delivered to the screen by Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges.

While Manchester is a long shot to take home Best Picture, I will hold this one close to my heart for many years to come. Just as Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) affected me in a personal way, so has Manchester, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Okay, now to my annual picks and predictions! This year, I’ve decided to just go with the fifteen major categories, and do them right. If I can just tell my gut to be quiet…

Wish me luck!

 

BEST PICTURE

Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight.

PICK: Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan; Runner-Up: La La Land, Damien Chazelle.

PREDICTION: La La Land, Damien Chazelle; Runner-up: Moonlight, Barry Jenkins.

So, Manchester may not take home Oscar gold in this category, but my second-favorite film of the year, La La Land, looks like it just might. Perched way up there, all high-and-mighty with its 14 nominations, along with taking home the top PGA and DGA awards, this one looks like the one.

All that being said, the little engine that could, Moonlight, might just end up bringing the major upset come Oscar Sunday.

Damien Chazelle

BEST DIRECTOR
La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival.

PICK: La La Land, Damien Chazelle; Runner-Up: Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan.

La La Land, Damien Chazelle; Runner-Up: Moonlight, Barry Jenkins.

Personally, I loved Lonergan’s nuanced direction of Manchester, but Chazelle’s singular vision and his amazing execution of it definitely should win him the Oscar here.

The upset could come from, once again, Jenkin’s harrowing personal tale, Moonlight. Only Jenkins could direct this film, thus, Jenkins also deserves a nod, if it happens.

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck, Andrew Garfield, Ryan Gosling, Viggo Mortensen, Denzel Washington.

PICK: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Runner-Up: Denzel Washington, Fences.

PREDICTION: Same as my picks.

Heading into awards season, I was ready to peg Casey Affleck as the winner here, no contest, but — some personal matters of his have kind of bogged down his sure path to glory. Thus, up comes Washington, with his SAG upset – and his eyes on the statue come Oscar Sunday.

We shall see. Personal matters aside, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the more talented Affleck.

Emma Stone

BEST ACTRESS
Isabelle Huppert, Ruth Negga, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep.

PICK: Emma Stone, La La Land; Runner-Up: Natalie Portman, Jackie.

PREDICTION: Same as my picks. WILD CARD: Isabelle Huppert, Elle.

We’ll start with Isabelle Huppert and her role in Elle. It’s a shame that this film wasn’t nominated for the Best Foreign Film category, but they did give Huppert a nod here. This prominently places her in upset-possibility territory, sitting right alongside Portman.

Oh, Natalie. You almost had this year pegged with your fantastic performance in Jackie, but I just don’t think 2016 was meant to be your year. Because, well, Emma Stone danced, and sang, and just plain made all of our hearts melt. Who could compete with that?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali, Jeff Bridges, Lucas Hedges, Dev Patel, Michael Shannon.

PICK: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; Runner-Up: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight.

PREDICTION: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Runner-Up: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea.

Personally, I’m Team Hedges all the way, but for the short period of time Mahershala Ali is on screen in Moonlight, he had us all so engaged. The energy he brought to his character, thusly, to the movie – and to the screen — is incomparable.

Viola Davis

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis, Naomie Harris, Nicole Kidman, Octavia Spencer, Michelle Williams.

PICK: Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea; Runner-Up: Naomie Harris, Moonlight.

PREDICTION: Viola Davis, Fences; Runner-Up: Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea.

As with Jackie’s Portman, Manchester’s Michelle Williams should’ve had this year, through and through. Her gut-wrenching performance was flawless, and oh-so heartbreaking. But then, along came Viola Davis being gifted some amazing dialogue, by way of the late August Wilson, in Fences.

So, the statue might go to Davis; still, I’m rooting for Michelle.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women, Hell or High Water.

PICK: Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan; Runner-Up: Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan.

PREDICTION: Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan; Runner-Up: La La Land, Damien Chazelle.

Hell or High Water was almost my top pick for Original Screenplay this year, but then I finally sat down and read Manchester, and there’s just no contest there. Lonergan perfectly crafted a story about grief, with some of the most intimately realized characters I’ve witnessed in a long time. Almost everything you see on screen, from the dialogue to the direction, was already meticulously written down by Lonergan beforehand — knowing exactly where and how he wanted this film to be executed. That’s both a testament to his role as a director, and his talent as a writer.

That being said, the upset here could come in the form of a musical, and another visionary writer/director: Chazelle and his lovely La La Land.

Most other outlets have Chazelle pegged as the winner, and there’s good reason for that, but I’m still standing with Lonergan.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight.

PICK: Arrival, Eric Heisserer; Runner-Up: Fences, August Wilson.

PREDICTION: Moonlight, Barry Jenkins; Runner-Up: Fences, August Wilson.

Both Fences and Arrival are terrific screenplays from terrific writers, notably Wilson. He originally wrote Fences as a screenplay before adapting it to the stage, and then, after his death, it was adapted from the stage for the screen, with much of Wilson’s original words left intact and untouched. And it’s just beautiful.

Still, the top contender here is the utterly personal Moonlight, quite literally plucked directly from writer/director Barry Jenkins’ life. The rawness of his approach should snag him the Oscar.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life As a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia.

PICK: Kubo and the Two Strings; Runner-Up: Zootopia.

PREDICTION: Same as my picks.

Most outlets have Zootopia pegged as the clear front-runner, with Moana in a close second, but my gut is telling to go with Kubo. In the end, I may be wrong going with my gut; I know my gut didn’t do me much justice last year — but, whatever. Sometimes you just have to go with what feels right.

And it just feels right to say that Kubo will take home the Academy Award.

The Salesman

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Land of Mine (Denmark), A Man Called Ove (Sweden), The Salesman (Iran), Tanna (Australia), Toni Erdmann (Germany).

PICK: A Called Ove; Runner-Up: Toni Erdmann.

PREDICTION: The Salesman; Runner-Up: Toni Erdmann.

Toni Erdmann should have had this one on lock-down, but I don’t know…The Salesman just seems to be in a better position to win. Let’s watch come Oscar Sunday, and see how the chips fall.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Fire At Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O.J. Made in America, 13th.

PICK: 13th, Runner-Up: I Am Not Your Negro.

PREDICTION: O.J. Made in America, Runner-Up: 13th.

13th is probably my favorite documentary of the last decade, and for good reason. Not only does it successfully convey the importance of its issues at hand — that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is a myth — it does so in a highly effective manner, making it one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in years, if not ever.

Still, because of the nature and the coverage and the way O.J. Made in America was made (in America?), it’s sitting there all nice and pretty in the front-runner position.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Silence.

PICK: La La Land, Linus Sandgren; Runner-Up; Arrival, Bradford Young.

PREDICTION: La La Land, Linus Sandgren; Runner-Up: Moonlight, James Laxton.

Let me air some grievances here, if I may. Personally, I cannot stand that Moonlight is even nominated in this category, let alone it being one of the top contenders. Yes, sure, it was shot on a shoestring budget, and looks pretty…but come on. Many of the money shots are just money shots, and do nothing to propel the story forward. In the end, I think Laxton’s camerawork is just camerawork for the sake of being cool, rather than being relevant.

Arrival, on the other hand is just stunning. Beautifully shot, beautifully lit, beautifully crafted camerawork through and through.

In the end, though — we all know that La La Land is going to take home Oscar gold here, and deserves to.

Arrival

BEST FILM EDITING
La La Land, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Moonlight, Hell or High Water.

PICK: Arrival, Joe Walker; Runner-Up: La La Land, Tom Cross.

PREDICTIONS: Arrival, Joe Walker; Runner-Up: La La Land, Tom Cross.

I sat with this one for a while. I wasn’t sure if my feelings towards my top pick (Arrival) were influencing my choice for my prediction, but in the end, I went with my gut again. So sue me. I just feel Arrival should, and will, win the Academy Award.

That’s if La La Land doesn’t come up front behind and snake the award right out of its metaphorical movie-hands.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Jackie, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Passengers.

PICK: La La Land, Justin Hurwitz – no contest.

PREDICTION: La La Land, Justin Hurwitz; Runner-Up: Jackie, Mica Levi.

La La La La La La La Land. Need I say more?

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.

PICK: “City of Stars” – La La Land; Runner-Up: “Audition: The Fools Who Dream” – La La Land.

PREDICTION: Same as my picks.

La La La La….Okay, I’ll stop. But, seriously. Both “City of Stars” and “Audition: The Fools Who Dream” are fantastic songs, and either could and should win.

My money’s on “City of Stars” though.


So there they were, my 2017 Oscars: Picks & Predictions. Disagree with any of my choices? Sound off below! Check back here after the awards, as we update this list with the winners, and release my Overall Report Card.

Honestly, the Academy Awards are like my Super Bowl, so I’m writhing with anticipation for Sunday, Feb. 26. How about you?

Ryan Gosling in La La Land

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