The 89th Academy Awards will bring Hollywood’s hopeful elite together once again on Sunday, February 26th. This year’s awards feature both highly-contested categories and locked down victories. The Central Florida Focus staff and contributors share their top picks of who will take home an Oscar tonight.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Denzel Washington in “Fences”
Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”
Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge”
Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”
Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic”
Incredibly strong performances from both Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington have landed them in a deadlock for winning the Best Actor category. Affleck, a second-time nominee, was almost certain to take the category early on, but negative media attention from two past sexual misconduct lawsuits might be enough to dismantle that lead. Washington has received strong praise for his performance in “Fences”, which he directed and starred in, in addition to being a two-time Academy Award winner. His track record suggests that he has a strong likelihood of taking a third victory, despite three-time winners being incredibly rare.
I believe that Affleck had the stronger performance out of the two. While I am hopeful he will be judged solely on his talent as an actor, my expectations may be too optimistic. It is also quite possible that Ryan Gosling will creep up amidst the controversy and steal the category. Such an outcome is not impossible with a category full of performances this strong.
By: Tyler Andreala
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Emma Stone in “La La Land”
Ruth Negga in “Loving”
Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Isabelle Huppert in “Elle”
Natalie Portman in “Jackie”
In most of this year’s categories, it is hard to conceive a victory from a film that isn’t “La La Land”. With 14 nominations and heaps of hype, every other film is already at a disadvantage. The Best Actress category is no exception. Ruth Negga’s chances are slim with Jeff Nichols’ glossy period piece, “Loving”. Meryl Streep’s nomination for “Florence Foster Jenkins” came as a surprise, not because the film was received poorly (it wasn’t), but because, considering her body of work, it’s a relatively lackluster performance. Isabelle Huppert’s performance in Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” is electrifying. The Hollywood Foreign Press thought so, too, granting her the award for the best dramatic performance at last month’s Golden Globes. If the Oscars were kinder to foreign films she could possibly win, but it’s likely a two-woman race between Natalie Portman and Emma Stone.
Portman gives what may be the best performance of her career in Pablo Larraín’s criminally under-nominated “Jackie”, transforming herself into the First Lady in a kaleidoscopic study of grief in the days following JFK’s assassination. Portman could win, but the small amount of nominations for “Jackie” are worrying. It all comes back to “La La Land”. Emma Stone is wonderful in Damien Chazelle’s beyond magical musical. She sings, dances and acts marvelously, and the Academy’s love for the film would have us believe no one else stands a chance in this category. Portman could win her second Academy Award, and maybe Huppert could win her first, but Stone is certainly the frontrunner.
By: Jacob Harris
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges in “Hell or High Water”
Dev Patel in “Lion”
Lucas Hedges in “Manchester by the Sea”
Michael Shannon in “Nocturnal Animals”
Last month, fans took to Twitter to voice their disappointment after Mahershala Ali lost the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama to Aaron Taylor-Johnson (curiously, the “Nocturnal Animals” actor was overlooked this time around while his co-star earned a nomination). The academy is expected to show Ali more love than the Hollywood Foreign Press did. His powerful performance as a complicated drug dealer has, deservedly, garnered him more recognition than his fellow nominees. If he were to go home empty-handed yet again it would surely go down as one of the biggest snubs in Oscar history.
By: Ashley Garrett
Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures”
Viola Davis in “Fences”
Nicole Kidman in “Lion”
Naomie Harris in “Moonlight”
Michelle Williams in “Manchester by the Sea”
There is an inherent flaw in this year’s race for Best Supporting Actress that will give one nominee a seemingly automatic win. The supporting categories are always tricky. What draws the line between a leading and supporting role? It’s been a debate for a while and continues to be an issue. This year it is Viola Davis with the advantage. Many rightfully argue that her role in “Fences” is a leading one, as she gets a very large amount of screen time. This doesn’t undermine her performance, but the supporting categories are there to honor those who made an impact with minimal time onscreen.
Michelle Williams and Naomie Harris are particularly noteworthy in their roles in “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight”, respectively. Both have very limited screen time but manage to leave an impact during their short appearances. Octavia Spencer and Nicole Kidman are also commendable in “Hidden Figures” and “Lion”, but these films aren’t the acting showcases that the others are. Among all of the categories this year, this one is the easiest to call “locked”. Short appearances have little chance of success up against what is basically a leading role. Viola Davis will almost undoubtedly win.
By: Jacob Harris
“La La Land”
“Hell or High Water”
“Manchester by the Sea”
Best Picture is often the most heated category at the Academy Awards. This year proves no different, with the esteemed “La La Land” and stirring “Moonlight” duking it out for the night’s final award. The two films provide stiff competition to one another, yet couldn’t be more different. “La La Land” leaves its audience on a high, with swirling colors and Rogers and Astaire-esque dance sequences. “Moonlight” masterfully presents its audience with the tough reality of growing up poor, black and gay in 1980’s America. Tied with “Titanic” for the most nominations ever, “La La Land” is the pride and joy of the academy, and will most likely solidify its prestige with a Best Picture win. Some will be delighted by this outcome, others will be massively disappointed that the academy did not take a risk on a nuanced and unsettling masterpiece. Either way, the two films have clearly made a mark and will not be forgotten by film-lovers any time soon.
By: Ashley Garrett
Best Animated Feature Film
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“My Life as a Zucchini”
“The Red Turtle”
Dominated by two Disney-affiliated films, the Animated Feature Film category is one that seems straightforward and almost predetermined. “Zootopia” took audiences by surprise with its deep social commentary on race and class issues, while still being a cute family film. It has won in a few circuits already, including the Golden Globes, which makes it the likely winner for the category.
I personally hope the poetic stop-motion “Kubo and the Two Strings” will take the category as the underdog. This is “Kubo” director Travis Knight’s second nomination for this category following his 2014 nomination for “The Boxtrolls”. It would be nice to see “Kubo” break the Disney/Pixar winning streak of the past few years within the academy and change things up. I would hate to see a deserving piece overshadowed by the household Disney brand name.
By: Tyler Andreala
Best Music (Original Song)
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land”
“City of Stars” from “La La Land”
“How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” from “Trolls”
“The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story”
A fair argument can be made that “La La Land” is not deserving of the massive hype it has received. After all, the storyline of attractive starving artists struggling to survive and succeed in show business is hardly revolutionary, despite endearing performances from the co-leads. Regardless, the excellence of the film’s soundtrack cannot be denied. “City of Stars” and “Audition” are exceptional tracks, although the more fast-paced sequences of “Another Day in the Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd” stayed with me after I left the theater. “How Far I’ll Go” acted as the obligatory heroic anthem of Disney’s “Moana”. Written by Broadway heavyweight Lin-Manuel Miranda, the track managed to make its way onto radio airwaves but did not reach the level of global fixation of “Let It Go” from “Frozen” (though Miranda wrote the superior song, in my humble opinion). Favorable odds will help “La La Land” sweep yet another category.
“The Empty Chair” is a truly moving piece from “Jim: The James Foley Story”, a documentary about the kidnapping and assassination of the American war correspondent by ISIS. However, the film’s obscurity will it prevent it from garnering the statuette. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” succeeded as a popular radio hit but will almost definitely be overlooked in favor of its emotive and artistic fellow nominees.
By: Ashley Garrett