There won’t be time for celebrities to make political speeches at Jan. 24’s announcement of the Oscar nominations, but that doesn’t mean the occasion will be a politics-free zone.
It was around this time last year when the Academy Awards sparked a controversy over its list of all-white acting nominees. That seems unlikely to happen Jan. 24, given that three movies with largely black casts — the art-house hit “Moonlight,” Denzel Washington’s “Fences” and the Civil Rights-era drama “Hidden Figures” — are likely to be nominated in both the acting and best picture categories. Some may call that a triumph for diversity, although at this polarized, post-Streep moment in time, others may call it tiresome Hollywood liberalism.
I can remember when the Oscars were mostly just a glamorous version of Off-Track Betting, with folks at home cheering for their favorite movie just because they liked it. This year, the two leading contenders for best picture seem on opposite sides of a political divide. One is “Moonlight,” the story of a gay African-American man growing up in Miami. The other is the musical “La La Land,” a 1950s throwback starring the very white Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Does rooting for one or the other have to be a political act? Can’t it be simply a matter of taste? I’m pro-”Moonlight” because it’s a beautiful, artful film that made me empathize with someone very different from myself. Then again, most of my favorite movies from 2016 were pretty darn Caucasian, from the Boston-area drama “Manchester by the Sea” to the screwball comedy “Florence Foster Jenkins” (both probable nominees). We like what we like, and that’s really all we can do.
On a personal level, several movies from 2016 touched me deeply but seem unlikely to get much Oscar recognition. “The Edge of Seventeen” was an exceptionally sharp comedy starring Hailee Steinfeld as a self-pitying high schooler. “Toni Erdmann,” about a practical joker and his humorless daughter, walked a nervous tightrope between laughter and sorrow. “Christine” was a gripping drama starring Rebecca Hall as a suicidal journalist. I could argue that the Academy is biased against depressives and pessimists — but, ah, what’s the use?
At any rate, in the wake of the Golden Globes and other awards-season signposts pointing to the Oscars, we pretty much know which names and titles will be announced by the Academy’s presenters on Jan. 24. Here are my best guesses in the major categories, plus the winners I’d like to see.
“Hell or High Water”
“La La Land”
“Manchester by the Sea”
MY PICK: “Moonlight.” Barry Jenkins’ use of dreamy visuals, old pop tunes and pitch-perfect performances puts us directly in the psyche of his protagonist, a closeted kid who grows into an emotionally numb adult.
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”
MY PICK: Affleck. As a lonely handyman confronting his troubled past, Affleck turns in yet another of his deep-reaching yet seemingly effortless performances. Despite the sexual-harassment charges that resurfaced recently, he’s a shoo-in for the win.
Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
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MY PICK: Rebecca Hall in “Christine.” She won’t get a nomination — you might say there isn’t a snowball’s chance for Hall — mainly because the movie is just too sad for most viewers. Nevertheless, if you want to see the year’s other best performance, right up there with Affleck, this is it.
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
MY PICK: Hugh Grant. At the age of 56, Grant has spent decades perfecting his persona as the lovable cad, and here he plays it to absolute perfection. He actually steals the movie from Meryl Streep, which very few can say they’ve done.
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
MY PICK: Janelle Monae in “Hidden Figures.” She won’t get a nomination, but boy, does this pop-singer-turned-actress deserve one. “Hidden Figures” wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without her sassy, sexy, self-confident performance.
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
MY PICK: Jenkins. Although Chazelle will likely win for “La La Land” — also a visually dazzling film — Jenkins delivered the more thought-provoking, more deep-reaching movie.
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
MY PICK: “Sing.” Illumination Entertainment’s music-themed comedy didn’t have the social conscience of Disney’s “Zootopia” (the likely winner in this category), but you can’t beat it for sheer, exuberant joy.