The Academy Awards have a lot to make up for this year. There was, of course, last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which criticised the lack of diversity in the awards’ nominations.
This was then followed by an American presidential race that not only foregrounded issues of diversity and racial discrimination in the country, but has continued to generate conversations and arguments about inclusivity (or lack thereof).
This year’s list of Oscar nominees shows a marked effort by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences to widen the pool, with the major categories showing more diversity than ever before.
Predicting who will take home the gold statuettes, of course, is much easier said than done. The artistic merit of the nominee is only half the story, with industry politics and current events also playing a part in determining the winner.
So while the musical La La Land may have scored a whopping 14 nominations this year – a record high previously matched only by All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) – the Oscars could still be anyone’s game.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of who I think is most likely to take home the gold statuette at the Oscars on Feb 27, who could emerge the surprise winner.
Though initial enthusiasm for the bright, nostalgia-infused La La Land has somewhat cooled, it is still the clear front runner. After a bruisingly divisive year politics-wise, a lovely song-and-dance homage to its past could be what America needs (or wants) right now. On the other end of the spectrum though, is Moonlight. A deeply affecting, beautifully-made film about a young African-American man from the projects struggling with his sexuality, it is an extremely relevant story about an America rarely seen or heard from.
Predicted winner: La La Land
Potential surprise: Moonlight
This is likely going to end up a contest between two relative newcomers, who have each brought something refreshingly unique to Hollywood cinema.
Predicted winner: Damien Chazelle. He has won practically every directorial award of the season, opening up an almost clear path to Oscar gold.
Potential surprise: Barry Jenkins. His superlative, personal and intimate work, and the fact that he did it all on a shoestring budget, could definitely rock the boat.
Casey Affleck was the early favourite with his quiet yet powerful portrayal of a man carrying the weight of grief, winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Drama). But with Denzel Washington recently bagging the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for his energetic, complex performance that draws on both personal relationships and larger societal issues, he could just pull ahead.
Predicted winner: Casey Affleck
Potential surprise: Denzel Washington
Natalie Portman’s depiction of Jacqueline Kennedy was supposed to have this in the bag, until Emma Stone tap-danced her way into becoming serious competition. Having now won both the Golden Globe (Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy) and the SAG, Stone’s delightful turn in La La Land is definitely the one to beat.
Predicted winner: Emma Stone
Potential surprise: Isabelle Huppert. The acclaimed French actress came almost out of nowhere to scoop up the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Drama), and her amazing portrayal of a rape survivor could well do it again.
Best Supporting Actor
It’s definitely been Mahershala Ali’s year. He’s picked up a slew of awards for his warm yet complicated portrayal of a drug-dealer who forges a relationship with a young boy in need of a father figure – including the SAG and the Critics’ Choice Award. Almost no contest here.
Predicted winner: Mahershala Ali
Potential surprise: Anyone else. But only by a very a long shot.
Best Supporting Actress
This is one of the closest races in the acting categories, with every actress putting in a strong, movie-defining performance. But Viola Davis’ wife and mother was the rock-solid heart of Fences, and she’s swept almost all the awards prior to this.
Predicted winner: Viola Davis
Potential surprise: Michelle Williams. She isn’t onscreen for long, but nails the emotional heart of Manchester By The Sea in just one powerful scene.
Best Animated Feature
With two Disney releases competing this year, Zootopia’s ability to reflect on issues like diversity and prejudice under a deceptively fun premise is likely to give it an edge. Coming in close, though, is the beautiful, thoughtful and emotive Laika stop-motion fantasy, Kubo And The Two Strings.
Predicted winner: Zootopia
Potential surprise: Kubo And The Two Strings
Best Original Song
This is basically no contest at all, with the statue likely being handed to either one of the La La Land numbers.
Predicted winner: City Of Stars. As the song that encapsulates all the romance and nostalgia of the movie, this one’s the tune of the day.
Potential surprise: Audition: The Fools Who Dream