Film enthusiasts and critics usually have mixed feelings about the Oscars. It’s one of the most exciting times of the year, when there are the most opportunities to talk about films you love and love to hate. It’s also the perfect time to complain about awards and how they pick the right films. Here’s who we want to win, and who we think the Academy will choose tonight.
Should Win: Zootopia
The movie that the Huffington Post has called “The Most Politically Influential” film at the Oscars took many people by surprise. Everything about the movie is masterfully done. The voice-acting, especially by co-stars Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, leaps with personality. Zootopia takes us on a visual journey that brims with imagination in the design of the titular city. Meanwhile, the writing delivers great dialogue and an original plot that actually threw me for a loop. It’s packed with laughs and with social commentary that actually sounds intelligent and nuanced. It’s a fantastic film that has deserved all the praise it’s gotten.
Will Win: Moana
Boasting a powerful soundtrack, cutting-edge visuals, and talent both new and experienced, Moana is a powerful addition to Disney’s library of animated features. Auli’i Cravalho has cemented her future as a voice actor, and Dwayne Johnson backs her up with a fun performance he evidently loved giving. Disney veterans Ron Clements and John Musker infused Moana with classic Disney storytelling, while Lin-Manuel Miranda added his own pinch of music that’s both contemporary and timeless. Altogether, it’s a technical triumph that gives Disney bragging rights — like they really need more of that.
Should and Will Win: I Am Not Your Negro
James Baldwin’s language brings eloquence and grace to a grotesque and deplorable situation. In I Am Not Your Negro, filmmaker Raoul Peck does a masterful job in bringing life and visualizations to Baldwin’s poetic words. Baldwin takes a profound approach in which he analyzes how the lives and deaths of Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X molded Baldwin’s own view of race, and how their deaths were emblematic of the hypocrisy and incongruous nature of race relations in America. It is a thought provoking piece of work that will have the audience questioning their own role and complacency in race relations in America. The documentary leaves the audience understanding the genius of James Baldwin and more aware of how racial history has transcended itself into the present along with Baldwin’s words.
Should & Will Win: Mahershala Ali
If I could ask for anything more from Mahershala Ali’s performance in Moonlight, the only space I could find for improvement would be more time with him. His acting was fantastic and his character was critical. He was tough on the streets and nurturing with Chiron, easily pairing his kindness and caring with preserving the image and role of a hardened drug dealer. His acting was the best in the film and one of the most important roles of the year.
Should & Will Win: Viola Davis
Viola Davis’s exceptional portrayal of Rose in Fences is a testament to her talent and experience in the role. She ties the story together with her caring nature, vulnerability and strength. While she has a wide range of emotions and experience, they seem to simply flow together. When she is frustrated, it’s so good you can’t turn away, yet so powerful it’s hard to watch. When she’s happy, you feel like you’re the one laughing on the porch behind the Maxson home. She reflects those around her perfectly, and it’s a joy to watch her do so.
Should Win: Denzel Washington
Fences is an acting showcase at its finest, and Denzel Washington does not disappoint with his strong and unwavering portrayal of Troy Maxson. While he plays Troy, Washington manages to tell us what Troy won’t, giving more insight into the story through through the times Troy decides to hold back. His anger, fear, mysticism and spirituality come together just the way they need to.
Will Win: Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck is favored for the Best Actor award by many critics, who were blown away by his performance. No matter the quality of his performance, we shouldn’t give awards to men who sexually harass and emotionally abuse women, but the Oscars keep doing it. Men’s sexual violence continues to have zero impact on their careers or legacies, and this year’s Oscar Awards seem apt to continue that tradition. They will do as they have done for the last 70 years, and prioritize a good movie over women’s dignity. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a movie that good.
Should and Will Win: Emma Stone
The leading actress category is ripe for an upset this year. Natalie Portman’s realistic portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie has a great chance to nab an Oscar this Sunday. However, her recent Best Actress win for Black Swan just six years ago will make it very difficult to gather the votes of the Academy this year. Also worth keeping an eye on is Isabelle Huppert’s powerful performance in Elle, playing a rape victim who tracks down her offender. Huppert’s surprise win at the Golden Globes makes her a relevant candidate to win this weekend as well. The clear favorite in this category, however, is Emma Stone, who shows off her emotional range by playing an aspiring actress who falls in love with a jazz pianist in La La Land. Stone, although only 28 years old, should have won already for her performance in 2014 Best Picture winner Birdman and is overdue for her first Oscar.
Should and Will Win: La La Land
Despite several well-deserving candidates nominated for cinematography this year, La La Land‘s colorful illustration of Los Angeles is simply one of the most beautifully-shot films of all time, and it is likely to be awarded this Sunday for its groundbreaking accolades. Although La La Land has been the favorite to grab the prize for Best Cinematography for quite awhile, the American Society of Cinematographers just recently gave out their award to Lion for its desolate portrayal of India. While it is possible to see Lion upsetting La La Land at the Oscars, the odds of this actually happening are very slim; La La Land should take this award home at the end of the night.
Should Win: Moonlight
In Moonlight, Barry Jenkins skillfully elongates a drama school play written by Tarell Alvin McCraney into a cinematic experience of epic temporal scope and startling intimacy. It is known that the director’s vision is arguably the most important creative force behind a film’s success, yet it is the director’s craftsmanship that is the hardest to explicitly point to, especially when it is of a superior quality. Often, it is when a film feels so organic in its creation — when both the thematic elements of a story and the craftsmanship of its cast and crew all seamlessly cohere in a delicate balance in which individual strands complement and highlight one another — that the director’s task as has been achieved. The fact that Moonlight manages to be rich in intelligence, stylistically daring and yet very much an annex to our own reality all at once is a case for recognizing Jenkins as this year’s Best Director.
Will Win: La La Land
Damien Chazelle is highly favored to win Best Director this Sunday at the Oscars and become the youngest director to win at 32 years old and one month. To many, this is purely because he is the director of a movie that has already been so successful and is the front-runner for Best Picture. Chazelle’s outstanding work in La La Land should not go unnoted, however. He was able to tell a story in one of the most beautiful and unique ways: from the small, exquisite details to the sheer audacity of directing a modern-day musical in today’s day and age. Aside from winning Best Director for a Motion Picture at the Golden Globes, Chazelle also won the BAFTA and Director’s Guild awards. Best Director will go the Chazelle, the directing “fool who dared to dream” up the movie that many consider to be the film of the year.
Should Win: Moonlight
Each of us have the ability to perceive how decisions, actions and circumstances from our formative years never cease to inform who we are, in spite of our best efforts to smelt away our human frailties. Barry Jenkins’ moving, exquisite portrait of the currents that run through a person’s life is probably the most important film to come out in 2016 — not solely because of its sympathetic representation of a black man’s sexual awakening, an aspect of humanity regrettably seldom explored in cinema but because of its immense emotional and philosophical intelligence. With an attentiveness toward striking color palettes that evince the turbulence internalized by its characters and a haunting, ethereal score, Moonlight is an aesthetically accomplished work that recognizes the repercussions of our upbringing by organically occupying, rather than lazily capitalizing on, its favored position in identity politics. Indeed, the aesthetic and thematic density of Moonlight, a film so keenly interested in the essence of identity, are why it deserves to be honored as 2016’s Best Picture.
Will Win: La La Land
A mystical, modern-day, love-story musical, La La Land finds a way to touch everyone who’s seen it. It captures the essence of dreamers and their various sacrifices to success. The cinematography and music is absolutely breathtaking. While reviews of La La Land vary, it will win Best Picture. The Academy determining the Oscar victors are in Hollywood, and naturally love a movie surrounding Hollywood. Furthermore, La La Land won seven Golden Globes in January, including Best Motion Picture for a Musical or Comedy, and the record of Golden Globes won by one movie. It has won so many important awards already beyond the Golden Globes, and that does tend to indicate Oscar winners: DGA Award, PGA Award, New York Film Critics’ choice, and more. The “City of Dreams” will surely shine brightly today. —Becky Frank