HOLLYWOOD—Well, last week predictions were made as to who would claim victory in the Best Actor and Best Actress races at this year’s Academy Awards. This week our attention turns to the races for Best Director and Best Picture. I’ll make the argument now that Best Director is not that much of a dogfight, but Best Picture I think it’s a bit more competitive than people think.
So let’s look at the competition in the Best Director race which many equate with a good sign of who will claim the Best Picture prize. In the past, the Academy has been known to group Best Director and Best Picture together, but in recent years the prize has been split. The contenders include Damien Chazelle for “La La Land,” Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight,” Kenneth Lonergan for “Manchester by the Sea,” Mel Gibson for “Hacksaw Ridge” and Denis Villeneueve for “Arrival.” For months, Best Director has been touted as a two-person race between Chazelle and Jenkins, that has since changed to Chazelle, who has pretty much run away with most of the awards in the Best Director race.
So Chazelle is indeed a front-runner, but does that mean he’s a lock. Hmm, I would argue yes, but his only major threat if you ask me would be Jenkins followed by Villeneueve for “Arrival.” I know what many of you are thinking, “Arrival” for Best Picture and Best Director? Yes, it’s a decisive movie, either you love it or not, but the fact that it picked up a total of 8 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay says something. However, that movie hasn’t picked up much love this awards season so at this point Chazelle seems poised to become the youngest winner to earn a Best Director Oscar people.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the race that is quite open in my opinion to say the least: Best Picture. However, I would argue I hate that the rules have changed to include anywhere from 5 to 10 pictures. I think keeping things to 5 nominees is best because the competition is more competitive. The last time I thought the Best Picture was stellar was 2014 when flicks like “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” were all competing for the prize.
This year we have “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “La La Land,” “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” vying for the top prize. Let’s just be honest this is a race between 4 maybe 5 films: “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Moonlight,” “Lion” and “Manchester by the Sea.” I’m not taking anything from the other flicks, but they have flaws.
“Arrival” was adored by some, hated by others because it’s what many would call a ‘smart’ movie. “Fences” has stellar and some of the best ACTING I’ve seen in years, but the movie comes across as a theater production and quite stagey. “Hacksaw Ridge” is a riveting war flick with a stellar performance from Andrew Garfield, but it’s no “Saving Private Ryan.” And when it comes to “Hell or High Water,” that ending totally destroys the movie for movie.
Now “Lion,” might be the one flick that packs the most emotional punch of all the contenders, however, it has not seen much love this awards season beyond a recent win for Dev Patel in the Best Supporting Actor race at the BAFTA ceremony. And it’s facing stiff competition from the other flicks if you ask me. “Manchester by the Sea” is a quite depressing movie, the Academy loves drama, but at times being too dramatic, sorrowful and just plain hopeless can work against you. If “La La Land” was not in contention, this drama might have more of a fighting chance.
So this means I’d decided the Best Picture race between 3 films: “La La Land,” “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures.” Here’s my problem, I didn’t LOVE any of these movies. They all have high points, but none left me blown away. “La La Land” is a fun musical, but I wouldn’t call it the best I’ve ever seen. I think Emma Stone is the saving grace in that movie for me because her performance is so amazing, and the message of chasing your dream against all odds is quite inspiring. “Moonlight” definitely strikes a person emotionally, but it was not as fulfilling as I would have hoped. As a viewer, I think many may have wanted just a bit more with that ending. As for “Hidden Figures” it’s the feel good flick of the year, but it’s PG and it limits the actual punch the movie could have delivered if it was PG-13 and actually tackled the issue of segregation, discrimination and racism without a boundary. It could have turned a great film into a sensational piece of cinema.
This puts many members of the Academy in a bind if you ask me. About a month ago, I would argue this was a battle between “Moonlight” and “La La Land,” now I think it’s more a fight between “Hidden Figures” and “La La Land.” Both flicks are doing well at the box-office, and it appears that “Hidden Figures” is creeping up in the popularity ranks. I’m placing my money on “La La Land,” however, I would NOT be surprised if come Oscar night we were delivered a surprise similar to 2006 when “Crash” won Best Picture over “Brokeback Mountain.” All I can say is that come Oscar Sunday, we could see a major surprise or two in some of the major categories.