A year after the Academy Awards were criticized and boycotted for a complete lack of minority representation in the major categories, the 2017 Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday with a noticeably improved mix of talent. In fact, out of this year’s nine Best Picture nominees, three — “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” and “Moonlight” — centered around African-American themes and actors.
This year’s crop of nominees were announced via a series of pre-taped short videos, rather than the usual practice of having an acting Oscar winner from the previous year make the announcement. The attempt was no doubt an effort to avoid a contentious response, but the list of nominees is actually a solid one and provides hope that efforts by the Academy to expand its membership base and reflect more than the older, heavily Caucasian voters of previous years are paying off.
There were two particularly noteworthy aspects of this year’s nominee slate. First, “La La Land” had a whopping 14 nominations, tying the all-time record shared previously by only two films: “Titanic” and “All About Eve.” More surprisingly, Mel Gibson signaled a major comeback with a Best Director nod for “Hacksaw Ridge” after a decade of near-total exile from Hollywood after several controversial incidents including anti-Semitic comments made during a DUI arrest.
Overall, these are extremely respectable, tasteful movies that have positive messages for society. Positive changes are obviously happening in Hollywood, and let's hope they continue!
Following are the key nominations and my predictions for which nominees will win, and which should win. Those two factors are often mutually exclusive. Nominations are listed in alphabetical order.
BEST PICTURE: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester By The Sea,” “Moonlight”
WILL WIN: “La La Land.” There’s no way on earth this movie can lose after tying the record. The most vibrant and original musical to come out of Hollywood since “Singin’ in the Rain” has Oscar gold locked down tighter than Fort Knox.
SHOULD WIN: “La La Land” is my favorite movie of 2016. The only possible upset here is “Moonlight,” a beautiful drama about a gay black man’s quest for love from childhood into his 30s, or the surprise blockbuster “Hidden Figures.” Both might gain favor if there’s a backlash to “La La” attention, or if enough voters desire to make amends for past slights against films centered on African-American life. Even then, they would likely cancel each other out of a win.
BEST ACTOR: Casey Affleck, “Manchester By The Sea”; Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”; Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”; Denzel Washington, “Fences”
WILL WIN: Casey Affleck. The actor did a powerful job in an often-heartbreaking story of an alcoholic handyman trying to pull his life together to help his newly orphaned nephew, and he’s swept nearly every other award out there.
SHOULD WIN: Viggo Mortensen. The one nomination I’m most thrilled to see here, Mortensen’s tragically underappreciated role as a hippie father striving to keep custody of his kids in a battle against his wife’s conservative parents after her sudden death was funny, fierce, heartbreaking and unforgettable. Find “Captain Fantastic,” it’s a must-see for all but the most staunchly conservative.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”; Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”; Lucas Hedges, “Manchester By The Sea”; Dev Patel, “Lion”; Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals.”
WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali. Ali’s quietly magnetic performance as a morally conflicted drug dealer who takes the central character under his wing while he’s a young boy brought one of the most intriguing and touching characters in years to life. It’s also the best shot at a win for this incredible movie.
SHOULD WIN: Either Ali or Jeff Bridges, whose memorable turn as a Texas sheriff out to stop two bank-robber brothers was another in his stellar career of memorable characters.
BEST ACTRESS: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”; Ruth Negga, “Loving”; Natalie Portman, “Jackie”; Emma Stone, “La La Land”; Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
WILL WIN: Emma Stone. She sings, dances, makes you laugh and makes you cry, then brings it all together in one of the best songs in film musical history, “The Fools Who Dream.” Plus, she’s the kind of fairy-tale instant Hollywood royalty that the Academy loves.
SHOULD WIN: Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures.” The real best performance was Henson’s lead turn in “Figures,” but since she’s been unfairly excluded, Stone is the best of the actual bunch.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis, “Fences”; Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”; Nicole Kidman, “Lion”; Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”; Michelle Williams, “Manchester By The Sea”
WILL WIN: Viola Davis. Davis is really a lead actress performance, as the emotionally shattered wife of a man who feels that life as an African-American man in the 1950s has ruined his life potential. She may get undercut by competing against two other black actresses, due to the Academy’s traditionally limited thinking, but it’s hers to lose.
SHOULD WIN: Davis or Spencer. These two rising icons’ competition against each other is possibly the toughest call of the entire awards.
BEST DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”; Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”; Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester By The Sea”; Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight.”
WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle. The young auteur is now two-for-two, following 2014’s “Whiplash,” in getting films that he wrote and directed up for Best Picture. “La La Land” was a stunningly original piece of timeless art. No way is he losing.
SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle. Gibson’s nomination is enough to restore his Hollywood career, and Barry Jenkins’ movie is a wonder to behold, but it simply didn’t connect on the massive level that “La La Land” has.