So keep all that in mind. As always, I obviously cannot condone any form of gambling, and will in no way consider it my fault if anyone happens to lose money based on my advice. Anyone who makes a little scratch, by contrast, and might be inclined to share it with their Oscar Whisperer, will find me easy enough to track down. Those curious about my own end-of-the-year awards, some of which are notably eccentric, can find them here.
Nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight
This has long been, and remains, La La Land’s race to lose. It’s become fashionable to lament that this is a bad thing and it would be better if Moonlight were to win instead. There are perhaps good arguments to be made on this score, but most of the arguments being made aren’t very good.
It is without question a promising sign that Moonlight, a movie about the romance between two black men coming of age in inner-city Miami, directed by a black man, is not only a Best Picture nominee but a genuine contender to win. This is especially true given the Academy’s much-noted shortcomings over the last couple of years.
But the widespread critique that La La Land is “only” the frontrunner because it is about Hollywood’s love for itself dramatically shortchanges Damien Chazelle’s film, which is a tremendously ambitious undertaking on its own terms, novel and nostalgic in equal measure. This is not The Artist. Should La La Land come away with the statue, as I strongly suspect it will, it will mean nothing other than that it was a terrific film.
If you’re looking for the upset, definitely go with Moonlight. If you’re looking for a really big upset, try Manchester by the Sea or Hidden Figures. If you want an upset even bigger than that, buy a lottery ticket.
What will win: La La Land
What ought to win: Arrival
Nominees: Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea), Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
The big surprise here, of course, is that Mel Gibson was nominated, despite the facts that a) Hacksaw Ridge was good but not great; and b) not so long ago, Gibson had a very-well-earned reputation as a depraved maniac. But Hollywood can be forgiving, especially if you have the right friends.
In any case, Mel will not be repeating his Braveheart feat by taking home the actual statue. Here, again, the safe money is on Chazelle who, at 32, is already filling up his trophy case. For those who want to split their picture/director votes, Jenkins and Lonergan both have a shot here. Just not a very good one.
Which seems like as good a time as any—and no, it won’t be the last—to express my unhappiness that Arrival, the best film of the year, is not really in the running for any of the major awards. My best explanation for this is that the film ultimately found itself betwixt and between: too big to be the kind of arty film that critics love to champion, but not big enough (its domestic box office was almost exactly $100 million) to force its way into the conversation, à la Avatar, in a “the people have spoken” fashion. Regardless, it’s terrific. Go see it if you haven’t already.