BREAKING DOWN THE ACTING RACES

The 89th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 26, 99 days from today.

AFI Film Fest

Yesterday was the last day of the AFI Film Fest. The annual event, held in Los Angeles, has propelled several films in the past such as The Big Short, Selma and American Sniper into the Best Picture conversation. The main winners this year were Fences and Patriots Day.
  • Fences is based on a play by August Wilson that, in 1987, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony Award for Best Play and Tonys for Actor (James Earl Jones) and Featured Actress (Mary Alice). The Broadway revival in 2010 won the Tony for Best Revival and Tonys for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (who campaigned as lead rather than featured due to supposedly weaker competition that year). To the surprise of no one, the film adaptation, starring Washington and Davis and directed by Washington, is really good. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The Westwood audience repeatedly roared and cheered during the movie when Davis or Washington delivered a choice line of Wilson’s poetic dialogue. And they stood and applauded — in the darkness, mind you — while the closing credits rolled. Standing ovations are par for the course at these events when talent arrives on stage. But jumping up from your seat to register approval when nobody can see you — that’s another thing entirely. It’s a sure sign that a movie connects with people on a deep, emotional level.”
  • Patriots Day tells the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The Mark Wahlberg drama hadn’t really been mentioned in many Oscar conversations until it closed the AFI Film Fest, but the response was, apparently, tremendous: “The packed house — much of which was sniffling and wiping tears throughout the screening — applauded loudly as the credits began to roll, and then got on its feet for a prolonged ovation as the lights came up to reveal [writer/director Peter] Berg and Wahlberg flanking several of the real survivors of and first-responders to the terror attack.”  According to Scott Feinberg, this may be “the kind of unifying film needed after a cutthroat election season bitterly divided America.” It also may provide the strong, alpha-male protagonist not really seen yet this year that the many male Academy voters often reward.

Next up are the film critics’ awards. Starting on November 29 with the National Board of Review, critics will name their favorite film (or films), and a consensus will begin to build. Still to be seen is Silence, the Martin Scorsese movie, and Hidden Figures, the Black women can do math movie that I really want to be good.

 
Breaking down the acting races
So far this “Oscar season,” I’ve generally focused on the rise and fall of films rather than individual performances. I wanted to quickly sum up where we are right now before the critics start choosing individuals to award.
For Best Actor, the clear frontrunners for nominations are Casey Affleck, who carries Manchester by the Sea, and Denzel Washington from Fences, who would be on track to win his third Academy Award. (Both are flawed fathers, as Sasha Stone analyzes.) From there, you can generally factor in the leads from Best Picture contenders (Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Joel Edgerton in Loving, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge or Silence) or famous, older actors (Warren Beatty in Rules Don’t Apply, Tom Hanks in Sully, Robert De Niro in The Comedian) to round out the list of possibilities. One interesting performance to consider is Michael Keaton in McDonald’s movie The Founder, who apparently delivers his third awards-worthy performance in as many years (after Birdman, which landed him a Best Actor nomination, and Spotlight, which did not).
Everyone sort of knows that the top three Best Actress contenders are Emma Stone in La La Land (well-liked actress in the frontrunner for Best Picture), Natalie Portman in Jackie (apparently outstanding performance) and Annette Bening in 20th Century Women (very overdue). The big question mark in this category is Amy Adams. She is officially the next Leonardo DiCaprio when it comes to the Oscar race, with articles like “It’s Amy Adams’ Turn For Oscar Glory” published around the web. (Never mind the fact that she has had more Academy Awards losses than Leo and that there are still some actors that have even her beat. I’m looking at you Glenn Close.) Adams has two movies out this year that could launch her into the race. Arrival is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year and a likely Best Picture contender. Nocturnal Animals is darker, but made by Tom Ford.  Outside of Adams, there are a lot of possibilities, such as Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) and Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane).
There is a lot more room in Best Actress ever since Viola Davis announced she would be campaigning as supporting. She won the lead actress Tony, but her role is small enough that no one is screaming “category fraud.” She is very much the favorite in the race, prompting headlines like “Viola Davis Submitted As Best Supporting Actress for SAG Awards, So All You Best Actress Oscar Contenders Can Finally Breathe” and “It’s Done: Viola Davis Will Win the Oscar for Fences.” The Best Supporting Actress category possibilities are largely rounded out by the ladies of the (probably) Best Picture nominees, like Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Naomie Harris (Moonlight, which is slowly gaining ground with box office wows and a 99% on Metacritic).
No one really knows what’s going on with Best Supporting Actor. According to Variety, “It’s anybody’s game for the five spots, with upwards of 20 strong contenders vying for position…Any of these actors could land a nomination and it wouldn’t be a surprise, making the supporting-actor race easily the most exciting acting race of the year.” We generally assume that Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Dev Patel (Lion) might find some love, but other possibilities are the men from Hell or High Water and Florence Foster Jenkins, Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals), Liam Neeson (Silence) and youngster Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea).
These races will begin to be clearer with the critics awards as well as the Screen Actors Guild nominations on December 14.

Spotlight on Best Animated Feature

A record 27 animated films are in contention for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. These include three of the best-reviewed movies of the year (Zootopia with a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, Kubo and the Two Strings with a 97% and Finding Dory at 94%), Disney’s definitely-going-to-be-good Moana and Sausage Party, the most commercially successful R-rated animated film ever launching a “series awards push” of its own. (“We all want to meet Leonardo DiCaprio,” jokes actor, co-wroter and co-producer Seth Rogen).

 

Calling out Zootopia for a minute. Based on what I’ve been reading, it does not seem likely that it will score an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. And that’s a shame. Animated movies are generally looked down upon by members of the Academy, even when they tackle mature themes. Zootopia has at its forefront issues of bias, discrimination, political corruption and fear as a tool to control and govern. It’s not a sequel, it’s wildly entertaining and it’s increasingly relevant given the political climate of 2016. (As an Oscar campaigning ploy, the film hosted a screening of the first political debate.) Vulture ran an interesting article about Zootopia in the age of Donald Trump, with the choice quote, “I think he would think Gazelle is a 10. Judy, maybe a 7.”

 
Spotlight on Honorary Oscars

The 2016 Governors Awards took place on November 12. At the ceremony, Jackie Chan, Anne V. Coates, Lynn Stalmaster and Frederick Wiseman each received an Honorary Oscar. It wasn’t a surprise — their names had been announced in September — but it was a nice occasion to honor four individuals that had never won an competitive Academy Award. Something interesting about all four winners:

  • Anne V. Coates is a British film editor who edited Lawrence of Arabia, and, more recently, Fifty Shades of Grey. (Oh, Anne.)
  • Lynn Stalmaster is a casting director who helped John Travolta, Christopher Reeve, Richard Dreyfuss and Jon Voight get their start in Hollywood and was in charge of casting West Side Story and The Graduate. He is also the first person ever to win an Academy Award for casting.
  • Documentarian and director Frederick Wiseman has made no movies I have ever seen, but he did go to Yale Law School.
  • Jackie Chan’s father used to ask him when he would win an Oscar. Chan responded that it would never happen, since he made action comedies rather than dramas. Who’s laughing now, Jackie Chan’s dad?

The ceremony was also a chance for Oscar contenders to schmooze with members of the Academy. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “almost all of the tables not occupied by the honorees and their guests (many of whom are senior Academy members) are bought by studios and distributors, which, in turn, fill them with their awards-hopefuls (whose prospects certainly aren’t disadvantaged by being photographed on a red carpet at an Academy event before rubbing shoulders during the cocktail hour with Oscar voters).” Attendees included Emma Stone, Warren Beatty, Viola Davis, Amy Adams and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote the music and lyrics for Moana).

Spotlight on the 2017 ceremony
Earlier this month, Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd were named the two producers of this year’s Academy Awards. De Luca has received three best picture Oscar nominations — for The Social Network, Moneyball and Captain Phillips — and produced Fifty Shades of Grey. (What is it with these people and Fifty Shades of Grey?) Todd has produced Jason Bourne, Memento and the Austin Powers movies. Their next big task is finding a host. Vulture recommends Samantha Bee, John Oliver and the Rock as potential candidates.  Indiewire wants Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to do it and, given Todd’s involvement with both in the past, it may actually happen.

Other News:

  • President Trump: So, Donald Trump won the election, and by the next Oscars, he will have taken Obama’s seat in the White House. How does this impact the Oscar race, you may be asking. AwardsDaily considers the increased relevance of Loving, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, 13 and Hell or High Water, but I think this has to be a win for La La Land it’s an optimistic escape from today’s upsetting outside world. Just remember, another musical, Oliver!, won in 1968.
  • Should I care about the Hollywood Film awards? No. The Los Angeles Times wrote an article with the headline “Inside the Hollywood Film Awards, where the stars come to rehearse for other, more important awards shows.”
  • Amazon vs. Netflix: The two studios (?) are battling it out when it comes to the Oscar race. Amazon is backing Manchester by the Sea, while Netflix has the Ava Duvernay documentary 13th.
  • Mason, I want to read a long article about La La Land: Okay, here you go.
  • All the movies: According to the Hollywood Reporter, there is an “unusually strong crop of movies emerging to critical acclaim” this year. They made a list of the 47 that you should be keeping in mind. I have not even heard of some of them.
  • Bye Bye Quentin: Tarantino is only making two more movies.
  • Bye Bye Nate Parker: New Investigation Finds Nate Parker Was Also Accused of Indecent Exposure at Penn State.
  • I did my waiting! Twelve years of it! At 10 Downing Street! Gary Oldman is playing Winston Churchill.
  • Fantastic reviews and where did they go? Earlier this week, the new Harry Potter entry Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was sitting at a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 25 or so reviews in. I had flashbacks to Deathly Hallows Part 2, one of the best-reviewed movies the year it came out, and started considering whether Fantastic Beasts had Oscar potential. Then more reviews started to come in. It doesn’t.
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