At the start of each new year, there is much talk and reflection about the previous year in review. A source of excitement for many of us is to discuss the year that we had in film. Throw in the fancy red carpet gowns and all of the biggest names in Hollywood rubbing elbows, and you got something that people cannot get enough of; award shows. There are quite a few of them these days from The Golden Globes to the SAG Awards, but there is one that is the pinnacle of them all. It’s the only one that catapults any winner into Hollywood immortality. The only one that can be the first line in a winner’s obituary. It is of course, The Academy Awards.
This past year was really an incredible year in film. People at the award shows will stand up and say that every year, but this time they are not wrong. So many movies have been deservedly nominated for so many Academy Awards; but in a crowded year like this, with so much talent, there are of course going to be some snubs. The biggest and most glaring omission for me in many categories was Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. With only one, albeit very deserving, nomination for Michael Shannon as Best Supporting Actor, Nocturnal Animals was ignored for Best Actor in Jake Gyllenhaal, Best Director in Tom Ford, and of course Best Picture. Some people would argue that the unique and well-liked Deadpool was inappropriately left out of the nominations, with hopes for a nod to lead actor Ryan Reynolds or for Best Picture not coming to fruition. I thought that Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool were very good; but in a crowded year such as this one, there were more deserving parties in the Lead Acting and Best Picture categories.
Now that we have acknowledged the hard luck losers, let’s move on to the people with a chance at winning in some of the major categories. I’ll begin with the screenwriting categories of Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. These two categories are very competitive this year as all of the nominees truly had great writing. As far as original screenplay goes, it’s a toss-up between La La Land and Manchester by the Sea. I don’t know if it’s possible for two great screenplays to be any more different from each other than these two are, which is why it is so hard to pick a definitive winner. I would have to give the edge to Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea just because I feel that there were more challenges writing the different characters’ progressions through grief and acceptance, as well as in flashbacks and the present time; with all of these challenges, he still did a great job. The other writing category of Adapted Screenplay is more clear cut to me. Although Moonlight and Hidden Figures had very impressive screenplays, it was August Wilson’s Fences that separates itself from the pack. The layered characters and their inner struggles that come out through the wonderfully crafted language are too much to ignore in this category.
The award for Best Director this year is a very simple choice for me especially because (as I said earlier) Tom Ford is not up for the award for Nocturnal Animals. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land was something unlike anything we have seen in a long time. A true movie musical spectacular that will transport any audience into the fantasy world of Hollywood, for two young people trying to reach their dreams. The beautiful shots, the progression and focus during the musical numbers and the flow of every scene make this an easy win for Chazelle.
Now on to the acting awards which are the favorite categories for many people. Starting off with Best Supporting Actress, it should be a slam dunk victory for Viola Davis in Fences. Her performance alongside Denzel Washington was gut wrenching and perfectly executed. She made you feel the pain that had to be hidden by strength of a wife and mother trying to do right by her family and sacrificing her own happiness to get by. Best Supporting Actor could go a number of ways. Michael Shannon was a force as always and Lucas Hedges truly moved people with the way he carried out his portrayal of a son coping with losing his father. The winner though has to be Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Ali transformed himself in this role and the risks he took paid off big time. Ali also played a good role in Hidden Figures which could benefit him in the minds of Academy voters for having two strong performances so fresh in their minds.
Two of the biggest awards of the night will be for the leading actor and actress. The Best Lead Actress category has former winners such as Natalie Portman and of course the brilliant Meryl Streep, but the deserving winner here should be Emma Stone. Similar to Anne Hathaway a few years ago, Emma Stone earned this award with the performance of just one solo song. She was incredible throughout the rest of La La Land as well and should enjoy her first win this time. Best Actor might be the most stacked category of the year. Any one of the nominees would be completely deserving other than Andrew Garfield. The two at the front of the pack are Denzel Washington and Casey Affleck. Although Denzel Washington was magnificent as he always is in Fences, Casey Affleck is the deserving man. Affleck showed the world that he is among the current heavyweights of the industry in Manchester by the Sea. His haunting sadness and the pain that he displays not only in his words but simply in his eyes is so devastating that it is almost too sad to make you cry; and he should join Stone as a worthy first time winner.
The main event and finale of the show will as always be the award for Best Picture. This category is different in that it highlights eight nominees as opposed to the others which only feature five. Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Manchester by the Sea are all great movies and choices, but the true movie of the year was La La Land. It is a tribute to the movie musicals of years ago like Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story, and it immediately joins the ranks of those classics. Damien Chazelle’s writing and direction led an outstanding display of what movies used to be and what they can be still. Best Picture is saved for the movie that stands out and will be remembered for years to come and that movie for 2016 is La La Land.
There are many different opinions on who should have been nominated and who should win; and it could all be debated until people are blue in the face. But on February 26th , it will be a great night for movie fans, as it always is; and we will find out who wins for sure. We will find out which actors, actresses, and directors will forever be known with the great distinction of “Academy Award winner.”