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The one film that could beat La La Land

IT’S been a brilliant year in film and this year the Oscars actually, more or less, reflect in the best in cinema.

A year after the “Oscars so white” controversy, there’s a diversity of stories and faces in the running for Hollywood’s top honour, led by La La Land with a tied record 14 nominations, followed by Moonlight and Arrival with eight each.

So who should you put down in your office ballot?

BEST PICTURE

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in a scene from the movie La La Land.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in a scene from the movie La La Land. Dale Robinette

There’s no doubt that La La Land is the runaway favourite this year, expected to sweep through the awards and nab almost every major category including Best Picture. A love letter to Hollywood, the musical is the darling of the industry with its joyful story of those who dared to dream. And Hollywood loves nothing more than to honour something that honours creatives – Chicago, Birdman and The Artist are recent Best Picture examples. The only real threat to La La Land’s total dominance is Moonlight, a beautiful portrait of a young, gay black man growing up in the Florida projects. Moonlight is the better film – better performances, better writing and better characterisation – but it’s hard to stop the La La Land juggernaut. If La La Land doesn’t win, it’ll be the biggest upset since Brokeback Mountain lost in 2006.

Will win: La La Land
Should win: Moonlight
Could win: Manchester by the Sea

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in a scene from the movie Fences.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in a scene from the movie Fences. David Lee

In what is the tightest race in this year’s Oscars, Best Actor comes down to two men: Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. Affleck had the early momentum, cleaning up the critics’ awards but the spanner came in the form of the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards where Washington unexpectedly won. Affleck is also being dogged by years-old sexual harassment allegations which resurfaced as the Oscar voting neared. Enthusiasm for scandal-tainted frontrunner nominees is often dulled, most recently Russell Crowe and Eddie Murphy. Washington also is beloved in Hollywood for his storied career and has previously picked up two Oscars (Glory and Training Day). He may also get some extra love because he pulled double duty on Fences. The spoiler is if Ryan Gosling gets carried along on a La La Land sweep.

Will win: Denzel Washington
Should win: Casey Affleck
Could win: Ryan Gosling

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

 Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from the movie La La Land.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from the movie La La Land. Dale Robinette

Emma Stone is the easy favourite to win here, dominating all the lead-up awards including the Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG. Her triple threat performance as dreamer Mia in La La Land was warm and enchanting, culminating in the heart-wrenching “Audition” song solo. There’s always a chance French actor Isabelle Huppert could pull it off for her role as a rape victim – she’s very respected in the industry – and Natalie Portman’s pained Jackie O has been widely lauded.

Will win: Emma Stone
Should win: Emma Stone
Could win: Isabelle Huppert

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

FOR REVIEW AND PREVIEW PURPOSES ONLY. Mahershala Ali and Alex R Hibbert in a scene from the movie Moonlight. Supplied by Roadshow Films.
FOR REVIEW AND PREVIEW PURPOSES ONLY. Mahershala Ali and Alex R Hibbert in a scene from the movie Moonlight. Supplied by Roadshow Films. David Bornfriend

Even though he went home empty-handed at the Golden Globes and at the BAFTAs, this award is Mahershala Ali’s to lose. His nuanced and thoughtful performance as Juan in Moonlight was felt all the way through Barry Jenkins’ incredible film, despite only being present in the first third. Ali, who’s had a bumper year, really is a class act. Dev Patel, who won the BAFTA, has had a late surge but the Brits do like to reward their own and while Jeff Bridges is always a sentimental favourite, Ali should have this in the bag.

Will win: Mahershala Ali
Should win: Mahershala Ali
Could win: Jeff Bridges

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

“It’s an honour just to be nominated” is probably the mantra of everyone not named Viola Davis in this category. Davis is considered to be such a lock for the win, as soon as nominations were announced, bookies had her odds at $1.03. That’s what you call a shoo-in. While Davis should really be competing in the leading role category (much like last year’s winner Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl), her performance was undeniably powerful. Michelle Williams is the potential (massive) upset – this is her fourth nomination.

Will win: Viola Davis
Should win: Viola Davis
Could win: Michelle Williams

DIRECTING

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

The Best Picture and Best Director Oscars are usually doled out as a pair but it’s been split more often than not in recent years. There’s a chance that Academy voters will give La La Land the big gong and bestow the directing statue on Barry Jenkins as an almost consolation prize to recognise his considerable accomplishment in Moonlight. Chazelle and Jenkins are both considered wunderkinds at 32 and 37 years old respectively and it won’t be the last time either man will feature here again.

Will win: Damien Chazelle
Should win: Barry Jenkins
Could win: Kenneth Lonergan

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Eric Heisserer, Arrival
August Wilson, Fences
Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures
Luke Davies, Lion
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Adapted screenplay is one of the few instances La La Land can’t gazump Moonlight on Oscars night. “Adapted” from an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight’s screenplay etched out fully formed characters despite very little dialogue. It also won the big prize at the Writers Guild Award in the original category while Arrival won the WGA’s adapted honour. Australian Luke Davies won the BAFTA adapted screenplay award for Lion but it wasn’t competing against Moonlight which was nominated in the original category there.

Will win: Moonlight
Should win: Moonlight
Could win: Arrival

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

Kenneth Lonergan will probably win the original screenplay category for Manchester by the Sea, a tour de force in film writing. A poignant movie about grief in its different forms, Lonergan was able to imbue the script with levity despite its heavy subject. It’s also the category most likely to give Manchester its Oscar from six nominations if Casey Affleck is snubbed. La La Land may come up from behind if it’s a La La Land lovefest but out of all the nominees here, it’s probably the weakest script. So while Manchester’s biggest competition comes from La La Land, it should be from The Lobster, a wildly inventive story about the societal pressures of being coupled off.

Could win: La La Land
Should win: The Lobster
Will win: Manchester by the Sea

WATCH THIS SPACE

Original Song: La La Land has two songs (“City of Stars”, “Audition”) in the race which could split the vote, making the way for “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana to pick up the gong. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote all the songs in Moana, is hugely popular because of Hamilton and if he wins, he’ll become the youngest person to EGOT (winning a competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award), joining an exclusive club of 12.

Animated Feature Film: Zootopia is likely to take home the Oscar for its clever story about diversity and political fear campaigns, executed in a way that appealed to both adults and children. Plus, it’s got that Disney and Pixar magic (and lobbying heft) behind it. The divinely beautiful Kubo and the Two Strings, which won the BAFTA, is the biggest threat to Zootopia with its mystical fairy tale and don’t discount The Red Turtle because Oscar voters love traditional hand-drawn animation.

Foreign Language: German film Toni Erdmann had the early momentum going in but may have been overtaken by political forces. Iranian film The Salesman is likely to have benefited from the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s travel ban when its director Asghar Farhadi (previously an Oscar winner for A Separation) was barred from attending the ceremony. The ban has since been struck down by the courts but The Salesman would’ve already received a considerable bump from voters eager to send a message to The White House. Australian film Tanna is also nominated in this category but is a long shot.

Documentary (Feature): Three out of the five nominees in this category tell African-American stories with the well-received OJ: Made in America (an ESPN series that has curiously qualified for both Oscar and Emmy races) in the lead. But voters may want to reward Ava Duvernay for 13th after being overlooked a few years back for Selma. A documentary that really packs a punch, 13th is also a searing indictment of the American prison system and a win would give Netflix its first Oscar.

Sound Mixing: Kevin O’Connell currently holds the record for the most Oscar nominations without a win at 21 but he should finally make it to the podium this year for Hacksaw Ridge with the war epic easily the favourite in both sound categories.

The Academy Awards will be broadcast on Channel 9 today at 12pm AEDT.

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The one film that could beat La La Land