The Oscars are unpredictable this year, especially Best Film

Welcome to The Now awards special! This is the awards season and the Academy Awards are coming. The Oscar nominations were announced this week and now begins the journey to the evening itself.  The Oscars are definitely the highlight of this season, the time when most of the award ceremonies are held.

The start of the year is the time for most of the major awards in entertainment. The Golden Globes were held on January 8 and turned out to be an interesting evening. The BAFTAS are coming up on the 12 February and usually attract a lot of Hollywood talent. Best of all, the Academy Awards are going to be held on February 26, crowning another vibrant year in film.

The best awards ceremony is definitely the Oscars, an event which has a sense of grandeur and mystique to it. There are certain things which can’t really be bought and an Academy Award is one of them. The nominations were revealed this week and have honored a diverse array of films. Although there were one or two omissions, it looks like it is going to be a good event.

The Academy chose to present the nominations in a different way this year. The nominations were announced in a pre-recorded film featuring previous winners. The winners spent a minute discussing the Oscar experience and what it means to them. The video unfolded in the usual style of the Academy – classy and elegant even though it is slightly self-congratulatory. It was an interesting way of presenting the selections.

Once the nominations are announced it gives way to a lot of speculation. The next few weeks are going to see everyone discussing the nominations and predicting what is going to win. A cursory glance might suggest that La La Land is going to sweep everything. I feel though that this year’s Oscars are interesting and have the potential to surprise. They are not as clear cut as they might appear.

The best picture is often the most fascinating category, especially when they increased it to nine or ten entries. There are some interesting films in the mix this year. I shall start with the most obvious one.

La La Land has a good chance of winning best picture and is the front-runner. It is a charming and emotionally rich film about people who are trying to make it in Hollywood. It is a musical and has some good character work and feeling to it. It looks like this is going to sweep all the categories, but I am not entirely convinced that it will.

The thing about La La Land is that it comes into a trend which has been going on for a while and which might be growing passe. In recent years there have been various films about the film industry itself and this might be the year when the Academy decides to buck this trend. The Artist won Best Picture in 2011, Argo won Best Picture in 2012, and Birdman won Best Picture in 2014. These films all focus on acting and the movie industry in some form. I enjoyed all these films, but the tone is a little introspective and self-indulgent

It feels as though the industry is patting itself on the back. I wonder if the academy might avoid this tendency for a change and look for something different. Then again, La La Land is doing something new through bringing back the musical format. They might reward this innovation. Musicals are important to Hollywood’s history and it was bold to make a modern version of them.

The second front-runner is Moonlight. Would it be wrong to think that Moonlight could win Best Picture? It would be a fresh and bold choice. If there is going to be a surprise then this is perfectly positioned for an upset.

Moonlight is a thoughtful and striking work which focuses on issues of sexuality. It is about the life of a man who grows up in difficult circumstances, while dealing with his burgeoning feelings for other males. The characters don’t have it easy, with their situation proving quite dark at times.

The fact that it has received eight nominations is an achievement already, a sign of its quality and ambition. It has become a contender and the contrast between the two films is striking. What type of film does the academy want to reward? Moonlight is more earnest and socially conscious than the gossamer fantasies of La La Land. It is more outward-looking.  I wonder if they might split the biggest awards and two different films get best film and best director. It happens occasionally. La La Land might sweep but the potential is there for a surprise.

There are other choices too. Manchester by the Sea is a movie which feels as though it could do… something.  It is a substantial and serious work which has received a lot of acclaim. Casey Affleck has been on the sidelines for years and now he has found a good starring vehicle for himself with this effort. The film is about broken families and characters who are flawed but nonetheless human.

Even if it doesn’t win anything this has been a good project for Amazon, who produced it. This movie shows how Amazon is determined to build itself as a producer and as a creative force in TV and film. They have distributed some good films like The Neon Demon and Café Society, but this is their largest success to date. It is easily their most high-profile work, and they should feel good at how it has done.

Hidden Figures is also interesting. I don’t know if it is a long-shot but its release has been noteworthy. It is that rare thing – a word of mouth organic success. When it came out it wasn’t clear how it would perform, but it has exceeded its projections and has done really well. It has caught on with audiences. It probably won’t win but there is some momentum around this film and it could surprise.

Anyway, art is timeless. Even when one film wins it doesn’t mean that it really is the best film. The film which is awarded Best Picture is not always the one which proves to be the lasting work of art. Sometimes the winner is a shallow and bland effort which is fashionable at the time. The great thing about art is that over time the mediocre work falls away and a work of quality endures.

In the acting section, new and exciting talent mixes with veteran actors who are continuing to do solid work. Denzel Washington could win best actor for Fences, which is a good role for him and probably a passion as the film was in development for a long time. It seems though that Casey Affleck is likely to win, as his role has seen him come into his own after years of interesting work. There is a lot of attention being given to him. Viggo Mortensen was also a surprise nom, he is a fine performer.

The best actress category is very rich this year, to the extent where Meryl Streep’s work actually doesn’t feel like a highlight. Although Streep is a legend at this point, the voters might feel that she has won enough already and give the award to someone else. The other contenders have all done outstanding work, and how do you really say one is superior to the other? This category seems quite fluid. Overall there have been a lot of good performances and they are spoiled for choice.

The next month shall see the members of the Academy consider these films and cast their votes. The voting window is actually a concentrated period of activity in mid-February, which closes around five days before the ceremony itself. That should be an interesting evening. The Academy Awards are held on February 26.

Image – Academy Award. Author – Loren Javier at Flickr


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