Our bets on the Oscars

Updated February 26, 2017

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La La Land
La La Land

For more than a decade, our Oscar predictions have had a single purpose: to forecast how and where the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) changes its perception of the artists (and art) involved in filmmaking. The question, by the way, isn’t always about the best film getting due credit.

Hollywood is, and always will be, a politicised playground lobbied by agendas ranging from the noblest intentions (racial diversity, for example) to those that simply pander to the largest, most commercial mindset, that is, patting the backs of certain filmmakers and studios for doing an average job. This makes our job all the more challenging.

Predicting La La Land’s landslide victory isn’t difficult. The film has received critical and commercial acclaim. However, after binge-watching almost all the 47 nominated titles, one understands that there are far bigger issues at hand.

Moonlight
Moonlight

The academy is keen to not let the nominees play the ‘race’ card; and if it can support anti-government demonstrations, then good enough. Four power-house entries — Moonlight, Fences, Hidden Figures, O.J: Made in America — are African-American films. With the exception of Hidden Figures, the rest are set to win big. These nods will, hopefully, make up for the last year’s faux-anger when the academy looked away from Will Smith and Spike Lee (they didn’t deserve it, as we said in our predictions).

Politics will also affect the difficult-to-pin-down foreign category where the competition is equally divided into support groups. The films in question are The Salesman, Toni Erdmann and A Man Called Ove. Academy voters may make a statement here.

The Iranian film, The Salesman, is a perfect platform to go vocal against Donald Trump’s travel ban. The director, Asghar Farhadi, already a winner in the same category for A Separation, has made it clear that he will not travel to the US. Hollywood, of course, will be happy to stage a protest on the occasion if the film wins the Oscar.

The academy voters are a rough mix of technicians, producers and actors, most of whom will simply cast the ballots as per their preferences. The game here is to read the minds of the 5,783 members with precision.

Here we have another cause for concern: the academy members are also fellows of individual guilds and unions. Many — driven by passion and nepotism — rally behind their favourites. The guild awards, which generally predate the Oscars, are a sign but not an absolute forecast of which way things will go. As a consequence, technical results (for editing, sound edit and mix etc) will sway here and there mainly because actors and producers, who know little of the technicalities, outnumber other creative individuals and technicians.

Considering these intricacies, our predictions follow a general rule: guess who will win, the possible upsets, and the chances of who may win based on personal opinions. Entries where our and industry opinions meet are listed as ‘unanimous’.

Fences
Fences

Pick your winner. You may be surprised.

Picture

Unanimous: La La Land

According to us, only Moonlight, Hidden Figures and La La Land stand a chance of winning the night’s main accolade. Others, though strong motion pictures, lack the inspiration and drama one associates with Hollywood — an aspect La La Land covers beautifully. Weave a narrative in the form of a musical and you’ve got yourselves the Best Picture winner.

Director

Unanimous: Damien Chazelle for La La Land

Mel Gibson is already an Oscar winner and Hacksaw Ridge’s nomination in the Best Director category is his welcome-back ticket. With the exception of Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins (the latter directed Moonlight) no other director exhibits directorial flair that’s required for this category.

Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures

Actor

Unanimous: Denzel Washington for Fences

Upset: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea

Affleck give his career-best performance in Manchester by the Sea and may gain the last-minute momentum to spoil Washington’s nearly in-the-bag win.

Actress

Unanimous: Emma Stone for La La Land

We didn’t fancy Natalie Portman’s Jackie and Meryl Streep — fabulous as she is — has too many Oscars. Stone’s Best Supporting nod in Birdman was a teaser for her predicted win here.


The Iranian film, The Salesman, is a perfect platform to go vocal against Donald Trump’s travel ban. The director, Asghar Farhadi, already a winner in the same category for A Separation, has made it clear that he will not travel to the US. Hollywood, of course, will be happy to stage a protest on the occasion if the film wins the Oscar.


Supporting Actor

Unanimous: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight

If not Ali, then who?

Supporting Actress

Unanimous: Viola Davis for Fences

Again, if not Davis, then who? One slight excep­tion would’ve been Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures — if she had had more screen-time.

Screenplay – Original

Unanimous: Manchester by the Sea

Upset: La La Land

Manchester has enough depth in its story and writing to pull off a win but only if the Oscar voters want to break La La Land’s sweep. Count on this rare moment of shock.

Fantastic Beasts
Fantastic Beasts

Screenplay — Adapted

Will Win: Moonlight

Should Win MKJ: Moonlight

Should Win FJ: Fences

Fences is a hard writing job both as a stage production and screenplay. Moonlight, however, is powerful and trickier to pull off as it chronicles a young man’s life trajectory.

Animated

Will Win: Zootopia

Should Win MKJ / FJ: Moana

Upset: Kubo and the Two Strings

Last year, in a review we tagged Zootopia as the potential Oscar bait. It had all the signs. Our preference is Moana; but there is a probability of Kubo upsetting the applecart. If Kubo wins, it would be Laika’s first Oscar nod which is a huge factor. So, an upset is possible here.

Foreign

Will Win: The Salesman

Should Win MKJ: The Salesman

Should Win FJ: A Man Called Ove

Upset: Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann, an unappetising German comedy, was the frontrunner until Donald Trump’s travel ban. The Salesman, a far better film than Erdmann, will be Hollywood’s

vocal and liberal response to the government’s actions. A Man Called Ove is a small and fantastic gem, but is unlikely to cause an upset.

Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange

Documentary

Unanimous: OJ: Made in America

At nearly eight hours long, the highly detailed, mesmerising and entertaining documentary is too big of a beast to ignore. In comparison, others, no matter how good, look meek.

Cinematography

Unanimous: La La Land

Upset: Arrival

People are talking about La La Land’s long-takes, especially of the opening number. The film’s cinematography, mostly motorised camera heads mounted on techno-cranes, has enough character to overtake the competition. Moonlight and especially Arrival, meanwhile, are solid competitors.

Editing

Unanimous: La La Land

Upset: Arrival

The same case as cinematography, with one exception: La La Land’s editor won the award for Whiplash. This could sway the Oscar voters towards Arrival. Technical and creative wizardry may take a back seat to voter preference if the category creates an upset.

Zootopia
Zootopia

Sound Edit

Unanimous: Hacksaw Ridge

Upset: La La Land

The sound in Hacksaw was spot-on. La La Land could win, though, because most voters cannot distinguish between sound edit and sound mix.

Sound Mix

Will Win: La La Land

Should Win MKJ: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Should Win FJ: La La Land

The Oscar voters will mark La La Land, at least in the sound mixing category. The film is a musical. Preference to 13 Hours is a personal choice — the film is mixed and sound-mapped splendidly. It doesn’t mean it will win.

Production Design

Unanimous: La La Land

Upset: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Old Hollywood recreated in today’s setup versus the least effective entry in the Harry Potter universe. You do the math. Speaking of old Hollywood, we loved Hail, Ceasar! — another nominee that failed to gather momentum.

Make-up and Hair

Unanimous: Star Trek Beyond

Creature makeup in Star Trek and Suicide Squad or adding ten or so more years to a middle-aged actor in A Man Called Ove? The choice is quite obvious. Squad was a critical failure. Star Trek wasn’t.

Costume Design

Unanimous: La La Land

Upset: Jackie

Generally Americans would vote for Jackie. We are sure of this. But La La Land is a homage to old Hollywood sensibilities. This aspect is quite visible in the film’s costumes and Oscar voters work in Hollywood.

Visual Effects

Will Win: The Jungle Book

Should Win MKJ / FJ: Doctor Strange

Upset: Deepwater Horizon

Rogue One will not win because every Star Wars film will have a shot each year. This was the reason it didn’t win last year. Strange has the most ingenious visual effects this year, and Deepwater Horizon mixes a lot of real-world and CGI to recreate a believable real-world disaster. The buzz — and the gut-feeling — says that it is going to be Jungle Book.

Score

Unanimous: La La Land

The musical that will win Best Picture and Director but not in the best Score category? Doesn’t make sense.

Song

Will Win: City of Stars, La La Land

Should Win MKJ: How Far I’ll Go, Moana

Should Win FJ: Audition, La La Land

‘City of Stars’ has been playing non-stop in every ceremony. It is the flagship song that blinded one’s view of all other candidates. ‘Audition’ is a stronger entry as is ‘How Far I’ll Go’. The result, no matter how much one wants otherwise, will not defy the industry’s tilt.

Published in Dawn, ICON, February 26th, 2017