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Oscar Nominees:
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From La La Land and Moonlight To Lion, Hidden Figures And More, A Wide-Variety Of Films Are Up For Consideration At This Year’s Academy Awards

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By Karen Weil
Modern Times Magazine

Feb. 3, 2017 — The Academy Awards nominations are out; let the handicapping begin.

Will La La Land, over which movie critics have swooned, have a clean sweep on Feb. 26 in Hollywood?

Does Moonlight or Hidden Figures stand a chance of winning best picture?

Along with glitz, controversial hosts, a show that runs way too long or even surprise wins, the Oscars also have a reputation for political choices, showbiz-style.

After scathing reviews for an all-white nominee line-up in 2016—even though there were more than a few worthy actors of color who could have been contenders—Academy voters have made amends.

There are six African-American actors who have a chance to take home a gold statue: Fences actors Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; Moonlight stars Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris; Hidden Figures actress Octavia Spencer; and Loving star Ruth Negga.

Dev Patel, who won strong reviews for his work in Lion, is a Brit of Indian ancestry best known for 2008’s Oscar-winning blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire.

African-american director Barry Jenkins, was also nominated for Moonlight.

“It seems like everybody is happy [Academy voters] didn’t repeat the ‘Oscars so white’ controversy last year,” said Aaron Couch, writer with The Hollywood Reporter and editor for THR’s “Heatvision” blog.

Major acting snubs, in the eyes of many industry watchers, are Amy Adams for Arrival, Annette Bening for 20th Century Women, Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Nocturnal Animals.

One best picture snub was Deadpool, a critical and commercial hit, Couch said.

Tom Johnson, an entertainment journalist who has written for the E! web site and many other venues, said 2017 is “the year of overhyped movies.”

Here’s a look at which hopefuls in six major categories should prepare an Oscar speech.

Best Picture
This year’s crop of nominees run the gamut, from a sci-fi feature about making contact with extraterrestrials to a historical drama about the unsung heroines of NASA to a tale of a boy’s self-discovery. World War II and populist outlaws are also in the mix.

The nominees are: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion,  Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight.

With its 14 nominations, La La Land, a love letter to those trying to make it in Hollywood, will win best picture, Couch said.

“Hollywood loves to award movies about itself,” Couch added.  “It almost was a kind of predictable nomination year.”

Johnson said while he likes La La Land, he feels the film “is no great advance on anything.”
“In fact, it’s half a musical,” Johnson added. “It morphs into a romantic drama. It’s this year’s English Patient [the 1996 best picture winner]  to me. Why is everyone going insane over it?”

Still, Johnson said he knows people who have seen La La Land several times.

The 2002 hit Chicago aside, musicals are not normally best picture winners, but because most of the other nominated films are darker and more serious, La La Land has a good chance of winning because it runs against the current, Johnson said.

That said, Johnson said La La Land will probably sacrifice one of the other major categories such as director, actor or screenplay. “I don't think the movie will sweep,” he said.

To Johnson, Moonlight—the Golden Globe-winning film about a young black man’s struggles in a tough Miami neighborhood—is the better choice, as it has more gravitas.

David Fantle, a film instructor at Marquette University and author specializing in classic Hollywood, agreed that La La Land is the one to beat on Oscar night, but offers one caveat: Hidden Figures winning the Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble award could derail the La La Land train.  

Fantle sees director Damien Chazelle’s inspiration coming from such iconic films as Singing in the Rain and works by French director Jacques Demy.

It’s great La La Land pays homage to a classic Hollywood musical, Fantle said, but it also shows how the marketplace has changed—today, most big film stars are not like Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, all of whom could dance and sing as well as act.

While both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are highly likable, capable actors, Fantle wonders if Chazelle might have gone with better dancers or singers in the lead roles.



Best Director
Just 32 years old, Chazelle is the definite front-runner, Couch said, as “the momentum is with him.”

Noted for directing J.K. Simmons to an Oscar in 2015 for Whiplash, Chazelle is up against Mel Gibson forHacksaw Ridge, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight,  Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, and Denis Villeneuve for Arrival.

Jenkins, Lonergan and Villeneuve are all first-time directing nominees.  One thing that is not exactly a surprise, Couch said, “Mel Gibson is back.”

In 1996, Gibson was Hollywood’s king, winning a best director Oscar for Braveheart, which was also named best picture.   

Ten years later, his arrest for drunk driving and his anti-Semitic comments nearly destroyed his career, but “he’s kind of done his time in Hollywood jail,” Couch said.

Couch added Gibson is unlikely to win, but this is his reintroduction into Hollywood’s elite circle.



Best Actress
Stone, fresh off her Screen Actors Guild win, is the clear favorite, according to conventional wisdom.

But she faces some heavy hitters in Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Ruth Negga for Loving, Natalie Portman for Jackie, and Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins.

Couch and entertainment writer Tom Johnson said Negga—an Ethiopian-Irish actress known for her work in World War Z and the TV seriesMarvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D—could pull an upset.

Johnson said the French star Huppert—a recent Golden Globe winner for her unnerving performance—might also have a chance.

Johnson said if it were up to him, Portman (who won in 2011 for Black Swan) would take home a second statuette.  

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, previously nominated in 2008 for best supporting actor, was until recently considered an Oscar shoo-in for Manchester by the Sea. Couch said it will be interesting to see if the controversy swirling around Affleck’s personal life—several women have accused him of sexual harassment—affects his chances of winning.

In the best male actor category, Couch said the nods seem right on, from what he’s heard. Affleck faces Ryan Gosling for La La Land, Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, and Denzel Washington for Fences.

On Sunday, it was Washington who took home the SAG award for Best Actor.

Johnson said Washington, who already has two Oscars on his resume for Glory and Training Day, is not a contender this time.

Johnson said Affleck and Gosling are the frontrunners, but he found Affleck’s performance to be one-note; his pick would be Mortenson.

Fantle said all those La La Land nominations give Gosling a chance at winning.

Best Supporting Actress/Actor
Along with Davis, Harris and Spencer, there are two multiple nominees: Nicole Kidman for Lion and Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea.

Kidman won in 2003 for her performance as Virginia Woolf in The Hours, while this is Williams’ fourth nomination in 11 years.

Davis won both the Golden Globe and a SAG award for Fences, which could result in her taking home the Oscar as well.

She’s also been nominated twice before for an Academy Award, for The Help and Doubt. Spencer was named best supporting actress in 2010 for The Help.

With such a strong line-up, Couch said this race is a “wild card.”

In the best supporting actor competition, Ali, a SAG winner for Moonlight, and Patel face much-beloved actor Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, newcomer Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals.

Couch said it looks like Ali could win the trophy for Moonlight because “there’s so much good will for that movie.”

Editor’s note: For a full list of Academy Awards nominees, go to http://oscar.go.com/
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