Arts & Culture

Oscars promise something new this year: excitement

Ryan Gosling as Sebastian and Emma Stone as Mia in a scene from the movie “La La Land,” which was nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars.
Ryan Gosling as Sebastian and Emma Stone as Mia in a scene from the movie “La La Land,” which was nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars. TNS

You’d think people would be happy about this year’s batch of Oscar nominees. After all, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences really showed its whiteness last year by shutting out filmmakers and actors of color. The major lack of diversity launched the now-notorious #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, made several African-American entertainers boycott the ceremonies and prompted last year’s host – poor Chris Rock – to basically devote his whole Oscar monologue to trying not to irk the Hollywood community while also pointing out, yeah, you guys can be racist too!

But, this year, they’ve learned their lesson. All of the major nominees are peppered with people with color. Three of the films nominated for Best Picture (“Hidden Figures,” “Fences” and “Moonlight”) feature predominantly black casts. There is also one movie, “Lion,” featuring actors and characters of Indian descent. Some African-American nominees are considered a shoo-in to win awards. Viola Davis (“Fences”) is a no-brainer for Best Supporting Actress, while Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) has been charming enough people to make his Best Supporting Actor win a given.

But since this is the Oscars, some people still gotta be mad about something.

The big offender this year is “La La Land,” director Damien Chazelle’s musical romance starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as stardom-seeking Angelenos in love. As adorable as that sounds, the movie (which has 14 nominations, tying with “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for the most in Oscar history) has also been the subject of hot-take think pieces and nasty divisiveness amongst critics and cinephiles. While the lovers are apparently raking people over the coals for not being as over-the-moon about it as they are (“Saturday Night Live” even did a sketch recently about the movie’s rabid fanbase), the haters are mostly condemning it for its overwhelming whiteness, even slamming Gosling’s piano-playing protagonist for being a “white savior” because he wants to save jazz.

“Land” has been heavily predicted to take the Best Picture Oscar – mainly because detractors feel it’s a sort of self-congratulatory lovefest. Besides, in the past few weeks alone, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and Adele’s “25” took Album of the Year over Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” So, you can see why people are expecting the Oscars to be all-white.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some upsets. Even if they don’t come, I’m just happy a lot of the movies and performances I liked last year actually got nominated for Oscars. It looks like those 683 new members the Academy welcomed last summer – 46 percent of them women and 41 percent people of color – are finally making the Oscars something it hasn’t been in years: exciting.

Here are my predictions for who will win, as well as who/what should win and who/what would’ve/could’ve/should’ve gotten a nod.

Best Picture

“Arrival”

“Fences”

“Hacksaw Ridge”

“Hell or High Water”

“Hidden Figures”

“La La Land”

“Lion”

“Manchester by the Sea”

“Moonlight”

Will win: Everybody thinks “Land” is a lock, but I think the Academy will go for “Moonlight,” especially if they don’t want another #OscarsSoWhite backlash on their hands.

Should win: Since this is a year where several of the movies on my 10-best list got nominated, I wouldn’t mind if “Fences,” “Hell,” “Manchester,” “Moonlight” or – yes! – “Land” got the trophy.

Woulda/coulda/shoulda: The Academy did give the cold shoulder to “Silence,” “Paterson” and “Aquarius,” my choice for best foreign film of 2016. And when are they gonna let documentaries into this category? Best Documentary nominees “I Am Not Your Negro” and “O.J.: Made in America” were two of the best movies I saw last year.

Best actor

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”

Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”

Denzel Washington, Fences

Will win: Washington. “Fences” was basically his master class.

Should win: Affleck turned in a great performance. Unfortunately, those sexual-harassment charges still hang heavy over his head.

Woulda/coulda/shoulda: Oscar golden boy Tom Hanks did real-life hero “Sully” Sullenberger proud in “Sully,” while Adam Driver made a winning, working-class romantic in “Paterson.” And am I the only one who thinks Gosling should’ve been nominated instead for his comic tour-de-force as a buffoonish detective in “The Nice Guys”?

Best actress

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”

Ruth Negga, “Loving”

Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Emma Stone, “La La Land”

Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Will win: Stone. She was too dang darling in “Land.”

Should win: Stone, with Huppert – another fiery-haired hellion – coming in a close second.

Woulda/coulda/shoulda: Sonia Braga (“Aquarius”) and Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”) each gave wonderful performances as aging, boho nonconformists. But, seriously, why wasn’t Viola Davis nominated for Best Actress instead of Best Supporting Actress for her knockout “Fences” performance?

Best supporting actor

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Will win: Ali. His SAG Awards speech practically cinched it.

Should win: Shannon is long-overdue for an Oscar, but I still wouldn’t be mad if Ali won it.

Woulda/coulda/shoulda: What about Liam Neeson’s defeated priest in “Silence,” Aiden Ehrenreich’s crafty cowboy star in “Hail, Caesar!” or Hayden Szeto’s awkward but artful teen in “The Edge of Seventeen”?

Best supporting actress

Viola Davis, “Fences”

Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”

Nicole Kidman, “Lion”

Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Will win: Davis. End of story.

Should win: If Davis wasn’t in this category, it would be Williams all day.

Woulda/coulda/shoulda: Lily Gladstone was heartbreaking as lovesick ranch hand in “Certain Women,” while Janelle Monae was rousing as a budding NASA engineer in “Hidden Figures.” And I would’ve loved to have seen either Elle Fanning or Greta Gerwig get nods for their complex turns in “20th Century Women.”

Best director

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”

Will win: Since “Moonlight” will get Best Picture, Chazelle is just gonna have to be happy with a Best Director statuette.

Should win: You have to admit Chazelle directed the hell outta that movie.

Woulda/coulda/shoulda: Clint Eastwood (“Sully”), Martin Scorsese (“Silence”) and Joel & Ethan Coen (“Hail, Caesar!”) did some award-caliber work last year. But I guess the Academy figured since they already have Best Director Oscars, let’s give some new kids – and Mel Gibson – a shot.

Watching the show

The show airs at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. Can’t get to a TV but don’t want to miss it? The ceremony – and the red carpet coverage beforehand – will be streamed online in the Raleigh-Durham market at abc.com and on the ABC app. You’ll need to sign in with a cable or satellite account. Coverage begins at 7 p.m., the show at 8:30 p.m.

Oscar.com will have backstage and red-carpet coverage, starting at 7 p.m. The stream continues once the ceremony begins, but what’s on stage will be only on ABC. It’s free, with no cable or satellite account required.

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