This Sunday, 2016’s film season will officially come to a close with the celebration of the talent and mastery of its artists and technicians in the 89th annual Academy Awards. As Sunday night approaches, all eyes will be on the red carpet in the early afternoon. What designers will be showcased? Will attendees make public statements through fashion like they did on the Grammy carpet? Time will only tell.
This year’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, is a safe bet that the Academy presumably made in an attempt to avoid the disappointing ratings from the past year. Kimmel is not too controversial, but his jokes are nevertheless bold, sort of like Ricky Gervais but for dads. Kimmel’s wife, Molly McNearney, who is the co-head writer for her husband’s late night television show, wrote most of his jokes for the night. In a time where the political climate has gifted comedians with a plethora of jokes, Kimmel will have no shortage of material, not to mention the potential to continue on his longstanding gag of having a feud with Matt Damon.
The Academy has a long way to go in terms of accurately demonstrating diversity in the films nominated, but they’ve made considerable steps this year in recognizing a wider array of talent than in the past. With five Black nominees in the major acting categories, the Academy has partially covered their ground, but other races like Latino and Asian are still, for the most part, excluded. Another significant flaw is that the biggest contender for all, “La La Land,” has faced more than a little controversy concerning their representation of people of color and appropriation of African-American culture, most prominently by appointing a white man to play a jazz musician.
Right now, all signs point to “La La Land” taking the win of the night, but my pick would be “Moonlight.” A poignant and aesthetically pleasing coming-of-age story of a Black, gay man in Miami, “Moonlight” is a poignant exploration of sexuality, drug addiction, and intimacy. I wouldn’t completely count out box office hit “Hidden Figures” from taking the top prize either. A star-studded (and true) account of three Black women working for NASA in the 1960s, “Hidden Figures” stands as the largest box office earner of the season’s films nominated for Best Picture. As the voting for Academy Awards drew to a close, however, a video went viral of one of the artists featured on the movie’s soundtrack calling homosexuality a sin; many critics wondered if the controversy would impact their chance of winning.
In the Best Actor category, Casey Affleck from “Manchester by the Sea” was an early favorite for the statue, but as news about his settled sexual harassment case from a different film arose, the tide seemed to turn away from his achievements in the film, thus prompting yet again another round of the “art versus artist” debate. To put it in perspective, if Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” could not be recognized for its artistic potential, then Affleck might be held to the same standard by Academy voters. This debacle has opened the race up for both Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds to snag the award. Washington’s performance in “Fences” was electrifying and most definitely the best performance of his career. If he grabs this award, it would be his fourth win, making him the first man to win an acting Academy Award more than three times. He’s my pick for the win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Affleck or Reynolds ends up taking the golden man home.
In yet another controversy that weighs creative individuals against the work they produce, conversations abound as to whether World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge,” which gained six nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, will overcome Mel Gibson’s racist and homophobic remarks throughout the years. It appears that he has been thoroughly forgiven by Hollywood, given that the Academy chose to recognize his artistry, but recognition will most likely be as far as they’ll go, especially since “La La Land’s” Damien Chazelle is primed to swipe the statue for Best Director (even though “Moonlight’s” Barry Jenkins is more deserving of the win.)
Other questionable decisions by the Academy can be found in this year’s nominees for supporting and leading actresses. Many have pointed out that Viola Davis (“Fences”) should have been placed in the leading actress category, as opposed to supporting, given that she shares a similar amount of screen time as Washington. What’s more, the dearth of supporting actress nominee Michelle Williams’ (“Manchester by the Sea”) presence in the film (she has fewer than five minutes on screen) makes it difficult to compare her work to her fellow nominees.
If it weren’t for Davis’ placement in the supporting category, Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) would be a lock for the win. Her performance tracks the unraveling of a mother as she slowly turns into a monster, conveying an incredible amount of emotion in complete silence during a pivotal scene of the movie. In the leading actress category, Emma Stone looks primed to collect the golden statue, barring a win from the decorated Meryl Strep from “Florence Foster Jenkins.” I wouldn’t count out Isabelle Huppert’s stunning and rich performance in “Elle.” At the top of the list for snubbed performances, though, Amy Adams failed to get a Best Actress nomination for her spellbinding performance in “Arrival,” which deservingly got eight nominations in other categories.
One of the major snubs of the season comes from the Original Song category, in which musical comedy-drama “Sing Street” was completely ignored. “Sing Street” revolves around an Irish boy who starts a band to impress a girl during the 1980s. Written and directed by 2007 Oscar winner John Carney, “Sing Street” features the stunning track, “Drive It Like You Stole It.” Beautifully combining the sensation of 1950s music with ’80s techno, “Drive It Like You Stole It” is a poignantly anthemic song. Likewise, Pharrell Williams lost a nomination for his original song work on “Hidden Figures” to an undeserving Justin Timberlake for a track on “Trolls.” As I am a Wesleyan student, it would be sacrilege to choose “La La Land” for the win over Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02’s ballad in “Moana.” If Miranda is able to swing this Oscar, he would become the youngest EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner in history.
The most frustrating category of nominations this year is Animated Feature. “Kubo and the Two Stings” and “Moana” deserve awards for their advancement in the technological side of animation, not to mention both of their commitments to accurate and respectful representation of characters of color. Instead, the golden statue will most likely go to “Zootopia,” despite its confusing metaphor for civil rights, prejudice, and discrimination that relies on anthropomorphic animals.
The greatest shake up of the night could actually come from the sound categories – sound editing and sound mixing. Any other year, “La La Land” would snag the award, but “Arrival” and “Hacksaw Ridge” both stand a chance, especially given that “Arrival” has already (and deservedly) received the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award (BAFTA) for Sound. The Golden Reel Sound Effects Foley and Dialogue awards were given to “Hacksaw Ridge,” while “La La Land” only received The Gold Reel Sound Editing Music in a Musical. Judging by historical statistics, “Hacksaw Ridge” will take Best Sound Editing and “Arrival” will fight for the Sound Mixing award.
Usually a category that flies under the radar is the Foreign Language Film, but the current political climate has actually managed to bring it closer to the spotlight, in addition to swaying voting toward an Iranian-French film called “The Salesman.” As of a week ago, polling had “Toni Erdmann” leading the race, but after Iranian Director Asghar Farhadi failed to obtain a visa—and therefore attend the Oscar ceremony—due to Trump’s executive order, his film came further into the forefront. Given the majority of Hollywood’s vocal disdain for the sitting President, politics may pick the winner for this category.
At the close of the night, the stars—losers and winners—will all gather at the Oscars’ official after-party, The Governors Ball. This is where the winners go to engrave their gold-man statues, mingle with peers, and eat the finest food around. For the past 23 years, Wolfgang Puck heads the food department of the party and this year will be no different. The presentation of food will demonstrate a casual, party feel complete with chocolate award replicas, meaning everyone can walk away with an Oscar even if they didn’t win.