There’s a little over 24 hours left for Academy members to submit their final votes for the 89th Academy Awards. Frankly, though, most members have already voted and a small percentage (likely a very small percentage) are waiting until the last minute. In many ways what’s done is done even though the grumbling about “La La Land” seems to have reached something of a crescendo and perhaps weeks too late.
At this point there’s nothing stopping Damien Chazelle’s hit movie musical from taking Hollywood’s most prized possession, Best Picture. It’s won the Globe, the BAFTA, the PGA Award and Chazelle won the DGA last weekend. It lost the SAG Ensemble honor to “Hidden Figures,” but it wasn’t nominated so that’s something of a guild indicating outlier. “La La Land” also tied “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for the most nominations by a single film with 14 nods, quite a historic achievement. Both those pictures easily took home Oscar’s top prize. And, yet, there is grumbling.
Over the past few days alone longtime Academy member Samuel L. Jackson said he stopped watching it 20 minutes in and member Mark Duplass gave an impassioned plea for The Academy to vote for “Moonlight.” Those public sentiments likely came too far in the voting process for any real impact. That being said there has been a lot of talk and hope about an organic movement to coalesce behind “Hidden Figures” as Best Picture.
20th Century Fox’s surprise nominee has actually grossed more at the box office than “La La Land” ($144 million vs. $134 million) and its inspirational true story has become a cultural touchstone for young girls and women across the country. Fox has gotten behind the film and pushed its candidacy as much as you can during phase two. Studios are limited during this period however. You can only do four official screenings, special events are limited and there are no other guild honors to hide your campaigning in (it’s one reason consultants often say you have to win in phase one). Also, like “Moonlight,” ‘Figures’ was unable to get any BAFTA boost although you can debate how much attention the vast majority of Academy members pay attention to BAFTA results anyway (even with the crossover in membership). It did have that surprise Ensemble win over “Fences” and “Manchester by the Sea” at SAG, however, and for those searching for an alternative to “La La Land” it’s likely the only true upset contender.
This is a familiar tale, however. Whenever there is a long standing frontrunner the industry (not even the media, but the town itself) tries to tear it down and find a more worthy candidate. Last year it was “The Big Short” instead of “Spotlight.” In 2012 it was “Hugo” instead of “The Artist.” In 2011 it was “The Social Network” over “The King’s Speech.” In 2003 it was “The Pianist” or even “Gangs of New York” over “Chicago.” A shocking upset rarely happens though. There are tight races (“12 Years a Slave” vs. “Gravity,” “Birdman” vs. “Boyhood,” “Braveheart” vs. “Apollo 13″), but a jaw-dropping winner? Not in this age.
(Then again, after the past 18 months anything has to be possible right?)
Here are four other topics Hollywood and award season insiders are buzzing about as voting comes to an end.
Denzel vs. Casey
Is it too close to call or is it an easy win either way? No major acting race will be more dramatic than “Fences’” Denzel Washington vs. “Manchester by the Sea”’s Casey Affleck for Best Actor. Affleck took the Golden Globe over Washington, but won a BAFTA field that didn’t nominate the two-time Oscar winner. Washington beat Affleck for the SAG honor (prompting a “wow” response from Affleck when the winner was announced). It’s actually been 13 years since the SAG winner didn’t go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor when Johnny Depp won the SAG for “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Sean Penn took the Academy Award for “Mystic River.” And that’s only the third time it’s happened in 22 years. So, it’s gotta be Denzel’s right? Right?
Mahershala vs. Dev
Best Supporting Actor is another story. This is a category that has some recent and surprising upsets from Alan Arkin over Eddie Murphy to Mark Rylance over Sylvester Stallone just 12 months ago. It’s mostly due to the nominees being markedly different between the two organizations, but SAG has crowned a different winner in Supporting Actor eight out of 22 years. Mahershala Ali won the SAG and Golden Globe for “Moonlight,” but Dev Patel took the BAFTA for “Lion.” The Academy nominated “Lion” for six Oscars. Is this the only category they can reasonably reward it in? Or is Mahershala winning more inevitable than people might think?
Best Song Split?
Since “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from “The Lion King” won Best Original Song in 1995* there have been four pictures that earned multiple nominations in this category. Both “Dreamgirls” and “Enchanted” earned two while “The Princess and the Frong” and “Dreamgirls” took three. None of those popular film’s nominated songs won, however. So while many are expecting “La La Land”’s “City of Stars” to take the Oscar there are some who believe ‘Stars’ may split the vote with it’s fellow nominee “Audition” allowing either Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” from “Trolls” (a massive billboard hit) or Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana” to upset. It’s definitely not out of the question, but probably unlikely since the category may be super split to begin with. Moreover, the fact the names of each songwriter are not listed on the ballot that means Timberlake and Miranda’s name recognition won’t help them much. The Oscars haven’t seen this competitive a Best Song field in quite awhile, but if they love “La La Land” that much how can one of its songs not take the prize?
*Update: Completely forgot about the two songs from “Slumdog Millionaire” that were nominated in 2009. “Jai Ho” won, but there were only three nominees that year. Again, major faux pas on my end.
Where can ‘La La Land’ lose?
We’ve already discussed Best Original Song and Best Actor, but where else can “La La Land”… lose? It “likely” (and there is a big asterisk next to it) won’t win Original Screenplay (please dear god), there is a good shot it misses out with Costumes and it would be shocking if it took both sound categories although many musicals have won Sound Mixing including “Dreamgirls,” “West Side Story” and, most recently, “Les Miserables.” But, Sound Editing as well? If that happens ‘La La’ might make history and win all 14 it’s nominated for. Wowzers.
Will five Best Picture nominees really go home empty handed?
Since the Best Picture field expanded in 2010 there have been multiple years where more than one nominated film has gone home without winning an Oscar in any category. It’s sort of inevitable. The Academy has typically spread the wealth this decade and there has only been one year, however, where the Academy picked a few favorites. In 2014, five films went home without a statue: “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,””Nebraska,” “Philomena” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Ironically, the next year every single nominee (eight of them) won at least one award. There have been two other years where four films were shafted, 2011 and 2012. Because of “La La Land”’s expected dominance there are potentially four films that could leave the Dolby Theater extremely disappointed: “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “Arrival,” “Hell or High Water” and with a massive “La La Land” sweep even “Manchester by the Sea” or “Hacksaw Ridge” could be left out. At this point, only “Fences” and “Moonlight” feel safe and that’s because they have nominations in categories “La La Land” didn’t earn a nod in.
Look for Final Predictions by the end of the week, but here are my current predictions including the Short categories.
Gregory Ellwood’s Current Oscar Predictions:
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Animated Feature Film
Foreign Language Film
Makeup and Hairstyling
Live Action Short