Best Picture Race: Gut Check Time – What Can Derail La La Land?

Best Picture Race: Gut Check Time – What Can Derail La La Land?

ARRIVAL

If this were the Daniel Cohen Academy Awards, Arrival would be my choice to win. This is the best movie of 2016. It’s the type of science fiction we dream of getting every year.  There are no lasers. No phasers. No killer artificial intelligence. Just good ole fashion thought provoking Sci-Fi! It’s glorious. It’s almost as if somebody took the first act of Independence Day before they attack and made it ten times smarter.

Amy Adams gives arguably the performance of her career, and carries the mantle of being the only legit snub this year.  Science Fiction is usually a tough road to conquer at the Oscars. While Denis Villeneuve’s directing nod gives it a chance more than most, it’s not going to happen.  I’m hoping for a surprise win in Best Adapted Screenplay, but that’s doubtful.  There’s definitely a chance Arrival could go home empty handed if it doesn’t sneak a technical award.  Science Fiction: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? Yes



FENCES

I’ll keep this short: Great performances, decent movie. That’s pretty much it. While the acting is off the charts (and not just from Denzel and Viola), it’s messy in terms of direction.  I understand it’s a play, but it plays too much like one on film.  While it could garner two acting awards, that’s where it ends.

Chances of Winning: Low

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? I’m on the “fence,” but it’s barely worthy.  Yes



HACKSAW RIDGE

I’ve noticed a trend recently.  Anytime the Oscars come up, I always see a comment akin to this: “Hacksaw Ridge is awesome.”  People LOVE this movie, and for good reason.  When you think of what social media is like today, and the hell storm that was Mel Gibson a few years ago, I’m surprised very few have expressed any kind of outrage at the accolades this film, and Gibson himself, have been receiving. Nothing. Zip. That’s incredible.

I said it in my Fall Preview article that this film needed to be the greatest movie ever made to be considered for any kind of major awards. While it’s not that, it’s pretty damn good.  While the Gibson factor is still going to keep it from winning, the nominations speak to how good the movie is. If there was no Gibson baggage, this film would have a legitimate chance to claim Best Picture. For now, Hacksaw Ridge is merely a stepping stone in Gibson’s continued quest to be a powerhouse once again.

Chances of Winning: Low

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? Yes



HELL OR HIGH WATER

For a movie that has been a staple all throughout awards season, it’s going quietly under the radar. In all likelihood, Hell or High Water will be shutout, unless Jeff Bridges can pull off a miracle upset. Hell or High Water is nominated because it’s flawlessly made in every aspect of filmmaking. The problem is it never really wows you, and that will ultimately be the film’s undoing.

Chances of Winning: Low

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? Yes


 

HIDDEN FIGURES

I’ve seen predictions where people have this film as a potential dark horse.  This is more a symptom of people willing that into existence. It’s not reality. I get it. Hidden Figures is very important subject matter, and it’s definitely a story I’m glad got told. It’s also currently the highest grossing film out of any of the Best Picture nominees (domestically). That’s great. Once again though, as a movie, it’s fine. While the acting is elite, it feels very much like a TV movie. A very good TV movie, but a TV movie nonetheless. It’s a vanilla script. It has big moments, but when compared to the wow factor of the other nominated films, it’s low on the list. Hidden Figures is going to get shut out, and it will be what everybody complains about come Monday morning. Get ready.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? No



LA LA LAND

The real question shouldn’t be whether or not La La Land will win Best Picture, but will it break the all-time wins record for Oscars? It would have to break the three-way tie of 11 held by Ben-HurTitanic and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It’s got a shot. What can I possibly say about La La Land that hasn’t been said already? I love this film. I really do. While Arrival may be my favorite film of the year, this is right behind it.  What really irritates me is the backlash the film is getting right now. I expected the typical “it’s shoved in my face” complaints, but the “Oh, it’s just Hollywood loving itself” crap is really pissing me off.

Yes, it’s called La La Land, but if you actually pay attention to the movie, it takes several shots at the current Hollywood system.  And even though it’s about an actress trying to make it in Hollywood, the specific themes go much deeper than that. That’s just plot. It’s about the obsessive drive a person has in reaching an unlikely goal without compromising their integrity.  It’s about the sacrifices that inevitably come with reaching the pinnacle of your profession. You can replace acting with anything.  The Hollywood aspect is just the vehicle that gets them there.

Here’s the bottom-line: If this movie didn’t get the praise and adulation that it’s been getting, you would all be treating it like Sing Street right now.  It got 14 nominations for a reason.  See it for yourself and find out why.

Chances of Winning: High

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? Yes


 

LION

The subject matter is ripe picking for a great movie, which is why I ultimately left disappointed.  The first act is outstanding, focusing entirely on the young Saroo right after he’s separated from his brother. That’s where the film is most compelling. Once we meet adult Saroo (Dev Patel), the film is completely uninteresting. Saroo just looks mildly frustrated while he stares at maps. Patel performs admirably, but the script gives him nothing. I should be emotionally invested like hell for this guy, but I barely care. That’s a huge failing on both script and direction. The film is also cluttered with subplots and characters that are completely unnecessary. I understand it’s based on a true story, but this is where you need to do some better adapting. Aside from Nicole Kidman’s heart-wrenching performance, nothing about this film grabs me. As far as its Oscar chances go, the film has gained some traction, but Garth Davis not getting a directing nod seals its fate.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? No


 

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Maybe it’s because everybody said it was going to win seven months ago, but there’s something about this movie that has rubbed people the wrong way. Despite all that, it still has a legitimate chance to win this award. It’s just too damn powerful to ignore. In the same vein that everyone overrated Sylvester Stallone’s chances to win last year for Creed, people may be predicting with their hearts on this one, assuming it will be a loser come Oscar night.  If it does indeed win Best Original Screenplay, get your upset antennas up.  While it’s in third position, people are dismissing this movie WAY too easily.  I’m telling you right now – don’t be shocked if this wins Best Picture.

Chances of Winning: High

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? Yes


 

MOONLIGHT

While Manchester by the Sea shouldn’t be discounted, Moonlight clearly has the best chance to dethrone La La Land.  This is no doubt a very powerful, personal film that will sway a lot of votes. Having said that, Moonlight has the opposite problem Manchester by the Sea has.  People may be thinking with their hearts, not their heads in trying to will this win into existence.  I’m not sure it has the juice to take down the mammoth beast that is La La Land.  At the end of the day, voters will probably give it Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, but that’s it.  We saw a non-epic win last year (Spotlight), which is rare at the Oscars.  I’m not sure that’s going to happen two years in a row.  If Moonlight does win, I’m sure the La La Land haters can’t wait to shove it in your face.  We’ll see what happens as all will be decided soon enough.

Chances of Winning: High

Is it Worthy of Best Picture? Yes

Want to know the rest of our predictions, check out our annual Oscar podcast!

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.