Frontrunner Friday: La La Leads, But Could Moonlight or Manchester Still Upset?
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It’s Friday, January 13th, a scary day for some but for none more than for Oscar hopefuls as today at 5pm PST the voting closes for this year’s Academy Award nominations. This year’s voting period, extended a week from last year, fell right in the middle of the Golden Globe winners as well as BAFTA, Producers Guild and Directors Guild nominations. That gave last minute deciders a chance to possibly be swayed by any number of results. Maybe it solidified their already made decisions; maybe it exposed a chance for a favorite they thought had none. Either way, today is a big day. We’re 11 days away from Oscar nominations and here’s where things stand right now.
La La Land is still the frontrunner. It swept all seven categories it was nominated for at the Golden Globes, setting a record for most wins by any film in GG history. That level of enthusiasm can’t be undersold, even if they aren’t Academy voters. That massive sweep didn’t allow for much wealth-spreading as the Globes often do; Manchester by the Sea won for Casey Affleck, as expected, but lost Screenplay. Moonlight lost the first award of the night, Supporting Actor (which went to Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Nocturnal Animals), in what everyone thought was a pure lock, but ultimately won the night’s top award, Motion Picture – Drama. The biggest shock came near the end when Isabelle Huppert upset Natalie Portman in Best Actress – Drama. Her film, Elle, also won Foreign Language Film earlier that night (it’s not eligible for the Oscars as it didn’t make the shortlist), so it seemed like that was going to be essentially a ‘shared’ award. But no, the HFPA really went out on a limb with this win as they haven’t awarded a foreign language performance in this category since Liv Ullman in 1972’s The Emigrants. With the critics’ trifecta (NYFCC/LAFCA/NSFC) plus the Globe for Drama, there is no precedent for her not to be Oscar-nominated at this point. If she is snubbed it will be one of the most egregious in Oscar history.
The BAFTA nominations came with their own level of shocks and awes. Nocturnal Animals massively overperformed, scoring nine major nominations including Best Director for Tom Ford and Best Actor for Jake Gyllenhaal. Curiously, it missed out on the top award, Best Picture. On the flip side, the critics’ leader and Golden Globe winner Moonlight came away with just four nominations, including nothing in the technical categories and a truly shocking snub for Barry Jenkins in Best Director. That definitely hobbled the film a bit as BAFTA was the first group of potential Academy crossover since the SAG nominations last month. The film did earn Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Ali), Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris) and Original Screenplay. Manchester by the Sea did much better than some expected, earning six nominations. Could it be stronger than Moonlight in the race?
The Producers Guild and Directors Guild did two things at the same time; it showed that Lion was a huge force to be reckoned with, earning nominations with both guilds, and showed that Martin Scorsese and Silence are done. No one cares. Or no one has seen it. These guilds are massive and Paramount has, even more than they did with Selma, dropped the ball on the film’s screener game in one of the worst awards’ campaigns I’ve ever seen. A cooler head may prevail and say that ‘hey, it only takes 79 votes from the director’s branch of the Academy to get a nomination’ and yes, that’s true. But at this point, is there even any urgency to see the film or reward it? The three frontrunners: La La Land, Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea all found themselves with nominations from both guilds, no surprise there. Interestingly, with the Directors Guild, it’s the first time since 1999 that the nominees are all first-timers with the guild.
So where does that leave us? It’s still a genuine uphill battle for La La Land to overcome two major obstacles going into the Oscar race. The December release date (no film since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby has been a December release Best Picture winner) is going to be an easier one to overcome. The film hit the Venice Film Festival in the fall and then dozens more before its early December release. It’s not a film that got a Christmas Day release and then had to struggle to earn late-breaking critics’ mentions or guild nominations. That part should be fine. The real obstacle is that SAG snub. I know that people are chalking it up to the film being a ‘two-hander’ but it’s a two-hander that earned SAG nominations for those actors. And we just saw last year a movie (Beasts of No Nation) get nominated with only three principle actors – only one of which is a name. So the film missing out feels like more to me. The SAG nom comm obviously saw La La Land and liked Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling enough to nominate them and by most accounts the cast/ensemble nomination at SAG is a default Best Picture nomination. So why would it miss? No Best Picture winner has won without first being at least nominated here with the exception of Braveheart, which missed out in the very first year of this award. Both Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea hit here (as well as multiple individual acting nominations) so by default doesn’t that make them stronger films in the race?
There is a sense of…inevitability in a win for La La Land and a good chance to finally have a true sweep, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Best Picture expansion in 2009. After a devastating election from a liberal perspective, and as Meryl Streep pointed out in her Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe speech, with the feeling that Hollywood is being attacked by the right, it very well might want to protect itself and also, reward itself. Licking the wounds from the loss of such an historic election, it may be the only way Hollywood knows how to respond.
So for now, Friday the 13th, here is where I think the race stands.
1. La La Land
3. Manchester by the Sea
6. Hell or High Water
8. Hidden Figures
9. Hacksaw Ridge
1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
2. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
3. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
4. Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
5. Garth Davis, Lion
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
2. Denzel Washington, Fences
3. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
4. Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
5. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
1. Emma Stone, La La Land
2. Natalie Portman, Jackie
3. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
4. Amy Adams, Arrival
5. Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
2. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
3. Dev Patel, Lion
4. Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
5. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Viola Davis, Fences
2. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
3. Naomie Harris, Moonlight
4. Nicole Kidman, Lion
5. Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
5. Hidden Figures
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. La La Land
2. Manchester by the Sea
3. Hell or High Water
4. Captain Fantastic
5. The Lobster
For the rest of my predictions, as well as the other Gold Rush Gang members go here.