“While it would be an exaggeration to categorize all this sound and fury about something signifying next-to-nothing ’fun,’ at the very least the hubbub this Oscar year offers welcome respite from the grinding monotony of the presidential race.” So ended the introduction to our Oscar nomination predictions last year. And so ends our collective cautious optimism. Not even Alyssa Edwards’s clicking tongue could summon an exclamation point sharper than the one we now feel reflecting upon the actual stakes of real life amid frivolous, self-congratulating luxury. Unlike we felt when all anyone cared about was getting an Oscar into Leonardo DiCaprio’s hands. Well, we care about a lot more things this year, and so will the Academy. Which means: Expect a lot more films in the Spotlight vein to be nominated, and a lot fewer like Mad Max: Fury Road, with one frivolous exception to the rule that’s going to clearly sing and dance its way to all the wins next month. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here are our best bets to get past the first heat and maybe earn a few nasty tweets from our future POTUS.
La La Land will be nominated.
Those hyperbolically obsessed with identity politics this year, on either side of the debate, can breathe easy that the two films most frantically drawn into the conversation this awards season are mortal locks for nominations. They are Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, which ticks off every single marginalized checkbox every other film in the hunt this year doesn’t have to, and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. Some people have decided, because it features a straight, white male protagonist, that Manchester by the Sea just ain’t woke enough, but the many encomiums should win out.
And now everyone will get to react to another month’s worth of fresh hot takes in much the same manner as Amy Adams does to all those inky ringworm dispatches in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. That film, too, is all but assured a nomination. Even though Oscar has shown a tad more resistance to the burgeoning I Fucking Love Science subgenre than IMDb traditionally has, a film which argues so calmly on behalf of global cooperation and collective betterment feels now like the most imaginative kind of sci-fi.
If we were still in a five-deep best picture epoch (or, as we imagine many of the same demographic who were recently purged from the AMPAS would tag it, the special snowflake period), it would be pretty easy to wrap this up by noting the perfectly timed box-office success of Theodore Melfi’s historically corrective NASA drama Hidden Figures. And to point out, as many others already have, that virtually all things the film valorizes—women, minorities, math, and facts—are the same things our future president systemically rejects. All of this housed within a period piece that allows progressives to queasily bask in the afterglow of the Obama years one last time.
Having only five slots would at least allow us to avoid having to wrestle with the guild over-performance of Tim Miller’s blunt, dazzling, and dumb Deadpool, arguably the first Trump-era blockbuster. But its cheerful anti-P.C. attitude suggests nothing so much as Marvel’s Gran Torino, and neither straight superhero flicks nor Clint Eastwood’s zeitgeist curiosity have moved Oscar’s needle much. There just aren’t enough dirtbag lefties in Hollywood.
Instead, with the exception of Tom Ford’s pulp trashterpiece Nocturnal Animals filling what we’ll just call the Black Swan slot, expect the rest of the slate to be filled with the sort of solemn cinematic kale that will help ensure La La Land’s position as the industry’s feel-good tonic for all that ails us.
Damien Chazelle will be nominated.
And, as with best picture, so will Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve, a director whose highly ornamental sensibility probably got him yay close at least once or twice before but now benefits from a script that doesn’t force him to feel as though he’s trying to transcend or, worse, rarify material that would be better served up in a more lurid way.
Like the aforementioned three, Kenneth Lonergan does have a DGA nomination in the bag, but we can’t take his impending nomination as a given. Manchester by the Sea’s direction is precise but comparatively invisible, and even the film’s fans probably regard it as more of an actors’ and writers’ triumph. If he can survive the perceptible cooling off surrounding Jackie, Pablo Larraín’s relentless, self-serving stylism stands a good shot at usurping Lonergan or, more likely, fellow DGA honoree Garth Davis (Lion).
Still, we’re betting on the combination of Martin Scorsese’s status as a living legend, the P.R. reminders that Silence was the one, true passion project in the auteur’s career (we’ve heard that before), and the now-expected late release all but ensuring Oscar voters are the only ones who will get to see it before ballots are due. If Bennett Miller can snare a nod for a best picture non-nominee in this expanded slate era, Scorsese can.