La La Land has been nominated in 14 categories at the 2017 Academy Awards and will have to win 12 to become the most decorated film of all time.
Will the front-runner be able to cross the finish line to make history? One critic offers his predictions of who will win each statuette:
Best Picture: La La Land
Damien Chazelle’s musical valentine has been the front-runner for months and Oscar voters have a long history of rewarding films that celebrate the razzle dazzle of the creative process on stage and screen (Shakespeare In Love, The Artist, Argo, Birdman). Any other year, the exquisite Moonlight would win the top prize, but in the current political climate, the feelgood glow of La La Land is the perfect tonic.
Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
The jaw-dropping opening sequence to La La Land, captured in three takes on a traffic-jammed Los Angeles highway and seamlessly stitched together to resemble a single fluid movement, is worthy of the golden statuette alone. Damien’s previous film Whiplash was a tour-de-force of sweat-drenched directorial brio but his latest tops it with a flourish.
Best Actor In A Leading Role: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
Casey delivered the performance of the year by any actor and deserves the Oscar by merit, but he isn’t the most charismatic person delivering a thank-you speech and his past has come back to haunt him. Denzel Washington is snapping at his heels for his barnstorming work in Fences and Oscar voters might be tempted to make history, 12 months after the #OscarSoWhite diversity row, by rewarding three African-American actors in the same year.
Best Actress In A Leading Role: Emma Stone, La La Land
Natalie Portman’s embodiment of Jacqueline Kennedy is truly haunting but Emma Stone’s heartbreaking turn as an aspiring actress, who sheds tears for her craft, beautifully reflects all of the crushed hopes of those Oscar voters, who have had to endure the soul-destroying audition process to pay the rent. Her solo musical number, Audition (The Fools Who Dream), delivers one of the film’s emotional sucker punches.
Best Actor In A Supporting Role: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Mahershala’s portrayal of a Miami drug dealer with a heart of gold in Moonlight may not be the showiest performance in the category – witness Jeff Bridges’s scene-stealing work in Hell Or High Water – but it is a memorable portrayal of surrogate fatherhood that effortlessly upends stereotypes and would ensure Moonlight walks away with one of the evening’s top prizes.
Best Actress In A Supporting Role: Viola Davis, Fences
Viola will finally get her hands on an Oscar, after nominations for Doubt and The Help, for her dazzling verbal fireworks in Fences opposite Denzel Washington. She’s committing category fraud by passing herself off as a Supporting Actress – she’s clearly the leading female in the picture and the narrative puts her embattled wife centre stage – so her fellow nominees really don’t stand a chance.
Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s script to Manchester By The Sea, his haunting portrait of a thirty-something son wrestling with years of guilt and grief, is an embarrassment of riches for the ensemble cast. Their work is recognised in three of the acting categories (Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges) but it is the beautifully crafted dialogue which ultimately deserves the plaudits for laying bare the characters’ suffering with unvarnished honesty.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Barry Jenkins would become the first African-American man to win the Best Director prize if he emerged victorious for Moonlight, but Damien Chazelle will beat him to that statuette so the Florida-born filmmaker should be rewarded instead for his extraordinary work adapting Tarell Alvin McCrane’s stage play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue into a deeply moving coming-of-age story.
Best Animated Feature Film: Zootopia, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore
This season, consider the "Best Reviewed Animated Film of the Year" (Rotten Tomatoes) & winner of over 25 awards for Best Animated Feature. pic.twitter.com/GKNMi226sA— Zootopia (@DisneyZootopia) February 16, 2017
Stop-motion experts Laika have yet to win an Oscar and their latest picture, Kubo And The Two Strings, is undoubtedly their best. However, the bitter taste of a divisive US presidential election still lingers in the mouth and the smart message of tolerance and inclusion – regardless of paw, hoof or claw – of Disney’s Zootopia (entitled Zootropolis on this side of the Atlantic) is timely. It’s also a cracking crime thriller blessed with stunning visuals.
Best Foreign Language Film: Toni Erdmann (Germany), directed by Maren Ade
There’s a concerted campaign to reward Asghar Farhadi’s drama The Salesman to make a political statement about Donald Trump’s controversial ban on Muslims entering the US, which would prevent the Iranian director from attending. However, it’s not the strongest film in the line-up by a long way: that honour goes to Maren Ade’s hysterical comedy Toni Erdmann, which is being primed for a Hollywood remake starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig.