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Predicting Oscar: Any way you slice it, we’re bound for ‘La La Land’

For the past five years, my Spokane Public Radio co-host Dan Webster and I have written about the Academy Awards, predicting what films will win big and naming who we’d vote for were ballots provided to us. During that time, we’ve each made 30 individual predictions in the six main categories, and we’ve both correctly chosen 23. Perhaps one of us will pull ahead this time.

Dan and I butted heads a few times during the past 12 months – I still can’t believe he recommended the forgettable Bryan Cranston vehicle “The Infiltrator,” and he’s completely flummoxed about my love for “The Lobster” – but we tend to agree more often than not. And in selecting the potential winners of this year’s Oscars, there’s not much divisiveness between us.

So don’t expect too many knock-down-drag-out fights between us this year, but don’t be surprised if the academy makes a few out-of-left-field choices on Sunday.

– Nathan Weinbender

Best supporting actor

Nominees: Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”), Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”), Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”), Dev Patel (“Lion”), Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”)

NW: This is one of the more inspired categories of the evening (props to the Academy for remembering Shannon’s weird, wonderful work), but it’s still a no-brainer for me. As far as I’m concerned, Ali turned in the performance of the year, bringing a tremendous amount of warmth and a sense of gravitas to a character that could have easily become a stereotype in the hands of a lesser actor. I wasn’t familiar with Ali when I saw “Moonlight,” but he’s got my attention now.

Who I’d vote for: Mahershala Ali

Who will win: Mahershala Ali

DW: I love how the Academy manipulates its own rules to set these categories in a certain order. Patel is the central character in “Lion,” but he’s a supporting actor? Say, what? That protest aside, I agree with my learned colleague, Nathan. This award belongs to Screen Actors Guild winner Ali.

Who I’d vote for: Mahershala Ali

Who will win: Mahershala Ali

Best supporting actress

Nominees: Viola Davis (“Fences”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”), Nicole Kidman (“Lion”), Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”), Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea”)

NW: Davis is going to win this one, even though, like Patel, she truly belongs in the lead actress category. If I had my way, she’d already have a couple of Academy Awards (for “Doubt” and “The Help”), so I’m going to give my vote this year to Williams. Hers is the true definition of a great supporting performance: She’s only onscreen for a few minutes, and yet her presence hangs over the whole film.

Who I’d vote for: Michelle Williams

Who will win: Viola Davis

DW: If her role had been a bit bigger, I might have voted for Harris here. And, yes, again I agree with Nathan: In a single scene, Williams provides “Manchester by the Sea” the cathartic moment that director Kenneth Lonergan otherwise avoids. But Davis is the queen here, her moment in “Fences” perfectly encapsulating her character’s sense of pain, angst and betrayal.

Who I’d vote for: Viola Davis

Who will win: Viola Davis

Best actor

Nominees: Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”), Denzel Washington (“Fences”)

NW: Affleck had this one in the bag until Washington snagged the SAG award for best actor (perhaps the bad press surrounding Affleck hurt his chances). It’s now between the two of them, which is interesting: They both play fathers hampered by regret and loss, but Washington’s character projects his emotions while Affleck’s buries his. I’ll give the edge to Affleck, mainly because the power of “Manchester by the Sea” is impossible to ignore.

Who I’d vote for: Casey Affleck

Who will win: Casey Affleck

DW: This is a tough one. Affleck delivers a master class in understated naturalism, Washington a stage-to-screen portrait in actorly power. Going by the awards momentum, it would seem to be a tie: Affleck won the Golden Globe, while two-time Oscar winner Washington won the SAG Award. Yet for a variety of factors, the edge likely belongs to Washington.

Who I’d vote for: Denzel Washington (by a coin flip)

Who will win: Denzel Washington

Best actress

Nominees: Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), Ruth Negga (“Loving”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Emma Stone (“La La Land”), Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”)

NW: This is easily the most competitive category in a year that provided plenty of juicy roles for women. There are a number of actresses (Annette Bening, Amy Adams, Hailee Steinfeld, Taraji P. Henson) who could have taken the place of any of these five nominees, but the race appears to be a dead heat between Stone and Portman. Stone, I think, has the edge right now, but I would love to see long shot Huppert win this one. She’s one of the best, most fearless actresses working today, and her turn in “Elle” is something to behold.

Who I’d vote for: Isabelle Huppert

Who will win: Emma Stone

DW: Huppert is a critic’s darling, and superlative reviews are her reward. Negga is too new a face, and Streep – well, she’s been here before. That leaves a previous winner, Portman, and one of the new breed, Stone, with her second nomination. Stone won the Golden Globe and SAG Award, so she should win here. And for the third time, I agree with Nathan: Either Bening or Adams could have taken Streep’s place.

Who I’d vote for: Amy Adams (because she should have been nominated)

Who will win: Emma Stone

Best director

Nominees: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”), Mel Gibson (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”), Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”)

NW: This category usually allows for a surprise or two, but these are pretty predictable choices. (OK, so maybe Mel Gibson’s inclusion is a bit of a head scratcher. They couldn’t have nominated Martin Scorsese, Paul Verhoeven or Pablo Larraín instead?) Anyway, Chazelle will win this one: He took home the DGA award, which is a sure bet he’ll also take home an Oscar. But Jenkins gets my vote. He made my favorite film of 2016, and much of its impact comes from how confidently and artfully he directs it.

Who I’d vote for: Barry Jenkins

Who will win: Damien Chazelle

DW: Times sure have changed (and not always for the better). Stanley Donen wasn’t even nominated for having directed one of the greatest musicals of them all, 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain.” Yet these 65 years later, not only was Chazelle nominated, he’s the odds-on favorite to win. His “La La Land” is a perfect blend of the modern (a bittersweet romance) and the fanciful (an I-love-the-movies fantasy). Yet my personal favorite? Denis Villeneuve, for taking an obscure science-fiction short story and creating a haunting feature film.

Who I’d vote for: Denis Villeneuve

Who will win: Damien Chazelle

Best picture

Nominees:“Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight”

NW: Of the nine nominees (cue Webster complaining about that odd number – he does it every year), five showed up on my year-end top 10, so I’d say this is a solid list. Since you already know what I’d vote for, allow me to heap more praise upon “Arrival,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hell or High Water,” which would all be deserving winners. “La La Land” appears to be the frontrunner, scoring a whopping 14 noms, though don’t be surprised if all that la-la-love curdles into backlash.

What I’d vote for: “Moonlight”

What will win: “La La Land”

DW: Five of the nine (what’s with the odd number, anyway?) nominees in this category made my top 10 films of 2016 list. I put “Moonlight” at the top for a number of reasons, among them the film’s sterling production values, its superb ensemble of actors both new and veteran, and its provocative themes. And if it were up to me, I’d hand it the Oscar personally. But Hollywood? So hard to predict. Remember “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain”? Remember “Spotlight” over “The Revenant”? So, for the final time, I’ll admit that Nathan is correct: “La La Land” is likely to win, but …

What I’d vote for: “Moonlight”

What will win: “La La Land”


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