This weekend, the 89th Academy Awards will take place in Hollywood, and film fans everywhere will be watching to aggressively root for films as if they were football teams. Truth be told, it’s difficult to whip up much enthusiasm for this year’s ceremony. Not because the films aren’t interesting — many of them are great. But 2017 is off to a very rocky start as far as real-world events go, and a glitzy award ceremony likely won’t do much to distract us from the existential horror that is the modern world. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give it the old college try! I’ve gone ahead and broken down the major Oscar categories this year, and attempted to both predict who the winners would be while also highlighting who I think truly deserves the award in question. Let’s dive in, shall we? Don’t forget to tell me how wrong I am in the comments below!
Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali
Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali
This feels like the biggest no-brainer award of the night. Mahershala Ali’s performance in Barry Jenkins’ absolutely stunning Moonlight is brilliant, captivating, and truly deserving of the Oscar. There were other great performances in this category: Michael Shannon is predictably wonderful in Nocturnal Animals and Lucas Hedges is quite good in Manchester by the Sea. But this is Ali’s year, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t take home the award.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
WILL WIN: Viola Davis
SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis
Michelle Williams’ screentime in Manchester by the Sea may be brief, but in her one truly big scene her work is emotionally devastating. The same can be said of Naomie Harris, who has a bigger part in Moonlight but gives an equally raw, emotionally wrought performance. But this award absolutely belongs to Viola Davis. Let’s get this out of the way: Davis should really be up for Lead instead of Supporting. But once we put that aside, it’s almost impossible to deny how breathtaking her performance is. Yes, Davis has a huge, tear-stained moment that will knock your socks off, but she also shines in Fences’ quieter, more subdued moments. The simple fact is, Viola Davis is one of the best actresses working today, and don’t be surprised when she takes home this award.
Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences
WILL WIN: Denzel Washington
SHOULD WIN: Casey Affleck (?)
This is a slightly difficult category, mostly due to personal reasons. Casey Affleck’s performance as the haunted, emotionally damaged Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea is, without question, incredible. It really is the best male performance of the year, and a testament to Affleck’s ability as an actor. That said, it’s become almost impossible to support Affleck in light of truly reprehensible sexual harassment and verbal abuse charges from his past. Earlier in the year I would’ve said Affleck was a shoe-in to win for sure, but it feels like the tide has shifted. Which means Denzel Washington is the likely winner. Let me just state that this isn’t a case of a runner-up prize: Washington’s performance in Fences is towering and fierce, and the actor taking home the award would be much deserved.
Actress in a Leading Role
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
WILL WIN: Emma Stone
SHOULD WIN: Natalie Portman
This is one of the categories where I wish they could just hand every nominee an award and call it a night. Well, almost every nominee: Meryl Streep absolutely should not be nominated. There is no question that Streep is one of our best performers, and deserves all the praise and accolades she’s received over the years. But this is not a performance that deserved a nod, especially when Amy Adams’ subdued, excellent work in Arrival went unnoticed by the Academy. Other than Streep, all of the actresses here are strong to phenomenal. While the majority of the Film Twitter Universe seems to prefer Isabelle Huppert for this award, and while Huppert is indeed dynamite in Elle, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Natalie Portman is the actress who most deserves this award. Portman’s work in Jackie feels like a tragic footnote in the award season shuffle, and that’s a damn shame, because she gives the best performance of her career playing Jackie Kennedy. With that in mind, the actual winner will likely be Emma Stone.
Arrival – Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle
SHOULD WIN: Barry Jenkins
Damien Chazelle will likely take home this award, which would make him the youngest person to ever win Best Director. And it certainly wouldn’t be undeserved — La La Land is skillfully directed, and Chazelle shows remarkable talent. Yet the person who truly deserves this award is Barry Jenkins for his staggering work on Moonlight. Jenkins’ direction guides us through a film of enormous sympathy and empathy, and the filmmaker does it all with a gentle touch. Just give him the award, Academy. Please.
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
WILL WIN: La La Land
SHOULD WIN: Moonlight
There’s been a bit of unnecessary backlash against La La Land. While I don’t think the film is a masterpiece, I do think it’s a lovely little film that strives to capture the work of Jacques Demy. La La Land is also a movie firmly entrenched in Hollywood, and if there’s one thing Hollywood loves it’s movies about Hollywood. So I’d expect La La Land to walk away with this award. Still, as charming and enjoyable as La La Land is, it doesn’t hold a candle to Moonlight. A rich, compassionate work, expertly told and performed by a marvelous ensemble, Moonlight is indeed a masterpiece. I firmly believe that watching Moonlight has the potential to make you a better person, and that’s the type of film that should be rewarded. I’m just not so sure the Academy agrees with me.
The Academy Awards will be held this Sunday, February 26, 2017, at 8:30 PM EST/5:30 PM PST.