They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
The Writing and Lead Acting Races
By J. Don Birnam
February 20, 2017
A flurry of final guild activity over the weekend has provided final valuable clues as to the direction of the Oscars next week.
Below the line, the Makeup and Hairstylist guilds spread the love in over 23 categories, but best makeup and hair effects were split among Suicide Squad and Star Trek, both of which are vying for that Oscar on Sunday. The Cinema Audio Society (the sound mixers) gave a definitive victory to La La Land, one which it should have no problem repeating at the Academy Awards, while the Motion Picture Sound Editors gave their top prize to Hacksaw Ridge, another Oscar frontrunner in its own space.
Finally, the Writers’ Guild of America handed out awards, so it’s time to handicap those and the other remaining major categories in this year’s race. If you’re lost, here are the analyses so far: here for the below the line techs part I, here for the below the line techs part II, and here for the foreign, documentary, and animated races, and for here supporting acting and directing .
Let me know if you have differing thoughts on these three races: Twitter and Instagram.
Best Original Screenplay: La La Land’s To Lose?
Last year, Spotlight and The Big Short, two of the Best Picture frontrunners, were in different writing races, and so those were some of the easiest calls of the night. Not necessarily so this year, where you have somewhat of an embarrassment of riches to contend with in both categories. This is particularly so since La La Land lost this race to Moonlight at the WGA, but Barry Jenkins’ film is not nominated in this category.
But we still have five pretty amazing scripts, starting with Taylor Sheridan’s incredibly smart script in Hell or High Water and the equally incisive analysis of love in modern society by Yorgos Lanthimos in The Lobster. The other original gem here that is worth checking out is the analytical and never dull dialogue in Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women. All three would be worthy contenders.
But the race is most definitely between the two that are also up for Best Picture: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. It’s a tough call because though they like to reward the Best Picture winner with a writing award when possible (it’s an over 3/4 correlation), an original screenplay for a musical has not won since the 1950s, when Gigi did it. (Of course, no movie had won only one other Oscar other than Best Picture since the 1950s too, and that happened just last year).
What to do? La La Land won the Globe but lost the BAFTA to Manchester and the WGA to Moonlight. The musical is definitely the weaker of the two scripts, with some of the dialogue between Mia and Sebastian borderline high school-ish. Lonergan’s script, on the other hand, is a masterpiece in storytelling. He reveals the layers slowly and determinedly, the sorrow complements and juxtaposes with the lighthearted, and the effectiveness of every sentence is never in doubt.
If La La Land wins here early on, you know a huge sweep is at hand. A more discerning Academy will go elsewhere here, and it could be this movie’s only chance, particularly if Casey Affleck’s chances at an Oscar are in trouble (see below). Against my better judgement…
Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Could win: Damien Chazelle: La La Land