Uninformed Oscars predictions: Best Picture nominees

20 February 2017
Trenton Gibbons, Variety Editor

A set of cynical predictions for the Oscars’ Best Picture category, written by someone who hasn’t seen any of the nominated films.

Not only will I be looking at only one category of the awards — Best Picture — I have not seen a single film nominated in that respective category. In a way, this makes me practically as unbiased as I might be if I’d seen every potential Best Picture. Furthermore, it might be something I have in common with the so-called ‘Academy.’ The Academy so many award winners will thank before or after they’ve gone on a political tirade during their acceptance speech is not, to my dismay, all that rigid in its organization. There are 6,000 voting members, artists almost randomly considered worthy of opinion by their peers or by award winners themselves. Though primary voting sees each member restricted to his or her own field of expertise, the second round is much more free-range. Worse still, there is not and probably never will be a way to ensure the voting members are actually familiar with the nominees. More likely than not, the voters of the Academy simply write off the majority of the nominees as being inherently unworthy of an award, subscribing to their preconceived notions of what an award-winning film at the Oscars looks like. This is what makes them so predictable! Using nothing but this cynical piece of knowledge and the pattern of past award shows, I’ve ranked the Best Picture nominees from least to most likely below.

Hacksaw Ridge

Watching this trailer, I spotted more than a couple red flags for this taking Best Picture. First off, this is a World War II film, albeit an unorthodox one for telling the true story of a medic who refused to kill on the battlefield, but nevertheless a WWII film. Secondly, the cast of this movie is not the kind that takes Oscars. With Andrew Garfield in the lead role and schlock-star Sam Worthington supporting alongside Vince Vaughn, the cast will probably be commended for playing against type, but little else besides. Finally, Mel Gibson, who was ousted as an anti-semite and bonafide crazy man, directed this. That his film is nominated at all is perhaps some attempt by Hollywood to be the ‘bigger man,’ to prove that the awards are a display of objectivity, not favoritism. It won’t win.

Manchester by the Sea

In stark contrast to his brother, who remains trapped in a cycle of miserable Batman movies, in “Manchester by the Sea” Casey Affleck plays a New Yorker condemned to a small coastal town when his brother dies and he’s forced to become his nephew’s legal guardian. It’s one of those small character-driven films whose trailer text claims it “has a lot of heart,” flanked on either side by clips of actors crying at each other’s emotional cues. It looks surprisingly good for anything produced by Amazon, but not like a real contender for this year’s Best Picture.

Arrival

“Arrival” looks like a uniquely inspired science fiction film, one that’s more interested in dealing with the intricacies of communication between humanity and a vastly different extraterrestrial species than it is with dazzling visuals or escapist adventure. Its director is responsible for the border-hopping cartel thriller “Sicario” and the upcoming “Bladerunner” sequel, and is currently in the talks for a live-action adaptation of “Dune.” “Arrival” might be high among my film-watching priorities, but a science fiction film apparently lacking in political or social commentary isn’t likely to take home this award.

Fences

Denzel Washington deserves some credit for not only directing “Fences,” but for starring in a lead role that absolutely twists his usual role on its head. Where in previous films like “Man on Fire”, “Remember the Titans” and “Book of Eli”, Denzel is the fiercely protective father figure, in “Fences” he seems to have more than a passive dislike for his son. It’ll be an interesting watch for this detail alone, but otherwise, the film doesn’t seem to have much going for it. Almost the entire film appears to take place in a crowded backyard (thus “Fences,” I suppose.) The small scale of this film makes Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (for Viola Davis) or even Best Screenplay likely, but not Best Picture.

Hell or High Water

I know very little about “Hell or High Water” besides a trailer I saw months ago and refuse to rewatch for fear of spoilers. As much as I want to see this film, I can gather from memory that the protagonists are poor white men turned bank robbers and if there’s anyone Hollywood won’t be voting for this year, it’s the demographic that reportedly voted Trump into the presidency (that demographic being poor white men, not bank robbers.) That being said, the only reason this film is placed so close to the top is its potential to villainize banks or law enforcement.

Lion

Dev Patel, who first gained fame in “Slumdog Millionaire” nearly a decade ago, stars as a young Indian man who has made a life in his adopted home, but is tortured by memories of the biological family he’s left behind. The whole thing is “based on a true story,” those words that are capable of momentarily enhancing any film, no matter how boring. “Lion” is probably a real ‘tear-jerker,’ the kind people don’t enjoy watching but recommend to me nonetheless. Or perhaps taste is subjective.

Hidden Figures

“Hidden Figures,” yet another true story to grace the nominations list this year, is meant to document the “untold story” of the black women who worked at NASA during the space race. Despite promoting the STEM field to young black women and lauding the importance of scientific achievement at a time when the president seems committed to cutting funding for similar projects, “Hidden Figures” has a few strikes against it. For one thing, this movie’s qualities, a period drama with inspirational undertones, a PG-13 rating and a marginalized group as the protagonists, conform so closely to the formula for ‘Oscar Bait’ that the academy might not nibble at all. Perhaps most damning of all, this film is not “Moonlight” or “La La Land.”

Moonlight

There is a sizable gap between the likelihood of “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” to take home Best Picture. “Moonlight” is a much more unique story, depicting the uniquely difficult life of a man born poor, gay, and black. Its trailer, at least, hints at a film with haunting visuals to back up this tragedy, and reviewers likely have much more to say about “Moonlight” than that it’s simply “inspiring” or “heartbreaking.” “Moonlight’s” potential to win is heightened further by the controversy of last year’s awards show, in which the absence of racial minority nominations for awards spurred the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. This year, Hollywood will be looking to divorce themselves from this hefty accusation of racism, and “Moonlight” winning Best Picture would not be seen as undeserved. If only “La La Land” didn’t exist.

La La Land

I have no intention of ever seeing this film. Even without my general disinterest in musicals, the premise, one of two young talents trying to realize their dreams in Los Angeles, is enough to repulse me. The film, without a doubt, glorifies Los Angeles and Hollywood by association. It confirms every illusion of grandeur and escapism Hollywood elites lay claim to. Never mind that the film has little at all to do with reality, or that the lead stars aren’t all that gifted of singers, or that the dancing could not be described by my own grandfather as anything more than “fast walking.” “La La Land” has tied with “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for Oscar nominations. If past Best Picture winners mean anything — “Birdman,” “Argo” and “The Artist” all glorified Hollywood, or at least filmmaking — “La La Land” will take home Best Picture.