Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Oscars 2016: The Acting Categories

Viola Davis, hopefully not reacting to her upcoming Oscar win for "Fences"
Thus far in our Oscars analysis, we’ve looked at categories both miscellaneous and technical, as well as the screenplays. Today, we’re running through everyone’s favorite fields: the acting categories. Let’s begin with the easiest race to predict and progress to the hardest.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

NOMINEES
Viola Davis—Fences
Naomie Harris—Moonlight
Nicole Kidman—Lion
Octavia Spencer—Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams—Manchester by the Sea

WILL WIN
Davis. Move along.

SHOULD WIN
As the remainder of this column reveals, 2016 produced an odd gender split in terms of high-caliber performances. In a refreshing change from the norm, cinema was flooded with outstanding portrayals from leading ladies; however, the number of quality star turns by men was relatively low. Conversely, my personal ballot in the Best Supporting Actor field runs 15 names long, whereas my corresponding ballot for supporting actresses is alarmingly thin.

That’s one of the reasons Davis is a lock to win this award; she’s essentially a co-lead competing against four supporting performances. Kidman and Williams really just have one memorable scene each, and while both are good—Williams, in particular, is shattering—it’s hard for them to deliver the same impact that Davis does. Spencer has a bit more screen time, but her low-key performance is more serviceable than standout.

I don’t fault voters for choosing Davis. She’s very good in Fences. My pick, however, is Naomie Harris, who in a handful of scenes transforms her potentially villainous mother into a tragic victim of circumstance: pitiful, broken, yet oddly hopeful. She encapsulates the power of Moonlight, a film that is gentle but evokes swells of feeling.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Viola Davis—Fences
Elle Fanning—20th Century Women
Lily Gladstone—Certain Women
Naomie Harris—Moonlight
Imogen Poots—Green Room

Fanning epitomizes the brittle tone of 20th Century Women, fearlessly cutting against the grain. In just a few words, Gladstone essays a complete character, lovestruck and anguished and pure. Poots is ferociously alive in Green Room, creating a human center amid the savagery.

The Manifesto’s winner: Lily Gladstone—Certain Women.

Honorable mention: Kate McKinnon—Ghostbusters; Lea Seydoux—The Lobster.


BEST ACTRESS

NOMINEES
Isabelle Huppert—Elle
Ruth Negga—Loving
Natalie Portman—Jackie
Emma Stone—La La Land
Meryl Streep—Florence Foster Jenkins

WILL WIN
There have been rumblings of late about Huppert making a surge, or of Portman pulling the upset and taking her second Oscar of the decade. I don’t buy it. Emma Stone wins this one with ease.

SHOULD WIN
These are five strong performances, and none of them is cracking my own ballot. I told you the lead actresses were good this year. But as to this quintet, for me it’s a race between Huppert and Stone. The former is more icily impressive, but the latter is more achingly vulnerable. Stone is my pick.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Amy Adams—Arrival
Emily Blunt—The Girl on the Train
Marion Cotillard—Allied
Sasha Lane—American Honey
Blake Lively—The Shallows

Adams is downright heroic in Arrival. Blunt verges on camp, but she imbues her titular Girl on the Train with a deceptive degree of sorrow and self-loathing. Cotillard elevates Allied to a grand epic. Lane is bracingly raw in American Honey. And Lively—Blake freaking Lively!—holds The Shallows together with intelligence and restraint.

The Manifesto’s winner: Marion Cotillard—Allied.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT: SECOND TIER
Kate Beckinsale—Love & Friendship
Agyness Deyn—Sunset Song
Kim Tae-ri—The Handmaiden
Jennifer Lawrence—Passengers
Emma Stone—La La Land

Like I could stop at five. Beckinsale is an acid sunbeam in Love & Friendship. Deyn shoulders the heavy burden of Sunset Song with remarkable ease. Kim’s Handmaiden is simply mesmerizing. Lawrence gives Passengers its soul.

Honorable mention: Annette Bening—20th Century Women; Sarah Bolger—Emelie; Emilia Clarke—Me Before You; Anya Taylor-Joy—The Witch; Alicia Vikander—The Light Between Oceans; Mary Elizabeth Winstead—10 Cloverfield Lane.


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

WILL WIN
The recent buzz here is that Dev Patel has been creeping into contention. It makes some intellectual sense: He’s an appealing young star, he won the BAFTA, he’s playing the hero of an inspirational true-life story, and (like Viola Davis in Fences) he’s the clear lead in Lion. But I still don’t see him overtaking Mahershala Ali. He won at the Screen Actors’ Guild, which has matched the Oscars in this field for 12 straight years. Plus, the BAFTAs clearly didn’t warm to Moonlight on the whole, giving it zero awards and not nominating Barry Jenkins for Best Director, so I don’t know that Patel’s victory there is much of a bellwether. Beyond Best Adapted Screenplay, I don’t expect the consensus critical favorite to do especially well on Oscar night, but this is the other trophy Moonlight should take home.

SHOULD WIN
The clear outlier here is Patel; he’s fine, but if the Academy wanted to recognize a good supporting actor from Lion, they should have nominated Sunny Pawar. Hedges and Shannon are both very strong, but for me this comes down to an agonizing choice between Ali and Bridges. And as terrific as Ali is, I just can’t pick against Bridges, whose gruff, funny, and ultimately moving performance in Hell or High Water feels like the apotheosis of a magnificent career.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Mahershala Ali—Moonlight
Jeff Bridges—Hell or High Water
Alden Ehrenreich—Hail, Caesar!
Shia LaBeouf—American Honey
Craig Robinson—Morris from America

Dryly hilarious, Ehrenreich is the clear standout in Hail, Caesar!, which is saying something, given that film’s cast. LaBeouf’s false bravado perfectly complements Sasha Lane’s youthful hunger. Long an underrated comedian, Robinson’s performance is the high point of Morris from America—funny, tender, and sad.

The Manifesto’s winner: Jeff Bridges—Hell or High Water.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT: SECOND TIER
Tom Bennett—Love & Friendship
Ben Foster—Hell or High Water
Ralph Ineson—The Witch
Glen Powell—Everybody Wants Some!!
Patrick Stewart—Green Room

Bennett’s veneration of the Twelve Commandments really needs to be seen. Foster is hysterical, which makes his low-key displays of fraternal affection all the more poetic. Ineson is hypnotic as a true believer losing control of his family. Powell’s good-vibes shtick results in the most memorable character in Everybody Wants Some!! Stewart is evil incarnate.

Honorable mention: Jesse Eisenberg—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; Ralph Fiennes—A Bigger Splash; Chris Hemsworth—Ghostbusters; Keegan-Michael Key—Don’t Think Twice; John Leguizamo—The Infiltrator.


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

WILL WIN
And here we go. Of all the high-profile categories, this is by far the toughest to predict. Of course, it was supposed to be easy—a few months ago, Affleck was on cruise control. But then Washington won at SAG, and more and more people kept muttering about Affleck’s sexual harassment controversy, and now it just feels like he’s in trouble. It’s entirely possible that Affleck still wins here, especially if voters seek to reward Manchester by the Sea, an excellent movie that, depending on how it fares in Best Original Screenplay, is liable to walk away from the ceremony empty-handed. But the tide seems to have turned. I’m going with Denzel Washington.

SHOULD WIN
Affleck. Washington is excellent, but Affleck finds another gear, burrowing into the role of his grief-stricken loner so deeply, you worry he might never find his way out.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Casey Affleck—Manchester by the Sea
Colin Farrell—The Lobster
Ryan Gosling—The Nice Guys
Vincent Lindon—The Measure of a Man
Denzel Washington—Fences

Farrell is revelatory in The Lobster, exhibiting glimmers of hopelessness and panic without ever overacting. Gosling is very good in La La Land, but he’s flat-out phenomenal in The Nice Guys, fashioning an iconic character who’s equal parts brilliant and bumbling. Lindon is the essence of quiet despair.

The Manifesto’s winner: Ryan Gosling—The Nice Guys.

Honorable mention: Joel Edgerton—Loving; John Goodman—10 Cloverfield Lane.


Coming tomorrow: Best Director and Best Picture.

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