There are some very obvious choices for Academy Award winners this year — based on Hollywood’s tendency to select films with certain social agenda-pushing themes and recent awards and guild nominations. Academy voters also like to ignore films with patriotic or pro-religious messages in favor of pictures almost no one in America has seen.
There could be a few surprises — but the awards are likely to keep the same themes going when the Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 24. The actual ceremony, to be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air on Feb. 26.
The most divisive film this year wears its heart on its sleeve, and people either love it or hate it. “La La Land” will likely grab nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Ryan Gosling), Actress (Emma Stone), Music (Original Score), and Song (“Audition”). The reason is that the film’s topic is one near and dear to Hollywood: It’s about Hollywood, and it is about the dream of being a star. Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy and vote on Best Picture. They also love movies that act as love letters to Tinseltown.
Other likely nominees for Best Picture include “Moonlight,” both because it is actually a strong film, but also because it is about a gay black teen — and that fits Hollywood’s social agenda. The same goes for “Hidden Figures,” a regrettably cliché-ridden film about race relations that missed a great chance to show the world something about the three amazing black women who propelled NASA’s space program.
“Fences” will make the list for the same reasons, although one cannot praise Denzel Washington enough for his repeatedly outstanding work (he’ll get a Best Actor nod).
There’s not a lot to be impressed with as far as Best Actor goes. Besides those mentioned, Andrew Garfield might be noticed for his work as the late Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss. Casey Affleck is earning strong buzz for “Manchester by the Sea.”
There was more interesting work from the ladies this year. Both Amy Adams and Natalie Portman got Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA nominations for “Arrival” and “Jackie,” respectively. After Meryl Streep’s lunatic speech at the Globes, the Academy will also probably rush to nominate her yet again for “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Viola Davis, of Washington’s “Fences,” will also likely be recognized.
Comic-book movie “Deadpool” may pop up as a surprise here and there. The film’s irreverence was pretty bold. It could grab an Adapted Screenplay nomination. Nor should the hilarious Ryan Reynolds be ruled out for Best Actor, although he spends a lot of time behind a mask in the film. Any such nominations could open the door for comic-book films to get some major award love in the future.
Expect three patriotic films to get shut out of everything: “13 Hours,” “Deepwater Horizon,” and “Patriot’s Day.” Peter Berg, the director behind “Horizon” and “Patriot’s Day,” is a solid filmmaker who makes solid movies, but his films tend to lean conservative and we know how Hollywood feels about that. “Horizon” took a non-political look at the heroics of the oil rig workers during the 2010 BP oil spill, and “Patriot’s Day” is a pro-police film about the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Without the typical liberal leanings and demonizations of first responders and blue-collar workers, both films won’t get much awards attention.
“13 Hours” is a gripping account of the Benghazi terrorist attack, but we know how Hollywood feels about that, too. Being a pro-military film and a silent condemnation of the failure of Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, there are few that would dare nominate the film. If, by some miracle, any of these films get any major nominations (never mind wins), it could signal a sea change going forward.
Along with strong patriotic films getting snubbed, the Academy Awards will probably once again give the cold shoulder to faith-based movies — though they’ve been getting more popular and better in quality, i.e. this year’s “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Silence.”
“Silence,” a deeply religious film from director Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver”), will probably get passed over because liberal Academy voters hate religion and Scorsese got his Academy Award 10 years ago. “Hacksaw Ridge,” which takes a positive look at the religious convictions of Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss during World War II, is from director Mel Gibson and actually has a chance at being one of the few faith-based films to get real attention from the Academy. It previously earned three nominations at the Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture (Drama).
Despite audiences rushing to see praised pro-religion pictures like “Passion of the Christ,” “Heaven is for Real,” and Gibson’s “Ridge,” Academy voters typically can’t drop their politics in order to recognize the quality of anything with faith as a central theme. “Hacksaw Ridge” has the best chance this year, however, of breaking that glass ceiling.