Deconstructing Oscar

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Breaking down all the best films for the 89th Academy Awards.

New paper. Old Traditions. It’s great to be back and what better way to jump into film than with a big Oscar breakdown? Past editions of this breakdown have included odds-on favorites from online sportsbooks and while I did well in years past, I did take a bath in this year’s Super Bowl. This year, the focus is to make you look like the smartest person in the room. Or at least appear as if you’ve done your homework going into the big game, err, awards show.


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

Here’s What You Need to Know:

Garfield and Gosling are outliers in this category; both are worthy of nominations but also overshadowed by their co-stars. Say anything you want about these two but the first things that come to mind with La La Land and Hacksaw Ridge aren’t these guys. Mortensen had the best performance of the lot. The ability to make the audience loathe and love the same character in the same film should merit something more than a nomination.

Odds Are…

Casey Affleck for the Oscar but Denzel for the actual win. Nothing about Fences or his role in it changed from the stage and yet there is no one more suited to play that role than Washington. If Affleck were to win, it’d be deserved as it’s his definitive performance to date.

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

Here’s What You Need to Know:

Bridges is a fun choice in a weak category this year. A nod here is logical. Same could be said for Shannon (Note: Nocturnal Animals is supremely overrated). Hedges is a perfect foil for Affleck in Manchester. Without Hedges’ character, Affleck doesn’t have a role at all. In a different year, the 20-year-old nominee would have the win here. Political posturing is why Dev Patel is in this category instead of Best Actor (also looking at you Viola Davis). As strong as Patel’s work is in Lion, he’s not going to win in either category, so slot him in the right spot if it’s just an honor to be nominated.

Odds Are…

Mahershala Ali’s performance is everything this category is supposed to be. Moonlight isn’t his story but the themes and commentary his character provides about race and sexuality is the film. I am a betting man. This is a lock and for all the right reasons.

Actress in a Leading Role

Zootopia is directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and is nominated for Best Animated Feature. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Isabelle Huppert- Elle

Ruth Negga- Loving

Natalie Portman- Jackie

Emma Stone- La La Land

Meryl Streep- Florence Foster Jenkins

Here’s What You Need to Know:

This is easily the strongest category this year. Huppert was the perfect fit for Verhoeven’s thriller and a peak performance from the actress. Negga and Portman approach their roles so differently with similar results. The former’s performance is a clinic in patience and simplicity while the latter adds character on top of delicate nuance. Both nail their real-life inspirations perfectly.

Odds Are…

Emma Stone is a revelation. She has been for a minute but this is a proper breakthrough. Amid all the song, dance and primary colors that is La La Land is Stone’s amazing performance. Gosling and Chazelle take you to the peaks while Stone makes you feel comfortable in the valleys. Her character tells a story that is real and grounded in a sea of song. There really isn’t any real reason to think Meryl Streep will win this category except that it’s, you know, Meryl Streep. And she last won this category for The Iron Lady. So, Emma, “You in danger, girl!”

Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis- Fences

Naomie Harris- Moonlight

Nicole Kidman- Lion

Octavia Spencer- Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams- Manchester by the Sea

Here’s What You Need to Know:

Had Davis been slotted properly, Harris would have this category locked up. Her performance is as strong as Ali’s in Moonlight. Kidman and Spencer turn in solid work here but a nomination is sufficient here. Williams is great in Manchester but much like Hedges, so much time is spent working on a character that isn’t here. There is a difference between support and propping.

Odds Are…

Viola Davis by a million miles. So much so, she should’ve been in the Best Actress category. Regardless, it’s about time Davis gets her Oscar. It’s hard to steal the show from Denzel Washington so it’s scary how easily she does it.

Animated Feature Film

Kubo and the Two Strings


My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle


Here’s What You Need to Know:

What was once deemed the kids’ table at the Oscar ceremony has now become the most artistic and well crafted. By far. A film like Moana, another Pixar masterpiece, is just happy to have a seat at the table. The Red Turtle is the most artistic film on this year’s docket. Spend the 80 minutes in silence and tell me I’m wrong. My Life as a Zucchini and Kubo and the Two Strings highlight how groundbreaking the traditional art of stop-motion can be.   

Odds Are…

Zootopia. Remember a time when films like Shrek told a few jokes to pander to the adults while the kids loved the donkey and the ogre being silly? Yeah, those days are gone. In reality, we live in a world where profiling and racism is rampant and commonplace. It’s refreshing to see a film that actually tackles those big-picture concepts in a package everyone can appreciate.


Arrival– Denis Villeneuve

Hacksaw Ridge– Mel Gibson

La La Land– Damien Chazelle

Manchester by the Sea– Kenneth Lonergan

Moonlight– Barry Jenkins

Here’s What You Need to Know:

Villeneuve deceives the audience by telling a story about humanity wrapped in sci-fi and I loved every minute of it. This is a nice return for Gibson; hopefully he’ll continue making films without decade intervals. Lonergan turns in a solid piece of work but the pitch-black sadness overshadows everything else.

Odds Are…

I think Chazelle wins here. La La Land is an outright amazing film but the good will from his last nominated film (Whiplash) helps the director here. That isn’t a wrong pick by any means but Jenkins’ Moonlight is achingly beautiful and brutal.

Best Picture



Hacksaw Ridge

Hell, or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Manchester by the Sea


Here’s What You Need to Know:

Arrival is not the best sci-fi in years as was written upon its release, but it has made the mid-budget thriller relevant to the box office again. Directed by Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington, Fences was primed to showcase the talents of both Washington and fellow nominee Viola Davis. Hacksaw Ridge. Mel Gibson. Maybe the man deserves another chance or maybe a cheetah can’t change his spots, as my grandfather would say. Regardless, the man knows story structure and has made the best war film since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Hell, or High Water is the best film that no one has seen this year. It’s going to be huge on cable. Had Hidden Figures been released earlier in award season with enough time to snowball, this film would be your best picture winner. Lion is the film that will make you cry. Manchester by the Sea will do the same, but from boredom. It must be the allergic reaction to Oscar bait.

Odds Are…

La La Land and Moonlight have been the odds-on favorites since their releases. Both are films about what Hollywood is about. One is going forward, one pays homage to the past. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is everything that Hollywood loves: Musicals, (relatively) new talents waiting for award hardware, and (most importantly) a film ABOUT Hollywood. Oh, and it’s really, really good. Chazelle should’ve won for 2014’s Whiplash but if the Academy is going to concede a make-up call, there can be worse films than this.

Based on the play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” Moonlight is La La’s opposite. The film is ambidextrous by deconstructing so much about a human experience while paradigm Insanely personal compassionate, empathetic hard-fought wisdom, it plays with the stereotypes while similarly dismantling them.

La La Land looks primed for the win seeing as the last three nominees that were Hollywood-centric (Birdman, Argo, The Artist) all ended up winning Best Picture as well. Money says La La Land but there hasn’t been a film like Moonlight. Since ever.

La La Land is nominated for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards. Damien Chazelle is nominated for Best Director. Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment


JP Spence

JP Spence is a writer, screenwriter, and improviser living in Los Angeles. He previously served as the media critic for the Topanga Messenger and as Editor-In-Chief for the LA Valley Star. You can find Josh @JP_Spence on twitter or at any press screening.

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