The 89th Annual Academy Awards hits airwaves Sunday, February 26th, 2017 at 8:30pm on ABC. Buffalonians can watch it from the comfort of their home or take a trip down to these local destinations:
• The Screening Room, The Boulevard Mall
Free (doors open at 7:00pm)
• Buffalo State College, Campbell Student Union
Free with Student ID, $10 general public (doors open at 8:00pm)
• Q, 44 Allen Street
Free (Red Carpet party begins at 6:00pm)
For those handicapping at home, here are the guesses of Buffalo film fanatics Christopher Schobert, William Altreuter, and myself.
Here we are a year removed from the apex of #OscarsSoWhite and people have the gall to say it’s over because seven people of color were nominated out of twenty available acting slots. If you were paying attention to the controversy you’d know that the issue is a systemic one exacerbated by The Academy’s inherent summarization of the year in film—not an Academy problem. Hollywood is still very white and very male and the projects green-lit skew that direction. It’s no mistake that 2017’s frontrunner is a movie about jazz wherein its sole main non-white character is ostensibly its villain.
So while the results of this year seem to be course-correcting the surface issue, the real problem lies very far behind a glitzy night of revelry. The question a new-look Academy does present, however, is whether or not a feel-good musical such as La La Land (with a record-tying fourteen nominations) can still run the table. Every win is merit-based in a perfect world, but ours isn’t perfect. Politics play a role. Popularity plays a role (you’re welcome Meryl Streep). Emotions and prejudices do too.
Hollywood is a long way from relinquishing the stigma it rightfully shoulders. And the cinema-going public has a long way to go before it’s ready to experience stories about people unlike them. #OscarsSoWhite isn’t going anywhere.
Does a La La Land sweep prove nothing has changed? Not necessarily. But it would be a loaded outcome. Does Moonlight stealing a couple with its black and gay themes forcing it to be labeled the underdog mean things have improved? Again, not necessarily. People are going to like what they like. It’s nice to know voters might second-guess themselves and feel obligated to watch work they wouldn’t have bothered with before, but at the end of the day winners should be deserving. Thankfully all the nominees below are (surprises and/or snubs be damned).
This has been a fascinating Oscar season, partially due to the snubs — Ralph Fiennes, Amy Adams, Martin Scorsese, Kevin Costner, Jackie, Annette Bening and 20th Century Women in general, Adam Driver, Hugh Grant … But it’s also been interesting to see so many films rise and fall. Consider Birth of a Nation. (The Academy didn’t.) Or even Jackie, which did earn an expected nom for Best Actress but was shut out of Picture, Director, and Screenplay. And don’t forget Silence, which, sight unseen, was predicted by many to be a major player.
None of that happened. So I guess we should turn our attention to what did happen.
The snubs are the most interesting thing about the Academy Awards lots of times, but I’m not so sure this is one of those years. Maybe external events are forcing me to be a glass-half-full guy, or maybe my movie habits shifted some this year, but I was surprised and happy about the quality of what I saw, and by what was recognized.
On the other hand, there is always in the back of mind the nagging thought that the whole Oscars thing really doesn’t mean much. The big winners are frequently already the big winners at the box office—where it counts—and it is not at all clear that the movies that are nominated but don’t win get that much of a bump. In the end I’ll be sitting in a dark auditorium watching either way, and when I’m wondering why I’m there I’ll remember that writing this piece with you guys is part of the pleasure.
Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role
When it was announced that Viola Davis would be running as “supporting” rather than “lead,” this category seemed pretty well wrapped up. Not so much anymore, though. Naomie Harris has risen from a potential dark horse victor to a legitimate spoiler possibility. I don’t see it happening, but don’t count her out if a push for Moonlight gets into the heads of voters.
The others sadly don’t have a shot. Nicole Kidman is very good in Lion (the best she’s been since Rabbit Hole). Octavia Spencer is great in Hidden Figures and a history-maker for being the first black woman to ever get nominated after winning an acting Oscar. And Michelle Williams is heart-wrenching in Manchester—so much so that I’d give her a ten percent chance.
The other ninety? Well that would split sixty percent to Viola and thirty to Naomie. But I don’t see the former being stopped and I can’t wait to hear her acceptance speech. The best part? I’d love to hear Naomie’s too if an upset does occur.
Glaring omission: I really hoped Lily Gladstone would make it in. She is the finest part of a fine movie with Certain Women. I wouldn’t have minded some love going the way of Hayley Squires from I, Daniel Blake or Greta Gerwig for 20th Century Women either.
I could not agree more on Gladstone and Gerwig; both would have made this category infinitely more interesting. (I was also pulling for Kate McKinnon, who certainly did not have a prayer.) That’s not, however, criticism of Viola Davis. If her performance feels effortless, it’s because she’s that good. There is no chance she does not take this category, and happily, she deserves it.
Viola Davis would be a mortal lock I think, but the potential for vote splitting between Davis and Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures seems high. In terms of raw votes it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Davis polled higher—Fences is the sort of classy production that the Academy loves to recognize (and it is quite good as well)—but I think Michelle Williams will sneak in. Manchester by the Sea rips your heart out and throws it over there, and Williams was outstanding. Since Supporting Actress is the first ‘big’ award of the night expect a lot of angry tweets about the Oscars still being too white.
Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
This is a tough category even though every nominee was pretty much predicted to be included. I would have personally knocked Lucas Hedges and Michael Shannon off (despite both being wonderful in their roles) because there were so many other deserving actors like Tom Bennett in Love & Friendship, Hugo Weaving in Hacksaw Ridge, Shia LaBeouf in American Honey, Ralph Fiennes in A Bigger Splash, and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins.
Much like Viola Davis, I don’t love the idea of Dev Patel being here instead of “lead”. I get that he’s only in half the film, but call the two Saroos co-leads. Having two supporting actors and no lead is strange when the film isn’t an ensemble piece. It is very much this one character’s story and thus should be treated as such on the awards end of things. Either way, he won’t win.
No, this one is Mahershala Ali’s to lose with Jeff Bridges being the man to beat him. Because I don’t feel like Moonlight is going to get the love it should, though, this is the easy category to provide it an early win. It’s also the perfect opportunity to show a shift from old guard to new with a relative newcomer (who exploded onto the A-list in 2017) versus a seasoned veteran. Ali should end up on that stage.
Yes, another category in which there is no doubt who’s going to win: Mahershala Ali has it, and I’m all for it. That being said, the second Nocturnal Animals ended at TIFF, I had the thought that Michael Shannon would finally be winning a much-deserved Oscar. I was wrong, but I was thrilled to see him nominated. In the shoulda-been-nominated debate, I’ll second your Fiennes and throw in Kevin Costner, who did his best acting in years in Hidden Figures.
Oh, good, this is going to be a year where we disagree. But first, a point of agreement: Florence Foster Jenkins was a movie that was all about great performers giving great performances, and Hugh Grant, who seems to have outgrown the smarminess that used to make it difficult for me to watch him really did work in it that deserved a nod.
Onto predictions. Nocturnal Animals is the kind of movie I could watch all the time, every day. Do movies like this ever win prizes? For whatever reason it seems like genre films don’t get the love they deserve—unless they are Westerns. Sorry Michael Shannon.
Doesn’t it feel like Jeff Bridges is due? I think he is due—he won for True Grit because he was due, and because it was a Western (see above). Hell or High Water was grown-up stuff, but it was the sort of movie I walked out of trying to convince myself that I’d liked it. Too be sure, one of the arguments I made to myself was, “Well, Jeff Bridges was good.” Man, Jeff Bridges is pretty much always good. He needs to be in a better movie than this to fill up his mantlepiece.
Sometimes I like movies that are emotionally manipulative. Lion somehow managed to make me watch with open sincerity, which surprised me, so I guess it did the job on me that it set out to. On the other hand, Dev Patel didn’t actually do much, did he?
I approached Manchester by the Sea in much the same way that I approached Lion, to be honest. Movies about parenting, man. That’s a soft spot for me. Lucas Hedges was fine, but I didn’t get the feeling that he was bringing up the performance level of anyone else. He’s here because the movie was respected as a whole.
I reckon Moonlight as the dark horse this year, and this is exactly the sort of category where it will clean up. Good job, Mahershala Ali, I’m saying this is your moment.
Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role
This category was affected by Viola Davis’ exclusion a couple months ago too because she seemed to be the only competition for Natalie Portman’s exquisite performance as Jackie Kennedy. And yet here I am dropping Portman down to the number three spot as Jackie has been all but forgotten during the Oscar race. Her defeat at the Golden Globes is meaningless since that evening is meaningless, but the film’s once glowing sheen has definitely lost its luster.
My pick is now going to be Golden Globe-winning Isabelle Huppert who is both deserving of the victory for her performance in Elle and as a career honor. Don’t think that the film’s absence as a Foreign Film contender is telling since that category was selected by a specific committee. The acting body of The Academy will acknowledge Huppert’s brilliance and probably reward her for it. I’d be glad of the result too, even if I did hate her film.
The nominee at her heels is Emma Stone, someone who will benefit from a La La Land state of mind. I don’t think it was the best performance of the year or even Stone’s best performance, but it did its job by delighting audiences with energy and melancholy in equal measure. If the run is on, this category can be swayed to follow suit.
As for the others: Ruth Negga’s nomination might be my favorite of the day. She’s amazing in Loving and her consistently rising star will only ascend higher now—something that will treat us viewers as much as her because she’s never been bad in a role. Meryl Streep’s nomination conversely might be my least favorite of the day. She’s very good as Florence, but the selection is pure popularity. This was 20th Century Women’s Annette Bening’s slot and her absence is noticeable. Taraji P. Henson from Hidden Figures and Amy Adams from Arrival were more deserving too. Not to mention Hailee Steinfeld, Emily Blunt, and Kate Beckinsale. Oh well.
What a group! My goodness, it’s difficult to recall such a stellar array of actors in one category. I could not agree more re: Streep. To me, it’s a wasted nomination at the expense of Bening, Adams, and (yes) 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
A few months ago, I would have told you Natalie Portman was a lock, but Jackie faded, hard. Ruth Negga is wondrous in Loving, and Isabelle Huppert is fantastic in Elle, but I have to disagree with your pick, Jared—as much as I would love to see Huppert win, I think the nomination is the award for she and Ruth Negga.
That leaves Emma Stone, who is a delight during every public appearance and very good in La La Land. I adored the film and her performance, but I can’t say she deserves to be the victor in this group. Deserving or not, she’s winning the Oscar.
Funny thing about Meryl Streep: at this point I’m not sure what she would have to do to win another Oscar. It’s not that she isn’t great—she is always great. She’s Meryl Streep, man. In a way this is liberating for her. She can do anything she wants. A musical based on ABBA songs? Hey, just because Lawrence Olivier wouldn’t go near it doesn’t mean that the Greatest Actress of Her Generation® can’t give it a whirl. Florence Foster Jenkins is a movie out of its time: in the 1940s something like it would have been a romp, but now it is a stunt.
Likewise a stunt was Natalie Portman’s Jackie. Great job, terrific performance, but it felt more like the sort of thing that a performer does to show that s/he can rather than something that really came from the heart. I know that’s awful, but the movie didn’t grab me.
La La Land grabbed me. I’ll have more to say about it later, but in this category it seems to me that the movie wouldn’t have worked as well—or at all—with anyone else in the role. If Emma Stone wins you will hear no complaint from me.
I went to Loving hoping for the best, and I think it held up. Not to get too political, there are times when it is important to be reminded that the US (and particularly our legal system) lives up to what we can be when we allow our best selves to be our best selves. Loving v. Virginia is an important Supreme Court decision because it reminds us of that. Performance wise I thought Ruth Negga brought depth and nuance to a part that requires it. I also think that the Academy owes us a lot of diversity. Chances are we will get it in some other categories, but this would be a good place to plant that flag.
All that said, I’m pulling for Isabelle Huppert in Elle, just because I loved it so much.
Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
The best development on the Lead Actor front is Viggo Mortensen earning his second nod nine years after his first on Eastern Promises. Captain Fantastic was one of 2016’s most underrated works and he was the glue holding it all together. His victory is in the acknowledgement.
I’m happy to see Andrew Garfield on the list for his first nomination too. I’d put Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake), Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition), Logan Lerman (Indignation), and even persona non grata Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation) amongst others above him, but Garfield is wonderful just the same. He also won’t win.
Dark horse: Ryan Gosling. Unlike with Stone, a La La Land state of mind won’t easily sway voters to this Mickey Mouse club alum. I wouldn’t have put him on this list at all. But if the stars are aligned and the musical does become king, he has a chance at winning nonetheless.
It therefore comes down to Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. The former is the favorite, the latter the spoiler. I don’t think Affleck’s sexual harassment lawsuits will have any bearing on the outcome (whether he’s held to a double standard or not in comparison to Parker’s rape acquittal) considering he was nominated. And merit-wise he’s definitely earned the trophy.
Denzel steals it if the voters do end up stopping themselves short of honoring a person of questionable ethics. His turn in Fences is phenomenal, taking what he built onstage to the big screen under his own direction no less. That’s a feat worthy of accolades and he may just squeak by with this one.
So now we’re getting interesting. This is a strong group, although I didn’t find Andrew Garfield particularly memorable in Hacksaw; Silence, maybe, but not Hacksaw. Gosling is very good, and has been for years. But Viggo … Viggo is intriguing. It’s another great performance in a well-liked film. It’s one that plays very well at home, where, I’d imagine, many voters are watching. And he feels like a “fresh” choice, doesn’t he?
It’s a tough one. I can’t deny the rationale for Affleck or Washington, and both are very, very good. But I do wonder if Affleck’s inherent aloofness hurts his Oscar appeal, and whether Washington seems too obvious.
For the sake of argument, I’m going with Viggo Mortensen in an upset.
Denzel. Denzel Washington in a walk. Fences is a strong Best Picture nominee, and legitimately so, as we will get to. In a year where the Academy certainly wants to make a statement about diversity this is an easy call. Besides, don’t you want to hear his acceptance speech? I sure do.
Casey Affleck has too much baggage, particularly in light of Nate Parker’s situation. Manchester by the Sea will do well elsewhere.
I liked Captain Fantastic better when it was called Mosquito Coast, but both are the kind of parenting movies I really like—movies about crazy-ass fathers. (There’s a reason my family’s Thanksgiving go-to is The Royal Tenenbaums.) So Viggo Mortensen—you have my best wishes.
You know what I am sick of? World War II movies. Greatest Generation, blah, blah, blah. You might make the argument that we are presently engaged in a struggle against fascism, and I won’t be the one to disagree with you, but, although technically proficient, Hacksaw Ridge did nothing to advance the conversation. Sure, Andrew Garfield plays a pacifist, but it is still war porn. It has the additional disadvantage of having been directed by a noted anti-Semitic kook. Sorry Andrew Garfield. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
Is Ryan Gosling as essential to La La Land as Emma Stone? I guess so, but the fact that I even have to consider the question gives me pause.
Fences: The script is wonderful because the play is wonderful. August Wilson adapted it years ago before his death and it’s been said that Tony Kushner doctored it uncredited. It earns the nomination, but I don’t think the virtually lateral venue change is enough to warrant a win.
Lion: I’d honestly say the script is the worst part of this film. The story is great, but the construction is clunky. We spend so much time with young Saroo and then forget about him to spend just as much time with older Saroo. If Luke Davies shifted his structure to weave both together through flashbacks, I’d applaud this nomination. I can’t as it is.
Hidden Figures: Now this is an adaptation. I haven’t read Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, but I’ve heard that its 368-pages are very historically-based and scientifically detailed. What Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi did was find their movie within those pages to create stars out of three of its brilliant mathematicians. If not for the next two nominees, I’d give this one a really good chance.
Moonlight: I was led to believe that Moonlight was considered “original” in the eyes of the Academy and wouldn’t be here. I was wrong. It’s weird that they’re considering this “adapted” mostly because playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is nominated with a “story” credit. That “story” was his unproduced play, the work Barry Jenkins adapted. So what gives? It’s a shame because I think it had a chance against Manchester by the Sea. I don’t think it does against Arrival.
Arrival: Beyond the direction, acting, and production design/cinematography, Arrival’s success has been attributed to Eric Heisserer from the beginning. His adaptation of Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” is nothing short of genius and I think the Academy honors the whole with this one.
Glaring omissions: James Schamus’ Indignation, Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, and Seo-kyeong Jeong and Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden. What wonderful scripts.
I thought at one time that Barry Jenkins was sure to win Best Director, but (spoiler alert!) I no longer think so. I think this category is his consolation prize, and I truly hope he and McCraney are victors.
I agree that Lion was a bit of a mess, but I don’t know if that was the script or the direction, which is my usual problem with these two categories. What I liked about Arrival, apart from Amy Adams’ performance, was that it continues the trend of science fiction movies telling personal, emotional stories. You could make a list of pretty worthwhile movies like that: Jodi Foster’s Contact, and Intersteller, for example, or The Martian. I exclude from my list all movies about robots that want to be “real boys,” even though Ex Machina makes a good case. Did I think Arrival was as good as any of the examples I just cited? No, I did not.
Depending on how it goes, this award may be the consolation prize for Hidden Figures. I hope it isn’t.
Moonlight might sneak in here. I found it affecting, but I think this is where Fences starts to run the table. Prestige film, screenplay by a classy, respected playwright. I didn’t know about Tony Kushner’s involvement, but that doesn’t hurt. This is the sort of movie the Academy loves to give prizes to.
With Moonlight gone, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea has this one in the bag—I think. It should in a perfect world. You know, one where La La Land doesn’t exist to divert momentum its way. But despite Damien Chazelle’s musical script being the least deserving on this list, it is the spoiler at best and frontrunner at worst.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked La La Land a lot. But it’s story is more or less an homage to better movies. Chazelle’s directing and Justin Hurwitz’s music are it’s strong points, not its plotting. Too many other films were more original, unique, and memorable including its fellow nominees.
There was no way Taylor Sheridan’s Hell or High Water didn’t make it on this list. Paired with last year’s Sicario, this cements him as a voice to respect and enjoy. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Flippou’s The Lobster wasn’t a sure thing, but it’s not surprising that it’s here. Just like Ex Machina before it, The Academy loves to throw bones to stellar work even if there’s no shot at the big prize. And Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is a lovely shock. I saw Hunt for the Wilderpeople or maybe Swiss Army Man popping in here if not Noah Oppenheim’s Jackie, but Mills earns it just the same.
Like Arrival, though, Manchester’s Best Picture hopes are low. Giving Lonergan this should satiate any desire to spread the wealth away from La La Land.
I feel like I keep saying, “so and so seemed like a lock,” and here I go again: Lonergan seemed like a lock. But I’m going Chazelle. I agree that it’s the least deserving selection on this list, but I think the film, and by extension, the script, will resonate with voters in a number of key categories. That will carry Chazelle to the win.
I was kinda surprised to see Hell or High Water nominated. What was notable about that writing? On the other hand, I was glad to see 20th Century Women make the list—it was sharp and clever and gave a really good actress a really good part. (And consider that this is apparently what Mike Mills does—he won a statue for Christopher Plumber in Beginners.) I think the category is owned by Manchester by the Sea, which, okay, but The Lobster was maybe my favorite movie of the year, and I promise you it will be one that I will be going back to.
The big story here isn’t going to be the winner, but the fact that Mel Gibson has risen from the ashes to earn his second directing nomination twenty years after winning. Those two decades were mired with misogyny, homophobia, and drunken rage—his inclusion here a testament to the work rather than a moral victory by any means. In all honesty, the best part of Hacksaw Ridge (besides Weaving) is Gibson’s handling of the faith-based, war-strewn material. People will turn it into “Hollywood condones” or “Hollywood forgives,” but reality is more, “the work warrants it.”
That doesn’t mean better work wasn’t out there to take his place, though. Pablo Larraín for Jackie was thought a shoe-in at one time. Chan-wook Park for The Handmaiden was a long-shot and the opportunity to put a woman in the mix wasn’t far behind with either Andrea Arnold (American Honey) or Anna Rose Holmer (The Fits). This is always one of the harder categories to pare down to five.
I have no complaints with the rest, though. It’s almost shocking Denis Villeneuve hadn’t been nominated before Arrival. But this is just whetting his appetite as he will definitely get nominated again. For Kenneth Lonergan this nod is a testament to his craft and the fact that he should always direct the work he writes. The best thing to happen to Manchester was Matt Damon recusing himself from the chair.
Much like Best Picture, this category comes down to La La Land versus Moonlight. Expertly brought together the both of them, a Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins tie wouldn’t be a bad outcome. Since I’m not even sure that’s a possibility, I’m going to say that I’m pulling for Jenkins despite feeling the wind blow Big Hollywood’s way (as though Lionsgate is Big Hollywood). Chazelle has the momentum and his leap from the small-scale Whiplash to this is impressive to say the least. I don’t see La La Land running the table, but I do see it taking this one home.
As I said while discussing screenplay honors, I truly expected Barry Jenkins to win this one. But La La has proven to be too strong. I think that makes Director an easy win for Damien Chazelle.
I’m still bummed that Larrain, Arnold, and A Bigger Splash’s Luca Guadagnino did not make the cut.
Mel Gibson has a lot of atoning to do yet. At least Hacksaw Ridge wasn’t about Jesus, but it was still violent for the sake of making the somewhat obvious point that War Is Not Healthy For Children And Other Living Things. Screw him.
Was the direction what made Arrival good? I suppose it played a part, but this is not the prize I see this movie winning. La La Land is—it seems to me—more of an accomplishment in cinematography. It was the look of the thing that made me gasp, and stuck with me. Is that a component of “directing”? Of course it is, along with casting, and the screenplay (which was okay, but not the point.)
I see this as coming down to Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea, and I think Moonlight should win. There isn’t a false note in the picture, and this is the award that will acknowledge that.
I buried the lede in the last category by saying this is and always was going to be La La Land against Moonlight. It’s a heavyweight fight with a lot of external forces trying to make it into old guard against new; white cisgender Hollywood against black LGBT urban roots. With the whole #OscarsSoWhite campaign looming, The Academy finds itself in a no-win situation.
Twenty years from now, Moonlight will be the film we remember. But come February, La La Land will be the one holding gold. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.
The rest are merely here for the ride. Hacksaw Ridge and Lion are surprises to me, although I don’t know what else I thought The Academy would put in their place. 2017 having at least eight nominees was almost assured if history was any indication, but to me Jackie was the one to round things off. Here we are at nine and Larraín’s piece is gone.
Arrival, Fences, Hell or High Water, and Manchester by the Sea (a one-time frontrunner) were all locks and I’m glad for it since all are in my personal Top Twenty of 2016. Hidden Figures was an outlier that I’m ecstatic to see make the cut. It doesn’t wow you cinematically, but it’s flawless just the same.
The Academy got it right, no matter who wins. They highlighted the films that needed to be highlighted (we’ll just forget how Passengers got two technical nominations, Deadpool none). But just as last year’s hashtag delves beyond an awards show, so too does this result. Cinema was the ultimate winner as a diverse slate of films got made and the people showed support by seeing them. Whether studios were more cognizant in their choices thanks to last year’s uproar isn’t easily measured, but it will be difficult to deny its impact if the trend continues into next year and beyond.
So, it’s La La Land. But what if it isn’t? What if the unexpectedly resonant Hidden Figures, a hugely likable blockbuster hit that is nearly impossible to dislike, pulls off an upset? It would not be a shock. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. There were better films in 2016 than La La Land, but it was my favorite, and I imagine a lot of Academy voters would make the same statement. It’s your Best Picture winner.
Funny that we disagree on this category. As I’ve said above, I enjoyed La La Land, and as a piece of movie making I think it will stay with me, but I see this coming down to Hidden Figures or Fences. Hacksaw Ridge here and on the list for Best Director gives me pause, but let’s face it, Hacksaw Ridge isn’t even in the top ten of WWII movies made in the last ten years.
I was going to say that if Interstellar can’t win this there’s no way Arrival can, but hey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind won back in the day, so I suppose it is possible. Lion, Hell or High Water, and Manchester by the Sea are not big enough, and are flawed in one way or the other. Moonlight could happen, because it is great, but great isn’t what wins this award.
The Academy wants to be recognized for recognizing how it embodies the best qualities in the American value system and this year that means recognizing African-American achievements. Hidden Figures does this in an interesting way—if you thought the Oscars were white last year, consider NASA in the 60’s. The NASA we were shown back then was as white as coconut ice cream, but now, come to find out that one of the signature accomplishments of the US in the second half of the 20th Century was made possible by the contributions of a group of African-American women. That’s powerful stuff, and recognizing this is the sort of thing that the Academy does when it wants to feel good about itself.
The only thing that stands in its way is Fences, a movie with brand name stars, a fancy African-American playwright who had shows on Broadway (including this one), and a nice big budget. Fences is a classic Best Picture. Write it down in ink.