NBN Entertainment pretends to be Oscars experts
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    Graphic by Emma Kumer / North by Northwestern

    After the Grammys got it all wrong a few weeks ago, you, like us at NBN Entertainment, are probably jaded with awards shows. But have no fear, the end is in sight – the Oscars, the biggest awards show of them all, is this Sunday. After that, we’ll go months without a major arts award ceremony. (A much-needed break, if you ask us.)

    La La Land comes into the Oscars with a record 14 nominations, and the question on everyone’s mind isn’t if it will be successful, but how successful it will be. Of course, the odds are heavily in its favor in multiple categories, but that hasn’t stopped Moonlight from being a viable underdog. All this coupled with controversy in the acting categories: a best actor favorite with sexual assault and harassment allegations to his name, a snubbed best actress hopeful in arguably the most competitive category, a best supporting actress favorite who’s objectively a leading actress. And we can’t forget best director, where, in a year of diverse films and nominees (about damn time), the favorite is a white guy who can’t stop making films about jazz that some find a bit too problematic.

    So, the film- and awards-obsessed here at NBN Entertainment have provided you with all the hot takes you didn’t ask for. A few of us writers have predicted the big six categories – the most prestigious recognitions a film can achieve, for picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay (original or adapted). The current odds, according to Goldderby’s experts, are:

    Best picture: La La Land – 2-11

    Best director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land – 2-13

    Best actor: Denzel Washington, Fences – 8-11

    Best actress: Emma Stone, La La Land – 1-4

    Best original screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea – 1-4

    Best adapted screenplay: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight – 1-10

    But we all know nothing is set in stone going into an awards show. Read on for our thoughts.

    La La Land was good, but a lot of things were betterJustin Curto

    Oscar films seen: La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, Captain Fantastic, Loving

    Best picture: La La Land

    Best director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

    Best actor: Denzel Washington, Fences

    Best actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

    Best original screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

    Best adapted screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Arrival

    I haven’t watched the most Oscar films this year, but I like to think I’ve watched enough awards shows to know how they work. (Although, the Grammys do lead me to believe otherwise).

    At this point, the big races don’t leave as much room for surprise as I’d like – it’s no Spotlight versus Mad Max versus The Big Short versus The Revenant. Of course La La Land will take best picture and best director, and we can debate the merits of that somewhere else. I do hope Manchester by the Sea – one of the best original stories in years – edges out La La Land for original screenplay, since Lonergan’s script truly let the actors shine.

    To me, the real races are best actor and actress. Casey Affleck has slowly slipped from his lock on best actor as allegations of sexual harassment and assault have magnified, and the race is now one of the tightest after Denzel Washington won the Screen Actors Guild award for best actor. My take? Actors have been some of the most vocal anti-Affleck voices (see Constance Wu, Brie Larson). The Academy is mostly actors, so my guess is they’ll pick Washington, in line with the SAGs – and the sentiment that his performance is just better. Best actress is also quite the competition, but the split between Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert will allow Emma Stone to rise up – but I’m here for the plot twist of a Huppert win.

    Which brings me to Arrival, my favorite film in quite a while. I know it won’t win best picture, but I’m thoroughly disappointed that Amy Adams, who carried the film in a role that ~could’ve~ been her Oscar break, was snubbed for best actress. I’m calling a long shot for adapted screenplay, since that storyline balanced suspense, realization and emotion like none other, and Arrival deserves something.

    (One more thing: “Audition” is the better song from La La Land than “City of Stars.” And “How Far I’ll Go” is a better song than both of those. But, I guess we can’t have nice things in the music categories).

    Award shows are cancelled (sort of)Stacy Tsai

    Oscar films seen: Fences, La La Land, Moonlight

    Best picture: Moonlight

    Best director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

    Best actress*: Viola Davis, Fences

    Best adapted screenplay: August Wilson, Fences

    Best cinematography: James Laxton, Moonlight

    As a reformed Oscar-obsessed cinephile, I recognize the importance of the season. The outfits, the drama, the well-intentioned-but-annoyingly-self-congratulatory pats on the back for “diversity” in an industry with a thinly veiled, capitalist agenda that reinforces racist, one dimensional depictions of people of color – it’s all ~SO~ glamorous!

    But, real talk – especially after the unsurprising swipe of the century at the Grammys (and the spectacle of white apologism that followed), I don’t have high hopes for awards shows. Yet, this is the reality of this system – we all know accolades from an ivory institution are a way for marginalized narratives to be validated. So you can see the tension. How can we recognize art outside the long-standing awards system fraught with inequality? How can we validate narratives without absorbing them as tokens of “diversity”?

    Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton talked withVogue about the idea of judgment: “It’s something that as a cinematographer you are constantly aware of. How are you depicting someone. How the light looks on someone’s face … All of these things speak to judgment. It’s what our job is: To depict a judgment.” As viewers, we are the purveyors of judgment – we bring our prejudices and visual associations to the theater and we let the movie manipulate them. A good movie turns us inside out, makes us see ourselves in higher saturation or clearer focus.

    So, Moonlight and Fences deserve everything. Moonlight is all that Boyhood sought to be – a coming-of-age tale that tells the story of a community through one Black boy. Fences breathed life into August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Series,” which sheds light on the particularities of Black experience in the 20th century. Both films lay bare the troubles of adolescence, class, race, sexuality and masculinity for us to grapple with – not for the sake of vulnerability, but for the sake of representing the complexity and particularity of lives that are assumed to be less than valid.

    * Viola Davis was the sole narrative propulsion of Fences. I don’t care how they distinguish “supporting” vs. “lead,” she (and every woman in history bearing the burden of collateral from a man’s existential crisis) deserves it.

    Writers need love tooKathryn Mohr

    Oscar films seen: La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Captain Fantastic, Arrival, Hell or High Water, The Lobster, 20th Century Women

    Best picture: La La Land

    Best director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

    Best actor: Denzel Washington, Fences

    Best actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

    Best adapted screenplay: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

    Best original screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

    To begin, I (not so) boldly claim that best picture and best director are already decided. Let’s move on from the Hollywood-patting-itself-on-the-back fare that is La La Land – not that it wasn’t a wonderful time at the movies – and look at one of the few categories it isn’t guaranteed a win in: original screenplay, and adapted for that matter.

    Has there ever been a year where we’ve had such a rich, diverse group of movies – not only in terms of casts, but in terms of stories told? Sure, the best picture nominees may have gone to more traditional Oscar bait (can we please ask how on Earth found itself nominated?), but if you look at the original and adapted screenplay categories, there’s treasure to be found.

    There’s something for everyone, from a gritty modern western in Hell or High Water, to a nostalgic trip back to Santa Barbara, 1979, in 20th Century Women, to an achingly poignant coming of age saga for a Black man growing up in a rougher part of Miami in Moonlight. Even the “ironically dark and obscure comedy” genre is represented in the surreal and hilarious The Lobster.

    For adapted screenplay, I adored the new angle Arrival took on the sci-fi genre (side note: Is Amy Adams the new Leo?), but I can’t argue with the beautiful and nuanced Moonlight. The film just feels so lived-in and true, it was incredibly powerful to watch. Original screenplay was much harder to decide. I ended up choosing Manchester by the Sea purely because, when I looked it up after watching the film, I flat out could not believe it wasn’t based on a novel. I do believe the sharp observations about relationships and romance in The Lobster make it a close second, however. While best picture is always a popularity contest for the big dogs, the screenplay categories offer a way for the Academy to award smaller films for telling unique stories (à la Her, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Fargo) – something necessary for keeping the film industry thriving.

    (Also just throwing this out there: Kubo and the Two Strings should win best animated feature, #sorrynotsorry Disney).

    Let’s root for the underdogMarco Cartolano

    Oscar films seen: La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, Hell or High Water, Lion, Moonlight, Elle, Jackie, 20th Century Women, The Lobster

    Best picture: Arrival

    Best director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

    Best actor: Ryan Gosling, La La Land

    Best actress: Isabelle Huppert, Elle

    Best original screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster

    Best adapted screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Arrival

    Using betting markets to make safe choices is fine if you want to win the Oscars lottery, but it’s also kind of boring. Eager to have all the hot takes, I decided to go all in and pick an underdog for every category.

    My choice for best picture and director are interchangeable. Arrival turns the classic alien encounters narrative into a study on language and time. Moonlight’s tender portrayal of a man trying to carve out his identity evokes a pure sense of empathy. Ultimately Arrival edged Moonlight out for best picture because the Oscars need to show more love to science fiction after the last year’s snub of Mad Max: Fury Road.

    I chose Ryan Gosling out of necessity, because I haven’t seen Hacksaw Ridge or Captain Fantastic and can’t judge Andrew Garfield or Viggo Mortensen’s roles. I also don’t want to pick Casey Affleck, for obvious reasons.

    On a more interesting note, my choice for best actress is Isabelle Huppert for Elle. Huppert has the most hurdles to overcome. She only speaks French in the movie, she is a 63-year-old actress in an ageist industry and Elle is a satirical melodrama about a complexly characterized rape victim. But, Huppert’s perfect performance carries the movie.

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