Golden Globes voters have spritzed Tom Ford’s perfume. SAG Awards balloters have been playing “Captain Fantastic.” (And maybe the Brown Dirt Cowboy too, if they know their classic-era Elton John.)
What does it all mean for the Academy Awards? Time for another edition of Oscar Watch, as we puzzle through the latest news and developments leading up to the academy revealing its nominees on Jan. 24.
Circle of trust: “La La Land,” “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Fences,” “Hell or High Water,” “Silence,” “Arrival.”
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Prime contenders: “Lion,” “Loving,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Jackie,” “Hidden Figures.”
Analysis: The glad-handing has ended, all the questions have been answered at the nightly Q&As and, sources tell me, the ocean called – it’s running out of shrimp. All of which is to say: The parties and promotional events are over, and academy members are tucked in for the holidays with their DVD screeners.
A few questions to ponder: 1) “Hidden Figures,” as expected, scored big with actors. (And the Obamas at a White House screening.) Will it continue to show strength, appealing to other guilds, on the way to an underdog run to a best picture Oscar nomination? 2) Can “Jackie” catch on with anyone outside of critics? As one academy member complained to me after watching the movie: “If I wanted to listen to someone planning a funeral for two hours, I’d spend the holidays with my Aunt Edna.”
And 3) Is there any hope left for “Loving”? Jeff Nichols’ moving love story put up a goose egg at the SAG Awards but did manage nominations for its two leads – Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton – with the Globes. It didn’t land a best picture drama nod, though, and the film hasn’t caught on commercially. It’s not too late for Focus Features to remind Oscar voters of the movie’s merits and some members’ initial admiration of it. But I can’t escape the sagging feeling that this powerful movie will wind up overlooked.
Circle of trust: Emma Stone, “La La Land”; Natalie Portman, “Jackie.”
Prime contenders: Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”; Ruth Negga, “Loving”; Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”; Amy Adams, “Arrival”; Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”; Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
Analysis: I have not written a word about Streep this season. How is that possible? I’ve listed her every week among the prime contenders, never really believing that, with so many other worthy women, she’d actually land yet another nomination.
That kind of (wishful?) thinking went out the window when Streep earned both Golden Globes and SAG Awards nods for “Florence,” playing a real-life New York socialite whose inability to sing didn’t stop her from trying. The Globes nom was expected, as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has 10 spots for its acting categories and “Florence,” rightfully, landed in the less competitive comedy/musical category. But SAG too? Geez. That has me wondering if Streep is about to add to her Oscar nomination record, even if, yes, SAG voters might love her even more than the academy.
Can I admit that I’m conflicted? Streep’s work in “Florence” ranks among her best – very funny, deeply sad, always fearless. And yet handing her a 20th Oscar nomination would still feel like a profound failure of imagination. Sure, Streep’s “Florence” performance is more deserving than her recent, scenery-chewing turns in “Into the Woods” or “August: Osage County” or even “The Iron Lady,” for which she won her third Oscar. But more deserving than the never-nominated Huppert or the beautifully understated Negga? Absolutely not. (And just in case you didn’t catch it the first time, let me repeat: Isabelle Huppert has zero Oscar nominations. Time to rectify that, voters.)
Circle of trust: Denzel Washington, “Fences”; Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”; Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Prime contenders: Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”; Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Joel Edgerton, “Loving”; Tom Hanks, “Sully”; Andrew Garfield, “Silence.”
Analysis: I also haven’t written about Mortensen but have kept him among the prime contenders until the last column when I deleted his name … because, hey, who was thinking good thoughts about “Captain Fantastic”?
Plenty of people, it turns out. Or, more specifically, at least a couple dozen of the 85 active Hollywood Foreign Press Association members and some of the 2,500 people voting for SAG Awards nominations. Mortensen scored nods from both groups, and the film itself – an anarchistic family saga with Mortensen playing a demanding dad – earned a SAG ensemble mention.
In retrospect, it makes sense, even if moviegoers didn’t really take to “Captain Fantastic” when it came out in July. Mortensen’s inflexible patriarch in the movie is an atheist who celebrates the birth of Noam Chomsky, not Jesus. In other words: He’s just like every other godless sinner living and working in Hollywood. Someone has to balance out Garfield’s devout Desmond Doss, right?
Circle of trust: Viola Davis, “Fences”; Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”; Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”; Nicole Kidman, “Lion”; Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures.”
Prime contenders: Janelle Monae, “Hidden Figures”; Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women.”
Analysis: Spencer’s SAG and Golden Globes noms have me ready to sign off on this category. She and the scene-stealing Monae are equally good in the earnest “Hidden Figures,” but the Oscar-winning Spencer possesses stronger name recognition and goodwill among academy members. Gerwig should be more of a factor, but the late-breaking “20th Century Women” seems to be struggling to find its way to the top of voters’ screener stack. Maybe there’s still time for a late-season run.
Circle of trust: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”; Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”; Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”; Dev Patel, “Lion.”
Prime contenders: Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”; Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”; Issey Ogata, “Silence”; Mykelti Williamson, “Fences”; Andre Holland, “Moonlight”; Simon Helberg, “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
Analysis: You know who else has never been nominated for an Oscar? Hugh Grant! But unlike Huppert, no one has been writing stories lamenting that fact or calling it a gross oversight on the part of the academy. That’s because Grant’s (seemingly) effortless charm isn’t the kind of acting that the academy rewards. If Cary Grant couldn’t win an Oscar, what chance does Hugh Grant have? But he’s in the conversation this year for his knowing turn as Streep’s husband in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” With Globes and SAG nods, it’s looking likely that we might see him at next year’s Oscars.
Circle of trust: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”; Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”; Martin Scorsese, “Silence”; Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea.”
Prime contenders: Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”; Pablo Larrain, “Jackie”; Denzel Washington, “Fences”; Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”; David Mackenzie, “Hell or High Water.”
Analysis: Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences” won key raves from the New York Times’ A.O. Scott and the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, with Scott praising Washington’s decision to resist “the temptation to force a lot of unnecessary cinema on the play.”
But if, as Scott notes, confinement is an implied theme in “Fences,” the material’s inherent restrictions could end up hurting Washington’s chances with directors’ branch voters. The majority of the reviews note the primacy and poetry of Wilson’s words. However, as my colleague Kenneth Turan notes in his review, Washington’s “reverence for the play and its language,” in part, hamstrings its “attempts at making the work fully come alive on screen.”
Due respect will be given to “Fences” in the picture, screenplay and, of course, acting categories. But the restraint Washington shows behind the camera will likely cost him a nomination, even if, in the views of some, it results in a better film.