This Sunday marks the annual ceremony in Hollywood where the biggest, most prestigious prizes are given out to celebrate what the assorted members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences deem to be the best selection of films and performances over the past year in cinema. Though I often end up agreeing with the winners, my heart doesn’t always want what my head believes to be right. Here’s a little game of head vs. heart regarding the ‘big five’ for Sunday night.
Heads says: La La Land / Heart says La La Land
Every single one of my organs is in full agreement on this one. There is no doubt that La La Land and Moonlight are the only two pictures that really have a chance to win the final accolade of the evening, and though I was deeply moved and effected by the latter, the former filled me with the kind of cinematic joy that I haven’t experienced since, well, I don’t remember. From a more cynical point of view, Hollywood absolutely loves films about Hollywood, whether they are scathing or celebratory, so although I would be by no means disappointed if Moonlight caused the upset, La La Land is the movie that captured my heart this season.
Head says: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea) / Heart says: Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Though it seems to be pretty much a sure thing that Casey Affleck will take home Best Actor for his admittedly great performance in Manchester By The Sea, I must admit that the film didn’t grab me the way that it grabbed others, and though there are certainly arguments for an actor’s personal being separated from his artistic work, I can’t quite shake the icky feeling I have about Affleck and his controversies. Instead, my heart for this category belongs to Viggo Mortensen, who happens to be the fittest, youngest looking 58 year old man I’ve ever seen and who also gives a fantastic (pun intended) performance in Captain Fantastic as the strongly, and perhaps wrongly, principled father of six free spirited, forest dwelling children who are forced to integrate back in to normal society. Mortensen’s performance may be the least hyped of the fave nominees, but it was definitely my favourite.
Head says: Emma Stone (La La Land) / Heart says: Natalie Portman (Jackie)
This is probably the category about which I feel the strongest. Much like Affleck, Emma Stone seems destined to have her name called on Sunday, and though I absolutely loved her vulnerable, imperfect yet somehow perfect performance in La La Land, no performance evoked a stronger response in me this year than Natalie Portman in Jackie. I think sometimes people tend to forget that Portman is an absolutely extraordinary actress, and her take on former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a masterclass in fragility, and seething, suppressed rage. She maintains an exhausting level of intensity from start to finish that would have got the better of most other actresses. Stone has the partnership of a charismatic Ryan Gosling, Portman carries Jackie all by herself. Simply sensational.
Best Supporting Actor
Head says: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) / Heart says: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Though I enjoyed all of the supporting actor performances nominated, the statuette has to go to Mahershala Ali. Though his role in Moonlight is much briefer than people might anticipate, the power and impact of his performance is evidenced by the fact that his character, through the actions of others and through the sheer force of on screen memory, remains present throughout the entire narrative. You can directly see how Juan, a conflicted drug dealer with a positive moral compass, makes his mark on young protagonist Chiron, and his presence in the first third is arguably the most important presence in the entire movie. Sure, Jeff Bridges and Lucas Hedges gave much more in terms of time to their roles, but let’s not remember the likes of Judi Dench and Beatrice Straight who picked up Academy Awards for mere minutes worth of acting.
Best Supporting Actress
Head says: Viola Davis (Fences) / Heart says: Viola Davis (Fences)
Though Fences wasn’t a film that completely blew me away, there is no doubt that this is ‘Viola’s year’. The academy is often prone to rewarding high profile stars for performances that might not be their strongest ever, just because it feels like the culmination of a long, hard shift put in (see Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant), and it definitely seems as though that will happen on Sunday. Having said that, I wouldn’t say that any of the other four nominated performances are more deserving, with perhaps the possibility that Octavia Spencer might have mounted a challenge had she not already been awarded a statuette in 2011 for The Help. Davis has long been an eloquent leading voice on the discussion of racial and gender equality in the film industry, and it will be fantastic to watch her win what will arguably be the highest accolade of her career so far.