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R-J’s movie critic predicts big night’s big winners

Updated February 25, 2017 - 12:02 pm

With 14 Oscar nominations, “La La Land” has tied “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for the most ever. And it has a very real shot at tying “Titanic,” “Ben-Hur” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” for the most wins with 11. (Two of its nominations are for best original song, so the most it could win is 13.)

In other story lines, “Florence Foster Jenkins” nominee Meryl Streep has her third chance to tie Katharine Hepburn for the most acting Oscars with four.

With his 21st nomination, “Hacksaw Ridge” sound mixer Kevin O’Connell is still looking for his first Oscar.

And the era of #OscarsSoWhite is officially over (at least for one year) as three movies with predominantly African-American casts — “Fences,” “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” — are up for best picture, while seven of the 20 acting nominees are people of color.

Here’s a look at what to expect from the Oscars’ major categories:

BEST PICTURE

The Nominees: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight”

The Background: I still have no idea what “Hacksaw Ridge” is doing here instead of, say, “Nocturnal Animals.” “Hidden Figures” is a true crowd-pleaser, having grossed the most money domestically of any of the nominees. “Moonlight” is the best movie of the bunch — and the year — but the heartrending tale of a young man’s struggle to find himself seems destined to be overshadowed by the big, splashy, Hollywood musical.

The Winner: “La La Land.” It’s won the Golden Globe, the Producers Guild of America Award and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award. It will dance away with the Oscar, too.

DIRECTING

The Nominees: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”; Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”; Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”; Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”

The Background:“Manchester by the Sea” is a good movie, but the pacing is all off. The first half of “Hacksaw Ridge” feels like a lesser Hallmark movie, while the rest is just unrelenting gore. With his simple, elegant and raw “Moonlight,” Jenkins would take home the trophy in many other years.

The Winner: Chazelle. He’s won the top prize at the Directors Guild of America Awards, as well as the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. And he probably won the Oscar as soon as voters saw “La La Land’s” dazzling opening number.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

The Nominees: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”; Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”; Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”; Denzel Washington, “Fences”

The Background: Not to keep bagging on “Hacksaw Ridge,” but Garfield plays “Southern” as though it’s a synonym for “slow.” It isn’t. This one’s essentially a two-man race between actors playing complicated men who deal with trash every day. Washington acts his face off and has already won the Screen Actors Guild Award, not to mention a Tony, for his role of garbageman Troy Maxson. Affleck, meanwhile, has taken home the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for playing janitor Lee Chandler, on whose shoulders loneliness and regret hang like a rucksack full of cinder blocks.

The Winner: Affleck. The Screen Actors Guild makes up the largest branch of Academy voters, so logic says Washington. But he has two Oscars, for “Glory” and “Training Day,” so I’m going with the new kid on the block.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

The Nominees: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”; Ruth Negga, “Loving”; Natalie Portman, “Jackie”; Emma Stone, “La La Land”; Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

The Background: Huppert’s a terrific actress, but I don’t know how many Academy voters would have seen her work in a rape-revenge story told in French. Streep is always a wild card. But my favorite performance of them all was Portman as the icy, recently widowed Jackie Kennedy.

The Winner: Stone. As the aspiring actress Mia, she sings, she dances, and she won the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA. “La La Land’s” rising tide lifts all boats.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The Nominees: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”; Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”; Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”; Dev Patel, “Lion”; Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

The Background: Bridges and Shannon are both wonderful as scary lawmen in the twilight of their careers, and either would be a valid choice in a different year.

The Winner: Ali. His Juan is easily the most compassionate, forward-thinking drug dealer ever captured on film. Plus, while the British Patel took home the BAFTA, Ali won the SAG Award. (The Golden Globe went to Shannon’s co-star, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.)

ACTRESS IN SUPPORTING ROLE

The Nominees: Viola Davis, “Fences”; Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”; Nicole Kidman, “Lion”; Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”; Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

The Background: Williams is heartbreaking as the grief-stricken ex-wife. Harris rages as the junkie mother who’s never there for her son. And Spencer is her movie’s relatable moral center.

The Winner: Davis. In addition to her Tony for the role of Troy’s long-suffering wife, she swept the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA. It will be a long overdue Oscar for Davis, who was previously nominated for “Doubt” and “The Help.”

The rest of the nominees are:

Animated feature film: “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” “The Red Turtle,” “Zootopia”

Cinematography: “Arrival,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Moonlight,” “Silence”

Costume design: “Allied,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Jackie,” “La La Land”

Documentary (feature): “Fire at Sea,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Life, Animated,” “O.J.: Made in America,” “13th”

Documentary (short subject): “Extremis,” “4.1 Miles,” “Joe’s Violin,” “Watani: My Homeland,” “The White Helmets”

Film editing: “Arrival,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “La La Land,” “Moonlight”

Foreign language film: “Land of Mine,” “A Man Called Ove,” “The Salesman,” “Tanna,” “Toni Erdmann”

Makeup and hairstyling: “A Man Called Ove,” “Star Trek Beyond,” “Suicide Squad”

Music (original score): “Jackie,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Moonlight,” “Passengers”

Music (original song): “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land,” “Can’t Stop The Feeling” from “Trolls,” “City of Stars” from “La La Land,” “The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story,” “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”

Production design: “Arrival,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Hail, Caesar!,” “La La Land,” “Passengers”

Short film (animated): “Blind Vaysha,” “Borrowed Time,” “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” “Pearl,” “Piper”

Short film (live action): “Ennemis Interieurs,” “La Femme et le TGV,” “Silent Nights,” “Sing,” “Timecode”

Sound editing: “Arrival,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “La La Land,” “Sully”

Sound mixing: “Arrival,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “La La Land,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Visual effects: “Deepwater Horizon,” “Doctor Strange,” “The Jungle Book,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Writing (adapted screenplay): “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “Moonlight”

Writing (original screenplay): “Hell or High Water,” “La La Land,” “The Lobster,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “20th Century Women”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.

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