Ah, the Oscars. The highlight of the film fan's calendar; the night when careers are made and cinematic history is written. The glitz, the glamour, the dresses. And of course, the often-woefully inaccurate pundit predictions. For people like me, it's yet another wonderful opportunity to again undermine our already-blighted reputations.
This year, the ceremony contains a bit of extra intrigue for Christian viewers, as a film with an explicitly faith-affirming worldview is nominated in several of the key categories. Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson's war biopic about Christian conscientious objector Desmond T Doss, is up for Best Picture, while Gibson and leading man Andrew Garfield (he of 'falling in love with Jesus' fame) are both recognised in their respective categories. Could a film about the power of Christian faith play David to some of this year's cinematic Goliaths?
On Sunday night, the eyes of the world will be on Hollywood for the 89th Academy Awards. So in that foolish way that movie reviewers tend to do, let me stick my neck out and predict what I think might happen... along with a couple of moments of wishful thinking.
The nine-film shortlist for the biggest prize is as strong as perhaps it's ever been; it's hard to imagine Tootsie winning in a year like this. The list also makes for satisfying reading for the millions of fans who are outraged by the apparent whitewash of 2016, where David Oyelowo's titanic performance in Selma was among the many black contributions to cinema that went unrecognised that year. In 2017, four of the Best Picture nominees centre on characters of colour; two of them exclusively so. Yet while Moonlight is an extraordinary piece of storytelling, and Lion a heart-rending true story, it's almost impossible to see past La La Land. Damien Chazelle's musical masterpiece is a rare thing: a film that has you blinking at the screen with wonder and joy. Manchester by the Sea is the other one that could run it close, but sadly Hacksaw Ridge has no real chance in this category.
I really, really want Andrew Garfield to win. His gentle, sympathetic performance as Desmond T Doss is what elevates Hacksaw Ridge, and the act of taking on the role apparently elevated him too. For me though, this category is a three-way fight between Ryan Gosling's tap-dancing, smirking, jazz-piano-learning turn in La La Land, Casey Affleck's gritty portrayal of a man who can't quite live up to his calling in Manchester by the Sea, and Denzel Washington's strong actor-director performance in Fences. It could go any way, but I'm going to back Affleck to spring a minor upset, unless historic sexual harassment allegations against him have weighed on the minds of voters – in which case Washington will win.
There are some sensational performances in this category; Ruth Negga is extraordinary in Loving, Isabelle Huppert is receiving rave reviews for the gritty Elle, and Natalie Portman's central role in Jackie keeps all eyes on her for every second of the movie. Yet while many of us would love to see Meryl Streep win just so she can give another speech, surely this is Emma Stone's year. She's marginally the stronger half of the team in La La Land, but her crowning moment in the film – the four-minute ballad which features her face and voice and literally nothing else – is iconic enough to help her bring home the famous statuette.
Best Supporting Actor
Like all the other fields, this is tight and tough one to predict. Dev Patel, Lucas Hedges and Jeff Bridges all give great performances in their respective films. However, there's a moment in Moonlight where Mahershala Ali's character realises that he is the cause of the very problem that he is trying to solve, and Ali gives a single emotional reaction so heartbreakingly powerful, it should win an Oscar all on its own. My hunch is that while Ali's role in the film is surprisingly brief, his impact is so great that he'll win the category.
Best Supporting Actress
For the corresponding category, I'm actually going to return to the very same scene, and predict British actress Naomie Harris to take another Oscar for Moonlight. Her performance as a drug-addicted mother is hard to watch at times, but undoubtedly a tremendous feat of acting which is equally hard to tear your eyes away from. She's far from a dead-cert though; to win she'll need to beat off competition from the heavily-backed Viola Davis – taking us through the entire range of emotions (and needing to blow her nose) in Fences – an understated Nicole Kidman in Lion, and Michelle Williams, strong in Manchester by the Sea.
Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay
Unless it simply cleans up on Sunday night, I don't think La La Land will win this one. Damien Chazelle's script is light and occasionally profound, but it's no match for the powerful, scorchingly honest Manchester by the Sea, which should win in the original category. In the adaptations, this could be the big moment for Fences, rewritten for the screen by playwright August Wilson before his death, but the honest truth is that the film isn't quite as cinematic as many had hoped. This could be another big moment for Moonlight, which while it relies more on images than words to convey its powerful story, is still a sensational piece of storytelling.
Well. Could this be Hacksaw Ridge's moment? Mel Gibson certainly does a stunning job of marrying small-town melodrama and brutal war epic in a way that remains engaging throughout, and a win here would mark the completion of his Hollywood comeback after a decade on the blacklist. Yet while my heart says yes, my head says no: this is probably a two-horse race between Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins. The former choreographed an iconic single-shot dance routine on the LA freeway; the latter immersed viewers in the deeply difficult world of a troubled young person with an amazing use of colour and following shots. By a nose, I think the award will go to Jenkins, who has gone from total outsider to Hollywood royalty in seconds.
In the rest of the awards, I reckon La La Land could scoop up several of the more technical categories, including Film Editing and Cinematography, while 'City of Stars' from the same film is surely nailed-on for best song. In the sort battle normally reserved for the Disneyland staff Christmas party, Moana and Zootopia will duke it out for Best Animated Feature and the latter will probably win (which I think would be a mistake). Finally, I think OJ: Made in America will win Best Documentary feature in a another strong field which also includes Ava DuVernay's extraordinary 13th.
So there you are. I think La La Land will walk away with the highest individual number of awards on the night, but as a project that appeared as if from nowhere, Moonlight will be Oscar's most significant winner. And sadly, that probably leaves little room for Hacksaw Ridge (although don't despair, since Gibson is about to follow up his cinematic redemption with a Resurrection). But what do I know? One of the most glorious things about the ceremony is its ability to spring a surprise. So in fact, sit back and look forward to big wins from Arrival, Hidden Figures and Lion...
Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO ofYouthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.