Oscars: The Five Closest Races With Final Balloting Underway

Oscars: The 5 Closest Races With
Courtesy of Paramount/Amazon

Final ballots are out and we find ourselves in the home stretch of yet another Oscar season. While much of this year’s slate feels pretty predictable, there are a number of areas packing some real intrigue. Here’s a closer look at five of the toughest races to call as we barrel toward the 89th annual Academy Awards.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck vs. Denzel Washington
When “Fences” first screened in early November, it really felt like game, set and match for both Viola Davis and Denzel Washington. Already Tony winners for their electrifying performances in August Wilson’s play, they had successfully translated that energy to the big screen. Davis has never relinquished her frontrunner standing, but as the critics began dishing out kudos throughout December and January, Casey Affleck dominated so much with his “Manchester by the Sea” performance that he looked like the one to beat. The Screen Actors Guild shook things up by awarding Washington, who had never been honored by the guild before, while the British Academy didn’t even nominate him (Affleck won in his stead). Now it feels down to the wire for two strikingly different performances of characters that actually share a lot in common.

Best Original Screenplay: “La La Land” vs. “Manchester by the Sea”
It seems like “La La Land” has been climbing uphill for Oscar-watchers in this category since the word go. Why? Because musicals have so rarely been singled out by the Academy for writing. Nevertheless, it’s a very different breed of musical with a strong identity on the page. Meanwhile, Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Kenneth Lonergan has penned an exquisite drama in “Manchester by the Sea” that has won the lion’s share of critics’ prizes. Lonergan also won the BAFTA Award, but it’s worth pointing out that “Moonlight” was nominated in the category there, while it was moved to adapted by the American Academy. All three films were no doubt pulling votes across the pond. But it’s mano a mano at the Oscars. The Writers Guild awards won’t shed too much light, either, given “Moonlight’s” presence in the original category there as well. If either of these two is able to fend off Barry Jenkins with the guild, we might finally have something we can comfortably call a frontrunner.

Best Film Editing: “Arrival” vs. “Hacksaw Ridge” vs. “La La Land”
The BAFTA Awards have been somewhat instructive here and there in below-the-line categories ever since the British Academy changed its voting system to mirror the American Academy’s. But the Brits really kept things interesting by awarding Mel Gibson’s war drama “Hacksaw Ridge” here, which no one saw coming. If the dominant musical was going to fall, “Arrival” — which won the American Cinema Editors’ drama prize — might have made more sense, particularly given the structure of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi flick. “La La Land” won the ACE comedy prize. Now the three are deadlocked in a race that almost leaves you wondering if there’s an upset in the making. If it were me, I’d probably lean toward “Hell or High Water,” underrated work that might be the cleanest of the nominees.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Star Trek Beyond” vs. “Suicide Squad”
When “Florence Foster Jenkins” missed the cut here, this whole category became a mind-numbing toss-up. In all likelihood, “A Man Called Ove” won’t draw enough eyeballs to pose a threat. Few outside those viewing it for best foreign film consideration are likely to have seen it. That leaves us with a contest between two lackluster studio blockbusters that nevertheless featured impressive makeup effects. “Star Trey Beyond’s” is pretty extensive, particularly with star Idris Elba fully immersed in prosthetics. But “Suicide Squad” has a wider array of work on display, including another prosthetic immersion, for actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Which studio can rally a more sizable voting bloc, Paramount or Warner Bros.? That may be what it boils down to.

Best Foreign Language Film: “A Man Called Ove” vs. “The Salesman” vs. “Toni Erdmann”
Before Donald Trump’s travel ban, this felt like smooth sailing for “Toni Erdmann,” which many thought was unfairly denied a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and has the sort of spirit that can enchant. But suddenly there is an opportunity to make a statement on behalf of filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who has said he will not be attending the Oscars due to Trump’s executive order. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs may have even given the go-ahead with her “art has no borders” comments at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon last week. Both are critically acclaimed, but I’ve also heard “Toni Erdmann” may have been one of the foreign film executive committee’s “saves” when it came to the nine-film shortlist. Meanwhile, “A Man Called Ove” is a lingering threat here that few have their eye on, an easy-to-consume comedy-drama that’s right in the Academy wheelhouse, and has that second nomination to boot. Photo finish on this one.

With just under two weeks left in the season, here are In Contention’s latest Oscar predictions.

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  1. spencer shannon says:

    BEST ACTOR RACE AS REPORTED ON HERE IS INDEED GETTING CLOSER DAILY!? But, do they wan to to include *Denzel in that rare & elite group of 3 or more winners by actors,etc??? Only (6) to date have achieved this honor

  2. Robert says:

    Both doc categories are close too. Feature is between OJ and I Am Not Your Negro, while Short is between White Helmets and Joe’s Violin…

  3. David says:

    La La Land has a very, very cliche screenplay. The two leads have so little character development, and that entire film rides on Emma Stone’s charm. Manchester is a much stronger script.

  4. Unknown says:

    Many of these categories are down to the wire except for Best Actor. Many pundits are thinking it’s a close race since the SAG Awards but it isn’t really. Washington won the SAG Best Actor Award as a consolation prize let alone he never won at SAG before & was long over do (more so then Affleck at this time). Affleck is practically a lock to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

    • Remy says:

      No affleck is not a lock neither is Denzel but winning SAG was a big turn around so I guess it’s down to the wire

    • Bill B. says:

      I hope you’re right. Affleck gives the performance of the year. While I loved Manchester, La La Land, Moonlight and Hell or High Water, best actor is the only category I really care a lot about. Ali and Davis are the only locks and La La Land seems like one, but Moonlight can’t totally be dismissed. I am clueless who will win best actress.

      • Bill B. says:

        13 straight SAG/Oscar best actor winners is formidable. The only way I can think of to turn that into a positive for Affleck is that streak cannot go on forever, but that’s a stretch. Critics all over the country have loved Affleck, but not so sure Hollywood does & my gut says it’s Washington while my heart says it belongs to Affleck. Shame as this should not be a popularity contest, but I guess it is sometimes. As much as I loved La La Land, I think it would be a bit shameful if the original screenplay award went to it over Manchester by the Sea. It’s not a perfect film, but it is a beautiful piece of writing. I’m surprised that you did not include best actress in this article. I think it’s the most mystifying category.

      • Best Actress is one of the easiest races to call in the major categories.

  5. mcg says:

    Denzel’s performance to me is the best actor performance of the year!

  6. Justin says:

    I haven’t been paying super close attention this year. Is Animated a race between Zootopia and Kubo or is one of them a heavy favorite to win?

  7. Ann says:

    The Salesman is with Cohen Media, not Sony Classics.

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