Oscar Watch: ‘Silence’ broken on Scorsese’s latest movie


When the pope shakes your hand and tells you he hopes that your film “bears much fruit,” everything else — critics groups, career callbacks, splashy openings — kind of falls by the wayside.

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese met Pope Francis on Wednesday shortly before a Vatican screening of his latest movie, “Silence.” The encounter, Scorsese told me over a lengthy interview Saturday, made him “very nervous.”

“Until I met him, that is, and then he was completely disarming,” Scorsese said. “I was able to make a few jokes. He laughed a few times. He made a joke to me. It was sweet.”


From Rome, Scorsese flew to Los Angeles, where he participated in a career retrospective with producer Irwin Winkler at the Egyptian Theater on Saturday and then unveiled “Silence” before several hundred people at Westwood’s Village Theater on Sunday.

Can a papal blessing turn into academy acclaim? That’s the question for this week’s Oscar Watch predictions.

Here’s the deal: If I’ve already placed a movie or performance in the circle of trust in the lists below, a nomination is assured. Prime contender spots are reserved for films, actors and directors on the bubble. Right now, I’m just waiting for more academy members to delve into the work. I’ll continue to adjust the predictions over the coming weeks until the academy reveals its picks on Jan. 24.


Circle of trust


“La La Land”


“Manchester by the Sea”




Prime contenders




“Hell or High Water”


“Hacksaw Ridge”

Analysis: Scorsese, of course, received a standing ovation from the members of the media, studio guests and academy and guild members on Sunday in Westwood. What else were they going to do? People were applauding before the film had even started. When it was done, many were left astonished. They had just watched perhaps the most challenging film the celebrated director has ever made, a probing and deeply spiritual examination of faith tested by the seeming silence of God. A best picture nomination seems the least people could do in response.

Adapted from Shusaku Endo’s novel, “Silence” tells the story of a Portuguese Jesuit priest (Andrew Garfield) sent to Japan in the 17th century to find his mentor (Liam Neeson), a priest believed to have renounced his faith under torture. It contains everything you’d expect in a Scorsese movie — brutal acts of betrayal, human attempts at redemption, along with the superb craftsmanship that is a given from trusted collaborators such as cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and production designer Dante Ferretti. Expect to see those names repeated often in the coming weeks.

“Silence” is not an easy movie to watch at times, nor is it one that is easily processed when you’ve finished viewing it. I would expect many academy members to come away confounded. But those who open their hearts to the film will probably put it in the No. 1 spot on their ballots. There’s nothing else like it among the contenders. “Silence” is a film for the ages.


Isabelle Huppert accepts her Gotham Award for "Elle."
Isabelle Huppert accepts her Gotham Award for “Elle.”
(Evan Agostini / Invision / Associated Press )

Circle of trust

Emma Stone, “La La Land”

Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”

Ruth Negga, “Loving”

Prime contenders

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”

Amy Adams, “Arrival”

Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”

Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Analysis: Stone, Portman and Bening are the easy picks for nominations. Am I starting to waver on Negga and “Loving”? A bit, sadly. Focus Features hasn’t expanded the movie as aggressively as it did two years ago with “The Theory of Everything.” Thus, commercially, “Loving” has been so-so, though I know a great many academy members anchored in its corner. I think Negga, Adams and Huppert, sweeping through the critics groups right now for “Elle” and “Things to Come,” will vie for the remaining two slots. It is a brutally competitive category this year.


Circle of trust


Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Prime contenders

Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”

Andrew Garfield, “Silence”

Joel Edgerton, “Loving”

Tom Hanks, “Sully”

Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Analysis: Washington’s theatrical, capital A acting turn in “Fences” was never going to go over with critics groups, which typically reward subtlety over scenery-chewing. But the reverse is often true with actors branch voters, so Affleck shouldn’t get too comfortable. (The situation is, in some respects, comparable to the dynamic between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton two seasons ago.) Affleck and Washington remain the front-runners with Garfield strongly in the mix for the equally demanding, very different suffering-in-Japan movies “Silence” and “Hacksaw.”


Michelle Williams, supporting actress contender for "Manchester by the Sea."
Michelle Williams, supporting actress contender for “Manchester by the Sea.”
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press )

Circle of trust

Viola Davis, “Fences”

Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”

Prime contenders


Nicole Kidman, “Lion”

Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women”

Janelle Monáe, “Hidden Figures”

Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

Felicity Jones, “A Monster Calls”

Analysis: Williams and, surprisingly, her “Certain Women” costar Lily Gladstone, have won the early prizes. But the Oscar still belongs to Davis.


Circle of trust

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Prime contenders

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Mykelti Williamson, “Fences”

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Stephen McKinley Henderson, “Fences”

Jovan Adepo, “Fences”

André Holland, “Moonlight”

Simon Helberg, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Analysis: Playing the missing priest rumored to have renounced his beliefs in “Silence,” Neeson had been mentioned as a possible contender. But the role, though key to the story, is too small for the veteran Irish actor to earn his first nomination since “Schindler’s List.”

“Silence” does have three meaty supporting roles for Japanese actors. Yōsuke Kubozuka works wonders as the film’s tragicomic Judas figure, Kichijiro, who pops up throughout the movie, always to memorable effect. Issey Ogata was the supporting actor runner-up with the L.A. Film Critics for his remarkable turn as the inquisitor. (You might remember him as Emperor Hirohito in Alexander Sokurov’s 2005 film, “The Sun.”) And Tadanobu Asano is electrifying in a handful of scenes, playing an interpreter. All three deserve consideration, though, as is the case with “Fences,” the quantity of choices won’t help their chances.


"Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins.
“Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times )

Circle of trust

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

Martin Scorsese, “Silence”

Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Prime contenders

Jeff Nichols, “Loving”

Pablo Larraín, “Jackie”

Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Clint Eastwood, “Sully”

Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Analysis: Jenkins has now won awards from the L.A. and New York film critics groups and the National Board of Review, becoming the first director since David Fincher (“The Social Network”) to pull off that feat. (Jenkins also won at the Gotham Awards.) So, yes, his place at the table is firmly fixed.

Twitter: @glennwhipp