Oscar Watch: The latest predictions and why Trump’s election might be good news for ‘La La Land’

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in “Hell or High Water.”
Jeff Bridges, left, and Gil Birmingham in “Hell or High Water.”
(Lorey Sebastian / CBS Films / Lionsgate)

The last time a Republican won the White House and lost the popular vote, Oscar voters ended up giving the best picture honor to a flamboyant, rousing and altogether silly movie about a proud Roman soldier fighting for his freedom.

That film, of course, was Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” about which you can say a great many things. But I’m not sure any of them would have much of anything to do with the election of George W. Bush.

Which is a good thing to remember as Hollywood collects itself in a world where Donald Trump has been named president. (I’m assuming most academy members didn’t vote Republican. Then again, I could be wrong.)

I’ve had people tell me the last few days that Trump’s victory is good news for lighter movies like the romantic musical “La La Land” and the feel-good crowd-pleaser “Hidden Figures.” The thinking: People need good vibrations right about now.


On the flip side, others have reasoned that the election day gut punch will turn people inward, favoring a movie like “Manchester by the Sea,” where grief is inescapable and emotional recovery feels impossible. If you cried watching this, then you know what I’m talking about.

In 2000, “Gladiator” — a movie sporting the tagline “Are you not entertained?” — delivered spectacle in a year that  also saw the release of two Steven Soderbergh movies (“Traffic” and “Erin Brockovich”), Ang Lee’s soaring “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the Miramax trifle “Chocolat.” All five were nominated for best picture.

Maybe “Traffic” would have won if it had been the only Soderbergh movie that year. (He did win the director Oscar.) But, aside from the two Soderbergh pictures, that lineup looks like an escapist’s film festival. Add other academy favorites from that year like “Billy Elliot” and “Almost Famous” and the vibe gets stronger.

Will history repeat itself 16 years later? Maybe. The commercial and critical prospects for the whimsical “La La Land” look pretty good right about now. After this brutal, long election year, who couldn’t use a little song and dance in their lives?


Which brings us to the Oscar Watch predictions, Week 5.

Here’s the deal: If I’ve already placed a movie or performance in the circle of trust in the lists below, it’s the gospel truth. A nomination is guaranteed. Prime contender spots are reserved for films, actors and directors on the bubble. They’re (probably) deserving and could be nominated, but the remaining contenders need to be seen before putting them in the circle of trust.

As the yet-to-screen contenders are unveiled and academy members have a chance to delve into the work, I’ll 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”





“Hidden Figures”

“Toni Erdmann”

“20th Century Women”

Not yet seen


“Live by Night”

Analysis: You know what movie really speaks to this year’s outsider politics? “Hell or High Water,” a heist pic that asks the question: When the banks steal from you, is it OK to rob them to save your family from the “disease of poverty?” Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay works equally well as a thriller, character study and pointed social commentary. It’s among the year’s best reviewed films and, for a platform release, did quite well at the box office, grossing $27 million.

CBS Films hosted a low-key DVD release party for “Hell” this past weekend at Bludso’s Bar & Que in Los Angeles. All the principals from the movie attended — actors Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges, director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Sheridan. I broke (corn)bread with Bridges while he listened to academy member Martin Davidson tell him why “Hell” was his favorite movie this year. He’s not the only one feeling that way.


Jessica Chastain at the AFI Fest premiere of “Miss Sloane.”
Jessica Chastain at the AFI Fest premiere of “Miss Sloane.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times )

Circle of trust

Emma Stone, “La La Land”

Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Ruth Negga, “Loving”

Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”

Prime contenders

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”

Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”

Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Amy Adams, “Arrival”

Analysis: Chastain’s political thriller “Miss Sloane” premiered Friday at AFI Fest, earning decent reviews along the lines of “the movie’s a mess, but Chastain keeps it watchable.” Playing a ruthless lobbyist, Chastain conjures up another in a long line of obsessive women, a tour de force turn that would give her an outside shot at a nomination in a leaner year. 


Robert De Niro at the AFI Fest premiere of “The Comedian.”
Robert De Niro at the AFI Fest premiere of “The Comedian.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times )

Circle of trust

Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Prime contenders

Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”

Joel Edgerton, “Loving”

Tom Hanks, “Sully”

Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Miles Teller, “Bleed for This”

Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”

Not yet seen

Andrew Garfield, “Silence”

Michael Keaton, “The Founder”

Matthew McConaughey, “Gold”

Analysis: Robert De Niro’s latest, “The Comedian,” also premiered Friday at AFI Fest, and, like “Miss Sloane,” people came away liking the performances better than the movie. Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Tom Bernard told me before the film that De Niro really wanted to make a movie to “last a lifetime,” and on that count, “The Comedian” falls plenty short. But De Niro’s performance as a former sitcom star who has morphed into a misanthropic stand-up comic has its moments, even if it just mostly makes you want to binge-watch “BoJack Horseman” all over again.


Circle of trust

Viola Davis, “Fences”

Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”

Prime contenders

Nicole Kidman, “Lion”

Janelle Monáe, “Hidden Figures”

Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women”

Felicity Jones, “A Monster Calls”

Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

Analysis: Kidman is currently shooting Sofia Coppola’s remake of “The Beguiled” in Louisiana, but she has found the time to fly to Los Angeles the last two weekends to promote “Lion.” Her work as the loving, supportive mother is less complicated than what we’re used to seeing from Kidman, but no less stirring. “Lion” moves many to tears, and Kidman, like Williams, has one big scene that will stay in the minds of voters.


Jeff Bridges, supporting actor contender for “Hell or High Water.”
Jeff Bridges, supporting actor contender for “Hell or High Water.”
(Valerie Macon / AFP / Getty Images )

Circle of trust

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Prime contenders

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Stephen McKinley Henderson, “Fences”

Jovan Adepo, “Fences”

Mykelti Williamson, “Fences”

André Holland, “Moonlight”

Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Simon Helberg, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Aaron Eckhart, “Bleed for This”

Not yet seen

Liam Neeson, “Silence”

Analysis: Bridges seems certain to secure a seventh Oscar nomination for his perfect turn as a Texas Ranger facing an unwanted retirement in “Hell or High Water.” And he did a beautiful job presenting an honorary Oscar to casting director Lynn Stalmaster at the Governors Awards on Saturday night. “Strikes and gutters, man,” Bridges told me at Bludso’s, using “The Big Lebowski” line to sum up the tone of his latest movie. “Strikes and gutters. People are feeling that right now.”


Martin Scorsese attends the 28th Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo.
Martin Scorsese attends the 28th Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo.
(Franck Robichon / EPA )

Circle of trust

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

Prime contenders

Jeff Nichols, “Loving”

Pablo Larrain, “Jackie”

Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Clint Eastwood, “Sully”

Garth Davis, “Lion”

Not yet seen

Martin Scorsese, “Silence”

Analysis: People have been asking me about “Silence,” as there have been rumors that it wouldn’t screen in time to be considered by critics groups and early bird awards givers like the National Board of Review. That has never been the case. Paramount emailed members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. in late October, nailing down a Nov. 30 screening date — four days before the group votes on its awards. Members of the New York Film Critics Circle will see Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating epic the same day, though they’ll have less time to contemplate the film’s merits, as they vote on Dec. 1.

I see a wide-open path for “Silence” to make plenty of noise at this year’s Oscars. But then, as you may know, I’m always all-in on Scorsese.  His late-career hot streak, hopping from genre to genre with a boundless, thrilling cinematic energy, has been a thing of beauty.

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