Oscars 2017 preview

A closer look at the stars staking a claim for Oscars glory

Oscars 2017 preview
The Oscars: Best actor

The awards season is starting to heat up with the red carpet for the 89th annual Oscars ceremony set to be rolled out in just a matter of weeks. With the eagerly awaited nominations being announced on Tuesday January 24, we are putting our necks on the line to predict which screen stars are in with a shot of waltzing away with a golden statuette and who should keep their acceptance speech tucked neatly in their pocket and practise their best gracious loser smile for the cameras.

Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea

Ben Affleck’s little brother could be set to step out of his sibling’s shadow in emphatic style by adding another golden gong to the film family’s mantelpiece. Ben claimed an Academy award for best screenplay for 1997’s Good Will Hunting and Casey is a hot favourite to earn a Best Actor nod 20 years on for his stirring screen performance in Manchester by The Sea. Affleck stars as a brooding, angry, grieving man from the Massachusetts coastal town of the title, who is trying to exist in the wake of family tragedy. It’s written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret and You Can Count on Me), who’s a master at exploring the shockwaves of trauma. Affleck secured the Best Actor in a Drama accolade at the Golden Globes, which could well be a precursor for further success.

Joel Edgerton for Loving

Joel Edgerton stars in this quiet, restrained real-life drama from director Jeff Nichols as Richard Loving, an ordinary working-class white man who finds himself at the centre of a legal storm when he marries his African-American fiancée, Mildred (Ruth Negga), in 1950s Virginia. It’s an understated performance, which might harm its Oscar potential, but it’s a committed, impressive one nonetheless.

Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge

The former Spider-Man star heads up Mel Gibson’s seriously bloody World War Two film, playing a deeply religious and likeable American soldier who serves on the battlefield in Japan but refuses to carry a gun because of his beliefs. Garfield comes into his own in the film’s climactic and terrifying battle scenes – even if Gibson lays on the heroism a bit thick. The British actor also stars in Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated new movie Silence, which will help to further shine the spotlight on him.

Ryan Gosling for La La Land

The LA-set musical La La Land is one of the front-runners to win Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars. It’s an inventive and moving ode to Hollywood, which will inevitably play well with Oscar voters. Perhaps Ryan Gosling’s performance as a jazz pianist caught between the pulls of love and ambition isn’t meaty enough to nab an acting prize. But he may have dispelled some doubts after he and co-star Emma Stone secured double success in the Best Actor and Actress in a Comedy or Musical category as the film swept the board at the Golden Globes. Gosling’s charm and dancing skills go a long way, and we’d be surprised if he wasn’t at least nominated.

Jake Gyllenhaal for Nocturnal Animals

Jake Gyllenhaal plays two characters in fashion designer Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals: the ex-husband of Amy Adams’s gallery owner and also the main character in the novel he sends to his ex-wife after not being in touch for years. It’s in the novel-within-the-film that Gyllenhaal shows his acting chops with a big, look-at-me performance as a man who watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are attacked on a deserted Texas roadside in the dead of night.

Tom Hanks for Sully

This is such a classic Tom Hanks role that you can actually imagine the likeable actor himself landing that passenger plane on the Hudson River instead of Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the pilot he plays in Clint Eastwood’s tense, solid recreation of the event. It doesn’t feel like an Oscar winner – there are stronger performances from the likes of Affleck, Washington and Gosling – but expect Hanks to be in the throng of the acting nominations.

Denzel Washington for Fences

Denzel Washington is aiming to make it a hat-trick of Oscar wins and we believe he will prove the biggest obstacle to another Affleck family victory. It was first-blood to Affleck at the Golden Globes, but Washington has a proven track-record with Academy Award judges. The 62-year-old is a worthy frontrunner for his all-hands-on-deck role in this adaption of August Wilson’s 1983 play, which he also directs. Washington and co-star Viola Davis both also appeared in a 2010 Broadway revival of the 1950s-set play. The story focuses on Washington’s character, Troy, an ex-baseball player, and his fractious relationship with his family, himself and the world around him. If Washington triumphs, it will be his third Oscar and his second for a leading role.

Dave Johns for I, Daniel Blake

Okay, it’s a long shot, but we’re throwing the name of the lead actor in Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or-winning austerity drama I, Daniel Blake into the hat. Oscar voters might struggle a little with Johns’ Geordie accent – if the film even makes it onto their radar at all. But the compassion and reasoned anger of Loach’s story about an unwell carpenter stuck in the bureaucratic hell of the UK benefits system has been resonating strongly with audiences far beyond Britain and may translate into a nomination nod for Johns. That would be a mighty achievement itself, but a win against such competition is highly unlikely.

The Oscars: Best Actress

Amy Adams for Arrival (or Nocturnal Animals)

Amy Adams has been nominated five times for an Oscar but currently has zero gold statuettes sitting above the fireplace. Is that about to change? And, if so, which role will finally win her an Oscar? Her world-renowned linguist in brainy sci-fi Arrival or her rich and conflicted gallery owner in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals? If the Golden Globes are any indicator, it may be her extraterrestrial encounters in the former that give Adams her best shot of ending her losing run. Oscar prognosticators talk about Adams not being interesting enough – no endearing trips on the red carpet or tabloid-worthy break-ups. Her body of work is crying out for an overdue success but with competition as strong as ever in this category she may well have to wait at least another year before she gets to dig out her acceptance speech at the Dolby Theatre.

Kate Beckinsale for Love & Friendship

When she isn’t off slaying vampires in the Underworld franchise, Kate Beckinsale can definitely turn in an Oscar-worthy effort. Her witty and note-perfect performance as unscrupulous heroine Lady Susan Vernon in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s Love & Friendship sees Beckinsale at her best. It may not, however, be enough to catch the eye of the Academy, who do love to see their Best Actresses suffer on their way to awards night glory. Last year’s winner, Brie Larson, played a kidnap victim in Room and before that it was Julianne Moore with early onset dementia in Still Alice. So it’s unlikely that Beckinsale will claim a first Oscar. What a shame. Scheming Lady Susan – aka the biggest flirt in the whole of England – is one of Austen’s best characters, brilliantly played by Beckinsale.

Annette Bening for 20th Century Women

Could this be fifth time lucky for screen veteran Bening? Four-times a nominee, but never a winner, she should at least be in the running for her role in 20th Century Women. The film boasts a talented ensemble cast, but it’s Bening that everyone is talking about for her role as a wise and prickly chain-smoking feminist. Set in 1970s California, the film is a coming-of-age drama fictionalising director Mike Mills’ relationship with his own mother. Authentic and real, it is possibly not lightning bolt enough for Oscar glory – but it should put Bening in the conversation.

Taraji P Henson for Hidden Figures

She is not a household name, but Taraji P Henson is already an Oscar nominee – netting a supporting nod in 2009 for playing Brad Pitt’s foster mother in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Henson’s recent memoir revealed she was paid sofa change compared to Pitt and Cate Blanchett for that highly memorable role). The actress could be on track for nomination number two with Hidden Figures, the previously untold real-life story of three trailblazing African-American female mathematicians who helped Nasa win the Space Race in the 1960s.

Isabelle Huppert for Elle

Isabelle Huppert gives what might be her finest performance yet (that’s saying something) in Paul Verhoeven’s controversial drama Elle. The signs look good as judges prepare to rubber-stamp their nominations for the annual extravaganza. The French acting legend followed up two early Best Actress wins at the Gotham Independent Film Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards with the Best Actress in a Drama gong at the Golden Globes. The trio of successes will inevitably lead to talk of an Oscar for her role as a tech entrepreneur attacked late at night in her home by a masked intruder. And the Academy has a track record for nominating actors in foreign films (most recently, another French actress, Emmanuelle Riva for Amour in 2013). But the stark subject matter – apparently no American actress would take the role on – could make Elle a tough sell to those with a casting vote.

Ruth Negga for Loving

Ruth Negga is the newcomer on our list. The Ethiopian-Irish actress gives a career-changing performance in Loving – the true story of a mixed-race relationship that led to a landmark US civil rights court case. Negga plays Mildred Loving, a black woman whose marriage to a white man (Joel Edgerton) was illegal in 1950s Virginia. The film might not be Oscar-bait-y enough to win big – director Jeff Nichols focuses on the ordinariness of the couple. But there’s nothing ordinary about Negga’s performance – it’s all in her expressive eyes. While it may be just a little too soon for Negga to walk away with the ultimate prize, her breakout performance is so engaging that she should be very much in the running for a spot among the nominees after missing out on a Golden Globe to Emma Stone.

Natalie Portman for Jackie

Natalie Portman’s Jacqueline Kennedy is one of those performances that will be talked about for years. Taking on such an iconic figure in American history is a daunting task for even the most accomplished of screen performers, but Portman more than meets the challenge. We know that the Oscars love a transformation, and Portman (who won Best Actress for Black Swan in 2011) pulls off a stunner, with a raw, complicated and compelling portrait of the grieving first lady. The first English language film by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, Jackie is an unpredictable biopic, following Kennedy through the chaos of the week following JFK’s assassination in 1963. She went home empty-handed from the Golden Globes but don’t be surprised if she ends the night clutching some gold at the Oscars.

Emma Stone for La La Land

Emma Stone’s biggest asset on the road to Oscar glory is, well, Emma Stone. With buckets of charm and a nice series of self-deprecating one-liners, she is one of Hollywood’s most likeable actors. She certainly has plenty of momentum as she prepares to pick her gown for the glitzy showpiece finale to the film awards season. Stone is almost a cast-iron certainty to be nominated and will head into the Oscars on the back of a Golden Globe win. Stone acts up a storm in the musical romance La La Land, co-starring with Ryan Gosling. Like Stone, the film is impossible to resist – a musical for people who hate musicals.

Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins

She may have been making more headlines for her Golden Globes attack on US president-elect Donald Trump, but this serial Oscar contender could soon be back in the limelight for her acting talents. Streep will have her sights set on securing an astonishing twentieth Oscar nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins, a biopic of the New York heiress and notoriously awful opera singer. The film is probably a little too fluffy to take a Best Picture award, but Streep in screen-stealing form could be in with a chance for one of her own. Streep received the Cecil B.Demile Award – a lifetime achievement gong which led to the Twitter wrath of Trump – at The Golden Globes and could yet cap off a memorable awards season with a fourth Oscar win – and a third for Best Actress.
The 89th Academy Awards screen on Feb 27.

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