Oscars 2017: Moonlight can eclipse La La Land

Oscars may prove more elusive for La La Land than the nominations suggest
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La La Land may have swept the nominations, but a turbulent political scene may see the lightweight movie overlooked for the top spots at the Oscars, writes Jack Houghton

A year after #OscarsSoWhite; against the backdrop of continuing race relation controversies; coming on the back of a Hollywood railing against President Trump; there is a sense that the Oscars are about to make a statement: by giving headline prominence to a story about African-Americans..."

Best Picture

The Safe Choice - La La Land [1.22]
Tying for the Oscar record with 14 nominations and having won a record seven Golden Globe awards, in every category in which it was nominated, the question for many is not why La La Land is short odds-on for Best Picture, but why it is not even shorter. After all, it won both best picture awards at the Golden Globes - drama and musical/comedy - the former of which alone has historically proven the most reliable indicator of Oscar success, with over half going on to do the double. Stats fans will be further buoyed: dramas are over-rewarded at the Oscars, accounting for well over half of wins, and, what's more, the Academy has recent form for light-hearted nostalgia, having given the prime gong to The Artist in 2012.

The Plucky Outsider - Moonlight [7.20]
Predictability doesn't seem very 2017, though, which makes Moonlight the better bet. A year after #OscarsSoWhite; against the backdrop of continuing race relation controversies; coming on the back of a Hollywood railing against President Trump; there is a sense that the Oscars are about to make a statement: by giving headline prominence to a story about African-Americans. There are other reasons to be confident of an upset, too. The Academy tends to prefer the sober over the shallow; it has shown a willingness with 12 Years a Slave to promote African-American stories; and favourites don't have a great record in recent years. La La Land could easily go the way of recent long odds-on shots like Boyhood and Brokeback Mountain.

Best Director

The Safe Choice - Damien Chazelle [1.13]
If you buy-in to the likelihood of a La La Land win, then statistically you are forced to support Chazelle: in 88 years of the Academy Awards, the Best Picture and Best Director gongs have gone to the same film 62 times (around 70%), a strike rate that has increased to just short of 90 per cent if only examining the last few decades. Added to this, Chazelle is a previous Oscar winner, albeit in another category, and made many directorial decisions - head-to-toe live takes, using Los Angeles as the backdrop, and archaic filming technology - that will likely play well with Academy voters.

The Plucky Outsider - Kenneth Lonergan [25.00]
If Moonlight talks to African-American issues, then Manchester by the Sea gives a voice to America's post-industrial towns, ravaged by unemployment. And if the Academy decide they want to reward a writer-director who develops characters above delivering cinematography, then Lonergan can provide an upset. And whilst the Best Picture-Best Director double seems historically secure, the trend has been bucked of late, with three of the last four Best Pictures failing to receive the directorial accolade. In this category, keep an eye out for the Director's Guild Awards this weekend: the winner has gone on to Oscar's glory 90% of the time.

Leading Actress

The Safe Choice - Emma Stone [1.24]
Previous nominee (Birdman) and Venice-winner Emma Stone is a strong choice for the top award as her role, arguably, is the most all-encompassing. Acting is one thing; singing and dancing as well perhaps deserves more applause. Stone may be overshadowed by her universally-acclaimed male counterpart, though, and voters may not be prepared to go light-entertainment in both acting categories. It's a short-price to avoid in my book.

The Plucky Outsider - Isabelle Huppert [11.00]
It is easy to make a case for all the nominees in this category. If voters want another Donald-Trump-attack, then Meryl Streep could be let loose; if they are sentimental for the days of JFK, then Natalie Portman could pick up her second Oscar; and if they want to recognise a talent of the future, then Ruth Negga is a shoo-in. The nod goes to Isabelle Huppert, though. The Academy has been keen to recognise foreign actors before (whilst largely eschewing the non-American in other categories) and Huppert's performance in Elle is the most heart-felt, nuanced and sophisticated on offer.

Leading Actor

The Safe Choice - Casey Affleck [1.70]
Whilst Ryan Gosling won the Golden Globe for his role in La La Land, Casey Affleck has picked up just about every other award going for his emotional portrayal of a janitor struggling with mental-health issues. When the betting opened, Affleck seemed a shoo-in at [1.30], but those odds have steadily drifted - despite him winning award-after-award - since.

The Plucky Outsider - Denzel Washington [2.50]
That drift is largely explained by the recent commercial success of Fences, which sees Washington as lead actor and director. The 62-year-old, two-time Oscar winner would be the establishment choice in what looks like a two-horse race. However, Affleck may be the better bet: voting forms are mailed in December and due in January, so Fences' holiday success may not be the factor that some are predicting.

Recommended Bets

Back Moonlight for Best Picture at [7.20].
Back Kenneth Lonergan for Best Director at [25.00].
Back Isabelle Huppert for Leading Actress at [11.00].
Back Casey Affleck for Leading Actor at [1.70].

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