Grant Pearsall

Staff Writer

In less than a week, the 89th Annual Academy Awards is poised to offer an evening of milquetoast pageantry, Hollywood inter-industry self-pleasuring and the jockular comedy stylings of the Jimmy Kimmel team that is sure to amuse (or deeply offend, depending on the contributions of Adam Carolla). Meanwhile, as a recent Jezebel article notes, “most Americans haven’t seen any Best Picture Nominees. 

It has been a bit of a fraught year, Holly(weed), forgive us if our attentions have been aimed squarely at our nation’s capital (and with more frequency than one would expect, Palm Beach, FL). And if the promise of all this fun is not enough to pry viewers away from whatever high-quality premium content HBO or Netflix drops this week, let us not forget the staggeringly long ‘In Memoriam’ segments that are in store– RIP, every talented human born before 1965.

With all this in mind, let us mosey on down the red carpet for a look at the odds for our contenders, because quite frankly, someone had to actually watch these movies. After all, checking Twitter every fifteen minutes for the latest political catastrophe eventually becomes an exercise in self-flagellation. To the movies!

“Hacksaw Ridge”— Mel Gibson returns from directorial jail for being a crazed, public anti-semite to deliver a heartwarming World War II yarn about how great it is to be a self-righteous Anabaptist in the midst of battle. Later, hand grenades are bicycle-kicked out of the air, and human bodies are treated with all the dignity of cans of Spaghettios hurled into garbage disposals. It is just how Our Savior would have wanted it.

Chances of winning: Surprisingly middling. Who says religion and hyper-violence will not  sell? (See: Leviticus.)

“Lion” — Saroo (Dev Patel, the only apparent living Indian actor) quests to return to the childhood home he accidentally ran away from, despite having a pretty awesome adopted life. He remains entirely lost until the invention of Google Maps. Needless to say it is a universal tale most modern folks can appreciate.

Chances of winning: A strong middle of pack contender that unquestionably no other human has seen but my own mother, who 100% cried for the duration.

“Moonlight” — Barry Jenkins’ daring portrait of the hardscrabble life of inner-city Miami youth has cleaned up throughout awards-season like a AARP member at Old Country Buffet on a Senior Discount Sunday.

Chances of winning: Sitting in the hot seat at numero dos, this one is just daring the Academy to prove we have not veered completely into #AllMammalsLivesMatter territory quite yet.

“Manchester by the Sea”— Every so often a film comes along to affirm our collective suspicions that life is pretty terrible, cancer is a huge bummer, and eventually everyone dies. Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan just wanted to drop by with this quick reminder in case anyone happened to  forget. Luckily, everything in between is still incredibly harrowing and depressing. Cheers!

Chances of winning: The Academy loves a good ‘weepy,’ but without a political bent, a self-congratulatory theme, or Clint Eastwood at the helm, it sits at a very distant third.

“La La Land”— Damien Chazelle’s sophomore effort following his 2014 cinematic juggernaut, “Whiplash,” is equal parts saccharine-sweet, and an emotional hammer punch to the solar-plexus. Sometimes, it is even a musical, but mostly it is about how totally awesome actors and artists are for following their dreams in rough-and-tumble Hollywood. Go figure.

Chances of winning: This film has scooped up a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations (keeping company with“Titanic,” and “All About Eve). Why are we having this conversation again?

“Fences” — A thoughtful adaptation of August Wilson’s play, featuring heavy hitters Denzel Washington and Viola Davis whose characters struggle with dashed dreams and racial tensions in 1950s America. Students who skipped their sessions of African American Literature II will likely cry “This is just ‘The Death of a Salesman!’” Dr. Corkery would like to see you in his office for a quick word, or three.

Chances of winning: Poised as the perfect antidote to last years #OscarsSoWhite debacle, yet it depressingly trails at the tail-end of the middle pack.

“Arrival” — In 2009, the Best Picture voting pool was expanded to ten total nominees in an effort to draw wider interest by including genre films and more populist fare. So far, this has done little more than make penning these roundups take an extra hour. As a modern consequence we have “Arrival,” Denis Villeneuve’s powerful art-house sci-fi masterpiece that is incredibly smart and twice as emotionally obliterating. It unquestionably deserves to win this hallowed award…

Chances of winning: …so of course it has about as much chance of winning as your best-friend’s student film that made you want to die. Who said life was fair?

“Hidden Figures” — A thoughtful, emotionally piquant, multi-character biopic about a trio of African-American female mathematicians who were critical players behind the scenes during NASA’s formative-years. A stellar soundtrack, dynamite performances and a heavy dose of race-relations apologia makes for an undeniably pleasurable mix.

Chances of winning Wild Card! Any other year “Hidden Figures” takes the statue, yet odds place it dead last in certain unscrupulous betting circles.

“Hell or High Water”— David Mackenzie’s uneven, but effective, post-financial crash atta-boy humdinger mixes an of-the-moment political narrative with head-scratchingly banal themes (Banks ARE pretty evil you guys!). Mackenzie would have his audiences believe it is ok to be a racist so long as you are a ‘good guy.’ Or Jeff Bridges. Or both.
Chances of winning: Don’t bet the farm on this one. Unless the bank already stole it. Heyo!