I fell in love with the movies as a 10-year-old usher at the old Russell Theatre in Maysville.
A movie would stay for a week at the enchanted palace, allowing me to see each one several times. I can never thank Ann-Margret enough for that memorable performance in “Viva Las Vegas” in 1964.
So enamored did I become with movies that I made a goal in the early 1960s. I would see every nominated movie for Best Picture before the annual Academy Awards show on TV. Mom and Dad would cringe that I stayed up so late to watch the shows when school was the next day, but they indulged me.
Over the years, with only a few exceptions, I have seen all nominated movies before the big show.
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I succeeded this year, having viewed all nine nominated films.
It’s a good group. I’m excited about two of them, and I wouldn’t mind seeing either one of them win.
Usually I fixate on only one movie in the contest to win. Last year, the winner had to to be “Spotlight,” a movie that showed the importance of journalism. It won. I hope Donald Trump and Matt Bevin saw it.
This year, I wouldn’t be disappointed if either “Manchester by the Sea” or “La La Land” takes the top award.
Regardless, here is this longtime movie fan’s picks for the 89th Academy Awards show, to be held Sunday night in Los Angeles.
There’s a scene in “Manchester by the Sea” in which young Lucas Hedges has the viewer laughing one moment and crying the next. He’s fighting with frozen meat falling from a refrigerator and then says a simple line in frustration that underscores his despondency over a death. It rips your heart.
“Manchester by the Sea” is a beautiful, sensitive film about a man who has Job-like problems heaped upon him and has to make some difficult choices.
Many of my friends say the film is way too sad to see. I tell them life is sad at times, but grief should not permanently cripple us. Love and hope can overcome grief.
On the other hand, “La La Land” is a rollicking entertainment about ambition and young love. We are wowed throughout the movie, from the high-octane opening musical scene on a Los Angeles freeway to the unrequited love at its finale.
Coming on strong as a contender this year is “Moonlight,” a movie in three acts about a young black man in an impoverished Miami neighborhood who is grappling with his sexuality. It already has picked up several major awards.
Winning strong audience approval in recent weeks, which could bode well at the Oscars, is “Hidden Figures.” It depicts the struggles of highly intelligent women who contributed greatly to America’s early space program, a true story we didn’t find in our history books.
“Fences,” August Wilson’s dramatic play about a a 1950s Pittsburgh sanitation worker who takes his frustrations out on his loved ones, is powerful and extremely well-acted, but I usually like to see plays on a stage rather than a big screen.
I have respect for three other nominated films, but I don’t think they reach best picture status. They are, in order of my preference, “Hell or High Water,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Lion.”
The only movie I think unworthy of its nomination is the science-fiction flick, “Arrival.” Amy Adams is stellar, but I had to ask my son, Ben, several times what was happening in the movie.
The list, as always, is short for sci-fi films to be nominated for the film industry’s top prize, but “Arrival” is not in the ranks of 2015’s “The Martian” or 2013’s “Gravity.”
Instead of “Arrival,” the nomination should have gone to “Loving,” based on a true story of an interracial couple who had the legality of their 1958 marriage in Virginia tested before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Should Win: “Manchester by the Sea”
Will Win: “La La Land”
As with the contest for Best Picture, I’m focusing on two films for best actor. It’s between Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, as a troubled soul, and Ryan Gosling in “La La Land” as a jazz enthusiast. There could be a backlash against Affleck for years-old sexual harassment allegations.
On the other hand, Denzel Washington should be given strong consideration for not only his excellent acting in “Fences” but his skillful direction of the movie.
Also nominated is Andrew Garfield for his role as a World War II hero who wouldn’t touch a gun in “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Viggo Mortenson is nominated for his role in “Captain Fantastic” as a father who is forced to move his six children from the forests of the Pacific Northwest to stifling society. As comedian Bill Murray used to say on “Saturday Night Live,” throw this one out, because no one saw it.
Should Win: Casey Affleck
Will Win: Denzel Washington
In “Elle,” French actress Isabelle Huppert plays a businesswoman who is raped and then hunts down her assailant. She is supposed to be very good. At press time, I had not seen this movie, which just opened in Lexington on Friday.
Natalie Portman mesmerizes in “Jackie,” as Jackie Kennnedy in the days after her husband’s assassination, and Ruth Negga gives a sensitive performance in “Loving.”
Meryl Streep gets her regular nomination, this time for portraying a woman who thinks she can sing but can’t in the forgettable “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
Wrap up the Oscar and give it to Emma Stone for her strong work in “La La Land.”
Should Win: Emma Stone
Will Win: Emma Stone
Best Supporting Actor
If there is a sure bet in this year’s awards, it’s Mahershala Ali for his haunting performance in “Moonlight.” He also captivated as a love interest in “Hidden Figures.”
The also-rans in this categoy are Jeff Bridges as a gruff lawman in “Hell or High Water,” Lucas Hedges as a grieving teen in “Manchester by the Sea,” Dev Patel as a young man in search of his past in “Lion,” and Michael Shannon of Lexington as a small-town Texas sheriff who investigates the deaths of three tourists in “Nocturnal Animals.”
Should Win: Mahershala Ali
Will Win: Mahershala Ali
Best Supporting Actress
This is the toughest category to pick.
Viola Davis plays the soul of the family in “Fences;” Naomie Harris depicts a drug-addled, abusive mother in “Moonlight;” Nicole Kidman is the loving adoptive mother in “Lion;” Octavia Spencer is one of the brilliant women in “Hidden Figures;” and Michelle Williams makes the most of her too-brief scenes in “Manchester by the Sea.”
Should Win: Naomie Harris
Will Win: Viola Davis
Each nominee is worthy. But Damien Chazelle dazzles with “La La Land.”
Kenneth Longergan delivers a most human story in “Manchester by the Sea,” and Barry Jenkins shatters stereotypes in “Moonlight.”
Mel Gibson is back with “Hacksaw Ridge,” and Denis Villeneuve, who is just out of this world, gives us “Arrival.”
Where is Denzel Washington?
Should Win: Damien Chazelle
Will Win: Damien Chazelle
The 89th Academy Awards airs at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 26 on ABC.