A constant presence throughout the awards season, Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, the tragic drama about family dynamics, recovery, and self realization is both intimate and frail in every aspect.

Powered by a tour de force, but subtle, performance from Casey Affleck, the film has been named among La La Land and Moonlight as a top Best Picture contender all season, often coming in close to the top on lists, but rarely taking the top prize.

The one prize in the film's favor has been Affleck's domination of the acting categories of most awards lists, including the Golden Globe Award and numerous critics society awards. His quiet, affecting performance gives Manchester by the Sea its backbone and is supported by awards-worthy turns from Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams. The former has been in and out of the conversation throughout the precursor season, but ended up with Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards nominations. The latter was a Supporting Actress frontrunner until Viola Davis was announced as a campaign entry in that category for Fences. A win by Davis is expected.

The film is harrowing and realistic, with plenty of levity present to balance the depth of despair twisted throughout the rich script written by director Lonergan.

The film is nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Let's dissect its chances at winning each award.

Tune in to the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26, 2017, to see how well it does!


Should It Win:
Straight out of the gate, Manchester was a critical favorite, with many cinephiles giving props to Affleck's performance and Lonergan's special care with the material: it's enriching, sad, and full of life.

There isn't much to dislike about Manchester. It sticks with you for days, but it isn't patronizing in its attempts to share sorrow and elicit the same feelings from you, the viewer. It isn't overly crass or graphic, either. It's real and captivating, much like last year's Best Picture winner, Spotlight, but even still in a more relatable fashion.

Much like previous Best Picture winner Ordinary People, Manchester's strength is in its view of family. Could it stand the test of time as a classic? Yes.

Will It Win:
There is a slim possibility it could sneak in as the winner. Very doubtful, but if La La Land and Moonlight split any kind of vote, Manchester would be the next closest winner.
That is, if Hidden Figures hasn't earned enough last minute fans after its impressive box office run.


Should Casey Affleck Win:
It's the year's most captivating performance. In its quietness and subtlety, Affleck's way of handling the heaviness is what sells the picture and keeps you thinking about the film long after you've left the theater.

In the realm of great performances, especially those that work as the culmination of a performer's career, Affleck's portrayal of a broken soul should rank among the top. A loss here would be remembered for decades to come as one of Oscar's greatest follies.

Will Casey Affleck Win:
Until a few weeks ago, it'd be easy to say yes. Though he powered through the precursors, picking up plenty of critics society awards and a Golden Globe, Affleck's loss to Denzel Washington at the Screen Actors Guild Awards could mark a shift in the awards season.

Washington's performance in Fences is also nominated for the Oscar, which could mean the Best Actor race will be one of the night's most exciting categories. My money is still on Affleck, but a Washington win wouldn't be completely surprising.


Should Lucas Hedges Win:
In what can only be discussed as one of the best newcomer performances in the history of cinema, Hedges's realistic portrayal of a teenager in grief (including moments of heightened "toughness" marked alongside childlike disappointment and anger) is remarkable.

Like Affleck's performance, the steadiness of Hedges's work gives Manchester the certain slice-of-life enchantment it needs to encompass the depth of territory it covers. When we finally see Hedges's Patrick succumb to the pain of losing his father, the terror, fear, and confusion are written all over Hedges's face. There's a genuineness there that sets this performance apart form your standard, sympathetic performance.

As a true supporting performance, this is the one that carries a film in the most captivating way.

Will Lucas Hedges Win:
Unfortunately, no. This category, much like a few others we'll explore, is all-but solidified, with Mahershala Ali's work in Moonlight expected to take the crown. While Ali's work is remarkable, it's so limited in the grand scope of Moonlight. Hedges's work is a true supporting performance, from beginning to end.


Should Michelle Williams Win:
Many were touting Williams's performance from the moment the film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, remarking that her limited screentime doesn't matter when she's given such powerful content with which to work.

Limited is correct. Williams is in the film very minimally, but her role becomes super important as the story carries on. Her awards-worthy moment comes in the third act as she confronts a lost and emotionally strained Lee (Affleck). With a thick Boston accent, Williams delivers a small, but crucial bit, giving light to the internal struggle Lee faces. Through tears, we get the perfect Oscar moment, and it completely works.

Will Michelle Williams Win:
If it weren't for Viola Davis's powerhouse performance in Fences (which could really be considered Best Actress territory), then it'd be an easy yes here. Williams has been nominated 3 other times, so a "career" vote would definitely be considered here (on top of the fact that her Manchester work is worthy). But, Davis will take the cake.


Should Manchester by the Sea Win:
The cast's impressive performances would be nothing without Lonergan's incredibly enriching script. As a writer first and foremost, Lonergan knows what it means to create dialogue that is far from generic, giving his characters the right and necessary words for the right and necessary moments.

The film feels so real and effortless mostly thanks to Lonergan's tight script. It's the most genuinely complete script among the nominees.

Will Manchester by the Sea Win:
This is a tough question. Original Screenplay will be one of the categories to watch, as La La Land is nominated here and expected to win in almost all of its categories in which it's competing.

Manchester was considered the frontrunner here until La La Land surprised and picked up the Golden Globe, also beating Moonlight. This doesn't mean it's a completely sealed deal for Chazelle's musical, but it doesn't bode well for Manchester.


Should Kenneth Lonergan Win:
While Lonergan crafted a completely empathetic and visceral glimpse of what it means to be family, the power of the film lies in the tight script and tour de force performances.

There are some clear directorial choices, which lend towards some of the film's weaker aspects (there's a subtle choppiness to a few of the film's transitions). Lonergan definitely provides a powerful film, but it's not necessarily his directing that should be feted. The nomination alone is kudos enough.

Will Kenneth Lonergan Win:
Nope. This is Damien Chazelle's prize to lose, with Barry Jenkins following closely behind. Lonergan will be left to enjoy this nomination and hope for the screenplay prize. 


Courtney said...

This movie was such a tremendous bore for both me and my boyfriend. A slice of life movies are a dime a dozen, and this one just wasn't extraordinary. Yes, that's the point, but holy hell was I bored. Affleck's performance was good, but not great. Williams had a great cameo; the movie desperately needed more of her. Will this be a classic? Absolutely not in my opinion. I'll be curious to see if Affleck's personal history affects this movies chances at winning anything at Oscars...

Scottie Knollin said...

Great feedback! Agreed that it was definitely slow-paced. I think the secret to Affleck's performance is in how held it is.