The Oscars return with the red carpet rolled out this weekend, as Jimmy Kimmel hosts what should be a very entertaining 89th installment of the award show. La La Land looks to continue its dominant sweep through a litany of awards shows, potentially putting the cherry on top with a strong run at this year’s Academy Awards.
Vegas seems to think that’s certainly possible, as La La Land enters the star-glitzed night with 14 nominations and leads with the best odds to win in several major categories.
We don’t always get huge upsets at the Oscars, and with La La Land holding such a firm grasp on the awards scene, there is a pretty strong argument that won’t be the case this weekend, either. However, we saw a big upset when Mark Rylance won Best Supporting Actor a year ago and we’ve seen several other interesting upsets over the years.
The King’s Speech shocked as a Best Picture winner in 2011, Roberto Benigni surprised us as the Best Actor winner in 1999, Adrien Brody did the same in 2003 and Forrest Gump beat standouts Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption for Best Picture back in 1995.
Those are just a few of the stunning Oscars upsets and the surprises date back to the start. The point isn’t for us to go into this 89th Academy Awards expecting to be shocked. We learned last year that the awards can often follow the hype, logic and odds and bypass shock value. However, the one thing most Oscars upsets have in common is that they were deserving.
If you’re betting on the Oscars or simply looking for an underdog to root for, we’ve got a few options that aren’t just worthy of getting that surprise winning nod, but also don’t currently have the best chance at making it happen. We may be a bit biased with our choices, but isn’t the Oscars subjective to begin with?
Regardless, here’s our five sneaky Oscars upsets that we don’t just think could happen, but also think make fun bets for Sunday night:
Best Picture – Hacksaw Ridged Upsets La La Land
Okay, so is La La Land (-700) actually going to be upset by Mel Gibson’s war epic about a young soldier (Andrew Garfield) who refuses to kill? Probably not, but we need to consider the worthiness and odds here.
Truth be told, the Best Picture category is beyond stacked this year. Top Oscars betting sites like Bovada are seeing La La Land run away with this thing, yet truly special films like Moonlight (+550), Manchester By the Sea (+2000), Fences (+6600) and Lion (+6600) are otherwise being blown out of the water.
Ultimately, we think the Academy views the race a bit tighter than that. It’s true that La La Land has serious momentum, but one scathing breakdown suggests there could be enough pushing against it to welcome an upset. La La Land is sure to produce a few winners with 14 nominations, but should it really win Best Picture?
The argument seems open, at the very least, and with powerful messages and amazing delivery throughout the field, we can cheer for a huge upset. Stopping at Moonlight (which currently carries the second best odds to win) is a win, but why not go for it all with Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge?
Hacksaw Ridge was well received (86% approved on Rotten Tomatoes) and won numerous awards leading into its nomination at the Oscars, including the Movie of the Year at the AFI Awards, Best Film at the AACTA Awards and Best Action Movie at the Critics Choice Awards.
Noted for its gritty acting, compelling storytelling and authentic battle sequences, Hacksaw Ridged has already been widely accepted as one of the year’s best films and is absolutely deserving of the winning nod here.
Best Supporting Actor – Dev Patel Upsets Mahershala Ali
We needn’t waste much time here, as this is actually a strong field and two things ring loud and clear: Ali is beyond deserving as the (-700) favorite and the only other option we really are enthralled with is Patel (+600).
A two-man race doesn’t dumb down the importance of this upset, nor should we flat out ignore a strong turns by Jeff Bridges (+1400), Michael Shannon (+1800) or the young Lucas Hedges (+1800). Of that trio, though, Bridges is probably the only other palatable upset.
All roads probably lead us back to Ali, of course, who cleaned up in the awards department and delivered in a critically acclaimed film. We saw a real evolution of character from Ali, who was previously best known for his spot on House of Cards but once again unveils his depth and range as an actor.
But Patel has grown since his days as a youngster in Slumdog Millionaire and his emotional journey to find his original family in Lion is a story (and performance) for the ages. Patel effectively displayed courage and resilience like few real humans can, while also captivating audiences on this difficult and painful road.
There is hardware proof for a Patel upset, too, as he did climb over Ali’s rising star long enough to take home the BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, Patel sports playable odds and with this race coming in a bit tighter than some had initially pegged it to, we could have a clear path for an Oscars stunner.
Best Actor – Viggo Mortensen Upsets Casey Affleck
The mere possibility of this one makes us giddy. Best Actor should personify true, raw, gritty acting and if we’re being honest without ourselves, that doesn’t really describe the entire field for the 2017 Oscars. If we’re being even more honest with ourselves, it might not correctly describe the arguably overrated Casey Affleck (and the favorite to win), either.
Affleck (-160 favorite to win Best Actor) plays a ho-hum role that really caters to whom he has been as an actor. He wears a tired and somber face and can play that quiet rage and listlessness as well as anyone. But you don’t feel like you’re discovering anything new with him. This performance doesn’t feel taxing. It doesn’t feel earned. In some ways, it doesn’t even feel authentic.
There are more worthy performances that deserve the Academy’s recognition and it would be a special moment if the severely underrated Viggo Mortensen was handed his shining moment this Sunday. Mortensen is probably better known for his days in the Lord of the Rings trilogy than for his actual acting chops, but the same stoic presence that helped his son learn how to survive in The Road is still somewhere in Mortensen when he travels through life, raising his kids in an unorthodox and understandably criticized fashion.
The pain, the honesty and the transparency we see in Mortensen’s character evolution is rather profound and by not giving him the nod here, it feels like we’re not just not appreciating it – but almost ignoring it.
Affleck was plenty fine. As were Denzel Washington (EVEN odds to win), Ryan Gosling (+2000) and Andrew Garfield (+4000). They all, in their own way, made you believe they were the characters they were said to be. Mortensen was the only one who came with nothing, provided layers and then stripped them back down, only to reveal humanity, something we all can probably relate to.
Relating isn’t the key here. For betting purposes, it’s Viggo’s insane +1000 odds to win (at Bovada). And for acting, for film, for the thrill of the underdog, the key is a fine actor finally getting his due for work that was certainly deserving.
Best Actress – Natalie Portman Upsets Emma Stone
It does really seem like La La Land and all of its appendages have a stranglehold on this year’s Oscars – and maybe they do – but as some would point out, that may not be fair. The movie itself was a breath of fresh air, unique and entertaining, but were Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone seriously so good that they can effectively thwart off potential once-in-a-lifetime performances in their fields?
That all depends. It first depends on if there is one of those truly iconic acting performances to stand up against Stone, or if the field as a whole is strong enough to give us a second threat to begin with. For the latter, it’s an easy “no”. Best Actress looks like a total breeze, with Meryl Streep (+4000) seemingly getting here by name alone and Isabelle Huppert (+800) and Ruth Negga (+4500) giving passable performances to vouch for them helping to fill out the category’s nominees.
It’s Emma Stone (-700 favorite win win Best Actress) and everyone else, to be accurate. That’s what we’d say if Natalie Portman hadn’t put on her best Jackie O face and actually done it justice.
Emma Stone was great. She sang, she dances, she pulled at the heartstrings and she made us laugh. But Natalie Portman stood in the face of those “is she actually that good of an actress?” narratives and screamed a resounding “YES”.
Portman doesn’t just put on a Jackie Kennedy mask, but she absorbs it, becoming the most iconic First Lady we’ve ever seen and cracking doors open to an emotional and layered personality that few really ever had the luxury of trying to understand.
The danger of playing an icon is a portrayal being barely that – or worse, an impersonation or caricature – but if you’re of the effortless belief that Portman absolutely delivers and ultimately is Jackie O, then you can’t give a hard pass for her chance at Best Actress.
Emma Stone is deserving, but she didn’t take on a towering role and crush it. She was more often than not a variation of herself, attached to a moving bus of fun noise and imagery. Portman wasn’t aided by anything other than her own quiet power and her own unequivocal beauty. But acting chops are what we’re really concerned with here, and Portman takes on an iconic figure and spews them out across the screen for us in spades.
The odds aren’t ridiculous here (+500) and we note Stone’s fine (and deserving) performance, but if there is an upset for Best Actress, it’s Portman and it’s not even close.
Best Director – Mel Gibson Upsets Damien Chazelle
La La Land owns the Oscars this year. We get it. Damien Chazelle created a wonderful, bubbly world that pushed boundaries when it comes to love, personal interest, discovery and the decisions we make in our lives.
But as amazing as Chazelle’s world and story were on screen, it’s hard to deny how stacked this Best Director field really is. Chazelle is the runaway favorite here with overwhelming -3000 odds, while Kenneth Lonergan (+1000), Barry Jenkins (+1000), Mel Gibson (+4000) and Denis Villeneuve (+5000) round out a competitive field.
As powerful as Arrival was, there is an eery feeling that this paranormal powerhouse won’t actually deliver, despite getting a few nominations. The real threats to Chazelle are admittedly Lonergan’s direction of Manchester By the Sea and Jenkins’ control of Moonlight.
But the Best Director nominee that really has us leaving our finger on the chin is Mel Gibson, who delivers a raw rendition of a true war story, highlighting Andrew Garfield’s powerful portrayal of a man who refuses to act in violence – even if it puts himself in danger.
Garfield and the movie itself are worth talking about, but that only aids Gibson’s argument as probably the most underrated director in this category (and possibly of the modern era?). Okay, the last part could be pushing it a bit, but for a guy who made his money as an action star and would otherwise seem past his prime, he’s delivered some fantastic directorial work and his skills don’t get lost on the set of Hacksaw Ridge.
Gibson helps tell an important story of resilience in a setting where it is almost futile. Add in the jaw-dropping and heart-stopping war action sequences and Gibson may have truly outdone himself.