#OscarsSoWhite has been thrown on the trash heap, at least for this year. Three of the nine Best Picture nominees and three of the five Best Documentary nominees have specific African-American themes. Of the twenty acting nominees, four are African-American and two are black women of European nationality. When you add "Lion" and its Indian star, Dev Patel, it is apparent the Oscars demonstrate much more diversity this year than last.
The question, of course, is whether this is merely a fluke. It is no secret that opportunities for black filmmakers and actors continue to lag behind those available to whites, The Oscars themselves cannot alleviate that, but they do serve as an indicator. There has been some controversy over the treatment accorded Casey Affleck, Best Actor nominee for "Manchester by the Sea," versus that given Nate Parker, whose film "Birth of a Nation" was ignored by the Academy. I do not care to rehash that controversy; if you are unfamiliar with it, David Ives of "The Atlantic" wrote an excellent article about it, which you can find at https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/01/why-the-allegations-against-casey-affleck-should-stand-alone/512234/.
That said, this seems to be a typical Oscar year as far as the outlook for winners. Some have it in the bag: Viola Davis for "Fences" and Mahershala Ali for "Midnight" should start rehearsing their acceptance speeches immediately. Natalie Portman for "Jackie" also looks like a presumptive favorite; however, I think this category could take an odd bounce this year. The popularity of "La La Land" suggests to me that Emma Stone can't be counted out, and everyone remembers when Meryl Streep won for "The Iron Lady," beating whom everyone thought was the sure bet for the prize, Viola Davis for "The Help."
With Casey Affleck winning the Golden Globe and Denzel Washington the Screen Actors Guild award, we now have true competition in the Best Actor category. I have no idea whether any lingering controversy is hurting Affleck's chances. I do know that he and Washington gave two of the greatest performances I have ever seen. If Affleck wins, I will be disappointed that Washington didn't; if Washington wins, I will be disappointed that Affleck didn't. I will REALLY be disappointed if they split the vote and another nominee wins. (The others were excellent, but not in the same class as Affleck and Washington.) The only really satisfactory outcome would be if Affleck and Washington tied. Fredric March and Wallace Beery did in 1932; so did Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand in 1968. The Academy is overdue for another tie.
It would be unjust not to mention the performers who got robbed this year. Topping this sad list for me are Annette Bening for "20th Century Women," Ben Foster for "Hell or High Water," Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland for "Moonlight," and Mykelti Williamson for "Fences." When the Academy increased the number of Best Picture nominees, it should have done the same for the acting categories. I will keep saying this until it does.
As for Best Picture, "La La Land" and "Moonlight" were the big winners at the Golden Globes, and must be considered the favorites going into the final vote. My preference is for "Moonlight," one of my three favorite movies of the last year, but it's hard to see how the Academy, a sucker for homages to itself, will pass up "La La Land." (My other two favorite movies, "Manchester by the Sea" and "Hell or High Water," are also nominated, but I think their chances are slim.) The popularity of "Hidden Figures" and the magnificent acting of "Fences" would argue in their favor, but Theodore Melfi and Denzel Washington were not nominated for Best Director.
It will be interesting to see if, or how, the election of a president unpopular in Hollywood will affect the voting. It has already affected the Golden Globe and SAG broadcasts, and we can only expect more of that at the Oscars. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, a previous Foreign Language Film Oscar winner for "A Separation" and a nominee this year for "The Salesman," felt constrained to stay away from the Oscars this year because of the currently contested immigration and travel ban against Iran and six other countries. You can bet that will be mentioned during the ceremony. And much else.