I think the Best Picture Oscar race is going to come down to three films when all is said and done — Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land, Denzel Washington‘s Fences and Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester By The Sea.

And possibly Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which no one has seen but will debut at the New York Film Festival on the evening of Friday, 10.14 — two weeks hence. Hollywood Elsewhere will be there with bells on.

It’ll be La La Land because of that knockout freeway beginning and that brilliant, transcendent ending and a very good middle portion. It’ll be Fences because it’s a venerated August Wilson classic with killer performances (certainly from Washington and Viola Davis) that will allow everyone to respectably “get their black on” (and because it’ll probably turn out to be better than Barry JenkinsMoonlight). And it’ll be Manchester By The Sea because it just reaches in and destroys you — so far it’s the saddest, best acted, most skillfully assembled film of the year, and because — bold as brass — it doesn’t deliver the typical Act Three redemption thing that you always see in sad-white-guy movies.

I really think it’s going to be one of those three, although right now it looks like La La Land has the edge because people simply like it the most. It’s almost The Artist in this sense but is way, way less gimmicky (i.e., not gimmicky at all) and because it excitingly re-vitalizes the big-screen musical in a Jacques Demy way.

For some reason the award-season blogaroonies have tumbled for La La Land in a way that seems almost final and absolute. For some reason they’re not affording Manchester the bow-down respect it absolutely deserves, and for the lamest of reasons — because it leaves them with a feeling of emotional devastation when they’d much rather feel happy.

This is nothing lower in the mentality of cinematic assessment than to say “this film is clearly deeper, richer and more masterfully composed but I prefer the other well-made one because it makes me feel better.” I’ve talked to top-tier journos and p.r. professionals who’ve looked me in the eye and more or less said exactly this.

Martin Scorsese‘s Silence, which will probably begin to screen in November, may well end up on several ten best lists because of the always formidable Scorsese stamp, but I suspect (i.e., have heard) that the subject matter is going to make it feel like a rough sit for a significant portion of viewers.

Oscar strategist-wise, we’re looking at a battle between La La Land and Billy Lynn‘s Lisa Taback vs. Manchester By The Sea‘s David Pollick and the Hollywood hotshot p.r. firm of Ginsberg-Libby vs. FencesCynthia Swartz along with Paramount’s Lea Yardum.