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Predicting Oscar
 2018

The annual Oscar parade is underway, floating a roster of nominees that run the gamut from safe and predictable to utterly shocking—both for the films and artists included and for those overlooked.

For the first time since the Academy expanded the Best Picture ballot from five spots to a possible ten, I’ve managed to screen every film up for the top Oscar in advance of the ceremony (thanks, MoviePass!).

Here are my reflections and predictions for the big awards and the more geek-friendly technical prizes, with the caveat that I recuse myself from weighing in on the short subject, foreign film, and documentary categories.

Not because film geeks don’t like those categories, but because this particular film geek has not viewed enough of them.

 

BEST PICTURE

From culturally relevant films of various genres and tone that speak to today’s social and political ills, to superbly mounted and acted WWII dramas, to a pair of poignant coming-of-age tales, plus one watery interspecies romance, all nine nominees are worthy of their accolades, even if some of the films do not aspire to reinvent or subvert the language of cinema in the same manner as previous contenders and winners.

The inclusion of Get Out in the Best Picture contest is an eye-opener, but a bigger surprise is the lack of a tenth nominee. Since widening the Best Picture contest in 2010 to a potential ten titles, the Academy has only twice filled out the expanded roster.

Why not make the race more interesting and encompassing and let ten pictures duke it out every year?

If the voting needs to extend to a tie-breaker then so be it, but the Academy sends an inadvertent message that they didn’t feel any other movie in 2017 is worthy of the tenth spot on the ballot.

I can name two game-changing studio pictures off the cuff that few would argue deserve the reward of having simply been nominated—Blade Runner 2049 and Logan—but a number of smaller critically lauded audience-pleasers such as The Florida Project, The Big Sick, Wonder and I, Tonya could very well have filled in that vacant tenth slot.

So here are the nine nominees for Best Picture, along with my take on why eight of them will not get the gold.

 

Call Me by Your Name

Call this one a longshot: the Academy just last year gave its highest honor to a gay-hued coming-of-age drama (Moonlight); careful or folks will suspect there may be homosexuals in the ranks. Seriously though, more pointed is a growing backlash against the film, perceived by some to condone pedophilia. Even far removed from our current political climate (i.e., “Time’s up,” “Me too,” and “Burn ’em at the stake!”) and despite the fact that the characters in question are beyond the age of consent, Oscar just won’t go there. Instead, a Best Adapted Screenplay statue for James Ivory is a stronger likelihood.

 

Darkest Hour

Another longshot: Gary Oldman’s stellar prosthetics-laden turn as Winston Churchill is expected to win the thespian his first Oscar, but his Best Actor trophy—along with a shoo-in statue for Best Makeup—will be deemed sufficient gold for a film many agree is rather simplistic and plays it too safe.

 

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s taut WWII film is a visceral cinematic experience of sight and sound, technically marvelous but lacking the emotional heft evident in many of the other films nominated in this category. Too many viewers find the overlapping non-liner editing confusing, which speaks volumes about the vapidity of the multiplex crowd, but what will ultimately impede the film’s chances of scoring the top Oscar is the narrative’s lack of a central character.

 

Get Out

A surprise nominee on multiple levels, primarily because the movie was released nearly a year ago (the Academy typically has a short-term memory and tends to heap their praises on late holiday releases), but also because the film is a genre-bender not easily shoe-horned into a single comfy category (it’s a disturbing horror tale, a twisted comedy, and a rail against social and racial prejudice). The closest benchmark for comparison here is The Silence of the Lambs, similarly released very early in its Oscar season and likewise a terrifying thriller.

Even so, it’s doubtful the Academy will pick Get Out as the defining film of 2017; Jordan Peele winning the gold for Best Original Screenplay is a more probable scenario.

 

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s bittersweet coming-of-age tale is refreshing for its female perspective and the film is wonderfully acted, but it’s also light as a feather—perhaps too light. Compared to the other heavy-hitter nominees in this year’s Best Picture pool, it’s the odd title on the list that feels least likely to be remembered years from now.

 

Phantom Thread

Exquisitely mounted but as emotionally cold as its prickly, impenetrable central character. The film’s greatest chance for Oscar glory is in the Best Actor category.

 

The Shape of Water

Last year’s awkward lesson on La La Land versus Moonlight is but one of several examples that disprove the theory that the picture with the most nominations is automatically assured Oscar glory, so even though Guillermo del Toro’s aquatic fable leads the pack this year with 13 nominations, that’s not necessarily why it will win.

Here’s why: Hollywood loves to make timely political statements, and even though politics do not figure prominently in The Shape of Water, what better way for the Academy to extend a stiff middle finger to the detested Donald Trump than to honor the work of a filmmaker from Mexico?

 

The Post

A safe nomination for its topical political beats and undercurrents of gender inequity, but the lack of a Best Director nomination for Steven Spielberg is proof the Academy doesn’t rank the picture among the filmmaker’s most important and indelible works.

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Defying simple encapsulation, Martin McDonagh’s haunting film is a biting black comedy of manners and a sobering indictment of police brutality and institutional racism. The heart-wrenching tale of a grieving mother seeking justice for her daughter’s unsolved murder holds up a mirror for us to view some uncomfortable human truths, but it’s a reflection that is perhaps too strong for some to stomach.

Frances McDormand is poised to collect her second Best Actress Oscar, Sam Rockwell is the odds-on favorite for Best Supporting Actor, and a win for Best Original Screenplay would be well-deserved, but the top prize for Best Picture will go elsewhere.

 

The nominees in other categories are as follows, with my predictions in bold type.

 

BEST DIRECTING

  • Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
  • Jordan Peele – Get Out
  • Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
  • 
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
  • Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Here is where the Academy’s newfangled attitude of broadening diversity is resplendent—both Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig are dually nominated in the Original Screenplay and Best Director categories, putting them in the rarified company of a mere handful of Oscar-nominated African American and female writer/directors, respectively.

Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is likewise in the mix with his second nomination for Best Director, and if the shower of love for his fluid fairy tale The Shape of Water is any indication, del Toro will be joining his Academy Award-winning Mexican director contemporaries Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (back-to-back winner for Birdman and The Revenant) in the Oscar annals.

The exclusion of Martin McDonagh and Steven Spielberg from the Best Director contest is a bit of a head-shaker—both of their films (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Post) are nominated in multiple categories, including the top award for Best Picture. It’s a crusty old joke, but no less applicable this season: apparently these two ambitious films directed themselves.

 

BEST ACTOR

  • Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
  • Daniel Day Lewis – Phantom Thread
  • Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
  • Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
  • Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Daniel Day Lewis already has three Best Actor Oscars to his credit, but despite his reported retirement and the temptation for the Academy to bestow upon him a fourth statue for his final performance as a token going away prize, everybody expects the Oscar to go to Gary Oldman for his portrayal of Winston Churchill.

Denzel? Not a chance, as roughly twenty people saw the film for which he’s nominated. Daniel Kaluuya? A surprising nominee to be sure, but his performance is hardly the stuff of Hollywood legend.

If the Academy neglects to finally honor Gary Oldman, expect an upset in favor of young Timothée Chalamet, the heart and soul of Call Me by Your Name.

 

BEST ACTRESS

  • Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
  • Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
  • Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
  • Meryl Streep – The Post

The nomination of Meryl Streep was a no-brainer—she must have a contractual stipulation that assures her a spot on the ballot every year—but her presence in The Post is relatively restrained compared to her myriad previously nominated roles. Margot Robbie is phenomenal as the title character of I, Tonya, but residual distaste for the real-life disgraced Olympic figure skater could seep into the voting, no matter how unfair that is to consider. Saoirse Ronan’s quirky turn in Lady Bird could eke out a win, but only if the Academy cannot choose between Sally Hawkins and odds-on favorite Frances McDormand.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
  • Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
  • Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
  • Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sam Rockwell is the favorite here, having already won several awards including the Golden Globe. However, should fans of Three Billboards split their votes between Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, expect the always terrific Richard Jenkins to edge them both out and finally receive some Oscar gold.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • 
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
  • Allison Janney – I, Tonya
  • 
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
  • Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

If we cross off Octavia Spencer because she recently won in this category for The Help, and further concede the first-time nominations for Mary J. Blige and Lesley Manville are sufficient reward, then the contest is truly among a pair of seasoned actresses portraying fierce no-B.S. mothers—Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf.

An Oscar tie isn’t unheard of—the 1968 slate saw Barbra Streisand share the Best Actress award with Katharine Hepburn—but I’ll wager the Oscar goes to Allison Janney, whose profane performance in I, Tonya is far more incendiary.

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
  • Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour
  • Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water
  • Rachel Morrison – Mudbound
  • Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk

All five films are exceptionally lit and photographed, and the nomination for Mudbound is historic for recognizing for the first time a female cinematographer—even if it’s for a Netflix movie most viewers will stream on a small screen—but if Roger Deakins doesn’t finally win some Oscar gold for Blade Runner 2049’s mesmerizing lighting and shadow play (this is his 14th nomination) the Academy ought to be ashamed of themselves.

 

FILM EDITING

  • Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos – Baby Driver
  • Lee Smith – Dunkirk
  • Tatiana S. Riegel – I, Tonya
  • John Gregory – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • 
Sidney Wolinsky – The Shape of Water

There have been only five occasions during the past four decades when the editing Oscar has gone to a film not nominated for Best Picture; more often than not the award goes either to the eventual Best Picture winner or to one of the runners up for the top prize. This track record would seem to narrow the race down to the three editing nominees also up for Best Picture—Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards.

Among these three, Dunkirk is the clear standout with its tricky editorial rhythms the keep frantic pace with concurrent events unfolding in shifting time frames on land, on sea, and in the air. Yes, the criss-cross editing challenged some audiences, but serious film scholars know cutting edge when they see it. Even so, if Baby Driver happened to score an upset here, a Best Film Editing Oscar for the Edgar Wright-directed picture would be a well-deserved surprise.

 

ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
  • Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
  • Carter Burwell – Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • John Williams – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk

Carter Burwell’s subtle theme for Three Billboards is overshadowed by the sampling of twangy country tunes. Jonny Greenwood’s piano-and-strings Phantom Thread motif pales in comparison to his previous works for director Paul Thomas Anderson. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Dunkirk has a propulsive percussive drive but it isn’t particularly melodic; moreover, Zimmer should have been nominated alongside collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch for the evocative score for Blade Runner 2049. John Williams’ nod is a token gesture marking the maestro’s 51st nomination, but given with little regard for how derivative his latest Star Wars music is.

The clear standout is Alexandre Desplat’s lovely symphony for The Shape of Water.

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Darkest Hour
  • Dunkirk
  • The Shape of Water
  • Beauty and the Beast

Either film on the list is deserving of the award, but I’m going with my sentimental favorite here, Blade Runner 2049, with its dense and sprawling urban hellscape of futuristic California, its massive practical sets, and its many plausible and well-worn props.

 

COSTUME DESIGN

  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Darkest Hour
  • Phantom Thread
  • The Shape of Water
  • Victoria and Abdul

It would seem apropos for Phantom Thread—a story of an obsessive couturier—to win the trophy in this category, but don’t count out the live-action Beauty and the Beast—its shimmering and vibrant wardrobe is one of the film’s strongest assets and reasons for being.

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2
  • Kong: Skull Island
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • War for the Planet of the Apes

Crossing off four of the five nominees is a cinch because we’ve seen most of the nominated eye candy before, only this time more photo-realistic, colorful, and densely pixelated.

Though spiffy through and through, none of the flashy visual effects in Guardians, Kong, Last Jedi, or War for the Planet of the Apes breaks new ground as boldly as the moment in Blade Runner 2049 when a Replicant clone of Rachel steps out of the shadows for her close-up—the digital model of a de-aged Sean Young is the most flawless CGI facelift yet concocted for the big screen. One glance at young Leia at the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—nominated in this category last year—and it was painfully obvious that she was a digital model; try as I might, and fully aware of the computer-aided trickery at hand, I still cannot detect the “seams” in Blade Runner 2049, and CGI Rachel is on screen a lot longer than Leia.

You’ll swear Sean Young stepped out of a time machine.

 

SOUND MIXING and SOUND EDITING

  • Baby Driver
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Dunkirk
  • The Shape of Water
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A pair of categories indistinguishable to most average viewers, it doesn’t help the logic of the Academy maintaining two separate awards when they’ve gone ahead and nominated the exact same group of five films in both contests. Nevertheless, the most deserving of both Oscars is Blade Runner 2049, boasting the richest and most immersive soundscape heard in any film last year.

 

MAKEUP AND HAIR

  • Darkest Hour
  • Victoria and Abdul
  • Wonder

Rarely is a movie made without the contributions of makeup designers and hair stylists, yet the Academy never seems to nominate more than a mere three qualifying films. That said, the Oscar will go to Darkest Hour for Gary Oldman’s astonishing physical transformation.

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
  • Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
  • Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjani – The Big Sick
  • Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Jordan Peele – Get Out

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
  • Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
  • Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
  • Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green – Logan
  • Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – Mudbound

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • The Boss Baby
  • Loving Vincent
  • Ferdinand

Pixar’s vibrant Day of the Dead folk tale should handily take home the Best Animated Film trophy. Still, the year’s most egregious Oscar snub is in this very category: where, oh where, is The Lego Batman Movie?

 

The annual Oscar telecast will begin Sunday, March 4…and will most probably conclude sometime during the early hours of the 5th.

 

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