Oscar Preview, Part 1: The Majors

It’s the first half of our annual predictions and gripes roundtable, leading off with the craziest Best Picture race in years.

Last year, David took the crown back with only 15 out of 24 correct. It was a weird year.

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

DAVID: Typically, a Best Picture race comes down to two serious competitors: Moonlight v. La La Land, Boyhood v. Birdman, Hurt Locker v. Avatar, etc. Since voters like to back a winner, you try to read the precursor tea leaves and guess which is more likely. Conventional wisdom has this year’s duel between The Shape of Water, which has cleaned up with a lot of critics and guilds, and Three Billboards, which won at SAG, the BAFTAs, and the Globes — so that should be a sure thing, right? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m not picking either of those, and and it comes down to two factors: Widespread likability on the weighted preferential ballot, and the evolving demographics of the Academy.

Billboards has taken a lot of hits for its muddled politics. It won’t hurt it in the performance categories, but it’s loathed by a substantial group of voters — the question is, how many? The ground-level buzz on Water is that some simply don’t “get it,” and as progressive as AMPAS has become, those members aren’t quite ready to vote for the Fish Sex movie. Both have substantial weaknesses. That makes Lady Bird, Get Out, and even Dunkirk extremely viable, because all three are popular and respected enough to rank highly on just about everyone’s ballot. I could go into more detail but we’ve got a lot to cover, so let me just say I’m going with my head and my heart on this one: the bracingly of-the-moment Get Out, whose message has only resonated louder since last year, will be the first horror film winner since Silence of the Lambs in 1992. I might be crazy, but in our current climate, especially the year after Moonlight, anything can happen.

CHASE: I completely agree that there’s no obvious frontrunner. I’m going with Lady Bird because that’s where my heart is, but there’s no telling. I can imagine it as a first on many ballots and a strong second on a majority of others, but the truth is that I called in my favors to the Oscar gods last year when Moonlight came back from the dead to seize the award from an already announced La La Land. my real horse here is “anything but Three Billboards,” which I felt I was ahead of the curve on hating. I’m picking Lady Bird, but Get Out, The Shape of Water, or even The Post would be fine in my book.

TYLER: This is a deeply weird year for Best Picture nominees. Unless The Post pulls some kind of titanic upset, the winner is likely to be either a b-movie-referencing horror comedy from a chopshop horror production house, a severely controversial revenge tale that offers zero easy answers, or a romance between a mute and a fishman. I think Lady Bird, Get Out and Three Billboards are better movies, but I can’t shake the feeling that what Oscar really wants this year is Sally Hawkins doin the nasty with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Shape of Water it is.

SEAN: For such an unpredictable Awards season, too many winners feel destined come March 4th. Luckily, Best Picture still feels like a big question mark even if I think Three Billboards will ultimately prevail. And while Billboards is my least favorite of the nominated films, I can’t help but feel that this is one of the strongest lineups in years. Sure, I could gripe that Mudbound and Blade Runner 2049 missed (one because of Netflix, the other because it flopped at the box office), but the diverse selections on offer this year represent the best of 2017 in multiple genres. That doesn’t normally happen. In a way, Billboards feels like the perfect winner this year. Its politics are a muddle, its depiction of racism casual, and its characters (especially authority figures) face little to no consequences for their actions. Pretty much sums up 2017.

Guillermo del Toro

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

DAVID: It’s possible that if Shape of Water isn’t in line for a Best Picture triumph, it could sink in the rest of its categories, but I don’t think that’s the case. I could find a way to be satisfied with any five of these nominees, especially Greta Gerwig. I also expect 2018 to be yet another BP/Director split, and Guillermo del Toro to be the third of Mexico’s “Three Amigos” — following Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Innaritu — to win for his unique artistry.

CHASE: This is where I point out that we already know the likely winners for director and the four acting categories. The “wide open” storyline only applies to Best Picture. We laughed for years about the film del Toro would have to make to win an Oscar like his BFFs Cuaron and Innaritu (I was betting on a holocaust/Cthulhu picture), but he seems to have actually done it. What fascinates me about this race is how del Toro, a man who’s built a career on oddball monster movies, is suddenly the “classicist” choice compared to Gerwig and Peele. But let’s not forget Paul Thomas Anderson, who is quickly becoming this generation’s Scorsese: an unquestioned genius who can’t beg, borrow, or steal a personal Oscar win.

TYLER: There are no wrong choices in this incredibly strong group of nominees (although I’d argue Nolan’s work when not up in the air or out to sea in Dunkirk is overrated), but Guillermo’s got this in the bag. Shape of Water is audacious, a sumptuous tour de force referencing Old Hollywood beauty while not being afraid to plumb the dark inner depths of the early 1950s. Oscar has a pretty big thing for the “Three Amigos,” so I don’t think there’s any way that absolutely deserving candidates Gerwig (the restraint!), Peele (the therapy!) or Anderson (the dinner scenes!) get past the fishman.

SEAN: Guillermo del Toro is going to win and I don’t begrudge him his success with The Shape of Water. It’s everything special and frustrating about del Toro in equal measure, and if he didn’t win for this then he likely never would. But for years I have been asking what Christopher Nolan had to do to get the nomination. The answer was Dunkirk — as purely cinematic of an experience as I’ve ever had in a theater. It’s all engrossing, unnerving, audacious, technically masterful, and emphatically Nolan. So now that Dunkirk was the answer to a nomination, what in the hell does he have to do to actually win?

Gary Oldman

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.

DAVID: It’s obviously going to be Gary Oldman.  And to be honest, though I didn’t care much for the movie, he’s really good in it, and this would be a deserved career-capper for the chameleonic actor. Chalamet and Kaluuya have plenty of time. Day-Lewis is exceptional, and I hope he reconsiders retiring, but it’s not as showy as his previous award-winning performances. Denzel…I don’t know a single soul who watched Roman J. Israel. That’s just baffling.

CHASE: We all know Oldman is winning. I’ll just bite my tongue and imagine he’s winning for something else like Tinker Tailor or Sid and Nancy. I hated Oldman’s ham-cheeked and prosthetically-assisted performance which mistakes imitation for acting (see: Eddie Redmayne). My personal choice is Chalamet, who made me feel in a way that Oldman’s performance never could. Still, it’s worth wondering why Oldman seems so bound to win despite his own troubled history with domestic abuse, when the voters made an example of James Franco who should be nominated here.

TYLER: Darkest Hour is a damned rough movie to watch, especially considering that Nolan just made a nuanced Dunkirk-inspired movie. Kaluuya has a long career of Oscar nominations (hopefully wins) in front of him, and in a just world, Day-Lewis would walk away with this award for nearly every performance he’s ever given (we’ll forget Nine). I might be the only person on Earth who finds Chalamet insufferable (he is, by far, the worst part of Lady Bird), and the less said about the worst-named movie of the year, the better. Frustratingly, although long-deserved for his impressive ouevre, it’ll be Oldman.

SEAN: Oldman gives a far greater performance than he’s being giving credit for, and no it isn’t all about the prosthetics. I’ve already covered my feelings about the best actor race here on the site. I’ll be happy to see my favorite actor of all time win (overdue actors have won for far lesser performances), but even I will be pulling for a Chalamet upset.

Three Billboards
Frances McDormand

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

DAVID: Sally Hawkins would be my first choice. Saoirse Ronan my second. Yet it’s the venerable Frances McDormand, grumpily riding the wave of post-Harvey Weinstein populist anger, who has been the foregone conclusion for weeks now. I won’t be annoyed when she wins, I just wish it was more of a race.

CHASE: This is when I make it clear that I feel the academy is getting EVERY acting winner wrong this year. McDormand’s performance is shockingly one-note before you even get to how troubling the character is. My personal choice is Ronan, though I’d be happy with Hawkins. Any upset here would make me happy.

TYLER: Completely disagree with the idea that anything Frances McDormand does with her face could be considered “one-note.” Three Billboards, at this point considering the significant (and I think unearned) criticism of Sam Rockwell’s character, is going to go down as an ignominious, misunderstood Oscar contender. It rejects traditional hero’s arc growth patterns for every one of its main characters, instead presenting them as humans in the face of escalating harder decisions, then never stooping to be judge of the rightness or wrongness of the path they choose. McDormand makes the best of this null state, which of course she has always done — her defining cinematic strength is that she is unbelievably human. She shares this with Meryl Streep (who is by far the best in front or behind the camera element of ˆThe Post). Frances earns it.

SEAN: Sally Hawkins is getting robbed. In order for The Shape of Water to work her performance has to be transcendent and she manages to carry the whole film on her shoulders without uttering a word. McDormand is a fierce and talented actress, but I’m with Chase. It’s a one-note character in a deeply flawed, self-aware, and muddled film.

Willem Dafoe

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

DAVID: Again, it should be Willem Dafoe, who had the heat for several months before the well-liked Sam Rockwell took over. I’ve been a fan of his since Galaxy Quest, and he’s extremely good in a problematic role (in, to be clear, a film I have defended), but as I mentioned at the top, the complaints against the film’s screenplay won’t affect the acting categories.

CHASE: The people I know defending Rockwell say “imagine this as a lifetime achievement award,” but I find that hard to swallow when Willem Dafoe is sitting right there with a much better performance. Again, I’m just going to imagine that this is for Moon or The Assassination of Jesse James, but I’m not happy. And where is Michael Stuhlbarg, who might be the best of the bunch but somehow wasn’t nominated for his incredible turn in Call Me By Your Name? This is just another reminder that the current makeup of the Academy favors physical transformation and accents over real acting.

TYLER: Rockwell is wonderful, but the performance is bizarre, and not immediately awards-worthy on the grandest stage. Had I seen the movie, I might be inclined to nod to Chris Plummer for playing a green screen role in a small-budget drama. But man, the work Dafoe puts in is undeniable. I have to believe he pulls an upset.

SEAN: If Mahershala Ali could win an Oscar for a single heart-tugging look of self-realization then surely Michael Stuhlbarg should have done the same with his emotionally devastating late-film monologue. Somehow the most affecting part of Call Me by Your Name got passed over and instead we have to suffer through a perplexing Sam Rockwell win.

Allison Janney

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

DAVID: Again (again!) it should be Laurie Metcalf. Her brilliantly layered performance nearly stole the film out from under Saoirse Ronan — but my theory is that she reminds voters too much of their own mothers, which is why they find it easier to vote for a one-dimensional monster like Allison Janney’s LaVona. Though Janney and Metcalf are both TV stars, Janney is just an awards magnet. I’m very worried Lady Bird is going to get blanked on Sunday.

CHASE: I’ve been annoyed, but this is where I get angry. Laurie Metcalf should win this award running away. She’s dunking on Allison Janney’s performance by orders of magnitude, but I guess people just like Allison Janney. Allison Janney is giving a one-note performance whereas Metcalf is multi-faceted, relatable, and not mugging for voters (aparently her real sin). Metcalf gave what I think is the single best performance of the year, and she’s not going to win. I’m disgusted. Janney should. not. win. this. award.

TYLER: Let’s pause for a minute and appreciate how, even if Dafoe and Metcalf pull off upsets… THE ACTING OSCARS HAVE GONE OLD. Compared to recent winners like Brie Larson, Emma Stone, Casey Affleck (oh no), Leo, Eddie Redmayne (woof), this winners list is comparatively ancient! I love it. And screw it, I’m betting big on a huge upset because gracious is Laurie Metcalf outstanding in Lady Bird.

SEAN: I’m a big fan of both Metcalf and Janney’s performances for different reasons and I’d certainly argue that what Janney‘s doing in I, Tonya isn’t as easy as it looks. But Lesley Manville blows them both out of the water with her restraint and subtle manipulations of power dynamics in Phantom Thread. She even manages to steal the movie out from the magnificent Daniel Day-Lewis with one eerily quiet sharp-tongued takedown. Her surprise nomination will have to be her reward.

Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Molly’s Game

DAVID: At 89, James Ivory could end up the oldest Oscar winner of all-time (depending on how the doc category goes, stay tuned) for his moving adaptation of Call Me By Your Name. That film didn’t do as much for me as most, but it’s the clearly deserving winner of these five. Though I am happy to see Logan and Disaster Artist here.

CHASE: I agree that the road seems clear for James Ivory after a criminally unrecognized career that includes films as acclaimed as A Room with a View, Howard’s End, and The Remains of the DayCall Me By Your Name did do as much for me as most (curse you, David), and this should be one of the most crowd-pleasing awards of the night. I can only imagine The Disaster Artist giving Ivory any competition, but it’s fallen off the critical radar as of late, and the James Franco controversy isn’t helping. Ivory deserves a win here both for this work and as a critical capstone.

TYLER: In another bit of Oscar weirdness, Adapted Screenplay is significantly weaker than original this year. My pick for the winner, Mudbound, is a fine piece of Oscar bait from Netflix, with some admirably washed-out direction by Dee Rees. I can’t in all honesty vote for Call Me By Your Name when the redeeming part of that movie is Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s a rudderless movie that pulls itself together in the final third to strike a deeply treacly chord, which isn’t all that different from Mudbound. Yet, still, I choose an upset. The less said about The Disaster Artist, the better.

SEAN: James Ivory will win for writing one of the most insightful, beautiful, and realistic depictions of first love ever captured on film. The depth of feeling uncovered in both words and images is almost overwhelming. That late-picture cathartic release is anything but treacly. It’s a frank examination of our own humanity that demands thoughtful reflection. I can’t think of a more deserving screenplay winner in recent memory. It’s going to be one of the highlights of the evening.

Get Out

The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

DAVID: This one’s going to be a bloodbath. Eliminate the happy-to-be-here Big Sick, and this could be a signal for how Best Picture will go, or it could mean nothing at all. I think many voters will see this category as the best chance to award either Get Out or Lady Bird, so I’d pick one of them — specifically, Get Out. On second viewing, I realized anew how diabolically constructed Jordan Peele’s script is.

CHASE: This category is brutal. I’m going for Get Out, but for reasons different than David (like I said, the idea that the Oscar races are “wide open” is a convenient fiction). I don’t see the film winning Best Picture, but I think the Academy wants to spread the love around among a lot of deserving films. This is where Peele can and maybe should win for his clever commentary on race in America, but if Three Billboards wins I’ll be sobbing into my drink as the rout goes on.

TYLER: Woof. Yeah, thirding the statements above, this is a monster. While I liked The Big Sick a lot, and think it’s probably the biggest Best Picture snub out there, I don’t think you can deny Get Out at least one piece of hardware, especially for a category it just kills it with.

SEAN: Get Out makes the most sense here and they are going to want to reward it somewhere. It’s too relevant, too critically acclaimed and has made far too much money to go home empty-handed. Unless Three Billboards fever is too tough to beat, expect Peele to happily make his way to the podium.


The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

DAVID: Consternation about “Academy Award-Nominated The Boss Baby” aside, Pixar’s Coco wins this in a walk. Next question.

CHASE: I keep waiting for something to challenge the notion that the Animated Feature category is the stronghold for “kid’s films,” but there’s nothing to challenge Coco this year. Coco is the only film that made me cry in a theater this year, and, despite my qualms, it’s wildly deserving.

TYLER: The Breadwinner keeps getting mentioned, but forgotten, as an incredible movie, a combination of Angelina Jolie’s bizarre worldliness and an excellent novel. Yet, undoubtedly, deservedly, this belongs to Coco.

SEAN: Coco wins this without any serious competition. It’s a sure thing.

Faces Places

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Man in Aleppo
Strong Island

DAVID: The only 89-year-old nominee more beloved than James Ivory is Agnes Varda, and I’m hoping to see her whimsical travelogue Faces Places (co-directed by visual artist JR) take this category in a quiet year. (No Jane? Really?) Otherwise, it’s a battle between the more topical entries, none of which have a lot of momentum.

CHASE: I feel like this is a category that the academy usually gets wrong, but it errs in favor of hugs and happiness. In that light, I don’t see anything beating Faces Places though I’ve admitted my trepidation about picking it. Give me Last Men in Aleppo as a backup for it’s current importance.

TYLER: How on Earth a powerful, subtly excoriating movie like The Work, or a moving catalog of terror like City of Ghosts, wouldn’t get nominated for this I have no idea, but I’ve sort of given up trying to understand the second tier Oscar nomination process and how it can be gamed. Icarus and Abacus are frustrating movies that succeed on the power of the underlying story, not necessarily the telling of it. Last Man in Aleppo and Strong Island are, unfortunately, movies caught in zeitgeists that drag them down with other, lesser movies. Thus, it’s the deeply weird, haughty Faces Places.

SEAN: I haven’t seen any of the Documentary nominees this year so I’m going at this completely blind. Last Men in Aleppo appears the most politically charged…never a bad bet for a winner.

For Part 2, click here!

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