Sunday, March 4, 2018

Predicting the Winners of the 90th Oscars

Heading fretfully into its 90th year, Oscar is set to descend on a bold and foreign new climate when the curtain rises on Hollywood this Sunday. He has never been one to scoff at the wide array of political trends that dominate his parties, to be sure, but even he must be sensing a strange air looming over the 2018 ceremony. It was, after all, the year that sexual abuse dominated the headlines and diminished the glitz of the city’s bright lights. And now in the final hour of those revelations, the notorious #MeToo movement looks poised to flip the script on the industry right down to its most treasured traditions – including the annual practice of handing out those famous gold statues everyone covets.

Somewhere in that prospect is the acknowledgment that my own interest must, once again, come back around to a place of enthusiasm. Over the years I have distanced myself from the emotional involvement of these sorts of traditions, namely because the end results rarely match what I consider the best in yearly entertainment. Yet it is impossible to deny how influential they remain; a win in any number of categories can cascade down into the studio system and inform the next generation of filmmakers, acting as a prophecy to what is to become of the cinema. And then there is the off-chance that somewhere, in any number of shortlists, we may discover tremendous films that we otherwise might have missed or bypassed.

Because I was more actively aware of what came out in 2017 and made an endeavor to see it, my investment in the 2018 Academy Awards is a little more certain. Below you will find a run-through of all the nominated films in their respective categories, and how I anticipate each contest will conclude in the coming hours.

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

Read through any number of prediction articles for Sunday’s telecast and the conventional wisdom is succinct: “The Shape of Water” is the clear film to beat. Hollywood has been swept up in a long infatuation with the creativity of Guillermo del Toro, and his latest is, above all else, a joyous demonstration of his continuing ability to reach the soul of a theme without weighing it down in formula. This is all despite my own reservations with the film, which are irrelevant; lauded with almost universal praise, it has won a plethora of critic awards, gone the extra mile at the box office and continues to be hot on the tongues of the analysts. It is clearly the safe bet.

But what business do safe bets have anymore? In these volatile times and a changing trajectory for the voting body, upsets have become a recent norm in the higher ranks. Consider what transpired two years ago when early odds fell in favor of “The Revenant,” and “Spotlight” instead walked away the victor. The same can be said of last year’s result, in a now-famous moment when “La La Land” – the most nominated movie of the evening – lost to “Moonlight,” the perceived dark horse. A general feeling overtaking the cultural atmosphere is that underdogs have been elevated by relentless campaigns, and the Academy is much more conscious of honoring films that mean something in the moment.

What this does, I think, is increase the likelihood of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” pulling through the finish line. The iron is hot for this subject matter, in a year where women have begun exorcising the demon of sex abuse from the shadows of board rooms and casting couches. It doesn’t hurt matters, furthermore, that it’s a great film – the best of the nine, to be honest. And while “The Shape of Water” has enchanted most of its viewers, who is going to look back 20 years from now and say it was better or more important than Martin McDonagh’s brutally honest Midwest tragedy? He made a film that endured because it spoke directly to those that piloted the latest political movement, and they will be thankful in the form of casting ballots.

Prediction: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Lead 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.”

No trend has bee more ironclad in predicting likely winners this year as the race for Best Actor – nearly all the industry awards have gone to Gary Oldman, whose turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” was seen as yet another important trademark in a spectacular career. It has been a career, unfortunately, that has rarely resulted in these sort of accolades, which only adds to the urgency of the honor.

Daniel Day-Lewis, a three-time winner in this category, could pull off a surprise win here. So could Timothée Chalamet, who has become a fringe favorite for the younger voters. But Oldman’s tenacity, I suspect, is unbreakable at this point. After securing victories at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Screen Actors Guild, an Academy Award appears to be the safe bet.

Prediction: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”

Lead 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”

Among the five ladies honored in the lead acting category, two are previous winners (McDormand and Streep) while two others have been nominated prior (Hawkins and Ronan). Robbie, who was marvelous as the troubled Tonya Harding, is still relatively unknown in the eyes of the voting body; is it likely that they will remember her more, perhaps, than her supporting co-star, who essentially steals most of the scenes?

Hawkins had a heartbreaking scene in “The Shape of Water” – a notion that is as challenging as it is skillful when you consider that her character never uttered a line of dialogue – but most of the film’s reputation is owed to the abilities of its director and technicians; they will be the ones remembered come Sunday night. And Saoirse Ronan, an emerging star who continues to be flawless, will be viewed as the emerging talent not yet ready to walk the long mile towards industry gold.

That leaves the two previous winners as serious contenders. Two strikes against Streep: she hasn’t won as many awards this season for her turn in “The Post,” and voters see her as a token honoree by just being in the category; she has won three Oscars in the past, and the most recent was just six years ago. McDormand, however, has not won an Academy Award in over two decades, and benefits from being in the social hot button film of the season. Couple that with continued wins in major guilds and critics circles, and one can only assume that the momentum will remain in her favor.

Prediction: Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

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”

Up until the Hollywood Foreign Press brought Sam Rockwell into focus for his startling work in “Three Billboards,” the contest all but belonged to Willem Dafoe. His nuanced performance in “The Florida Project” remains the enduring strength of this category, but like so many other minor films in this competition, the studio did not go the extra mile to sell their strengths. Rockwell looks to retain his momentum even now.

While Harrelson and Jenkins are terrific in their respective roles, neither is seen as conducive to their films compared to their peers. And Christopher Plummer, who was added into his film just a few short weeks prior to its release, never had a chance to establish a respectable pace as a contender. Couple that with the fact that he already won an Oscar in the last few years, and voters will relegate him to the same beholden sideline that currently houses Meryl Streep.

Prediction: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

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

Like the supporting actor category, two clear leaders emerged early in this competition – Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney. Though momentum has been with Janney in the recent weeks thanks to her victories at the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, Metcalf has the benefit of nearly every other award to her name – including a very remarkable percentage of critic awards. To choose either would be playing the most favorable odds.

But something tells me a surprise is more than likely in this equation. Virtual ties tend to cancel one another out and allow underdogs to slip into the lead, and if that consensus proves to be true, I would not be surprised by seeing a victory for Lesley Manville, the unsung hero of “Phantom Thread.” While the banter about Janney and Metcalf has waged on with minimal interruption, Manville has quietly remained on the lips of countless observers as a precious secret weapon. Are the odds of her pulling through significant? Just enough, perhaps, to make her worth a serious consideration even now.

Prediction: Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”

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

Because Guillermo del Toro wont the Director’s Guild last month, it has cemented his odds of walking away with the same honors. Upsets exist, especially in recent times, but not enough to disrupt the trajectory of a man whose movie is still recognized as the general frontrunner (not to mention the most popular crowd-pleaser). If the potential exists for a different result, odds would fall to either Jordan Peele (whose “Get Out” won big at the Independent Spirit Awards) or Greta Gerwig (a seminal favorite in a year destined to celebrate the values of women in film).

Prediction: Guillermo del Toro

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

Screenplay awards are historically reserved for big contenders who are unlikely to go home with the bigger trophies. Only one of the five nominees in Adapted was a Best Picture nominee – “Call Me by Your Name” – and as such is the staple choice if you are to play within that trend. Though “The Disaster Artist” received accolades at the time of its December release, its odds were undermined by two controversies: a sexual harassment allegation against its director (James Franco) and recent looming lawsuits against he and the writer for unpaid royalties. “Mudbound” and “Molly’s Game,” also noted contenders, did not benefit from a notable awards campaign. And “Logan,” an unlikely dark horse, will have to settle for its nomination as its reward – the Academy is not yet ready to pay a thorough mind to the potential resonance of comic book-related yarns.

Prediction: Call Me by Your Name

Original Screenplay:
“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

Four of the five nominated original screenplays carry over into the best picture category, although one – “Three Billboards” – did not see its director nominated (he is represented here instead as the writer). It and “The Shape of Water” will win big on Sunday night, leaving “Lady Bird” and “Get Out” as the two top contenders for this recognition. It’s anyone’s guess between them, but my money rests with “Get Out,” a film that still endures primarily on the strength of its writing. If “Lady Bird” has any odds, those rest in two higher categories where it can also pull upsets (directing and supporting actress).

Prediction: Get Out.

Additional Predictions:

Animated Feature: Coco
Best Documentary Feature: Icarus
Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049
Film Editing: Baby Driver
Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
Production Design: The Shape of Water
Original Score: The Shape of Water
Original Song: “Remember Me” from “Coco”
Makeup and Hair: Darkest Hour
Costume Design: Phantom Thread
Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

No comments: