And so it is Oscar time once more. Last year’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, will be returning for his second at-bat, and the 90th annual Academy Awards show will be filled with stale jokes about the show’s running time, about the #metoo movement (no Harvey Weinstein nor Kevin Spacey in the audience, you can guarantee it), and about whether, as was the case last year when “La La Land” was erroneously declared the Best Picture winner, there will be any last minute envelope mix-ups.
Despite 2017 having been such a banner year for mainstream movies – and for superhero movies in particular – the slate of nominees is, some would, say, disappointing in terms of its ordinariness. “Wonder Woman,” so empowering and successful, walked away empty handed, even in the technical categories. “Thor: Ragnarok” was also snubbed across the board, as was “Lego Batman,” which didn’t even score a customary nomination for Best Animated Feature. “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” earned a few technical nominations, but the only true *hits* to receive above-the-line nods were “Dunkirk” and “Get Out.” (Okay, so “The Shape of Water” lead the pack with 13 nominations, but its “R” rating and graphic nudity worked against it at the box office.)
Will “Dunkirk” or “Get Out” win, reminding audiences that the Academy is not out of touch with popular opinion after all…or will it be something much artsier – “Phantom Thread” perhaps? My gut tells me it will be none of the above. To learn more about those and other nominated films, check out the official Oscar website. For an educated guess on who will win, however, you can do worse than to keep reading the following paragraphs for my predictions.
(GringoPotpourri disclaimer: Although I’m no insider, I have seen all of the nominees mentioned below, and my batting average is well above .500. So there’s that.)
Call Me by Your Name
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Who Will Win: The Shape of Water
Who Should Win: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Watch Out For: Get Out
Comments: Nine films out of a possible ten made the cut this year, and their subject matter ranges from British wartime resilience (“Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk”) to teenage soul-searching (“Call Me by Your Name,” “Lady Bird”) to envy masked by racism (“Get Out,” “The Shape of Water”). While I would have liked to have seen Sean Baker’s delightful “The Florida Project” make the cut – or perhaps Patty Jenkins’ thrilling Wonder Woman” – I am, in general, pleased by this year’s nominees.
“Dunkirk,” released last July, was an instant Oscar frontrunner. Its nearly dialogue-free screenplay, detailing the land, sea, and air rescue of stranded British soldiers at Dunkirk, is nothing to fuss over, but the mood, and the brilliant editing, make it a movie that endures. Its momentum faded, of course, as the fall movie season launched, and it was trumped, first, by “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” and then, by “The Shape of Water.” The former is an incendiary tale of racism and shoddy police work in an fractured Missouri town, the latter a testament to individuality, masked as a Cold War horror fantasy.
While odds have “The Shape of Water” as the favorite to win, the Best Picture category for this year is harder to predict than usual. The early 2017 horror satire “Get Out” remains a dark horse candidate, and let’s not discount the 11th hour support for “Phantom Thread,” which squeaked by with several unexpected nominations beyond the requisite nod for Daniel Day-Lewis. Even I failed to take it seriously, publishing my Top Ten Films of 2017 list without having seen it (I finally did seek it out, and as it happens, Paul Thomas Anderson’s unsettling romance is not just top ten but top five material without a doubt).
My thoughts? “The Shape of Water” will still prevail, being the first fantasy to win the top prize since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” swept the Oscars in early 2004. But I could be wrong; just ask the producers of 2016’s “La La Land.” See, the “La La Land” jokes have already begun.
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Who Will Win: Guillermo del Toro
Who Should Win: Guillermo del Toro
Watch Out For: Christopher Nolan
Comments: This is a groundbreaking list of nominees. In addition to Mexico City-born Guillermo del Toro (the third director from Mexico in five years, following “Gravity’s” Alfonso Cuarón and “Birdman” and “The Revenant’s” Alejandro González Iñárritu), we have the never-before-nominated Christopher Nolan, (for “Dunkirk”), a shocker considering his impressive body of work so far. Besides Del Toro and Nolan we also have Greta Gerwig, just the fifth female to be nominated in this category (for the semi-autobiographical “Lady Bird”); and Jordan Peele, just the fifth African-American category nominee (for the horror-movie-as-social-commentary that is “Get Out”). In fact, the only veteran here is Paul Thomas Anderson; his inclusion (for the surprising “Phantom Thread,” which defies easy categorization) is actually a bigger surprise than that of the other nominees…albeit a deserving surprise.
In most years, Nolan would win. Not only is he overdue; his previous films “Memento,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Inception” were all Oscar darlings – or were supposed to be, anyway. Furthermore, his triumphant WWII film “Dunkirk,” a sort of all-hands-on-desk rescue movie, is the type of film that the Academy traditionally honors. That being said, “Dunkirk” has as many detractors as admirers, and enough script problems to blunt its impact somewhat.
Furthermore, this seems, once again, to be the year to honor Mexico’s talented directors. Del Toro, once slated to direct the “Hobbit” trilogy at the request of Peter Jackson, is one of the country’s – and the industry’s – most visionary directors, and his luminous period fantasy romance, “The Shape of Water,” is perhaps the best movie he’s ever made. (No small feat, that; remember “Pan’s Labyrinth?” Remember “The Devil’s Backbone?”) Del Toro is never subtle, but, as is often the case for him, it works.
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.
Who Will Win: Gary Oldman
Who Should Win: Gary Oldman
Watch Out For: Timothée Chalamet
Comments: Poor Tom Hanks. It seems that this year, critics and Oscar prognosticators everywhere are wondering what the heck Tom Hanks, so good in 2013’s “Captain Phillips” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” in 2015’s “Bridge of Spies,” in 2016’s “Sully,” and in last year’s “The Post,” has to do to get an Oscar nomination. Sure, the man already has two Oscars, but his last nomination was for “Cast Away,” which was released 18 years ago!
For my money, though, the real lament should be, poor Hugh Jackman. The Australian-born song-and-dance man delivered two terrific lead performances this year – as world-weary Wolverine in “Logan” and as huckster P.T. Barnum in “The Greatest Showman” – and was snubbed on both counts. “The Greatest Showman” received mixed reviews, and we already knew that Jackman could sing; he did earn a Best Actor nomination for 2012’s “Les Misérables.” But his performance in “Logan” – his ninth time in the role that made him a star – feels both lived-in and fresh. He should have been nominated.
As for the five candidates who did make the cut (and I wouldn’t want to be the one to decide which one should have been excluded from the roster in favor of Jackman), this race was decided before shooting even began on “Darkest Hour.” Gary Oldman, beloved in the industry but thus far devoid of any Oscar statuettes, will finally win one for his ferocious portrayal of Winston Churchill. Does he chew exquisite ham in the role? Sure. Does it matter? Not a whit. Does he own the role? Yes – just like Dracula, George Smiley, Sid Vicious, Commissioner Gordon, and every other role that he’s taken on.
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saiorse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post
Who Will Win: Frances McDormand
Who Should Win: Frances McDormand
Watch Out For: Saiorse Ronan
Comments: All too often, Best Actor and Best Actress nominations and trophies go to actors portraying real people. Think Julia Roberts for “Erin Brockovich,” Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line,” or Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” It is therefore refreshing to see that just two of this year’s five nominees for Best Actress portray real people. (And I don’t mean to say that acting is any less impressive if the character is a real person; Margot Robbie is phenomenal as Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” and Meryl Streep is as reliable as ever portraying “The Post’s” Katharine Graham. Still, it’s refreshing to see characters that are wholly original as well. (Saiorse Ronan, uniquely, crosses the line playing a character who is fictional but largely based on filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s younger self. Suffice to say, Ronan is terrific.)
The undisputed frontrunner this year, Frances McDormand, plays a character whose emotions feel so palpable and real that she can only be a fictitious construct. Indeed, her character, gift shop worker and grieving mother Mildred Hayes, feels like someone we all know, that blue collar, tactless-and-selfless parent who has had her fill of incompetence, and damn the torpedoes. Most of her dialogue is too profane to be quoted here, yet every angry word seems justified. That McDormand has won previously in this category, for 1996’s “Fargo,” hardly matters. Critics and audiences love her, and she will win again.
She should, too. Sally Hawkins, as the luminous, mute Eliza, the voice of conscience in “The Shape of Water,” won a few early-season awards, but the bulk of the haul has gone to McDormand. If there is any competition in the race it could be from Hawkins but will most likely come from Ronan, who is just 23 and already is on her third Oscar nomination!
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
Who Will Win: Sam Rockwell
Who Should Win: Willem Dafoe
Watch Out For: Christopher Plummer
Comments: As usual, the Best Supporting Actor race is packed with more worthy candidates than the five slots allow for. Off the top of my head, I can name four snubs: Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg for “Call Me by Your Name,” Andy Serkis for “War for the Planet of the Apes,” and Patrick Stewart for “Logan.” There no doubt are more. Still, it’s hard to argue with the one-two punch of Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, as lazy sheriff and ignorant deputy, in “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri;” or Willem Dafoe, as the long-suffering motel manager of “The Florida Project;” or Richard Jenkins, as a closeted graphic designer in “The Shape of Water;” or, as monstrous billionaire J. Paul Getty, 88-year-old Christopher Plummer of “All the Money in the World” (an inspired, 11th-hour replacement for the disgraced Kevin Spacey).
My personal vote would be for Dafoe. He is no stranger to awards ceremonies; this is his third nomination in this category. And while he usually plays villains, he is the moral conscience of “The Florida Project,” and a surrogate father to the transients and dreamers living in the pink motel that his character manages. His performance is a triumph. Still, Sam Rockwell, who also impresses as a racist sheriff’s deputy who finds redemption in “Three Billboards,” appears to have this Oscar in all but name only; he has won most of the key pre-Oscar races; and his achievement is all the more impressive considering that when two actors from the same film are nominated in the same category, they usually split the vote and go home empty-handed. Not this year.
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
Who Will Win: Allison Janney
Who Should Win: Lesley Manville
Watch Out For: Laurie Metcalf
Comments: With two exceptions, the Best Supporting Actress category this year – as it is most years, in fact – is comprised largely of actresses playing mothers. We have “Mudbound’s” Mary J. Blige (Ms. Blige is also nominated in the category of Best Original Song) as the quietly resilient wife and mother of a family of struggling, Depression-era cotton farmers. We have critics’ favorite Allison Janney bringing disgraced Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding’s monstrous mother to the screen. We have “Roseanne” alumnus Laurie Metcalf breaking our hearts as the well-meaning mother of an angsty 90’s teen in “Lady Bird. The final slots are filled by Mike Leigh ensemble cast veteran Lesley Manville, playing the attentive – and icy, Mrs. Danvers-esque – sister of Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread,” and by category regular Octavia Spencer as the friend and reluctant helper of Sally Hawkins in the Cold War fantasy “The Shape of Water.”
Although Metcalf won several early pre-Oscar awards and was the initial frontrunner in this category, she became all but an afterthought once “I, Tonya” was released later in the season. For Janney, who won virtually every award from the Golden Globes onward, became the person to beat, and she still has the momentum going into Oscar night. As the chain-smoking, profanity-spewing LaVona Harding, Janney steals her every scene. Frankly, I wasn’t as impressed as some viewers; for me, the performance seems a bit one-note. Or, in fairness to Janney, who has been delivering solid work on both the big and small screen since the 1990’s, it could simply be that she makes it look too easy. I found Manville’s quietly enabling sister in “Phantom Thread” to be the real Best Supporting Actress force to be reckoned with.
Best Original Screenplay
The Big Sick
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Who Will Win: Get Out
Who Should Win: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Watch Out For: Lady Bird
Comments: It is hard to find much to nitpick out regarding this year’s original screenplays (except, perhaps, to bemoan about the absence of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” a script that is the very definition of the word “original.” “The Big Sick” and “Lady Bird” are both semi-autobiographical, both scathingly funny, and both surprisingly moving stories about, in at least some part, the complicated relationship between free-spirited young adults and their disapproving parents. “The Shape of Water” dazzled audiences with its visuals and score, but it all originated in the mind of writers Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, who had to put their masterful shared vision on paper. “Get Out,” the brainchild of “Key & Peele” co-creator Jordan Peele, struck a cultural note and became much more than “just” a meta-horror movie. Finally, the verbal poetry of “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” is much, much more than just a series of F-bombs, perhaps the most common – and weakest – complaint lobbied against it. Honestly, “Three Billboards” deserves to win, although the equally-daring “Get Out” will probably take home the trophy – the first genre film to score a writing Oscar since “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1992.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Who Will Win: Call Me by Your Name
Who Should Win: Logan
Watch Out For: Mudbound
Comments: Somewhat strangely, this is something of a weak year for the category of Best Adapted Screenplay. James Ivory, the octogenarian filmmaker of such 1980’s and 1990’s Merchant-Ivory costume dramas as “Howards End” and “The Remains of the Day,” has all but been formally crowned the winner; this year its for the lush “summer love” gay romance “Call Me by Your Name.” Though terrific, this is lightweight stuff compared to usual winners like “Schindler’s List” and “12 Years a Slave.” Mr. Ivory’s strongest competition is from first time African-American writer-director Dee Rees. Her downbeat drama of dual families farming the same cursed cotton acreage during the depression, based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel of the same name, is powerful stuff…that never found an audience. Of the remaining nominees, I was fondest of “Logan,” supposedly the concluding entry in Marvel’s nine-film saga revolving around beleaguered mutant Wolverine, with better character development and plotting than normal for the genre. Hey, it’s the first superhero movie to garner an Oscar nod for writing; why not make it the first one to win as well?
Best Animated Feature? “Coco,” Pixar’s unapologetically Mexican tale, features a dazzling color palette and a rich story set during Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). For that matter, “Coco” will probably win best song, too (the poignant “Remember Me”). Best Foreign Language Film? The Hungarian romance “On Body and Soul,” will probably triumph, making it perhaps the first Oscar winner to take place in a slaughterhouse. Best Documentary Feature? “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” about a Chinese immigrant family whose small New York City bank was the only one prosecuted following the financial crash of 2008. The movie, like many of the best documentaries, is a damning indictment of a broken system; that it was directed by “Hoop Dreams” helmer Steve James is merely icing on the cake. Then again, the Oscar in this category could go to the whimsical “Faces Places,” whose co-director, Agnès Varda, is 89..or to “Strong Island,” a treatise on race-related killings with a director, Yance Ford, who is the first transgendered nominee in Academy history. It seems that Best Documentary Feature, which is often the point in the show when many casual viewers take a popcorn break, may be the hardest category to call.
Technical categories? Unlike many years, where a single film is showered with statuettes (“Titanic,” “LOTR: ROTK,” etc.), I anticipate a real spreading of the wealth. “Blade Runner 2049” (Cinematography), “Phantom Thread” (Costume Design), “Dunkirk” (Sound Mixing and Film Editing), “War for the Planet of the Apes” (Visual Effects), “The Shape of Water” (Production Design, Original Score) “Darkest Hour” (Makeup), and “Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi” (Sound Editing), will likely share the prizes, with a few sure things: “Darkest Hour” for Best Makeup and “Phantom Thread” for Best Costume Design. Of these categories, I’m most excited for Best Cinematography, and am pulling for perennial Oscar bridesmaid Roger Deakins, who earned his 14th nomination for “Blade Runner 2049.” He has a slight edge, as word is out about his “past due” status. Still, the juggernaut that is “The Shape of Water,” and the crisp “Dunkirk,” offer strong competition, as does “Mudbound,” whose lenser, Rachel Morrison, is the first African-American female nominee in this category. Another tight race….
The 90th Academy Awards will air this Sunday, March 4th, at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific. Enjoy the show…and let us know who you are rooting for!