I Am DB

January 22, 2018

Oscars 2017: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 6:45 pm
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Has it been a year already? It seems only yesterday I bolted upright on my couch when one of La La Land‘s producers declared that a mistake had been made and Moonlight was the Best Picture winner. Now here we are, a new year’s worth of films to consider, and me showing up at the last minute as usual to hear myself talk. Oh the fun!  Let’s get to it…

BEST PICTURE
This year’s most nominated film will easily be The Shape of Water, and its inevitable field-leading haul trickles down from here, where it will almost certainly be joined by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, Lady Bird and Get Out. It will mark an especially impressive journey for the latter film, which debuted last February the weekend that the Oscars were handed out. Despite being met with glowing reviews, few could have expected (hoped, maybe, but probably not expected) that when next year’s Oscar season came around, Get Out would be among the top contenders. An of-the-moment social satire blending horror and comedy, it’s a far cry from the kind of movie typically nominated by the Academy, or given serious attention by groups annually celebrating the best in film. But Get Out has been a fixture all season long, and actually leads the field in Best Picture wins from the critics associations across the country that end up shaping the field of contenders each year during what we in the business of Oscar soothsaying sometimes refer to as Phase 1.

As always, it gets difficult from here, as there could be anywhere from five to ten nominees in this category, depending on how many ballots are turned in and how the votes fall. In the six years since the five-to-ten rule took effect, we’ve had four years with nine nominees and two years with eight. Surely one of these days, we’ll see a different number, but I’m going with nine because…well, I gotta go with something.

Call Me By Your Name is a likely nominee, and after that it really is a guessing game as to what will have enough support to crack the list. In addition to these six films, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) nominated The PostThe Big Sick, Molly’s Game, I, Tonya and Wonder Woman. Will some of these repeat with the Academy? The PGA has a guaranteed 10-film slate (well, 11 this year, due to a tie), which the Academy does not. The PGA can also be counted on to go with some popular picks that rarely break through with the Academy. Wonder Woman fits that bill this year, and though I’d normally dismiss it from having a chance, it’s not out of the question given the current climate of female empowerment. Wonder Woman is fun, but it’s a more important movie than it is a great one, so while some Academy members will probably vote for it to celebrate what it represents, it still faces tough odds.

The Post would seem like a lock, given the several timely issues it hits on, as well as the Oscar-friendly combination of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. But it missed out on nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Writers Guild of America (WGA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in addition to coming up short in all six of its categories at the Golden Globes, leading many to believe it hasn’t caught on within the industry as expected. I do think the contingent that supported Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies will champion this one too, but then again their loyalty may lie elsewhere. Each year is its own beast. Perhaps those voters will go for Darkest Hour this time around.

The Big Sick is well-liked but probably too light to score here, whereas I could definitely see I, Tonya getting in. It seems to have taken people by pleasant surprise, and feels like the kind of underdog that surges late. Molly’s Game, despite strong reviews and Aaron Sorkin’s cache, doesn’t have the momentum it needs to push through.

Looking beyond the PGA’s choices still leaves a few possibilities. Darkest Hour, mentioned above, was hailed as an across-the-board contender when it played at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals in September, but its central performance aside, it didn’t make much noise during Phase 1. That doesn’t always mean anything; critics and Academy members don’t necessarily think the same way, and Darkest Hour – a robust historical drama energized by a powerful lead performance – certainly meets the criteria of an Academy-friendly movie…though as the demographics slowly begin to change with newer, younger, more diverse members joining the ranks in the last few years, that criteria could be starting to shift.

The Florida Project is a critical favorite, but I can’t gauge how deep the love goes with the Academy. I’m guessing it will make the cut, but it’s the choice I’m least confident in. There’s also Mudbound, which has the gravitas usually found in Best Picture nominees but might suffer for being distributed by Netflix. Silly as it seems, I’ve been reading that many voters seem to hold that against the movie even though the streaming service did give it a brief theatrical release. It would be a shame if voters denied Mudbound for such a petty reason, but even if the Netflix factor doesn’t enter into most minds the movie still may not have quite the must-see buzz it needs to go the distance with the full Academy.

Others in the mix that could get lucky but are relative longshots for one reason or another are Phantom Thread, The Disaster Artist, and All the Money in the World.

Predictions:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Florida Project

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

Personal Picks:
Blade Runner 2049
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
Logan

Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST DIRECTOR
The Shape of Water‘s Guillermo del Toro will lead the way, finally getting the nomination he should have received 11 years ago for Pan’s Labyrinth. Expect him to be joined by the even more egregiously overdue Christopher Nolan. I’ve been burned before, betting on the directors branch to recognize Nolan, but Dunkirk is much more in the Academy’s sweet spot than The Dark Knight or Inception were, and if they passed him over this time it would be a pretty shocking and baffling slap in the face. He picked up a DGA nomination – his fourth from that group, I might add – and seems poised to finally get an Oscar nod to match. He’d better, or I take a torch to the Linwood Dunn Theater.

Speaking of the DGA, they also nominated del Toro, Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jordan Peele for Get Out, and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. The Peele and Gerwig nominations were welcome news for those films’ advocates after both missed out on nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which hands out the Golden Globes, and BAFTA. There will be no shortage of negative commentary if either of them are overlooked by the Academy, but it could absolutely happen. The Oscar nominees for directing seldom match up with the DGA picks, and del Toro and Nolan are the only ones who feel like safe bets. McDonagh could find himself the odd man out too, so this will be one of the most eagerly anticipated categories of the nomination announcement. Even though neither Gerwig or Peele make my list of personal picks, I kinda hope they both get nominated just so we can skip the outrage from people who don’t understand how this process works and/or can’t possibly conceive of the notion that not everything is about race and gender.

Why aren’t Peele or Gerwig on my list? Well, not that my personal picks matter in the slightest to anyone but me, but it’s because as much as I liked their movies – and I really really did – and as great as their work is, there’s only room for five nominees, and I feel that some different films stand out as achievements in directing. It’s not because I’m racist and it’s not because I’m sexist and it’s not because I have an unconscious bias. I’ve actually read articles suggesting that such mindsets are the reason that Peele and Gerwig have not been nominated by other groups. In past years my own picks have included black directors, female directors, and black female directors. This year, my choices happen to not include either demographic. But I’ve got Guillermo del Toro, so there you go. Diversity.

So…assuming the Academy is not of the same mind as the DGA, who else is in the running? If Darkest Hour had fared better in Phase 1 I’d have thought Joe Wright might finally bag a nomination (he should have had one a decade ago for Atonement). But even BAFTA failed to nominate him despite a strong overall showing for the film, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll show up here. Call Me By Your Name‘s Luca Guadagnino faces more favorable odds, and I would not be at all surprised to see directors put forth Sean Baker for the intimate, naturalistic performances he drew from his non-professional child actors in The Florida Project (and the non-professional adults, for that matter). Ridley Scott managed the seemingly impossible and certainly audacious self-imposed task of completely replacing Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, bringing Christopher Plummer onboard and re-convening other cast and crew members on location six weeks before the movie’s scheduled release date. This wasn’t just a matter of re-shooting all the scenes for a role which, while not the lead, is substantial. Plummer wasn’t delivering an identical performance to Spacey’s that could simply be dropped into the already-assembled film. He brought his own rhythm and pacing to the part, necessitating major post-production overhauls.  In fact, screenwriter David Scarpa claims that some scenes with Spacey that had been cut from the film found their way back in because Plummer was so good. If that’s true, it would have made the post-production schedule even more daunting. But Scott and his crew pulled it off, with the movie’s release getting pushed back a mere three days. All of this to say that fellow directors could certainly throw their vote to Scott in admiration not just for the decision to remove Spacey from the film and save everyone else’s hard work from undeserved ignominy, but for the sheer madness of what he attempted…and accomplished

All that said, while the movie has been favorably reviewed, it doesn’t seem to have caught fire, so a nomination for Scott would be perceived as directly commending the unique circumstances rather than his overall work on the movie. Interestingly, All the Money in the World was already moving on an accelerated schedule – filming began in May – with the goal of getting it into theaters by the end of the year, which was also the case with The Post. Steven Spielberg began putting that movie together in March almost immediately after reading the script. Spielberg and Scott are known to be among the fastest-moving, most efficient directors working. But it may not be enough this year to get Spielberg into the final five, even if The Post makes the Best Picture cut.

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is a remote possibility, but I think the movie is more likely to be a surprise Best Picture nominee than Jenkins is to score individual recognition. When the directors branch deviates from the DGA, it often does so in favor of an admired auteur with a passionate fan base, from David Lynch for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive to Krzysztof Kieslowski for Red to Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. This year, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve or even relative newcomer Dee Rees could benefit from that sort of goodwill for Phantom ThreadBlade Runner 2049, or Mudbound, respectively, though all are long shots if their movies are not nominated for Best Picture. Back in ye olde days of five Best Picture nominees, it was as common for the Picture/Director nominees to not match up as it was for the Academy/DGA choices. Since the field expanded in 2010, however, Miller is the only director to be nominated without a corresponding Best Picture shout-out. All that aside, neither Anderson, Villeneuve or Rees – whatever their films’ Best Picture fates – would be outside-the-box choices. Each received a handful of citations from the critics, and Villeneuve scored a BAFTA nomination. If the directors branch really wanted to go their own way, wouldn’t it be something if they stood up for Darren Aronofsky’s batshit crazy, polarizing but fiercely visionary mother!? Or Edgar Wright’s meticulously assembled popcorn ditty Baby Driver? Or Yorgos Lanthimos’ gripping, unsettling The Killing of a Sacred Deer?

Fun to think about…but don’t count on anything like that happening. When all is said and done, it would not surprise me one bit if this were a year where the DGA and the Academy lined up. I’ve read that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a extremely well-liked by a lot of members, which bodes well for McDonagh. The Golden Globe ceremony, during which Natalie Portman pointedly introduced the “all-male” directing nominees (immediately after Oprah brought the house down with a feminist call to arms, it should be noted) fell smack in the middle of the voting period. Anybody who was undecided or on the fence about Gerwig might have been inspired to help her get recognized by the Academy. Peele is probably the most vulnerable, having directed the film furthest outside the Academy’s comfort zone as far as genre goes. But he’s been such a presence in Phase 1 that, while it’s not hard to imagine him missing, it’s less hard to imagine him getting in.

And hey, maybe we’ll all be surprised and Vin Diesel will finally be right in predicting some Oscar love for The Fast and The Furious series.

Predictions: 
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Edgar Wright – Baby Driver
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Sean Baker – The Florida Project

Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

BEST ACTRESS
We’ve still got a long way to go before women hold positions behind the camera in the quantity they should, and before they’re front and center in well-developed on-camera roles at the same rate as their male counterparts. But perhaps there’s some encouragement to be found in yet another year where there is such impressive competition for the five Best Actress slots. We’re looking at another heartbreaker where some excellent work is going to be crowded out. It’s a good problem to have, though one unlikely to be felt by Sally Hawkins or Frances McDormand, or probably Saoirse Ronan, all of whom are as close to locks as you can get.

As I, Tonya‘s popularity grew throughout the season, so too did Margot Robbie’s chances, to the point that she now feels like a pretty good bet, though not a guarantee. These four actress scored SAG nominations, alongside Judi Dench for Victoria & Abdul. That’s one of the few films with Oscar chances in the main categories that I missed, so while I can’t speak to Dench’s performance – a reprisal of Queen Victoria, who she was nominated for playing in the 1996 film Mrs. Brown – I can say that I’d be surprised if she makes it. Delightful as Dench looks in the movie, and as much as she is appreciated by Academy members, the competition feels too stiff this year for her to score a nomination in what looks like a performance she could probably give in her sleep.

An ocean away, BAFTA gave a rather surprising nomination – alongside Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie – to Annette Bening for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. She’s great in the movie, playing real-life (and Oscar-winning) actress Gloria Grahame in the final few years of her life, when she fell into a relationship with a much younger man before dying of cancer at age 57. The surprise of the nomination is that it’s the only high-profile mention Bening has received his year. That’s not a commentary on her performance, but rather on the film’s under-the-radar status (it was one of the very last releases of 2017). It’s too bad she’s not deeper in the mix, because she’s terrific in the film. But she’ll sit the race out again, just as she did last year for an even more deserving turn in 20th Century Women (an omission that remains one of 2016’s most disappointing).

Assuming that Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie are all in, then laws of science, nature and Oscar would dictate that Meryl Streep be the fifth nominee. In The Post, she gives a wonderfully understated performance as a newspaper owner trying to find her voice in the male-dominated (you’re kidding!) world of publishing circa 1971, while also facing a daunting decision that could result in her imprisonment for defying a government-issued court order. As with the Best Picture race, some pundits see The Post‘s lukewarm showing  on the award circuit as evidence of too little support. Yet nominations for each branch come from within, and plenty of actors will vote for Streep regardless of whether they include the movie in their Best Picture tally. Also, I’m not reading too much into the film’s no-show with SAG; I think it may have been unveiled too close to the end of the voting period for it to make a dent. So…will Streep get in?

If not, Jessica Chastain is the most likely to round out the category, playing a ski champion-turned-poker madame in Molly’s Game. Actors love Sorkin’s scripts, and they will appreciate Chastain’s dexterity with the writer’s trademark, fast-paced dialogue as well as the strength and intelligence she gives the character. Both Chastain and Streep have been regular nominees among the national and regional critics groups, though neither as consistent as the other four ladies already mentioned. It’s a sign of how many worthy performances there are this year that two as good as theirs are on the bubble.

The dark horse contenders are Michelle Williams, typically terrific in All the Money in the World, and if voters are more enamored of Phantom Thread than expected, Vicky Krieps, a fresh face who goes toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis. In a weaker year they might have had a better shot, as would last year’s winner Emma Stone for her take on Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes or even Jennifer Lawrence, who certainly gave her all in mother!, whatever people may think of the film. Also deserving of mention are the stars of two potential nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Daniela Vega for A Fantastic Woman and Diane Kruger for In the Fade. Both play women dealing with grief and resulting challenges after the deaths of loved ones, and each has received wide acclaim, though neither is likely to break into this crowded contest.

A few months ago I’d assumed that Kate Winslet would be firmly in the mix, if not the frontrunner, but unfortunately Wonder Wheel didn’t live up to its promise. Of course, given the resurgence of the Woody Allen controversy in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Winslet may be grateful to be out of the circus this year, where she would surely have faced a lot of awkward questions about working with Allen.

Predictions:
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

Personal:
Same

BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman, nominated only once before, has been considered the favorite to win this award ever since Darkest Hour‘s festival premieres last September. He remains the frontrunner, but first, the nomination. The revered veteran’s most formidable competition comes from relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet, for Call Me By Your Name. Possibly familiar to people from Season 2 of Homeland or a small role as Matthew McConaughey’s son in Interstellar, Chalamet broke through this year with supporting roles in Lady Bird and Hostiles, and his emotionally rich leading turn in CMBYN. Meanwhile, Phantom Thread‘s reunion of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis should earn the three-time Best Actor winner another nomination, though contrary to popular belief, Day-Lewis doesn’t get nominated just for showing up. He’s missed before, and if Phantom Thread hasn’t connected with voters, he could miss again. But it does seem unlikely, especially considering that this is supposedly his final performance before he leaves acting behind. Hopefully his retirement will be more like Michael Jordan’s than Gene Hackman’s, and seven years from now Anderson or Martin Scorsese will track him down in a tiny village in Belize, hand-making candles…blowing glass…beekeeping…restoring frescoes..something like that, and convince him to step in front of the camera again. Until that universal wish is fulfilled, I expect voters will send him off with one more nomination.

Another strong bet seems to be Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya, but I’m really not sure what to do there. Personally, I don’t get it. A fine performance, but Best Actor? I just don’t see it. I know better…usually…than to let personal opinions (or maybe potential cluelessness in this case, since I don’t understand what I’m missing) keep me from predicting what I think will happen…but when you remove from the equation all the nominations Kaluuya has collected so far – and he’s collected all the big ones – I wouldn’t think he’d get nominated. Only because he does have SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA and BAFTA noms am I even considering him a contender. Having all those feathers in your cap is no guarantee of a nomination, but it sure goes a long way toward making you look secure. There’s also the delicate matter that as far as acting goes, Kaluuya’s track record so far makes him the best shot at avoiding another #OscarsSoWhite year. The only other real potential there comes in the Supporting Actress category, which we’ll get to, but none of the relevant contenders there are on solid ground. Even if individual voters are thinking about #OscarsSoWhite when making their choice, they have no idea how their fellow branch members are voting, so how can they know if an actor of color will end up getting nominated? I have to believe, perhaps naively, that they simply vote for their preferences, regardless of the possible optics. (Another reason the whole #OscarsSoWhite movement is misguided, but I’m not getting into that here.)

SAG’s nominees, in addition to Kaluuya, Chalamet and Oldman, were Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. and James Franco for The Disaster Artist. Franco makes for another tough call. His  performance, though committed and hilarious, never felt like a sure-thing with the Academy to begin with, but now accusations of sexual misconduct have clouded the waters even further. Those stories emerged in the wake of Franco’s Golden Globe win, which came early in the Oscar voting period. But at first it was just one or two casual accusations on Twitter. It wasn’t until the end of the week, a day before Oscar voting ended, that five claims against him came out in a Los Angeles Times story. Who knows how many voters submit their ballots that late in the game. The majority of people voting for Franco had probably already done so by then, so I don’t think the allegations will have much impact. The question of his nomination boils down to the normal factor of how popular his performance was among voters. And I still don’t know what to think about that. If he does get nominated, it’s sure to raise plenty of internet ire, with cries of the Academy supporting his alleged behavior – claims that, as usual with these matters, will be largely misinformed and misdirected. If he doesn’t get nominated, it will be seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement when in fact that probably had little to do with it.

As for Denzel, he plays enjoyably against type in Roman J. Israel, Esq. as an idealistic, socially-awkward lawyer battling the system, but the movie fell through the cracks. Admired as he is, his chances don’t look good. Had Phantom Thread been screened for SAG members in time for their voting, I suspect Day-Lewis would have been nominated, knocking out Washington or Kaluuya (I know, I know…that doesn’t look good…but I’m just reading the room.) Then again, if my instincts about Franco and/or Kaluuya prove correct, Washington’s odds increase significantly. Oh, what to do? BAFTA retains Kaluuya, Oldman and Chalamet, but jettisons Franco and Washington in favor of Day-Lewis and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool‘s Jamie Bell. He’s good in the film as Annette Bening’s young lover, but can probably chalk his nomination up to a home turf advantage. An Oscar nomination is not in the cards.

Back in October, Jake Gyllenhaal and Andrew Garfield appeared to be in the running, each for playing real-life men who faced significant physical challenges: Garfield in Breathe as Robin Cavendish, who became paralyzed from the neck down due to polio and lived years longer than expected, eventually helping to invent a wheelchair with a built-in respirator; and Gyllenhaal in Stronger as Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon bombing victim who lost both his legs. Breathe was met with tepid reviews that quickly took Garfield out of the running, but Gyllenhaal’s faded fortune is more surprising. Both the movie and his performance earned great reviews, and he was expected to be more of a presence during the season. He got a few mentions from critics groups, but was otherwise overlooked. It will be nice when Gyllenhaal finally gets nominated again one of these days. He’s still only been in the running once, for Brokeback Mountain, but after Zodiac, Source Code (yes, I’m serious), Nightcrawler and now this, he’s way past due.

Christian Bale in Hostiles, Hugh Jackman in Logan, and Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes (when is the Academy going to acknowledge that motion capture visual effects technology can not mask a great piece of acting?) all deserve to be serious contenders, but they’re all on the sidelines. Ditto Robert Pattinson, who got some love from the critics for a change-of-pace role in Good Time, but I don’t see most Academy voters finding much appeal in this grungy crime drama. The one last real possibility is Tom Hanks for The Post. Hanks hasn’t been nominated since 2001, coming up a bridesmaid for Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks and Sully. It’s probably going to happen again this year, but he’s definitely in the second tier of possibilities, especially if we’re underestimating The Post. He brings urgency, honor and a slightly mischievous wit to his take on editor Ben Bradlee (who Jason Robards won an Oscar for playing in All the President’s Men.) If I’m right to doubt Franco and/or Kaluuya, Hanks could make it. 

Predictions:
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks – The Post

Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Personal:
Christian Bale – Hostiles
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Hugh Jackman – Logan
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The two leading contenders in this category are both celebrated actresses with long and distinguished careers, but both would be first-time Oscar nominees. While moving regularly between film and television, Allison Janney’s most notable work has been on the smaller screen, and she’s won multiple Emmys for The West Wing and Mom. Laurie Metcalf, though she has appeared in several films, is far better known for television and stage work, having won three Emmys for Roseanne and a Tony for A Doll’s Hose, Part 2. Both play strong-willed mothers to equally strong-willed daughters: Janney in I, Tonya and Metcalf in Lady Bird, and both are about to add Oscar nominee to their impressive lists of accolades.

Beyond these two, this field is hard to pin down, with a number of actresses on relatively equal footing. Maybe The Big Sick‘s Holly Hunter, as another strong-willed mother, is a better bet than most of the competition, but even she is far from a sure thing. Janney, Metcalf and Hunter are SAG nominees along with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound and Hong Chau for Downsizing. Blige got a lot of nominations from critics groups, but I’m not sold on her Oscar chances. She’s good in the movie, and definitely disappears into the character, leaving behind any thoughts of the star musician with whom we’re all familiar. But putting aside how much of a dent Mudbound will make with the Academy given the rumored anti-Netflix sentiment I mentioned in the Best Picture section, the role lacks the kind of showcase scenes usually needed for an Oscar nomination. As for Chau, she’s the highlight of a film that generally fell short of expectations (I liked it), and while some critics have taken issue with the her broken-English accent that they see as caricature, I think her choices make sense, and her performance runs much deeper than that surface concern. But she will have to overcome the otherwise underwhelming reception met by Downsizing. I think she can do it. I’m sure voters made a point to see the movie, as its director and co-writer Alexander Payne is an Academy favorite and two-time screenwriting winner. Excitement about whatever he’s doing is inevitable, and it would be hard to imagine Chau not leaving a lingering impression on those who watched.

All five of these actresses were nominated by the BFCA, along with Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water and Tiffany Hadish for Girls Trip. Like Blige, Spencer picked up a number of nominations from critics, but whether Academy members feel the part has enough going for it to rise to the level of Oscar nomination is hard to say. She’s well-liked and definitely entertaining in a movie that is among the season’s most beloved,   so that helps. Hadish, meanwhile, broke out as a wild party girl on a trip to New Orleans with her best friends, and she has some truly hilarious moments in a role that earned her comparisons to Melissa McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids. She garnered a handful of mentions throughout Phase 1, most notably a win from the New York Film Critics Circle, one of the only critics groups that carries any real weight. Still, broad comedies and their performances face an uphill battle for Oscar nominations; Bridesmaids was a rare exception. Hadish may not be as lucky.

The BFCA has a larger field of nominees than most other organizations, so consideration of the BAFTA nominees brings the list back down to the usual five. Their slate included Janney, Metcalf and Spencer, as well as Lesley Manville of Phantom Thread and Kristen Scott Thomas of Darkest Hour. I don’t see it happening for Thomas. There’s very little for her to do in Darkest Hour (she plays Churchill’s wife), and her BAFTA recognition, like Jamie Bell’s, was probably helped by being a local favorite. Manville has some biting moments in Phantom Thread, but it’s a chilly performance that’s probably appreciated more by the critics, and like many of the women we’re talking about here, the part may not give her enough to do to justify Oscar recognition….though I fully admit that’s a consideration I can’t help bringing to the analysis, and there are plenty of past nominees and winners who defy it, so…everyone has their own take on these things. 

Two actresses who definitely have enough to do in their film to be worthy of a nomination are The Florida Project‘s Brooklynn Prince (6 years old when she made the movie) and Bria Vinaite, who plays her single mother. Prince had done some commercials, but here was front and center as the main character of a feature-length film. Vinaite was an entrepreneur with a marijuana-themed clothing line who director Sean Baker discovered on Instagram. Both actresses are nonstop engaging, and absolutely worthy of consideration, though I always wonder with performers as young as Prince how much of what they’re doing is “acting” vs natural behavior, albeit guided by a director and played to the camera. Regardless, a straight line can be drawn from the Academy’s 2012 anointment of Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild to Prince. (The same is true of that whole movie – a Best Picture and Best Director nominee – and The Florida Project.) So Prince could get lucky, but I’d feel better about her chances if SAG, which has been more favorable to child actors, had nominated her first. Then again, Wallis made it without SAG. She did have a BFCA nomination though, giving her at least one significant group’s recognition. Prince won the BFCA’s Best Young Actor/Actress category, but didn’t crack the main acting races. Oh, and for what it’s worth while we’re on the subject of young actresses, Logan‘s Dafne Keen was also excellent, and the nature of that performance is less reliant on normal childlike behavior…unless it’s normal for young children to ferociously decapitate people who try and hurt them, using metal claws that grow from their hands. No? I didn’t think so. As such, I might be so bold as to say that Keen is even more deserving of a nomination for her impactful performance than the adorable Prince.

A few other actresses that garnered a bit of attention from critics but are far off on the sidelines are Tatiana Maslany for Stronger, Nicole Kidman for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Melissa Leo for Novitiate. There was actually a brief period there where it looked like Leo might have a shot for her role as a demanding Reverend Mother struggling with sweeping reforms in the Catholic Church circa early 1960s, but I think she would have needed more nominations in Phase 1 to keep her in Academy voters’ minds. It’s strange that the movie’s distributor Sony Pictures Classics didn’t put a bit more muscle behind Leo. They’re usually good Oscar campaigners who get results, but it seems most of their attention this year went to Call Me By Your Name. (They also distributed Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, but failed to mount an aggressive campaign for Annette Bening.)

Lastly, a few actresses deserving of mention who received pretty much none: Get Out‘s Allison Williams and Betty Gabriel (especially good as an odd, mysterious maid), The Lost City of Z‘s Sienna Miller, and Hostiles‘ Rosamund Pike. And most surprising? Nary a mention of Michelle Pfeiffer in mother!. I thought at least a few critics groups would have her among their nominees or runner-ups, but she was completely absent.

Predictions:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Betty Gabriel – Get Out

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The one place where The Florida Project is almost sure to score a nomination is here, for Willem Dafoe’s kind, beleaguered motel manager. At first he looked like a runaway favorite among critics groups, but Sam Rockwell has caught up, if not quite closed the gap, for his dim, mama’s boy deputy in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Dafoe and Rockwell could be joined by the latter’s co-star Woody Harrelson, whose role provided some of the movie’s more surprising and emotional moments. When Three Billboards emerged from the Telluride/Toronto/Venice film festival trifecta with roaring buzz, the reviews focused largely on Frances McDormand and Rockwell. But when the awards game began a few months later, Harrelson started to get his due as well. He picked up SAG and BAFTA nominations, proving an unexpectedly sturdy player in a race where Rockwell was expected to carry the movie’s torch solo. (Rockwell too was nominated by SAG and BAFTA, as well the BFCA and HFPA. He’s already won the last two.)

If Harrelson does join Rockwell as an Oscar nominee, it throws a wrench into a category where, early on, an entirely different film seemed poised to offer a pair of nominees. It was Call Me By Your Name and its stars Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg who were thought to be a dual threat here. And they still may be. Perhaps the category could shake out with Dafoe, Rockwell, Harrelson, Hammer and Stuhlbarg. But I doubt it, because we haven’t gotten to Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water yet. We will in a moment, but first, Call Me‘s two contenders. Both have fared well in the precursor awards, with some critics groups nominating each of them, some going with Stuhlbarg only, others with just Hammer. Working against Stuhlbarg is that  throughout most of the movie he appears in short bursts with nothing out of the ordinary to do…until that much talked about scene he has at the end. Make no mistake, whatever recognition Stuhlbarg has received for this movie is entirely about That Scene. Actors have won Oscars for what were essentially one-scene-knockouts (Beatrice Straight in Network and Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables come immediately to mind), so certainly Stuhlbarg could be nominated on the strength of that one powerful moment. He won’t be hurt by having been in some of the year’s other most acclaimed films and TV shows (The Shape of WaterThe Post, and Fargo). In fact, Stuhlbarg is in at least one of every year’s best films and/or TV shows. Seriously, Michael Stuhlbarg is fucking awesome. He’s surely accumulated enough goodwill from fellow actors to help him score a nomination for what boils down to a few unforgettable minutes. But will he?

I mentioned Richard Jenkins, who’s a SAG nominee along with Dafoe, Rockwell, and Harrelson. (Neither Hammer nor Stuhlbarg made the guild’s cut, not that that wrecks their Oscar chances by any means). Jenkins, the always-terrific character actor who has probably worked with half of the members in the branch, shines as a source of both humor and pathos in The Shape of Water. With nominations from several critics groups, he has plenty of momentum.

Another spoiler who could upset what for most of Phase 1 looked like a tight race between the six actors already discussed? Christopher Plummer. We covered Ridley Scott’s 11th hour re-shoots of All the Money in the World, but here the focus shifts to the man who had to step into a difficult situation with little time to prepare or research, and in a mere 9 days, deliver a performance all his own, calibrating it to the rest of a movie that was already in the can. It takes a real pro to pull that off; someone who can come in without any ego or bullshit, who’s there to get down to work and help tell the story. Not only did Plummer meet those needs behind the scenes, he delivered a performance that pops and crackles with exactly the kind of energy and star quality that the part demanded to begin with. Although not the central figure in the movie, J. Paul Getty needs to be scene-stealer. While we’ll never know what the results were, it’s easy to see why Kevin Spacey was chosen for the role in the first place. Upon casting Plummer, Scott said that’s who he wanted all along, but ended up with Spacey because the studio wanted a bigger star. Ironic that in the end, Scott got what he wanted, the movie got what it needed, and the studio might get bragging rights if Plummer lands a nomination. Surely his fellow actors will be impressed with the effort and the outcome.

With now seven top contenders, I think Hammer is the one who falls out first. That leaves six, all with compelling attributes in their favor, vying for five spots. I have no idea which one will get left out…or if more than one will miss in favor of a surprise. There are plenty of people lurking on the periphery who’ve been heralded by critics and other groups, or who at least earned impressive reviews and who could find themselves nominated against the odds. There’s Patrick Stewart as a mostly-but-not-entirely diminished Charles Xavier in Logan; Idris Elba, who gets arguably the most quintessential Aaron Sorkin monologue in Molly’s Game and crushes it; Steve Carell, who mines depth and nuance in what could have been a one-note take on Billie Jean King’s chauvinist challenger Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes (and who, in something of a surprise, picked up a SAG nomination); Ray Romano in The Big Sick, who, like Carell, started out in comedy but has grown into an actor with genuine dramatic chops, and here gets to blend the two sides nicely; Jason Mitchell as a young African-American struggling with the indignity of Jim Crow-Mississippi after tasting tolerance as a WWII tank commander in Mudbound; Barry Keoghan as an awkward teen who wreaks unnerving havoc on a surgeon and his family in The Killing of a Sacred Deer; and Keoghan’s Dunkirk co-star Mark Rylance, as a civilian boat captain sailing across the English Channel to help rescue soldiers trapped on the beach. Of all these outliers, I think Carell and Elba are the only ones who would have any real shot of breaking in, and still the odds are slim, even for Carell with his SAG and Golden Globe Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy nominations. Maybe Rylance could sneak in if enough members of the acting branch were determined to recognize Dunkirk…but highly unlikely.

There are a few others I’d be remiss not to mention who are eminently worthy of attention this year. Mary J. Blige reaped most of the individual praise from Mudbound‘s acclaimed ensemble, with some love leftover for Jason Mitchell, but I was most impressed by the one actor in the cast I wasn’t familiar with: Rob Morgan, who brought wonderful shadings to his weary sharecropper. Steve Zahn stole the show as Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes, proving perhaps even more than Andy Serkis this time around how much an actor’s own persona and talent can shine through the visual effects in a motion capture performance. Gil Birmingham, perhaps most familiar as Jeff Bridges’ partner in last year’s Hell or High Water, was heartbreaking as the father of a teenage girl whose mysterious death on a harshly cold, remote Indian reservation is at the center of Wind River. And finally, Michael Shannon as the cruel project leader at the government lab that employs Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water. Shannon was terrific, and has twice come from considerably far behind to be nominated for an Oscar. Maybe he’ll crash the party again.

Predictions:
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

Personal:
Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes
Rob Morgan – Mudbound

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water

Steve Zahn – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Whatever happens with Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig and Martin McDonagh in the Best Director category, all three should be safe here for Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. Three Billboards was ruled ineligible for the WGA Awards due to being made outside of the guild’s guidelines – a fate which befalls at least one frontrunner every year. Other disqualified scripts include Darkest Hour, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Coco, though none of those were expected to penetrate a tight race. (Then again, Darkest Hour seems to be on an upswing, so it has a shot.) WGA’s nominees, in addition to Get Out and Lady Bird, are Steven Rogers for I, Tonya, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani for The Big Sick, and Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor for The Shape of Water. BAFTA’s slate, meanwhile, is almost the same, but drops The Big Sick in favor of Three Billboards.

The surprise out of these precursors is the momentum for I, Tonya. Landing both the BAFTA and WGA nominations doesn’t mean anything for certain, but it shows support from two organizations who share membership with the Academy and who had other promising choices to elevate, most notably The Post and Phantom Thread. The Post was widely expected to be a major contender here, but being passed over by the WGA and BAFTA does not bode well. As for Paul Thomas Anderson, you never know what will happen. Writers love him, but Phantom Thread might be among his less accessible work, more akin to The Master than There Will Be Blood or Boogie Nights. The Master was nominated by the WGA, but not the Academy. His last movie, Inherent Vice, saw those results flipped.

One other longshot possibility is Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, but while his fellow writers have a better track record of recognizing him than the directors branch (he was nominated for Memento and InceptionDunkirk is a more visceral film, with a deliberate lack of dialogue and character development – two things that writers rightfully value. Many of them no doubt still understand the importance of good screenwriting in creating something like Dunkirk, but they are more likely to celebrate films that stand as showcases for their craft.

In a more wide open year, we might be talking about Wind River, another excellent screenplay from Taylor Sheridan, who was nominated last year for Hell or High Water and robbed of a nomination the year prior for Sicario. But the race seems to have solidified around nine movies, four of which are vying for the one spot that doesn’t appear to be spoken for. However it shakes out, there’s bound to be some disappointment. I’m afraid The Big Sick is going to fall by the wayside. I hated omitting it from my personal picks, but something had to give. It was almost as consistent a nominee among critics groups as the other four frontrunners, and had been hailed as a likely screenwriting contender as far back as its Sundance premiere a year ago. There’s plenty of love for it, but the late-blooming I, Tonya many have eclipsed its chances.

Predictions:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Unlike its counterpart, the Adapted Screenplay category feels much more fluid. Or maybe it’s not fluidity so much as there being fewer sure things. In fact, the only lock in my mind is Call Me By Your Name. Most pundits would add The Disaster Artist, and they’re probably right, but I could see it missing. It’s a broad comedy in a category that tends to prefer its comedy more elegant and sophisticated (think Sideways, Wonder Boys, American Splendor, Up in the Air…). Then again, Borat picked up a nomination here, so what the hell do I know? The Disaster Artist has the underlying theme of pursuing your dreams no matter what, and surely that resonates with anyone who’s become successful enough in the movie business to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Call Me and Disaster Artist are among the WGA nominees, along with Mudbound, Molly’s Game and Logan. I was thrilled to see Logan cited by the guild. Between that and other more mainstream/commercial films like Blade Runner 2049 (recognized, as was Logan, with nominations from several critics groups), War for the Planet of the Apes and Thor: Ragnarok (and some might say Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), 2017 provided numerous examples that even franchise movies and comic book adaptations can be as intelligent, emotional and complex as any other drama traditionally recognized in awards season.

In a different year, Logan might appear to be the beneficiary of the WGA deeming one or two more “typical” choices ineligible, but this year none of those excluded scripts on the adapted side are frontrunners. Victoria & Abdul and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool are the most notable victims, and neither was really in the race. Liverpool did get a BAFTA nomination, but their Adapted Screenplay slate is not much of a barometer for the Oscar this year. They also nominated Call Me By Your Name and Molly’s Game, but their remaining two slots went to movies that didn’t open in the U.S. in 2017: Paddington 2 and The Death of Stalin. It’s not inconceivable, therefore that the Oscar nominations could match the WGA’s picks down the line. But if we assume there’s likely to be one difference, possible nominees are the The Beguiled, The Lost City of ZHostiles, or the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049.

Predictions:
Sofia Coppola – The Beguiled
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound

Personal:
Hampton Fancher, Michael Green – Blade Runner 2049
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name
Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green – Logan
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

This is one of the few categories where I have seen almost none of the contenders, for one of three reasons:

-It was an underwhelming year for mainstream choices, and very little of what was out there looked interesting or appealing.

-With the exception of Loving Vincent, which had great word of mouth and enjoyed a long run at theaters, most of the independent animated offerings were difficult to find.

-The few indie films that could be found were playing only for the one-week engagements necessary to qualify. I’d hoped to see The Breadwinner and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, but I wasn’t able to get to either of them during their brief windows of availability.

26 films were submitted for consideration, and assuming they all met the requirements – such as that one-week engagement in Los Angeles – five films can be nominated. The slate of studio-released animation this year looked pretty bland. The Boss Baby, Despicable Me 3, Captain Underpants…not really screaming Oscar-worthy to me. Let’s hope this means it will be one of those years where more indie films shine through…although there’s a new rule that might not bode well for outside-the-box thinking. As with all other categories except for Best Picture, nominees are selected by members of the appropriate branch. This year, for the first time, Best Animated Feature was opened up to the entire Academy. That might pose a challenge for any of those movies that couldn’t be widely seen to get included. On the other hand, it’s not truly an everyone-can-vote situation. According to the rules, a nominating committee will be responsible for the voting. Anyone in the Academy can join the committee, but you must be on the committee to participate. Hopefully this means that only the truly engaged will take part (it could end up being all or mostly members of the animation branch anyway) and those smaller, less publicized films will get a fair shake.

I expect Coco, Loving Vincent and The Breadwinner to make the list, but I have no idea what might join them. The studio films all seem so undeserving, and I know too little about the independent options and how they’ve been received to hazard any well-informed guess about what might show up. I’m basically throwing a dart at the list.

Predictions:
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children
The Breadwinner

Coco
Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Personal:
N/A

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The great Roger Deakins, still awaiting his first win, should pick up his 14th nomination thanks to Blade Runner 2049. His stiffest competition will come from the other two sure things: Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk and Dan Lausten for The Shape of Water. All three were nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and by BAFTA, and by pretty much every single critics group that gives out a cinematography honor. Their fellow ASC nominees are Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour and Rachel Morrison for Mudbound, and I suspect one of them will be replaced in the Academy’s line-up.

Morrison is the first woman to be nominated for the ASC’s award, and should she receive an Oscar nomination, she’ll have the same distinction with the Academy. It would be an especially resonant victory given all that’s happening this year, but she faces tough competition, and is probably more likely than Delbonnel to be the ASC contender who misses out on an Oscar nomination. Darkest Hour‘s use of light and shadow is striking in a way that Oscar voters tend to reward, whereas Mudbound‘s lensing is understated, naturalistic…very unshowy, which is not the easiest path to the Oscars. It will be fellow cinematographers evaluating the field, of course, and many will no doubt appreciate her work. But there are other potential nominees that are equally effective while also being more overtly “pretty” or visually stimulating. Personally, I must have missed something, because I saw Mudbound twice and neither time was I particularly struck by its photography. Which isn’t to say I thought the film was not well shot. It just didn’t stand out to me as one of the year’s best achievements. And I understand that my knowledge of cinematography (and most elements of filmmaking, for that matter) is casual and that I’m most certainly unaware of all the elements that should be considered when judging it.

There is plenty of other impressive work that could break in should the Academy drop Mudbound or Darkest Hour. Ed Lachman won raves for Wonderstruck, shooting on film and using black and white for the 1920’s half of the movie while giving the 1970’s scenes the warm, grainy look of many of that period’s notable New York-set films, like The French Connection. Three time winner Vittorio Storaro brought light and color to Wonder Wheel that popped off the screen; quite atypical for Woody Allen’s movies, which aren’t usually standouts in this area. Call Me By Your Name‘s Sayombhu Mukdeeprom captured the beauty of an Italian villa and helped evoke an impressive sense of mood in the lighting as the protagonist’s lazy summer days bleed into night and back again. And in mother!, Matthew Libatique keeps the camera close to Jennifer Lawrence at all times such that the audience discovers the story’s increasingly bizarre twists and turns right along with her. The Lost City of Z, War for the Planet of the Apes, Hostiles, Murder on the Orient Express, A Ghost Story and, don’t laugh, Kong: Skull Island are all worthy of attention.

Predictions:
Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom – Call Me By Your Name
Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour

Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Dan Lausten – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Same


BEST FILM EDITING

This category shares a special friendship with Best Picture, and many will say that it’s nearly impossible to win the big award without an editing nomination. The numbers bear that out, but is it just coincidence or do voters really make the connection? Birdman defied this historical pattern when it won the top prize in 2015 without an editing nod. It was the first since Ordinary People in 1980. All of this to say that Best Editing tends to be filled with the Best Picture frontrunners. But it also makes room on occasion for a well-received action movie that is otherwise not a contender in most top-tier categories. Air Force One, Crimson Tide, Speed, Terminator 2, and Die Hard were all nominated for Best Film Editing, while The Matrix and The Bourne Ultimatum both pulled off wins. This year, it would be something of a crime if Baby Driver didn’t secure a spot. Nearly every moment of this movie is meticulously timed to the music playing in the central character’s earphones, and the precision and creativity with which the movie is assembled makes it one of the year’s standout achievements in this field.

Assuming the editors branch does the right thing here in regards to Baby Driver, the rest of the slots will likely be occupied by the top Best Picture contenders…though that still leaves a lot of possibilities. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water are looking good for recognition, but it will be a battle between Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, I, Tonya, Molly’s Game, Darkest Hour and The Post for the remaining spaces. With the exception of Darkest Hour, all of these films picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), which splits their award into categories for Drama and Comedy/Musical. Their roster included Blade Runner 2049 as well, which was also included by BAFTA, the BFCA and several critics groups, giving it major spoiler potential.

Predictions:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Get Out

The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
The Post

The Shape of Water

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Blade Runner 2049 leads the way here, with The Shape of Water right behind it. Dunkirk is a strong likelihood too, as we move away from some of the contemporary-set films dominating the top categories and get into period pieces, fantasy and sci-fi. The former two meet in Beauty and Beast, where the ornate castle looms large and incorporates period design with plenty of fantastical flourishes. Other period stand-outs that could be included are Darkest HourPhantom Thread, Murder on the Orient Express and Wonderstruck. Beyond Blade Runner, there are also some excellent sci-fi contenders in Alien: Covenant, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Downsizing would be a worthy inclusion here, and while it doesn’t have a chance, it deserves mention for perfectly capturing the way the world-changing technology at the movie’s center would be sold and marketed to consumers. The entire layout of the Leisureland exposition hall, and pretty much every aspect of how that entire location is presented, not to mention the luxurious mansions and, later in the film, the more lower income quarters where Hong Chau brings Matt Damon…all the design elements are so spot-on that you might be fooled into thinking the whole downsizing enterprise actually exists. The Art Directors Guild has a Contemporary category, and they did well to nominate this alongside the familiar titles like Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards. (Logan was the category’s fifth nominee.)

Across their Period and Fantasy categories the guild also nominated The Post, War for the Planet of the Apes and Wonder Woman alongside a few titles I mentioned above, so any of them could conceivably show up, but I’d be surprised. 

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

Personal:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, contemporary films rarely get recognized here, even if arguments could be made for Lady Bird, Get Out or I, Tonya. And if there were an award for best single costume piece of the year, you’d have to consider Frances McDormand’s blue jumpsuit (if that’s what it is) in Three Billboards. It’s essentially her superhero outfit. But, like the Production Design category, this one is all about period and fantasy, which means we’re often looking at the same group of films between the two. Beauty and the Beast should be sitting pretty here, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk could repeat as well. I could see The Shape of Water going either way. It’s on slightly less solid ground for costume design than in most other below-the-line categories, but will probably be swept in. 

If you’re going to make a movie about a famous clothing designer, the costumes had better meet the highest standard so that we can buy into the character’s stature as an icon in his field. Phantom Thread succeeds with flying colors and should easily get nominated. Murder on the Orient Express could make the cut, and The Greatest Showman may also find recognition here. Wonder Woman, Victoria & Abdul and Mudbound are possibilities too. (Can we at least give an Oscar to Mary J. Blige’s sunglasses? Maybe there really does need to be a category for best individual costume piece.) Blade Runner 2049 has picked up a few notices, including one from the Costume Designers Guild (CDG), but I can’t get behind that, if only for the head-scratching choice of having Harrison Ford in a generic grey T-shirt and jeans, utterly failing to draw any connection between the Deckard of the original film and the Deckard of the film’s present day.

Speaking of the CDG, I was disappointed that with an entire category dedicated to Contemporary costumes they still failed to nominate Baby Driver, which featured many memorable looks courtesy of designer Courtney Hoffman. Baby’s jacket, simple though it was, nevertheless stood out, not unlike McDormand’s blue jumpsuit in Three Billboards. Lily James’ waitress outfit was an inventive variation on an everyday look; Jamie Foxx’s red-on-red shirt and jacket combo popped; and Eisa Gonzalez’s ensembles had as much attitude as her character. I wouldn’t expect an Oscar nomination, however worthy the costumes are, but the guild pass is a pretty glaring oversight.

Predictions:
Beauty and the Beast
Dunkirk
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water

Personal:
Baby Driver
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
The Greatest Showman

Phantom Thread

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
I’ve written at length before (is there any other way to write?) about the problems with the guidelines for this category and how the contenders are judged, so I’ll move past that and just get to the guess work. As always, it’s a tricky category to nail down, as it’s one of the few where voters look beyond the same films that tend to show up in so many other categories. To be fair, those films often don’t have a song in play, but even still the branch members have been known to come up with some left-field choices in this race.

There are 70 songs in the running this year, and to my point above, none of them are from Lady Bird, Get Out, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Molly’s Game, The Post, Phantom Thread….you get the idea. In fact, the only film among the top contenders that could show up here is Call Me By Your Name, and it likely will. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens contributed two songs to the movie, both of which are featured prominently. If voters choose only one, it will probably be “Mystery of Love,” although “Visions of Gideon,” which is more repetitive, is arguably a more memorable melody and plays over the film’s affecting ending moments. Both have a viable shot at a nomination.

Under the current system of judging, songs that appear in the actual movie and not just over end credits are often thought to have an advantage, which is always good news for musicals. This year, Beauty and The Beast and The Greatest Showman can expect to carry on the tradition. For Beauty and the Beast, Alan Menken – the animated film’s original composer – returned and contributed some new songs, written with Tim Rice. Of the two submitted, “Evermore” might be the stronger candidate, although the other, “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” is also graced with that Disneydust which is so much catnip to Oscar voters, so maybe both could land a spot. From The Greatest Showman comes “This is Me,” a rousing anthem of empowerment sung by Keala Settle, who plays a bearded lady in P.T. Barnum’s circus. It’s a showstopper that should have no problem landing a nomination. I’m not sure why no other songs from the film were submitted. It could have put forth up to three, but perhaps the studio felt they had a better chance of a nomination by keeping the focus on one song. Too bad; I’m sure “A Million Dreams” would have been nominated alongside “This is Me,” and although only two songs from a single film can ultimately make the final five, “Rewrite the Stars” would also have been a deserving contender.

While not exactly a musical, the protagonist of Pixar’s Coco is a young boy with aspirations of singing professionally, so the movie does include song performances. The most resonant – and the only one submitted – is “Remember Me,” which is performed various times throughout the film, by various characters and in various styles. Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal and Anthony Gonzalez all have a go, and it’s that last rendition that makes for one of the most emotionally affecting moments in the movie (and there are many such moments throughout Coco). The song is simple and brief, but that final version packs a punch at a crucial moment in the movie, which should assure it a nomination. 

There’s one song I would have loved to see included, but it was not eligible. “I Get Overwhelmed,” from A Ghost Story, could not be submitted because composer Daniel Hart did not specifically write it for the movie, even though he sent it to writer/director David Lowery before using it anywhere else. It became an inspiration to Lowery as he was finishing the script and scouting locations, and he ended up writing a scene into the film in which he could use the song. I wish the rules should be flexible enough to accommodate a situation like that, where a song has not been previously released commercially, and the film and song are clearly in sync with each other. 

Predictions:
Evermore – Beauty and the Beast
Mighty River – Mudbound
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name
Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman

Personal:
Love and Lies – Band Aid
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name

Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman
Visions of Gideon – Call Me By Your Name


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

After a brief respite from the season’s usual suspects, they’re back in play for Best Original Score, and will likely dominate the category. The Shape of Water is in for sure, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are good bets too. Most will say that Phantom Thread is a guarantee, but I’m less certain. It probably will make it, but composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame is a rock musician first and a film composer second. It would not surprise me if some members of the branch were not so quick to embrace him.

Blade Runner 2049 was nominated by most critics groups who give out a score award, but I’d wager the movie’s heavily dissonant style, while no doubt effective in the movie, is not many voters’ cup of tea. In fact, the same quality could hurt Dunkirk, though that score has a bit more melody and, like the scores in all of Christopher Nolan’s movies, vigorously propels the action. John Williams, the most nominated person alive, has two chances this year with The Post and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He was nominated for The Force Awakens, but I don’t think he’ll be back for the sequel, which offered no new themes or standout pieces. It was a good Star Wars score, but not original enough to merit a nomination. I also didn’t feel that The Post offered his strongest work, but it underscores the movie nicely enough, and given how revered Williams is, you can never count him out.

Others that picked up some love from the critics were War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonderstruck and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I would love to see the Academy recognize Apes, which was easily one of the strongest scores of the year and offered multiple recurring and memorable motifs.

There are always plenty of worthy scores in the running, too many to consider them all fairly and fully, but among those that warrant mention are A Ghost Story, Logan, Victoria & Abdul, Loving Vincent, Thor: Ragnarok, and Murder on the Orient Express. I don’t expect any, other than possibly Victoria & Abdul, to surprise, but I’d be happy if any did.

Predictions:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
John Williams – The Post
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
Michael Giacchino – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy always does us a favor by narrowing this field down considerably in December, leaving only seven possibilities, from which three will be chosen. This year’s list features Bright, Darkest Hour, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, I, Tonya, Victoria & Abdul and Wonder.

Well we already know what’s going to win this award come March, so it goes without saying that Darkest Hour will be nominated for Gary Oldman’s stunning transformation into Winston Churchill. Guardians of the Galaxy is a shoo-in too. Nearly every character in the movie sports significant makeup effects, and the work is too vast, too varied and too good to be ignored. But damn if I have any inkling as to where the third nomination will go. I’d maybe rule out Bright, but I haven’t actually seen it; I’ve only looked at pictures. (Ditto Victoria & Abdul and Wonder). They all seem like feasible contenders, from what I can tell.

I would have liked to see It on this list. I thought it would make the cut of seven, if perhaps not the final three. Maybe the nomination committee members are scared of clowns.

Predictions:
Darkest Hour
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Wonder

Personal:
Darkest Hour
Ghost in the Shell
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Here too, the Academy makes things slightly easier by trimming the field – first to 20 films in early December, then to 10 a few weeks later. The remaining hopefuls are Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Okja, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and War for the Planet of the Apes.

I once again had a chance to attend the Visual Effects Bakeoff, a gathering of branch members at which 10 minutes worth of footage from each film is shown, accompanied by brief commentary from the potential nominees. After the presentation, the members cast their votes. Being in the room can provide a sense of how the voters feel about the work, and can also help illuminate challenges faced in creating the effects that you might not have been aware of otherwise. It definitely helped me make my picks last year.

This time around, I’m not sure anything I saw or sensed moved the needle too much. All of the work was impressive, though I’d guess that Valerian would be the first to go. It felt like the sheer amount of VFX in the movie was its most impressive attribute, but I can’t see it surviving to the final five. Everything else seemed possible and, to my untrained eye, worthy of a nomination. It’s almost more a matter of determining what feels like it “has to be there” and working back from there. I’d wager that Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes have to be there above all. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water cover the “prestige” films that are usually represented, and Dunkirk should appeal in particular to the branch members who work on practical effects rather than CGI. With The Shape of Water, I got the sense that people in the room were especially impressed with how effects were used to enhance the creature suit worn by actor Doug Jones and make the character feel more organic and otherworldly.

That leaves Star Wars, which will probably get in because the effects are top notch and Star Wars is pretty much the reason every member of the branch works in VFX to begin with. That said, I can’t think of anything in The Last Jedi that breaks significant new ground, so it feels like the most vulnerable of the “has-to-be-there” group. Okja‘s giant pig and its playful relationship with its young owner seemed to strike an emotional chord with the crowd, so if there’s a surprise, that could be it. But as I said, nearly everything looked impressive to me. I wish there was room for Guardians of the Galaxy and Kong.

Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

Personal:
Same

BEST SOUND EDITING / BEST SOUND MIXING
Okay, so I’m running short of time to finish this up, and we’ve come to the two categories about which I know the least, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Each of these races will probably feature three or four of the same movies, so I’ll just lay my cards on the table and see what happens.

Sound Editing Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman

Sound Mixing Predictions:
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I might have found a place for Coco or Transformers: The Last Knight somewhere in there, but it’s been several years since any animated films have shown up in these categories, and the last Transformers movie, unlike all of its predecessors, wasn’t nominated, so maybe the voters have heard enough of that franchise. As for my personal picks, I always say that my lack of understanding of what really goes into this craft – which I’m sure is shared by most Academy members – makes me wish there were a single category  honoring overall Sound Design, which seems like it might be a little bit easier for the layperson. In my lack of understanding, this year I would nominate Baby Driver, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes.

 

No doubt to your great relief, that’s all I’ve got. Nominations will be announced Tuesday morning in two parts, beginning at the odd time of 5:22am PT. May fortune favor your picks, as long as they don’t conflict with mine. 

 

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2 Comments »

  1. My annual reminder of all the things I didn’t get to see because of the questionable life decision of having children.

    Coco was good…I can add that….

    Comment by butchmcpuncherson — January 23, 2018 @ 5:58 am | Reply

    • Yeah, what were you thinking?

      Comment by DB — January 25, 2018 @ 9:47 pm | Reply


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