I Am DB

March 3, 2018

Oscars 2017: The Envelope Please

 

It’s a cold, grey, occasionally rainy weekend in Hollywood, so while the Oscar nominees are fretting their fashion choices, you get to curl up with a hot drink and settle in for a few hours of…I don’t know what, but hopefully something more entertaining than reading my predictions. If this is the best you can do, maybe skip the hot drink. You don’t want to spill it all over yourself when you nod off…
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BEST SOUND MIXING AND SOUND EDITING

Sound Mixing:
Baby Driver – Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
Blade Runner 2049 – Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
Dunkirk – Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
The Shape of Water – Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Sound Editing:
Baby Driver – Julian Slater
Blade Runner 2049 – Mark Mangini, Theo Green
Dunkirk – Alex Gibson, Richard King
The Shape of Water – Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

As you can see, the same five films are nominated in both categories this year. I was sure this was a relatively common situation, but in reviewing years past I realized it was actually a first. That said, it was only in 2006 that the Sound Editing category was expanded from three nominees to five, so there have only been 12 times where there could have been an exact match up. Not that this has anything to do with what will win. Usually there’s only one difference between the two line-ups, and since 1990 the awards have gone to the same movie almost as often as they’ve been split. As I probably say every year, most voters don’t understand the categories, which means they could always surprise us. But the pervading sense this year is that both will go to Dunkirk. I agree.

Personal: Sound Editing recognizes the creation of sounds in post-production that couldn’t be captured during filming. That makes me feel like this is the more creative of the two disciplines, because when it comes to science fiction or fantasy films, the Sound Editors must come up with what alien creatures and droids and spaceships sound like. Not that those are the only sounds which need to be manufactured in post; there could be practical reasons why real world sounds like gunfire or tires screeching must be re-created. Still, the requirement for complete fabrication makes me lean towards the fantastical, so my Sound Editing pick would be Star Wars: The Last Jedi. For Sound Mixing, which rewards the combination and interaction of dialogue, sound effects and music, I’d go Dunkirk. As with all of Christopher Nolan’s films, the music score by Hans Zimmer feels like a more integrated part of the soundscape then a score usually does, plus the ticking clock motif adds to the tension. It’s the nominee in which all of the sound elements work together most effectively.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Blade Runner 2049 – John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
Kong: Skull Island – Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
War for the Planet of the Apes – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

This category comes down to Blade Runner 2049 and War for the Planet of the Apes, and I want so much to think the latter will triumph and Weta Digital’s amazing work on this series will finally take the gold after the previous installments were criminally passed over. But I’m afraid it won’t happen. For one thing, I never get the sense that the Apes movies are widely seen by Academy members. In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes bafflingly lost to Hugo, a Best Picture nominee. In 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes lost to Interstellar, which had effects that were impressive but fairly standard for “outer space” fare. Although there was no Best Picture nominee in the running that year, Interstellar still carried a hint of prestige that may have helped its chances. It was also nominated in four other categories, demonstrating that attention had been paid across multiple branches. The Apes movies have not broken out beyond visual effects, though each film has deserved additional nominations. That’s true this year as well, where Blade Runner 2049 has five nominations and, like Interstellar before it, carries an intangible prestige factor that while not substantial enough to land it in any of the top categories, is probably enough for it to succeed here.

Blade Runner features beautiful and seamless visual effects, so it’s hardly undeserving. But the Planet of the Apes movies are simply in another league, and if enough voters were paying attention, how could they not realize it? Every main character in this movie, save for two, are achieved through visual effects. Actors like Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn perform the characters using performance capture technology, so we can watch the movie and connect with the emotions these actors are putting out. But we also have to connect with what we’re actually looking at, and what we’re looking at in the case of these films was created in a computer. Main characters, holding the screen in dramatic, compelling moments of rage, warmth, loss, fear…it’s astonishing work. These characters – realized “in the flesh” entirely by computers – never for an instant seem anything less than completely, 100% real. There is no uncanny valley in this planet of apes. These movies, and their fate in this category, are a textbook case for why the Oscars might be far more meaningful if the winners – like the nominees – were chosen by the members of each respective branch rather than the membership-at-large. There is no way this series wouldn’t have picked up at least one Oscar by now if the decision was being made solely by visual effects artists.

I should be more optimistic. I’m writing about the movie as if it’s already lost, when in fact this is not a done deal. The primates do have a fighting chance. But I’m feeling like Blade Runner 2049 will win. I would love to be wrong.

Personal: Hmm, let me think about it.

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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Darkest Hour – Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
Victoria & Abdul – Daniel Phillips, Lou Sheppard
Wonder – Arjen Tuiten

This is one of the easier picks of the year. The transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill was as talked about as the performance Oldman delivered through the prosthetics. Darkest Hour has this in the bag.

Personal: Darkest Hour. And now I want to see Oldman made up as Churchill and then transformed from that starting point into the ancient Transylvanian count he played in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

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

If this award were being given out by film critics, I’d call it for Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread, and it could turn out to be the Academy’s favorite too. Or Dunkirk admirers could push Hans Zimmer into the winner’s circle for his essential contribution to the movie’s nonstop tension, as well as for unifying its three storylines. But while Greenwood in particular poses a threat, I think Alexandre Desplat will take the Oscar for his romantic, Parisian-accented score that evocatively captured the playfulness, the love story and the otherworldliness of The Shape of Water.

Personal: Hans Zimmer’s collaborations with Christopher Nolan yield scores that do much more than support the films musically. The scores are almost like another character, and their impact on Nolan’s ability to grab his audience and get their hearts racing can not be understated. So I would be happy to see Dunkirk win. But I’d go with The Shape of Water. At every moment, Desplat’s charming score is the note-perfect complement to what we’re watching. Plus it works better as a listening experience apart from the movie than Dunkirk, which tends to be a consideration for me. And I could listen to “Elisa’s Theme” on an endless loop.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Mighty River – Mudbound – Music and Lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name – Music and Lyric by Sufjan Stevens
Remember Me – Coco – Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Stand Up For Something – Marshall – Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn and Diane Warren
This is Me – The Greatest Showman – Music and Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Poor Diane Warren. Her nominated song from Marshall marks her ninth time at this dance, but she has yet to win and that’s not going to change this year. In fact, “Stand Up for Something” is the least likely of the five to take the prize. Salt on the wound: while she awaits her first victory, she will likely lose to a pair of repeat winners. Either husband-and-wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who won for Frozen‘s inescapable “Let it Go,” or Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who took the prize last year for “City of Stars” from La La Land.

The problem with “Remember Me,” the effort from Team Lopez, is that it’s rather slight. It appears during Coco in three different versions, two of which are barely over a minute long, with the third falling short of the two-minute mark. It’s charming and sweet and I like it, but there’s not much to it. It’s power and effectiveness is less about the song itself than about the role it plays in the movie, especially in its final incarnation. The song could almost be anything; what packs the punch is how it’s used. Will voters make that distinction? Some, maybe. Regardless, my guess is that more of them will be engaged by the energy and aspirational nature of “This is Me,” which is a full-blown production number in The Greatest Showman, and which has taken on a life of its own apart from the movie, thanks in no small part to its prominent use in commercials for the Olympics. Having a platform like that smack in the middle of the voting period couldn’t hurt. That benefit aside, the song is an anthem for underdogs and people who feel unseen, making it as powerful and inspiring as it is jubilant. We’re experiencing a moment right now where those who have felt silenced or victimized are standing up and calling for change, whether it’s women fighting for pay equality and an end to harassment, or African-Americans demanding fair treatment from systems that have historically oppressed them, or students refusing to become casualties of gun violence…this song speaks to all of them, even without directly addressing any of those struggles. It feels like a song for this moment. But who knows. I may be taking away more than the average listener…or Oscar voter.

Personal: Although I seem to have just made a case for “This is Me,” that would be my second choice after “Mystery of Love,” Sufjan Stevens’ airy, haunting ballad that exquisitely captures the mood and tone of Call Me By Your Name.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Beauty and the Beast – Jacqueline Durran
Darkest Hour – Jacqueline Durran
Phantom Thread – Mark Bridges
The Shape of Water – Luis Sequeira
Victoria & Abdul – Consolata Boyle

In Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed fashion designer who creates dresses for royals and ladies of highest society. It’s a tall order for any costumer to create an array of outfits that could have believably been designed by a world famous couturier, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s longtime collaborator Mark Bridges met the challenge with flying reds, golds, pinks and greens. Unless The Shape of Water gets caught in a sweep, expect Bridges to take the statuette…which, if I were him, I would then dress in a little House of Woodcock replica. He’s already got one Oscar, so he can display that one in its au naturel glory while the new one is dolled up.

Personal: The category features nice work all around, but nothing really stands out like the beautiful designs of Phantom Thread.

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast – Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
Blade Runner 2049 – Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
Darkest Hour – Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
Dunkirk – Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
The Shape of Water – Paul Denham Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

In the Best Visual Effects section, I suggested Blade Runner 2049 would win partly because it was embraced more broadly within the Academy than its primatey primary competitor, which I argue is more deserving. Here somehow the opposite applies. The world created in Blade Runner 2049 through the production design is at once familiar and alien, at times grand and imaginative while at others intimate but still idiosyncratic. It’s even more impressive considering that the sequel’s design carves out its own identity despite having to fit with what came before, even though 30 years have passed in the story. The movie pays homage to the original, but still feels fresh in its look. Yet it appears to be facing an uphill battle against The Shape of Water, which takes place in a world more grounded and ordinary but still sports terrific design work and would definitely be a worthy victor. Both films present bold colors that work in concert with all other visual elements of the films to tell their stories, and both films took home awards from the Art Director’s Guild, with Shape of Water winning in the Period category while Blade Runner scored in the Fantasy race. It’s probably the more creative accomplishment in this particular area, and it could win, but The Shape of Water seems to have the edge, perhaps because it’s more popular across the Academy’s ranks.

Personal: As much as I admire and enjoy The Shape of Water‘s design elements, I want Blade Runner 2049 to take this.

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BEST FILM EDITING

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

As I mentioned in the nomination predictions post, this award almost always goes to a Best Picture nominee, but every once in a while a particularly skillful action movie (The Matrix, The Bourne Ultimatum) or let’s say “near-action” movie (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) can emerge victorious. This year, Dunkirk would seem the clear choice, as it’s both a Best Picture contender and something of an action movie. But watch out for Baby Driver. Although probably seen by fewer voters than Dunkirk, it’s the kind of movie whose reputation precedes it, and even those who haven’t seen it might have awareness enough to admire and vote for the precision with which the images are cut to the pop soundtrack. It’s not your typical Oscar-caliber movie, but it’s exactly the kind of action piece that could take this prize. The precursor awards  do little to illuminate a clear choice. Dunkirk won the American Cinema Editors award in the Drama category, while Baby Driver surprisingly lost to I, Tonya in the Musical or Comedy field. I would read less into that, however, than into the fact that Baby Driver beat Dunkirk at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards, which have a pretty decent – though not perfect – record in recent years of matching the eventual Oscar winner. It’s a tough call. I’m going with Dunkirk, but I might as well toss a coin.

Personal: Tough call here too. I’d be perfectly happy to see Lee Smith win for his excellent work on Dunkirk – and to make up for him not getting nominated for Inception. But Baby Driver is probably the more impressive, difficult achievement and it would be great to see it rewarded.

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

Roger Deakins is one of the most lauded lensers of all time. 15 nominations from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC); 4 wins. 8 BAFTA nominations; 4 wins. 14 Academy Award nominations; 0 wins. That’s right. Deakins, one of the greatest ever seated behind a camera, has yet to win an Academy Award. Many think this could finally be the year he takes it, thanks to his dazzling work on Blade Runner 2049. He’s already collected the prize from at least 22 critics organizations, as well as the ASC and BAFTA. Should be a slam dunk, right? Much as I’d like to think so, there’s reason to be wary. As mentioned above, Deakins has won BAFTA awards and ASC awards before, only to lose the Oscar. He’s won them both in the same year before, and still gone on to lose the Oscar.

Why might it happen again this year? For the same reason Blade Runner 2049 will probably lose Best Production Design: it’s up against two widely admired Best Picture nominees – Dunkirk and The Shape of Water – that also boast highly impressive work. Dunkirk was shot almost entirely with IMAX cameras, giving the film an epic sweep that still managed to be intimate and place the audience right alongside the characters. In addition, much of the movie’s photography is handheld, which is no easy feat to pull off with cumbersome IMAX equipment. And to get those big, bulky cameras into the cockpits of the planes for the RAF storyline? Quite a challenge. The Shape of Water, meanwhile, may not have posed the same level of physical complexity, but its camerawork and lighting interacts beautifully with every other visual element of the movie. Of course, the same is true for Blade Runner 2049; they both happen to be especially eye-popping films. I’d just argue that Blade Runner‘s imagery is a little more striking a little more often, particularly in its lighting.

With no clear and present frontrunner, this does seem like it might finally be Deakins’ year. But with Dunkirk and The Shape of Water showcasing wonderful work and being in the thick of the Best Picture hunt, either could find more support amongst voters. It should be noted that on the ballots, only the name of the film appears, not the name of the actual nominee. In the end, I’m cautiously predicting that Deakins’ losing streak is about to give way, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it extend yet again.

Personal: I can’t really be disappointed if Dunkirk or The Shape of Water took the prize. Each is immaculately shot and eminently worthy. But so is Blade Runner 2049, and when you factor in how overdue Deakins is, and how in the zone he is with this film, it would be crushing to see him miss yet again.

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BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Boss Baby – Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
The Breadwinner – Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
Coco – Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
Ferdinand – Carlos Saldanha
Loving Vincent – Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart

Not a whole lot to debate or deconstruct in this category. Coco is way out in front, and should easily deliver Pixar its ninth win in this category.

Personal: I’m torn. I loved Coco, even more than I expected. It moved me to tears…several times. But as a work of animation, Loving Vincent is staggering. An entire feature-length film, hand painted in the thick, swirly style of Van Gogh’s art and integrating live performances by actors like Saorise Ronan and Chris O’Dowd rendered as Van Gogh subjects. It’s a painting come to life, and it makes me wonder what the category should be judged on: the film itself, or the achievement of the animation? I suppose the former; the category is called Best Animated Feature, not Best Animation in a Feature. But maybe occasionally, with something as unique as this, the technique or style deserves to come first. So for its strikingly original artistry and its dramatically compelling content (a skeptic investigates Van Gogh’s mysterious death), I’d give the win to Loving Vincent.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

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

Here’s another category where there really isn’t a lot to grapple with. It’s not even roughly a two-way race. Call Me By Your Name might as well be engraved on this Oscar as I type. James Ivory will become the oldest winner in Oscar history at 89, besting Ennio Morricone, who was 87 when he won Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight. Then again, if Agnès Varda wins in the Best Documentary Feature category, she’ll be the oldest winner ever. She’s got eight days on Ivory. Regardless of who holds what record, it will be nice to see Ivory win an Oscar after a long and celebrated career that saw him nominated three times for Best Director, but always for films (A Room with a View, Howard’s End and The Remains of the Day) that were considered also-rans in the Directing and Picture categories despite winning in other top races. His moment has finally come.

Personal: It’s great to see Logan nominated, but Call Me By Your Name is the crown jewel among these contenders. A beautiful movie across the board, and it begins with André Aciman’s novel and Ivory’s script.

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

Any of these nominees would be a deserving winner, but The Big Sick will have to be content with its nomination. So too will The Shape of Water, despite being a frontrunner in other categories both above and below the line. It’s lovely and imaginative and full of meanings that may go unnoticed but which are carefully layered in by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, and in another year it might have had a better chance. As it is, there just happen to be three dominant writing contenders this time around. Two of them, Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, have been lumped together quite a bit throughout the season (as in this Vanity Fair photo shoot and cover story), forced by circumstance to carry the torch for their respective chronically underrepresented demographics. Both are nominated here and for Best Director. The screenplay nominations were expected, but the Director nominations were question marks. Receiving that recognition is as far as they’re expected to go in that category, meaning this is the best chance that both of them have to win…and like the Highlander, there can be only one. (Well…technically they could tie, but that’s unlikely.) Oh, and there’s still Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to consider.

This is also Martin McDonagh’s best shot, as he was rather surprisingly omitted from the Best Director line-up. Three Billboards has been a formidable presence in the top races throughout Phase Two, and took Screenplay honors at the Golden Globes and BAFTA (the former does not distinguish between Original Adapted). It did not win the Writers Guild of America (WGA) award, but it wasn’t eligible for a nomination.  The big question with Three Billboards is whether the controversy that surrounds it has made a significant impact on Academy members. What controversy, you may ask? Many critics and viewers have a big problem with how the movie handles race. This piece from /Film nicely summarizes the issue, and contains links to several of the critiques, including prominent articles by New York Times critic Wesley Morris and The Daily Beast‘s Ira Madison III. The movie has its defenders, however, including Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, who argue in part that these excoriations miss the movie’s point. So again, will the controversy make a difference? Some voters may think twice, but I’d wager it’s more likely that if they consider this at all, it will be less about their own opinion being swayed than about not wanting to be perceived as endorsing a film that many find racially insensitive or outright ignorant.

So there’s that.

Peele and McDonagh are both among their films’ nominated producers, so if either loses this award, they still have a chance to take home an Oscar if their movie wins Best Picture. Not so for Gerwig, who is not a producer on Lady Bird. So with Best Director likely out of reach, this is her chance. But as perennial as it is for Oscar pundits to think a given person and/or their film might win in one category while their closest competition will win in another, thereby spreading the wealth, this scenario seldom plays out. People vote for what they want to vote for category by category; they don’t play their Oscar ballot like a chess board. So the fact that this is Gerwig’s best hope to win an Oscar this year doesn’t matter. As funny, acutely observed and delightful as Lady Bird is, it’s outmatched by the cleverness and social commentary of Get Out and the originality and potency of Three Billboards. Between those two, it could go either way…but Get Out just feels too relevant and too fresh to lose.

Personal: It’s not my favorite movie of the five nominees, but I still have to give this up to Get Out. It’s such a smart premise; simple but ingenious, and a whole lotta fun.

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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

The way things were going waaaaay back in December, Phase One, the early days of the awards season, it seemed as if veteran character actor Willem Dafoe might earn a sort of career achievement Oscar for his role as a beleaguered motel manager in The Florida Project. But as often happens as the season stretches on, the winds shifted. Sam Rockwell (a veteran character actor himself, if not quite one with as many years logged as Dafoe) came up from behind to establish a lead, and is now the firm favorite. Given that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was built as a showcase for a dynamic female lead, it’s a testament to Rockwell’s impact that he’s as much a reason to see the movie as Frances McDormand. And even though his character is at the center of the aforementioned controversy, no one seems to have a problem with his performance. Having overtaken Dafoe’s early lead and captured every major prize along the way – Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and BAFTA – at this point it’s hard to envision any other outcome.

Personal: Rockwell. I have loved this guy for ages. The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest, Charlie’s Angels, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Choke, Moon, Conviction, The Way Way Back…he’s just one of those magnetic performers who always commands attention, no matter the quality of the movie he’s in. Still, none of his past achievements are reason to vote for him here. I choose him because Three Billboards gives him one of his best roles, and as expected, he crushes it.

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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

Even more starkly than in the Supporting Actor race, this one saw a shift as time went on. Allison Janney did well with the critics groups, but Laurie Metcalf dominated. Yet it was Janney who took the Golden Globe, SAG, BFCA and BAFTA awards, and there’s no reason to expect that she won’t take the Oscar as well. She has the showiest role of the bunch by far, and perhaps more importantly, she’s never played a part like this. There are moments in this movie when her eyes are so icy and frightening she could make Game of Thrones‘ Night King tremble, and she conjures the attitude to match. Some have pointed out that the character is pretty much one-note, and maybe it is…but take that up with the screenwriter. Janney went the distance with the part, and because she’s so well known across film and television, voters are likely to note what a change of pace the role is for her. She also has the advantage of being more familiar to film audiences than Metcalf, who is active on television and the stage but hadn’t appeared in a theatrical movie since 2008. From all angles, this seems like a sure thing for Janney. Still, proceed with caution. The very fact that all four acting frontrunners seem so locked could belie the possibility of a surprise, and if something unexpected happens, it could be here. Metcalf could still pull it off, and word is that Lesley Manville is gaining ground among voters who are just catching up with Phantom Thread.

Personal: I’ve got nothing but love for Janney and I’d be fine with her winning. I’d also be happy with Lesley Manville, who did so much with looks and posture. But I’d be happiest to see it go to Metcalf. She made that character so real. Flawed, kind, pained, petty, generous…loving. Not always in the right way, but always. Sometimes the most impressive feat isn’t nailing a big showstopper scene, but making all the ordinary and mundane moments so memorable. Metcalf does that here, over and over again.

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BEST ACTOR

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

Gary Oldman has pretty much had this thing locked up since Darkest Hour premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September. The Toronto Film Festival followed within days, and the buzz was out of the bag. Oldman checks off all the classic Oscar boxes. Real life/historical figure? Check. Physical transformation? Check. Big speeches/scenery chewing? Check. Quieter, subtler, more interior moments to balance out big speeches/scenery chewing? Check. Respected actor, long career, lots of great performances, hasn’t won yet? Check. As time goes on and the Academy’s old guard becomes the minority, these boxes may go away. But for now they remain intact, and they all point to victory for Oldman. Not exactly victory at all costs or in spite of all terror…but victory nonetheless.

Personal: It’s hard to deny Gary Oldman. Just because the performance checks off those predictable boxes doesn’t diminish its impact or suggest that voters who choose him are simply going through the motions. Oldman is tremendously entertaining and wholly committed in Darkest Hour, and having reached a point in his career where he tends to play primarily supporting roles, his work as Churchill is a reminder of his power as a lead. He’s also one of those guys who you assume must have won an Oscar somewhere along the line, but hasn’t, which fuels a classic “it’s time” narrative. It’s hard to put all the side factors out of your mind and just vote purely for the performance, but if I did I would probably go with Timothée Chalamet. Like Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird, he’s just so authentic. In his portrayal of a teenager overtaken by unexpected romantic desire, he makes some choices that are so surprising and impeccable, yet so straightforward. None of the performances present an existence so believable and fully lived-in as his.

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BEST ACTRESS

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

Almost every year at least one of the acting categories comes down to a tight race between two nominees, with either outcome completely plausible. This year, not so much. All four acting categories seem to have clear outcomes, with Rockwell, Janney, Oldman and now Frances McDormand having taken Golden Globes, BFCA, SAG and BAFTA prizes. That factoid is, I believe, a first. It doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be an upset; only that they all have a significant advantage going into the big night.

Unlikely as a loss for McDormand seems at this point, there’s a case to be made that she could miss. For one thing, it’s clear each time she takes the stage that while she is happy and grateful, it’s not too important to her. Frances McDormand does not need your trophy, thank you very much. While accepting her SAG award, she even encouraged voters to support younger, newer talent. For another thing, this acting category might be the one where the frontrunner’s lead is the slimmest. Sally Hawkins and Saoirse Ronan are likely to pick up a lot of votes, and Margot Robbie will get her fair share as well. If enough people who are torn decide not to vote for McDormand, figuring she’ll already get enough support, the tide could turn. Also worth considering…

Oh hell, who are we kidding? Making a case for McDormand to lose is pointless. Yes, yes, anything could happen, but c’mon. People love her in this movie, they love her in general…you watch her give her other speeches – BAFTA, Golden Globes…this lady is just oozing swagger.

Personal: I’ve long wanted to see Academy Award Winner Frances McDormand become Two-Time Academy Award Winner Frances McDormand, so if she wins, it’ll be aces with me. But in a tough, tough choice between her, Hawkins and Ronan, I’d pick Ronan. Her character is more average and grounded than those played by some of her competitors, but her inhabiting of this girl facing typical struggles of adolescence went so deep and was so relatable. Her portrayal was as universal as it was particular, and her deadpan comic timing and delivery is a marvel.

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BEST DIRECTOR

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

It’s great to have Paul Thomas Anderson back in this category, and great to have Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro here for the first time. One day, this award surely must go to Anderson and Nolan. But it won’t be this year. Like the four acting categories, this one includes a nominee who has won every major precursor. Guillermo del Toro took the BFCA, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Director’s Guild of America (DGA) awards, the latter of which is the most reliable harbinger of Oscar victory in all of awardom. His close compadres Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu have each won this award in the last five years (Iñárritu did it twice), and now del Toro will complete the trifecta.

Personal: Guillermo del Toro. Every detail in every frame of The Shape of the Water, and every thought behind every word, shot, cut, sound effect and so on, is significant and can be explained in passionate detail by del Toro. When I hear him interviewed about this or any other of his films, I’m always struck by how nothing is without meaning or careful intention. And it all comes together so gorgeously in this movie.

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BEST PICTURE
Call Me By Your Name – Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Marco Morabito
Darkest Hour – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten, Douglas Urbanski
Dunkirk – Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan
Get Out – Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., Jordan Peele
Lady Bird – Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neill
Phantom Thread – JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi
The Post – Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger
The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh

The most difficult prediction of the year is for the top award. Races like Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song and Best Original Screenplay have boiled down to two strong possibilities (maybe three in the case of Screenplay), but four of these nominees are widely thought to be serious players. Of those four, Dunkirk faces the toughest odds. It hasn’t won any major awards on the road to the Oscars, but many pundits who are out there talking to Academy members consistently hear that it’s a popular choice, admired by many. This matters when dealing with the preferential ballot, the method employed to choose the Best Picture winner. All other categories are determined by a simple popular vote; the nominee with the most votes wins. But in 2011, the Academy introduced the preferential ballot in the hopes of reaching a Best Picture winner that represented as wide a group of voters as possible. Once again, I offer this video from The Wrap‘s Oscar whiz Steve Pond, who uses visuals aids to explain how it works.

So…it’s better to be a movie that’s admired and liked by a whole bunch of people than a movie that’s loved by a smaller faction. Based on reports from the trenches, Dunkirk appears to fall in the former group, and it surely has a lot of support from below-the-line members (cinematographers, editors, sound mixers, etc.). Actors make up the largest voting bloc of the Academy, but combine all of the crafts categories and you’ve got an even larger group. Working against Dunkirk? It didn’t receive any nominations for writing or acting. It’s considered almost impossible to win Best Picture without either.

Get Out. It’s seen as one of the most relevant nominees, which can be a huge benefit in these troubled times when social consciousness is on everybody’s mind. Many members want their vote to make a statement. Get Out spotlights an exciting new voice in filmmaking, provides a rare blessing of legitimacy on a genre that seldom gets this level of respect, and demonstrates that an “issue movie” can also be a popular crowdpleaser. And as with Dunkirk, many pundits report that their Academy contacts keep talking about it….though whenever I hear that I think, “Ok, but there are roughly 8,300 members of the Academy. How many are you talking to? A few dozen? Even if it’s a couple hundred, that’s a small percentage.”

Next, The Shape of Water. With a leading 13 nominations, it has broad appeal across the below-the-line categories as well as with actors, who nominated three of its stars. It’s a common mistake to think that the most nominated movie is also the most popular or the most likely to win. This often proves false. The movies that get the most nominations are the ones that not only find success in the top categories, but also hit several below-the-line boxes. Costumes, set design, music, makeup, visual effects, etc. In other words, period pieces and sci-fi or fantasy. So when it comes to The Shape of Water, it doesn’t hurt to have all those nominations, but they don’t necessarily signify anything. While many people love the movie, there are also many who don’t get it or just don’t care for it. One deterrent cited over and over is that despite its acclaimed ensemble and their praised performances, the movie did not receive a SAG nomination for Best Cast. No movie has won Best Picture without that since 1995’s Braveheart. But it did win the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) award, which is the only major precursor that also uses the preferential ballot. And it won the BFCA award, which comes from an organization whose size is closer to the Academy than any other entity, and therefore probably consists of a similarly diverse and divided voting membership.

Finally, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which has the clearest momentum going into Oscar night, thanks to Picture and Screenplay wins at BAFTA and the Golden Globes, as well as McDormand and Rockwell steamrolling their way through Phase Two. It also won the SAG award for Best Cast. If not getting nominated for that could hurt The Shape of Water, winning it surely helps Three Billboards. On the other hand, Martin McDonagh was passed over for Best Director. A movie can win Best Picture without a directing nomination, but it doesn’t happen often. I’ve also read some interesting comments suggesting that the movie’s depiction of America is not all that realistic, representing an outsider’s view (McDonagh hails from Ireland) that misses certain key cultural nuances, particularly of the American south, and that the top prizes from BAFTA and the Globes are not surprising given that both voting groups are comprised of non-Americans. There’s also the controversy discussed previously. Here, it gives me pause. If the story has permeated the ranks of the Academy, they may be more wary of what they choose to represent them as a Best Picture winner than they will be with Best Screenplay. To whatever extent Oscar wins are remembered over time by those outside the realm of obsessives like me, a Best Picture win is more prominent than Best Screenplay. What kind of movie does the Academy want to bestow its ultimate validation upon? It’s the same question they face with Best Original Screenplay – if they face it at all – but it might matter to them more here, especially when they’re still in the shadow of #OscarsSoWhite.

Nine Best Picture nominees, four thought to have a real chance, all four facing precedents that say they can’t win, or at least are highly unlikely to win. They’re sometimes worth mentioning, but you can drive yourself mad trying to decipher all of these equations for victory that rely on the idea of voters actually stopping to think if the movie they’re selecting for Best Picture was nominated for SAG’s Best Cast Award or received an Editing nomination or is likely to win at least one other award, which is another supposed necessity. All of these rules will fail eventually. Which will it be this year? I have no idea. But my Best Picture guess, after much hand wringing, is The Shape of Water. Not because Guillermo del Toro is likely to win Best Director; the preferential ballot has upended the long-standing correlation between Best Picture and Best Director. The awards have gone to different movies in four of the last five years…and I feel more than a little stupid for not making the connection until last year. The categories are being voted on in two completely different ways now, so of course it’s going to be less likely that they will match up as often as they used to. No, I’m picking The Shape of Water because I suspect the arguments against it are weaker than the arguments against the other nominees, and because I think it’s the most likely among the four pack-leaders to benefit from the preferential ballot. But Three Billboards, especially, is a major threat, and if all the controversy and outsider viewpoint theories turn out to be sound and fury signifying nothing, it could go all the way.

Personal: The Shape of Water. This was the one I loved the most. The story, the production values, the humor, the characters and performances, the music, the bold swing of the romance…top to bottom and everything in between, this was my favorite movie of the year.

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FINAL THOUGHTS
As usual, you’re on your own with the Best Documentary, Best Foreign Language Film and the short film categories. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the feature-length narrative movies.  But there are a couple of other things I want to mention. Each year, you’ll find a few entertainment news sites that publish the opinions of some anonymous Academy members, who talk frankly through their choices and their feelings about what was and wasn’t nominated. There were several this year, and it’s always enlightening and frustrating to read them. What they prove is that despite all the time and energy that Oscar geeks like me, professional or otherwise, spend on calculating and predicting what “The Academy” or “The Voters” will do, this is ultimately – and I’ve hit this point before – several thousand individuals just expressing their own random opinions. Every nominee in every category will have some people who love it, some who hate it, and others whose feelings fall somewhere in the middle. Some voters are retired or work less and probably have a chance to see every nominee. Others are busy, active in the industry, and may not get around to everything. Some people will vote for a friend or a colleague, some people will vote to promote an agenda. Some people will vote for the nominee they enjoyed the most, others will wield their vote politically. I said earlier that people don’t play their ballot like a chess board, and while I believe that to be generally true, I’m sure that sometimes a voter might make a choice because they want to see a multiple-nominee win something, even if they preferred another choice in that given category. The reasons are all over the map, as you see when you look at these anonymous comments. (Year after year I read some of these and think there are certain people who don’t deserve the privilege of voting. Their comments also frequently come off as bizarre streams of consciousness that make little sense. But what can you do?)

The point is, for all the words I’ve vomited into this post talking about what voters might do and how the Academy thinks, there is no typical voter or Academy hive mind. It’s just a bunch of people marking a ballot according to their own personal preferences and reasoning. Every voter has their own criteria for determining what constitutes great work. If you’re interested, here’s some insight. IndieWire published a whole series of these interviews, speaking to a costume designer, film editor, publicist, executive, visual effects supervisor and producer. One especially telling detail from all but one of these is that they don’t understand or care for the preferential ballot. I have my issues with it as well, but now is not the time. The Hollywood Reporter, which usually publishes several of these in the week or so before the ceremony, has posted just two so far this year, one from a producer’s branch member and one from an actress, while The Daily Beast interviewed a member of an unspecified branch. Lastly, Vulture published a compelling two-part piece for which they interviewed 14 Academy members who joined within the last two years, several of whom represent the Academy’s push for greater inclusion (over half of their subjects are women and more than a third are people of color). The first article is a wide-ranging conversation about how they feel the Academy’s effort to diversify the voting ranks is affecting the nominations and the organization’s outlook in general. The second focuses on this year’s top eight categories and how these members are voting. These are definitely worth checking out. There’s so much in these two pieces I want to address and comment on, but that would have to be for another post that I’m sure I’ll never have time to write.

There’s one other thing I wanted to touch on, and then I will leave you in peace. Last year’s Oscar night concluded with the infamous clusterfuck of La La Land being mistakenly announced as Best Picture instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. It transpired that one of the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants who hands the envelopes to the presenters gave a duplicate copy of the Best Actress envelope to Warren Beatty and, well, we all know what happened.

There’s so much more to say about what happened, but that all belonged in yet another piece that I never had time to write. As it pertains to this year’s awards, I wanted to express a hope that last year’s event isn’t leaned on too heavily this year or played for repeated laughs. Returning host Jimmy Kimmel has already used it in an amusing promo…

…and there are bound to be some of jokes and references, and that’s fine. You can’t not acknowledge what happened, as new Academy president John Bailey and Kimmel have both expressed this week. And hey, what happened made for fantastic viewing and probably the single most memorable Oscar moment ever. But at the end of the day, it was huge embarrassment that resulted in three people thinking they had won Oscars only to have to give them up, gracious as they may have been, and another group of people not really getting to have the pure moment they deserved. We’re not talking about tragedy here, obviously. No one died, no one’s career was ruined (not even that accountant, who was not fired…but will most definitely never step foot near an Oscar ceremony again), and it was simply human error on a massive scale. It wasn’t Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway’s fault, it wasn’t Jimmy Kimmel’s fault, it wasn’t anyone in the Academy’s fault, but the result was a pretty shitty situation for a small group of people. So my advice to Kimmel, show producers Michael DeLuca and Jennifer Todd, and the Academy leadership – because, you know, they’re all reading this – is to not overdo it. Word broke yesterday that Beatty and Dunaway are returning this year, but in what context – genuine presenters, or part of a gag? – is unclear. Have a little fun with it, but be respectful enough to remember that it kinda sucked for some people. They’ll live…but they’ll never live it down.

As for what Kimmel has in store, he hasn’t revealed much, but we are in such fiercely political times right now and you know the show will touch on some of it. #TimesUp, #MeToo, Parkland, Russia attacking our democracy…tough stuff to deal with, but Kimmel has addressed non-entertainment events with great compassion on his nightly show, so I’m sure he’ll handle his second time at the Oscars with finesse. Seth Meyers set a strong example at the Golden Globes, so the path is lit.

Ok, I’m done. Here’s a link to a ballot, here’s a link to an Oscar-themed crossword puzzle, and here’s that Golden Globes monologue from Seth Meyers, to leave you with something more interesting than anything I’ve said.

 

 

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February 14, 2018

Oscars 2017: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Class of 2017 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image for larger version to play Spot the Celebrity.)

Complete List of Nominees

For an Oscars geek, the morning of the nominations might be even more exciting than the night of the show. By the time Oscar night comes around, dozens of precursor awards have been handed out, each category has been narrowed down and while there are always surprises, there are only a few ways things could go. But nomination morning offers up so many more possibilities, as the field is still wide open and anything can happen. Well…maybe not anything. The Book of Henry wasn’t about to show up on the Best Picture list, nor was Dwayne Johnson’s performance in Baywatch going to score him that long elusive Best Actor recognition. But within the realm of reason fortified by 90 years of Academy Awards history, anything can happen on the morning of the nominations.

Beginning as always in the dreaded 5 a.m. hour, this year’s nominations once again tried something a little different. After last year’s abandonment of the traditional live announcement in favor of a video intercutting comments and memories from past Oscar winners with a bland reading of all the nominees by an anonymous fembot, this year’s presentation combined the two approaches. Before a crowd of gathered press, Academy President John Bailey made some brief introductory remarks, then turned the program over to Andy Serkis and Tiffany Hadish, who announced the nominees. The video component came in the form of some stylish introductions for the below-the-line categories, each starring a female actress/Academy member. Priyanka Chopra, Rosario Dawson, Gal Gadot, Salma Hayek, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Molly Shannon, Rebel Wilson and Michelle Yeoh appeared in the intros, which added some fun to what can be a dry event while also shining a small but notable spotlight on a diverse group of women. The structure was still a bit awkward, as Serkis and Haddish would read each category’s nominees and then introduce another video. It might have felt less disjointed if each participating actress could also have read their category’s nominees, but of course the videos would have been produced long before the nominees were known, and the logistics of having each actress present to read the nominees live would be complicated. Academy headquarters essentially go on lockdown the night before the announcement, and the presenters spend the night there. That operation is easier to accommodate with two people than with a dozen. Still, this was definitely an improvement over last year, and Haddish added some inadvertent entertainment value as she struggled reading many of the nominee names but maintained her sense of humor throughout.

If for some inexplicable reason you don’t want to watch the entire 30 minute announcement, you can at least check out the intro videos here. I wish I could have learned more about how these came to be, who directed them, etc., but I couldn’t find any details. Missed story opportunity, EW.com.

I had a pretty good morning as far as predictions go. I was only 100% in four categories (Actress, Supporting Actor, Production Design and Sound Mixing), but in 12 others I missed by just one. I don’t have too many thoughts to share on how things shook out, but here are a few.

BEST PICTURE
My typical go-to decision to predict nine nominees worked out this year, and I only faltered by including The Florida Project, which was the one I was least sure about as I finalized my picks. I took it off the list, put it back on the list, took it off the list…and finally put it back on, thinking the voting contingent that had supported child-centric movies like Room and Beasts of the Southern Wild in recent years might propel this indie gem onto the final list. I’m sure it had support, but not enough to land it a spot. The nominee I failed to predict – which came as a surprise to just about everyone; I didn’t see any lists that had it – was Phantom Thread. The re-teaming of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis did extremely well, with a few other unexpected nominations on its way to a tally of six. There’s no question that PTA is widely admired in the Academy, but you never know from film to film how much they’re going to show it.

By the way, reviewing past editions of this annual post, I realize it’s been a few years since I railed against the constant use of the word “snub.” Every media outlet covering the nominations loves to point out all the movies that were snubbed and the actors that were snubbed. I feel I’d be remiss not to get back atop my soapbox and briefly decry this yearly exercise in stupidity. EW.com‘s list of snubs and surprises pointed out six Best Picture snubs. That amounts to two-thirds of the entire list of nominees. And if any of the nominated films had been passed over, those would have been called out as snubs. Of the movies that did get nominated, only one was really a surprise, with maybe two more thought to be on the bubble. None of these so-called snubbed movies pointed out were any better positioned or more widely expected to be nominated than most of the movies that actually were. These aren’t snubs, idiots. They’re just movies that missed out. Please stop being lazy and talking about these movies that came up short as if there was anything more to their omission than falling victim to an overcrowded field and the whims of several thousand voters.

BEST DIRECTOR
Thank God. Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both made the cut, for Get Out and Lady Bird respectively, sparing us the litany of opinion pieces we’d have been subjected to if either or both had failed to be recognized. Don’t misunderstand me; the historical scarcity of women and people of color in this category (and many others) is not unworthy of attention. Peele is only the fifth black director ever nominated (John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins precede him) and Gerwig only the fifth woman (after Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and the sole winner, Kathryn Bigelow). Those stats are sufficiently shocking. But as they relate to the recent #OscarsSoWhite outcry, or #OscarsSoMale – which isn’t a thing, but could be (the acting categories notwithstanding) – they are far more the result of a chronic lack of opportunity for filmmakers in those demographics to tell their stories to mainstream audiences than they are of an ingrained bias on the part of Academy voters. So above any other reason, the presence of Peele and Gerwig pleases me because it means we don’t have to hear about an imaginary aversion within the Academy to directors who aren’t white males.

Now…about the white males. While it wasn’t a big surprise by this point in the season, the nomination for Christopher Nolan was cause for his fans to celebrate after he had been left out of this category two or three times too many over the years. Hopefully this is only the first of many more to come. The category’s big surprises were the absence of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘s Martin McDonagh and the inclusion of Phantom Thread‘s Paul Thomas Anderson. I thought this might be one of those rare years where the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Academy were in complete agreement, but McDonagh was the point of diversion. Given Three Billboards‘ momentum in the Best Picture race – top honors at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards make it a strong contender – he seemed a likely nominee, but not a lock. I suspect he came close, but in the end he was kept at bay by an unexpected swell of support for Anderson. No complaints from me about the turn of events that delivered PTA into the final five. He’s one of my favorites, and Phantom Thread finds him in peak form.

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BEST ACTOR

One of my instincts paid off here, and one didn’t. The one that did: James Franco missing out. Of course, nearly every outlet commenting on his “snub” (grrrr) wrote about it as if the accusations against him during the Oscar voting period – first via a series of tweets and then elaborated upon in a Los Angeles Times story – were the reason he wasn’t nominated, definitively. I’m less certain. Although Franco got a lot of recognition throughout the season, including Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations and a Golden Globe win, I had my doubts all along that an Oscar nomination would follow. Yes, it’s important to weigh all the precursor awards to gauge who and what has momentum, but you also need to do some thinking for yourself about what does or doesn’t feel like it will resonate with Academy members. You won’t always be right, but these things are impossible to ever fully know, so sometimes you need to apply reason and instinct. Anyone doing so should have questioned Franco’s chances. That performance was never a sure thing…as much as anything can be a sure thing. Franco is funny in The Disaster Artist, no doubt, but at the end of the day the performance is an impersonation of someone whose natural state feels like a vibrant exaggeration to begin with. Franco may do an uncanny Tommy Wiseau, but was he going to get an Oscar nomination for that? Possibly. Yet there was always reason to doubt, even before he got swept up in the #MeToo movement. I’m sure the accusations cost him some votes, but I’m not convinced they made the difference. We’ll never know, but my gut tells me Franco would have been omitted regardless.

The instinct that failed to pay off was Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya. I didn’t, and still don’t, understand the elevation of his performance to any list of the year’s very best. He does good work and serves the movie perfectly well; I’ve got nothing negative to say about him. I’m just confounded by the level of acclaim he’s garnered. Yes, he was armed with a Golden Globe nomination and additional nods from SAG, BFCA and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and yes, that precursor quartet usually leads to an Oscar nomination…but not always. I let the occasional exceptions to that rule, along with my own opinion – which would surely be shared by the majority of voters – convince me that Kaluuya might not make it. It was possible. But it wasn’t likely, and I probably should have known better. If I thought he deserved the nomination, would I have predicted him? I probably would have.

Thinking that Franco and Kaluuya would miss, I predicted Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. There was room for Washington, but Hanks was once again left out. Although I wasn’t able to make room for Denzel on my personal list, he was definitely right on the edge. I hope the nomination brings some attention to Roman J. Israel, Esq. The movie is decent, but Denzel is the reason to see it. He’s never played a character like this before, and it was fun to see him do something so different.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I was off by two in this category. I didn’t think Mary J. Blige would make it despite having reasonable momentum. The part seemed too small and too lacking in the kind of showcase moments that would catch the attention of enough voters to gather her the necessary support. But here she is, and her nomination marks the first major-category recognition for a Netflix release. Mudbound picked up three additional nominations, including recognition in another top-category: Best Adapted Screenplay, where director and co-writer Dee Rees became the first black woman ever nominated. Netflix would have liked Mudbound to crack the Best Picture race, but the nominations it did get – some of which made Oscar history – help disprove the idea of a bias against the company and its releases.

My other miss was Lesley Manville. Many hoped but few expected that the Phantom Thread co-star would find a spot, but voters’ undetected appreciation for the movie carried her along, much to my delight. Manville is excellent as Daniel Day-Lewis’ steely sister and business partner. She doesn’t necessarily say much verbally, but speaks volumes with her posture and facial expressions. And when she does talk, she can cut right to the bone. Well done, Academy!

Alas, pleasant surprises usually come at another contender’s expense, and in this case Holly Hunter and Hong Chau were the two most notable omissions. Hunter was widely expected to be included, and although I enjoyed her greatly in The Big Sick, I don’t know that the role merited a nomination. I’m more disappointed by the absence of Chau. I understand Downsizing didn’t catch on, but Chau was something special, and her multilayered performance was deserving. Hopefully the attention she did garner for the movie will at least lead to more prominent roles in high profile projects.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY AND BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

I missed by one in each screenwriting category, but in both cases I was happy to be wrong. I mean…I would rather have been right…but I’m glad about the picks the Academy made that I didn’t. For Original Screenplay, that was The Big Sick. It had unwavering momentum going in, and most pundits expected it to be there, but I thought it might be taken down (with an attack to the kneecaps, maybe?) by I, Tonya. In the Adapted Screenplay race, the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) choices were mirrored, which meant a nomination for Logan. Maybe still stinging 10 years later from the omission of The Dark Knight, I didn’t think the Academy would go for a comic book adaptation, even one as grounded and somber as Wolverine’s swan song. But how great to see it here, the first writing nomination for a movie based on a “superhero” comic. Expecting it to be passed over, I instead predicted The Beguiled. I didn’t really think that would be included, but it seemed more probable than Logan.

One other comment about Best Original Screenplay. Given the robust support for Phantom Thread, it’s surprising that it did not land writing recognition. Paul Thomas Anderson is a four-time screenwriting nominee (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice), and this could have been an obvious place to honor a typically unique Anderson vision. But voters stuck to the script – no pun intended – and nominated the five favored choices. I can’t argue with that, even if it would have been nice to see Phantom Thread. This category has felt mostly locked for some time now, with Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri all but assured and all supremely deserving. As discussed above, I thought there was some wiggle room with The Big Sick, but that I, Tonya would have been the beneficiary. This was always going to be a tough race to penetrate, and Phantom Thread probably came up just a bit short.

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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Seriously? Victoria & Abdul? Over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2? If I were one of the Academy’s top officials, I would be deeply concerned about whatever ailment befell the members of the Makeup and Hairstyling branch causing them to all go blind over the past year. For clearly that’s what must have happened. There can be no other logical explanation for Victoria & Abdul beating out Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. If there’s one place this year where I might consider calling out a snub, this would be it. I don’t know what bias the branch members might have against the crew from Guardians, but maybe there’s some bad blood somewhere in there, because this is such a comically incomprehensible outcome that there must be an agenda at work.

Okay okay…I didn’t see Victoria & Abdul. But I’ve seen the trailer and I’ve seen pictures and I’m confidant I’ve seen enough to know that there’s no way anyone can make a legitimate case for Victoria & Abdul over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 in a category recognizing achievements in makeup. Are you kidding me with this?

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The big shock here was the absence of Dunkirk. Although CGI tends to dominate the landscape, practical effects often find a place among the nominees, and Dunkirk was heavily favored, given the overall admiration for Christopher Nolan’s film and its impressive staging, particularly the aerial sequences. Less of a shock but still a surprise was the omission of The Shape of Water, another widely appealing contender and Best Picture prospect with VFX work that’s beautiful if not necessarily groundbreaking. Instead, the visual effects branch members eschewed their tendency to recognize at least one “prestige” film, and kept the focus on the effects themselves. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water would have been deserving, but so are the two films seen as taking their spots: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island. The former showcased a wide variety of superb work, from CG characters and creatures to environments to the impressive de-aging of Kurt Russell for his flashback scene. Kong, meanwhile, boasted outstanding creature effects, not just in the form of the towering simian, but in the titular locale’s many other denizens, most of them as creepy as they are gigantic. The 10 semi-finalists were all impressive this year, so some tough choices had to be made.

 

See, that wasn’t so bad. Just a little light reading between the behemoth prediction posts. Until the next one of those comes along, here are my wishful thinking Oscar categories and nominees, not necessarily concerned with five per category. Because I’m a rebel and I like to break the rules.

BEST POSTER

[Larger Versions: mother! (Lawrence); mother! (Bardem); The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; All the Money in the World; Murder on the Orient Express; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (IMAX); Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Teaser); Wilson; Kong: Skull Island (IMAX); Kong: Skull Island; Baby Driver; Colossal; Wonder Wheel; The Hitman’s Bodyguard]

BEST TRAILER
Dunkirk (Final); It (Teaser); The Lego Batman Movie (Batcave Teaser)Logan (Teaser); mother!; Thor: Ragnarok (Teaser)Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Red Band);

BEST CASTING
Baby Driver – Francine Maisler
Battle of the Sexes – Kim Davis, Justine Baddeley
The Big Sick – Gayle Keller
The Florida Project – Carmen Cuba
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Sarah Halley Finn
It – Rich Delia
Lady Bird – Allison Jones, Ben Harris
Phantom Thread – Cassandra Kulukundis
The Post – Ellen Lewis
Spider-Man: Homecoming – Sarah Halley Finn
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Sarah Halley Finn
Thor: Ragnarok – Sarah Halley Finn

BEST ENSEMBLE
Baby Driver; It; Lady Bird; Logan; Mudbound; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Tiffany Hadish – Girls Trip
Sylvia Hoeks – Blade Runner 2049
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Dafne Keen – Logan
Vicky Krieps – Phantom Thread
Brooklynn Prince – The Florida Project
Algee Smith – Detroit
Bria Vinaite – The Florida Project
Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk

BEST BODY OF WORK
Colin Farrell (The Beguiled/The Killing of a Sacred Deer/Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
Woody Harrelson (The Glass Castle/LBJ/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri/War for the Planet of the Apes/Wilson)
Caleb Landry Jones (American Made/The Florida Project/Get Out/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name/The Post/The Shape of Water)

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
Baby Driver; The Disaster Artist; The Greatest Showman; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; I, Tonya

BEST OPENING CREDITS
Baby Driver; Call Me By Your Name

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
Beauty and the Beast; Call Me By Your Name; The Greatest Showman; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Wasn’t that fun?

Lastly, here’s a brief montage of all of this year’s Oscar nominated films. May it inspire you to check a few out between now and Oscar night, March 4.

 

January 22, 2018

Oscars 2017: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 6:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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. 

 

February 25, 2017

Oscars 2016: The Envelope Please

Better late than never, right? I’d promise you that one day I will actually complete this post more than 24 hours before the show begins, but I don’t know if I have it in me to keep doing these long enough to fulfill that pledge. So for what it’s worth at this point, here are my Oscar predictions and requisite over-explanation.

BEST SOUND MIXING AND BEST SOUND EDITING

Sound Mixing:
Arrival – Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye
Hacksaw Ridge – Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
La La Land – Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

Sound Editing:
Arrival – Sylvain Bellemare
Deepwater Horizon – Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli
Hacksaw Ridge – Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
La La Land – Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Sully – Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

X

Get ready — you’re going to see the words La La Land a lot in this post. (Is La even a word?) Here in the Sound categories, it throws us a curveball. I pointed out when predicting the nominees that musicals have a great track record getting nominated for Sound Mixing, and not such a great one getting nominated for Sound Editing. This year, however, the Sound branch cited La La Land in both categories. I have to assume that most voters from other branches don’t much understand the difference between the two categories, nor what constitutes a great achievement in either of them. If La La Land had just been nominated for Mixing, I’m sure they would have voted for it, and the Sound Editing award would have gone elsewhere. But now that they can vote for it in both categories, will they? And if they decide to go with two different movies, will they honor La La Land in Mixing, where musicals have traditionally succeeded? Or will they honor it in Editing because, hey, they’re actors and cinematographers and costume designers, and they don’t know in which category musicals have traditionally succeeded? Since the impossibility of knowing is even more acute here than in other categories where it’s impossible to know but you still kinda know, I’ll be a traditionalist and predict that La La Land takes the award for Sound Mixing, but not Sound Editing. In that category, any of the nominees feel like viable winners, but I’m going with Hacksaw Ridge. When in doubt, voters might equate the chaotic noise of war with the best achievement in sound. Or, you know…not.

Personal: I rarely have strong feelings about the outcome of these races, being admittedly ignorant about how to judge the work. However, knowing that Sound Editing involves the creation of the aural components, my vote in that race would go to Arrival, as the only nominee of the five that had to imagine otherworldly sounds as opposed to re-creating earthbound ones.

X

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Deepwater Horizon – Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange – Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
The Jungle Book – Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
Kubo and the Two Strings – Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

X

All five nominees boast stellar work that seemed to take certain VFX challenges further than they had been taken before, but the complexity and sheer amount of work that went into The Jungle Book has to be acknowledged. This wasn’t just about adding talking animals that looked believable. This whole damn movie was shot on a soundstage in downtown Los Angeles. The young star Neel Sethi was working on bluescreen and greenscreen stages with only small portions of the jungle set constructed for him to interact with. A boulder here, a small patch of grass there, a short sandy pathway over there….everything else around him was created in a computer. EVERYTHING. Think about that for a minute. Here’s the trailer for the movie. Watch it, and realize that other than what Sethi is actually physically touching at any given moment (not including the animals, of course) and perhaps what’s in his immediate vicinity, the rest of it is computer-generated. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Movie Magic at its most astonishing.

The problem is that voters don’t have the best track record of recognizing Movie Magic at its most astonishing. The good news this year is that there isn’t a Best Picture nominee to muddy the waters, as the inclusion of a prestige film often hijacks this award from a movie that features truly amazing and/or groundbreaking work. That’s how you get Gladiator beating The Perfect Storm, or Hugo over Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But that won’t be an issue this time, leaving a clear pathway for The Jungle Book. But you never know. Watch out for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Personal: It’s gotta be The Jungle Book.

X

BEST HAIRSTYLING AND MAKEUP
A Man Called Ove – Eva von Bahr and Love Larson
Star Trek Beyond – Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
Suicide Squad – Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

X

None of the three nominees are movies that lit it up with the Academy, so voters are a bit off the grid here. Don’t discount Suicide Squad just because it seemed to be derided by critics and audiences. Even without having seen it, I know there was an impressive variety to the work. But I’ll put my money on Star Trek Beyond, because Trek is a known quantity to voters whether they saw the movie or not.

Personal: Judging just by pictures from Suicide Squad, the work looks impressive. But Star Trek Beyond is the only one of the three I’ve seen, so I suppose it gets my vote by default. The new alien designs — especially the one sported by Sofia Boutella — do look Oscar-worthy to me. There’s something about that design that makes me want to eat ice cream. What’s that about?

X

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Jackie – Mica Levi
La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
Lion – Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight – Nicholas Brittel
Passengers – Thomas Newman

X

When Disney musicals had their resurgence in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Oscar voters proved keen to award not just their memorable songs, but also their orchestral scores. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, AladdinThe Lion King and Pocahontas all took home the Oscar for Best Original Score even though you kind of got the feeling members were just voting for the scores as a way to vote for the overall music in the movie. I love those soundtracks (well, the first three anyway), but did the scores really deserve to win? Maybe. Maybe not. I bring it up because we’re in a similar situation this year, with La La Land poised to take this prize even though maybe, possibly, perhaps its actual instrumental score isn’t really as strong or memorable as some of its songs. It has a nice theme, for sure, but does the full score really merit an Oscar? Many will think so, and they will vote for it, and it will win.

Personal: I’m probably not being fair. La La Land‘s score is good, and functions successfully in the movie, which is ultimately what should matter with this award, even if — as I say every year — I’m always looking for something that stands tall on its own, apart from the movie. On that score (no pun intended) I think La La Land comes up a little short. It’s between Jackie and Moonlight for me, because both take a similarly unexpected approach to their subject matter. I admire the stylistic choices of both, but found Jackie‘s to be more memorable.

X

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls — Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
City of Stars – La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
How Far I’ll Go – Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

X

You avid Hamilton fans eager for Lin-Manuel Miranda to complete his EGOT with an Oscar win had better put your hopes on hold. Despite contributing music to the latest animated film from Disney — as well-trod a path to success in this category as it is in Best Original Score — it’s not going to happen this year. But fear not; Miranda will have plenty of future chances. With a Mary Poppins sequel in the works and a secretive animated project with Sony a few years off, he’s not throwing away his shot.

The winning film will be La La Land, and this time it should be. The only question is which of the movie’s two nominated songs will emerge victorious: “City of Stars,” or “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)?” Nearly every pundit seems to be banking on the former, and that’s the smart bet. I’m going against the grain, however, and guessing that “Audition” pulls off an upset. First of all, there are really two versions of “City of Stars:” Ryan Gosling’s solo version, which has that memorable whistle going for it, but which is basically one verse; and Gosling’s duet with Emma Stone, which is longer, and has additional verses and alternate lyrics. I’d wager that when most people think of the song, they think of the solo, “whistling” version. But will they remember how brief it is? Will they care?

Then you have Stone’s solo, “Audition,” which is one of the most stirring moments in the movie, and a scene that I think people are more likely to remember than either of the scenes “City of Stars” figures into. It marks a major turning point in the story and furthers the journey of the characters; “City of Stars” doesn’t. It also has more evocative lyrics. Voters may not notice or care about these facts, especially with the powerful hook of that whistle echoing in their heads. So I don’t know. If voters are trying to recall the songs long after seeing the movie, “City of Stars” is probably the one that comes to mind. But if they really remember the moments in which the songs play and how they felt when they watched the movie, I’m convinced they’d vote for “Audition.” It’s not the wise move, but I’m sticking my neck out.

Personal: “City of Stars” is wonderful, so I don’t mean to knock it. I just think “Audition” is better. Gosling’s version of “Stars” is tinged with a touching melancholy, befitting the movie’s bittersweet resolution. The duet version, meanwhile, warmly speaks to the joys of finding love. But to me, “Audition” is the song that truly captures the full, blooming, in-love-with-art-and-artists spirit that infuses every frame of the movie, and it too is bittersweet, as it speaks to the struggle of reaching for an elusive dream. Plus, as I was saying, it has a more crucial function in the film. I certainly won’t be upset if “City of Stars” goes all the way, but “Audition” is the more deserving; an ultimately richer song that better encapsulates the themes of the movie.

X

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Allied – Joanna Johnston
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Colleen Atwood
Florence Foster Jenkins – Consolata Boyle
Jackie – Madeline Fontaine
La La Land – Mary Zophres

X

As I said in the previous post, Jackie has beautiful costumes, but many of them are re-creations of well-documented outfits worn by Jackie Kennedy, and to me that means the movie really doesn’t deserve the nomination. A win would be disappointing. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) went there anyway, while the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) instead awarded Hidden Figures in its Period category. Figures is not among the Oscar nominees, nor is Doctor Strange, which took the prize in the guild’s Fantasy category (besting Kubo and the Two Strings, unfortunately). The only CDG winner included among Oscar’s five nominees is La La Land, which won in the Contemporary category. I think it will come out on top at the Oscars as well. Emma Stone sports one striking dress after another, and I imagine at least a few of those will be top of mind for many voters. On the other hand, Academy voters usually favor period pieces and fantasies — or a melding of the two — in the design categories. You have to go back to 1994 and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for the last time this award went to a contemporary-set film. Before that? 1979(!) and All That Jazz. So history is against La La Land, but I think the bold colors will prove hard to resist, plus the styles are frequently old-fashioned, which helps lend a period feel to this modern musical.

Personal: La La Land. Those colors, those dresses…pretty much everything Emma Stone wears in this movie is splendid, forget about the rest of the cast. I liked the costumes in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, particularly Newt’s outfit, but I’ve got to give it up for La La Land.

X

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Arrival – Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock
Hail, Caesar! – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
La La Land – David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Passengers – Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena

X

In another category where movies with non-stylized contemporary settings rarely come out on top, La La Land is again likely to defy tradition. The movie is a tribute, among many things, to Technicolor musicals of Hollywood’s heyday, and just as in the Costume Design category, color is key. It’s not so much that the sets and locations are all striking in and of themselves, but rather what the design team did to make ordinary locales pop off the screen. The only other nominee that feels like a potential threat is Arrival, for the compelling interior of the alien craft, so unlike other such settings we’ve seen before. Still, that’s a single and sparse location, and most of the movie takes place outside the ship in more drab or ordinary settings.

Personal: La La Land. Every wall, every windowpane, every prop, every single strip, dash and dot of color seems carefully considered and absolutely deliberate. The cumulative effect is an eye-popping visual palette that feels familiar and new all at once.

X

BEST FILM EDITING
Arrival – Joe Walker
Hacksaw Ridge – John Gilbert
Hell or High Water – Jake Roberts
La La Land – Tom Cross
Moonlight – Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

X

Any outcome feels possible in this category, where the kind of movie that wins is more varied than in some of the other “crafts” categories. Hacksaw Ridge has brutally intense battle scenes but also plenty of quieter, well-paced character drama. Hell or High Water feels tight and efficiently assembled as it moves between the bank robbing brothers and the Texas rangers investigating them. Moonlight divides one character’s story into three distinct chapters, each one feeling complete yet complimentary to the others. Arrival plays with time in unexpected ways that take on greater significance after the movie has ended. And La La Land moves between the fast-paced energy of big musical numbers and intimate moments of a romantic relationship with ease, where it could have left us with whiplash. (Get it?! Whiplash?!!?) The voters could throw us a curveball, but I have a feeling enough of them will associate editing with the rhythms of a musical and cast their vote for La La Land.

Personal: I wouldn’t be disappointed to see any of these take the prize, but I’d vote for Arrival. Amy Adams’ character experiences flashes throughout the story, and as we start to understand what they mean and why she’s having them, the way they interact with her current circumstances becomes crucial to unlocking the movie’s mysteries.

X

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arrival – Bradford Young
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Lion – Greig Fraser
Moonlight – James Laxton
Silence – Rodrigo Prieto

X

In making my nomination predictions last month, I pointed out that the Academy’s nominees usually don’t match up with those from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and that I thought Greig Fraser’s work on Lion would be the ASC nominee to miss with the Academy. Well, I blew that one. Not only did the Academy’s picks mirror the ASC’s exactly, but Fraser and Lion went on to win the ASC prize. Does that mean Fraser has the Oscar in his sights as well? Probably not. La La Land‘s Linus Sandgren is the frontrunner here. The Academy at large is more likely to remember the play of light (often spotlight) that transports us in and out the movie’s many musical numbers, as well as how the camerawork shows off the rainbow of colors captured within the costume and production design. Part of the reason the colors jump off the screen so vividly is due to the way the lighting illuminates them. All elements of a movie obviously rely on and play off each other, but La La Land‘s costumes, production design and camerawork function in particularly harmonious tandem. It’s hard to imagine the movie winning one and not the other two…though in fact, we don’t need to imagine it. BAFTA spread the love in these categories, giving Cinematography to La La Land, Costume Design to Jackie and Production Design to Fantastic Beasts. So it’s possible. But unlikely, I’m guessing.

Personal: La La Land, for the way the lighting makes the bright colors glow, dance and suck you whole into the world of the movie. Sandgren also gets credit for taking better advantage of Emma Stone than perhaps any cinematographer who’s ever filmed her. She has such an expressive face, so the camera loves her right off the bat. Sandgren really revels in that gift, often holding her in close-up and allowing her to be riveting simply in the act of looking. She brings that to the table, but he has to be there to capture it in all its effectiveness.

X

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Moana – John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer
My Life as a Zucchini – Claude Barras and Max Karli
The Red Turtle – Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

X

This has been an exciting category to watch throughout the season, with Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings running in near lockstep with critics organizations. Zootopia took the Golden Globe and the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) prize, but Kubo got the BAFTA. Most of the guilds don’t have a category for animation, but those that do — the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the American Cinema Editors (ACE) — went with Zootopia, and it was also the big winner at the Annie Awards, though I’ve never considered those to be much of a factor with the Oscars. You’d like to think that people only vote in a category if they’ve seen all of the nominees, but some probably vote regardless, and if that applies to anyone with this category, it’s probable that Zootopia — one of the highest-grossing movies of the year — was seen by a lot more people than Kubo…and I’d wager was playing in a lot more family rooms over  Christmas vacation. Kubo has made too strong a showing to be counted out, surprising consistently throughout the season with a Best Visual Effects nomination, a groundbreaking nomination from the Costume Designers Guild, and more critics awards than people may have expected. At the end of the day though, the math seems to favor Zootopia.

Personal: Kubo and the Two Strings. Hey, Zootopia is terrific and I’ll hardly be despondent if it wins. But smart, sly, funny and touching as it is, it’s still cut from the familiar cloth of wide-eyed animals occupying bright, cheerful, landscapes. Thematically too, we’ve seen similar efforts rewarded before. Kubo, on the other hand, is a real original, with arresting visuals and the daring to tell a darker story than the typical plucky animated fare. Plus, Laika Studios has been putting out excellent work from the start. Each of its previous three films has been nominated, but none have come this close to the prize before. Who knows when they will again. The movie deserves this win, and so does the studio. (Speaking, by the way, of voting without seeing all the nominees, I still haven’t been able to see The Red Turtle or My Life as a Zucchini. The latter is just now opening, and the former played only for a limited time and not anywhere very accessible for me. I hope to catch them both, but would be surprised if either lured me away from Kubo.)

X

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Fences – August Wilson
Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion – Luke Davies
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

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The Writers Guild of America (WGA) honored Arrival in this category, but I’m sure you remember from my predictions post — because you studied it and committed it to memory — that the WGA placed Moonlight in the Original Screenplay category (where it won) while the Academy considers it an adaptation. Really though, we don’t need the guild to provide guidance in this case. Against La La Land and Manchester by the Sea in the Original category, it would have been a battle. But in the Adapted column, Moonlight should sail smoothly to victory. The movie is universally admired, and writer/director Barry Jenkins seems to have charmed and impressed everybody who’s encountered him during the months he’s been promoting the movie at Q&As, festivals, award ceremonies, etc. I think many voters want to not just recognize the movie; they want to recognize Jenkins specifically, and since he’s not one of the producers, that leaves this category or Best Director as the place to do it. He’ll get a lot of votes in both, but he’ll get more here. Arrival has spoiler potential, and without Moonlight to contend with I think its structure and surprises would carry it to a win. But it does have to contend with Moonlight, so that’s that.

Personal: I wouldn’t have said this if I hadn’t had the chance to see it a second time, but since I did, my pick has to be Arrival. Not just for the whoa-factor, but for making an engaging movie about a rather abstract concept. With a story about humans and aliens trying to establish a baseline of communication with two entirely different systems, the movie becomes about the fragility and delicacy of language. How do we ask them complicated questions about their purpose on Earth? Do they even understand what a question is? How do we correctly interpret their attempt to use a word that even among our own kind can be misunderstood and construed in different ways? There’s nothing inherently cinematic about this, but Eric Heisserer’s script presents it as gripping, high-stakes drama, and even though it rather conveniently bypasses the nuts-and-bolts of how the humans come to understand and “decode” the alien language — and vice versa — the script has the courage to be about something scholarly and intellectual while still having great humanity and feeling. No easy task.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women – Mike Mills

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One of the hardest-to-call races this year finds La La Land squaring off against Manchester by the Sea. They tied with the BFCA. La La Land won the Golden Globe. Manchester won the BAFTA. The WGA by-passed them both in favor of Moonlight. So where does that leave us? I don’t know that enough voters — even those who liked La La Land — will think that its screenplay is as much a winning achievement as certain other components or the film as a whole. The heartache and humanity of Manchester seems more the stuff of great screenplays, and since Kenneth Lonergan is unlikely to factor into many Best Director votes, this is the place to reward him. If there are enough voters who love La La Land and just rubber-stamp it up and down their ballot, then surely they’ll choose it here too. But I think this will be one of the few places it misses.

Personal: I love the originality of The Lobster, but I don’t quite love the movie. Really, these are all great (though La La Land is the weakest as a screenplay nominee). But my pick is Manchester by the Sea. Lonergan took somebody else’s skeletal premise — it was actually John Krasinski who birthed the seed of the idea — and made it completely his own, sublimely marrying humor born of character conflict with harrowing circumstances and heartbreaking sadness, to create something deeply moving and unexpectedly funny. Few movies I’ve seen strike the balance so honestly and effectively, and it’s just a great story that seems miraculously imaginative yet completely, believably mundane.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

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This year’s acting nominations may have put the #OscarsSoWhite issue on the back burner, but nominations aren’t enough. Some of these folks have to win! And they will, starting here with Moonlight‘s Mahershala Ali, who has nearly swept the circuit so far. He did endure two surprise, high-profile losses on his path to the Kodak Theatre — the Golden Globe went to Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Nocturnal Animals and the BAFTA went to Dev Patel for Lion. But Taylor-Johnson isn’t nominated for the Oscar, and Patel may have benefitted somewhat from a home field advantage in England, and perhaps even some lingering residual love for Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t see him repeating at the Oscars, and can’t really imagine any of these guys coming from behind to overtake Ali. If Jeff Bridges were still seeking his first win, things might be different. But he’s got an Oscar now, so I don’t expect him to collect a second this year, beloved as he is. He’ll get a fair share of votes, I’m sure, but Ali will be crowned the champ.

Personal: Mahershala Ali. My only hesitation is that the part is so small, and I’m always saying that roles should be larger than this to be worthy of an Oscar win. But Ali does so much so beautifully with his limited screentime, and his impact is felt even when he’s not there. His character defies the expected archetype, and Ali makes him wholly believable, speaking volumes while talking softly…and sometimes without talking at all.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

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This is your safest bet of the night. Viola Davis probably already has the Oscar at home, engraved, on her shelf, in need of a polish. The ceremony is just a sham for the public. Some may argue that she belongs in the lead actress category, but given the history with the role on Broadway, lead and supporting were both deemed legitimate pathways. In Best Actress, it might not have been so cut and dry. In Supporting Actress, her fellow nominees can’t compete. They’re all good, but Viola has more screentime, her character is easily the most fully drawn of the five, and she just plain totally crushes it. She’s deeply admired and respected by her peers, and this role seemed to be waiting for her to come along. I was disappointed when she didn’t win Best Actress for The Help, partly because she had such good odds and who knew if she’d come that close again. I’m glad I was wrong.

And she still should have won for The Help.

Personal: Viola’s time has come, and I’m right there with her.

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BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

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For the longest time, this was shaping up to be as sure a thing as Viola Davis: Casey Affleck won nearly every single award there was to win, cutting what looked like a clear path to the Oscar stage. Then last month, he was toppled at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards by Denzel Washington, and now this is being called one of the toughest races of the year to call. Since the first SAG Awards in 1994, only four times has the Best Actor winner not gone on to win the Oscar, and the last time was 2003. I throw that out there just for trivia; I put far less trust in those kinds of stats than other pundits. But it’s a fact that had many people shifting their prediction from Affleck to Washington.

The bigger threat is the renewed coverage of sexual harassment charges leveled at Affleck in 2010 by two female colleagues from I’m Not There, his mockumentary collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix. The situation was brought up here and there during Phase One of awards season, but didn’t gain much traction (which, as noted by many of the people who did cover it, stood in stark contrast to the controversy that erupted around Nate Parker and The Birth of a Nation). The chatter got a little louder right after the nominations were announced, most notably from Constance Wu, the lead actress on the hit ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Wu shamed the Academy for nominating Affleck, yet still the story didn’t blow up. But it could well be steadily simmering below the surface, and it’s impossible to know whether or not it will impact voters’ decisions significantly. Was it part of the reason Affleck lost the SAG award? Possibly. The reason could also have had less to do with denying Affleck than it did awarding Washington, who had never won a SAG award. The organization has occasionally leaned toward a greatly admired actor who has not previously won. In a tight Best Actress race, Julie Christie won the SAG award in 2007 for Away From Her; the Oscar went to Marion Cotillard. The same year, SAG’s Supporting Actress winner was Ruby Dee, but the Oscars chose Tilda Swinton. In 2002, Christopher Walken got the Supporting Actor SAG for Catch Me If You Can; Chris Cooper won the Oscar. SAG’s voters may simply have felt that Washington was due.

Affleck rebounded a few weeks later and won the BAFTA, which like SAG, has some crossover membership with the Academy. But Washington was not nominated for a BAFTA, so there’s that. Plus, he’s a two-time Oscar winner already, so voters who think about that sort of thing won’t feel any pressure to finally award one of the great actors of all time. And hey, maybe Washington won the SAG award because big, showy performances like the one he gives in Fences tend to capture more awards than quiet, inward ones like Affleck’s in Manchester by the Sea. Academy voters could go with Washington for the same reason. His performance is like a big, jagged bolt of lightning; Affleck’s is like the electric current running invisibly inside the wall.

Bottom line, this went from slam dunk to nailbiter. No doubt, Affleck will lose votes from people who can’t ignore his alleged behavior, regardless of their feelings about the performance. Yet controversies like this one haven’t stopped the Academy from handing Oscars to Roman Polanski or Woody Allen. Have things changed in the era of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief? One writer asked if Affleck could win in a post-women’s march world. I think he can. My gut tells me that despite the recent twist in the road, this will go down exactly the way it seemed destined to in the first place. In the end, Affleck will pull it off…but from other predictions I’ve seen so far, I appear to be in the minority.

Personal: I don’t have strong feelings about the outcome, surprisingly. I enjoyed all these performances tremendously, and consider Ryan Gosling’s the only one that doesn’t feel substantial enough to win. Judge me if you will, but part of me wants to see Affleck get it just because when someone wins pretty much everything along the way, it’s a bummer to see them lose in the end, no matter how predictable winning is at that point. But if Washington captured his first Oscar in 16 years, or Mortensen somehow shocked us all, I couldn’t argue.

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BEST ACTRESS
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

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When the critics were having their say, this was a race between Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert, with Portman looking like the Oscar frontrunner since Huppert faced the challenge of starring in a foreign language film with a difficult subject matter. Even with a surprise Golden Globe win over Portman in the Drama category, Huppert’s odds remain low. Portman’s have receded as well, however, with Jackie being embraced less enthusiastically by the Academy than by critics. Instead, it’s Emma Stone who’s emerged as the late-season frontrunner. Some thought as far back as November that she was right in the thick of it, but her fortunes seemed to fade as one critics group after another went with Portman and Huppert. Now Stone has come back from behind, fueled by winning the Golden Globe Musical/Comedy award, the SAG and the BAFTA. And everyone loves Emma Stone. They won’t vote for her just because of that, but if they were put off by divisive films like Jackie and Elle, they may feel okay about voting for Stone. Portman could still pull an upset, but at this point it looks like Emma’s got this. For those unsure how it will turn out, keep an eye on Best Original Song. Stone could triumph regardless of that outcome of course, but if it goes to “Audition,” she’s your winner.

Personal: As I said in my nominations post, I haven’t seen Elle. I hate going into Oscar night having not seen all the nominees in the main categories, but from what I know of that movie, I couldn’t stomach seeing in a theater. Of the remaining four, I’d pick Portman. Emma Stone is wonderful in La La Land, but I don’t see hers as an Oscar-winning performance. Portman, on the other hand, did transformative work. That odd Jackie Bouvier accent did some of the heavy-lifting, but there’s a lot more than that going on in her work. She presents us with a woman who has played the passive role of doting wife, hostess, and First Lady, then swiftly finds her strength and resilience when confronted with the shock and horror of her husband’s assassination. Portman shows us Jackie’s grief and uncertainly mingling with the need to step up and control how JFK’s death and the immediate aftermath are seen by the world and immortalized by history. Her performance is fiery and understated all at once.

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BEST DIRECTOR
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

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Damien Chazelle won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA and most importantly, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award, which has failed to augur the Oscar winner only seven times in its 69 years…and in three of those cases, the DGA winner wasn’t nominated for the Oscar. In fact, in the entire grand game that is Oscar predicting, the DGA is the most meaningful precursor. So considering his victory there, and the general acclaim for La La Land, Chazelle is the man to beat. The only one who can is Barry Jenkins. As I said in the Adapted Screenplay section, I think there are a lot of Academy members who want Jenkins to go home with an Oscar. I said he’ll get a lot of votes for the Screenplay — more than he will here, I think — but he will get a lot of votes here. Probably not enough to overtake Chazelle, but this is a politically tumultuous year where voters looking to not just honor great filmmaking but also make a statement (we’ll get into that a bit more in a minute) could do both by voting for Jenkins.

Personal: I admit to favoring directors who take the helm of epic productions with physical and visual challenges and a daring that extends beyond the narrative and into the production itself. So while I recognize the skill involved in directing character-driven dramas like Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight, I’m inevitably drawn to something like La La Land, which makes Chazelle my choice. But I would have no problem seeing Barry Jenkins take this. He created a small miracle with Moonlight, and it’s a beautiful and assured piece of work. (Of course, so is La La Land. Ack! Making choices is hard.)

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BEST PICTURE
Arrival – Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, David Linde
Fences – Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Todd Black
Hacksaw Ridge – Bill Mechanic, David Permut
Hell or High Water – Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn
Hidden Figures – Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin & Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, Theodore Melfi
La La Land – Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt
Lion – Emile Sherman & Iain Canning, Angie Fielder
Manchester By the Sea – Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, Kevin Walsh
Moonlight – Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner

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Since Best Picture and Best Director usually go to the same movie, our starting point is that La La Land is the presumptive winner. Not that Chazelle’s Best Director odds alone are boosting La La Land to frontrunner status. The movie’s been thrilling audiences in and out of the industry since it first debuted at the Venice Film Festival in August, landing at the Telluride and Toronto festivals a few weeks later. Although it didn’t actually come out until early December, it has been considered the probable film to beat ever since those early festivals, and that status has been solidified with victories at the Golden Globes (Musical/Comedy), BAFTA and PGA Awards. Many pundits look to the PGA award in the same way they look at the DGA, particularly because in 2009, the PGA adopted the same voting procedure — the preferential ballot — that is used to determine the Best Picture Oscar. Since then, only last year did the PGA winner not go on to take the Oscar. (The PGA had a tie in 2013; one of the two winners — 12 Years a Slave — got the Oscar.

Is there any reason to think La La Land could lose? Well, sure…we can almost find reasons to doubt and wonder. This year, there’s that politics factor. Things are pretty ugly in the world right now. The movies people choose to support — be they “regular” people deciding what to see on a Saturday night or journalists and filmmakers voting for awards — reflect the times, and so the question this year is whether voters want escapism or want to make a statement. La La Land represents escapism. It would be unfair to dismiss the movie as fluff or ignore the honest things it has to say about art and love and the difficult choices some people make between the two. It may arrive at a bittersweet conclusion, but by and large La La Land makes people feel good. Members who want their vote to speak for their conscience could choose movies that celebrate the sort of characters who are undervalued or victimized in our current political climate. Moonlight‘s protagonist is a gay black boy trying to navigate a confusing world. Hidden Figures shines a light on brilliant African-American women who played a major role in launching Americans into space. Lion follows an Indian boy separated from his family and eventually raised by adoptive parents in Tasmania, who years later falls into an obsessive search to find his home. Hell or High Water involves the corruption of banks and the power they hold over ordinary, struggling people. Fences celebrates those people too, those left behind by institutions that saw them as less than. Arrival focuses on the importance of working across cultures — both earthly and extraterrestrial — to achieve a common, positive goal…and how refusal to cooperate could doom us all. So…there are a lot of ways Academy members could use their vote this year to say something that matters.

Still, of all these movies, Moonlight is the only one that could take down La La Land. I could stretch that and call Hidden Figures an incredible long shot, but for all of its pleasures and for highlighting a tragically unknown piece of history, it’s a pretty standard piece of entertainment by Oscar’s yardstick. Consider too, that a victory for Moonlight (or Hidden Figures or Fences) would be the ultimate rebuke to the last two years of #OscarsSoWhite. La La Land, after all, is pretty damn white…not that I think cries of racism will be too prevalent this year if La La Land takes the top two prizes. Oh, and on that point, could we see a Director/Picture split this year? It’s happened 24 times in Oscar’s 88 years, last year being the most recent. If it were to happen this year, which way would it go? Barry Jenkins wins Best Director but La La Land takes Best Picture? Or Moonlight for Picture and Damien Chazelle for Director? In 2013, Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for Gravity, which boasted incredible technical and visual achievements, while Best Picture went to the powerful, human-scale drama of 12 Years a Slave. Could we see a similar situation this year?

Maybe. Surprises can always happen, but after spinning all of this supposition, the smart money is on things going exactly as the momentum indicates they will…and the momentum is with La La Land.

Personal: When I add up all of the beautiful individual elements of La La Land, I have arrive at that as the movie to which I’m most partial. But Moonlight is exquisite and it would be really wonderful to see something so delicate and humanist win Best Picture. So I’m split between the two. And I loved Manchester by the Sea as well.

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THE REST
As usual, I can be of little help with Best Documentary Feature, Best Foreign Language Film, or the animated, live-action and documentary shorts. O.J.: Made in America appears to be the favorite for Documentary Feature, assuming voters made time for all eight hours of it. If not, look for I Am Not Your Negro or 13th to step up. As for Foreign Language Film, I haven’t detected a consensus, but I do know that there’s been a movement encouraging people to vote for Iran’s entry, The Salesman, as a middle finger to our Infant-in-Chief’s Muslim travel ban. Before the ban was struck down, the film’s director, Asghar Farhadi — whose excellent film A Separation won this award in 2011 — stated that even if accommodations were made that enabled him to attend, he would not, in protest of the policy. Although he could come now, he has chosen not to, saying he will be represented by two prominent Iranian-Americans. I know The Salesman was well-received, and maybe it would have won if none of this nonsense had happened. If it does win, there will be no way to know if the bulk of votes it collected were because it was members’ favorite movie among the five or because they wanted to make a statement. In my eyes, people should vote for the movie they think is the best, and not for something different because they think it will send a message. In this case especially, the people who need to hear the message won’t be listening, and even if they were, they don’t care. There are better, more effective ways to protest.

Regardless of whether or not this category becomes a political moment during the ceremony, we can definitely expect it to be a politically-charged evening, where many artists will mix their gratitude with expressions of dismay about the state of the world and our nation, and call for peace, tolerance and love. This is anathema to many, who think celebrities should keep their mouths shut when it comes to politics and that award show acceptance speeches (and presentations) should focus on the honors at hand and nothing more. But I’m all for some impassioned commentary on Oscar night. It will certainly make for a more interesting and more emotional show than listening to winner after winner recite a list of names. If the Academy or the ABC Network are worried about this, they shouldn’t be. Awards season so far has been marked by such speeches, most prominently Meryl Streep’s instant-classic takedown of the Asshole-in-Chief at the Golden Globe Awards, and the amazing, rousing call to arms from David Harbour on behalf of the Stranger Things cast when they won Best Ensemble in a Drama Series at the SAG Awards.

These memorable moments have only helped their respective shows by bringing them more attention and generating momentous web traffic. Many other speeches at both events found winners speaking to our fractured times. At the Academy’s annual Nominee’s Luncheon earlier this month, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs addressed travel ban-related absences and set a tone for a political Oscar night. Film journalists like Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman and past Oscar winners like novelist John Irving have written opinion pieces to encourage winners to speak their minds. A few days ago, Michael Moore reflected on his controversial speech from 2003 when he won Best Documentary for Bowling for Columbine days after President Bush launched the war in Iraq, and was essentially booed off the stage. This came a day after Yahoo! published a detailed account of how Moore’s infamous moment came to pass. Just on Friday, the directors of the five Best Foreign Language Film nominees released a joint statement calling for “freedom of expression and human dignity.” Politics have a long history of finding their way into the Oscars, and this year promises to be rife with examples.

JIMMY
Despite the potential for fireworks, it’s still an awards show at the end of the day, and it needs to be fun. With Jimmy Kimmel as host, that shouldn’t be a problem. He pulled hosting duties at the Emmy Awards last fall and hit a home run. Terrific cold open…

…terrific monologue…

…and many terrific moments throughout the evening.

(If you don’t get it, you didn’t watch the monologue video).

We can also expect Kimmel to have some fun with his nemesis Matt Damon, who will be in attendance as one of the nominated producers of Manchester by the Sea. Damon crashed the Emmys in brilliant fashion, and no doubt Kimmel will be looking for revenge.

He should more than up to the task of keeping the show entertaining, though it must be said that late night’s other Jimmy threw down the gauntlet with his cold open at the Golden Globes, so Kimmel has his work cut out for him on that front.

Alright, I’ve left you precious little time to mentally prepare for the big night, so I will finally leave you at peace and wish your choices good luck, unless they conflict with my choices, in which case screw you. Here’s a ballot if you still need one, and one last video that you’ve probably seen already, but I’ll include anyway because it’s great and has some fun with a certain bound-for-glory musical.

February 19, 2017

Oscars 2016: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 6:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Class of 2016 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and actually see who these people are.)

Complete List Of Nominees

With everything going on in the world, it seems particularly frivolous to spend the kind of time I do writing about, reading about, and thinking about the Academy Awards. But I’m much better equipped to talk about this than I am about the more important things going on, and since there are countless people vastly more qualified to discuss and dissect and spotlight those things — some of those people in my very own family — I’m going to stick with what I’m good at and focus on something that makes me happy, since every day there are a dozen reasons to cry.

Actually, that may not be the most ideal way to draw the line, since looking at recent movies also gives us a dozen reasons to cry. Lion, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea — which delivers one of the most devastating scenes of this year, or last year, or 1983, or 1971…I could go on — these are just some of the movies that lately gave us reasons to cry. But these are cathartic tears, the kind made possible by art’s capacity to move us. Good tears, in other words.

Once again, I’m pretty late with this post – external forces are partly to blame this time — but Oscar voting only started last Monday and closes on Tuesday, so somehow I feel like that lets me off the hook a little bit. I’m not sure why voting didn’t start much sooner after the nominees were announced, but oh well. We’re here now. Phase Two of awards season began at the unfathomable hour of 5:18am on Tuesday, January 24, when the nominees were unveiled in a two-part video produced by the Academy. This was a departure from the tradition of having the nominees announced live by the Academy President and an actor or actress in a room full of journalists and publicists at the unfathomable hour of 5:38am. The video featured past Oscar winner and nominees — including Marcia Gay Harden, Ken Watanabe, Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and writer/director Jason Reitman — talking about their experiences, interspersed with a lady robot reading off the nominations in each category. It was a nice experiment, but maybe could be adjusted in the future, as it wasn’t entirely successful. The interviews included some trite, “most amazing moment of my life” kind of recollections, and the revelation of the nominees themselves were even more dry than they typically are in the live format. At least with an audience you get some gasps and cheers. Here, just that alarmingly neutral female voice. There weren’t even pictures of the films or actors as each nominee was read. There’s got to be a way to have a little more fun with this kind of format, and to maybe get a couple of those participating actors to actually read the nominees. Filming ahead of time obviously makes that difficult since the nominees can not be revealed until that morning, but making magic is what Hollywood does. I believe in you, Academy! And whatever you do, bring back Gabourey Sidibe, cause she was the best part of this thing.

As for the nominations themselves, I was a pretty happy man that morning, as much as I can be at the unfathomable hour of 5:18. Not only did I do pretty well with my predictions, but there were several cases where I might have missed a call but found one of my personal picks nominated instead. There were at least three times where I audibly exclaimed, and I don’t remember that happening in many an early Oscar morning. Of the 19 categories in which I made predictions, I went 100% in five (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Animated Feature, Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and missed by one in 11. I’m good with that.

Here are some thoughts I had on certain categories…

BEST PICTURE
These Best Picture numbers keep getting the best of me. After three years of nine nominees beginning in 2011, I continued predicting nine, but the last two years yielded only eight. So this year I went with eight…and they nominated nine. I did get those eight correct, and right up until publication I was debating whether to add Hidden Figures —and whether to add it as a ninth, or slide it in and take out Fences or Hacksaw Ridge. I decided to stick with eight and keep my initial list intact, but it was great to see Hidden Figures included. It’s a satisfying crowdpleaser bolstered by terrific reviews and genuine social and historical significance that hit its stride at exactly the right time, in the middle of the voting period. The rest of the line-up went as pundits seemed to expect. I could have seen Fences or Hacksaw Ridge having lost enough momentum to be passed over, but they held on.

BEST DIRECTOR
As is usually the case, the Academy’s picks did not perfectly align with those made by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), and I was correct that it would be Lion helmer Garth Davis who missed the cut. I thought Martin Scorsese might get the fifth slot, but instead it went to another previous winner, Mel Gibson. This seemed to surprise many people, but not me so much. The industry’s warm embrace of Hacksaw Ridge since its early November debut, and Gibson’s inclusion in the award season melee — from Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations to a seat at The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual roundtable of directors — were high-profile evidence that the industry had accepted Gibson back into the fold and moved on from the public displays of bad behavior that so damaged his reputation over the past decade.

Then again, Gibson was never quite the pariah during these past years that everyone seems to think he was. He’s always had A-list friends in his corner — like Jodie Foster and Robert Downey, Jr. — who stood by him and expressed their firm belief that the person who did and said those things is not the person Gibson is at heart. Beyond that, he continued to find employment. Foster directed him in the The Beaver; he starred in the Warner Bros. revenge thriller Edge of Darkness, which was a modest hit in 2010; and he took on the antagonist roles in the popcorn action flicks Machete Kills and The Expendables 3. They aren’t exactly Hamlet, but they have an audience. So Gibson never fully went away; he just hasn’t been this openly welcomed in a long time. Perhaps the applause that greet his name when this category comes up on Oscar night will be a bit quieter than that of his fellow nominees; surely not everyone in the room will have forgotten past events. Or maybe his name will be greeted as enthusiastically as the others. The fact that he got the nomination is a victory.

I also need to mention Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and how great it is to see him score his first Oscar nomination (he directed 2010 Best Foreign Language Film nominee Incendies, but that award goes to the country, not the filmmaker, so although he would have accepted the prize had the movie won, he wasn’t the nominee). I’ve been high on Villeneuve since he landed on my radar with his 2013 kidnapping drama Prisoners, and he was among my personal picks in this category last year for Sicario. This guy is a fantastic director, fully in command of the medium and the stories he’s telling. He wasn’t among my personal choices this year, but I only recently had the chance to watch Arrival for a second time, and I definitely got more out of it this time. I might have included it personally in several categories if I’d had a chance to see it twice before the nominations. Whether I would have included him or not, I’m excited by his nomination.

BEST ACTOR
Of the five nominees, Viggo Mortensen was the one who felt the most vulnerable going in, even with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination under his belt. But he made it, along his four fellow SAG contenders, and I have to acknowledge it, because Viggo Mortensen is awesome. A great actor and class act all the way (scroll to the end of this recent interview for his story about the dinner he organized for his Captain Fantastic kids after the SAG Awards). He’s one of those actors — Sigourney Weaver, Ed Harris, Bill Murray and Michael Keaton are others that come to mind — who I really really want to see win an Oscar, so with every new role they take on that sounds like it has that sort of potential, I get excited for them and hope that the movie and performance are good enough, and catch the right wave of attention and bring them into the award season orbit. He’s not going to win, but I love that he got the nomination.

I was also happy to see Andrew Garfield score his first nomination. It should have been his second, but he missed out in 2010 for The Social Network. His character is Hacksaw Ridge is a tricky one, so unflappably earnest and pure that he could have come off as laughable. But Garfield found his way into the character’s core and sold the role 100% and then some. It’s been great to see him celebrated for it throughout the season.

BEST ACTRESS
The biggest surprise of the morning in terms of an expected nomination that did not come to pass was easily Amy Adams’ absence from the Best Actress list. It’s perplexing for a couple of reasons. One, as I mentioned in the previous post, the Academy adores Adams. Two, the movie was obviously embraced across the Academy, with recognition above the line — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay — and below the line, from Cinematography to Sound Mixing. Given how central her performance and her character’s emotional state is to the entire fabric of the movie, her omission is rather stunning. With nominations not only from nearly every critics organization during Phase One, but also from key bodies like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (distributor of the Golden Globes), BFCA, SAG and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Adams was considered nearly as sure a thing as sure things Natalie Portman and Emma Stone.

We have to remember, though, that each branch nominates its own, so looking at all the other mentions Arrival earned doesn’t ultimately matter. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, and although Adams missed out amongst her peers, I’d wager she collected plenty of votes and came awfully close to making the list.

The question of who took Adams’ perceived spot has a different answer depending on how you saw the nominations going. Some might say it was Elle‘s Isabelle Huppert. By this point in the season, however, I felt Huppert was a good bet. So to me, the surprise is Ruth Negga. She didn’t came out-of-nowhere, having remained consistently in the mix since Loving‘s early November release (in fact the buzz for her and the movie really started last May at the Cannes Film Festival). But given the number of compelling performances that could have been nominated this year, Negga had become a longer shot, and she represents the only nomination received by Loving. I was thrilled to see her recognized, as she was one of my personal picks, but it was a fiercely competitive field, and any number of actresses deserved a spot only to miss out. Chief among them in my eyes are Rebecca Hall and Annette Bening. It was never expected to happen for Hall, unfortunately, but Bening was firmly in the running, so her omission is tough to take. She’s wonderful in 20th Century Women — dry, relaxed, introspective…I’ve never seen her play anyone quite like the character she plays here, and I’m sad she wasn’t honored for it.

I certainly would have preferred to see Bening over Meryl Streep, who earned her 20th nomination, breaking a record previously held by Meryl Streep. I love Meryl as much as anyone, and I enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins quite a bit — more than I expected to. I have nothing bad to say about Streep’s performance; there was just stronger work this year that deserved recognition.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
One the most pleasant surprises among this year’s nominations was Michael Shannon, recognized for his intense, oddly comedic and sad portrayal of a West Texas detective working a case sometimes outside the boundaries of the law. Shannon earned strong reviews and awards buzz when the movie came out, but as the season unfolded it was his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson who took people by surprise with the most visible recognition (though Shannon was nominated by the BFCA). Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award, and pulled off a huge upset by winning the former. That had led most pundits to expect that if anyone from Nocturnal Animals managed a nomination, it would be him. So it came somewhat out of left-field when Shannon’s name closed out the Academy’s list of Supporting Actor nominees. It’s the actor’s second nomination — his first was in 2008 for Revolutionary Road, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates — and in both cases he came up from behind as a long shot. Many people thought he’d be in the running last year for the drama 99 Homes after he earned Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nominations. It didn’t happen, but his peers celebrated him this year even without any of those accolades boosting his visibility. The nomination is even more surprising because it represents the only one collected by Nocturnal Animals, a film which several other organizations honored in multiple categories. BAFTA was especially high on it, citing it in nine races.

If anyone is seen as missing out at Shannon’s expense, it’s probably Hugh Grant. He received career-best notices for his work opposite Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, and odds looked good for him to receive his first nomination. Some pundits seem to think that category confusion may have cost him the honor, as his Golden Globe nomination came for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) while his other nominations – SAG and BAFTA among them – were for Supporting Actor. I’m not convinced this was a factor. The Golden Globes have a bit more room to play with given their separation of drama and comedy, but Grant’s role pretty clearly is a Supporting one, and I’d be surprised if those Academy voters who did include him on their ballots did so in the Lead Actor category vs. Supporting.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cheers to the writers for honoring the bizarre and imaginative screenplay for The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. It didn’t pick up any other nominations, but its premise and execution had to earn it a place here. Hell or High Water, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea were all favorites, but it was tough trying to surmise what might get the fifth spot. I guessed Captain Fantastic, and I know that was a popular choice among other players of this game. I’d have been pleased with that, but I was also happy to see Mike Mills nominated for 20th Century Women, which begins with the great idea of a single mother enlisting the help of two other women in her life to help educate her teenage son in how to be a good man. Mills’ mother was the inspiration for Annette Bening’s character, just as his father inspired the character that Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing in Mills’ previous film, Beginners. His script is personal, warm, and generous to all of its characters. Terrific choice by the branch.

It’s also worth pointing out that Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan got his first nomination, a year after missing out for Sicario, which as mentioned above was directed by Denis Villeneuve. That movie should have brought nominations for both of them. Nice to see them both here this year.

BEST FILM EDITING
I was a little surprised to see Manchester by the Sea miss out on this. This category tends to include the leading Best Picture nominees whether or not they seem to feature the most effective editing, but Manchester does take a somewhat non-linear approach to its story by withholding details of the event that defines Casey Affleck’s character when we meet him. It isn’t until midway through the film that we learn what happened to him, and even then the story is doled out in small fragments within a single sequence.

One nomination of note: Joi Mcmillan, co-editor of Moonlight, becomes the first African-American woman nominated for an Oscar in this category. With the #OscarsSoWhite movement still active in calling attention to the scarcity of women and people of color in behind-the-scenes positions, this recognition is great to see.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Another of my audible exclamations on the morning of the nominations came when Passengers was nominated for Best Production Design. Not only was it among my five personal picks, but I specifically made a point of praising the movie’s design and wondering why no one was talking about it as a contender in this area despite the Academy’s frequent recognition of more traditional “spaceship” movies. Too often, movies that aren’t seen as the Academy’s cup of tea are overlooked in areas where they nevertheless stand out, and not given the consideration they deserve. Although it was released at the height of awards season, Passengers was always a commercial play more than an awards one, but good for Academy voters who gave it a look and recognized its achievement in specific areas, regardless of its overall reception or its intended audience. Further demonstrating the movie’s achievement in this realm: The Art Directors Guild handed Passengers the prize in their Fantasy category, where it topped Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

This is one of two categories where my predictions were off by two; I got Arrival, La La Land and Fantastic Beasts; I missed Jackie and Silence. But those two slots went to Passengers and another of my personal picks, Hail, Caesar! (its sole nomination), so I have no complaints.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The nominees here include Jackie, a movie I would have nominated in several categories (sorry, Aunt Geri). This, however, was not one of them, even if it was among my predictions. I would agree that Jackie boasts some of the most striking and beautiful costumes onscreen this year, but when many of those costumes are re-creations of already famous outfits — even iconic, in the case of the pink suit from the day of the assassination — then it irks me to see the results, however impressive, honored over work that didn’t have the benefit of countless photographs and even film footage to guide the design team. While clothes that Mrs. Kennedy wore in more private moments might have had to be imagined, many if not most of the outfits in Jackie are based on things actually worn by the former First Lady and those around her. I don’t want to minimize the difficulties, challenges or ultimate achievement that go into re-creating the design elements — be they costumes or sets — of true-life events, but when you’re singling out the five best achievements of the year, it has always seemed unfair to me when films that had the advantage of historical evidence are celebrated over original works.

Original work like the kind featured in Kubo and the Two Strings, whose vestiary praises I sung in the previous post. Failing to nominate the exceptional work in Kubo — which would have made it the first animated film to receive such an honor, though not the first to deserve it — was a huge missed opportunity for the Costume Design branch. I would love to know if it got a lot of votes and lost by a small number, or if there weren’t many voters who gave it serious consideration. I have to believe the former, because I don’t see how anyone who works as a costume designer and takes their craft seriously could fail to pay due attention to such sumptuous work.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG
In the previous post I mentioned that with so many strong contenders in the mix, the category probably couldn’t handle three songs from La La Land, which would mean the exclusion of John Legend’s contribution, “Start a Fire.” However I had forgotten the current rule that no more than two songs from a movie can get nominated, so as it turned out the category really couldn’t handle three. But the two expected tunes from La La Land — “City of Stars” and  “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — made the cut. With 91 songs to choose from, there are obviously a lot of ways for this category to go, but I’m pretty disappointed by the absence of Sia’s “Never Give Up” from Lion and especially “Drive It Like You Stole It” from the sadly underseen Sing Street – omissions that are all the more frustrating when they were partially kept at bay by Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls. Okay, everyone loves JT, and the song was an instant hit when it came out last May (seven months before the movie’s release, to capitalize on its summery vibe). It was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S., and it’s fun and energizing and will probably make for a great production number on Oscar night that will have the crowd grooving. But c’mon, this song is the the sugariest stick of bubblegum you could imagine. I’m not saying a song has to be deep or particularly substantive to deserve an Oscar nomination, but “Drive It Like You Stole It” is just as infectious as “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — more so, to my ear — and definitely more interesting lyrically. It doesn’t strive to be much more than a catchy pop song either, but it has a little bit more to say than “feel the music, get up and dance.”

Oh well. What’s done is done. But you should go watch Sing Street. Right now.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Another of my most pleasant nomination surprises came in this category, and once again it was for Passengers. I mentioned Thomas Newman’s score in my predictions post, but didn’t think it had much of a chance. I even lamented that I pushed it off of my personal picks, but it was right there for me, essentially on even ground with the five scores I did pick as my own choices. Newman is Hollywood royalty (his father Alfred is one of the most famous film composers of all time, whose work includes this brief but iconic piece) and a beloved composer who has been nominated in this category 12 times before (and maddeningly, is still seeking his first win). Whether or not his stature among his peers helped him this year or they just dug the music, it was a nomination I was happy to see. Ditto for Mica Levi’s Jackie score, which was also one of my personal picks, but one I thought might be too odd and untraditional to penetrate deeply enough into the ranks of the music branch. Happily, they surprised me. Less happily, they also surprised me by passing over Abel Korzeniowski’s lush, romantic Nocturnal Animals score, which has a classic, old-school Hollywood feel that I thought would be a big appeal to this crowd. Maybe it was, but not enough so to crack the final five.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Most people with an interest in visual effects were probably surprised by the inclusion of Deepwater Horizon, and I would have been too had I not attended the branch’s Bake-Off event, as I discussed in the previous post. Hearing the VFX supervisor talk about his team’s work made me realize how deserving the movie was, and I was glad the voters felt the same way. The bigger question mark was whether or not they would honor the stop-motion animated Kubo and the Two Strings. I wasn’t sure they would, as my predictions showed, nor was I sure they should, as my commentary expressed. But despite my mixed feelings, I have to say that seeing the movie show up on the list of nominees brought me a big smile. Even though I didn’t include it among my personal picks, I knew what a triumph it was for everyone up at Laika Entertainment to receive this nomination — only the second ever for an animated film.

I thought the spot that ended up going to Kubo would be given to Arrival, given the branch’s frequent tendency to nominate at least one “prestige” film. Among the ten films left in the running when the Bake-Off was held, Arrival was the only one in serious running for Best Picture and other top awards, so history led me to expect it among the final five. The movie’s visual effects look great, but in a tough year that also could have resulted in deserved nominations for Passengers and Captain America: Civil War, I think the final picks represent a terrific array of work.

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BEST SOUND MIXING AND BEST SOUND EDITING

When discussing the sound categories in my predictions post, and the wide array of films from which they could come, I named 16 titles that I thought represented the field. Even with that many, I still left one off that ended up getting nominated for Sound Mixing: Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, a movie that came out way the hell back in January 2016, the day after last year’s Oscar nominations were announced. I was an idiot not to have kept this movie on my radar; Bay’s movies tend to do well in the sound categories, and had I remembered it, I definitely would have had it among my list of movies to consider, whether or not I’d have ultimately predicted a nomination. So that was a glaring oversight on my part.

I didn’t include La La Land in my predictions for Sound Editing because musicals and music-centric movies never get nominated here. Sound Mixing, yes. Sound Editing, no. I knew this movie could potentially be the one to change that, but I went with precedent. Sure enough, it came through, pushing La La Land to a record-tying 14 nominations, and ruining all future chances when making predictions in this category of saying, “Musicals never get nominated for Sound Editing.” So thanks for that, Academy. As if this isn’t hard enough…

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
As usual, I didn’t make predictions in this category, having not seen any of the films in the mix. But I was aware of the movies in the running, and aware that one of the most frequent winners from critic’s groups was O.J.: Made in America, a nearly eight-hour sociological deep dive into the life, professional career and downfall of O.J. Simpson. The project was created for television as part of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, but because it was briefly exhibited in movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles, it qualified for Oscar consideration and made the cut. Count me among the contingent that finds this unfair. Yes, technically the movie qualifies. But this was not created to be a theatrical documentary, and it’s not right that other films — which were intended to be films (not epic television projects) and had to work within a traditional theatrical running time — should have to be measured against a piece that had hours more to explore its subject and tell its story. Regardless of how good it is – and by all accounts it’s an incredible piece of work – it shouldn’t be considered alongside other films whose directors had to make harder choices about what to sacrifice and what to focus on. The movie is considered the frontrunner, but if I were one of the other nominated filmmakers, I’d find it extremely frustrating not to be judged on a relatively even playing field.

On a more positive note, the great Ava DuVernay — who should have been a Best Director nominee in 2014 for Selma — is a nominee now for her doc 13th, which argues that the mass incarceration of African-Americans is effectively the continuation of slavery. Hopefully this is the first of many Oscar nominations DuVernay will collect in time. (By the way, 13th‘s distributor Netflix has addressed the disparity in running time with O.J.: Made in America by putting out billboards and banner ads that highlight its more traditional length.)

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Now then…I can’t wrap this post up without commenting on one aspect of this year’s nominations that has already been frequently-discussed. Much of the reporting in the minutes and days after the announcement centered on the inclusion of several actors of color among the nominees, as well as three films in the Best Picture category focused on African-American characters. Many outlets were quick to declare #OscarsSoWhite a thing of the past. This year’s nominations indeed take us in the direction we should be heading, but let’s not be too quick to declare Hollywood a post-racial paradise of inclusion.

First of all, none of these movies — Moonlight, Fences or Hidden Figures — arrived in theaters as a reaction to the past two years’ unfortunate lack of diverse stories and performers nominated for Oscars. Movies take a long time to make. They take a long time to write, a long time to gestate and develop, and a long time to land financing. That’s all before the cast and crew takes shape and the movie actually gets shot and then edited and assembled in post-production. It doesn’t happen in a year’s time. It seldom happens in even two years’ time. That means these movies were already in the works. If anything, they may have been put on an accelerated track for release to ensure they hit theaters within a year of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but whenever they were going to arrive, the important thing to remember is that they were going to arrive.    Whether or not they would have gained traction with the Academy in a different year would be subject to all the other movies in the mix, but you can safely bet they would all still have been in play. The fact remains, however, that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will be hiding in the wings, ready to be dusted off and displayed again anytime the year’s most celebrated movies do not reflect the diversity of the real world.

Of course, directing that rallying cry at the Oscars was misguided from the start, as the problem is not with the Oscars but with the studios and producers who decide with their millions of dollars what movies get made. The more movies depicting varied cultural, racial and sexual characters and experiences, the more likely that audiences will find those movies, that critics will champion those movies, and that award-giving bodies will honor those movies. It’s all about what gets made. That’s where the focus should be. The Academy has been making big moves toward diversity for longer than the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has existed, and as positive and important as those moves are, they’re not going to solve the problem of more diverse representation at the Oscars. So by all means, enjoy the representation featured among this year’s  nominees, but don’t yet claim the battle for diversity is won. Let’s see how things look in two years, four years and beyond. That’s the test.

Now with that said, let’s end things on a fun note…assuming that you find any of this fun. Each year in my Favorite Movies of the Year post, I put forth some nominations for Oscar categories that don’t exist but are fun to consider. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to complete one of those posts since the 2013 list, so I’m transferring my fake Oscar categories here instead. From my one-man Academy, which is not bound by the five-roster rule, my categories and nominees are:

BEST POSTER

[Larger Versions: The Birth of a Nation (Noose); The Birth of a Nation (Flag); Patriots Day; Certain Women; 13th; The Handmaiden; Jackie; Pride & Prejudice & Zombies; De Palma]

BEST TRAILER
Fences (Teaser #1); La La Land (City of Stars Teaser); La La Land (Audition Teaser); Zoolander 2 (Teaser)

BEST CASTING
Captain Fantastic – Jeanne McCarthy
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin, Richard Hicks
Indignation – Avy Kaufman
Little Men – Avy Kaufman
Loving – Francine Maisler
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez
Other People – Allison Jones
Silence – Ellen Lewis

BEST ENSEMBLE
20th Century Women; A Bigger Splash; Captain Fantastic; Fences; Hidden Figures; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight; Nocturnal Animals; Other People; Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Julian Dennison – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Sunny Pawar – Lion
Lewis McDougall – A Monster Calls
Angourie Rice – The Nice Guys
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
Neel Sethi – The Jungle Book
Hayden Setzo – The Edge of Seventeen
Theo Taplitz – Little Men

BEST BODY OF WORK
Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Moonlight)
Michael Shannon (Complete Unknown, Midnight Special, Loving, Nocturnal Animals)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Arrival, Doctor Strange, Miles Ahead, Miss Sloane)
Rachel Weisz (Complete Unknown, Denial, The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster)
The Woods (Captain Fantastic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Jungle Book, The Lobster, Pete’s Dragon, Swiss Army Man, The Witch)

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
20th Century Women; Deadpool; Everybody Wants Some!; La La Land; Sing Street

BEST OPENING CREDITS
10 Cloverfield Lane; Deadpool; Nocturnal Animals; A Monster Calls

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
A Bigger Splash; Deadpool; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings

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