It’s Oscar (Nod) Time Again: Nomination Predictions, 2018

E:  If Sunday’s SAG awards are to be believed, then there’s not much mystery left in the Oscar race outside of Best Picture.  No, even with Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’s win we’re not any closer to a clear Best Picture champion, but the acting races seem all but locked in.  Nothing but six weeks of winner fatigue or an unforeseen disaster could stop the inexorable march to the podium of those four actors.

And that’s why nomination morning is so much more fun for me, even after last year’s crazy Oscar night.  The real insanity last year wasn’t the overturning of the presumed favorite – the roughly once-a-decade shocker of a Crash overtaking Brokeback Mountain, or Shakespeare in Love besting Saving Private Ryan – but the added drama of the wrong envelope. Which is to say, sure, sometimes the awards don’t go to the people or films we expect, but that’s more of an exception than a rule.  There’s a decent proportion of surprises that always occur during the nominations, however; at least a few people who made every list will get left off this big one.

So let’s try and figure out who they are, shall we?

Supporting Actor

Your Likely Winner:

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Fellow Nominee and Runner Up:

Willem DaFoe, The Florida Project

Solid Shots:

Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name

Woodie Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside of Epping, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Outside Shots:

Steve Carrell, Battle of the Sexes

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name

My Picks: Rockwell, Dafoe, Jenkins, Harrelson, and Plummer

Alternate: Hammer

I’m going to say it right here: I was underwhelmed by Rockwell in this film.  I was underwhelmed by Rockwell AND this film, actually.  I’ve liked him since Galaxy Quest, and it’s apparently a feeling shared by the entire industry, who seem eager to award the never nominated character actor for this scenery-chewing role.

It’s not that I needed his character to be admirable, because we’ve had plenty of great/horrific villains in this category, and we all love a good villain. To me Rockwell’s performance in a divisive film felt watered down and reductive; Officer Dixon doesn’t tell me much that felt either new or true about police officers who commit racial atrocities.  We’re told he’s a racist but are shown no instances of it, a callow device which preserves the possibility of the audience’s regard and empathy for the character despite plenty of on-screen brutality motivated by other things.  (Instead there seems to be a largely unaddressed, stereotypical sexual component to his violence, which adds to my discomfort without making the character feel sufficiently complex.  He’s violent because his mother is mean!  He’s violent because he’s in the closet!)  His attempt at redemption doesn’t ring true to me; the endeavor devolves into nothing more than vigilantism, which to be honest has been exactly the character’s problem from the start.  Which is to say, I didn’t love the structure of his character’s arc in the film, and I don’t feel like the character has enough nuance or provided enough insight into his situation to merit all this attention.  And if nothing else, it’s really a lead performance, not a supporting one.

But what I think doesn’t matter in this circumstance;  he’s in, and he’s almost certainly going to win the Oscar as he has the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice and the SAG.  In his first run at an awards season, the industry favorite is sweeping the tables.  There’s a backlash building against the sudden momentum the film picked up, but it seems unlikely to affect the nominations; with so many important groups giving out their awards before the Oscar nods are even announced, we won’t have much of a clue if sentiments change substantially in the next six weeks.

Willem Dafoe’s motel caretaker is actually the critics’ favorite rather than an industry one, and as often happens, he won more of the early awards given out by groups like the New York and L.A. Film Critics. Momentum switched on Golden Globe night to the popular Rockwell, but Dafoe will still receive his third nomination, more than thirty years after first being recognized for his work in Platoon.

After those two fellows, we have four actors who’ve split the nomination shortlists.  Armie Hammer received a Golden Globe nomination for his work as the grad student/lover in Call Me By Your Name, along with Plummer (the merciless, greedy patriarch) and the once nominated Jenkins (The Shape of Water‘s kindly neighbor).  Hammer and Jenkins made the Critics’ Choice.  Two time nominees Harrelson and Plummer made the BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Oscars which has the largest crossover of membership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Harrelson and Jenkins made the Screen Actors Guild list.  So, as you can see, it’s a bit of a toss up.  I’m not tremendously solid about which of my choices will receive the coveted nomination, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Hammer make the cut over any of his three competitors.

It occurs to me that this slate of nominees might give us a little view into whether the Academy is tilting toward Three Billboards or The Shape of Water, the two front runners: if either Jenkins or Harrelson (as the relatively kindly sheriff) gets in without the other, we’ll have a solid clue.  Or if there’s an unexpectedly high level of support for the sumptuous Call Me By Your Name (sure to rank high on many of the Academy’s weighted ballots), you might see Armie Hammer or even Michael Stuhlbarg’s professor/dad pick up their first nominations.  I’m perhaps going out on a limb to call Plummer, but not only has he been on the Academy’s mind lately, nominated in 2010 and winning in 2012,  but he’s also made plenty of news for stepping into Kevin Spacey’s disgraced shoes and saving All The Money In The World from certain box office disaster.  Though I have yet to see the film, his portrayal of the character automatically interests me more than smug Spacey’s (scandal or no).  The Academy likes to remind us that their choices have merit (resulting in them picking the same people more often) and Plummer could be the beneficiary of that desire.

Though one-time Oscar nominee Steve Carrell picked up a supporting nod at the SAG awards, he was considered a lead by the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice, which both have separate comedy categories; I think this confusion will act against him.  Though comedic performances have less of an uphill climb in the supporting races, they’re still unlikely to break through.  The same is true for Critics’ Choice nominee Patrick Stewart, who dared do his bravura acting as Professor X in Logan. Not a comic book movie!  The horror!  Someday the much-loved but never-nominated Stewart could have the right role, and then the Academy will fall all over itself to award him, but not this year. At least Battle of the Sexes was a “serious comedy.”  Stuhlbarg’s sole nomination came from the Critics’ Choice, which boasts six (and occasionally seven) nods per category, and would certainly be a surprise here.

Supporting Actress

This is absolutely your most open category of 2018 as well as the most diverse, possibly making up for the complete and utterly lack of diversity in the men’s supporting race.  We have two actresses battling for the top, but across the board the women who’ve made it onto nomination lists next to them have been different.  It’s a good thing that so many performances by women are being highlighted, even if it makes my job more difficult.

Duking it Out For the Win:

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Made Most Short Lists:

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

And Now It Gets Unexpected:

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Hong Chau, Downsizing

Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip

The Early Favorite Who Could Still Make It:

Holly Hunter, The Big Sick

Outside Shots from Across the Pond:

Leslie Manville, The Phantom Thread

Kristin Scott Thomas, Darkest Hour

My Picks: Janney, Metcalf, Spencer, Blige and Chau in a squeaker over Hunter

I’m not sure we should even be calling it the battle of the overbearing moms any more as Allison Janney has now won the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  Her icy, quirky, vulgar abuser has got the Oscar in a headlock, and she’s not letting go any time soon.  I adore Janney, and I’m happy to see her doing so well with such a memorable character (who else could pull off having a stuffed bird on her shoulder with such a straight face?), even if her role is less nuanced than Laurie Metcalf’s pragmatic, relentlessly negative mom.  Lady Bird is an achingly real movie, in sharp contrast to the heightened, frenetically comic worlds of I, Tonya and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  (It’s interesting that the big ticket movies dealing with class this year can’t manage to do so seriously.)

At any rate.  We have Janney, and we have Metcalf.  Who else do we have?  Who else indeed.

First, there’s Octavia Spencer, the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar after winning one.  (That’s right.  Go back and look at it. I’ll wait. When was the last time you saw Mo’nique on the awards trail, or Whoopi Goldberg, or Halle Berry?)  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time for last year’s winner Viola Davis, but in the meantime, we just love Octavia, and her Cold War cleaning woman has been cleaning up on the nomination front.  Now, her record is not perfect; she’s got Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA, but no SAG.  Still pretty near everyone’s assuming she’ll make it, because this category is just so wide open, and she’s the most consistent outside the top two.

I almost shouldn’t even include the Critics’ Choice in these calculations, actually, because they nominated seven of the main contenders, little help to us in picking the final five.  Though Tiffany Haddish picked up an early win with the National Board of Review, her role is the most broadly comic we’ve seen since Melissa McCarthy’s in Bridesmaids, and Haddish lacks both McCarthy’s name recognition and her momentum, not capitalizing on her surprise win but fading into the background.  BAFTA added two more names into the mix, The Phantom Thread‘s Leslie Manville (playing the sister and business partner to Daniel Day-Lewis’ dressmaker) and Darkest Hour‘s Kristin Scott Thomas (playing Mrs. Winston Churchill), but neither has had much buzz on this side of the pond.  Though the Academy loves its Brits, the BAFTAs love them even more (unsurprisingly), and always pepper in a few names that don’t make waves on American beaches.

Back in the summer when I saw The Big Sick, all I heard about was how Holly Hunter had a lock on Best Supporting Actress.  I still think her stressed-out mother is one of the best performances of the year – articulate, abrasive, both protective and fair – but Oscar’s memory doesn’t stretch back very far (a mark against Haddish as well).  Hunter pulled off a SAG nod, but was passed over by the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, which makes me worry about her chances.

That brings us to Mary J. Blige, who certainly has name recognition as a musician if not as an actor.  Mudbound has been well reviewed – better reviewed than many of the movies that will be nominated for Best Picture, even – but won’t receive much notice outside this category and adapted screenplay.  She plays the matriarch of a share-cropper family, and the Academy responds well to strong mother figures (negative or positive).  Blige landed herself on the shortlist for SAG and the Golden Globes, and feels as solid as anyone here.

Hong Chau is the only Asian actor with a chance at a nomination this year, an unfortunately common problem.  (I don’t think there’s a subset of the Academy that’s more likely to vote for her because of that, in case you were wondering. This is one area where their drive for diversity hasn’t really had a big impact.  I guess we’ll see, though.) Of all the women in contention, she’s by far the least known, and her movie is one of the least seen and buzzed about.  If her name doesn’t sound at all familiar, it’s because she’s done very little film work, though she had substantial supporting small screen roles on Treme and in last year’s thriller Big Little Lies.  Still, as an activist who transforms Matt Damon’s life in Downsizing, she may have enough power to unseat a former winner and industry vet like Hunter.

This is a head-scratcher for sure.  If I’m right, this will be the first nomination for Blige, Chau, Janney and Metcalf, along with the third nomination for one-time winner Spencer.  Hunter has won,  of course, and has two nominations each for supporting and lead; Scott Thomas has a single nomination (The English Patient) and Haddish and Manville none.

Actor

Duking it Out For the Win:

Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

The Next Most Likely:

James Franco, The Disaster Artist

And Two of These Guys:

Daniel Day-Lewis, The Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Tom Hanks, The Post

Longer Shots:

Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

My Picks: Oldman, Chalamet, Franco, Kaluuya and Day-Lewis

Alternate: Hanks

Again, it doesn’t look like there’s a real race here anymore; Gary Oldman has collected the Globe, the Critics’ Choice and the SAG for his astonishing transformation into Winston Churchill, which should also garner an Oscar for the amazing prosthetics that make him so unrecognizable. Oscar loves awarding actors with lengthy careers, men like Gary Oldman working at their height of their power and success if rather past their matinee idol days; the Academy hates awarding young upstart men like Timothee Chalamet.  Critics sing his praises, and give him more awards.  The Academy might nominate him, but he’s seven years younger than the youngest-ever winner (Adrian Brody) and was a complete unknown before this year.   Very young women can and do win on their first (Marlee Matlin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brie Larsen) or second try (Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman), but not very young men; the bloom needs to fall off the rose there.  Okay, Eddie Redmayne did win on his first nom, and he’s relatively young and relatively dreamy (if no Brad Pitt), but he had a challenging physical role in portraying both Stephen Hawking’s mental brilliance and growing physical challenges. It’s positive that Hollywood no longer sees playing a gay man as comparably difficult, but that won’t help Chalamet. I’ve been pleased to see there’s been no “oh, isn’t he brave, doesn’t he worry what it will do to his career” noise around this performance or Hammer’s, though. No, the nomination and accompanying boost to his career from this film (and his well-received supporting turn in Lady Bird) are his reward.

James Franco already has one nod to his credit for the emotionally moving 127 Hours, which is to say that sawing off his own arm was enough to get the Academy to take him seriously even though he was a young, good looking, mostly comic actor.  In The Disaster Artist, Franco walks the line between comedy and drama, turning  mimicry into an art form and imbuing just enough reason into his cypher of a character to be believably enigmatic.  He’s an actor-director playing the actor-director of a cult classic.  Now, he’s recently been called to task for running acting classes that demeaned his female students.  Of course this makes me question whether he’s going to be left off the list, but it doesn’t feel like the reaction is as severe as in other cases.  This news dropped in the second week of January, and a lot of voting had already occurred by that point.  He was certainly on track to make this list, having made the Globes and Critics’ Choice and SAG.  It’s hard to know if his omission from the BAFTA list (the most recent major nomination and only one post-revelation) is a coincidence or a sign that his time is up. If he’s not on the short list tomorrow morning, you will know why.

Get Out has been sitting on my DVR for a few weeks now (I’m not a horror fan and I’m 100% freaked about having to see it), so really all I can say about Daniel Kaluuya’s performance so far is that his American accent is astonishingly different from his speech as a presenter on the SAG awards.  His boyfriend-in-danger character has made an indelible mark on 2017, however.  Most of his resume consists of British TV that I’ve missed, and he may be as new a name to Academy members as he is to me.  There’s no denying the staying power of his film and his performance, however; this was a horror film released in February – February! – and yet we’re still talking about it.  I can’t even believe that’s true.  Often the Oscar voting community can’t remember as far back as October, and no one ever takes the acting in horror movies seriously.  Kaluuya has been recognized by the Globes, Critics’ Choice, SAG and BAFTA.  They want him.  They’re going to have him.

The remaining slot could of course go to several people.  Jake Gyllenhaal, an early contender for his work as a Boston Marathon survivor and double amputee, has seen his star collapse in the march of time.  (Again, if September is too long ago for Oscar voters, it makes Kaluuya’s lasting impression that much more impressive.) Denzel Washington did his Denzel thing in Roman J. Israel, loud and colorful, but it may feel too gimmicky in year with more naturalistic performances.

It may surprise you to learn (especially if you don’t normally read my intermittent Oscar coverage) that Tom Hanks has only once been nominated for an Oscar in this century.  His name has been in the mix often and deservedly so, and yet he’s been snubbed for Bridge of Spies and Sully and Saving Mr. Banks and Captain Phillips and Charlie Wilson’s War and The Terminal and Catch Me If You Can, and I have a feeling he will be again this year, too.  For whatever reason, The Post doesn’t have the awards buzz it should. He’s in the hunt yet again – the National Board of Review put him in the early lead – and he did manage a nod from the celebrity loving Hollywood Foreign Press, but after he missed out on SAG and BAFTA I feel pretty confident saying he comes up short.

No, I think the last slot goes to the maestro, three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, in his second teaming with Paul Thomas Anderson.  Their first collaboration, you may recall, was There Will be Blood, which yielded an Oscar for Day-Lewis.  He’s a man who works rarely – this is only his third role since There Will Be Blood a decade ago – and his role-to-Oscar-nomination ration astounds.   The 60-year-old has said that this story of a designer freed by a May-December romance will be his last film.  How could the Academy resist?  Other than being squicked out by how young his 34-year-old love interest is, anyway, but that might be just me.  (Heck, Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet’s characters have too big and significant an age difference for me; perhaps eventually these pairings of teens with adults and women with men twice their age will disappear when the studios get with the Time’s Up program.)

 

Actress

As usual, actress comes down to six women for five slots.  Oh, someone could surprise, but probably not. The exciting bit about this year is that unlike years past, so many of these performances come from Best Picture nominees rather than obscure indies.  (Okay, fine, from bad obscure indies, not the obscure indies that are the top Best Picture prospects.)

Duking It Out For the Win:

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Epping, Missouri

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Solid Shots:

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Margo Robbie, I, Tonya

Duking It Out For the Final Slot:

Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game

Meryl Streep, The Post

You Can’t Ignore:

Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul

Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

The most fascinating moment of a rather dull Screen Actors Guild Awards (what a disappointment after such an impassioned, thrilling night at the Globes!) was Frances McDormand’s suggestion that younger actresses need this award more than she does.  Coupled with her embrace of main rival Saoirse Ronan right before taking the stage, this generosity struck me forcibly.  McDormand always works; she has so many great people dying to write for her, and has delivered so many revered portrayals on screens large and small, that she seemed to be calling for women without her level of power to be given a leg up, and it makes me love her even more.  I don’t know that it will have an impact on the likelihood of her picking up a second Oscar, but it certainly won’t stand in the way of her garnering her fifth nod as the astringently biting, heartbreaking bitter, vulgar and violent grieving mother whose billboards set off the plot in McDonagh’s drama.

Ronan, her main rival and the possible recipient of her largesse, already has two nods to her credit and a host of leading roles in the last twelve years.  At 23, she toggles back and forth between playing teens and young adults, and here she gives a luminous performance as a high school senior taking tentative steps into her own power.  (Last year’s first-time nominee Lucas Hedges continues his great run costarring with both Ronan and McDormand in these two highly acclaimed films.)  I didn’t find Ronan’s performance quite as stunning as her work in Brooklyn, perhaps, but still she’s so human, and so relatable, that it’s probably easy to ignore her for her more bombastic competitors when it comes to awarding the prize.  That’s truly a discussion for another day, however: she’s in.  How could she not be?

How is it that Sally Hawkins has absolutely no shot of winning – not one puff of heat – and yet seems absolutely guaranteed a nomination as the mute cleaning woman whose soul connects with a monster in Cold War fairy tale The Shape of Water?  This happens to a few people every year, and it’s rather funny.  She was nominated a few years ago for Blue Jasmine (also without a shot at winning) but had a near-miss before that with Happy-Go-Lucky.

Margo Robbie, famous for playing Harley Quinn and a lot of girlfriends, produced herself to a starring role, and what a role it is; Tanya Harding was the gritty, tough athlete who could never catch a break in the frustratingly constricted world of figure skating.  Twenty-plus years after her Olympic dreams faded, she still remains one of the few women to successfully land the triple axel; even today most don’t try.  Robbie’s performance as the oft-abused woman who just wouldn’t quit throwing herself at the glass ceiling broke my heart, but the movie doesn’t lionize her, which makes for challenging and rewarding viewing.

All four of these women have made the major short lists: Globes, Critics’ Choice, SAG and BAFTA.  Easy peasy, right?  Probably, even though years do exist where folks having that sort of season get an ugly surprise on Oscar nomination morning.  Most likely, however, the real question here is who slot number five goes to.

Now, it’s possible that Dench, who made the Globes and the SAGs, could sneak in, but to me the fact that she missed out on a BAFTA with her home court advantage says it all.  This would be her second nomination for playing Queen Victoria in a movie about her relationship with one of her servants, and that just seems unlikely.   The movie hasn’t received great reviews, which means there’s better choices out there this year, and so her eighth nomination will probably come another year.

Michelle Williams has mostly made news this year for being underpaid in All the Money in the World (oh the irony). It’s possible actors might want to stand in solidarity with her by giving her an Oscar nod, but I think the buzz isn’t there, and the scandal about her pay disparity was too late-breaking to put her over the top.  Like Dench, however, Oscar admires her to the tune of 4 nominations, and she’s very much in theaters right now in The Greatest Showman, a movie inspiring great popular love if not critical fanfare.

Poor Annette Bening – it seems like every time we’re sure she has the role that will finally win her that Oscar, it all falls apart.  Early this year it seemed like perhaps Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool would be the one, but now a nomination would be a surprise, despite the last minute lift from a BAFTA nod.

No, it ought to come down to recent awards darling Jessica Chastain, who burst onto the scene a mere six years ago in The Help and has taken up a healthy share of internet awards chatter bandwith every year since.  Though she’s only received one other nomination (for Zero Dark Thirty), it feels like she’s in contention with at least one wonderful performance every year.  The Tree of Life, Miss Sloane, A Most Violent Year, The Martian, Interstellar – there’s been awards talk for each of them.  This year is no exception with Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, the unlikely true story of a fierce Olympian who ran an underground poker game for celebrities.

And then of course there’s Meryl Streep, the most honored actress of her or any generation, three-time Oscar winner (second only to Katherine Hepburn), twenty-time nominee (second to none).  Meryl Streep, who’s been nominated roughly every other year since 1979. Meryl Streep, who transforms herself into women of many nations and cultures, who does action, comedy, musicals and dramas with equal skill.  When I look back at her oeuvre, I can count her work as Washington Post publisher Kay Graham among my favorite performances: plagued by self doubt yet buoyed by her sense of honor and duty and decency, navigating her way through a world that changed its expectations of women and of her, not to mention the nature of friendships between those who report the news and those who make it.

To some degree, the advantage has to go Streep.  Much as the Academy loves Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain, it doesn’t love any actor the way it loves Meryl Streep.  Lest there be doubt, I’m saying that I think they’re going to give her that nomination, and that she deserves it.   (Though I admit to saying it with All the Money and Molly’s Game still on my Must See list, so I suppose I could change my mind.)

Director

I hate this category.  I really do.  The director’s wing of the Academy just likes to be weird.  There are five solid, obvious consensus choices for this honor – all five writer/directors who were honored by the Director’s Guild – and the Academy will almost certainly not pick them all.  I would be utterly gobsmacked, in fact, if they did. The director’s wing almost never go with the obvious. But who will they light on instead?  And in this year of restorative justice, will they really dare to leave off minorities as usual?  I’d say the chances for shocking, maddening snubs are good, and a big omission here could – as it did with Argo – alter the state of the entire race.  Either way, I’m betting on a slate of first time nominees who might not be the ones you expect.

In the Old Boy’s Club:

Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water

Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

The Outsiders Pounding on the Door:

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Jordan Peele, Get Out

The (Old World) Spoiler:

Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name

The Oldest of Old Boys:

Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World

The Old Master/Peter Pan:

Steven Spielberg, The Post

A New Boy:
Sean Baker, The Florida Project

My Picks:  Del Toro, McDonagh, Gerwig, Peele, and Baker in a shocking upset

Alternate: Guardagnino

Let me start by saying that the Director’s Guild picked Del Toro, Gerwig, McDonagh, Nolan, and Peele, who would all be first time nominees.  Of them, Nolan and Del Toro have helmed films that were awarded with lots of nominations and buzz, snagging writing and producing and foreign language and technical nods between them.  McDonagh is a first-time director but long-respected and much awarded playwright.  They’re what the “new” directors look like in Hollywood, which is to say, slightly younger versions of the old ones.  So it is, and so it has been.  That doesn’t make them either deserving or undeserving, but you have to admit that someone like McDonagh (wealthy, pedigreed Irishman) isn’t exactly challenging the status quo.

This summer, everyone was saying that Dunkirk would finally be the film to win producing and writing nominee Christopher Nolan his long-deserved directing Oscar – or barring that, would at least get him nominated.  As the weeks turned into months, however, the memories of his heart-pounding war flick fade, and new loves take its place.   The Academy seems to be moving from the big epics so beloved in its long history toward ever smaller and more personal stories.  I can’t say this is a good thing either way (I’d rather films were judged on their own merits rather than trending by genre) but them’s the breaks.

Both Peele and Gerwig made pictures the Academy likes to ignore – a girl’s coming of age story and a politically tinged horror flick.  Gerwig, the queen of mumblecore, and Jordan Peele the comedian of Key and Peele fame, seem unlikely.  And I just don’t get the feeling that the auteurs of the directors wing like to be told what to do.  They vote what they like, and what they like is often out of the mainstream – and since all of the Oscars have been out of the mainstream for a good 20 years or so, that’s saying something.  Of course, their idea of  non-mainstream still tends to be the visions of white males of European descent, of late with the very manly Mexican members of the Three Amigos sneaking in. (In which case, Del Toro is due.) Now, I said above that people wouldn’t vote for Hong Chau to make sure there was an Asian on the ballot, but I do think directors might be shamed into voting for Peele and Gerwig to put diversity on the directing ballot.  I don’t think that guarantees both of them a slot, however, and if one gets left out, I’m going to guess it’s Gerwig. Will the patriarchy push back?  Will a girl’s experience just not resonate with the mostly male wing – will it seem too small to them, too personal, too impenetrable?  Could they reason they only need one of these two names?

There are only four women (Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sophia Coppolla and Kathryn Bigelow) and four black men (John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins) who have ever been nominated for direction.  Kathryn Bigelow won with her movie, but Barry Jenkins didn’t when his film unexpectedly tipped the scales last year.  (McQueen, too, helmed a winning film while losing to Alfonso Cuaron, another of the Amigos.) . There’s a sharp trend toward more black men being acknowledged for their work, but women’s nominations remain few and far between – witness Ava DuVernay’s snub for Selma in 2014.

But will they really dare leave Gerwig off?  This year, of all years?  This is going to be the most interesting question for me, because there will be repercussion if they do.  (I’m not making a threat, because I’m not a person who wields power here; I’m acknowledging the storm that would result.)

Read reviews of The Florida Project and of Call Me By Your Name and you’ll hear pure poetry, reviewers falling over themselves to laud the sumptuous scenery, the fantasy worlds, the glow and the dream and the magic in the margins.  These seem to be films where the atmosphere and style add to the substance, and to me that consistent praise speaks to a widespread appreciation for those directors’ vision.  I can’t help feeling that Guardagnino and Baker are both real threats.  My instinct say that Nolan and Gerwig are the most vulnerable of this year’s DGA crop. But if they leave off Gerwig, woe to them.  The outrage over that might just put Lady Bird back on top for the big prize, where the critics placed it in November and December.

Six-time directing nominee (and two-time winner) Spielberg could absolutely sneak in as he did at the Globes: he made the most politically prescient film of the year with an all-star cast, a beautifully acted, dramatic piece that couldn’t be more timely.  It’s certainly got the most traditional “Best Picture” feel of any of this year’s offerings – perhaps except the epic Dunkirk –  and Spielberg has built up plenty of love in the industry.  But I have a feeling the director’s wing, full of iconoclasts and mavericks in a very particular mold, will eschew anything that feels like a classic Oscar movie or an old school film, and that will mean no love for Spielberg.  Again. Ridley Scott, too, can’t be counted out entirely, but will fellow directors appreciate the effort put into retooling his entire film in 9 days enough to bump a newbie out of his place?

Best Picture

Ah, Best Picture. What a challenge you are when we never know how many nominees we’re going to have!

Uniformly Agreed Upon:

Call Me By Your Name

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Next Up Could Be:

The Post

Also in the Hunt:

I, Tonya

The Big Sick

The Florida Project

Not Impossible:

Darkest Hour

Molly’s Game

Mudbound

Wonder Woman

My Picks:

If there are 7: Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, The Post

If There Are 8: Add The Big Sick

If There Are 9: Add I, Tonya

Alternate: The Florida Project

Six films have clearly staked their claim to be on this list: the dreamy and romantic Call Me By Your Name; Dunkirk, which brings history to heart-stopping life; the terrifying (yet complex and insightful) Get Out; the intimate and heart-felt Lady Bird; the weirdly spell-binding The Shape of Water; and the incendiary Three Billboards.  They have across-the-board support in many disciplines from many awards groups, appearing on directing and writing and acting short lists as well as Best Picture.  Somewhat shockingly, half of those movies have female leads or co-leads, an unprecedented percentage for Oscar in the modern era.  Funny to think that Oscar paid more attention to women in the 1930s than it does now, but it’s completely true.

There have never been ten nominees in this weird new era of  “somewhere between 5 and 10” nods.  There have never been only six, so we need to look for the next most acclaimed film, and that’s very clearly The Post.  Which is, astonishingly, another movie with a female co-lead.  It may not have caught fire with industry imaginations (sigh), but it really ought to be there and I suspect will get the nomination because people are forced to acknowledge that it’s worthy rather than because they love it.

By awards tally, the next clear choice is the deeply original and modern interracial romance The Big Sick, which among its many accolades includes a Screen Actors nod for Ensemble, their best picture equivalent. Figuring skating drama I, Tonya nips at its heels, however.

And then there’s The Florida Project, which unlike some of this year’s more snarky offerings, looks with clear eyes on poverty and struggle.  It’s a tiny, tiny movie for such big considerations, but it might be the movie that could. After all, what was tinier than Moonlight?  Darkest Hour has more success in its native England than with American critics (it’s neither as modern-feeling nor as critically beloved as Dunkirk), but SAG’s choice Mudbound and the highly pedigreed Molly’s Game haven’t flowered either.

There were lots of great movies about women made this year.  The top films at the box office – The Last Jedi, Beauty & the Beast, and Wonder Woman – all star women.  All did very well with the critics.  The best-reviewed film of the year is Lady Bird, a film both written and directed by a woman that speaks to a young woman’s life.  But will the Oscar nominations really reflect that power? Not yet. Gerwig could miss out on her nomination.  Despite being better reviewed, Lady Bird won’t win. If I, Tonya gets a Best Picture slot and Margo Robbie best actress it will be the very first time for a movie executive-produced by a nominated actress — but there’s no guarantee. As we see in television with the success of Big Little Lies, brought to the small screen by producing partners Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, women are making inroads on both sides of the camera.  Robbie created her own vehicle, as Witherspoon did with Wild (which was only acknowledged for its acting). This year, the awards community has been supportive of female lead productions.  Will Oscar continue the trend? Will awards and box office success ensure more movies like these will be made? I guess we’ll see.

Whatever I think of potential front runner Three Billboards (and we’ll get more into that as the season goes on), there’s a lot to celebrate in this grouping of films. As with last year, I wonder what this slate of movies and the eventual winner will say about this moment in time.  I’m not sanguine that it’s going to be a perfect slate, but there’s the potential for movies that stay with you, that inspire and provoke debate about real issues. We need to be having conversations about class and race and gender and what it means to be an adult in America, what it means to stand in your own power, and these are movies to inspire those conversations.

Odds and Ends

Unusually, the most heated of the writing races this year is Original Screenplay.  Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri have remained at the top of the heap all season, but there’s plenty of buzz on I, Tonya, The Big Sick, The Phantom Thread and The Post as well.  If I had to guess, I’d say this might be where The Big Sick gets a little love thrown its way, but the same could probably be said of The Post.

If we assume that the adapted works which have been winning all the accolades so far get in (and that’s not always a comfortable assumption) then we have Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Molly’s Game and Mudbound as assured nominees. And we’re left with a highly acclaimed comic book movie (Logan) and a hugely popular children’s book and film (Wonder) as the next highest profile possibilities. Let’s be honest: the Academy doesn’t prefer to reward either of those genres.  They might be thrown a bone here – but it’s hard to say which would be least distasteful to AMPAS. I’d guess Logan in a pinch.

Despite some negative press about cultural appropriation, Coco is the obvious winner in Best Animated Feature.  In a less than shining year, however, it’s not so clear who it’s co-nominees will be; perhaps Despicable Me 3 and Lego Batman, or perhaps the slate will be taken up solely by foreign/arty films like The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent.

I will never understand why the PR firm/Oscar campaigners behind The Greatest Showman chose only one song to submit for Oscar consideration; with so many earnest, glorious tunes penned by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the songwriters behind last year’s Oscar- and Tony-winning darlings La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen), I’d have been happy to see all five nominations go to this film.  Granted, they picked mighty anthem “This is Me,” which will almost certainly ride to the winner’s circle in a blaze of triumphant inspiration.  It’s likely to give us the emotional highlight of Oscar night, especially if Keala Smith leads the performance.  Look for Coco’s “Remember Me” to pick up another of the slots.   Without “A Million Dreams,” “Rewrite the Stars,” “From Now On,” “Tightrope,” or “Never Enough” in contention, however, whatever they pick for the other four will feel like a disappointment to me.

And that, I guess, is what I have to say about all that.  I can’t wait for tomorrow morning to see how it all shakes out!  My thoughts on that as soon as I’m able.

 

 

This entry was posted in TV.

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