Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fearless Oscar predictions 2018

2017 was a big year for small movies.

Most of my favorite pictures were independent films, several of them so tiny -- "Brigsby Bear," "Patti Cake$" -- they barely made a ripple in box office or cultural terms. And it's not just me: Only two of the nine movies nominated by the Academy Award for Best Picture were huge box office hits, "Dunkirk" and "Get Out," and neither seem to be in the running to win.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of Oscar years with one runaway favorite gobbling up most of the awards. The best overall film may not necessarily have the best performances, costumes or sound design. Give the statue to the people who actually deserve it most, I say.

Without further ado, here are my fearless Oscar predictions in all 24 categories. As in previous years, I provide my prediction of who will win, and my pick of who I think should win. And I will also cross out the names of some of the nominees who I think are undeserving, and replace them with better candidates -- the much-feared "Chris Cross."

Best Picture

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

The Chatter: This awards cycle has been all over the map, with "Three Billboards" an early favorite to win, "Lady Bird" faltering after a strong start and "The Shape of Water" making a late surge. "Dunkirk" and "The Post" have the classic Oscar pedigree -- splashy historical pieces -- but seem destined to be overlooked. "Get Out" has a populist puncher's chance.

The fact that "Three Billboards" didn't get a directing nomination likely dooms its chances, as only a handful of films have won Best Picture without their director also getting a nod. Also, there's been an odd backlash against the film because it allows the racist cop played by Sam Rockwell to find a measure of redemption.

My favorite film of the year, "Blade Runner 2049," didn't make the list, so I'll take my #2, "Lady Bird," with the pick. I think there's a slight chance it could slip in for a win, with the #MeToo movement lending credence to a film that's very much a women's story. But "Water" has made a strong showing in the preliminary awards, including the predictive Producers Guild Awards, and seems poised for a win.

For the Chris Cross, I liked "Get Out" and "Darkest Hour," but I can easily find strong nominees. The tiresome "Phantom Thread" will be forgotten within five years, when Daniel Day-Lewis unretires because he doesn't want to go out on such a sour note. 

Prediction: "The Shape of Water"

Pick: "Lady Bird"

Chris Cross: I'll replace "Darkest Hour," "Get Out," and "Phantom Thread" with "Blade Runner 2049," "The Florida Project" and "Maudie."

Best Actress

The Nominees: 
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”

The Chatter: Frances McDormand seems destined for a win -- indeed, this is the weird year where all four acting categories appear to be locked up tight. So that would point toward chances of at least one Mark Rylance-style upset.

I'm fine with with a win for McDormand, who is so strong and true, in a role that never softens her character's edges in a play for sympathy. If Sally Hawkins was nominated for "Maudie" instead of "The Shape of Water," she'd be my pick. She's still the stalking horse, with Saoirse Ronan having a puncher's chance.

Prediction: Frances McDormand

Pick: Frances McDormand

Chris Cross: I'll replace Margot Robbie with Danielle Mcdonald from the little-scene "Patti Cake$."

Best Actor

The Nominees: 
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.”

The Chatter: I'm not a fan of this roster of nominees, with only seemingly certain winner Gary Oldman truly belonging here. There were so many stronger nominees out there. I liked Timothée Chalamet, but the movie takes almost 80 minutes to really get rolling and give him something to do. "Get Out" was buoyed more by the storytelling than Daniel Kaluuya's acting, which was fine but nothing extraordinary.

The nominations for Washington and Day-Lewis are classic Oscar favoritism for past winners, in films that audiences completely ignored. I'm pretty astonished that Sam Elliott got shut out for his career-capper in "The Hero."

Prediction: Gary Oldman

Pick: Gary Oldman

Chris Cross: I'll replace Chalamet, Day-Lewis, Kaluuya and Washington with Jake Gyllenhaal from "Stronger," Lakeith Stanfield from "Crown Heights," James Franco from "The Disaster Artist" and Elliott.

Best Supporting Actress

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

The Chatter: Again, this award seems wrapped up with Allison Janney sweeping the preliminaries. That's a pity, because while she's certainly fine, it's pretty much a one-note comic relief role. Her hateful mother shows up occasionally, spouts insults and snappy one-liners, and exits stage right.

Laurie Metcalf is the obvious pick, also playing a seemingly troublesome mother to an uppity teen daughter in "Lady Bird." But she gets to show so many other notes and depths. A truly astonishing performance.

A bit of a weak category this year, so Mary J. Blige is the only one I'd knock out. She was fine, but none of the characters made a real impact on me from the overrated "Mudbound."

Prediction: Allison Janney

Pick: Laurie Metcalf

Chris Cross: I'll replace Blige with Holly Hunter from "The Big Sick."

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees: 
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 Chatter: I was surprised and thrilled when Woody Harrelson got nominated along with is "Three Billboards" co-star Sam Rockwell, the likely winner. He hadn't appeared anywhere in the preliminary awards and hype, so I thought voters were sure to overlook his magnificent performance as the flawed, doomed police chief. If McDormand is the heart of that movie, Woody is the soul.

I liked Rockwell fine, but as written his part is 90% caricature, with a little bit of movement at the very end. His journey seems abrupt rather than experiential. 

You could easily have nominated most of the male cast from "The Shape of Water" here. I loved how that film explored the journeys of its supporting characters. People complained about Michael Stuhlbarg being left off this list for his performance as the dad in "Call Me By Your Name," but it was a pretty pedestrian role as scripted, with one lovely speech tacked on. His character is much richer in "Water."

If Rockwell doesn't win, Willem Dafoe could sneak in for his part as the motel manager in "The Florida Project." He's the cantankerous hero of the piece.

Prediction: Sam Rockwell

Pick: Tie between Willem Dafoe and Woody Harrelson

Chris Cross: Tough call in an always-busy category. I wish there were space for 15 nominees. I can't in good conscious knock out any of these fine actors, but I would've loved to have seen nods for:
  • Michael Stuhlbarg, "The Shape of Water"
  • Michael Shannon, "The Shape of Water"
  • Doug Jones, "The Shape of Water"
  • Peter Dinklage, "Three Billboards"
  • Nnamdi Asomugha, "Crown Heights" 
  • Mamoudou Athie, "Patti Cake$"
  • Ethan Hawke, “Maudie”
  • Tracy Letts, “Lady Bird”
  • Peter Mullan, “Tommy’s Honour”
  • Ray Romano, "The Big Sick"
  • Sebastian Stan, “I, Tonya”

Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees: 
“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

The Chatter: This one seems to be a battle between young newcomers: Greta Gerwig of "Lady Bird" and Jordan Peele of "Get Out." The Academy loves to use the screenplay categories to award fresh faces -- Ben Affleck and Matt Damon for "Good Will Hunting" being the classic example -- and here they're faced with not too but three choices to fit the bill, the third being "The Big Sick" written by a real-life married couple.

Plus, if we want to bring in political considerations, it's a contest between #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite. Which sympathy chord will sound the loudest?

I think "Get Out" will win, largely due its huge box office and assertions that it touched the cultural zeitgeist like no other movie last year. I admired the movie but never really connected with its themes, which still remain jumbled to my mind's eye. (Rich, white liberals hate black people so much they secretly want to be them?)

Prediction: "Get Out"

Pick: "Lady Bird"

Chris Cross: I'll knock out "The Big Sick" and "Get Out" in favor of "Patti Cake$" and "Baby Driver."

Best Adapted Screenplay

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

The Chatter: An extraordinarily weak roster of nominees. "Mudbound" and "Call Me By Your Name" ramble on and on, "The Disaster Artist" never really gets past the joke of its lead performance, and "Molly's Game" feels like TV to me. I liked "Logan" well enough, but if you want to nominate a superhero script, how about "Wonder Woman?"

James Ivory seems the favorite, and at age 89 would become the Academy's oldest winner. For me, he seemed to be writing for quantity rather than quality. Too. Damn. Long.

Prediction: "Call Me By Your Name"

Pick: "Logan"

Chris Cross: My instinct is to replace the entire lineup, but I can only identify three worthy replacements: "Wonder Woman," "Blade Runner 2049" and "Stronger" for "Call Me," "Mudbound" and "Molly's Game."

Best Director

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

The Chatter: Say what you will about the diversity of the Academy Awards. But if Guillermo del Toro wins Best Director as expected, that will mark five out of the last six years the statue has gone to a POC/minority.

For the kids, Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, the nomination is the award. Lots of big OWM (old white male) names were excluded to get them their spots: Steven Spielberg, Martin McDonagh, Denis Villeneuve, Darren Aronofsky, Joe Wright; as well as some older female directors: Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow.

Gerwig is my pick. She spent a decade acting in indies, moving up to more mainstream films, apprenticing as a co-screenwriter, and steps into the director's chair with one of the most assured debuts I've ever seen. It's amazing how mature a work "Lady Bird" is, the sort of picture most directors spend a couple or three decades making movies to have a shot at.

I run hot and cold on del Toro, but "The Shape of Water" is probably my second favorite film of his after "Pan's Labyrinth." So I have no quarrel with him taking home of the statue as expected. He won the Director's Guild award, which has only failed to pick the winner on a handful of occasions.

Shockingly, this is the first time Christopher Nolan has been nominated as a director. He's widely regarded as one of the most important filmmakers of the last 20 years. So he has a shot to play the spoiler.

Prediction: Guillermo del Toro

Pick: Greta Gerwig

Chris Cross: Goodbye to Peele and Anderson; hello to Jenkins and Villeneuve.

Best Documentary Feature

The Nominees: 
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

The Chatter: A strong roster of nominees, with only the disjointed "Icarus" about Russian doping at the Olympics failing to make a strong impression on me. "Strong Island" made a very large impact, as a woman stares balefully into the camera and demands to know why her brother's killer has not been brought to justice after two decades.

The Academy has some pretty kooky procedures on what gets nominated in this category, so there's always a lot of outcry over snubs. Most people thought "Jane" was the front-runner. My favorite doc of the year was "Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992," which explores racial unrest in LA in the decade leading up to Rodney King. Both were overlooked.

"Faces Places," about two French artists touring the country, is the extremely rare documentary that's actually an upbeat people-pleaser, and many are predicting it to win.

Prediction: "Faces Places"

Pick: "Strong Island"

Chris Cross: Trade "Icarus" for "Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992."

Best Documentary Short

The Nominees: 
“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

The Chatter: Tough category to predict. My favorite was "Heroin(e)," which lionizes a trio of women fighting the epidemic of opiod deaths in their small town: the fire chief, the drug court judge and a faith-based shelter worker. My second pick is "Traffic Stop," about how a black woman's life was changed by a simple traffic violation that turned into a violent example of police brutality.

Prediction: "Heroin(e)"

Pick: "Traffic Stop"

Best Animated Feature

The Nominees: 
“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, Hugh Welchman

The Chatter: A weak year for animation, with the Pixar/Disney production destined, and deserving, to win. "Ferdinand" was a close second, and it's a pity more people didn't go see it. There's a chance "The Breadwinner," about a girl posing as a boy to support her family during the reign of the Taliban, could sneak in.

Prediction: "Coco"

Pick: "Coco"

Chris Cross: I don't have anything to replace it with, but "The Boss Baby" doesn't deserve to be here.

Best Animated Short

The Nominees: 
“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

The Chatter: The Disney/Pixar short pretty much always wins. "Dear Basketball" is a surprisingly emotive soliloquy by Kobe Bryant about his basketball career. 

Prediction: "Lou"

Pick: “Dear Basketball”

Best Live Action Short

The Nominees: 
“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

The Chatter: A very good pick of five. If the Academy leans toward comedy, it'll go with "The Eleven O'Clock." But the Academy rarely leans toward comedy.

Prediction: "Watu Wote"

Pick:"My Nephew Emmett"

Best Foreign Language Film

The Nominees: 
“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul" (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

The Chatter: I'm not sure how Angelina Jolie's "First They Killed My Father" got left off this list. Ditto for the German "In the Fade," which many had considered the front-runner to win. Personally, I'm glad for the exclusion of "Thelma" and "BPM (Beats Per Minute)," both of which I thought egregiously overrated.

I think the transgender story of "A Fantastic Woman" will resonate with Academy voters. I liked it but wasn't blown away by it. I'll take the excellent "The Insult," the first nominee from Lebanon.

Prediction: "A Fantastic Woman"

Pick: "The Insult"

Chris Cross: Let's translate "Loveless" and "A Fantastic Woman" into "In the Fade" and "First They Killed My Father."

Best Cinematography

The Nominees: 
“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

The Chatter: The most important of the "technical" awards, as the cinematographer often holds the most sway over the success of a film apart from the director, writer and (sometimes) lead performers.

This is the 14th Oscar nomination for Roger Deakins, and if there's any justice in the world he will finally take home the statue. "Blade Runner 2049" was easily the most visually arresting film of the year. You could snip out almost any single frame of it, blow it up and put it on the wall of a major museum, and it would not look out of place.

But justice rarely holds sway in this category, which tends to follow on the heels of the Best Picture winner. So expect Dan Laustsen of "The Shape of Water" to win. That's also a darkly gorgeous film, so its triumph wouldn't be a travesty on the order of, say, "Glory" winning over "The Abyss."

It's depressing and shocking that it took 90 years for the Academy to bestow its first cinematography nomination to a woman. It's even more troubling that it's the single most undeserving nominee here, "Mudbound," an ugly-looking picture that seemed like it was shot with the titular substance spread across the lens.

Prediction: Dan Laustsen

Pick: Roger Deakins

Chris Cross: Swap "Mudbound" for "Three Billboards," and hope for more female DPs to get the chance to do better work.

Best Film Editing

The Nominees: 
“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

The Chatter: I think "Dunkirk" will do very well in the technical categories, as it's a genuine spectacle largely shot with practical effects rather than CGI. Fast-paced action films tend to do better here than dramas, so it's curious that "Shape" and "Three Billboards" got nods over, say, "Wonder Woman" and "Logan." 

Prediction: "Dunkirk"

Pick: "Dunkirk"

Best Sound Editing

The Nominees: 
“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

The Chatter: Time for my annual primer on sound editing vs. sound mixing: sound editors are responsible for selecting or creating all the sounds you hear in a production, while a sound mixer assembles it all together. Editors do most of their work during production, while mixing is a post-production role. Don't feel bad if you don't understand the difference; most Academy voters don't, either.

Prediction: "Dunkirk"

Pick: "Dunkirk"

Best Sound Mixing

The Nominees: 
“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

The Chatter: Same list of nominated films results in the same pick/prediction. 

Prediction: "Dunkirk"

Pick: "Dunkirk"

Best Production Design

The Nominees: 
“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 D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

The Chatter: Another egregiously undervalued role is the production designer. Basically, anything you see onscreen that isn't an actor and their clothing, the production designer is responsible for creating. I'd call it a race between "Blade Runner 2049" and "Beauty and the Beast." Sequel trumps the remake.

Prediction: “Blade Runner 2049”

Pick: “Blade Runner 2049”

Best Original Score

The Nominees: 
“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 

The Chatter: This award often follows the Best Picture winner, and in this case I think it's actually the most deserving. This is the gobsmacking 51st nomination for John Williams, who only needs eight more to tie the all-time leader, Walt Disney. 

Prediction: Alexandre Desplat

Pick: Alexandre Desplat

Chris Cross: Let's play over "Phantom Thread" to the sound of "A Ghost Story."

Best Song

The Nominees: 
“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

The Chatter: Blige is the only person to ever be nominated for both Best Song and an acting category, and I think the allure will be too much for Academy voters to resist. And it's actually a good song. I slightly prefer the Broadway-esque "This Is Me." 

Prediction: "Mighty River"

Pick: "This Is Me"

Chris Cross: X

Best Makeup and Hair

The Nominees: 
“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten

The Chatter: How in the hell did "The Shape of Water" not get nominated here? A large part of that film's success was due to the humanity behind the outward appearance of Doug Jones as the aquatic man. I admired the facial transformation of Jacob Tremblay in "Wonder," but "Darkest Hour" reworked Gary Oldman from head to toe, and convincingly.

Prediction: "The Darkest Hour"

Pick: "The Darkest Hour"

Chris Cross: Aging Judi Dench is not much of a challenge; adieu to "Victoria and Abdul" and say hello to "The Shape of Water."

Best Costume Design

The Nominees: 
“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle

The Chatter: This is a category I always seem to get wrong. Clothes were very much at the center of the story for "Phantom Thread," so it might pull off a win. Judi Dench's magisterial outfits were stunning and complex. The bright colors of "Beauty and the Beast" have a real chance. Roll the dice.

Prediction: "Beauty and the Beast"

Pick: "Victoria and Abdul"

Best Visual Effects

The Nominees: 
“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

The Chatter: My first instinct was to ask, "Where's 'Dunkirk?'" But then I remembered Nolan & Co. mostly used practical effects, which is an achievement unto itself. The simian flicks, "Kong" and "Apes," both underperformed at the box office, so they're probably out. Call it a coin toss between "Star Wars" and "Guardians." As I said I adore the look of "Blade Runner 2049," but it has a more painterly feel in a category dominated by action movies. 

Prediction: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Pick: "Blade Runner 2049,"

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