Predicting the 90th Academy Awards

What a time to be alive, when such a film could not only get into the Oscar race, but do so with a vengeance.

I’m going to start by saying that I won’t get as in-depth, nuts-and-boltsy with this post as I did with my predicting-what-will-be-nominated post. Some of that may be due to personal fatigue. But a lot of it is due to what this season has become – a melange of yawn-inducing locks, conflicting precedents, and confounding dead heats. At this point, I could write a whole article arguing with myself over what will win Best Picture. And there are several categories which could end up being swing categories, changing the course of the big night when it’s far too late for me to cover my analytical ass.

This is the kind of year where you could call most of the categories with a reasonable degree of confidence. That’s if you had an abiding trust in the stats and the Academy’s capacity to behave themselves. I don’t, and this year I’m going to try not to take too much for granted. It may be for naught, but isn’t everything, if you take a broad enough view?

We’ll start with the big ‘un.

For every category I’ll give my (current) ranking of the relevant film or performance where applicable. I’ll try not to get too bogged down in my thoughts on the actual contenders, since this post will be quite long as it is.

Best Picture:

  • Call Me by Your Name (#18)
  • Darkest Hour (#41)
  • Dunkirk (#1)
  • Get Out (#8)
  • Lady Bird (#13)
  • Phantom Thread (#4)
  • The Post (#22)
  • The Shape of Water (#2)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (#35)

Average score of the nominees (out of 100): 85.7

Average rank of the nominees: 16th

On the whole, a fairly strong category; Darkest Hour may be the weak link, but as weakest nominees go it’s pretty good. Now to recap the precursors:

  • The Golden Globes picked Three Billboards for Picture – Drama and Lady Bird for Picture – Musical/Comedy.
  • The BAFTAs picked Three Billboards for Best Film and Best British Film.
  • The PGA went with The Shape of Water. The SAG ensemble award went to Three Billboards.
  • The NYFCC and NSFC both went with Lady Bird. The LAFCA went with Call Me by Your Name.
  • The Critics Choice chose The Shape of Water. The Satellites chose Three Billboards.
  • The NBR chose The Post.

So with all that in mind, I think you could break these 9 films down into three categories:

  • What Won’t Win:
    • Call Me by Your Name: It has fans, but without a Director or Editing nod, and without many major wins outside of Adapted Screenplay and Actor (which I’ll get to in due time), I just don’t see it happening.
    • Darkest Hour: It was a semi-surprise nominee, it didn’t get overwhelmingly great reviews, and it didn’t get in for Director, Screenplay, or Editing. It’s just happy to be here.
    • The Post: It’s Spielberg, it’s classy, it was a solid hit…and it has two nominations. It went from being a contender to being a profound also-ran.
  • What Probably Won’t Win:
    • Dunkirk: It kills me to say it, but it’s won virtually nothing outside of technical awards. Had it been a fall release, we might be having a different conversation, but at this point it’ll be lucky to get more than three awards.
    • Get Out: I go back and forth between this and Lady Bird as to which has the better shot at winning. Neither would be higher than 3rd. But this has the disadvantage of opening early and having fewer major wins to its name. It does have a WGA win in its favor, but I doubt that’ll be enough to push it over the top.
    • Phantom Thread: I’d be tempted to give it better odds simply because of how much it over-performed nomination-wise, but let’s be honest: it doesn’t have Screenplay or Editing nominations, it opened very late, and like many Anderson films, it’s something of an acquired taste. I love it, and I’m delighted that it’s here, but let’s not kid ourselves about its chances.
  • What Might Well Win:
    • Lady Bird: A critical darling, an immensely likable film, a Globe Picture winner, with an actor-turned-director at its helm; it’s got a fair amount going for it. But it’s also lost ground in recent weeks and lacks an Editing nomination, while the primacy of the next two films may just be too much for it to overcome.
    • The Shape of Water: PGA winner. DGA winner. Critical and popular success. 13 nominations – the most of the year. And it’s an uplifting story about marginalized people seizing their own share of happiness. On the other hand, it’s about an unequivocal sexual relationship between a human woman and an amphibious man, and it doesn’t have a SAG ensemble nomination. I have a lot of reasons for leaning towards it, but some key reservations as well.
    • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri: SAG ensemble winner. Double BAFTA winner. Globe Picture winner (for Drama, which is absurd). And it won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival, which is always a good omen in this category. Based on all that, it seems like the easy front-runner…but it doesn’t have a Best Director nomination. And I’m not ready to overlook that.

Here’s what it comes down to: onlu four films have ever won without a Director nomination. Yes, Argo pulled it off five years ago, but that was the culmination of Ben Affleck’s career resurrection. Martin McDonagh doesn’t have that going for him. How he missed Director is a mystery (I’ll discuss that more under Director), but suffice to say, it gravely undermines my confidence in its chances.

So I’m going to go with my gut and the guilds and say this ends up going to The Shape of Water. I think it’ll be close – very close indeed – but the PGA win and the Director snub for Three Billboards will, I think, give it the edge. You can practically flip a coin between Lady Bird and Get Out for third place – and who knows, the preferential ballot might just hand one of them the win.

(Just so you know, I’m not going to spend nearly as much time on any other category.)

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread (#5)
  • Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water (#2)
  • Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird (#18)
  • Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk (#1)
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out (#8)

Quite happy with how this category turned out, especially with Anderson getting on over McDonagh (my #27). I don’t know how it happened – McDonagh had been nominated by the Globes, BAFTA, and the DGA, while Anderson just had a few critics awards nominations (including 2nd place from the NSFC). Did the Directing branch of the Academy make a conscious choice to go rogue? Did they assume he would get on automatically and vote for Anderson without expecting him to actually make the ballot (basically what happens to the titular character of Putney Swope, a film Anderson and I admire)? Or did they figure he would get his due in Original Screenplay? We may never know.

In any case, you have to figure this is Del Toro’s to lose. He’s won the Globe, BAFTA, DGA, and Critics’ Choice, and is directing the film that might actually win Best Picture. Nolan could hypothetically pull this out – the effort itself and the perception of him as overdue really can’t hurt – but he’s the only one who’s likely to. Peele and Gerwig have a couple of wins of their own (the Satellites for Peele; the NBR for Gerwig), but their reward is more likely to come in Original Screenplay.

Will Win: Guillermo Del Toro

Could Win: Christopher Nolan

Best Actor:

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name (#5)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread (#1)
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out (#4)
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour (#3)
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (#6)

As you can see, I think the Academy did extremely well here. It’s ironic that Washington is my #6, since my #2, Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is Washington’s co-star. But Washington is very good (and the film is really quite solid as well), so I don’t mind his nomination at all.

That said, this is Oldman’s to lose. He has the Globe, BAFTA, SAG, Critics’ Choice, and Satellite, he’s well overdue, and he’s playing Winston Churchill in a transformative performance. If anyone else could take it, it’d be Chalamet, who won a number of critics’ awards, namely the NYFCC and LAFCA. But his youth (he’d the youngest-ever winner by a wide margin) and the controversial nature of his role probably preclude that from happening.

Will Win: Gary Oldman

Could Win: Timothée Chalamet

Best Actress:

  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water (#5)
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (#4)
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya (#9)
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird (#8)
  • Meryl Streep, The Post (#15)

If only they’d gone with Jessica Chastain (or Vicky Krieps) rather than giving Meryl her 21st nomination. Not that she isn’t good, but for me she’s easily the weak link in the category.

McDormand seems to have this one pretty much tied up; she has the Globe – Drama, BAFTA, SAG, and Critics’ Choice. Hawkins has the Satellite, LAFCA, and NSFC, while Ronan has the Globe – Musical/Comedy and NYFCC (and a number of other critics’ awards). So there is some competition here. But unless the Academy really goes all in on Shape of Water, or embraces Lady Bird more than we’re expecting, I figure this is McDormand’s to lose. If she does lose, it could be significant.

Will Win: Frances McDormand

Could Win: Sally Hawkins (and possibly Saoirse Ronan)

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project (#14)
  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (#15)
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water (#7)
  • Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World (#21)
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (#3)

As I said previously, I’m not wild about this category. The performances are all quite good – Plummer might not make my top 20, but he does do quite well given the circumstances of his performance, and I’ve come to appreciate Harrelson’s performance a good deal more – but with only one of the nominees in my own top 5, it’s clear I felt there were better choices to be made.

This all about Dafoe and Rockwell; no one else this season made much of an impact. Rockwell has the Globe, BAFTA, SAG, Critics’ Choice, and Satellite – he’s the industry favorite; Dafoe has the NYFCC, NSFC, NBR, and LAFCA – he’s the critical darling. Given that Rockwell is in a major overall contender and has swept the recent major awards, he’s the clear favorite, but don’t rule out a Dafoe upset.

Will Win: Sam Rockwell

Could Win: Willem Dafoe

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound (#32)
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya (#9)
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread (#1)
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird (#4)
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water (#10)

I’m sorry to say I didn’t really see much in Blige’s performance to warrant a nomination in of itself. As a representative of the ensemble, though, I get it.

Anyhow, as with Supporting Actor, this is a race between the industry favorite and the critical darling. Janney is the former: she has the Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and Critics’ Choice. Metcalf is the latter, with the NBR, NSFC, and LAFCA. The NYFCC went to Tiffany Haddish for Girls Trip and the Satellite went to Lois Smith for Marjorie Prime; coincidentally, Smith is in Lady Bird as Sister Sarah Joan (“Six inches for the Holy Spirit!”).

You have to imagine Janney is the favorite, but Metcalf could still win this – and I’m rooting for her.

Will Win: Allison Janney

Could Win: Laurie Metcalf

Best Original Screenplay:

  • The Big Sick (#7)
  • Get Out (#6)
  • Lady Bird (#8)
  • The Shape of Water (#5)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (#13)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: how in the hell did Phantom Thread get in for Picture and Director, but not here? Damn fools. At least it won the NBR and NYFCC.

This is one of the trickier categories of the night, and the outcome could be fairly significant. Accepting that The Big Sick is just happy to be here and The Shape of Water doesn’t really need to win here (though it’d be a fine choice), we might have a tight race between the other three.

  • Three Billboards has the Globe, BAFTA, and Satellite;
  • Get Out has the WGA (Three Billboards was ineligible), Critics’ Choice, and LAFCA;
  • Lady Bird has the NSFC.

Here’s the thing: Three Billboards seems like the film to beat. McDonagh is a respected writer, it’s a writing-driven film (even if the script itself is the source of most of the film’s weaknesses), and it’s one of the primary contenders for Best Picture. If it wins, it’s still in the Picture race. But if it loses…it’s probably out.

Get Out has the advantage of a guild win (albeit one with an asterisk next to it), its own timeliness (people will be voting for it), and frankly, its own quality. I think it’s a serious threat to take this, and if it does, that might not necessarily portend Get Out winning Picture, but don’t rule it out.

Lady Bird, meanwhile, is also very much in the race, and the fact that it’s a much lighter film than the other two (and, I’m sure, quite resonant for many), might just allow it to sneak in and win. Gerwig’s own popularity can’t hurt in this regard; there are surely those in the Academy who don’t want to send her home empty-handed.

I think Three Billboards probably will win, but until they announce it, I’m keeping my options open.

Will Win: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Get Out

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Call Me by Your Name (#5)
  • The Disaster Artist (#10)
  • Logan (#14)
  • Molly’s Game (#2)
  • Mudbound (#4)

A weak year for this category – Molly’s Game wouldn’t be a #2 most years – but at least the Academy did a decent job with what they had to work with.

Unlike Original Screenplay, it’s pretty easy to predict the outcome of this category. Disaster Artist, Logan, and Molly’s Game are out; they all have only the one nomination, and no film has won a Screenplay award without at least one other nomination since 1957. That stat aside, Call Me by Your Name is the dominant winner – it’s won the WGA, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice. The Disaster Artist is second in terms of wins, with NBR and Satellite wins, but if there’s a runner-up, I suspect it’ll be Mudbound, which has four nominations overall and could certainly get votes, especially from those who find aspects of Call Me by Your Name problematic.

Call Me will most likely win, but a Mudbound upset wouldn’t shock me.

Will Win: Call Me by Your Name

Could Win: Mudbound

Is it his time? Let’s hope.

Best Cinematography:

  • Blade Runner 2049 (#3)
  • Darkest Hour (#23)
  • Dunkirk (#1)
  • Mudbound (#9)
  • The Shape of Water (#2)

Could this finally be Roger Deakins’ year? He’s won the ASC, BAFTA, NSFC, Satellite, and Critics’ Choice, and this is his 14th nomination. It’s certainly a worthy choice, even if my own choice is Dunkirk. I won’t say it’s his to lose because there’s ample precedent for him getting fucked over, but he’s the dominant winner this year and no one else seems to have the momentum to overtake him, so I’d say his chances are pretty solid.

As for who else could win, The Shape of Water could manage it in a tech sweep, Dunkirk could pull it off, and Mudbound could get a decided boost from Rachel Morrison being the first female nominee. But those are all “coulds.”

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: The Shape of Water

Best Editing:

  • Baby Driver (#7)
  • Dunkirk (#1)
  • I, Tonya (#5)
  • The Shape of Water (#3)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (#45)

An Edgar Wright film finally got into the Oscar race and it wasn’t even one of his best. Go figure. Good editing, though.

The BAFTAs went with Baby Driver. The ACE Eddie awards went with Dunkirk for Drama and I, Tonya for Comedy. The Critics’ Choice had a tie: Baby Driver and Dunkirk. The Satellites went their own way, picking War for the Planet of the Apes (an odd choice in my view, since I found the editing one of the film’s weaker points).

This category probably won’t help us predict Best Picture as much as I once figured it would, since Shape of Water and Three Billboards aren’t likely to win here and Dunkirk isn’t likely to take Picture. Now, if either of them do win, look out – they’re probably taking Picture. But that would constitute a major upset and I’m not going to try and predict that.

I figure the prestige factor and the brilliance of the editing will bring it home for Dunkirk, but Baby Driver could also take it. Remember that the BAFTAs gave it to Hacksaw Ridge last year and the Academy followed suit…when La La Land was expected to win.

Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Best Production Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast (#9)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (#2)
  • Darkest Hour (#8)
  • Dunkirk (#47)
  • The Shape of Water (#1)

Probably I have Dunkirk too low. I’ll fix it eventually.

BAFTA went with The Shape of Water. So did the Satellites and the Critics’ Choice. As for the ADG, Period Film went to The Shape of Water, Fantasy Film went to Blade Runner 2049, and Contemporary Film went to…Logan?

So basically The Shape of Water is your front-runner and Blade Runner is your spoiler. Either choice is just fine with me.

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Best Costume Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast (#2)
  • Darkest Hour (#16)
  • Phantom Thread (#1)
  • The Shape of Water (#12)
  • Victoria & Abdul (#23)

Can you really imagine anyone voting for anything besides Beauty and the Beast or Phantom Thread?

Well, the CDG did; The Shape of Water won Period Film, I, Tonya won Contemporary Film, and Wonder Woman (which really should’ve been nominated) won Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film. The BAFTAs, Satellites, and Critics’ Choice all went with Phantom Thread.

Phantom Thread is the likely winner, but I suppose given the guild win I should consider Shape the spoiler. Doesn’t feel like it’d win, though, unless you consider the Amphibian Man suit costuming and not makeup or special effects.

Will Win: Phantom Thread

Could Win: The Shape of Water

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:

  • Darkest Hour (#2)
  • Victoria & Abdul (#22)
  • Wonder (#10)

At the MUAHS Darkest Hour won Period/Character Makeup and Special Makeup Effects. It also won the BAFTA and Critics’ Choice. Case closed.

I guess Wonder could take it? I didn’t think the makeup was that impressive, but what do I know?

Will Win: Darkest Hour

Could Win: Wonder

Best Original Score:

  • Dunkirk (#3)
  • Phantom Thread (#1)
  • The Shape of Water (#2)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (#6)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (#19)

Still kind of surprised they nominated John Williams for The Last Jedi over The Post, but that film’s whole awards-season journey has been counter-intuitive as shit.

There’s not a proper guild for film music, so we don’t have that to help guide us. But The Shape of Water won the Globe, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice. (The Satellites went with Wonder Woman.) It’d be cool if Jonny Greenwood won, but the nomination is likely the reward. Desplat is winning his second.

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Phantom Thread

Best Original Song:

  • “Mighty River”, Mudbound (#5)
  • “Mystery of Love”, Call Me by Your Name (#12)
  • “Remember Me”, Coco (#1)
  • “Stand Up for Something”, Marshall (#10)
  • “This is Me”, The Greatest Showman (#21)

I don’t know how you don’t go with “Remember Me,” given how good it is and how perfectly it’s used in the film. But I also don’t really know how you go with “This is Me”, which isn’t even the best song in the film. But the Globes picked “This is Me”, while the Satellites chose “Stand Up for Something” and the Critics’ Choice took “Remember Me.” So the precursors are a lot of help.

I suppose, given the popularity of Pasek & Paul and the surprise success of the film, that “This is Me” will probably take it. But watch out for “Remember Me.”

Will Win: “This is Me”

Could Win: “Remember Me”

Best Sound Mixing:

  • Baby Driver (#6)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (#2)
  • Dunkirk (#1)
  • The Shape of Water (#19)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (#4)

Dunkirk won the CAS, the BAFTA, and the Satellite (the latter two have one sound category). Gotta figure it’s your favorite.

For the runner-up I’ll guess Baby Driver. Or maybe Blade Runner.

Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Best Sound Editing:

  • Baby Driver (#3)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (#2)
  • Dunkirk (#1)
  • The Shape of Water (#5)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (#4)

A perfect match. How about that?

The MPSE gave War for the Planet of the Apes Dialogue & ADR, Blade Runner 2049 Effects & Foley, and Dunkirk Music Score.

I’ll bank on the Academy not splitting the Sound categories, but Blade Runner could hypothetically win this. (It’d be cool if a great film that notably underperformed at the box-office walks off with multiple Oscars.)

Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Best Visual Effects:

  • Blade Runner 2049 (#2)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (#6)
  • Kong: Skull Island (#9)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (#5)
  • War for the Planet of the Apes (#1)

War won the VES award for Outstanding Effects in a Photoreal Feature; they’ve got a number of categories, but that’s the most pertinent category for our purposes. The Satellites and BAFTA both went with Blade Runner 2049. The Critics’ Choice went with War.

It’s honestly a coin toss as to which wins. I’ve heard arguments both ways. I’ll side with my own choice and say they finally honor the new Apes franchise, but it could go either way.

It’s worth noting the five nominations Blade Runner got are the same five awards Hugo won. I don’t know if that matters, really, but it’s interesting to me.

Will Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Is it her time? It may well be.

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • A Fantastic Woman
  • The Insult
  • Loveless
  • On Body and Soul
  • The Square

The Square seemed like the frontrunner here (especially without In the Fade, which won the Globe, Satellite, and Critics’ Choice), but A Fantastic Woman has garnered a pretty high profile of late, to the point where the lead actress will actually be presenting at the Oscars! So, my guess is they go with that.

Will Win: A Fantastic Woman

Could Win: The Square

Best Animated Feature:

  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • Ferdinand
  • Loving Vincent

Coco is winning this by a mile. It’s honestly harder to decide what the runner-up will be.

Will Win: Coco

Could Win: …fuck it, The Boss Baby!

Best Documentary Feature:

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
  • Faces Places
  • Icarus
  • Last Men in Aleppo
  • Strong Island

They snubbed the frontrunner, so I’m just gonna predict the one film here I’ve seen, whose co-director got an honorary award this year. Fits, no?

For the runner-up, I’ll say Strong Island. It’s had a fair amount of press.

Will Win: Faces Places

Could Win: Strong Island

And that about does it. After the fact I’ll compare the outcome to my predictions and offer my final thoughts, and then…onward and upward.


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