The 90th Oscars arrives on our tellies this Monday morning, and it looks like an unpredictable race for the coveted Best Picture – even if many other categories seem set in stone. Here I give my thoughts on the 2018 nominees of each major category, predict the winner, and offer up an actor or film that should have been nominated…
Call Me By Your Name; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Post; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Is ‘Oscar Bait’ a thing of the past? Darkest Hour and The Post‘s nominations may suggest otherwise, but there seems to be a distinct lack of films in this list designed to win awards, especially considering the frontrunners. Perhaps-not-coincidentally, Darkest Hour and The Post are the two weakest entries up for Best Picture: one a baggy Oldman-vehicle and the other a historical drama infuriatingly content with simply being competent.
Two other films on this list have no shot at Best Pic – which is a shame, since they’re the two best. Call Me By Your Name is an exquisite and exquisitely sensual gay romance and a deserving break into the mainstream for Guadagnino, while Phantom Thread is P.T. Anderson’s tricksiest – and downright pulpiest feature yet. It’s probably my favourite film on this list – you can read my review here.
Dunkirk has an outside chance – and a win for it will also be a welcome one. It’s furious, bravura filmmaking, a torrent of tension that doesn’t let up, until its moving closing images.
The four real competitors are The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, Get Out and Lady Bird – probably in that order – and serve as a tidy representation of how far the Oscars have come: utterly bereft of biopic guff. Lady Bird is a very decent coming-of-age film that’s important for female representation behind the camera, though honestly a baffling choice of nominee. It’s fine – lovely, even, but at risk of being dismissive, it’s just a spruced-up Juno. Nothing we haven’t seen before.
Get Out, on the other hand, is something we certainly haven’t seen before: a racial horror that musters up more dread with its politics than it does with its special effects. And targeting the white liberals that undermine black progression with their own quasi-pro-activity? Genius. It’s astonishing that it’s even been nominated, considering it’s a debut film released very early last year, but as arguably the American film of last year, it would be a worthy winner.
In truth, the award looks like it’s headed in the direction of either Three Billboards or The Shape of Water. One would be a devastatingly misjudged choice, and the other would be Three Billboards. Perhaps less racially miscalculated than I first thought, McDonagh’s entry is a thrilling, complex study of American cynicism. Shape of Water, on the other hand, is a baseless romance that undermines itself, doing less to muster giddy excitement than show that it’s trying to muster giddy excitement. But, with Billboards‘ backlash…
Will win: The Shape of Water
Should win: Phantom Thread
Should be nominated: With a poor box-office return, it was never gonna make a mark at the Oscars, but what I would do for a Blade Runner 2049 nomination…
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Timothee 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.)
It’s Gary Oldman’s to lose, isn’t it? Rhetorical question, of course it is. He musters up a perfect recreation of a caricature of Churchill, but he’s not so good as to suggest that plonking a more Churchill-looking actor in Darkest Hour instead wouldn’t have been more beneficial. I’d rather see the award go to Day-Lewis’ bipolar Woodcock performance, Kaluuya’s stunningly sedate portrayal (I’d be happy if it was just his eyes that won the Oscar), or – especially – Chalamet’s youthful rendition of a luvvy-duvvy kid whose heart is constantly on the edge of breaking.
Will win: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Should win: Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Should be nominated: Robert Pattinson gives a stunning against-type performance in Good Time
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water); Frances McDormand (Three Billboards); Margot Robbie (I, Tonya); Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird); Meryl Streep (The Post)
What a(nother) strong year it’s been for female actors! Aside from the compulsory Streep nom for being Streep, we have four stellar performances – Hawkins is by far the best thing about Shape of Water, emoting so much without being able to use her voice. It’s not Saoirse Ronan’s strongest performance (that goes to Brooklyn), but it’s hard to imagine any other lead in the role of Lady Bird. Margot Robbie is, once again, the best thing about her respective film: sure, her make-up scene is all well-and-good, but her powerful delivery in I, Tonya‘s boardroom scene is worth a nom alone. I’d be happy with her winning…if it wasn’t for Frances McDormand’s (deservedly frontrunning) turn in Three Billboards, where she manages to give a bipolar, wildly kinetic character a realistic, humanist edge.
Will win: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards)
Should win: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards)
Should be nominated: Swap out Streep for any of Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), Jennifer Lawrence (Mother), Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), or – my no.1 pick – Gal Gadot, who created an icon in Wonder Woman. I told you it was a great year for female actors.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project); Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards); Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water); Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World); Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards)
From a very strong category to a considerably weaker one: this is a list full of actors who have had better performances. Plummer, Harrelson and Jenkins have no business being here – they’re fine, but at the Oscars, fine won’t cut it. Dafoe is receiving a lot of plaudits for his turn in The Florida Project, but while it is a very against-type, un-flashy role, I’m not sure I see the fuss over it. Rockwell puts in a shift with a tricky character – which is why he probably deserves the win – but it’s nothing on his duo-depiction in Moon.
Will win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards)
Should win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards)
Should be nominated: Not actually Hammer or Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name, who are a little too bland or minimal respectively. It was never gonna happen but Barry Keoghan’s wonderfully off-kilter performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer gets my vote.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Mary J. Blige (Mudbound); Allison Janney (I, Tonya); Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread); Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird); Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)
Some baffling choices in the mix. I’m glad Mudbound is getting represented at the Oscars this year, but a supporting actress nom for Blige is the last thing I would think of; she barely registers in the film. Spencer, too, gives a competent comic-relief turn, but it feels like she’s only nominated because of the film she’s starring in. And Manville’s performance is the third best of Phantom Thread; she does well with what she’s given, but her character is the least-defined. Admittedly, it’s the most crowd-pleasing.
It comes down to the battle of the mums, between a showy Janney and a nuanced Metcalf. Both are absolutely fantastic, but voters may want to reward Lady Bird with something on the night, and Metcalf seems like the safest bet.
Will win: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Should win: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Should be nominated: It was quite a weak year for supporting actresses, but Ana De Amas (Blade Runner 2049) stood out, delivering (deliberately) cliched lines and selling them with aplomb.
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk); Jordan Peele (Get Out); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread); Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
A couple of lovely surprises in here: Paul Thomas Anderson is a phenomenal director and Phantom Thread is simultaneously his most restrained and his most confident yet, bending a simple twisted romance into something else altogether. And it’s good to see Nolan finally get a nomination, after finely orchestrating a bullet-bloated whirlwind of a film. Get Out is a great film, though its main qualities arguably lie in its screenplay and not its direction – Lady Bird, on the other hand, overcomes a script leaning towards the generic through some measured pacing and exquisite performances – and behind it all is Gerwig (who I’m so happy is getting recognition considering how brilliant she is in Mistress America and 20th Century Women, among other things). But it feels like this Oscar’s headed in del Toro’s direction (if you pardon the pun), not least because he’s just so darn loveable. Like the man, his film is exceedingly popular; though I remain unconvinced of his talents.
Will win: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Should win: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Should be nominated: Guadagnino for Call Me By Your Name, anyone? Or how about Patty Jenkins for pulling off a huge cultural icon in Wonder Woman?
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
Call Me By Your Name; The Disaster Artist; Logan; Molly’s Game; Mudbound
This one is James Ivory’s to lose. His script for Call Me By Your Name is gorgeous, heart-breaking stuff, which, paired up with Guadagnino’s lively direction, creates a phenomenal, tangible romance. Virgil Williams and Dee Rees’ screenplay for Mudbound is also superb – minus a weird framing device – and would be a worthy winner. I haven’t seen Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, so can’t comment on that, but a nomination for The Disaster Artist is unearned; it’s a generic follow-your-dreams storyline relying on familiarity with the film it’s riffing off of for humour and streamlining much of Wiseau’s real-life intrigue. And the less said about the ridiculous nomination for the cynical, exposition-heavy, try-hard Logan, the better.
Will win: Call Me By Your Name
Should win: Call Me By Your Name
Should be nominated: I would have liked something for Dolan’s It’s Only The End of the World.
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
The Big Sick; Get Out; Lady Bird; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards
If Get Out is going to win any major award, Original Screenplay is its most likely option. Layered, rewarding, and scathing, it’s the reason why it’s one of 2017’s biggest films. Hot on its heels is Three Billboards, which, while hilarious and brazenly unconventional, suffers from a Dinklage-shaped tangent and some clumsy plotting. Lady Bird is a coming-of-age film that’s a little bit better than most other coming-of-age films – hardly worth a win, but definitely worth its nomination. The Big Sick feels like an outlier – it’s the film’s only nomination, but even this nom is a stretch: it’s a rom-com that’s hardly better than most other rom-coms. And The Shape of Water will revel in the technical categories, but even its most adoring fans can admit that its script leaves a lot to be desired.
Will win: Get Out
Should win: Get Out
Should be nominated: Despite all its neon bells and synth whistles, Blade Runner 2049 was made by its screenplay, which deftly inverted a chosen-one narrative and plunged deeper into what it means to be human. Honestly, it doesn’t just deserve a nomination, it deserves a win.