Guys, I just don’t know. With a real lack of consensus around this year’s crop of nominees, there’s no one film you can point to and say: “That’s the one to beat.” So what’s going to happen Sunday night? Sure, The Shape of Water could sweep most of its categories (although I’m writing off Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress) in an historic night. Or it could mirror the BAFTAs exactly and it will be a big night for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which would require keeping sharp objects and Molotov cocktails away from Film Twitter). But while I’m not confident in many of these picks, I am fairly certain with this many great nominees, voters will spread the love, and we’ll have another year where the Best Picture winner isn’t the movie with the most overall awards at the end of the night. Read on, and on Monday you’ll know if I’m a moron or a visionary.
Call Me by Your Name
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Will win: Lady Bird
Could win: The Shape of Water
Should win: Dunkirk
Should have been here: The Big Sick
The skinny: Had Three Billboards scored a nomination for Best Director, this would clearly be a race between that film and The Shape of Water. And maybe it is. But those are two extremely polarizing movies that even its fans (I count myself among them) admit have some flaws. The latest rumors have the battle coming down to Dunkirk vs. Get Out. (We should be so lucky.) But with the preferential ballot – which requires re-voting until one film gets more than 50 percent of the vote – I think the most likely winner is the one with the best reviews: Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Now, I know the Producers Guild of America also uses a preferential ballot, and gave its award to The Shape of Water. But they also have more than triple the membership. So since the expansion of the category, Best Picture has tended to go to a movie everyone likes, but maybe doesn’t love. And while there is definitely a contingent of voters who think Lady Bird is the best movie of the year, I think there’s an even larger group of people who are charmed by it. They might not have it as No. 1, but they probably have it in their top 5. It’s a movie seemingly everyone can relate to and has positive feelings for. Is that enough to win? Maybe not. But with no real road map this year, your guess is as good as mine.
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Will win: Guillermo del Toro
Could and should win: Christopher Nolan
Should have been here: Dee Rees, Mudbound
The skinny: While this is an impressive slate of directors, with no duds like Morten Tyldum or head-scratchers like Mel Gibson gumming up the works, this one seems less of a competition. Guillermo del Toro has one nearly all the precursory directing awards. This is his first nomination, but his films are all admired, and this feels like the culmination of his fascination with monsters, outsiders and period settings. It may not be as big a night as its 13 nominations suggest, but this feels like the closest thing to a lock outside the acting categories.
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.
Will win: Gary Oldman
Could win: Timothée Chalamet
Should win: Daniel Kaluuya
Should have been here: Robert Pattinson, Good Time
The skinny: I know people are going to bring up Gary Oldman’s violent past as reasons not to honor him, but Academy voters are simply not going to care (at least not enough to give it to someone else). His performance as Winston Churchill is the best thing about the film, and it’s the type of hammy performance of a real-life person that the Academy honors on auto-pilot. There’s far more interesting work being done here, but I think most voters will say it’s too soon for the 22-year-old Chalamet and the 28-year-old Kaluuya, and they’ve already honored Daniel Day-Lewis three times. Denzel Washington could have won last year, but he is absolutely not going to get a second Best Actor trophy for a movie as idiosyncratic and underseen as Roman J. Israel, Esq. So it’s Oldman all the way.
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
Will and should win: Frances McDormand
Could win: Sally Hawkins
Should have been here: Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
The skinny: Whatever your thoughts on Three Billboards and its controversial script, no one seems to deny the great acting by the trio of nominated performers. This is McDormand’s movie through and through and she is absolutely phenomenal. And while the other ladies are quite good, I’m still a little dumbfounded that Vicky Krieps isn’t nominated for Phantom Thread. The Luxembourgian unknown went toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis and won. That would be the most interesting race, but alas the only person who could beat McDormand is Hawkins. She’s been nominated once before and is also the lead in a Best Picture nominee. She’s also playing a strong, independent woman, living boldly with her disability, which can’t be discounted. McDormand won for Fargo (one of the best and most-deserved wins of all time), but that was 21 years ago, so I doubt it will play a factor.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Will win: Sam Rockwell
Could and should win: Willem Dafoe
Should have been here: Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name
The skinny: Sam Rockwell has been one of the most beloved character actors for nearly two decades, popping up in everything from Galaxy Quest to The Green Mile, Iron Man 2 to Frost/Nixon. And while the character he plays is reprehensible, I imagine many people will just pretend he’s won for one of any number of stellar supporting turns he’s given over the years. But I could say the same for Willem Dafoe, playing a good guy for one of the only times in his career. As the caretaker of the Magic Castle (and the film’s only nominee), he is both watchful guardian and rule enforcer, protecting his guests but also laying down the law. He’s something of a revelation to watch, given his great villainous turns in Wild at Heart, Shadow of the Vampire and Spider-Man. But all these performances pale in comparison to the turn Michael Stuhlbarg – appearing in three Best Picture nominees – gives in Call Me by Your Name. As Elio’s wise father, he has the year’s best monologue. But nature has a cunning way of finding our weakest spot.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Will and should win: Laurie Metcalf
Could win: Allison Janney
Should have been here: Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
The skinny: This category is the Year of Moms. Unfortunately, they forgot my favorite mom: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick. So it comes down to two performances: one nuanced and lovely, the other caustic and a little schticky. I love both Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney, but when it comes to acting, the former is miles ahead of the latter. So I think (and pray) the Academy is not so easily amused with cutting remarks, bad parenting and a parakeet on the shoulder. More than just completing her Triple Crown of Acting, Metcalf deserves this because her performance is by far the most lived-in of any in this category. All the challenges she’s faced, all the sacrifices she’s made, all the love she feels is right there in every scene.