Picking Winners at the 90th Annual Academy Awards

Originally posted at BuffaloVibe

The 90th Annual Academy Awards hits airwaves Sunday, March 4th, 2018 at 8:00pm on ABC.

For those handicapping at home, here are the guesses of Buffalo film fanatics Christopher Schobert, William Altreuter, and myself.


Jared Mobarak:

This new look Academy is really starting to pay dividends. The fight for representation might have begun with a focus on the acting categories (there are four POC actors nominated this year out of twenty slots), but it’s expanded much further in a very short period of time. This 90th year of Oscar becomes a year of firsts as a result with Rachel Morrison in Cinematography (first female in the category), Dee Rees in Adapted Screenplay (first black woman in the category), and Jordan Peele (first black artist to be nominated for Screenplay, Directing, and Picture in the same year; the third artist to do it with a debut). Add transgender breakthroughs—Yance Ford is the first trans director to have a film nominated (Strong Island) and Foreign Film contender A Fantastic Woman centers around and stars a trans actress (Daniela Vega)—and it’s impossible not to see how things are changing.

None of these firsts are token either as each one is deserving while also possessing a good chance at victory. Remember, though, that nothing has been “fixed.” Just because the tide is shifting and new voices are being recognized in lieu of those who used to get a nod for being perennial favorites as opposed to presently worthy doesn’t mean Hollywood’s problems are over. The #MeToo movement proves it. Kathleen Kennedy stating that she can’t hire a woman director for Star Wars yet because none have the “experience” only to then hire “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss without a feature directing credit to their names proves it. The fact it’s taken 90 years for those “firsts” to occur and that Greta Gerwig is only the fourth female to earn a Best Director birth proves it.

So treat these highs and lows (the Animated Feature voting criteria was altered in a way that allowed The Boss Baby and Ferdinand to get in despite many worthy replacements) as baby steps—a learning curve as the industry looks inward to acknowledge how archaic bottom-line-driven decisions from the top are where opportunities begin. With very few exceptions I’d say The Academy’s look back at 2017 was taken with care and respect. Critics will squabble and scream about this and that, but they don’t vote for the Oscars. The guilds, those who make the movies do. And they’re finally waking up.

Christopher Schobert:

Jared, you make some great points about the steps forward in this year’s nominations. Will this translate to victory? That, I think, is the next question. I fear the answer is “no.” But as you’ll see from a few of my predictions, I am hopeful.

Either way, I’m thrilled to see the nominations for the likes of Get Out, Lady Bird, and Mudbound (though it deserved far more).

One note on my selection: It’s always important to note the distinction between what one WANTS to win, and what one thinks WILL win. I’m picking the latter here.

William Altreuter:

Most years it is hard to know whether Hollywood created the zeitgeist or if it is the zeitgeist, but I don’t think that’s the world we are living in this year, and I think that will show up in the awards. Sometimes the Oscars are an orgy of self-congratulation, but right now it seems to me that our liberal (or perceived liberal) institutions are still trying to figure out what the hell just happened, and whether or not they contributed to it. The movies mostly want to think of themselves as the promoters of a particular kind of optimism but that’s not so easy when Harvey Weinstein, purveyor of quality, is revealed as the sort of troll who ought to live under a bridge, and the President of the United States ought to have a secret lair under a volcano. If it could, the Academy might well have nominated all women. Since it can’t, and since so many of the movies that are nominated feature strong performances by actresses, I expect that we will see some longshots come in for the major awards on the strength of those performances.


Jared Mobarak:

I’ll say it right now: my two favorite supporting actresses this year didn’t make the cut. One was because the studio decided not to give her performance a For Your Consideration campaign at all (Annapurna Pictures’ first year as a distributor saw it putting everything behind Detroit rather than Rebecca Hall’s phenomenal turn in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women). The other was because … I honestly don’t know. Holly Hunter was so good in The Big Sick and yet her name never found traction like Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney. Perhaps voters felt three strong-willed mothers was one too many. Who knows?

While disappointed, I’m not surprised Hall and Hunter missed out. What surprises me is how Janney has been shutting Metcalf out this entire awards season. If you asked anyone mid-September they would have said Metcalf’s turn in Lady Bird was a lock. Now it’s Janney’s to lose. I thought the latter was great in I, Tonya, but I’m not certain the role as written had enough nuance to make her the frontrunner. To me she’s the weakest of this bunch.

Mary J. Blige was always getting a nomination and that’s hers and the film’s victory (a lot has been said about whether The Academy would have ignored Mudbound as a Netflix release). Octavia Spencer’s inclusion wasn’t, but her being here for The Shape of Water only proves her talent in extending her milestone as the only black actress winner to be nominated post-victory (she won for The Help and was nominated last year for Hidden Figures). The shocker was Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread. She is the best part of the film and her name being announced brought a smile to my face. I thought Hong Chau would squeak past for Downsizing (great in her own right), but I can’t be mad Manville took the spot.

In the end it’s definitely Metcalf vs. Janney, though. And I’m going with the underdog. Metcalf for Lady Bird’s sole win of the night.

Christopher Schobert:

The nomination that most excited me here was Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread, my pick as the finest film of 2017. (Sadly, I saw it too late for my “official” list.) She won’t win, of course, and neither will the equally deserving Blige. Jared, I hope Metcalf takes it, but to me, there is no way Allison Janney is ignored. It’s a showy role in a noisy film, and she nails it. She’s been good for years, is tremendously well-liked, and will walk away with an Oscar.

William Altreuter:

Mary J. Blige. Solid performance in a movie that deserved more love. (I really don’t understand the snub if it is because Netflix produced Mudbound: the era of quality television we are living in is giving a lot of talented industry people an excellent opportunity to do good work, and is expanding film into a long form media which is verging on a new art form.)


Jared Mobarak:

Now this is an intriguing category—one that’s very hard to handicap. Much like Metcalf post-TIFF, Willem Dafoe seemed a lock for The Florida Project (but so did the film back then). Awards season arrived with a difference of opinion courtesy of the whirlwind that is Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards. He started cleaning up and suddenly the tide shifted.

What’s interesting with the Oscars as opposed to those other awards, however, is that The Academy’s love for Three Billboards brought Rockwell’s worst nightmare: a potential split vote. Woody Harrelson is great in the film, but you never heard his name much. The fact that he made the final five here means those who want the film to do well now have two options. While his exclusion might have meant those who nominated him would switch to Rockwell, the door has now opened for an upset.

Will Dafoe sneak through? Or will it be The Shape of Water’s Richard Jenkins? Or what about Christopher Plummer? The latter should be the longest shot, but his nomination has me thinking otherwise. The guy comes in to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, shoots everything in nine days mere weeks before release, and finds himself with a chance at his second statuette. Did voters vote to commend Spacey’s removal? To applaud Plummer’s work ethic in difficult circumstances? Or do they actually think his cartoonish bluster earned this spot? Personally I’d have put Jason Mitchell (Mudbound), Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name), Algee Smith (Detroit), Patrick Stewart (Logan), and Bill Nighy (Their Finest) amongst others ahead of him.

All that said, I’d love to go underdog and say Dafoe because he has “career Oscar” going for him too. But that consideration may be dead these days. So I’m going to stick with Rockwell.

Christopher Schobert:

I really hate it when we end up making the same selections … But again, this is about what WILL win, not what SHOULD. Dafoe should win, and as you point out, for months it seemed this would be the case. But the tide turned in Sam Rockwell’s favor and … that’s fine. I guess. Like Janney, Rockwell is always good, and seems the type of genuine performer that is impossible to dislike. This is a fine performance, and he’ll win. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pretend it’s 2009, and Rockwell is nominated as Best Actor for Moon.

William Altreuter:

Christopher Plummer. C’mon, Best Actor in a Supporting Role is frequently a valedictory prize, and the backstory on this is so #MeToo that I can’t imagine Plummer losing. In another year Armie Hammer would be a great pick, but this year Call Me By Your Name isn’t quite woke enough. Funny how fast things can change—it could have been the Moonlight of 2017, but wasn’t.


Jared Mobarak:

If there was any category this year without one surprise, Best Lead Actress is it. Anyone who thought these five wouldn’t be here was merely hoping because the only question mark is Meryl Streep—not because she was bad (I thought her turn in The Post was one of her finest), but because she is Meryl Streep and these Oscars are about “new blood.” (How great would it have been if Daniela Vega, Cynthia Nixon, or Florence Pugh got in for A Fantastic Woman, A Quiet Passion, or Lady Macbeth respectively?)

Will she win? No. Neither will Margot Robbie or Saoirse Ronan, both great yet helped by superb pacing and mainstream comedic snark. I don’t think Sally Hawkins has a chance either despite many saying The Shape of Water could run the table because I don’t think that’s the film with “run” potential.

Listen to the critical dissent surrounding Three Billboards all you want, but the industry loved it. And can anyone who hates the film say they also hated Frances McDormand’s performance? I’d be surprised if her victory isn’t unanimous.

Christopher Schobert:

Your trio of ignored actors—Vega, Nixon, and Pugh—would have made this an infinitely more interesting category. That being said, it’s hard to be upset when the likes of Hawkins and Ronan made the cut. (I’m sorry, but Meryl Streep and The Post did little for me. She was great, of course, and the film was fine. But who could get excited about it?)

McDormand is the likely winner. But I think it’s time to pick an upset. So I’m going to go crazy and say Margot Robbie wins for I, Tonya. Why? It’s a fantastic performance in the type of obvious, entertaining film I imagine plays well with Oscar voters. She is a true star on the rise, one who seems humble and dedicated. And of this bunch, I think it’s the performance that voters will most remember. All of that being said, I’m probably wrong. Oh well! My money is on Margot anyway.

William Altreuter:

Frances McDormand. Three Billboards is as zeitgiest-y as they come, and McDormand is beloved (apparently she is a genuinely nice person as well as being a brilliant actress). Loved I, Tonya, but I think the tone is wrong. Tonya Harding was the victim of just about any kind of abuse I can think of, and Margot Robbie was amazing, but rural white poverty isn’t in favor right now: these are the people who were Trump voters, and I think the Academy voters are not feeling the love for that demographic right at the moment. Meryl Streep is pretty much always great, but The Post was the sort of thing we assume she can do in her sleep.


Jared Mobarak:

Unlike the previous category, Best Lead Actor has always been wide open save Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread was always a safe bet because he’s Daniel Day-Lewis, but few people saw the film until late December. Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out was always in the conversation too—and boy does his performance get better with every rewatch. But Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq.? He deserves this spot, but I can’t deny agreeing with the jokes by so many online about how no one saw this film. Give those publicists a raise because they got enough eyes on it after all.

But these three leave out Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger (a long shot at best) and Christian Bale in Hostiles (perhaps even longer considering its lack of studio clout). It leaves off buzz dark horses James McAvoy for Split and Robert Pattinson for Good Time as well as Nahuel Pérez Biscayart in French standout BPM.

But the real outlier is James Franco. His turn as enigmatic weirdo Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist getting a nomination was as assured as Oldman and Chalamet’s until the sexual harassment scandal broke. From Golden Globe winner to hosting dinners for his would-be peers on the red carpet to staying home, this is the power of voice. This is what many thought should have happened with last year’s winner Casey Affleck (who won’t be presenting Best Actress this year as tradition has usually dictated). This is real-time change.

Despite not being immune to his own highly checkered past, however, this one remains Oldman’s to lose.

Christopher Schobert:

Here is the lock of the night. Oldman can’t lose. As expected, the actor is marvelous as Churchill. And even if the film feels a bit ho-hum, his force-of-nature performance is not. Oldman should have won in the past, for everything from Sid and Nancy to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It will be fun to watch him take home the Oscar.

William Altreuter:

I see this as coming down to Daniel Day-Lewis and Daniel Kaluuya. Lewis is the odds-on favorite, but Get Out is a movie that I walked out of feeling like a different person. This is the big award I think it will win, and I think it will be well-deserved. Gary Oldman’s Churchill is a stunt, frankly. Best Actor prizes for stunts don’t go to roles where the prosthetics do the work. I need to see Roman J. Israel, Esq.—it sounds like a good addition for my Lawyers in Movies class.


Jared Mobarak:

Besides a few outliers (Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, Alice Birch’s Lady Macbeth, James Gray’s Lost City of Z, and more), this category is pretty solid. You have new guard (Virgil Williams and Dee ReesMudbound and Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s The Disaster Artist), old guard (James Ivory’s Call Me By Your Name), never out of style guard (Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game), and *gasp* a superhero film (Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green’s Logan). That last one is a shocker and a testament to the kind of quality comic book fare can achieve within a big franchise machine like X-Men.

While I would love to see Rees and Williams collect gold for two reasonsMudbound not getting a Best Picture nomination and shutting people up about how Netflix is the enemy and not the future (it’s like Napster users of old who gave the middle finger to the record industry are now proving themselves as out-of-touch as those gate-keeping “oppressors” who refused to adapt where their precious “cinema” is concerned)—it sadly won’t happen. Logan’s win is the invite and Sorkin’s inclusion a big name to offset newcomers.

To me The Disaster Artist is the spoiler if for no other reason than finding a way to bring empathy and compassion out of a story that has been the butt of so many jokes this last decade. It’s not as good as the duo’s Spectacular Now or even (500) Days of Summer, but you can’t help and laugh about it being just as much a romance.

The frontrunner and my choice for glory is therefore Ivory with his first screenplay nomination (fourth overall after three directing nods of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala scripts). It will be both a nice tribute to his legacy and a well-earned accolade for yet another film that lost some steam in the lead-up.

Christopher Schobert:

I’m a bit bored by this grouping, even though I adore several of the films. It would be a treat to see The Disaster Artist win, but that ain’t happening. James Ivory will indeed take home the Oscar for his wonderful CMBYN script, and that’s that.

William Altreuter:

There’s always a category were we each agree—and therefore each get wrong. I agree that James Ivory is a lock for Call Me By Your Name. Logan’s award will come next year when Black Panther demonstrates at last that the super hero genre has more to it than men in long johns and explosions.


Jared Mobarak:

Original Screenplay is stacked. These are the year’s heavy hitters for good reason and all but Lady Bird are in my own top five for this grouping too. Like last year, though, I think the winner will be a product of “spreading the wealth.”

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick is already victorious having seen its buzz sustain itself from Sundance until now. Sadly it has the unfortunate distinction of being the odd nominee out with these other four proving likely winners of the night’s big prize. But as I said earlier about Metcalf being Lady Bird’s sole win, Greta Gerwig will need to wait for another day too.

That leaves Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards, Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s The Shape of Water, and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Because I do believe they’ll all leave the Kodak Theater with a win, this one has to go to Peele. His social horror/thriller is simply too smart to be left empty-handed, it’s metaphor too intelligent and subtly insidious. The comedian turned A-list auteur hit a home run that probably would have won even without the current political climate helping the cause.

Christopher Schobert:

Jared, I hope you are right about Get Out’s Jordan Peele winning here, but I don’t think so. When push comes to shove, I expect this ends up a race between McDonagh for Academy favorite Three Billboards or, if it’s not Peele, my hope is Greta Gerwig for her delightful, insightful Lady Bird script. Is it an upset to predict Gerwig? Perhaps. I think she takes it. Honestly, I would consider a win for Gerwig or Peele to be a home run.

William Altreuter:

These are all pretty great movies, and I’d be fine with Jordan Peele winning, but I see this as where Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri starts to roll up the statues. The Big Sick’s award is being nominated, and I’m not so sure that it was the writing that I liked about it.


Jared Mobarak:

My Top Five directors of 2017 look much different than this list with only Dunkirk’s Christopher Nolan (it still boggles the mind that this is his first nomination in the category) and The Shape of Water’s Guillermo del Toro remaining. That’s not to say the others aren’t great with Paul Thomas Anderson holding court through his impeccably orchestrated Phantom Thread, Jordan Peele finding psychological terror both above and below the surface in Get Out, and Greta Gerwig proving her transition from actor to director holds immense promise (my issues with Lady Bird are script-based).

I just think Dee Rees, Todd Haynes, and Edgar Wright were better on Mudbound, Wonderstruck, and Baby Driver respectively. Those three films are complex in all facets of the storytelling process and they handle every detail with expert precision—much like Nolan and del Toro. But that’s me aligning “bigger” with better. I didn’t love Baby Driver like so many did, but boy did Wright masterfully put all his ducks in a row.

So I’m saying this race is between Nolan and del Toro with the former having a real good shot at the victory if guesses that Dunkirk might stage a Best Picture upset are true. I’m going to stick to my “split the pot” hypothesis, though, and crown del Toro the victor so he may join his fellow “Three Amigos” with a trophy. He’s been almost unstoppable this season with the controversy surrounding whether he stole his ideas being all but put to bed. Genre as prestige is back.

Christopher Schobert:

Here is another category in which an upset would be glorious—I’m looking specifically at Anderson, Peele, and Gerwig. Alas … Guillermo del Toro will win. I adored The Shape of Water, so I’m not too saddened by this.

William Altreuter:

Christopher Nolan. I have never understood how Best Director is supposed to be different from Best Picture, but here’s a theory: Although my default is to think of Best Director as the prize that should go to the most fully realized directorial vision, (in which case I’d be Team Guillermo del Toro) there is actually more to directorial success than just that. The thing that Dunkirk does best, and the thing that the other nominees on this list didn’t really do at all, was to demonstrate a mastery of logistics. Dunkirk is a spectacle, and the Academy understands how complex and difficult it is to tell a coherent story on that scale. Get Out is my safety pick, because of pacing (Best Editing prize?).


Jared Mobarak:

To say this group of nine is “safe” is to risk denigrating their quality. I don’t say it in this way, though. I say it because these are exactly the nine we assumed would be picked. Many of us hoped Mudbound would squeak in. Some still thought The Florida Project had a shot despite its steady decline since autumn. There were many who said Wonder Woman might make an appearance too—a hope born from the changing Hollywood climate. When the biggest “shock” is Phantom Thread because no one was sure there was enough time for voters to watch it, your selections are safe even if they themselves aren’t. The “surprises” became contenders so early and passionately that we have taken them for granted.

This fact is a testament to the shift that’s occurring, a mirror on the undercurrent of tension and anger running through the country. Horror has been legitimized again because so many of us have been forced to confront our positions as outsiders (Get Out and The Shape of Water). Female-led work is championed (Water, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, and The Post), an LGBT romance has stayed at the top of everyone’s mind since Sundance (Call Me By Your Name), and yet there’s still room for war with both a postmodern masterpiece (Dunkirk) and a throwback to Oscar-bait of old (Darkest Hour).

So there’s a bit of everything to satisfy those barely holding onto their Academy vote and those just bestowed with the honor months ago. And while many have held the frontrunner mantle, I think three have risen to the top (with that Dunkirk upset lurking behind). The industry has narrowed things down to Get Out, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards—whether critics and audiences agree or not. And while Peele’s script is by far superior with del Toro’s vision unparalleled, Martin McDonagh’s blunt middle finger to our reactionary times has resonated like no other via love and hate. Those others should get their wins for their craft while Three Billboards is immortalized as a vision of 2017’s rage.

Christopher Schobert:

There are several deserving picks here, especially Phantom, Bird, and Get Out. They could take it. But the safe bet here is Three Billboards, a film I liked very much at TIFF but that seemed much weaker when watched at home a few months later. It is an “issue” film, well-acted and entertaining, and I think the Academy will look past its flaws.

William Altreuter:

You guys stole my pick here, and I agree with your reasoning. I’m going to go with Lady Bird, mostly because I’m a contrarian, but also because I thought it was the total package: relatable story, excellent performances—the whole deal. Of all the movies on this list I think it is the one that will probably hold up the best (a Bildungsroman is always hard to resist). I just don’t see Dunkirk or Darkest Hour being a movie that very many people are going to curl up with on a cold night ten years from now, and although you or I might feel that way about The Shape of Water or maybe Call Me By Your Name, I think we are probably not really the right demographic. Right now there are people for whom Lady Bird is already their favorite ever movie.



Jared Mobarak

Supporting Actress:
Laurie Metcalf
(Lady Bird)

Supporting Actor:
Sam Rockwell
(Three Billboards)

Lead Actress:
Frances McDormand
(Three Billboards)

Lead Actor:
Gary Oldman
(Darkest Hour)

Adapted Screenplay:
James Ivory
(Call Me By Your Name)

Original Screenplay:
Jordan Peele
(Get Out)

Director:
Guillermo del Toro
(The Shape of Water)

Best Picture:
Three Billboards

 

 

 


Christopher Schobert

Supporting Actress:
Allison Janney
(I, Tonya)

Supporting Actor:
Sam Rockwell
(Three Billboards)

Lead Actress:
Margot Robbie
(I, Tonya)

Lead Actor:
Gary Oldman
(Darkest Hour)

Adapted Screenplay:
James Ivory
(Call Me By Your Name)

Original Screenplay:
Greta Gerwig
(Lady Bird)

Director:
Guillermo del Toro
(The Shape of Water)

Best Picture:
Three Billboards

 

 

 


William Altreuter

Supporting Actress:
Mary J. Blige
(Mudbound)

Supporting Actor:
Christopher Plummer
(All the Money in the World)

Lead Actress:
Frances McDormand
(Three Billboards)

Lead Actor:
Daniel Kaluuya
(Get Out)

Adapted Screenplay:
James Ivory
(Call Me By Your Name)

Original Screenplay:
Martin McDonagh
(Three Billboards)

Director:
Christopher Nolan
(Dunkirk)

Best Picture:
Lady Bird

 

 

 


photography:
Nominees for the 90th Oscars® were celebrated at a luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton, Monday, February 5, 2018. The 90th Oscars will air on Sunday, March 4, live on ABC. Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Leave A Comment