First Pass Oscar Predictions, 2018

Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences persists in nominating films and people for their “Oscars” award, which you may have heard of, and I, in a vestige of my time as a professional film critic, go through the “Big Six” categories and try to guess who and what are going to win, usually getting five out of six (but not always the same five out of six) categories correct. The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards came out today, so let’s do this thing again, shall we?

A caveat: In the last few years it’s become harder to make accurate predictions, in part because as the Academy itself has become younger and more diverse (not a lot more younger and diverse, yet, but still), its voting has become somewhat more adventurous. Also, a passing generation means that some things that might have been a shoe-in for a Best Picture win have to work harder to stay in the mix (yes, I’m looking at you, “Dunkirk”). This is a good thing for the Award of Record of the film industry, but makes accurate guessing of winners harder. Don’t pity me, I’ll be fine.

Now, let’s do this thing.

Best Picture:

“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 general rule of thumb is that the films without Best Director nods are shoved out of the boat first. It’s not always accurate — see “Argo” a few years back — but it’s generally a safe bet. Which means in this case, we should say goodbye to “The Post,” “Darkest Hour,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “Three Billboards.” With that said, I think “Three Billboards” is still likely in the mix because it’s got a significant number of other high profile nods (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay) and a few other nods as well. “Post,” “Hour” and “Name,” however, are probably already out of the running, although if Trump does something genuinely awful with the press during the voting period, I mean more than usual, I can see “Post” getting a surge.

In the old days I think “Dunkirk” would be a slam dunk for Best Picture — it’s war and nobility and all that stuff — but I don’t think WWII is as resonant as it used to be. “Phantom Thread” like most Paul Thomas Anderson movies is handsome and intelligent and I think people admire it more than love it, so I don’t see the award going that direction. “The Shape of Water” got the most Oscar nominations and that’s not chicken feed, but it’s a fantasy film with significant horror elements, and fantasy has only won Best Picture once with “The Return of the King,” which won because it was a capstone of a trilogy that is the arguably the best popular trilogy of films in cinema. I think it would be delightful if “Water” won but I suspect it won’t. I think it’s likely to be the “Color Purple” of 2018: Nominated for lots, winning little, and people wondering why at the end of it.

The three finalists in my mind are “Three Billboards,” “Lady Bird” and “Get Out,” and of the three I think “Get Out” is the likely (but historically unusual) winner — likely because it really was the right film at the right time, i.e., a time when racists are literally on the march again, and one is in the White House, and unusual because it’s a horror film and only one horror film (“The Silence of the Lambs”) has won before. But aside from it being a good film, I think the Academy will like the idea of shoving a middle finger way up in the air at racism (and, yes, indirectly at Trump). I think it’s possible either “Three Billboards” or “Lady Bird” could sneak by but I suspect not (it’s more difficult to “split the vote” in the Best Picture category because it uses preferential balloting). I think it’s “Get Out”‘s year, and rightly so.

Will Win: Get Out
Should Win: Get Out

Best Director:

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

For a very long time, the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars were generally well-linked, but in the last several years there’s been a tendency to split them up, and I strongly suspect that will happen again this year, in part because if “Get Out” wins, Jordan Peele will get an Oscar as a producer anyway, and because this year the Academy has two multiply-nominated directors it would probably like to throw a bone to, not only for this year’s films but as a career award.

So: Peele I think will not get the award here, for reasons mentioned above. Next out is Greta Gerwig — it’s great that she’s here (you can still count the number of women nominated for Best Director on one hand), but I think being here is her award for the moment. Next out, I suspect, is del Toro, as part of my blanket suspicion that “Water” is going to miss out on pretty much everything (I’d like to be wrong!).

This leaves us with Nolan and Anderson, both of whom have been multiply nominated before, and make the sort of films that makes the film industry feel good about itself, in terms of pushing out “classic, intelligent” movies. Of the two I would give the edge to Anderson, who has been nominated as director before (Nolan’s previous nominations were producer and screenplay nods), and overall has more nominations. I don’t think you can argue that the man is not deserving of the award, either overall or in reference to this particular film. And again the Academy seems to like to split up Director and Picture these days. So Anderson is my frontrunner for now.

Will Win: Anderson
Should Win: del Toro

Best Actor:

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.”

Oddly enough, Denzel Washington is out first for me — not because I don’t love him as an actor (I think he’s arguably the best actor of his generation) but because his film is not otherwise nominated for anything, and he already has two Oscars. So this is kind of like when the Academy nominates Meryl Streep in one or the other of the Actress categories: A nice safe choice to fill out the ballot.

Next out for me is Chalamet, who I suspect is just happy to be here and rightfully so, and then Kaluuya, whose performance (in a horror film!) might ultimately be too subtle for the people who prefer flashy performances with ACTING in them.

Which leads us to Day-Lewis and Oldman, both of whom are actors acting with actory intensity. Day-Lewis has three Oscars already so he doesn’t really need another, but then again he’s said this is last film role, so maybe the Academy will want to see him off in Oscarly fashion, which, well, fine. But with that said I think it’s going to be Oldman’s year. He’s been Hollywood’s utility infielder for a long time now, slotting in to that place where Michael Caine and Gene Hackman used to be, and representing august historical personages in crisis is an Academy Award sweet spot (note Day’s last win, for “Lincoln”). I think Oldman’s beatable in the category, but he is the man to beat.

Will Win: Oldman
Should Win: Kaluuya

Best Actress:

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”

For my money the most competitive category this year in terms of quality. Streep is, well, Streep — this is her 21st acting nomination (she’s won three times), and this time she’s not just filler on the ballot, as she has been before (I’m looking at you, nominations for “Florence Foster Jenkins” and “Into the Woods”). But I still don’t think it’s her year. Likewise Sally Hawkins, who in fact I would love to see win — such a great performance, without words. I won’t toss her completely out of contention; if Holly Hunter could win an Oscar without speaking, Hawkins can’t be dismissed entirely. But I think she has an uphill climb.

Margot Robbie is my next out. Her performance as Tonya Harding is the patented “gorgeous actress who can actually act has to uglify herself to make people realize she can in fact act” maneuver, which is a thing we should probably have more of a conversation about than we typically do, but it often works and still might here. But I think the competition this year does not make the votes fall in her favor.

It comes down to McDormand and Ronan for me. Both of them won Golden Globes this year and both of them have given widely praised performances, and both are previously multiply nominated for Oscars, with McDormand having won one for Fargo. I think it’s a real coin toss here, and I change my mind about who has the edge roughly once a minute. This very second, I give the slight edge to McDormand, but ask me again in a minute and I’m not sure I can guarantee I’ll say the same thing. As noted: The most competitive category this year, in my opinion.

Will Win: McDormand
Should Win: Hawkins

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”

I think Harrelson and Rockwell have a pretty good chance of splitting the “Three Billboards” vote, although I suspect Rockwell has a better chance here than Harrelson. Jenkins does a lovely job in “Water” but I don’t know that it’s enough to catch up to who I see as the two front runners. Plummer has momentum for literally coming into a film at the last minute and still socking his performance out of the park, but he’s won this category before and I don’t know if it’s important for voters to award him again, even for being Not Kevin Spacey. For me that leaves Willem Dafoe, who basically stands in for “The Florida Project” which is otherwise off the ballot, and for whom this will be seen as a career award, and thus a pretty easy vote.

Will Win: Dafoe
Should Win: Dafoe

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”

Octavia Spencer already has an Oscar in this category and the category is hotly competitive this year; I don’t see her winning. Likewise I wonder to what extent a possible bias against Netflix (which doesn’t really release its films into theaters, unlike, say Amazon) will impact Mary J. Blige; I guess we’ll see (Disclosure: I sold film rights to Old Man’s War to Netflix). I don’t see Lesley Manville moving the needle (no pun intended) in the category, either.

So that leaves Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf, both playing mothers (albeit of different sorts), and while the fan of both actresses in me is screaming don’t make me choose give it to both which by the way could totally happen (Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tied for Best Actress one year), I suspect Janney may have the slightest of edges because the mother she’s performing is kind of a monster, and monsters are fun to perform and watch. But seriously, Academy: Work a tie in this category. Everybody will be happy!

Will Win: Allison Janney
Should Win: Either Janney or Metcalf

Other categories:

I suspect James Ivory may have an in for his Adapted Screenplay for “Call Me By Your Name”; he’s been multiply nominated as a director over the years, never winning, and this would be a lovely career recognition award. After Best Actress, I think Original Screenplay is the most competitive category, and the one where Guillermo del Toro has his best chance of winning something on Oscar night (screenplay Oscars are often the “consolation” Oscar for people nominated for director). That said, I’ll be cheering for Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani in the category because we’re Twitter friends, and also their screenplay is wonderful. I see no future where Coco doesn’t win Best Animated Film.

I’ll likely check in again closer to Oscar night and offer some tweaks to these predictions, but for right now: This is it.

Thoughts of your own about this year’s nominees, or just want to detail how I’m wrong about everything (in terms of my Oscar predictions)? That’s what the comments are for.

38 Comments on “First Pass Oscar Predictions, 2018”

  1. Just curious as to why releasing in a theater should matter? A movie is a movie (says the totally non-movie guy) isn’t it?

  2. As far as Best Supporting Actor is concerned, I could see Woody Harrelson getting it for what is both an excellent performance and an opportunity to give him career recognition, or Sam Rockwell for another excellent performance and, as my wife pointed out, he really, really should have been at least nominated for “The Way Way Back” a few years ago.

  3. Just curious as to why releasing in a theater should matter? A movie is a movie (says the totally non-movie guy) isn’t it?

    Not, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, if it doesn’t play in an actual movie theater in Los Angeles or New York for a week (or is it two weeks?) before anything else happens to it in the US market. Otherwise, it’s a TV-movie or a direct-to-video production.

  4. Of interest from a nerdly standpoint is that “Logan” was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay; I believe that is the first time a graphic novel adaptation has been nominated,

  5. I’d love to see Get Out win best picture. It absolutely blew me away, in part because I didn’t expect it.

    As much as I liked Shape of Water, I had some problems with it. Maybe it’s not fair but I can’t help comparing it to Pan’s Labyrinth, which was nearly perfect, IMO. On the other hand, Sally Hawkins’ performance was a joy to behold, and I think she deserves the nod.

  6. On Body and Soul was one of my two favorite SF/F movies last year (the other being The Shape of Water), so I was delighted to see it as a finalist in the Foreign Language category. Weird and wonderful.

  7. Having live through the terrible years of Tonya here in Portland, I really don’t want to see any of the awards go to a film that tries to normalize her crazy behavior.

    But then, I’m not a voter.:)

  8. I’m curious on your thoughts (if you have any) on the slate that was nominated for Best Animated Film. Sure, Coco is a slam dunk for the win, but what the heck are “Boss Baby” and “Ferdinand” doing on the list? Having worked at DreamWorks Animation for nearly 15 years, I like to see their films there. But in a year that contained films like “your name”, “A Silent Voice” and “In This Corner of the World” what is the Academy thinking?!?

  9. I’m rooting for McDormand, partly because I haven’t seen The Shape of Water, but I’d just love to have her win for playing a Mildred, as well as a Marge.
    It does look like a good year for the Oscars, with lots of worthy nominees. Some years, you wonder why they bother giving them out.

  10. Of the Best Documentary category, I’m bummed “Kedi” didn’t make the nod. That’s the sweet Turkish street cat documentary, for those who haven’t seen it yet.

    OTOH, given that “Faces Places” is probably French New Wave director Agnes Varda’s last film and my favorite documentary from 2017, that will be the one to beat.

    Also happy if not utterly surprised “Dear Basketball” got one of the Best Animated Short nods. I caught it at the recent “Animation Show of Shows.” The film’s basically Kobe Bryant narrating his poetic farewell to the sport that proved an integral part of his life. Legendary Disney animator Glen Keane did the drawings. Even though I’m not much of a sports fan, this was an incredibly moving short.

  11. Was wondering if John had any thoughts on the Five-Thirty Eight model that scores the nominations?

  12. “Ghost World” (Daniel Clowes) was also nominated for Adapted Screenplay (didn’t win). I’m surprised “Road to Perdition” wasn’t — it got 6 other nominations though.

    Regarding Streep and The Post: She’s overshadowed by several scenery-chewing performances (Hanks, Odenkirk, Whitford), and what makes her so good in the role is that she looks uncertain, tentative, weak — until a critical point in the story — but it’s possible to see that as uncertain, tentative, weak acting.

  13. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dunkirk wins a bunch of the technical categories (eg, cinematography and sound editing). It won’t win any actors (because it doesn’t really have any stars), but the technicals are amazing. I remember watching it (in 70mm) and thinking “Wow, the sound editing in this is REALLY good”, and you usually don’t notice things like that.

  14. I really love Rachel Morrison’s cinematography for Mudbound, but come on Academy, show Roger Deakins some love for the gorgeous Blade Runner 2049 (it’s his 14th nomination). Blade Runner should win all of the technical awards that Dunkirk will win.

  15. Hi John,

    Appreciate the straight to the point acknowledgement that Coco is the only Animated Feature worthy of winning the Oscar this year. As a soon to be father of a baby girl, I literally bawled when the father started singing Remember Me to Coco.

    Curious if you, as a father of a recent high school graduate daughter, had a similar emotional reaction. Or am I just a big softie?

  16. I pretty much agree with your analysis of what will win, differing in personal preference on the shoulds. The only thing I would add is that Dunkirk ought to run away with the sound awards.

  17. If this was a proper future, Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts would win both Best Animated Film and Best Picture, but unfortunately we seem to have taken the wrong branch a bit back.

  18. I predict something I saw this year will win an Oscar. Probably in the technical categories though.

    If not The Shape of Water, then Star Wars will probably pick up at least one. (Unless I missed something, Logan was the only other nominated movie I saw, and it only got one.)

  19. On the animated films front – there’s a news article a while back talking about the Best Animation category nominators, with a particularly infamous quote from one of the nominators referring to Isao Takahata’s “Tale of Princess Kaguya” as one of “those Chinese f*****g things”. I suspect there’s some lingering racism among the Best Animated Feature nominator pool. Hopefully time will purge that – but I’m not entirely sure. Most of the animated works I’m seeing where the animators are showing appreciation for works coming out of the East (not just Japan, but China as well) are in TV animation, not film animation (with notable examples being Voltron: Legendary Defender, the Avatar-verse series, Steven Universe, Gumball, Adventure Time, and Clone Wars & Rebels).

    The exceptions that immediately come to mind are Pixar (both with Brad Bird being a big fan of Miyazaki, but also Pixar approaching Studio Trigger to put together an extra for one of the Toy Story direct to video films), and Laika (they’re at least aware enough of anime to send a group of animators to do a panel at my local Portland anime convention *without* getting Guest billing).

  20. Sally Hawkins should not win for Shape of Water because it is actually genuinely offensive to watch nondisabled actors win awards for playing disabled characters. Her performance is genuinely meh.

    I cannot figure out why people love these performances and how people see something profound in what is truly just meh. A truly mute or even deaf actor could have done it so much better.

  21. I suspect there’s some lingering racism among the Best Animated Feature nominator pool.

    Lingering? I think in the power structure it’s still pretty damn ascendant.

    A truly mute or even deaf actor could have done it so much better.

    I’m not sure this is a statement that should be made. It lumps two distinct communities together that shouldn’t be.

  22. I really don’t see Dunkirk having won in any year. While I thought critically it was brilliant, I also thought most people just would not get the lack of character development and/or big names. It was just too damn slow for the general public, and The Academy..
    I think you’ll struggle to get five of six this year. Incidentally, I’ve become a HUGE fan of Ronan. Anyone who hasn’t seen Brooklyn, do yourself a favor and watch this beautiful, innocent picture.
    Oh, and can we limit the Best Picture nominations to five or so?

  23. My favorite categories are the shorts. I’d love to hear your thoughts on those when they are available.
    My favorite movie last year was Wonder Woman. Bummed there was zero Academy love for it, but not surprised. Next were Logan, and The Big Sick and I am thrilled with those nominations.
    Dunkirk all the way for the sound awards. Watched it first at the big IMAX, which was overwhelming and awesome. The DVD extras are definitely worth the watch.
    Haven’t seen Get Out and will get on that pronto.
    Go Greta Gerwig! Would have boycotted and read books all during February if she wasn’t nominated.

  24. I think this year I haven’t seen any nominated film or performance. With a five-year-old and three two-year-olds in my care, trips to the movie theater don’t make sense financially or logistically.

    The only two films I’ve seen in a theater are The Last Jedi and Coco, and I had to take the family on a Disney Cruise to see them! Count me as a yes for Coco, of course.

  25. Although I know it has no chance to win, Loving Vincent, was far and away my favorite animated feature length movie of the year. It moved my soul.

  26. I can’t really afford to go see movies, which explains why I haven’t seen any of these, but really, I haven’t even heard of them.

    Folks are living in different worlds, I guess. I’m that outsider looking in. A spectator in the twisted game of life.

  27. I still think of Shape of Water as “Amelie Falls For Abe Sapien” and think that would be more entertaining.

  28. I’m deeply disappointed that Patrick Stewart didn’t pick up a best supporting nod for his role in Logan. I’m still holding out hope for adapted screenplay.

  29. I’ve complained before that comic book movies rarely get any love from the Academy (Ledger’s win for The Dark Knight is an exception, and I suspect his death may have had something to do with it), so I’m not surprised that Stewart didn’t get nominated for Logan. Still, it was a good movie, and he was great in it.

    My favorite movie last year was Baby Driver, but since it’s a crime movie with a lot of funny parts (though not exactly a comedy), its biggest nomination was for editing. Oh, well.

  30. My biggest concern is that Roger Deakins, one of the greatest cinematographers in history, has a 14th nomination for Blade Runner 2049, has never won, and might not win because it was such a flop.

    It’s a beautifully shot movie and demands a win.

  31. Silly Customer:

    Ironically, in adjusted dollars, BR49 and Blade Runner made almost exactly the same in domestic theatrical release. It made $260M worldwide and will probably eventually crawl into the black in ancillary. Also, that shouldn’t have any effect on Academy voting since all the voters either already have or will get screener copies for their own.

  32. I thought “The Shape of Water” was brilliant, but I have been surprised that no one else seemed to notice that it has the same plot as “Splash” with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah.

  33. I would never count out Meryl Streep. Everyone thought her role in The Iron Lady was filler, and she won.

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