Best PictureI've already posted my rankings of the nominated films, and my top selection is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I thought last year's race (where I picked Moonlight over La La Land and others) was open, but really I could see any of my top four or five films be selected. It seems most people think The Shape of Water is Three Billboard's main competition, and though one scene really pulled me out of it, the rest of the film was so good, I'd be happy for its win. I do wish more people recognized the craft that went into The Post, though.
In addition, there's been a popular push for Get Out, which is only special for things outside of the movie itself; if it wins, I'll be happy for Jordan Peele, but disappointed in the Academy.
Best DirectorI'm not sure I've picked with the Academy on this since Ang Lee for Life of Pi, so I don't honestly expect Christopher Nolan to win for Dunkirk, but that's who I'd give the statue to. I fully expect Guillermo del Toro to win for The Shape of Water, and he did a fine job crafting a nuanced film with a story that could easily have turned into camp. But I believe Nolan should be recognized for beautifully pulling together a film that seems like in the hands of most directors would have been impossible to make. The vastly different scales of timelines in Dunkirk was a major hurdle to overcome, as well as tackling the sheer scale of the operation. This comes the closest to matching Hollywood's old epics like Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, or Spartacus in terms of technical difficulty.
Best ActorThis is really Gary Oldman's to lose in a relatively week year in this category. Denzel Washington, who should have won last year, played a bit of a caricature with Roman J. Israel, Esq. Phantom Thread did not feature Daniel Day Lewis's greatest work. Timothée Chalamet did an admirable job for his first major starring role, but basically played a moody teenager through most of the film. And honestly, I was surprised to see Daniel Kaluuya even nominated.
Oldman really managed to disappear into his role as Winston Churchill. It's the kind of performance where you easily slip away from thinking you're watching an actor pretend to be someone famous and instead the real-life person is talking and moving in front of you. That type of taking on the full persona of a famous person, whether it's Day Lewis's Lincoln, Scott's Patton, or Ben Kingsley's Gandhi, usually results in a statue. Here, it's definitely well deserved.
Best ActressI think Frances McDormand should run away with this in a strong slate of nominees this year. Her Mildred Hayes was multi-dimensional to a degree that none of the other nominees can claim. Part of the strength of Three Billboards is that its characters shift along the spectrum between hero and villain (sometimes quickly), and that provides McDormand an almost unfair opportunity to demonstrate her craft.
Of the others, I greatly appreciate Meryl Streep's almost meek performance as Katharine Graham and Sally Hawkins's emotive performance without the benefit of speech. If it weren't for McDormand's tour de force, I'd want to hand the statue to Hawkins. Both Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie gave excellent performances, but they both would benefit from getting the chance to take on more nuanced characters. Ronan has particularly shone recently in coming of age movies, and I have to wonder what she can accomplish in an even meatier film.
Best Support ActressI have not yet had the chance to watch Mudbound, so I can't pick Mary J. Blige, who's making a surprise visit in the Oscar nominations. Of the remaining, I feel it's really a race between the two bad moms of the category, Allison Janney for LaVona Fay Golden in I, Tonya and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird. Janney's been getting a lot of the pre-Oscar awards, and I would not begrudge her getting the Oscar, but for me the winner should be Metcalf.
Golden does not really have a character arc throughout I, Tonya: she's just a greedy, abusive mother throughout. McPherson, on the other hand, goes through a range of emotions. The airport scene in which McPherson melts from an anger to acceptance to sorrow as her daughter prepares to leave is a wonderful bit of acting that few actors seem to pull off when offered the opportunity. I would hand her the Oscar in a moment.
Best Supporting ActorWhen in doubt, give the Supporting Oscar to the actor who excelled in a role that conceivably could have been put up in the leading category. Viola Davis provided a good example of that last year. In this case, it's Sam Rockwell as the villain/hero in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that is the obvious choice here. His Deputy Jason Dixon runs a full gamut of lunacy and heroics throughout the film. It is an exemplary performance and his Oscar will be well deserved.
If somehow Rockwell doesn't win, I'd kind of like to see Willem Dafoe get it for his solid work in the criminally underappreciated The Florida Project (see my notes on it in my Best Picture rankings for more on that). Really, everyone in this category did a great job, though I was less impressed by Christopher Plummer, who did a yeoman job filling in at the very last minute for the disgraced Kevin Spacey and essentially duplicated his character from The Inside Man.
Best Original ScreenplayThis is an excellent slate of nominees, and I wouldn't be disappointed with any of them winning. I kind of want The Big Sick to win, but I think that's more my emotional attachment to the film speaking than a real studied examination of it in comparison to its competitors. I think if I were to set that aside, it would come down to Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, whose dialogue sings to me in a way that the other films don't, so that will be my official pick (though I'll be rooting for Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani). I honestly don't know who the Academy will select for this one, and predictions seem to be all over the map.
Best Adapted ScreenplayI'm hamstrung a bit by not having seen Mudbound here. Of the others, I'm not overwhelmed by any of the options. Call Me By Your Name has some ridiculously sounding moments in it, which helped push it down my Best Picture rankings. Logan was a movie I actually could have seen getting a nomination for Best Picture, but I'm not sure how much of that has to do with its script. Molly's Game is great, but it's just a bit too Aaron Sorkin-y, as if he was working without an editor to rein in some of his verbal and stylistic excesses. That leaves what I believe will be my pick, The Disaster Artist, which was laugh out loud funny yet manages to be poignant at the same time. I was somewhat disappointed that the film didn't get a Best Picture nod, so here's its chance to take home a statue.
Best Animated FeatureI'm not picking this category, because I've managed to not watch a single one of the nominees. However, when thinking about it, I point back to a list of three criteria I invented a few years ago:
- A nominated film should have seen wide release to win. The larger populace that votes for the eventual winner in Animated Feature seems to not do the same level of homework that it might do for the bigger awards like Best Picture, so to have a real shot, a contender has to be one the voters already know something about.
- Innovation helps, at least to some extent. Some animated nominees were the first to really try some major new technique. I don't think this criteria trumps the first one, but it may help break a tie.
- The winner is often the one that, if shot as a live action film, would still have significant merit. If the story transcends the animation, you may have a winner.
Given these, I'm not sure I'd go with The Breadwinner, which was barely seen in the U.S., or Loving Vincent, which had a slightly larger audience, but mostly in art house theaters. Of the remaining three, I don't think Boss Baby or Ferdinand would become a live action film anyone would take seriously. Out of elimination, I'd expect Coco to probably be my pick. If I'd actually seen any of them.
In this category, I've seen neither Mudbound nor Blade Runner 2049. Of the remaining three, I think the easy pick for me is The Shape of Water, which is absolutely gorgeous.
Best Production Design
I've still not seen Blade Runner 2049, and I haven't seen Beauty and the Beast, either. Of the others, again, I have to go with The Shape of Water. Every scene could almost be a painting.
Best Visual Effects
Setting aside Blade Runner 2049, I am largely impressed with the other nominees, but three of them have little moments that take me out of the film at times. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a solid Marvel entry, but moments like Yondu's Mary Poppins bit looks a little too soundstagey to keep the illusion going. Similarly, there are some problems when Kong interacts with humans Kong: Skull Island. Star Wars: The Last Jedi would be my pick if it weren't for that horrible chase scene on Canto Bight. That leaves War for the Planet of the Apes, which continues to create lifelike movie stars out of motion captured apes. War gets my pick.
Best Animated Short
Honestly, I'd give it to any nominee other than the incredibly self-indulgent Dear Basketball, in which Kobe Bryant verbally masturbates over his career. Garden Party is some dark stuff, a film that starts off innocuously but then fills you in little by little about the what's really behind the initially playful scene. Negative Space is a touching, if warped, remembrance of a lost loved one. Revolting Rhymes is a capable adaptation of Roald Dahl, though only the first part of the two part story is nominated. I think for me the best of this set is Lou, Pixar's latest nominee, in which a bully learns the meaning of sharing.
Best Live Action Short
I'm torn on this category, which is relatively weak compared to years past. The best acted (by far) of the nominees is The Eleven O'clock, which is also the only trifle of the set. The Silent Child connected with me the most, but its theme of pro-help for deaf children doesn't have the same power as the other three. Of the others, we see a take on school gunmen (Dekalb Elementary), heroism in the face of terrorism (All of Us), and historical racism (My Nephew Emmett). Of these, I think I would have to pick My Nephew Emmett, which dramatizes the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till in 1955 Mississippi at the hands of racists wanting to execute him for a (falsely) reported advance on a white woman. My Nephew Emmett has to overcome some very dark lighting, but overall the historically important story is conveyed powerfully. Dekalb Elementary is somewhat handicapped by some wooden acting, and All of Us has to overcome some language and cultural issues in its communication of a positive message in a dark world.
Best Original Scores
I hate to just award this to Alexandre Desplat every year, but he keeps pumping out great film-specific scores. The Shape of Water is elevated by his music. If Desplat somehow doesn't win, I hope either John Williams gets it for a strong Star Wars: The Last Jedi entry that continues his overall Star Wars oeuvre or Carter Burwell for a very interesting score for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Best Original Song
For me, this comes down to a threeway competition between the ballad "Mystery of Love" from Call Me By Your Name, the anthem "Stand Up for Something" from Marshall, and the modern show tune "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman. I hate to go the obvious route and pick the show tune, but it really gets into your head and sends a positive message that many need to hear. It also plays a significant role in the film, is what you hope for in an Original Song winner.
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