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Who’s thanking the Academy? A 2018 Oscars preview

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It’s Oscar time again!

This year marks the 90th Academy Awards. 90 years of Hollywood’s biggest night of self-celebration and self-congratulation. 90 years of dazzling gowns and dapper tuxedos and impactful acceptance speeches and inane interviews on the red carpet. 90 years of excitement and disappointment.

As someone who loves the movies, I love the Oscars. Sure, they’ve grown increasingly out of touch over the years (though there’s been some solid bounceback in the last few). So what? There’s something exciting about rewarding the best of the best – even if what seems like the best of the best today might not seem so great later on down the road.

This marks the 11th Oscar preview I’ve written for The Maine Edge. I’ve been doing this for over a decade. And while I’ve gotten pretty good at determining just who is going to win, the reality is that there are always going to be some surprises. Hell, just look at last year, when “La La Land” was the winner for Best Picture … until it wasn’t.

OK, so maybe we won’t see THAT big a surprise this time around, but that’s the joy of it – you just never know.

Here’s a look at my predictions. I've included write-ups for the big ones - the four acting categories, director and Best Picture - and just picked the winners for the rest.


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”

This one is regularly the most competitive (and often unpredictable) of the four acting categories. However, while it has the usual collection of excellent work, this year doesn’t look to be one that will surprise. Christopher Plummer had a brief surge thanks to the novelty of his situation, replacing the disgraced Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty. It’s a good performance, but not even the unique circumstances will put him over the top. The always-excellent Richard Jenkins is, well … excellent in “The Shape of Water,” but while that movie will likely win a lot of trophies, it probably won’t win one here. In another year, Willem Dafoe might have had enough to pull out a win for his universally-lauded turn in “The Florida Project;” he’s a dark horse contender, but I don’t think he makes it. Woody Harrelson offers up yet another reminder of just how incredible a talent he is, but his isn’t even the most acclaimed supporting performance in this movie. It’s Sam Rockwell’s award to lose; he’s been showered with hardware for his work here. It’s conceivable that he gets caught up in some of the backlash surrounding the film, but even those who don’t care for “Three Billboards” can’t deny the quality of Rockwell’s performance.

Prediction: Sam Rockwell

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”

This category is absolutely stacked, featuring foundational performances in some of the year’s very best films. It’s the sort of year where it’s hard to find fault anywhere – any one of them would be a deserving winner. It’s weird to have Mary J. Blige’s name here, but by all accounts, she gives a stunning performance in “Mudbound.” Lesley Manville went toe-to-toe with cinematic giant Daniel Day-Lewis and cut her own formidable figure opposite the screen legend. It’s an obvious challenge to which she effectively rises. Octavia Spencer is establishing herself as a regular in this category, giving yet another outstanding performance and yet again playing a key role in a wildly celebrated film. She’s a delight in “The Shape of Water,” though I don’t believe she’ll earn one of its many Oscars. I think that Laurie Metcalf gives what is easily the performance of her career in “Lady Bird,” capturing the complicated spirit of the mother-daughter dynamic in a heartbreakingly real manner. Alas, she won’t win, because Allison Janney is simply magnificent as the chain-smoking, rage-fueled mother of Tonya Harding. It’s a transformative role; Janney is magnetic even as she is reprehensible. She’s utterly unlikable, crass and cruel and funny as hell.

Prediction: Allison Janney

Best Lead 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.”

Of the acting categories, this is probably the one that is closest to a slam-dunk consensus. That’s not to downplay the quality of the performances – they’re all great – but it’s pretty clear that most parties agree upon the winner. Chalamet has received raves for his sensitive, nuanced work as a young man in love, but this isn’t his year. It’s fine – we’ll see him again plenty in the years to come. Denzel is Denzel, and I’m always going to be happy to see his name on these lists. He actually gives a pretty great performance; unfortunately, the movie in which he gives it is not only not great, it’s not even really that good. Kaluuya is excellent, creating an engaging character in the midst of a horror movie allegory where he could easily have sacrificed nuance. Instead, he gives a gripping, engaging performance. Still, I can’t see the Academy rewarding “Get Out” here. And I’m a little shocked that I’m not conceding the win to Daniel Day-Lewis – particularly since he’s paired with the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson. It seems like it should be his trophy to lose, which I suppose it is, because he’s going to lose it. Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill is a masterclass in the art of cinematically recreating a real person. He disappears beneath the makeup; within seconds, you forget that it’s even there. It’s not an actor in latex and a fat suit. It’s Winston Churchill. A big win for one of the greats of the craft.

Winner: Gary Oldman

Best Lead 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”

You know that a category has some outstanding candidates when Meryl Fricking Streep is arguably the weakest of the bunch. Meryl is Meryl and she 100 percent deserves to be here, but her work is merely excellent as opposed to achieving Streepian transcendence. This nod – her record 21st – will be a nice addition to the ledger. Saoirse Ronan is absolutely wonderful as the titular Lady Bird, bringing a sense of genuine pathos to this beautiful coming of age story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the flash that one often needs to attract the Academy’s attention in this category. Margot Robbie is electric as Tonya Harding, coarse and crude and likable despite all of it. It’s a great turn by a talented actress, but it just doesn’t look to be enough. Sally Hawkins might have pulled off the most impressive feat of any of these five nominees, putting forth a compelling, charismatic performance without saying a word. Carrying a film with silence like this is an amazing accomplishment – one that might have earned her a win in other years. But the reality is that this award is Frances McDormand’s to lose. Her brash, ballsy portrayal of a mother fueled by equal parts grief and rage is perhaps the most stunning performance by an actress with a career full of such performances. This trophy belongs to McDormand; she wins in a walk.

Winner: Frances McDormand

Best Director:

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

I love the look of this category this year, with veteran filmmakers rubbing shoulders with relative newcomers. It’s a wonderful mix of old and new, though one could argue that you could take the next few names on the list – guys like Martin McDonagh and Sean Baker and Denis Villeneuve – and not diminish the overall quality. It’s great that Jordan Peele got a nod for his exceptional work on his debut feature, but this is almost certainly not the year where the Academy shrugs off its prejudices against genre fare, no matter how thought-provoking it might be. Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the best filmmaker of his generation, but he might be doomed to the same fate as Martin Scorsese, where he doesn’t get the win for far too long. It’s wonderful that Greta Gerwig got recognized for the excellence of her work on “Lady Bird,” and you have to love the fact that there’s a woman on this list for just the fifth time in the 90 years of the Oscars. The draw is just too tough. It’s crazy to think that this is the first time Christopher Nolan has been nominated for this award; he’s certainly deserving. “Dunkirk” was an ideal film to put Nolan’s big-budget auteurism on display and an ideal canvas on which to display his unique stylistic vision. But it’s another unique stylistic vision that’s taking the trophy this time. Guillermo del Toro has seemed like the consensus pick for this one since the beginning of awards season, and with good reason – “The Shape of Water” is a hauntingly weird and beautiful love story wrapped in monster movie trappings, a wonderful representation of its director’s sensibility meticulously realized.

Winner: Guillermo del Toro

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”

First things first: here’s my obligatory declaration of my unending approval for the increased size of this category. Having more movies on this list was a great choice then and it’s a great choice now. And it’s a pretty good list – one could make arguments for a couple of snubs, but it’s a solid collection of films.

Make no mistake, though – while I love the expanded list, the reality is that this is pretty much a two-horse race. A lot of great films have fallen by the wayside in this particular sprint to the finish.

“The Post” is the sort of movie that probably would have won the whole thing if it had come out 10 or 15 years ago. It’s the sort of staid awards-bait that the Academy used to eat up once upon a time, featuring Important Messaging and a triumvirate of Hollywood royalty in Streep, Hanks and Spielberg. But the time for this kind of film may have passed.

“Call Me by Your Name” is a lovely little movie with some phenomenal performances, but it simply doesn’t have the oomph that a film of its size requires to make any real noise in this category. That, plus the fact that it feels as though it came out so long ago, eliminates it from contention. “Phantom Thread” did the opposite, barely squeaking under the wire as far as its release; one wonders if enough people saw it in time. It’s a Pantheon team-up – Anderson and Day-Lewis – but it just doesn’t quite have the juice.

“Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk” tackle the same event – the evacuation at Dunkirk during World War II – in an odd highbrow example of the “Armageddon/Deep Impact” principle. Both movies are great in their way; the former is a intricate and intimate portrait of Winston Churchill as he dealt with the realities of that massive event, while the latter has Christopher Nolan turning his love of time-bending spectacle onto that same event and constructing an excellent war movie. However, neither one has quite enough to force its way into the conversation.

I’m putting “Get Out” and “Lady Bird” together here despite the vast differences in their tone and subject matter. Neither film is the sort of movie that typically gets rewarded by the Academy, so it’s actually lovely that they’re here, because both are excellent films that will almost certainly be among the handful that are remembered years after many of the other contenders fade away. Peele’s dark social satire and Gerwig’s awkward coming of age tale are impactful watches that don’t have much of a chance (though I’d be curious to see what kind of support “Get Out” actually got – I’d bet it’s more than you’d think).

Your two real contenders: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water.”

It’s funny to see such different films facing off like this. You’ve got the racially-charged complexity of “Three Billboards” versus the fractured fairy tale of “The Shape of Water.” Gritty, overwrought realism versus surreal, dark fantasy. Each film features a compelling, well-wrought narrative – both are nominated for Original Screenplay. Each film showcases outstanding acting – both feature three separate nominated performances. Each film offers exceptional direction – del Toro is nominated and McDonagh easily could have been.

In the end, I really think it could go either way. However, I think the backlash against “Three Billboards” will prove to be just enough to keep it from taking the crown and allow “The Shape of Water” to close out what will likely be a VERY productive night with the biggest prize of them all.

Winner: “The Shape of Water”


And here are the rest of my predictions for the evening.

Best Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Winner: “Coco”

Best Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Winner: James Ivory, “Call Me by Your Name”

Best Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

Winner: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

Best Cinematography:

“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

Winner: Roger Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049”

Best Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Winner: Lee Smith, “Dunkirk”

Best Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

Winner: Alex Gibson, Richard King, “Dunkirk”

Best Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Winner: Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo, “Dunkirk”

Best Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Winner: Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau, “The Shape of Water”

Best Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Winner: Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”

Best Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Winner: “Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

Best Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten

Winner: Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick, “Darkest Hour”

Best Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle

Winner: Mark Bridges, “Phantom Thread”

Best Visual Effects:

“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,”  Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

Winner: John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer, “Blade Runner 2049” 

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Winner: “A Fantastic Woman”

Best Documentary Feature:

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

Winner: “Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Winner: “Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright

Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Winner: “DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk

Best Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

Winner: “Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant


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