Every year I plan to have my Oscar Picks post up at least a week before the actual awards show, but somehow I always end up spending the last week before Oscar Sunday scrambling to watch the last few films I haven't seen. While I saw most of these movies in their initial runs, and have been able to catch up with others easily on streaming services, there are always a few films (particularly the foreign ones) that insist on opening in Chicago (if at all) right at the last minute. (Just today I did a double-feature at the nearby Music Box Theater, where I finally saw Foreign Language Film nominees A Fantastic Woman and Loveless: the latter literally opened yesterday.)
And, try as I might, there are always a few films that fall between the cracks. Agnes Varda's documentary nominee (and likely winner) Faces Places played briefly last year at Chicago's small arthouse Facets, but I missed it, and it's not yet available by any other means. I also voluntarily skipped All the Money in the World when it was in theaters—it didn't interest me, and I have a bit of a Marky Mark issue—and it's not On Demand yet, so Christopher Plummer's substitution for the deservedly exiled Kevin Spacey is the only one of the acting performances I missed.
Which is okay: seeing every Academy Award nominee is probably a silly, pointless, even tragically compulsive goal in the first place—especially for someone who's not even an Academy member. I mostly do it—and commit to writing this post—because I appreciate the arbitrary deadline of Oscar Sunday. If OCD didn't force me to see all these 2017 films by March 4, 2018, it might be years before I got around to some of them, and I'd miss out on some good stuff. (For example, I loved Foreign Film nominees The Square and On Body and Soul, and I probably wouldn't have watched them without this self-imposed sword hanging over my head. And even something like Roman J. Israel, Esq.—though, as I'd heard, an incredibly messy movie—turned out to be far more interesting than I'd expected.) After all, the only real point to the Oscars—besides checking out the dresses—is that it's a giant, communal list of recommendations of good stuff to see.
Still, I apologize for getting this post up too late for it to be of any use to you in your office Oscar pools. (For the record, I tend to run about 70 percent with my predictions: not bad, but you're not missing out on any prodigious prognostication here.)
So, for whatever it's worth at this point, here are my choices for who will win, who should win, and who—by all standards of human decency—must not be allowed to win at the 90th Annual Academy Awards. (As usual, I'm listing these in the order of last year's ceremony, which is the only order in which we know they won't be presented this year.)
Everyone nominated in this category is an excellent, often underrated actor. (I did not see All the Money In the World—the one film in the major categories I missed—but I have no doubt Mr. Plummer was a considerable upgrade from the actor he replaced.) At this point, the award is clearly Sam Rockwell's to lose, but you can count me as part of the Three Billboards backlash: decent performances aside, neither its tone-deaf politics nor its appallingly clumsy screenplay inspire me to wish further laurels heaped upon it. (And—specifically—I am always skeptical of the Academy's embrace of comically racist white characters to whom they can feel superior.) So I'm rooting for Willem Dafoe's embodiment of unsung human decency in the criminally overlooked The Florida Project.
Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Must Not Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Write-In Nominees: Barry Keoghan, Killing of a Sacred Deer; Tracy Letts, Lady Bird; Patrick Stewart, Logan; Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
This is always the weirdest, most inexplicable slate of nominees. Somehow, it leaves one with the suspicion that all Hollywood makeup artists are 98-year-old cranks longing for the days of greasepaint and burnt cork. (Example: the more interesting styling of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and the Netflix trainwreck Bright both made the short-list, but they are NOT the sorts of movies this branch of the Academy ultimately embraces. They like puffy Churchill.) I didn't particularly like any of these movies, so I have trouble getting worked up about it.
Will Win: Darkest Hour
Should Win: None of them.
Must Not Win: All of them.
Write-In Nominees: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; The Shape of Water; Phantom Thread
By all rights, this should be a slam-dunk for the exquisite clothes in a film about an exquisite clothier: Phantom Thread. (Be warned, however: if The Shape of Water continues its recent awards-show momentum, it could pick up a few surprise trophies in categories like this.)
Will Win: Phantom Thread
Should Win: Phantom Thread
Must Not Win: With apologies to Jaqueline Durran—the nominated designer for both films—neither the standard '40s styling of Darkest Hour nor the shot-for-shot realization of the cartoon designs for Beauty and the Beast strike me as particularly worthy of acclaim.
Write-In Nominees: How about the pitch-perfect motel-wear of The Florida Project? Or hell, let's throw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets some love. And don't even get me started on the complete shut-out of Wonder Woman.
This was one of my most neglected categories this year. I didn't get around to Abacus: Small Enough to Jail or Last Men in Aleppo, and I stupidly missed my brief window last year to see the great Agnes Varda's Faces Places. Of the remaining two, I found Strong Island—director Yance Ford's examination of his brother's death—quietly powerful and subtly profound, but I'm going to assume Varda's film is both the likely and deserved winner.
Will Win: Faces Places
Should Win: Probably Faces Places, but my favorite here was Strong Island.
Must Not Win: No opinion
Write-In Nominees: I Am Not Your Negro was nominated for last year's Oscars, but the Academy overlooked my other four favorite docs from 2017: Whose Streets?; A Gray State; City of Ghosts; and Step.
The nominations for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are identical this year. My guess is that these are two-horse races between Baby Driver and Dunkirk. They're both films that aren't going to win a lot of major awards, and so they're both going to get a lot of (deserved) love here. I suspect the same film will win both, but I'm going to hedge my bets here. (Also, the only film all year that I walked out of raving about the sound was Phantom Thread—but I guess that's not the kind of sound design than wins Oscars.)
This is another category without a weak link, though Octavia Spencer's inclusion is a bit of a puzzle. (Spencer is always good, but I would have said her role in The Shape of Water was a thankless one. I guess I was wrong.) Janney has picked up nearly every trophy available for her crowd-pleasing comedic turn in I, Tonya, but—as much as I love her—I found it (and the movie) disappointingly shallow and mean-spirited. I'd much rather see the trophy go to the more deserving Metcalf (possible, but unlikely) or Manville (pretty much impossible). But my vote goes to the subtle, understated, far more genuine (and wrenching) performance of Mary J. Blige in Mudbound.
Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Should Win: Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Must Not Win: Octavia, I love you, but you do not need another Oscar for playing a maid.
Write-In Nominees: Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip; Brooklyn Prince, The Florida Project; Haley Lu Richardson, Columbus; Rebecca Spence, Princess Cyd. (And, since she got shafted in 2017—the film's technical year of eligibility—I'll mention here that Haley Squires gave one of the performances of the decade in I, Daniel Blake.)
As I mentioned above, the damn foreign films are the reason this post is so late. (And I still didn't get to see The Insult.) I am fresh off my viewings of A Fantastic Woman and Loveless, and I have to confess that neither of them was as good as I had heard or hoped. They are both fine, and feature excellent performances (from Woman's Daniela Vega and Loveless's Mariana Spivak in particular) but I found them each—dare I say it?—kind of boring. The smart money is on Woman to win—and I'll celebrate it as a victory for transgender representation—but I actually found On Body and Soul far more interesting, and Ruben Ostlun's The Square most interesting of all. A dryly insightful satire of the art world on the surface, and a powerful study of empathy (and the lack thereof) underneath, The Square is a funny film with more serious ideas than most of the year's big dramas.
Will Win: A Fantastic Woman
Should Win: The Square
Must Not Win: No opinion
Write-In Nominees: Raw; Thelma; and seriously, did no one see First They Killed My Father?
Am I the only one who found the slate of animated shorts really crappy and underwhelming this year? Garden Party had the most beautiful animation, and I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Dear Basketball win, if only so people can say "Oscar-winner Kobe Bryant." But my vote goes to the only one of the five that was actually about something: Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata's Negative Space.
Will Win: Negative Space
Should Win: Negative Space
Must Not Win: Lou struck me as Pixar just barely trying.
I didn't see Ferdinand, and—let's face it—I'm not going to see Ferdinand. I did diligently rent The Boss Baby, and I watched as much of it as I could stand. (This, to be honest, was not very much.) But my affections are split between the remaining three nominees. Part of me would love to see either Loving Vincent or The Breadwinner win, as it is long past time this branch of the Academy embraced animation's ability to tell more mature stories. But those films are both let down slightly by their screenplays, and the same can't be said of Coco, Pixar's best film in years and an almost certain lock for Best Animated Feature.
Will Win: Coco
Should Win: Coco
Must Not Win: The Boss Baby
Write-In Nominees: The absence of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie on this list is mystifying; the elevation of The Boss Baby above it is a crime.
In theory, this should have been a guaranteed win for Blade Runner 2049, but I don't think that's how this year is shaping up. The Shape of Water's adult-fairy-tale aesthetic is a worthy contender in this category, and—since that film has all the momentum going into Oscar Night—I fully expect to see it steal this award.
This is a tough category to handicap. The smart money is probably on Blade Runner 2049 to pick up an award here, and I won't argue with that. (Whatever problems I had with the film, the visuals were dazzling.) But nothing all year impressed me as much as the protagonists of War for the Planet of the Apes, who proved that motion-capture characters have finally advanced to the point where we completely forget we're watching motion-capture characters.
Will Win: Blade Runner 2049
Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Write-In Nominees: I'll keep mentioning Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in pretty much any category that isn't about writing or acting. I also have to put in another protest against the exclusion of Wonder Woman, and a shout-out to the brilliant but overlooked Okja.
Again, this should be a two-horse race between Dunkirk (the safe choice), and Baby Driver (the fun choice). I'm going to bet on the snappy, split-second precision of the latter to push it over the top against Nolan's almost-equally deserving war picture.
I'll be surprised if Edith + Eddie doesn't win here: it's a good film, but, more importantly, it's perfectly in this category's ideal sweet-spot of heart-warming and infuriating. For my own choice, I liked all of the nominees, but as a piece of filmmaking I'm inclined towards Frank Stiefel's Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405.
Will Win: Edith + Eddie
Should Win: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Must Not Win: They're all good, though Knife Skills is probably the weakest of the bunch.
Write-In Nominees: Like most Americans, these are the only documentary shorts I saw all year.
It was a particularly strong slate of nominees in the Live-Action Short category this year, making this one of the hardest races to predict. The unfortunate timeliness of DeKalb Elementary's story—about a thwarted school-shooting—might give it an edge, but its one-set simplicity makes it one of the least impressive shorts from a technical standpoint. Of the remaining films, I'm torn between Kevin Wilson Jr.'s devastating perspective on the death of Emmett Till, My Nephew Emmett, and Chris Overton's moving The Silent Child, about a deaf girl exposed to sign language over the ignorant and selfish objections of her hearing parents. They're both impressive films, but it's the latter that gets both my prediction and my vote, as it's the one short I could happily have seen stretched to feature length.
Will Win: The Silent Child
Should Win: The Silent Child
Must Not Win: They're all worthy
Write-In Nominees: No opinion
The Shawshank Redemption. Fargo. Kundun. O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Man Who Wasn't There. No Country for Old Men. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The Reader. True Grit. Skyfall. Prisoners. Unbroken. Sicario.
Those are Roger Deakins' 13 previous nominations in the Best Achievement in Cinematography category, and he's up for Lucky 14 this year for Blade Runner 2049. Could this be the year in which the Academy's own Susan Lucci finally takes home the gold?
Probably: I'm placing my money on Deakins, and I'll be happy to see him win for an extraordinary body of work. And yet I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see him lose (yet again) to either Dunkirk or The Shape of Water. I would be surprised—albeit pleasantly—to see him lose to the first woman ever nominated in this category, Rachel Morrison for Mudbound. (Morrison—who also lensed a little picture called Black Panther—is having a very good year, whether she wins here or not.)
Will Win: Blade Runner 2049
Should Win: Mudbound
Must Not Win: Bruno Delbonnel is only a five-time nominee, and his competent but uninspired work on Darkest Hour didn't inspire a lot of love here.
Write-In Nominees: Phantom Thread; Good Time; Personal Shopper; Columbus
I rarely have strong opinions about the Best Original Score category. However, I detested Hans Zimmer's overly-literal score for Dunkirk, I disliked (as I usually do) the aggressively manipulative work of Alexander Desplat (nominated here for The Shape of Water), and I loved Jonny Greenwood's delicate score for Phantom Thread.
Will Win: The Shape of Water
Should Win: Phantom Thread
Must Not Win: Does John Williams really need a sixth Academy Award for Star Wars: The Last Jedi? And honestly, I don't even remember the music from Three Billboards.
I don't feel qualified to judge the songs as songs—I prefer to stay in my lane—but the clear favorite is Coco's "Remember Me," from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. (That's the Oscar-winning team responsible for a little ditty called "Let It Go" from Frozen: bet against them at your peril.) In terms of a song's effectiveness as a movie moment—what I think this category should be about—it's hard to argue with the selection. (Though I'll confess that watching the video for the delightfully cheesy power anthem "This is Me" almost made my musical-loving heart want to go see The Greatest Showman.)
Will Win: "Remember Me," from Coco
Should Win: Probably "Remember Me," but I would love to see Mary J. Blige get the award here she's not going to win for Mudbound.
Must Not Win: No opinion
Write-In Nominees: None
I am already preparing to swallow my bile when the tone-deaf, artlessly contrived screenplay for Three Billboards wins this award. Lady Bird is a good script, and The Big Sick is fine, but the clear deserving candidate here is Jordan Peele's Get Out, a fiendishly clever and importantly subversive film that will be remembered and viewed long after the others are all forgotten. (Get Out could pull a win here if this is—as I fear—the only category in which it triumphs.)
Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should Win: Get Out
Must Not Win: I love Guillermo Del Toro, but I hate seeing him lauded for The Shape of Water, one of his weakest movies.
Write-In Nominees: Too many to name, but let's start with The Florida Project; Columbus; Good Time; and Personal Shopper.
It is a pleasant surprise to see Logan nominated here, but that nomination is probably all the upstart superhero film can expect. The venerable James Ivory's adaptation of Call My By Your Name is the clear favorite—and again, this may be the only win that film clocks—but my vote goes to Virgil Williams and Dee Rees's treatment of Mudbound.
Will Win: Call Me By Your Name
Should Win: Mudbound
Must Not Win: Once a fan, I am now so over Aaron Sorkin. And Molly's Game was a film—like it's co-runner I, Tonya—that I couldn't help but feel would have been far better if it had been written and directed by a woman.
Write-In Nominees: I don't have a lot of better suggestions here, though it is disappointing that Angelina Jolie's stunning adaptation of Loung Ung's memoir First They Killed My Father was so universally overlooked.
This is almost certainly Guillermo Del Toro's year, and I like him enough that I'm trying not to begrudge the fact that I found The Shape of Water a charming but deeply flawed film. (I'm just going to pretend it's a lifetime achievement award, or a long overdue thank-you for Pan's Labyrinth.) This is a category in which I would not be entirely surprised to see a major surprise, however. Nolan and Anderson are both long-time darlings who have never won. (This is Nolan's first nomination somehow, and only Anderson's second.) Gerwig and Peele are both performers-turned-directors, who each hit it out of the park in their first at-bat: this is something the Academy loves to reward. So it feels like more of a crapshoot to me than the Vegas-odds would indicate. For my own preference, Get Out is the one I most enjoyed, but I can't deny the absolute perfection of Phantom Thread's direction.
Will Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Must Not Win: Surprisingly, they're all worthy.
Write-In Nominees: Too many to name, but top of the list must surely be Kogonada, for his stunningly perfect debut Columbus. Off the top of my head, I'd also add Sean Baker (The Florida Project), The Safdie Brothers (Good Time), Angelina Jolie (First They Killed My Father) and Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper).
To me, this is one of the weakest categories of the evening. I was less impressed than everyone else seems to be with Timothee Chalamet or his film. (I thought both were perfectly fine, but neither was exceptional.) Denzel Washington is always excellent, but Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a maddeningly messy role and film. And I'll just go ahead and say it: I thought Darkest Hour and Gary Oldman were both kind of awful. Alas, Oldman will almost certainly win—I'm going to pretend it's back-pay for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy—and I am left choosing between two exquisite, subtle acting turns. To me, Kaluuya had the bigger challenge, and did the finer work in a remarkably sensitive, largely internal performance. (DDL doesn't need another trophy anyway.)
Will Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Must Not Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Write-In Nominees: I don't have a lot of suggestions here: as it turns out, it's a weak slate because it was a weak year for male performances. But I'll throw in Robert Pattinson (Good Time).
I will be shocked if Frances McDormand doesn't continue her winning streak here, after cleaning up at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics Choice Awards, and SAG Awards. I don't really feel passionately about any performance here, but I suppose I'm rooting (futilely) for Hawkins, who delivered two excellent performances this year in The Shape of Water and Maudie.
Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should Win: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Must Not Win: They're all good
Write-In Nominees: Where the hell is Vicky Krieps for Phantom Thread?
Can we just take a moment to celebrate that this is a pretty good slate of films? With the exception of Darkest Hour—precisely the kind of mid-level historical drama the Academy once adored—even the films with which I had complaints and quibbles (Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, The Post) are worthy, impressive, interesting candidates. Surprisingly, this is not an easy category to predict, and in fact we've seen several surprises in recent years. Last year is memorable not just for the fiasco of wrongfully announcing La La Land as the winner over Moonlight, but also because La La Land seemed to have all the momentum going into that catastrophic final moment. (And, similarly, the 2016 Oscars seemed to be heading towards an inevitable win for The Revenant, before Spotlight came from nowhere to snatch the trophy.)
Will it happen again? Probably not, but I have hope. Three Billboards seemed to have the inside track earlier in the season, but now The Shape of Water seems to be closing the gap, with awards from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Critics Choice Awards. And I feel so little confidence predicting which one of these deeply flawed films might win, that I'm going to do something I never do and bet on last-minute victory for the 10/1 longshot—and the actual best picture of the year— Get Out. Love for the other two films has waxed and waned throughout the season, but the acclaim for Jordan Peele's smart, subversive thriller has never faltered: it's the Rosemary's Baby of the Black Lives Matter era, and it's going to have a place in the cultural consciousness, win or lose.
Let's just hope that, if it does win, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway manage to read the right card this time.
Will Win: Get Out
Should Win: Get Out
Must Not Win: Darkest Hour (for general mediocrity) or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (for irresponsible, woefully tone-deaf politics)
Write-In Nominees: Literally, too many to mention. There are at least four slots here (Three Billboards, The Shape of Water, The Post, and Darkest Hour) I would happily have given to films on my Best Films of 2017 list.