Saturday, March 03, 2018

Oscars 2018: Final Picks

The Oscars are coming up on Sunday, so it's time for me to engage in my annual tradition of possible public embarrassment and lock in my picks for the Academy Awards. I have been picking the Oscars for over a quarter of a century, and although I have a decent track record  - a 70.9% success rate picking all nine major categories over the past thirteen years, with four years in which I picked 8/9 correctly - I really struggle with picking Best Picture, and this year seems no different.

That said, I'm going to leave my Best Picture pick for last and start with (what should be) the easiest categories to predict: the Acting categories and Animated Feature, which have all seemed to be locked in since the beginning of the race and for which no commentary seems necessary.

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney in I, Tonya.

Best Actress: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Best Actor: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour.

Best Animated Feature: Coco.

The Writing and Directing categories are a bit more interesting, however...

Best Adapted Screenplay: I thought initially that James Ivory would win for Call Me By Your Name, and his win at the Writers' Guild only solidified that opinion. I do not see an upset here, and this will serve as a way for the ardent fans of the film to honor not only its writing, but also Ivory's entire career.

Best Original Screenplay: I thought earlier that Greta Gerwig might win this category over Martin McDonagh, but now I think that the momentum belongs to Jordan Peele, and that his WGA win for Get Out will also give him the Oscar. I think, however, that whoever wins this category may give us an idea of which way the biggest award of the evening may swing.

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro won the Directors Guild Award and The Shape of Water won the Producers Guild Award, so I think he has this one locked up. The Academy does not want the optics of giving the Best Director award to a white male this year, so Christopher Nolan will have to wait yet again, even though Dunkirk might have been his best chance thanks to the fickle nature of the Academy. (Or it just means that he could win for one of his next few films that might not be quite as good, as tends to happen with the Academy - like when Guillermo del Toro wins this year.)

Best Picture

This has been the most competitive year I can remember in regard to the Best Picture race. Usually, by this point, there are only two movies that could win; this year, I count four that have a decent chance at the prize. I have had a very difficult time choosing which one will win as a result - so much so that I cannot shake the feeling that no matter which movie I pick to win, I'll be wrong. That would make four incorrect Best Picture guesses in a row, by the way - although only one of those misses (when I did not pick Birdman to win) will have been truly indefensible. Here are my thoughts on the chances of each picture.

No chance: Call Me By Your NameDarkest Hour; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; and The Post. I had originally thought that Lady Bird might have more of a shot, but it just does not seem to have the momentum to win, even though James England's model, which has correctly predicted the last two upsets using his crowd-sourcing technique, has it listed as an overwhelming favourite. I do not think he will three-peat, but some of his other results have informed my own.

Here are the cases for and against the remaining four nominees, in my estimation of least likely to most likely.

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan's WWII film has stayed in the conversation for a long time, and with good reason. There has not been a war movie named as Best Picture since The Hurt Locker in 2010, and there's usually one named in every decade. That said, there is also a long history of critically lauded, technically excellent war movies not winning Best Picture (Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan), so that pattern is by no means an indication that a war movie will win in the near future.

The main reason I have not been able to shake Dunkirk from the top contenders - other than its eight nominations - is the possibility of its winning based on the preferential voting system. If, like many pundits expect, The Post and Darkest Hour are the two least popular films after the first vote, there is a good chance that the voters who prioritized those movies would also put Dunkirk high on their lists.

So, depending on the how voters rank the other movies, it could sneak a win if it is named second on enough ballots. That said, it just has not seemed to garner the kind of buzz that it has needed, even as a possible front-runner, so I think it is far more likely to end up on the perennials lists of "Best Movies That Did NOT Win Best Picture", which will likely help its long-term legacy, rather than harming it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: This drama took hold of the #MeToo moment more than any other movie, and its Golden Globe win gave it an early front-runner status that has somewhat inexplicably lasted through the backlash the movie received. But perhaps the most problematic issue is not with the movie's awkward treatment of racial politics or revenge fantasies: it is the decreased age of Academy voters and the consideration of what a Best Picture is now.

I think we no longer live in a time in which The Artist or Argo or maybe even Birdman could win Best Picture. The increase in youth in the Academy and the way that the social media narrative has escalated even in the past three years seems to have changed the Oscars, and that will hurt movies like Three Billboards. There seems to be a much bigger focus on the legacy of these movies, and no one wants to see another Crash - a movie to which Three Billboards has been unfavourably compared in recent weeks thanks to the way in which its politics are being regarded and the content and method of the movie itself. It's not an entirely fair comparison - Three Billboards is superior to Crash, and there's no instant classic like Brokeback Mountain for it to defeat in an upset, but the fact that it's there might be enough to keep voters away.

The Shape of Water: I have not seen del Toro's Cold War romance yet, but I just do not get how this is the front-runner going into the final weekend - and I count myself as a del Toro fan. Sure, there is a past in which the kind of historical placement and ethical considerations of a movie like this would have helped it win, but there is a far longer history of movies like this NOT winning; romances rarely win, and a science fiction film has never won. That's not to say that it could not happen for the first time now, but I just cannot see the Academy overturning ninety years of sci-fi snubbing to award the Cold War "fish sex" movie.

This is where I'm probably going to be wrong, as this is the movie that many pundits are picking to win, but I'm at peace with not picking it to win. I would rather take the chance to predict something else to win and be wrong about it than to predict this to win and be right (even though there is a good chance I will really enjoy this movie whenever I get around to it).

Get Out: I can't believe I'm doing this, but after a lot of consideration, I cannot shake the fact that I think that Get Out not only could but will win Best Picture, and here's why: I really think that the context, the narrative, the voting procedures of Best Picture all play into this vote. And, for the record, both Vanity Fair and The Ringer have similar reasoning to mine, as I discovered after reasoning through my picks.

Three Billboards has gotten press for its political acumen, but I think that Get Out has more momentum in regard to its popular regard as a way to capture the current moment. The last two (surprise) Best Picture winners - Spotlight and Moonlight - both seemed to win as a way to capture the moment, and I just don't think that Academy voters will see other nominees as doing that. Get Out says and does things about race that capture the last few years of American politics in a way that Moonlight did not even manage (which is not meant as a slight against Moonlight), and I think the voters will see that as a reason to vote for Get Out.

Get Out has a couple of narrative hooks aside from its political context that advance its case. First, there has only been one horror movie to win Best Picture - The Silence of the Lambs in 1992 - and even that is a stretch of genre. Get Out is, of course, an inversion of the traditional horror film, but it adheres to the tropes of the genre much more closely, and so it would be the first true horror film to win. It also has the story of being both a micro-budget movie to succeed and a huge box office success (unlike Moonlight last year), so it has a lot of popular appeal and automatically serves as a refutation to the constant refrain that the Academy only picks movies that no one has seen.

Finally, I think the Academy's system of voting will advantage Get Out. I really think it has a very strong base of voters who will rank it in their top two, and I think it will generally rank higher on ballots than either Three Billboards (which seems like a first ballot or bust kind of vote) or The Shape of Water. Get Out has a lot of support, as demonstrated by its nomination, and I think it will be one of the movies that people will want to be remembered from this year.

I really think that the idea of the legacy of the Oscars is a bigger deal now than it has been, and that the Academy as a whole does not want another Crash or The Artist or even Argo; they want to pick the movie that people will remember from that year, whether it is the "best" or not. No one maligns No Country for Old Men as a winner even though There Will Be Blood is widely considered to be the Citizen Kane of the 21st century, since No Country is still a great movie and representative of that year, and it's much better in comparison to Blood than the comparison between Citizen Kane and the movie to which it lost, How Green Was My Valley. Get Out is that movie to remember from 2017, and since there is no Citizen Kane this year, I'm picking Get Out in the upset.

Other Categories

There are, of course, other categories at the Oscars, so here are my picks on the other categories.

Animated Short: Dear Basketball (which means that Kobe Bryant would have an Oscar)

Cinematography: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

Costume Design: Mark Bridges for Phantom Thread

Documentary: Icarus (a win for Netflix!)

Editing: Lee Smith for Dunkirk (although a Baby Driver win would not surprise me here)

Foreign Film: A Fantastic Woman from Chile

Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour

Music (Original Score): Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water

Music (Original Song): "Remember Me" from Coco

Production Design: The Shape of Water

Sound Editing: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing: Baby Driver

Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes (as the trilogy finally gets its Oscar)


Whatever happens at the awards, it has been one of the most engaging Best Picture races in years - at least since 2010-11 when the category was expanded. I suspect that the viewership will be higher this year because of the nature of some of the films included, and because a lot of people are interested to see how host Jimmy Kimmel rebounds after last year's flub and how he addresses #TimesUp, #MeToo, and even the Parkland School Shooting. This has the possibility to be an all-time great Oscars ceremony, so I'm fascinated to see how it all unfolds.

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