by Chris Shortt
Yes, it’s that time of year again. Though it barely seems that it was just last week we were losing our minds over ‘envelope-gate’, the Oscars are just around the corner – honouring the films that the Academy have deemed the best of 2017. As ever, there are some questionable inclusions (and outrageous exclusions) – but for the most part, the nominees this year are just and refreshingly varied.
With no one film particularly dominating the awards circuit (a la La La Land), and all the various guilds being as heterogeneous as ever, attempting to predict this year’s Oscars is perhaps the most challenging it has been in a long while.
Over at Vulture Hound, however, we relish a challenge – and so here are my full predictions (and inexcusable neglections) for the 90th Academy Awards.
Best Picture: Get Out
I can’t remember the last time a Best Picture race was as difficult to call as this – which is a testament to the quality of films across-the-board this year. Admittedly, I still think The Florida Project didn’t receive as much love as it deserved this year, especially in lieu of the usual stuffy period fayre (looking at you, Darkest Hour). For the most part, however, the category is the most varied it has been genre-wise in years.
My personal vote goes to Dunkirk or The Shape of Water – with the latter seeming to be the safest bet, even in spite of its eccentric premise (indeed, it picked up the big award at the often-telling PGA awards back in January). Three Billboards provided a last-minute shock at the BAFTAs, though I don’t suspect the Academy will make the same insipid mistake here.
In truth, I have a sneaking suspicion that this year’s grand prize will actually go to Get Out. An audacious prediction, given its genre and *very* early release date – but I think the Academy will spread the major honours amongst the other contenders accordingly, paving the way for Jordan Peele’s extremely topical crowd-pleaser.
Best Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
In all honesty, any one of the five nominees could go home with the award and you’d be hard pushed to say they didn’t deserve it – its that strong a category. Besides P.T. Anderson, none of the nominees have ever been nominated for it before – with Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele managing to do so with just their solo debut. I’d love for Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) to have got a nod, but in truth it’s difficult to argue who he’d replace.
In Gerwig, it’s terrific to finally see a woman in the group – after Kathryn Bigelow’s win in 2010 failed to have the trailblazing effect that it should have. Both Nolan and PTA are among my favourite directors working today, whilst Get Out evidenced some magnificent direction from Peele, who would be a worthy winner for his first film.
Yet, my money is firmly on Guillermo del Toro to join his fellow ‘Three Amigos’, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, to Oscar glory. The director hasn’t quite managed the acclaim he received for Pan’s Labyrinth (3 wins, 6 nominations) in the decade since, but he has come back astoundingly strong this year. His stunning The Shape of Water is a beautiful celebration of unashamed love and of the unusual – and I’m certain the Academy will reward del Toro for this utterly magical and personal creation.
Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
It’s become something of a formality for Gary Oldman this awards circuit, winning every gong available for his admittedly staggering transformation into Winston Churchill. Such recognition is certainly merited, no question, but it’s this sort of awards season domination that makes one quietly hope for an upset at the last hurdle. Last year’s race very nearly provided one with Denzel Washington’s SAG win, but it seems too much of a stretch to imagine anyone else but Oldman winning this.
Of the nominees, Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) seems the closest contender, and he’d certainly get my vote. Meanwhile, I still deem it a tragedy that Hugh Jackman didn’t get the nod for Logan – especially given the film’s surprise nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Robert Pattinson also had a fantastic 2017, and while his supporting role in The Lost City of Z was highly impressive, it’s more so his leading work in Good Time that I think has been harshly overlooked.
Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
Like Oldman and the race for Best Actor, Frances McDormand has by this point all but sewn up the category. It’s certainly her best performance to date – with the character’s tragic backstory providing real emotional weight to McDormand’s typically pitch-black ‘Coenisms’ – and it would be a deserved win.
Incredibly, this is Saoirse Ronan’s third nomination (she’s 23), and while it’s only Margot Robbie’s first, there is certainly more to follow for these two exceptionally talented women. My vote goes to Sally Hawkins for her turn as The Shape of Water’s mute custodian, Elisa. Acting without any spoken dialogue is one thing, but to have to channel a convincing romance with a 6’4” man in a fish suit (the ever-brilliant Doug Jones) is another entirely.
Shockingly neglected, meanwhile, is Vicky Krieps – who managed to not only hold her own but at times one-up the great Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread. Also worthy of a shout out is Garance Marillier for her staggering performance in Julia Ducournau’s Raw – a role that asks an awful lot of Marillier, but gets everything back. After all, it’s hardly like Meryl is lacking in Oscar recognition.
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards
Another category that seems relatively safe to call, Sam Rockwell has been receiving a lot of awards season love for his turn as the loud-mouthed, bigoted Officer Dixon. The only slip-up would be if Woody Harrelson’s nomination ended up splitting the vote for the Academy fans of Three Billboards – but I think Rockwell’s performance is big enough to hold its own (indeed, it certainly didn’t hurt De Niro for The Godfather Part II)
Perhaps if only because it’s the film’s only nomination and I think it deserves some recognition, I’d love for Willem Dafoe to sneak it on the night for The Florida Project – though in truth, Christopher Plummer is still the most likely rival for Rockwell.
On the neglected side, Patrick Stewart would’ve been a welcome sight for his heartfelt (and uncharacteristically profane) turn in Logan. And while Alien: Covenant was for the most part a muddled affair, there can be no faulting Michael Fassbender for what was a stunning double-performance.
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Frustratingly (though refreshing), this acting category poses a much bigger challenge than the other three. With Ronan unlikely to triumph in the leading category, it would be great to see Laurie Metcalf bring it home for Lady Bird. Yet I can see Allison Janney pipping her to it on the night – for embodying the abusive, real-life mother to Robbie’s Tonya in I, Tonya. Janney won the SAG and BAFTA awards for her turn, with this perhaps providing just the momentum needed for a tightly-contested category.
A hopeful, though unlikely upset would be for Lesley Manville to win for Phantom Thread – a terribly overlooked performance which, like Krieps’, went toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis and came out on the winning side. Meanwhile, Kirsten Dunst was hardly recognised all awards season for her magnificent, if a little understated showing in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled.
Best Original Screenplay: Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig
Given her unlikely prospects for Best Director, it would seem only right that Greta Gerwig is recognised for her smart-witted, heartfelt screenplay for Lady Bird – and indeed I think she will be. Fierce competition will come from Jordan Peele and Get Out, however, with Peele winning the category at the Writers Guild of America Awards. The WGA have been somewhat negligible as predictors of Oscar glory, however, and so I think Gerwig should still triumph. Should Get Out fail to win Best Picture (a very likely possibility), it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Peele won in this category instead.
As strong a category as this is, I still find it staggering that P.T. Anderson didn’t get a writing nod for Phantom Thread – whilst Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch’s script for The Florida Project deserves heralding for its injecting a frank social commentary with a truly magical buoyancy.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory
If not only because it’s a relatively weak category this year, James Ivory looks nailed on to take home the award for Call Me By Your Name – which would still be a worthy winner in a more fiercely contested year. Initially set to co-direct the film, Ivory instead limited himself to adapting the 2007 novel of the same name, by André Aciman.
While it’s a great accomplishment for it to have been nominated alone, a win for the Logan team would be a major upset – and a really justified one for what I thought was one of the best films of last year. Never discard Aaron Sorkin, either, whose directorial debut Molly’s Game has garnered him a third writing nomination.
Hampton Fancher and Michael Green should feel slightly undone by not getting recognised for Blade Runner 2049 – while, unlikely as it was to ever get Academy recognition, Armando Iannucci’s razor-sharp The Death of Stalin can also count itself unlucky to not have snuck into this year’s relatively feeble category.
Best Animated Feature Film: Coco
Though it no longer quite holds the domination it perhaps did in the 2000s, a Disney-Pixar release is always there or there abouts when it comes to this category – and I can’t envisage anything other than a Coco win this year.
The technical marvel that is Loving Vincent is somewhat of a dark horse, as is the Angelina Jolie-produced feature The Breadwinner – but it’d be a major shock indeed if Pixar didn’t come away with its 9th win.
What The Boss Baby is doing anywhere near this category, meanwhile, is anyone’s guess.
Best Foreign Language Film: Loveless
As flawed as the category’s selection process and ‘one-country-one-film’ rule is, this year boasts a very strong group – and as such it’s a particularly tricky one to predict. My money would be on Loveless, the Russian tragedy and latest film from Andrey Zvyagintsev – whose Leviathan was nominated for the award just 3 years ago.
A win for Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (Chile) would equally not come as a surprise – nor would Hungarian drama On Body and Soul (given the country’s win 2 years ago for Son of Saul). Swedish satire The Square is a dark horse, though I think it’s too daring for the Academy.
Shamefully neglected, for me, is Julia Ducournau’s aforementioned Raw (France/Belgium) – while the absence of French AIDS drama 120 BPM (Beats per Minute) has provoked the ire of many.
Best Documentary – Feature: Faces Places
Nearing 90 years of age this year, it’s certainly a case of better-late-than-never with Agnès Varda – whose latest feature Faces Places (co-directed with French artist, JR) looks to be a likely winner. Indeed, Varda will be recognised on the night regardless, receiving the Academy Honorary Award.
Personally, I’d like to have seen a nomination for Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – a fascinating revelation of the extremities Jim Carrey (who partly narrates the film) took for his portrayal of the late-great performer Andy Kaufman.
Best Documentary – Short Subject: Heroin(e)
While it’s usually somewhat averse to recognising Netflix productions, the Academy showed last year in this category that they could overcome their pride – awarding The White Helmets. As such, I predict another win for Netflix this year with Heroin(e), which focuses on the North American opioid epidemic.
Best Live Action Short Film: DeKalb Elementary
Based on a real-life incident in which a lone gunman entered a US elementary school armed with an AK-47, Reed Van Dyk’s DeKalb Elementary has become particularly more pertinent in the wake of the abhorrent Stoneman Douglas shooting just two weeks ago. Reflected by last year’s Best Foreign Language win for The Salesman, the Academy often use the awards to make a political statement to the powers that be – and Van Dyk’s film offers the perfect chance to do so.
If not, expect British short The Silent Child to add the award to its existing acclaim.
Best Animated Short Film: Negative Space
A hotly-contested group, given the presence of Pixar’s Lou and Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball – but my money is on French stop-motion Negative Space to pip them to it on the night. If it were up to me, though, it would be the delightfully amphibian Garden Party – directed by 6 French 3D artists for their graduation submission, incredibly.
Best Original Score: The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat
Ten years on from the painfully tedious technicality that obstructed a nomination for his masterful work on There Will Be Blood, Jonny Greenwood is finally back where he belongs – having collaborated with P.T. Anderson once more for Phantom Thread. Far and away the most accomplished score of last year, it will be a travesty when he inevitably loses out to Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water.
Desplat’s score is magnificent in its own right, and would otherwise be a perfectly worthy winner – though I think the musical success of The Shape of Water owes more to its songs than it necessarily does its score. In truth, I think the idea of the Radiohead guitarist winning the Oscar in this category is unfortunately too much for some members of the Academy to stomach.
John Williams is hardly lacking in Oscar recognition anyway, but I’d certainly argue that his score for The Post was significantly more impactful than that of his nominated Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Moreover, I think that Marco Beltrami’s western-infused score for Logan was definitely worthy of a place here – as was Oneohtrix Point Never’s electronic soundscape for Good Time.
Best Original Song: “Remember Me” (Coco), Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez
This category seems to be a two-horse race between “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman and Coco’s “Remember Me”. Both songwriting teams have won the award in recent years – with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman) winning just last year for La La Land’s “City of Stars”, while the Coco team (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and husband Robert) won back in 2013 for the Frozen crowd-pleaser “Let It Go”. I think “Remember Me” might just edge it on the night, if not simply due to hailing from a better film (though that hasn’t stopped the Academy here before).
My vote would go to “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name, which remains somewhat of a dark horse – though I suspect Sufjan Stevens is a little too left-field for the Academy.
Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Sound editing and sound mixing remain two largely indistinguishable categories – despite the fact that they don’t always go to the same winners (last year, Arrival took editing while Hacksaw Ridge won mixing). Sound editing refers more to the creation of sound effects that the film then incorporates into its wider soundscape, which covers everything from footsteps and gunshots to more ambient sounds.
My money is firmly on Dunkirk to triumph, for its gripping auditory recreation of the various sounds of war. What should win, however, is Blade Runner 2049, which is exemplary of the stunning possibilities of effective sound design. As with the original Blade Runner, the sound completely transports us into the neon-lit underbelly of futuristic L.A.
Neglected entirely, meanwhile, is Darren Aronofsky’s mother! – a film that owes so much of its impact to the agitated climate that, in the absence of score, is created through its sound editing.
Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
Sound mixing, in contrast, refers more wholly to the complete soundscape and the overall combination of the recorded sounds. While the two categories are undoubtedly inherently tied, a film can excel at the level of sound editing yet fall short of similar greatness in sound mixing. War films always tend to flourish here, though, and Dunkirk is no exception – managing to fuse together every soaring jet engine with every explosion and gunshot, to produce what is a tremendously visceral cinematic experience.
Best Production Design: The Shape of Water
Art direction team Sarah Greenwood and Katy Spencer have two entries up for contention this year in Darkest Hour and Beauty and the Beast – yet I think it will be the murky Cold War-interiors of The Shape of Water that will triumph.
Despite this, the award should certainly go to Blade Runner 2049 for the beautifully crafted hallways of the brutalist Wallace Co. headquarters alone – while Phantom Thread and Star Wars: The Last Jedi can consider themselves unlucky not to be amongst the nominees.
Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins
It’s time, isn’t it? After a spectacular 14 nominations, Roger Deakins looks likely to finally prevail at the Oscars for his sumptuous work on Blade Runner 2049. While he really should have won for Skyfall (2012), for Prisoners (2013), for Sicario (2015), it is perhaps only fitting that he wins for what is truly his defining masterpiece – a striking array of silhouetted figures amongst a plethora of burnt oranges and neon pinks.
History has been made with Rachel Morrison’s nomination for her stunning work on Mudbound (easily the film’s best attribute), while Hoyte van Hoytema’s latest collaboration with Christopher Nolan on Dunkirk would be a major contender in any other year. Should The Shape of Water clean up the rest of the technical awards, Dan Laustsen seems the most likely to cause an upset on the night – but the power of Deakins will surely be too strong.
And while it is an admittedly strong category, Alexis Zabe’s beautiful 35mm work on The Florida Project surely merited further recognition – as did Logan and The Lost City of Z, which were both much better options than the rather safe work on Darkest Hour.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour
As the only category to only put forward 3 nominees, there is often the chance of a surprise winner here. Yet it would be a major shock indeed, if Darkest Hour did not take home the award for their staggering work on Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill.
Wonder is certainly worthy of its place here, although the presence of Victoria & Abdul still doesn’t sit well with many. A much more warranted nominee would be I, Tonya – if not for the mirror scene alone – while Logan equally impressed in its painful rendering of a battered and aging Wolverine.
Best Costume Design: Phantom Thread
A film literally centred around fashion design, it would be very cruel indeed if Phantom Thread did not come home with this honour. The Shape of Water could still provide an upset on the night, whilst Jacqueline Durran boasts two nominations for Darkest Hour and Beauty and the Beast.
Unbelievably ignored by the Academy here is Blade Runner 2049 – while I think the team behind The Beguiled and The Lost City of Z can similarly feel undone.
Best Film Editing: Dunkirk
After being largely shut out on previous Nolan films, editor Lee Smith looks like he could finally win the gold for Dunkirk – the triptych narrative of which is effectively structured by Smith. The showy cutting of Baby Driver could pip Dunkirk to it, but I think the Academy will recognise the war epic in the technical categories to make up for eventually shunning it at the top.
Again ignored is Blade Runner 2049, a patient work whose slowly revealing narrative hinges greatly on the success of its editing.
Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049
After twice losing out in this category (wrongly to Hugo in 2011, but justly to Interstellar in 2014), there is part of me that hopes War for the Planet of the Apes triumphs at the third time of asking. I think the innovative motion-capture work on display in this series has been just astonishing, and the films would not have been half as great as they were had the visual effects not been adequate.
Yet, I think it will be Blade Runner 2049 that beats it to it, and I can hardly argue with that decision either. Not only because the film has been repeatedly shut out in other categories, but due to its visual effects really being on another level – both in its wonderfully playful depiction of Joi, and the ground-breaking accuracy to which it recreated Rachel (Sean Young) from the first film.