Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Predictions for the 90th Academy Awards

The Oscars will be in a week and a half and, after an often unpredictable awards season, frontrunners have finally emerged. As always, the Oscars are difficult to predict, but  it's not impossible to do. And luckily for you readers, there are plenty of people like me with an inexplicable fascination with awards ceremonies who can look pore through the results of the awards circuit, analyze the data, and come up with the frontrunners, contenders, and dark horses. Here now are my predictions for every single Oscars category to help you come out on top in your Oscars ballot.

Best Picture
The Shape of Water, Get Out, and Mudbound
Will Win: The Shape of Water
Could Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or Lady Bird or Get Out
Should Win: Get Out
Should Have Been Nominated: Mudbound

The awards season has been a long one, and at various times, different films have seemed to be the expected winner. But the best way to predict that Oscars is to look at the awards given out by various guilds, as the voting blocks tend to have the most overlap with the Academy. For these reasons, the definite frontrunners appear to be The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I'm giving the edge to The Shape of Water for one reason: it won the Producer's Guild Award. That's the award that has most consistently predicted Best Picture throughout history, and combined with the warm reception The Shape of Water received in all the other nominations, it has the strongest case for it on paper for sure.

The major red flag here, though, is that The Shape of Water didn't receive a nomination for Best Cast at the SAG Awards. This is a biggie. No movie has won Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nomination in over two decades (the last one was Braveheart). That's a lot to ignore. So the next most decorated film going into the Oscars is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film has done very well in predictor awards, but also has a few clear weaknesses. The fact that Martin McDonagh didn't receive a Best Director nomination shows the film might not have enough support from the Academy to give it the win. Plus, the film has received considerable backlash after its early wave of acclaim which might be its undoing.

So, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards might be the best bets on paper, but neither has what feels like a surefire path to Best Picture. Which might imply that this year there will be an upset. And if there is one, I think it'll be Get Out or Lady Bird. Not only are they my two personal favorite films of the year, but they have much more of a feeling of excitement surrounding them. Both feel indicative of the direction that film should be going in, and might just have the support to get people to rally behind them. It might sound strange to say this about a movie where a woman fucks a fish, but The Shape of Water feels like the safe choice. Get Out or Lady Bird would be more exciting entrants into the list of Best Picture winners. Still, the safer choice is usually the better choice when it comes to predictions.

As for who should have been nominated, if you look at my favorite films of the year, you know that I ranked a few films higher than Mudbound, but they were little-seen gems like The Wound and Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer. The reason I picked Mudbound as the film that should have been nominated is because it's inexplicable to me that it wasn't. It's a great movie, but it also should have been perfect Oscar fare. It as excellent production values, tackles difficult themes, and features an outstanding, star-studded cast. The film was famously not promoted much by its distributor, Netflix. Which is a shame. Outside of its excellent documentaries, Netflix hasn't had an Oscar contender yet, and Mudbound should have been its chance to enter the race, but they blew it. It's a shame, because this is a truly remarkable and Oscar-worthy film.

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro, Jordan Peele, and Dee Rees in action

Will Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Could Win: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Should Win: Jordan Peele, Get Out
Should Have Been Nominated: Dee Rees, Mudbound

This category features three acclaimed directors seeking their first Oscar, and two newbies who have earned raves for their debut films. Of the more established directors, a frontrunner has emerged with Guillermo del Toro. Especially off of his win at the Director's Guild Awards, it feels like the consensus is that it's del Toro's time. It's tough to imagine anyone unseating him.

But if there is an upset, it's going to be one of the newbies. It is incredibly rare for a director to win the Oscar for their first film. But the rare times it's happened, it is usually because the director has already been established in another part of the industry (such as Robert Redford for Ordinary People), which is true of both Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele, and just like with the films they directed, I could see either of them scoring an upset if their fanbase within the Academy is larger than expected. Both do an amazing job with their films, and personally I think Peele is the best director of the bunch. But if someone's going to pull an upset over del Toro, it'll be Gerwig, who might just get a swell of support in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

But my favorite direction of the year belonged to the un-nominated Dee Rees for Mudbound. Rees does an outstanding job, creating the movie that is just so elegantly put together. And it's worth noting that Rees would have been the first woman of color ever nominated in this category, and had she joined Gerwig amongst the nominees, it would have been the first year that two women were nominated for Best Director in the same year.

Best Actress
Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan, and Daniela Vega
Will Win: Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could Win: Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, The Shape of Water
Should Win: Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, Lady Bird
Should Have Been Nominated: Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, A Fantastic Woman

All five of the nominated performances here had received buzz far before their films had even be released, and before the awards season started, a case could have been made for any of them as winners. But as time has gone on, two contenders emerged, as Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins seemed to split all the various critic's choice awards. Of the two, McDormand is the clear frontrunner. Fresh off of winning the SAG Award, McDormand has momentum on her side, and any backlash the film has received has spared her universally acclaimed performance.

Both McDormand and Hawkins do a great job, but for me the best performance here is Saoirse Ronan. Greta Gerwig has deservedly received a landslide of praise for her work directing and writing Lady Bird, but I don't think Ronan has gotten enough credit for how much of an impact her performance has on the film. She's so great in this movie, and crafts what I think is one of the best teenage characters I've ever seen portrayed on film. Not to mention the fact that Lady Bird is very different from the roles Ronan has played in the past. I'd love to see her pull a major upset on Oscar night.

All five of the nominees here give performances that have been acclaimed across the board, and it's easy to see why these are Oscar-nominated performances. The only one I wasn't taken with was Margot Robbie, who I wasn't all that impressed with in I, Tonya, but I know I'm in the minority there. Still, I think that this year especially there were amazing performances from women leading foreign language films. Daniela Vega gives an absolute tour de force performance in the Chilean film A Fantastic Woman, showcasing simultaneous vulnerability and strength. I was also really impressed by Diane Kruger's powerhouse performance in the German film In the Fade, which won her Best Actress at Cannes. Both performances are absolutely incredible, and had they been in English, it's tough to imagine these actresses not being a part of the Oscar conversation. Unfortunately, the Oscars has always had a problem recognizing international films outside of the Foreign Language category. It would have been nice to see them buck that trend this year.

Best Actor
Gary Oldman, Daniel Kaluuya, and Richard Gere
Will Win: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour
Could Win: Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman, Call Me by Your Name
Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, Get Out
Should Have Been Nominated: Richard Gere as Norman Oppenheimer, Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

As soon as it was announced that Gary Oldman was playing Winston Churchill, people cited him as an Oscar contender. And as he picked up award after award, his win here began to feel inevitable. fine, I guess. It's not that Oldman does a bad job in Darkest Hour, but he also doesn't really do a great job. Churchill has been portrayed so many times, and Oldman's performance adds nothing new. He's going to get an Oscar for wearing prosthetic jowls. Really his frontrunner status here just feels boring and predetermined. Early on in the race, the frontrunner seemed to be Timothée Chalamet, who gave what many felt was a breakthrough performance in Call Me by Your Name, but time and time again he has been losing to Oldman, so Oldman it shall be. But, to be fair, this year, this is by far the least exciting of the four acting categories. I just think the nominees are relatively weak this year. Denzel Washington is a great actor, but his performance in Roman J. Israel, Esq. might be remembered as one of the worst performances ever nominated for an Oscar, provided anyone remembers the movie at all. The exception in this category is Daniel Kaluuya's wonderful work in Get Out, which is absolutely Oscar-worthy and the saving grace of the category for me.

This picture is honestly STARTLINGLY indicative of Washington's performance as a whole
If I could add any nominee to the mix, it would undoubtedly be Richard Gere in the criminally underseen Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer. He disappears into the role (no prosthetic jowls needed), and delivers not only career-best work, but my favorite film performance of the year.

Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney, Laurie Metcalf, and Melissa Leo
Will Win: Allison Janney as LaVona Golden, I, Tonya
Could Win: Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson, Lady Bird
Should Win: Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson, Lady Bird
Should Have Been Nominated: Melissa Leo as Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair, Novitiate

Once again, there are two clear frontrunners in this category: Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf have run away with this category. Either could take it, but after her win at the SAG Awards, Janney has emerged as the true frontrunner, and has dominated the latter awards ceremonies for sure. I love Allison Janney, and she's such a likable public figure, that I can't say I'm rooting against her, but if I had my druthers, this award would belong to Metcalf. Both of these roles are mothers with contentious relationships with their daughters, but while Janney's is villainous and deliciously over-the-top, Metcalf's is a lot more sympathetic and nuanced. Janney gives a scene-stealing performance in I, Tonya, but Metcalf's performance (in conjunction with Ronan's) is truly the heart of the movie. It shows a lot more subtlety. It's a more complicated performance, and one which leaves far more of a lasting effect.

But even better than Metcalf's performance was Melissa Leo's in the widely unrecognized Novitiate. Playing a strict, abusive nun with a superiority complex (or a Mother Superiority complex har har har), Leo is truly dangerous on screen. Her Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair is vicious and powerful, and the best film villain of the year. Her performance brought to mind roles such as Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, which won J.K. Simmons every award in the book. And Leo's performance is strong enough that she should have followed suit.

Best Supporting Actor
Sam Rockwell, Willem Dafoe, and Rob Morgan
Will Win: Sam Rockwell as Jason Dixon, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could Win: Willem Dafoe as Bobby Hicks, The Florida Project
Should Win: Willem Dafoe as Bobby Hicks, The Florida Project
Should Have Been Nominated: Rob Morgan as Hap Jackson, Mudbound

Once again, we have an acting category with two distinct frontrunners. Early on in the awards season, this looked like Willem Dafoe's award to lose for his portrayal of a sympathetic manager at a cheap motel. But recently, every award has been going to Sam Rockwell's portrayal of a racist cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Like with Allison Janney, the momentum is distinctly with Rockwell, and him not winning this award would be a major snub. It helps that Rockwell is overdue: he's one of those actors who has been doing consistently great work for a few years but hasn't gotten any recognition from the Academy until now. And his performance in Three Billboards really is incredibly strong. He sells an unbelievably difficult role in a way that makes the character pathetic without feeling thinly-drawn or caricaturized. So at the moment, it's hard to imagine him not coming away with the win.

That being said, I think Dafoe gives the better performance. In a cast of non-actors (who also do a great job across the board) Dafoe really does stand out, giving an unexpected performance for him, which is absolutely crucial to the film's overall success. The film risks feeling unbearably bleak, but the genuine goodness of Dafoe's Bobby, a man trying his hardest to do good under impossible circumstances really makes the film thrive. I think he should win, and he does have a chance. Most of the backlash surrounding Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri revolves around Rockwell's character, which might just be enough to take this win away from him, and if he does, Dafoe is next in line.

In case you didn't get the idea by now, I really think Mudbound should have gotten more recognition. Even the film's critics agree that the acting is strong across the board, and the performer who has consistently been singled out for accolades is Mary J. Blige (now the only actor to be nominated for acting and for Original Song in the same year, which is pretty neat). Blige is great, but for me the standout performer in Mudbound is Rob Morgan. I simply don't understand how nobody is talking about his magnificent performance. Hopefully, this will launch him to more high-profile roles, where his talent can be recognized in the future.

As a sidenote that has nothing to do with predictions, I do love that Christopher Plummer was nominated for this award. Not only is he now the oldest person to ever be nominated for an acting Oscar, but his nomination here is just a giant middle finger to Kevin Spacey, and that's great.

Best Original Screenplay
Get Out's screenplay features great lines like "No no no no no no no no no!"
Will Win: Get Out
Could Win: Lady Bird or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should Win: Get Out
Should Have Been Nominated: Colossal

This might just be the most universally strong category at this year's Oscars. There were so many excellent original screenplays this year, and a case could be made for any of these five to win. So figuring out the winner we need to rely on process of elimination. The Big Sick has a great screenplay, but it's the only film here not nominated for Best Picture (or any other award for that matter) which shows it doesn't have the Academy's support the same way the other films do. The screenplay for The Shape of Water is great, but when one think of what the film's strengths are, the screenplay isn't necessarily one of the first things that comes to mind the way it is for the other nominees in this category. So that leaves three contenders: Get Out, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards, and I honestly think that any of these screenplays could have won this category in a different year without such stiff competition. The fact that Get Out took home this prize at the Writer's Guild Awards is why I'm choosing it to win (well, and the fact that I think it does slightly edge out the competition) but this one is sure to be a close category.

The nominees are not the only strong original screenplays from this year, there were numerous brilliant original screenplays that I think live up the quality of the already strong nominees. If I had to pick only one film to join them, it would be Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo's criminally underrated film from this year. It was one of the most creative stories of the year, and was beautifully told. One of the most surprising screenplays and overall films of the year which certainly deserved more attention than it received.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Armie Hammer reading a really great screenplay, probably
Will Win: Call Me by Your Name
Could Win: Nothing else, really
Should Win: Call Me by Your Name
Should Have Been Nominated: Last Flag Flying

As strong as the original screenplay category is, the adapted screenplay category is pretty weak. It just happened to be that the best screenplays of the year all seemed to be original ideas, and frankly, there were numerous great original screenplays that outrank any of the five nominees in this category. The result is that, this category has a clear winner: Call Me by Your Name. The only one of these nominees that's also nominated for Best Picture, it's clearly the Academy favorite. In fact, only two of the five nominated films in this category have nominations in any other categories, the other being Mudbound. And, yes, I do feel bad for not wanting Mudbound to win in one of the only categories where it's actually nominated. But the Call Me by Your Name screenplay really is great, and it's untouchable in this category for sure.

With rather weak screenplays in this category like The Disaster Artist and Molly's Game, a lot of screenplays probably should have ended up here instead. The best of the lot for me would be the wonderful screenplay for Last Flag Flying. This touching Richard Linklater film was largely forgotten, but its screenplay was great. The way these characters are written, they feel so fresh and personal and well-rounded that I was honestly shocked to learn they were not original creations, and were in fact plucked from a novel.

Best Animated Feature Film
Will Win: Coco
Could Win: Only Coco
Should Win: Motherfucking Coco
Should Have Been Nominated: A bunch of stuff I haven't seen

Pixar has dominated this category, and when it's on top of its game, it's practically impossible to beat. And Coco is one of its best films in a few years. It's a beautiful film, that WILL make you cry, and not only will it handily win, it 100% deserves to in every way. It's a great movie, and frankly, none of its nominees are anywhere near as strong. Movies like The Boss Baby and Ferdinand are okay at best, and their nominations in this category despite mixed to negative reviews are pretty puzzling.

Given how weak the mainstream animated films were this year, I would have loved to have seen some films from smaller studios get some attention. In previous years, there seem to be a few spots given to little-seen indie animated films, and they're often quite good. This year, there were a lot of films in contention for this award which I'd not heard of, but which I can't imagine were worse than mediocre poop like The Boss Baby.

The Girl Without Hands, Ethel & Ernest, In This Corner of the World, and My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, four animated features from this year which failed to score a nomination.
I have no idea if any of these films are actually good, and maybe they're awful, but I do hope that in future years, smaller studios start to make more headway in this category so that it's not so dominated by Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. And hopefully next year will be a better year for animation all around.

Best Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman, The Insult, and The Wound
Will Win: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Could Win: The Square (Sweden)
Should Win: The Insult (Lebanon)
Should Have Been Nominated: The Wound (South Africa)

On paper, the frontrunner here should be The Square, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and has been gathering awards ever since. Everything points to it being victorious on Oscar night, and most would probably name it as the odds-on favorite. But I'm not convinced. The Square is good, but it's uneven and I think it could prove divisive. The other nominees in this category might not have the same early buzz that The Square did, but my instinct tells me that there will be an upset here. And that upset comes in the form of A Fantastic Woman from Chile. I've already talked here about how incredible leading actress Daniela Vega is, and the film as a whole is pretty amazing. It just feels like more of a winner than The Square. And it does have a considerable fanbase and studio backing behind it. Plus, it's the first Oscar-nominated film to feature a trans actor in a leading role, and so a win for this film would be especially historic.

I love A Fantastic Woman, and I'll be pretty ecstatic if it wins. But for me, Lebanon's film The Insult slightly edges it out (although they're two incredibly different movies, so it's hard to compare them). I hadn't heard anything about The Insult until it earned a nomination, and was pretty blown away by it when I saw it. Both of these films are essential viewing as far as I'm concerned and I hope people can seek them out. Also essential viewing: the South African film The Wound, which wasn't nominated but did make the nomination shortlist, and which was my favorite foreign language film of the year.

Best Documentary Feature
Faces Places, Icarus, and Unrest
Will Win: Faces Places
Could Win: Nothing else, Faces Places has this in the bag
Should Win: Faces Places, but Icarus is also really great

Should Have Been Nominated: Unrest

This is one of the few categories this year that is a no-brainer. Faces Places is going to win. It is by far the most decorated of the nominees, and has won pretty much every Best Documentary award so far, and appearing on multiple top ten lists this year. There's also the fact that the filmmaker and star of the doc, Agnes Varda, is a beloved figure. At 89, she's the oldest Oscar nominee in history, and is already receiving a lifetime achievement award at this year's ceremony. Most importantly, It's a delightful film, and in a tumultuous Oscar year, a win for Faces Places is probably the single best bet you can make (well, maybe Coco for animated feature, but this is basically guaranteed too). The film follows two artists--Varda and a sunglasses-clad photographer named JR--as they tour through France meeting people and creating large-scale art in all the places they go. It's truly unlike any other film I've seen, and certainly unlike any other documentary. It's just a joy to watch, and the relationship between Varda and JR is quite dear.

Faces Places is completely deserving of this award, and based off of its originality alone, it's my favorite of the nominees. But I do want to spread the love a little since Faces Places has dominated the awards circuit thus far. It's really a shame that these other excellent films are up against such a powerhouse. Of the other nominees, there were two standouts for me. One was Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, about a small, family-run bank in NYC's Chinatown which became the only bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. Even more outstanding is Icarus, which might possibly be the most exciting film I've seen all year. A close look at the Russian Olympics doping scandal, it felt like more of a political thriller than a documentary, and I hope that its nomination means more people will watch this underrated but absolutely gripping film. And while Faces Places imparts timeless wisdom, Icarus is an extremely relevant film to right now, and should honestly be essential viewing while we're in the midst of the winter Olympics.

One documentary that I wish has been able to earn a nomination is Unrest, filmmaker Jen Brea's film about living with chronic fatigue syndrome. Of the documentaries on the shortlist, this was the only one which didn't have a studio backing behind it, and therefore was a bit of an underdog as the film could only rely on self-promotion. But it's an eye-opening film, and I hope more people seek it out.

Best Cinematography
Blade Runner 2049, Mudbound, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Will Win: Blade Runner 2049
Could Win: Dunkirk
Should Win: Mudbound
Should Have Been Nominated: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

If you don't know who Roger Deakins is, you should. Deakins is considered by many to be the greatest living cinematographer. He changed what a lot of people thought was possible with cinematography and have received numerous awards throughout his prolific and distinguished career. But...he has never won an Oscar. He's gotten plenty of nominations (this year, he gained his 14th nomination) but never won. This year, that might just change, and it seems like Deakins might finally receive his long-overdue recognition from the Academy.

And I really, really wish I could be happy for him. I love this man and his work, but I wasn't blown away by the cinematography in Blade Runner 2049 (or the film as a whole for that matter). Deakins knows what he's doing, and the cinematography is good, but it's not his best work, and I actually felt like the cinematography was a bit lifeless, even though Deakins is known for really bringing a film to life with his camerawork. I found the cinematography in Mudbound to be not only stronger, but more reminiscent of the work Deakins usually does. I can't believe I'm rooting against Deakins, but I would love for the win to go to Mudbound's cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who is inexplicably also the first woman ever nominated in this category. Nonetheless, this feels like Deakins' year, but you never know, and if the Academy once again passes him by, I think they'll turn to Hoyte van Hoytema's noteworthy cinematography for Dunkirk.

If I had to pick one film to get a nomination here, it would be The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which features the most creative cinematography I saw all year. This film was shot in such a disorienting yet stunning way, and I wish cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis could have been recognized here.

Best Film Editing
By God! What marvelous film editing!
Will Win: Dunkirk
Could Win: The Shape of Water or Baby Driver
Should Win: Dunkirk
Should Have Been Nominated: Get Out

Films tend to be included here for two reasons: technical merit, or the general overall quality of a film. It is widely accepted that editing is one of the most important contributions to a film's success, and Best Picture has overlapped with Best Film Editing more than with any other category (including Best Director). For this reason, you shouldn't count out any Best Picture frontrunner, which bodes well here for The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Of the two, I think The Shape of Water has a slightly better shot, as it's the movie that puts its technical achievements more at the forefront (and features some truly beautiful edits). On the other hand we have films like Dunkirk and Baby Driver, which are here because of the difficulty of their editing. Baby Driver is a film that flaunts how meticulously edited it is, and Dunkirk is the only one of the nominees with war scenes, which tend to be a consistent winner in this category. I'm a bit unsure here, and could especially see The Shape of Water grabbing this one (and if it does, that's a really strong indication that it will win Best Picture later in the ceremony) but, I give the odds to Dunkirk. It has both the clear Academy appeal and the high difficulty level to bring it to the winner's circle.

The fifth nominee, and the only one I really can't see winning here, is I, Tonya. It's presumably here because of how difficult it is to edit convincing figure skating sequences on film. The thing's really difficult to edit convincing figure skating sequences on film and I thought those scenes came across as pretty clunky. It's bad editing and I'm not sure what it's doing in this category. I would have much rather seen Get Out here. It's my favorite film of the year, so yeah, I would love to see its editing acknowledged too, and also editing is going to be crucial to ANY horror film. This movie derives its thrills partly from a brilliant and terrifying screenplay, but also because of how well-edited the film is.

Best Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and It
Will Win: Blade Runner 2049
Could Win: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Should Win: Blade Runner 2049
Should Have Been Nominated: It

The visual effects category is consistently strong each year, and this year is no exception. I do think that the two mo-cap ape movies will cancel each other out. And while they reliably get nominations in this category, no superhero film has won this category since Spider-Man 2 back in 2004, and I doubt Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will buck that trend. So this leaves Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Blade Runner 2049. The Last Jedi is really visually stunning and I think it has to be in contention here, but I do think Blade Runner 2049 has an edge. The effects are good overall, but it has a few moments of really extraordinary effects which I think are more innovative than anything else nominated this year. That hologram sex scene alone could be enough to win it this award.

If I could add one movie to the nominees, it would probably be It. The all-around well-liked Stephen King adaptation seems to have been forgotten by the Academy, but it was really well-done. I found the effects genuinely terrifying and creative, and this is one of a few technical awards that I feel like It perhaps should have been recognized in.

Best Costume Design
Phantom Thread, Beauty and the Beast, and Thor: Ragnarok
Will Win: Phantom Thread
Could Win: Beauty and the Beast
Should Win: Phantom Thread
Should Have Been Nominated: Thor: Ragnarok

Phantom Thread is a movie about a couture dressmaker. It better fucking win Best Costume Design. These dresses are beautiful and interesting to watch on screen. And, it should be noted, the other costumes in this film are really well designed as well. It's tough to imagine Phantom Thread not walking away with this competition handily. If there's any competition, it will come from prolific costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who's nominated twice this year for her costume work for both Beauty and the Beast and Darkest Hour. Of the two films, Beauty and the Beast is the flashier of the two, but it would still be quite the upset if it overtook Phantom Thread.

This award is notorious for almost always going to a period film, and sure enough, all five of the nominees in this category are period films. And while period films do tend to have beautiful costumes, it's unfortunate when this is the only type of costume design to get any recognition. Contemporary films like Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri have really thoughtful and smart costume design that might not be as visually stunning as the clothes in period films, but are just as crucial to telling the story. This is why the Costume Designers Guild Awards have three film categories: Period Film, Contemporary Film, and Fantasy Film. Speaking of Fantasy Film, my personal favorite costume design of the year goes to Thor: Ragnarok, because Cate Blanchett's horns alone deserve every award in the book.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Gary Oldman receiving his jowls for Darkest Hour
Will Win: Darkest Hour
Could Win: Victoria & Abdul or Wonder
Should Win: Darkest Hour
Should Have Been Nominated: The Shape of Water

This category is known for going way off into left field, and even with only three nominees, it it often one of the hardest categories to predict. Remember last year when it went to Suicide Squad? But I'm putting my money on Darkest Hour for a few reasons. So much of the acclaim for the film has revolved around Gary Oldman's transformation into Winston Churchill in a way that the other films can't reflect. I already said that Oldman's going to win an Oscar for wearing prosthetic jowls, so it just makes sense that those jowls also receive recognition. It also helps that the acclaimed makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji famously came out of retirement to work on the film (reportedly at Oldman's request). The makeups in all three films are solid, but the story of the makeup for Darkest Hour gives it a clear edge.

There are a few films that I can think of which I think could have joined the nominees, but the most glaring is obviously, The Shape of Water, which somehow failed to even make the nomination shortlist. How is that even possible? My theory is that the nominating committee didn't realize that The Asset, played by Doug Jones, was even wearing makeup. Because if they did, this Oscar would be going to the outstanding creature design in this film. Unless the nominating committee knows something we don't know. Namely, that there is no makeup in this film. That's what Doug Jones actually looks like, and he wears prosthetic makeup in his daily life pretending to be a human named Doug Jones.
So lifelike.
Best Production Design
The Shape of Water
Will Win: The Shape of Water
Could Win: Blade Runner 2049 or Dunkirk
Should Win: The Shape of Water
Should Have Been Nominated: Mudbound

The look of a film is so important, and this year, the five nominees all look drastically different, so much of this will come down to taste. My personal favorite production design of the bunch is in The Shape of Water, and I think that it will be rewarded on Oscar day, as this category does tend to reward more distinctive and unusual entries. Guillermo del Toro's films are always known for being visually striking, so it just makes sense that his film to receive the most Oscar recognition would win this award.

All the nominees are pretty films, but one of the prettiest of the year was left out. Which one you ask? It's Mudbound, of course! This film is so gorgeous, and the production design is so crucial to the narrative, that it certainly deserved a nomination here.

Best Sound Editing
These bombs sound so real! Shield your ears!
Will Win: Dunkirk
Could Win: Baby Driver or Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Should Win: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Should Have Been Nominated: A Ghost Story

Sound editing is often a difficult category for people to predict, mostly because it's hard for a lot of people to gauge what good sound editing is. And yet, it is one of the most crucial things that helps a movie succeed. One of the best ways to notice good sound editing is to watch a war film. All those fight sequences, with bullets flying everywhere and bombs going off would be so unbelievably confusing if the sound were not well edited to help tell the story. That's probably why this category often goes to war films. Which, in this case, would imply that the winner would be Dunkirk. Although, I could also see it going to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I know the film divided audiences, but regardless what your thoughts are on the story, that movie was really well-made on a technical level, and the sound in particular was really great. And the wild card here is Baby Driver, which is the rare movie that really puts sound at the forefront. So much has been made of how this film fitted its action sequences to its score, and since sound was so part of its process, I could see the Academy giving it some recognition here. Personally, though, I really didn't see what all the hubbub was about surrounding Baby Driver, and I honestly found it's use of sound to be adequate rather than exceptional. But you know what movie used sound really well? A Ghost Story. While all five of the nominees in this category have a lot of loud, fast-paced sound effects, much of A Ghost Story is minimal and silent. And that's why its use of sound is so effective. Every sound is so carefully chosen because every sound stands out so strongly.

Best Sound Mixing
"Yeah. This sound mixing is dope."
Will Win: Baby Driver
Could Win: Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Dunkirk
Should Win: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Should Have Been Nominated: Wonderstruck

A lot of people tend to make jokes about how this category and sound editing are the same thing and that is just not true. Sound editing and sound mixing are two very different, and very important, art-forms. But the Academy didn't really help people see the distinction this year by nominating the same five films in both categories. Come on, Academy, you're better than this!

But I'm hoping that this similarity will end when it comes to the winners. While I think that Dunkirk will win the sound editing award, I really hope it doesn't win sound mixing. Nolan insists on having really bad sound mixing in his movies, and the Academy insists on inexplicably giving his films sound mixing nominations. At least the sound mixing in Dunkirk isn't as godawful as it was in Interstellar, but it's not great here either. I think it could win, but if it does, it'll indicate that voters really don't know what sound mixing means, or what it is supposed to accomplish. Instead of Dunkirk, I think this award will go to Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Baby Driver. As I said in my Sound Editing analysis, The Last Jedi just uses sound really, really well. And, for Baby Driver, it's rare that a movie places sound so distinctly at its forefront, and I think it's a frontrunner here because the Academy will want to recognize that.

But, you know what movie puts sound at its forefront in a much better way? Todd Haynes' underlooked Wonderstruck. Maybe it's because there were so many movies with the word Wonder in it (Wonder Woman, Wonder Wheel, and of course Wonder) but this film about two deaf children exploring New York City decades apart is really lovely, and most relevantly, uses sound to tell its story in a really creative and masterful way. The sound editing is strong, and the sound mixing in particular is truly brilliant.

Best Original Score
The score for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is fire. FIRE. Get it?
Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could Win: Phantom Thread
Should Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should Have Been Nominated: Loving Vincent

This was a GREAT year for film scores. Really, one of the best in recent memory. All five of the nominated scores are really strong, and this category is honestly quite exciting. I think the three standouts, though, have to be Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Phantom Thread, and The Shape of Water. Of the three, I think it's going to be tough for The Shape of Water to win. Not because Alexandre Desplat's score isn't great, but because it's so clearly heavily influenced by his previous work on Amelie. Up against the other two frontrunners, it just is lacking the same originality. So that leaves us with Three Billboards and Phantom Thread, and frankly it'll just come down to a matter of taste. The score for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is so incredibly cool: it's reminiscent of country rock, but like the film itself, feels arch and self-aware. It's a smart score, which underlines the film's tension, aggression, and danger. Then there's the score for Phantom Thread, which is absolutely beautiful, elegant, and lush. They're both great scores, and both are perfect fits for the film they accompany. Personally, I prefer Three Billboards, and find Mildred's main theme in particular to be absolutely addictive, but both of these scores are deserving.

There were many great scores this year which I feel like I could say are deserving of a nomination, but the one that springs to mind first is Loving Vincent. As with all Clint Mansell scores, it's powerful, emotionally stirring, and it truly elevates the already solid film.

Best Original Song
I'm not crying, you're crying.
Will Win: "Mystery of Love" from Call Me by Your Name
Could Win: "Remember Me" from Coco or "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman
Should Win: "Remember Me" from Coco
Should Have Been Nominated: "You Were the Beat of My Heart" from The Lure

These are all some really strong songs, but the secret to predicting this category is to look at the criteria for the category. Voters are asked to consider not only the strength of the song itself, but how it is used in the film. This criteria was added after a lot of songs just stuck their Original Song into the credits, and it does make a difference. It means that songs like "Mighty River" from Mudbound and "Stand Up for Something" from Marshall are longshots, as they're not as prominent in their respective films as the other nominees. "This is Me" has a shot, but it's by last year's winners in this category, Pasek & Paul, and the Academy is usually hesitant to give out awards to the same people in consecutive years unless their achievement can't be ignored. In this case, pretty much everything about The Greatest Showman can be ignored rather easily.

That leaves us with two frontrunners: "Mystery of Love" and "Remember Me." These songs are incredibly successful in their respective films, and for very different reasons. "Remember Me" is a simple and sweet song, which is performed multiple times throughout the film, with increasing returns. This song is part of the fabric of the film. It's lovely, and if you're like me, just hearing the melody on a guitar will bring you back to the emotion you feel watching the film. "Mystery of Love" isn't performed by a character in the movie, but is very much a part of the film. They feel like companion pieces, with the song distilling the essence of the movie into a gem of a song. I think "Mystery of Love" has a bit of an edge. It's a more complex song, has a bit more heft to it when listened to outside the context of the film, and has the benefit of the star-power of writer and performer Sufjan Stevens. So my brain gives "Mystery of Love" the edge, but my heart is quite content to stick with "Remember Me."

I like all of these songs, and there wasn't another song from a film this year that really stands out as a major snub (unlike last year when all of the great songs from Sing Street were unjustly ignored). But there was a low-budget, campy, Polish goth-punk movie musical about man-eating mermaids this year called The Lure and frankly, I would have loved for it to get an Oscar nomination just for the sheer novelty of it. It would have been wild to see any of the songs from this bizarre but weirdly wonderful film get some recognition, and the standout number is probably "You Were the Beat of My Heart." Again, not the BEST song, but I think it would have been wild and unexpected to hear it performed on the Oscar stage.

Best Documentary Short Subject
Judge Patricia Keller in Heroin(e), Breaion King in Traffic Stop, and Eva Schloss in 116 Cameras
Will Win: Heroin(e)
Could Win: Traffic Stop
Should Win:Heroin(e)
Should Have Been Nominated: 116 Cameras

Of the short film categories, the documentary shorts are by far the strongest this year. I really enjoyed all five of these films, and would definitely encourage everyone to check them out. They're really worth seeing, and even at their short runtimes, are some of the most satisfying films I saw all year. The overall quality of these films means it's tough to predict a winner, and I do think a case could be made for any of these five films being named the winner. This category tends to not shy away from difficult subject matter, and the winners in the past three years have all been the nominee that covered arguably the heaviest topic. If that continues here, that would make the frontrunners Traffic Stop and Heroin(e). Traffic Stop is an HBO profile of schoolteacher and dancer Breaion King, who was arrested and beaten by a policeman in a brutal video that went viral. It's a wonderful film about her, that is brutally juxtaposed with the violent dashcam footage of her arrest. It's a really well-done film, which uses this incident to say volumes about the state of civil rights in our country, while also allowing us to get to know King outside of this one incident. It's really good, but I think it will be edged out for a win by personal favorite of the bunch, Heroin(e), which is currently available on Netflix. Heroin(e) follows three women in West Virginia who are working to combat and resolve the state's rampant drug problem. The three women (fire chief Jan Rader, judge Patricia Keller, and street missionary Necia Freeman) are all truly remarkable, and the work they're doing is inspiring and vital. The subject matter is heavy, but the achievements of these heroines is incredibly rewarding. From a filmmaking perspective, I also think this is the strongest nominee, as filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon seamlessly weaves the stories of these women and the people they've helped together into an excellent story.

So, I think those are the two frontrunners, but again, I could see a case made for any of the nominees. Edith + Eddie has probably the most unexpected subject matter. Focusing on a 95 and 96 year-old newlywed, interracial couple, the film starts off as a romance, but becomes a harrowing look at ageism as Edith and Eddie have to truly fight for their rights. I don't want to give anything away, but the ending is incredibly emotional, and the film might have a bigger fanbase than I'm giving it credit for. Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 is a profile of artist Mindy Alper, who struggles with mental illness. The film is a wonderful and complete celebration of Alper and her work, and might score points from voters simply because it's the only movie which has moments of humor amidst the more difficult topics it tackles. The only nominee I would be surprised to take home the title is Knife Skills, about the fine-dining restaurant Edwins which is staffed entirely by former prisoners. It's really good, but as far as films about the rehabilitation of prisoners go, I think Heroin(e) is far more hard-hitting and powerful, so I think this year it might just be outshined given the similarity of what is discussed.

I'm genuinely thrilled that all of these films were nominated, but there was one film from the shortlist that also really resonated with me. The New York Times documentary 116 Cameras tells the story of Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor who enters a futuristic looking cage of cameras to tell her story so it may be preserved for future prosperity. I wouldn't say it's necessarily better than any of the nominees, but I do think it could have held its own in this strong field.

Best Animated Short Film
Lou, Negative Space, and World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts
Will Win: Lou
Could Win: Negative Space
Should Win: Negative Space
Should Have Been Nominated: World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts

Traditionally, Pixar doesn't have the utter dominance in the short films category that they have in the feature-length category. But, they still do quite well here, and in the absence of a real masterpiece among the often nominees, Pixar shorts are usually a safe bet. That's the case this year with Lou, about a fight between playground bully and a sentient pile of lost and found items (it makes sense in the movie, I promise). As with most things from Pixar, it's really well-made. It's a good story, and is probably the most universally likable short of the bunch.

Of the other nominees, none jump out as a clear winner to unseat Lou in this category. Dear Basketball is an animated treatment of a poem by Kobe Bryant, and Bryant narrates the film. It's nice enough, and has the draw of celebrity the way the other nominees don't, but it doesn't leave much of an impact. Revolting Rhymes also has some celebrity sway: it's based off of a Roald Dahl book and features a star-studded voice cast. But, it's also not too remarkable, and with a runtime that's longer than all the other nominees combined, still doesn't manage to say as much or leave as much of an impression as the other films.

If a non-Pixar movie takes home the trophy, I think it'll be one of the two remaining nominees. Garden Party could win for its gorgeous animation alone. The film, about a group of frogs taking up residence in an abandoned mansion, is beautiful to watch, and at times it's hard to believe these frogs are animated at all. But it's also the weirdest of the nominees, and I think it might prove too divisive to earn the votes to win the category. I think a better case can be made for Negative Space, a first-person narrative of a man who bonded with his deceased father over the art of packing luggage. The film's stop-motion animation is wildly creative, and was my personal favorite to watch. The movie tells us that one of the secrets to packing is to use all of your space well, and that translates to the movie's success. It's a short, but every second of screentime is utilized perfectly. It's a sweet little gem and, with the most accolades from various festivals going into the Oscars, might just be a dark horse contender for the prize.

But the truth is that none of these nominees can hold a candle to Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts. Hertfeldt is a consistent Oscar bridesmaid. Previously, his brilliant films Rejected and the first World of Tomorrow were nominated in this category but didn't win. And this time, his sci-fi sequel failed to even make the shortlist for this category. It's tough to know what more the Academy wants Hertzfeldt to do. Both installments in the World of Tomorrow series are amazing: they're funny, profound, and utterly original. Let's hope that a third World of Tomorrow is coming our way: not just because it would mean we could all keep learning more about the life of Emily Prime and her various future selves, but because maybe the Oscars could finally give this man the Oscar he so distinctly deserves. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, please see these films. They're currently both available on Vimeo.

Best Live Action Short Film
The Eleven O'Clock, The Silent Child, and DeKalb Elementary
Will Win: The Eleven O'Clock
Could Win: The Silent Child
Should Win: DeKalb Elementary
Should Have Been Nominated: I don't know. I have not seen any other live action short films this year other than the nominees. I'm so sorry, dear readers, I have failed you.

Four of the nominated films are dramas, and when I say drama I don't mean quiet family dramas, I mean really harrowing stuff. My definite favorite of the lot is DeKalb Elementary, about a school shooting. As soon as the film starts and the shooter pulls out his gun, I felt myself get tense, and I'm not sure I breathed for the entire 21 minute runtime. This movie was so wonderfully understated, to the point that it felt uncomfortably real (much credit is deserved for actors Bo Mitchell as the would-be shooter, and especially Tarra Riggs as a super-humanly calm receptionist). To anyone worried that the film might be exploitative, I will say that I was completely drawn into it, and the script was written around an actual 911 phone call from an attempted school shooting, which really does help the film feel so authentic. It was really strong, but also incredibly difficult to watch. The same can be said of other nominees like My Nephew Emmett which is about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, and Watu Wote/All of Us which is about a bus attacked by terrorists on the Kenya/Somalia border. These were probably my three favorites of the nominees, but I don't think any will win because they're just so hard to watch. This category often features some really bleak films, and they just never win, with the Academy deferring to more pleasant  films, like Stutterer and Sing which have won in the past two years. Even when sadder films have won (such as the brilliant short The Phone Call) they tend to be more heartwarmingly sad as opposed to viscerally challenging.

Which bodes well for fare like The Silent Child. This is probably the most likely winner on paper. It has received quite a few accolades already, and seems to be the film that most critics have singled out. It's the prettiest looking of the nominees, and I imagine it had the biggest budget to account for its high production values. It's also a movie with a great message. The film is about a social-worker working with a young deaf girl whose parents seem uninterested in her progress, and are specifically adverse to the child being taught sign language. The social-worker is played by Rachel Shenton, who also wrote the film, and this film is clearly a labor of love for her. When Shenton was twelve, her father became deaf, and ever since Shenton has been an activist, raising awareness of deafness in the UK, and becoming an ambassador for the National Deaf Children's Society. This is a movie with a message: that deaf children should be supported and too often they are failed by their families and the school system. I agree wholeheartedly with the message, but I was not as taken with the movie as most critics seemed to be. This film was VERY heavy-handed, and to be honest, it felt like more of a PSA than a short film, mostly due to the ending. It's a noble film, but I'd be hard-pressed to call it a good one. Most people seem to be giving this film the highest odds, but I just can't justify it given how unsatisfying I found the film to be.

Which leaves The Eleven O'Clock, a comedy about a psychiatrist whose new patient suffers from the delusion that he's also a psychiatrist, and both men grow increasingly frustrated with trying to help the other. It's a funny movie, with a great dose of quirk and charm, and while it essentially never goes beyond its initial premise, it's a good premise which allows for some really good moments. Do I think it's the best film of the bunch? No. But given that it's the only comedy, it stands out amongst the bunch. Imagine you're an Oscar voter. You've just watched four incredibly depressing short films. and then you see this movie. Watching The Eleven O'Clock would feel like such a relief! Which is why I think it'll be the winner. Not because it's the best, but because it stands out among the pack.

So, there you have it! My predictions in all categories. How does my ballot compare to yours? Who will be victorious on Oscar night?! What will be the biggest upsets?! We'll have to wait to find out on March 4th!

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