And the Oscar winners might be...
I think Stephen Colbert said it best on The Late Show on Jan. 23, the night after the 90th annual Oscar nominations were announced: “There are no controversies over lack of diversity. …With no big Oscar snubs, who are we mad at?” While I don’t believe diversity is an indicator of quality, there are very few exceptions to this year’s nominees that I take issue with. It happens to be that the Oscars got most everything right this year. This growing inclusion is more a commentary on the industry than on the quality of the films released in 2017.
Guillermo del Toro’s romance-fantasy film “The Shape of Water” led the pack with thirteen nominations while Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” received eight and my favorite film of the year, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri,” received seven. I was not particularly taken with “The Shape of Water” as most critics were this awards season. It was competently made but, overall, I wasn’t blown away like I was by many of the films nominated this year. Films like “Blade Runner 2049” and “Get Out” were much more visually striking and thematically complex, and let’s not discount most people’s favorite film of the summer, “Baby Driver,” which received a few technical award nominations. Other than my insistence that “The Square” win best foreign film, I’m strictly discussing the categories involving the live action feature film nominees.
Let’s begin with everyone’s favorite category: makeup and hairstyling. This category hands down goes to “Darkest Hour” for transforming the skinny, slightly fair-skinned Gary Oldman into the rotund and pale Winston Churchill. Unless the voters want to shake things up like they did with the Oscar-winning “Suicide Squad,” which upon utterance automatically makes me shudder, this should be a lock. In the categories of production and costume design, “Blade Runner 2049” and “Phantom Thread,” respectively, should also be sure winners. The former was a sleek and beautiful look into a dystopian future while the other was about a clothing designer.
Although most are going to insist “Baby Driver” win awards for best sound mixing and editing, these could easily go to “Dunkirk.” Sound editing is the designs and recording of a film’s audio, whereas sound mixing is the process of seamlessly layering them atop one another. “Dunkirk” should take both, but I would not be surprised or averse to “Baby Driver” taking sound mixing. “Dunkirk” may also take film editing, as it has recently won a few major film guild awards for best editing. Once again, “Baby Driver” could easily pull the rug from under “Dunkirk.”
Recognition for this year’s most stunning visuals, awarded via the cinematography and visual effects categories, should go to “Blade Runner 2049.” The “2049” director of photography, Roger Deakins, has fourteen nominations and zero wins under his belt while also being regarded as one of, if not the, best cinematographers of all time. While I would not be upset if “Dunkirk” snubs him once again for its glorious dogfight scenes and panoramic beach shots, this is for Deakins. The VFX award should go to “2049,” but “War for the Planet of the Apes” is an incredibly close second. That franchise has been snubbed twice now while demonstrating a mastery in motion capture and detailed visual effects. It’s a toss-up between the two, but I hope “2049” gets it.
Let’s briefly move behind the camera to the screenplay categories. In the best original category, this must go to “Three Billboards.” McDonagh wrote the tightest and most unique story by far. Some may argue for “Get Out,” but Jordan Peele’s direction is what captivated audiences, not the script. In the adapted category, this award will most likely go to “Call Me By Your Name.” This will unfortunately be the only award the film will be receiving on Oscar night, though I would much rather “Logan” get it. It’s an impressive enough feat that the comic book movie was nominated for a screenplay award; it may as well take it home.
Best original score will unfortunately go to Alexandre Desplat for “The Shape of Water.” I will continue to campaign Hans Zimmer to no end for “Dunkirk,” but Desplat has been racking up all of the awards. The odd thing is that Desplat will edge out Zimmer for a second time, taking the award for “Grand Budapest Hotel” over “Interstellar” in 2014. An underdog I won’t be particularly upset to see take the award home is Jonny Greenwood for “Phantom Thread.” I would not have guessed the lead guitarist from Radiohead would compose such a gorgeous orchestral score. And no, “Baby Driver” was not snubbed in this category. Its soundtrack was a compilation of unoriginal songs. It was nominated by the Grammys, but lost to the “La La Land” soundtrack Sunday night.
This was an incredibly strong year for actresses. Although the best lead and supporting awards are Frances McDormand’s (“Three Billboards”) and Allison Janney’s (“I, Tonya”) to lose, respectively, all of the other actresses in both categories were fantastic and equally deserving, except for Meryl Streep. Her performance was not particularly as outstanding as the other women’s. I would have personally liked to see the spot be occupied by Nicole Kidman for “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”
The supporting actor award is Sam Rockwell’s to lose as well. He was a major reason people both loved and hated “Three Billboards.” Regardless of what you thought, this then-criminally underrated actor will finally get his time in the spotlight (go watch “Moon,” he’s remarkable in it). I won’t be surprised if Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) sneaks by to take it, but I hope he doesn’t.
The lead actor category is oddly unsatisfying. I wasn’t particularly taken with most of the performances. They were all good, but not even close to the quality and intensity brought on in the other three acting categories. The fact that Gary Oldman will most likely get the award as his “career win” should tell you that the other four nominees were not that impressionable to audiences this year. Some may argue Chalamet for “Call Me” and Kaluuya for “Get Out” are deserving, but both were significantly elevated by their tight scripts and meticulous directing.
This brings us to best director. Let me tell you now that del Toro is on the bottom of my list for who I want to win, but he will unfortunately most likely take it home. Unless the Director’s Guild Awards rules differently this Friday, del Toro is a lock. I see this award as a way to recognize the seamless culmination of all of the aforementioned categories. It takes a lot of talent to perfect and match great visuals, tight scripts, smooth editing and poignant performances with one another while maintaining your vision. This is why I was upset not to see Denis Villeneuve for “2049.” I hope Jordan Peele wins in this category, but Nolan is an extremely close second. They both should be lauded for meticulously crafted visions in their drastically different films. Del Toro was… fine. According to my predictions above, “Shape of Water” is going to lose in every category. You wouldn’t expect a film in this position to win best director, or best picture for that matter.
Since 2000, among the 17 films that had the most nominations on Oscar night, only eight of the last 17 won best picture. The Producers Guild Award, which recently gave “The Shape of Water” best picture, has been correct eleven times. The film also picked up the Critic’s Choice Award for best picture, which has been correct twelve times. “Three Billboards” won the Screen Actor’s Guild’s best ensemble award, which is comparable to best picture (correctly predicted nine times).
The year’s best picture usually comes with a best screenplay and/or best director award. Since McDonagh will win best original screenplay and del Toro will win best director, it’s very much neck-and-neck. I’ll cross my fingers. My favorite film of the year may actually win best picture. Good luck to you, “Three Billboards.”