So: the other categories.
I spoke with a friend the other night, who’s a best-picture-only voter at AMPAS, but votes in acting categories at BAFTA. He said he found both male categories very difficult to deal with this year, for opposite reasons: in Best Actor, he had trouble coming up with five names; in support, he found it maddening to limit it to that.
I think nearly everyone has the same situation when it comes to scoping out lead actor. We all know Gary Oldman’s going to be nominated. We also expect -- and support – a slot for Timothee Chalamet. And Daniel Day-Lewis seems a solid selection, based on his film’s critical and (so far, limited release) popular success, as well as the occasion of his announced retirement.
After that – no offense to those involved – you’re down to people who wouldn’t stand a chance in a decent year. Daniel Kaluuya’s performance in Get Out is fine – he does everything asked of him, perfectly well. But I didn’t hear widespread mention of him as a best actor candidate last Spring; it’s only a barren field and his film’s prominence that has him in the discussion. The way things stand, though, that’s enough: I have to rank him fourth in likelihood. A shaky fourth -- not a can’t-miss. But he’s ahead of the rest of the pack.
Which represents a change in my thinking, because I once thought James Franco a top-tier lock. When The Disaster Artist opened to those great numbers, I figured he was in without doubt. But 1) that box office rather quickly cratered, suggesting the film had strictly cult appeal and 2) I subsequently saw the film, and confirmed the suggestion; I can see this film baffling many voters. It obviously helps that Franco won the comedy actor prize, from both the Globes and Broadcasters; it just as clearly doesn’t help that he was hit with the sexual accusations during the end of the voting period. I don’t know if any of those developments came too late to help or hurt him, but I’m iffy on him for performance alone.
Except, what’s the alternative? You have two guys -- Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Hanks – who give adequate performances, but both of them have recently missed with what looked like surer nomination shots. Gyllenhaal has a baity-ish role, Hanks a more popular vehicle – but neither jump out and say “nominate me.” There’s also SAG nominee/Academy favorite Denzel Washington, but he’s attached to a poorly reviewed film even his star power couldn’t bring box-office respectability. Given all this, I’m tempted to tout Steve Carell, for making Bobby Riggs a halfway interesting character in Battle of the Sexes. But Carell, while lead at the Globes, was shoved into support at SAG, so probably nothing will come of it.
This group is so uninspiring, it may end up being Franco after all.
Best Actress is, of course, a far simpler matter. Barring epic surprise, Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie will all make the list. The only real question left is, to Streep or not to Streep? I think you can make a good case either way. The Post gives her a strong role, one with more serious tones than something like Florence Foster Jenkins, and the film feels centered enough around her that she makes a strong impression. But, as I indicated in the previous thread, The Post is a surprisingly weak entry in the overall race, and it’s possible voters could be feeling enough fatigue with it to gravitate to something with more at-the-moment heat (Chastain) or deeper sentiment (SAG choice Dench). I don’t much credit Bening’s chances – truly, I think BAFTA saw the word “Liverpool” and made all its decisions on that alone. But if Streep is omitted, it’ll surely be one of these three taking her place. And we’ll know early on: assuming the announcement goes alphabetically, any one of Bening/Chastain/Dench will show up in the lead-off spot. If, on the other hand, Sally Hawkins’ name is the first read, we’ll know Meryl’s pulled it off one more time – demonstrating anew that, in this era, the most foolproof precursor for an Oscar nomination is simply to be Meryl Streep.
Best supporting actor seems clear at the center -- Willem Dafoe and Sam Rockwell will clearly be cited, and, despite the blip of the BAFTA omission, Richard Jenkins seems likely to join them. But, after that, it feels like there are several scenarios to consider:
1) Can multiple nominations really happen here?
The supporting actor category hasn’t had a double nominee since Bugsy, 26 years ago -- though of course we’ve had many such instances in supporting actress in that period, so maybe that’s just a fluke. This year, both SAG and BAFTA have Woody Harrelson nominated alongside film-mate Rockwell. SAG has had other double nominees over that 26-year stretch -- Don Cheadle along with Matt Dillon in Crash, Tommy Lee Jones in tandem with Javier Bardem in No Country; it may be just their thing. But BAFTA echoing is a complicating factor.
And Three Billboards isn’t the only film with possible multiple candidates -- leading us to:
2) Can Call Me by Your Name get into this category at all?
The word out of Sundance was all Michael Stuhlbarg – his climactic monologue was the stuff of instant Oscar speculation. Armie Hammer was looked upon as solid, but in an at-best-borderline/probably-co-lead role. But, as we know, Oscar touts and voters are easily pliable these days: once Sony Classics started pushing Hammer in support, predictors fell in line, listing Hammer as a major candidate for the supporting award.
The Broadcasters, in their hedging way, nominated both men, but the Globes and Spirits went for Hammer only, making him seem the film’s most likely nominee. Worst of all, SAG/BAFTA followed by ignoring both entirely. Did the split between the two cause this to happen? Or is it that, by then, Call Me by Your Name was fading as an overall candidate, and there wasn’t enough interest in either?
I suppose at this point I’ll be relieved if anyone from Call Me by Your Name makes it, but I’m a Stuhlbarg guy all the way (have been for a while; check Who’ll Be Back 2015). I’m hoping the emotional pull of his big speech, especially with older voters, can carry him to a nomination despite his disappointing season. And if he, not Hammer, ends up getting the nod, it will be an odd, karmic reversal of an old injustice: Back in 1994, John Turturro’s grating Herb Stempel had all the expectation of being the supporting nomination from Quiz Show…but, when the slate was revealed, he was supplanted by old-line WASP Paul Scofield, playing the film’s quiet voice of conscience. It’d be great to, this time, have it be the Jewish voice of conscience role triumph over the WASP (I know: Armie Hammer’s character is also supposed to be Jewish -- but look at the guy! Do you see anything but a WASP god?)
Anyway, to wrap up the double nominees issue: at least we can rule out Michael Shannon, right? He’d never slide in with a surprise nomination.
Which leads us to…
3) What about fringe possibilities?
I’m not even talking about Idris Elba or Ray Romano – two guys who give excellent performances, in prominent films, but have failed to excite even the slightest murmur. Patrick Stewart, on the other hand, got the Broadcasters to bite, plus Logan got that WGA mention, so should we consider him? And, as noted above, Steve Carell was nominated at SAG in this category. Do we view that as an early release/strictly SAG thing, or does he rate consideration?
But, mostly, it comes down to Christopher Plummer. When I saw him nominated by the Globes, I thought that was strictly a studio schmooze/follow-the-headlines sort of recognition. But BAFTA surprisingly followed suit, and I have to wonder if it’s for real. And if so, why? It’s not as if All the Money in the World is any big deal – the movie got mediocre reviews, and its box office is declining fast. (We all consider Downsizing a flop, but All the Money… won’t do appreciably better.) And Plummer of course has zero chance of a repeat Oscar victory -- why give him a slot, over some very deserving candidates who’ve never had recognition? Are we that grateful Plummer zoomed in and helped us forget Kevin Spacey?
Unlike best actress, there’s way too much going on in this category to even devise any foolproof alphabetical strategy. I’m very interested in how this one turns out.
The core of the best supporting actress race is as simple as can be: Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf will be nominated, and battle over the statuette. The subsidiary but more intriguing question is, which three others will come along for the ride? That field seems to have been whittled down to 5 candidates (7 if you stretch to include Tiffany Haddish and Kristen Scott Thomas), and it’s basically a game of musical chairs, figuring which ones will be included and which ones squeezed out. No one has scored at all four major precursors (Broadcasters/Globes/SAG/BAFTA): Mary J. Blige and Hong Chau ran the early three, but missed BAFTA; Octavia Spencer got 3 of 4, but her miss was the often-crucial SAG; Holly Hunter got only 2 of 4, but SAG was one of them.
It’s hard to even know the right questions to ask. Is Mary J. Blige handicapped more by Netflix, or by the fact that almost no one seems to feel she does anything memorable in the film? (When I read one of the critics in the Slate Movie Club saying “Ooh, that Blige performance!”, it was the first positive thing I’d read about her online in a month.) Will Hong Chau be undone by her film’s box-office flameout? It almost certainly hurts (along with Downsizing’s no-show in other categories) – but is that offset by her standout character/performance, probably the showiest beyond Metcalf/Janney? Did Holly Hunter’s film open too long ago – or is The Big Sick’s Guild showing indicative of its staying in everyone’s minds? Can Lesley Manville capitalize on her BAFTA nod and Phantom Thread’s seeming late-break into the race? Is Octavia Spencer going to get a second straight nomination thanks largely to her film’s wide popularity?
I end where I started: Janney and Metcalf, then spin the wheel; three actresses will be lucky, and the rest will wish they’d picked a less competitive year.
Then, best director. Many are predicting exact carryover from the DGA list, which would be exceedingly rare – since the DGA began citing five nominees per year (1970), I find only five years where their list matched the directors’ branch of AMPAS. Yet some seem to be not only making this prediction, but digging in on it. Nathaniel at The Film Experience, on the day the DGA list was revealed, said he “fears” Oscar might replace Gerwig or Peele. The implication: there’ll be Twitter-hell-to-pay if either is left off. But, as BJ has noted, both those fit the exact profile of DGA choices directors later pass over: newbies with little Academy history, whose films don’t display particular distinctive visual style. Martin McDonagh mostly fits that criterion as well, though his In Bruges screenplay nomination boosts him slightly. Even in a middling year, one of those three would be highly vulnerable to omission. And this is anything but a middling year: we’ve got multiple other contenders who’d be category catnip in a standard competition.
In fact, I think the year is so unusually stacked that I feel a need to handicap two different ways – first, as if it’s a good year but one that behaves “sensibly” (i.e., conforms to precursor trends, despite a goodly number of options that finish out of the money – like, say, 1999), and, then, as if it’s a year where the crush of contenders makes everything go kablooey. We all saw this latter thing happen recently, in 2012…and those of us with longevity observed it in 1995, as well. It can’t be ruled out in this exceptional year.
Start with the sensible analysis. Del Toro and Nolan would appear to be the foundation of the category – visual stylists with excellent reviews and solid box office. McDonagh is, as I say, not nearly as firm a choice…but his film appears a real contender for best picture, and that has historically moved iffy prospects into the solid column. Which brings us to Gerwig and Peele. Both are clearly getting nominated for their screenplays; given the newbie status I noted, the directors’ branch may deem that sufficient reward, and go looking for others who better fit their historic criteria (which is, typically, veterans and/or directors with artier, lower-grossing but highly-praised efforts). These would be the candidates who, prior to the expansion, we called lone directors – and there are several strong such candidates this year.
In the veteran camp, the big name is Steven Spielberg, whose film has been a precursor enigma all season – hitting here, missing there. The big miss, for him, was DGA, which many would deem fatal. Now, I know, last year, Mel Gibson missed DGA, and reports of his death turned out premature – he ended up being the year’s repeater nominee. But Gibson had never been the lion of the DGA that Spielberg is. As I noted in the earlier post, Spielberg has been DGA-cited 11 times – all his Oscar nominations, plus Jaws, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun and Amistad. It’s inconceivable to me he could make the Oscar list after being eliminated there. Never say never, I suppose, but I’m ready to rule him out.
Since, for most of the year, I saw his film as part of the main race, I’d have expected Luca Guadagnino to make the DGA list. Having missed there, though, I think he’s now a strong candidate for a lone director-ish slot: his film was highly praised, has art-house cred, and a passionate core of support.
As does Sean Baker’s. The Florida Project meets all the criteria, as well – though its commercial performance is the weakest of all the films involved, it scores in every other way.
And then there’s Paul Thomas Anderson, who actually checks off every directors’ branch box: an Academy regular (one directing/four writing nods), a highly-praised film, aspirations to art.
Any one of these three feel like a logical lone director sort, and I can easily imagine one or more showing up on the directing list. Since we’re still playing sensible, let’s assume only one make it: who would they replace? I’d be inclined to say Peele, but that may just be because I hold Gerwig’s film in somewhat higher esteem – and also because I think the “listen to women” vibe is stronger this year than the carryover from “Oscarssowhite”.
But now, play it like it’s 2012 or 1995. You can knock off two DGA names -- but they don’t have to be the most logical ones. Dunkirk feels like the Zero Dark Thirty (or the Apollo 13) of this match-up. And Three Billboards could well be the Argo – the seeming front-runner that didn’t really have many career directing points to back it up. Slot in two of the Guadagnino/Baker/Anderson group in their place, and leave Gerwig/Peele in situ – the same way Life of Pi survived in 2012, over films that seemed less vulnerable. I truly believe we could see something like this on Tuesday morning. It’s the category in which I’m most interested, by far.
On to the screenplays – which, as we’ve long agreed, divide up as lopsidedly as we’ve ever seen. On the adapted side, Call Me by Your Name seems the only one I’d bet rent money on – though Molly’s Game is pretty certain, and Mudbound (barring a Netflix boycott) should get Dee Rees a consolation prize. The Disaster Artist is stronger here than under acting: if any branch can back a cult item, it’s this one. But I’m not 100% sold, even there. After that, pick one: All the Money in the World, Logan, Blade Runner 2049, The Lost City of Z, Wonder. All sure losers in a halfway decent year, but one (or more) of them a lottery winner here.
Then to original, where they wish they could buy a seat or two under adapted. It’s hard to imagine Get Out, Lady Bird or Three Billboards being omitted in any scenario. A lot of people are ready to throw out The Shape of Water, given its non-screenplay-dependent form. But I think it’s a strong enough best picture candidate I’m 80% sold it’ll get past that barrier. But what to do with that last slot? The Big Sick and I, Tonya have scored at multiple guilds, WGA included. Another late-breaking nod for Paul Thomas Anderson would surprise no one. And The Florida Project and The Post – at opposite ends of the spectrum – remain alive despite little early-season encouragement. This is a steel-cage death match, and I know I’ll end up feeling sorry for someone or someones at the end of it.
This is already way long-winded, so let me try and fly though the techs a bit faster.
In best cinematography, I’d be perfectly happy with the ASC five – even Darkest Hour – though Call Me by Your Name would be a fine substitution. (I’m fully behind Mudbound breaking the category’s gender barrier.) And, to throw out a fringe possibility, I thought The Beguiled, while a snooze-y movie, looked beautiful end to end. The only significant nominees, of course, are Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk and The Shape of Water, which should compete all the way to the opening of the envelope.
In costume design, the well-deserving Phantom Thread clearly benefits from being centered on clothing, but also from the fact there doesn’t seem to be any other obvious category leader. The films that have the most ornate costumes -- Beauty and the Beast, Murder on the Orient Express, Victoria and Abdul, The Greatest Showman – aren’t highly rated in the overall race; those that are -- Darkest Hour, Blade Runner 2049, The Shape of Water – don’t have the sort of costumes that generally win. I still have my doubts the Anderson film will win (as I did about Jackie last year), but it’ll run a good race.
Best production design seems like it’ll come down to Blade Runner 2049 and The Shape of Water in the end; who will fill the rest of the ballot is murky. There are of course the period pieces -- Beauty and the Beast, Darkest Hour, Murder on the Orient Express, Dunkirk…maybe even Wonder Woman. There’s creative design – Downsizing. And fantasy – Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, War for the Planet of the Apes.
Sound mixing and sound editing have become so similar you might as well discuss them together (especially since I’m not sure the branch members themselves understand the criteria anymore: wouldn’t that Benghazi movie have seemed more likely for sound editing than mixing?). Dunkirk seems the obvious leader in both categories. Baby Driver seems to be getting a lot of attention, as befits a movie with tons of screeching car noises. The big tech boppers -- Blade Runner 2049, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Wonder Woman -- all seem possible nominees.
The film editing slate has always been some combination of fast-paced action movies (Bullitt the supreme example) and overall best picture contenders. The latter have come to mostly dominate in this millennium, but Baby Driver feels like it’s getting enough attention to slip onto the ballot. Dunkirk, of course, meets both criteria, and is a lock for a nomination (said he, in the same tone he used about Inception). After that, make your pick among best picture hopefuls -- The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for overall strength; Get Out, I, Tonya and Molly’s Game for suspense and/or flashy editing. And throw in Lady Bird, Blade Runner 2049 and The Post just to cover the full range of possibilities.
Music score would appear to have three exceedingly strong contenders in Dunkirk, Phantom Thread and The Shape of Water. The inevitable John Williams has two entries, The Post and Star Wars: the Last Jedi – ignore him at your peril. Carter Burwell appears to have finally broken through with voters, and might be cited for Three Billboards or Wonderstruck. And Coco might get Michael Giacchino another citation.
Best song appears led by Remember Me from Coco, Globe winner This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, Mighty River from Mudbound, and (one hopes) Mystery of Love from Call Me by Your Name. Other songs that might turn up are Evermore from Beauty and the Beast, If I Dare from Battle of the Sexes (the Bareilles connection), and It Ain’t Fair from Detroit. Plus, of course, some song from a documentary you’ve never heard of.
The visual effects branch can sometimes surprise by omitting something that seemed a no-brainer, but it’s hard to imagine Blade Runner 2049 and War for the Planet of the Apes being left off, and most precedent would argue for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as well. Beyond that, it’s hard to predict whether they’ll go for less effects-dominated best picture candidates (Dunkirk or The Shape of Water), or obscurer items with more impressive work (Okja, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets). Or if they’ll go for Alien: Covenant, just because they’ve gone for almost every other installment of that series, forcing me to watch those squicky creatures one more time.
We already know the seven finalists for make-up/hair. The branch could provide a decent competition by nominating three of Darkest Hour, Guardians of the Galaxy v.2, I, Tonya and Wonder – all films widely enough seen, and varied enough in achievement, that the winner wouldn’t be obvious. But, knowing their m.o., they’re more likely to go with Bright and Ghost in the Shell, making whoever fills the third spot an automatic victor.
The only really salient fact about animated feature is, Coco will win. Beyond that, there will be four other nominees, and since, for the first time, the choices will be made by the full membership rather than the branch, we really have no idea what to expect. Under the old rules, The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent would have seemed logical choices. It’ll be interesting to see if, in a touch of atonement, The LEGO Batman Movie gets the nomination the original, far more highly-praised version was denied. I suppose even the branch might have granted that crumb, since the film is no threat to win.
Post mortem on all this and more when Tuesday morning finally gets here.