The Oscars turn 90 later today (AKA: 90 Scars), and I’ve finally seen every single film nominated in the Best Picture category. So, it is time to reveal the Oscar plans over here at Plot and Theme. Overall, I think this (read: 2017) was a strong year for film, and I am excited to start unraveling everything. So, let’s start by discussing what you’ll be seeing on Plot and Theme with regards to the Oscars, Best of Lists, and the like.
For starters, you’re currently reading my “Prediction” piece, which will not actually be strictly predictive. Sometimes, I’ll talk about who I think will win, and sometimes I’ll talk about who I believe should win. Occasionally, I’ll do both. I’d rather not get bogged down in all of the categories, so I am going to focus on the big five (really, six): Actor / Actress, Writing (adapted & original screenplays), Best Director and Best Picture. Also, in smaller bits, I’ll talk about the other awards that interest me: cinematography, editing, supporting acting awards, and animated feature and documentary feature.
Then, tonight, I’ll document the entire awards show with my own unique brand of pithy and insightful commentary, which I will quickly edit and post tomorrow. I apologize in advance for making light of the thing I will most certainly make light of, whether that is some kind of racial issue, a joke at some pedophile’s expense, or the out-there sentiment that Donald Trump is a worse person than Meryl Streep.
Anyway, from there, I will be releasing my reviews of all of the Best Picture nominees over the course of March, culminating in my “Best Films of 2017” piece. It’s a little weird to wait so long for this piece, but I feel like I need to have a little bit of patience with these. 2016 really rubbed me the wrong way with two movies: Paterson and, to a lesser extent, Silence. Both of these movies were fantastic, deep, and have kept me thinking about them throughout 2017. And yet, because they were released in late December / Early January, they are not on my 2016 list, and are far too old to appear on the 2017 list (and, to be fair, they were released in 2016). I also feel like rushing to judgement to publish a “Best of List” in the final week of December doesn’t serve my goal of providing a thoughtful piece of commentary.
So, with all that out of the way, let’s get started with the acting.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This is a tougher one for me, because I had no interest in seeing All the Money in the World even before the recasting of Kevin Spacey, and I never got the chance to see The Florida Project. From there, I don’t really think Richard Jenkins was that spectacular in The Shape of Water, and I’d probably give the edge to Rockwell over Harrelson (so, that’s the best supporting performance I saw in this category). Final prediction, though: Willem Dafoe.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
I have yet to be in a mood dour enough to watch Mudbound, but the buzz in the trades is that Blige probably shouldn’t have even been nominated in this category, so I feel fine disregarding her. Octavia Spencer’s performance in The Shape of Water didn’t feel particularly noteworthy to me, so I think it comes down to Janney, Metcalf, and Manville. Of those, I was most blown away by Metcalf and Manville, and I would lean towards Laurie Metcalf for her portrayal of the mom in Lady Bird. Her performance had subtlety, wit, charm, and a sadness to it that felt absolutely perfect. Final prediction: Laurie Metcalf.
Actor in a Leading Role
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.
I did not see Roman J. Isreal, Esq., but I saw the rest of these performances, and they were all outstanding. Day-Lewis does his thing in Phantom Thread, absolutely disappearing into his role again. However, I think if you’re looking to give this award to someone who disappears, then you should give it to Gary Oldman. Daniel Kaluuya is amazing in Get Out, and even though genre films do not generally fare well at the Oscars (especially for acting awards), his performance is a huge part of the success of Get Out. But, at the end of the day, I think ten years from now, I am thinking about Timothée Chalamet’s performance as Elio. If I had a vote, it’d be for Chalamet, but my prediction is that Oldman wins it (which would be deserved; Oldman is a fucking champion).
Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post
Streep does well, but this is a legacy nomination. Her performance in The Post is much closer to Florence Foster Jenkins than Sophie’s Choice. Margot Robbie actually does something impressive in I, Tonya, but I think that the overall aesthetic of that film (sarcastic, ironic, 4th Wall breaking) hurts Robbie here, lending her performance an unserious feel. So, I think it is squarely between Hawkins, Ronan, and McDormand. And, I think it goes to Francis. I would love to see Saoirse Ronan take this home, because her performance in Lady Bird is wonderful and I have a soft spot for spectacular Coming-of-Age films. And The Shape of Water was so weird and powerful and Sally Jenkins had to do most of her acting with her face and her hands. Still, McDormand wins her second Oscar tonight, because she is just an absolute force in her film.
As a final thought on performances, I get the feeling that 2017 was a slightly weaker year overall. You’ve got strong performances in each of these categories, and I think we may end up talking about McDormand and Chalamet ten years from now, but I don’t think we will hold too much reverence for this year’s acting races.
Writing and Technical Awards
Roger A. Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour
Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison – Mudbound
Dan Laustsen – The Shape Of Water
I love me some fascinating cinematography, and we’re doing really well this year. Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, and Mudbound are pretty dark and dour overall, but there’s definitely a strong aesthetic to each of these films. They’re gritty and realistic, cold and calculated to transport the viewer to a very serious time and place. The Shape of Water and Blade Runner 2049 are quite the opposite, with a fantastic and futuristic feel, respectively. I lean more towards these, and I firmly believe that no film in 2017 generated more emotion from its shots than did Blade Runner 2049. It’s a tour-de-force for Roger Deakins, who – despite being the only cinematographer that most “normies” can name, does not have an Oscar. Hopefully, he remedies that tonight, because whatever you thought about Blade Runner 2049, it was a gorgeous, eye-popping experience.
Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos – Baby Driver
Lee Smith – Dunkirk
Tatiana S. Riegel – I, Tonya
Sidney Wolinsky – The Shape Of Water
Jon Gregory – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Editing is perhaps the only artistic endeavor unique to film (and TV, but you get the point). Performance and direction happen on the stage. Cinematography and Still Photography are just estranged brothers. Writing is everywhere. But, you only edit everything together in the movies, spliced around cuts and camera movements and everything else. As I look at these films, three stand out for their editing: Baby Driver, Dunkirk, and I, Tonya. All of these films have solid editing, but these three practically rely on their editing as a crucial element of their storytelling. Baby Driver would be my preferred victor, partially because I feel like it got the short end of a lot of sticks this year, but I believe this award goes to Lee Smith for his work on Dunkirk. But, be aware that The Shape of Water and Three Billboards are nominated in a lot of categories, so it is entirely possible that one of them starts building momentum and nabs this category too.
Writing – Adapted Screenplay
Call Me By Your Name, Screenplay by James Ivory
The Disaster Artist, Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan, Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; Story by James Mangold
Molly’s Game, Written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound, Screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
Adaptation feels a little weak this year, but this category may have some of the most disparate nominees. It would be fantastic if Logan won this, because it was one of the most impressive superhero films in a year full of outstanding ones. The Disaster Artist is kind of gimmicky, and Molly’s Game definitely feels like Sorkin, but my hope is that Call Me by Your Name nabs this one.
Writing – Original Screenplay
The Big Sick, Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out, Written by Jordan Peele
Lady Bird, Written by Greta Gerwig
The Shape Of Water, Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; Story by Guillermo del Toro
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Written by Martin McDonagh
Now we’re talking. Write these five films down on an index card and keep it in your wallet. That way, when some cynical fool laments that “they don’t make original movies anymore” in between sips of their Nitro Cold Brew (if it’s early) or their IPA (if it’s later), you’ll have a magnificent rejoinder that has them coughing on their overpriced artisanal beverage. Each of these five films has a distinctive feel, tone, subject, mood, and style – and they’re all fantastic. This might be my favorite category of the night, because no matter who wins I am going to be fucking stoked for the winner. These are beautiful films, well-written and stunning. My prediction is that this goes to Three Billboards because it has the inside track, but in my opinion this is the closest race in the game.
Best Films and Direction
The Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Coco, Ferdinand, Loving Vincent
What are we even doing here? The Boss Baby? Ferdinand? This goes to Coco and I don’t think it is even close.
Abacus: Small Enough To Jail, Faces Places, Icarus, Last Men In Aleppo, Strong Island
I saw Abacus and interviewed the director for a piece, so my objectivity is shot and I want Abacus to win. Icarus is also fine, and Last Men in Aleppo is okay, but I have very little clue where this is going to go.
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig –Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
No losers here, either. Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig each put out debut films better than 90% of all films that get made, so they are obviously in the running here, and I’ll be waiting for their next films with bated breath. On the opposite end of the spectrum are three seasoned vets, each not making their best film (but still making really good ones). (FYI, the answers are Memento, There Will Be Blood, and Pan’s Labyrinth, respectively). For me, “Best Direction” means the film where the things specifically controlled by the director come together in the best way possible. Essentially, this means the performances and whatever appears on the camera (costumes, set design, cinematography, and shot selection/camera movements). I’m looking for a person’s specific vision coming through onscreen, and this year’s group is replete with options. I think PTA is out, and that Nolan has almost no chance despite making his best film in almost a decade. This will come down to the two noobies vs. the wonderful fat Mexican man who makes crazy fairy tales with fishes and fauns without batting an eye. My money is on del Toro, but I’d love to hear an acceptance speech from Gerwig, Peele, or Del Toro.
Call Me By Your Name
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Nine films to sift through here, and as I previously mentioned, I have seen each and every one of them (some twice). We’ll organize these in to three groups: No Chancers, Sleepers, and Favorites. The Post, Darkest Hour, and Call Me by Your Name have absolutely no chance in this race. The two historical films are just a little too bland, and the best things about these films are their performances, so they are way behind the 8-ball. Call Me by Your Name is too foreign, too slow, and too unapproachable for most audiences. In fact, go ahead and add Phantom Thread to the “No Chancers” for exactly the same reason. There are three fantastic performances in this film, and some wonderful costuming all wrapped around a fascinating plot, but this will not be enough to take home the Best Picture. The two sleepers are probably not going to win, and would represent a huge surprise, and they’re the same two films from the previous category that I raved about (apparently, good directors make for good films): Lady Bird and Get Out. Either of these films winning Best Picture would be an absurd upset, but entirely deserved. Lady Bird may be my absolute favorite film of the year (it’s close), and Get Out was a cultural phenomenon for a reason.
Then the three films that I think could win: The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Dunkirk. I think Dunkirk is the least likely film of these three. It is a solid movie, it’s historical, and it champions the Free World vs. the Nazis, which is a winning formula. I feel like it is expertly constructed and does a lot of interest things, but that won’t be enough (and shouldn’t be, given its competition).
This is a race between Three Billboards and The Shape of Water, and I think that The Shape of Water is just a little too weird to win the Best Picture award, although I would love if it did. So, at the end of the night, I think Three Billboard Outside Ebbing Missouri end up with the big prize.
Check out Plot and Theme tomorrow to see how I did with my “predictions”, and my play-by-play recap of the night. Marvel in my ability to watch TV, type, and drink alcohol for 3.5 hours on a Sunday night!
Happy Oscar Night!