I hope I’m wrong, but this could be the dullest Academy Awards show in Oscars’ 90-year history. With winners in the director and acting categories pretty much cemented into place, the only excitement probably won’t arrive until the very end when it comes time to announce the winner in the highly competitive race for Best Picture.
Up until then, expect a lot of pandering to Hollywood’s sudden realization that women are people, too. But talk is cheap, and true equality won’t come until the powers that be start putting their money where their mouths are. So don’t take what they say literally.
Still, this presents a problem for returning host Jimmy Kimmel when he opens Sunday’s telecast at 8 p.m. on ABC. Will he feel the need to avoid cracking jokes about the movie industry’s rash of sexual harassment charges, or does he bravely dig right in with the Harvey Weinstein quips? That’s why I fear him playing it safe, which should make the Oscars every bit as leaden and plodding as this season’s other award shows. Being PC might be kind, but it’s definitely not funny.
Then Kimmel has never been one to be shy, as proven by his outspoken on-air lobbying for affordable healthcare, gun control and a cleansing of the swamp created by the current president. Will he go after President Donald Trump? If so, the telecast might be a tad more interesting. But isn’t attacking the man occupying the Oval Office starting to get a bit stale?
Thus, my fears for a very mundane evening that will likely — per usual — drag on for hours, punctuated by the rare acceptance speech that comes from the heart, and not the laundry list of “people I’d like to thank.” Yet, you won’t be able to keep me away from the TV. I’m addicted to this stuff. It’s bad for me, I know, but I get high off the glitz and pageantry. But that doesn’t mean I have to like what I see — or approve of winners I don’t think deserve their awards.
I’m sure there are millions who will be in the same love-hate boat as me. At least we can look at it as a challenge to our prognostication abilities in making wagers on who we think will win and take joy whenever we’re right. But the Oscars should be so much more than that. They should be grand spectacle in keeping with Hollywood’s blockbuster tradition, not a platform for political agendas — this year that would be women and guns — that divide us on a night when all movie lovers want to unite.
You never know, though. Maybe this year will offer more indelible moments like last year’s Best Picture screw-up when Faye Dunaway announced “La La Land” the winner, only to be corrected seconds later when it was determined the real recipient was “Moonlight.” Mistakes and impromptu incidents like that are what make the Oscars impromptu fun, and let’s hope this year offers more of the same.
But who will win? And do they deserve it? Those are some of the questions I answer below as I give you my take on who will strike gold, and who will not, on Hollywood’s grandest night. So, let’s begin with the biggest award and work our way down:
The nominees: “Call Me by Your Name”; “Darkest Hour”; “Dunkirk”; “Get Out”; “Lady Bird”; “Phantom Thread”; “The Post”; “The Shape of Water”; “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Shouldn’t be here: The critical acclaim heaped upon the ponderous “Call Me by Your Name” completely escapes me. It was slow, pointless and featured a borderline pedophile hitting on a naive teenager. I’m also not a big fan of “The Post,” a “Spotlight” wannabe that tried to tell two stories (the importance of a free press and female empowerment) but ended up shortchanging both.
Should be here: That the two films above bounced the shattering one-two of “The Florida Project” and “Mudbound,” films that actually made you feel something about something (poverty and racism), is perplexing. I suspect they were harmed by their lack of name stars, but both told such immediate and important stories — and told them so well — I can’t help thinking the Academy completely missed the boat. Or, worse, never bothered to see them.
Should win: At the end of summer, and well into the fall, Christopher Nolan’s World War II masterpiece, “Dunkirk,” seemed like a Best Picture lock. And to be honest, I’m a bit baffled as to why it’s still not the frontrunner. It was epic, beautifully shot, well-acted and gripping. But it has two strikes against it. One, that it came out so long ago (July 21), and two, the film’s time-mixing structure — in which the story on land transpired over a week; the one on the sea, a day; and the one in the air, an hour — confused a lot of folks who just threw up their hands and dismissed it. Further dimming “Dunkirk’s” chances are the fact that no movie has ever won Best Picture without also earning acting and screenplay nods.
Will win: Like the four acting categories, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” has swept all the major awards — except the all important Producers Guild, which went with “The Shape of Water.” So, in the name of recent upsets (that means you “Moonlight”), don’t be surprised if Sunday night’s show ends with a splash. But please, please, please don’t let Faye Dunaway again announce the winner.
The nominees: Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”; Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”; Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”; Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”; Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Shouldn’t be here: Now doubt Manville was terrific playing a mid-century Mrs. Danvers, but her role was relatively minor compared to leads Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps.
Should be here: If you’ve seen Holly Hunter’s hilariously lacerating put-down of a redneck heckler in “The Big Sick,” you know she deserves to be here. But she was so much more, convincingly portraying a mother fighting to keep it together as her daughter lay dying of a mystery illness.
Should win: In the battle of the domineering moms, Janney’s LaVona Golden vs. Metcalf’s Marion McPherson, it was the latter who delivered the more subtle, lived-in performance, thus giving “Lady Bird” its rich emotional punch.
Will win: As the matriarch from hell in “I, Tonya,” Janney chews through the scenery like Trump chews through a Big Mac. For me, it was too over the top, but after sweeping the Globes, SAG and BAFTA (the British Oscars), it’s clear the industry sees it quite differently. But if anybody deserves to win for a huge, impressive lifetime of work, it’s Janney.
The nominees: 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”
Shouldn’t be here: Yes, it was wrenching watching Harrelson’s cancer-stricken sheriff spend his final day with his wife and daughters before ending it all, but I’m not totally convinced it was Oscar-worthy.
Should be here: The brilliant “Dunkirk” was truly an ensemble endeavor, favoring no one actor, which makes Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the commander of the Allied evacuation all the more powerful for its no-frills power. Even with the lack of accoutrements, he made you feel the enormity of overseeing the attempt to save hundreds of thousands of soldiers in what became a shooting gallery for the advancing Germans.
Should win: Without Dafoe’s achingly human portrayal of a motel manager becoming a sterling father figure for a horde of single mothers and their small children, “The Florida Project” would not have achieved its unforgettable blend of darkness and light.
Will win: For years, Rockwell has been one of the most — if not THE most — underappreciated character actors in Hollywood. From his heartfelt comedic work in “The Way Way Back” to his frightening wife-killer in “Snow Angels,” there’s nothing Rockwell can’t do. He makes every movie he’s in better. It’s just too bad it took his peers this long to finally recognize it.
The nominees: 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”
Shouldn’t be here: As great as Robbie was, I never got past how little she resembled disgraced Olympic skater Tonya Harding. She was much too glam, and too tall at 5-foot-6 to play the 5-1 Harding.
Should be here: Try reciting Aaron Sorkin’s rat-a-tat dialogue as fluently and concisely as Jessica Chastain does in “Molly’s Game” and you’ll begin to understand why she so ups the ante as a poker facilitator who thrived on her quick wit and cunning mind.
Should win: She may not get the attention heaped upon Meryl Streep, but McDormand is every bit her equal in both range and appeal. Whether it’s Marge Gunderson, her Oscar-winning role in “Fargo,” or this year’s tour de force as Mildred Hayes in “Three Billboards,” McDormand repeatedly proves she’s incapable of a bad performance.
Will win: As the angry, grieving mother in “Three Billboards,” McDormand made you feel how Mildred’s sadness and rage has commandeered her soul. Yet, amid the intense anger, she effortlessly balances it with hefty doses of dark humor and heart. No need for a billboard; I’m already sold.
The nominees: Timothee 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.”
Shouldn’t be here: It was a weak year for lead actors, but that’s no excuse for Washington and Chalamet to get in, especially the latter who pretty much sleepwalks his way through “Name,” making you wonder why anyone would fall for his dull, vapid teenager, let alone a 24-year-old grad student. Yes, he cried on cue during the end credits, but is that really how low the Oscar standards have fallen? As for Washington, no matter how good you are, your movie should at least reach a 75 on Rotten Tomatoes to qualify for consideration. “Israel” currently stands at a paltry 51 on RT.
Should be here: Instead of honoring Chalamet and Washington, the Academy should have given Harry Dean Stanton a well-deserved posthumous goodbye for his sharp, nuanced turn as a lonely, lost nonagenarian in the vastly underrated “Lucky.” And where is the love for Richard Gere’s career-best turn as an overeager sycophant in the funny, timely “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”?
Should win: Acting is so much more than emoting. It’s about precise inflection. And what Day-Lewis does as the soulless fashion designer in “Phantom Thread” is a textbook example of the latter. Most of the time his Reynolds Woodcook talks in an almost benign whisper, making it all the more powerful on the rare occasion when he blows up in a fit of rage. And watching him create magic in this astonishing film is like seeing the second coming of Olivier. It will surely be a shame, if as he says, this is his final movie performance.
Will win: Like Janney, Rockwell and McDormand, Oldman has swept all the major awards, making him just about a lock here for his portrayal of the iconic Winston Churchill. Aided by one of the finest make-up jobs I’ve ever seen, Oldman literally disappears in the role, leaving you wishing the film’s mediocre script had done more with him. But what’s there leaves audiences — and Oscar voters — in awe. Still, beware of Day-Lewis. If the Academy believes what the three-time winner says about bowing out of film, they couldn’t give him a better going-away present.
The nominees: Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”; Jordan Peele, “Get Out”; Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”; Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”; Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Shouldn’t be here: Peele’s horror spoof, with its clever underlying commentary on race relations in America, was hugely entertaining. But the reason has more to do with Peele’s excellent script than with his workmanlike direction.
Should be here: Sean Baker is one of the most exciting new filmmakers and he proved it with “The Florida Project,” a wholly original work mixing social commentary with a joyous celebration of the purity of youth. And no film this year packed a more powerful, gorgeously composed ending.
Should win: What Anderson does with his darkly funny drama of clothes, mushrooms and butter on toast is a feast for the eyes and ears. And what he does with sound modulation, like raising the volume on a knife scraping across a slice of bread to illustrate how annoying one person has become to another, is the stuff of genius.
Will win: Like a lot of people, I found “The Shape of Water” to be a tad overrated. But there’s no denying Del Toro’s aquatic fantasy has tickled the fancy of his peers in the directors’ guild who voted him the best of 2017. And since the winner of the DGA almost always goes on to win the Oscar, it’s hard to see this category going any other way.
The nominees: “Boss Baby”; “The Breadwinner”; “Coco”; “Ferdinand”; “Loving Vincent”
Shouldn’t be here: Why is the stupid, unfunny “Boss Baby” even here? I’m at a loss.
Should be here: How could anyone vote “Boss Baby” over the clever, LOL “The LEGO Batman Movie”? Yes, it wasn’t nearly as good as the original “LEGO Movie” (Which, strangely, also didn’t get nominated. What’s up with that?), but it was more than deserving. Do the voters fear the sight of LEGO bricks?
Should win: With the Trump administration spewing hatred for everything Mexican, you couldn’t have found a better antidote than Pixar’s deeply moving, beautifully animated “Coco.” And the songs were pretty cool, too.
Will win: “Coco,” and its message of respecting ancestry and illustrating how love and family span multiple generations, spoke to so many people that it became a universal hit. And when you figure in the fact “Coco” swept the recent Annie Awards, winning all 11 categories it was nominated in, makes this gem the biggest lock of the night.
The nominees: “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”; “Faces Places”; “Icarus”; “Last Men in Aleppo”; “Strong Island”
Shouldn’t be here: Not that Yance Ford’s investigation of his brother’s murder wasn’t worthy, but “Strong Island” simply doesn’t flex as much muscle as its fellow nominees.
Should be here: Brett Morgen’s fascinating study of anthropologist Jane Goodall’s early years observing apes in Africa made “Jane” seem not just a certain nominee in this category, but a likely winner. But if ever there was an Oscar category that seldom gets it right it’s the documentary faction, which previously snubbed classics like “Hoop Dreams,” “Roger & Me” and “The Thin Blue Line.”
Should win: No documentary was more fun — and sneakily profound — as “Faces Places” by the odd-fellow directing team of artist/photographer JR and French New Wave veteran Agnes Varda. Together, the towering JR and the diminutive Varda were a virtual Mutt and Jeff, as they toured rural and depressed areas of France photographing residents while also providing the denizens with something they hadn’t had in years — renewed dignity.
Will win: Given the recent brouhaha over the producers of the wrenching “Last Men in Aleppo” not being allowed into the U.S. to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s travel ban, Feras Fayyad’s terrific tribute to the life-saving efforts of the White Helmets amidst the Syrian civil war is likely to draw many a sympathy vote. It’s this year’s “The Salesman,” the 2017 Foreign Language winner that upset the favored “Toni Erdmann,” many think, because its Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, also fell victim to the ban.
The nominees: “A Fantastic Woman”; “The Insult”; “Loveless”; “On Body and Soul”; “The Square”
Shouldn’t be here: “The Insult” and “On Body and Soul” are both fine movies, but neither comes close to being Oscar-worthy. Chalk that up to the Academy’s weird, confusing criteria for selecting the nominees in this category.
Should be here: The two films that should be here, Israel’s “Foxtrot” and Germany’s “In the Fade,” both movingly centered on the collateral damage resulting from the wars between religious factions in Europe and the Middle East.
Should win: With “Loveless,” writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev (a previous nominee for the allegorically rich “Leviathan”) ingeniously skewered the corrupt Putin regime by using the disappearance of an 11-year-old boy as a perfect metaphor for how his fellow Russians complacently allowed a tyrant to make a once fledgling democracy vanish right in front of their eyes.
Will win: No film tapped into the #MeToo movement more than “A Fantastic Woman” and its story of a transgender female (played by the outstanding Daniela Vega) not being allowed to say goodbye to her recently deceased lover because of archaic beliefs that she is nothing more than a perversion. Given that timeliness, it seems like a lock, but don’t count out “The Square,” the Cannes-winner that also deals in bigotry, albeit in an intensely more comical way.
The nominees: James Ivory, “Call Me by Your Name”; Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, “The Disaster Artist”; Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green, “Logan”; Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”; Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, “Mudbound”
Shouldn’t be here: The praise heaped upon “Call Me by Your Name” never ceases to astound me. It was dull, plodding and pretentious in promoting sex between a teenager and an adult.
Should be here: This is an extremely weak category this year, which makes the omission of “The Beguiled,” Sofia Coppola’s revised, more feminist remake of the old Clint Eastwood chestnut about five Southern belles charmed by a hunky Yank during the Civil War, somewhat surprising.
Should win: No film spoke more powerfully to the sorry state of racial affairs in our nation than “Mudbound,” the story of two families — one white, one black — dealing with poverty and war in 1940s-era Mississippi. But because the film was released by Netflix (viewed as a pariah by the Hollywood establishment), it’s not garnering anywhere near the awards love it deserves. But, if by chance it pulls the upset, Dee Rees (who also directed the film) would become the first African-American screenwriter to win an Oscar.
Will win: As much as I dislike “Call Me by Your Name,” I can’t deny its frontrunner status after seeing 89-year-old James Ivory take home the top award from his peers in the writers’ guild last month. A win also will be a sort of lifetime achievement for Ivory, who shockingly never received an Oscar for directing such classics as “A Room with a View,” “The Remains of the Day” and “Howard’s End.”
The nominees: Kumail Nanjiani & Emily Gordon, “The Big Sick”; Jordan Peele, “Get Out”; Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”; Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor, “The Shape of Water”; Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Shouldn’t be here: “The Big Sick” had its charms, not to mention a fantastic performance by Holly Hunter, but it was wildly uneven in its tone and storytelling. It was also way too long.
Should be here: The script for “The Florida Project” was clever, insightful and of the moment with its story about broken families pushed to the edge of society — all in the shadow of the land of fantasy, Disney World, located directly across the street in Orlando.
Should win: Irish playwright Martin McDonagh has taken a lot of heat for his tone-deaf dabbles into race relations in America, but his “Three Billboards” wasn’t just a few unfortunate drops of the N-word. More than anything, it was a spot-on critique of our nation’s loss of patience and morals in our evermore divided society. Plus, he wrote one of the best parts Frances McDormand has ever had.
Will win: The innovative “Get Out” deserves at least one award, and this is where writer-director Jordan Peele will get his kudos for an astute screenplay that used the horror genre to make an eviscerating allegory of black-white relations in America. See you in the Sunken Place.