An Awards Week Oscar Update

Starting this week, the critics will start handing out the first awards of the season. This week alone, we have the Gothams, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the LA Film Critics Association. After this week, we will finally have a better look at the Oscar race as a whole, as well as finally determine what this year’s frontrunners are. As we approach this home stretch, I thought I would provide an update on where the predictions are at the moment.

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

When we last left off, little had been seen by the general public yet. Everything was a contender, and nothing had dropped the ball. That’s no longer the case. We have, by this point, seen films drop out of the race only to reenter completely. We have seen the political landscape change drastically thanks to news coming out of Hollywood. And we have seen early indicators that smaller films not expected to do well are now pushing through to become frontrunenrs. However, now that critics have seen every film possible, and early word of things has started to make it through to everyday America, we have an indicator of how things might go. Last time I did one of these write-ups, I declared that Dunkirk was still the sight-unseen “frontrunner.” That is still the case. You see, Dunkirk has already gone through its backlash cycle and come out the other side squeaky clean. It’s ready for the Oscar-race, big time, even if it’s not going to win the top prize. However, while it doesn’t feel like Dunkirk is going to win Best Picture, it’s hard to see what else could. Last time, I mentioned its biggest competition was Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Yet each of these films has already suffered a strange journey, even without having had a wide release. Darkest Hour suffered from backlash from the “film snobs” of Twitter, calling it too dry and “a waste of Gary Oldman” without having seen the film. The backlash muted the great responses the film has been getting, and almost knocked it out of the race completely. However, its reviews are back on track, the box office is strong for now, and Oldman is still the frontrunner for Best Actor. So don’t expect that one to be out completely. Meanwhile, The Shape of Water has been beloved by film critics all across the country, but has failed to receive any awards consideration since Venice. That’s right, no one has even bothered to give it an honorable mention. That’s not a good sign for any film, and certainly not for a sci-fi love story, a genre the Academy is very tough on. While I’m still confident the film will receive a variety of nominations, don’t be surprised if the film isn’t the Oscar player we all thought it was. This leaves us with Three Billboards. For a glorious three weeks, Three Billboards surpassed Dunkirk to become the Best Picture frontrunner. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was the kind of dramedy that got people talking in a way the Academy loved. Frances McDormand was probably going to win Best Actress. It was a true ensemble piece, which speaks to the actors. And it featured a woman standing up to a system filled with abusive men and racists, which would really speak to the people in Hollywood as they squirm under the spotlight of their past actions. It seemed like the type of film to go the distance. And then…it was released. And don’t get me wrong – it’s doing well for itself, and I think it’s a fine film. But most people seem to feel very “like, not love” about it, and the rest find its tone, message, and approach to redemption to be wildly uneven (for emphasis, in contrast to my A- review, my favorite critic gave it a D-). It’s even struggled getting nominated at award shows where it should be a slam-dunk winner. What’s more, it fails the “Travis Test.” Basically, no film has ever won Best Picture without appearing on my Top Ten list, dating back to 2010. I won’t spoil the upcoming results for you all, but I can confirm that Three Billboards will be falling in my Honorable Mentions section, just outside of the Top Ten. I have to play my gut here, and while I do think the film will (and should) be nominated for Best Picture, as well as a few nods for McDormand, Rockwell, and director Martin McDonagh (they love a guy who can work an ensemble) I do not think it can win Best Picture at this point.

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

However, this raises the question: what could upset Dunkirk for Best Picture? Well, I can give you three potential winners, based on the stats, the money, and the “Travis Test.” You see, the statistics show that for the past seven years, films that are nominated for both the Gothams and the Indie Spirit Awards end up winning Best Picture. This year, that means there are two possible candidates. And on paper, both are incredibly strong. Both tackle topical issues with gorgeous genre filmmaking. Both come from auteurs working outside the system. And both are the type of audience crowd-pleasers that the Academy can get behind. The first is obvious: Call Me By Your Name. While I have yet to see this film, it is supposedly one of the most gorgeous love stories in a long time, and is universally beloved by everyone who has seen it (although it hasn’t reached Middle America yet). Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s the little indie blockbuster that could, that several of us (including myself) have doubted. That would be the February horror masterpiece Get Out. That’s right; Jordan Peele’s social thriller tackling racism is now not only a cultural phenomenon, it’s a major awards contender! Both of these films have the criteria to win Best Picture, but if you ask me right now who I think could upset Dunkirk, gun to my head, I’d have to choose Lady Bird. Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age film is one of the year’s biggest successes. It’s an audience favorite, raking in money across the country. It’s crossing the political and cultural divide in a way few other films have succeeded thus far. It’s the kind of film that older male audience voters, the biggest bloc there is, can and are rallying behind. And it has just surpassed Toy Story 2 as the film with the most great reviews in history. It may seem unlikely the story of a young girl graduating high school will win Best Picture, but if American Beauty, Annie Hall, Ordinary People, and The Apartment can tell ordinary stories and still win Best Picture, I don’t see why Lady Bird couldn’t. I currently have it listed as #2 in my predictions, and have moved it up in Best Screenplay. I have also added its stars, Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf to my acting predictions (and, quite frankly, it is a disgrace if Laurie Metcalf doesn’t win that f*cking Oscar). I have not, however, added Gerwig to my directing predictions just yet. Directing has notoriously been a men’s club, excluding women from their nominations for decades before Kathryn Bigelow broke through – and even then she could only do it once, being snubbed for her following film despite being considered the best of 2012. I think Gerwig will do just fine for herself – she’s sitting pretty at #6 at the moment. However, if any new directors make it in on top of McDonagh, it will be Name’s Luca Guadagnino and Get Out’s Peele. Both are now listed in my predictions at present. It’ll be interesting to see how these films fare. I haven’t seen Name yet, but I can tell you that Lady Bird and Get Out both pass the “Travis Test.” Who knows? Maybe one of them will go on to defy the odds and become the 90th Best Picture winner.

Hanks and GOAT Meryl in The Post

Outside of the main contenders, how have the rest of the films shaped up? Well, that varies. You see, while there’s no official news on The Post or Phantom Thread yet, there have been rumblings out of the critics screenings this past weekend. Steven Spielberg’s newest film has been the most warmly received, delivering a powerful, contemporary story that doesn’t quite live up to All the President’s Men or Spotlight, but does shine a light on both the importance of journalism and the role of women in the workplace (both timely issues in 2017). While we don’t know much else about it, one thing is for sure: Meryl Streep is now a long for her 21st Academy Award nomination. That’s right – Meryl’s Oscars can now drink. There are no changes in my predictions for The Post. However, there are changes for Phantom Thread. The critics have supposedly gone gaga over Phantom Thread, calling the newest Paul Thomas Anderson film “a dreamy, steamy romantic thriller that lays roots in the Gothic tradition.” That sounds wonderful and life-changing…and everything the Academy will go against. They can feel free to prove me wrong, but at the moment, I’m going to play it safe and drop Phantom Thread to #11, just outside my nine predictions. And speaking of dropping out, I have finally caved and dropped Mudbound significantly in my predictions, after the backlash that Film Twitter gave it for letting Netflix release it (and also, quite frankly, probably because it’s written and directed by a black woman. Film Twitter and the Academy both have a lot of ground to make up for). I still have yet to see the film – I’ve been swamped with reviews and articles like this, and I want to give it my full attention. But for the moment, it will solely remain in the Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. And Downsizing…well, I’m just going to have to bite the bullet on that prediction and admit it was a dumb call. We all get it wrong occasionally. I’ll still see the film, and I’m sure Hong Chau will still be nominated for Best Supporting Actress. But man, have the critics been so unkind. Finally, I’ve dropped Last Flag Flying down to #9, for while I do think the Academy’s older demographic will eat the film up, there hasn’t been an overtly warm reception to the film since it’s New York premiere, and I’m getting the feeling it’s simply going to fade into the night not with a bang, but with a whisper. These nine are my current predictions for Best Picture. I don’t see it expanding beyond a narrow field of five or so other beloved nominees. It’s entirely possible that The Florida Project sneaks into the ranks, or that box office success Wonder makes a surprise appearance. However, at the moment, I stand by my nine, and I won’t change my mind for at least a week.

The delightful Saoirse Ronan in the delightful Lady Bird

Outside of Best Picture, there were only a few major changes. Some categories didn’t change at all, like Best Actor. Some remained the same, albeit with a few tweaks, like swapping Jason Mitchell and Armie Hammer around in the #3 and #4 position for Best Supporting Actor (it’s still Dafoe’s to lose). And some have the same core, but with a few mild changes, like Carey Mulligan going supporting and Battle of the Sexes bombing in Best Actress. Both of those substitutions are a shame, because I love Mulligan as an actress and I thought Emma Stone was wonderful in Sexes. However, it’s clear that the Academy’s going to go another way, and I’ve cleared them out to make room for a couple of ingénues finally getting the break they deserve. The first is the aforementioned Ronan, dragged in with the Lady Bird love. The other is Margot Robbie, the incredibly talented actresses who supposedly dazzles in I, Tonya. I’m not entirely convinced the Academy will go for such a dark, twisted movie, especially one about Tonya Harding, but if they do, look out; Robbie could end up walking away from this whole thing with an Oscar in hand. And I’ve made some major changes in the Best Supporting Actress race, including making Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf my two frontrunners. I’ve also moved up some great films that are looking to make an Oscar play, like The Disaster Artist (a Best Actor contender and a likely Best Adapted Screenplay nominee). This isn’t to say that any of these predictions are locks. Mary J. Blige, Holly Hunter, and Cicely Tyson are still contending for Best Supporting Actress. Timothée Chalamet, Tom Hanks, and James Franco are still contending for Best Actor. Dunkirk could prove its more than a technical wonder by earning a Best Original Screenplay nomination. Hell, it’s even possible that as a reward for cleaning up Kevin Spacey’s mess, the Academy will give Christopher Plummer his third Oscar nomination, or go with Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins, or Woody Harrelson. This race is going to be a great one folks, and I hope you strap in to prepare. You can find links to all of my updated predictions below, and I hope to have predictions for the Features, the Music, and the Technical Awards later this week. Stay tuned!

Best Picture

  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Darkest Hour
  • Dunkirk
  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird
  • Last Flag Flying
  • The Post
  • The Shape of Water
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor

  • Steve Carell-Last Flag Flying
  • Daniel Day-Lewis-Phantom Thread
  • Jake Gyllenhaal-Stronger
  • Hugh Jackman-The Greatest Showman
  • Gary Oldman-Darkest Hour

Best Actress

  • Sally Hawkins-The Shape of Water
  • Frances McDormand-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Margot Robbie-I, Tonya
  • Saorise Ronan-Lady Bird
  • Meryl Streep-The Post

Best Supporting Actor

  • Willem Dafoe-The Florida Project
  • Armie Hammer-Call Me By Your Name
  • Jason Mitchell-Mudbound
  • Sam Rockwell-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Ray Romano-The Big Sick

Best Supporting Actress

  • Hong Chau-Downsizing
  • Allison Janney-I, Tonya
  • Julianne Moore-Wonderstruck
  • Laurie Metcalf-Lady Bird
  • Michelle Williams-The Greatest Showman

Best Director

  • Guillermo del Toro-The Shape of Water
  • Luca Guadagnino-Call Me By Your Name
  • Martin McDonagh-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Christopher Nolan-Dunkirk
  • Jordan Peele-Get Out

Best Original Screenplay

  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird
  • Phantom Thread
  • The Shape of Water
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Beguiled
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • The Disaster Artist
  • Last Flag Flying
  • Mudbound

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