The Upcoming 90th Annual Academy Awards by Susan Granger
Oscars 90th Academy Awards
Sunday, March 4, marks Oscar’s 90th birthday – and “Out with the old, in with the new!” is the message the Academy has sent to its voters this year, as Jimmy Kimmel once again hosts.
Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) is the first African-American ever nominated as writer, director and Best Picture producer in the same year, while Dee Rees (“Mudbound”) is the first African-American woman honored for an adapted screenplay and Rachel Morrison is the first female nominated for Best Cinematography.
Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) is the fifth woman ever nominated in the directing category, and “Logan” is the first live-action superhero saga ever nominated for its screenplay.
This change is directly connected with then-Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ dismay over 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite. After inducting 1,700 new members in the past three years, the pool of 7,258 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters has been altered. It’s younger and more diverse, truer to America.
Hollywood has always reflected the tenor of the times, and Donald Trump’s election probably influenced why racial/gender-bending “Moonlight” won over lighthearted “La La Land.” If you look closely at the Oscar-nominated films, they’re far from simplistic depictions of good v. evil.
But Oscar’s walking on eggshells this year. More than half of the nine Best Picture nominees featured female-centric stories. Women were among the producers on six of those nine, and women had a hand in writing four of the 10 nominated screenplays.
The three most popular 2017 movies in theaters were “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Wonder Woman,” each driven by female characters.
#MeToo and #TimesUp movements could push the Academy to favor female-empowering films like the revenge drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” the wry coming-of-age story “Lady Bird,” along with “Mudbound” and “I, Tonya.” Yet women still make up only 28% of Academy voters.
Hollywood’s spin doctors used to be masterful at pushing disgraceful conduct under the rug but – with the sheer volume of scandals this year many – many men are still reeling from the accusations that torpedoed the careers of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer, among others. There’s no doubt that Hollywood is under scrutiny as never before.
While women are activated and thrilled with the long-overdue progress, some male industry players think there’s a witch hunt and feel the pendulum is swinging too far. Should voters celebrate ‘the work,’ or consider the person’s behavior beyond the work?
The Oscars have always been, in part, a popularity contest – and they’re quite volatile this year. Millions of dollars are at stake, along with massive egos. In an ideal world, the work should speak for itself, but we don’t live in an ideal world. So your guess may be as good as mine.
BEST PICTURE nominees are “Call Me By Your Name,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Post,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
The Best Picture vote, unlike any other category, is preferential. Academy members rank their choices among the nine nominated films. The lowest scoring films are eliminated and votes re-allocated, until a majority of voters backs a single feature, making gauging later rounds very difficult since consensus overrides passion.
Given the divided field, it’s almost unimaginable that one film will get 50% of the 1st place votes needed to win outright. So the film that gets lots of 2nd place votes has an advantage over a divisive, more polarizing film, an “anything but that” movie.
With 13 Oscar nominations, odds overwhelmingly favor the luminous fantasy “The Shape of Water,” which is original, inspiring and uplifting, as a lonely, mute janitor abandons convention and finds a soulmate in a creature that society deems a monster.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” practically swept the Screen Actors Guild and has garnered a fervent following, yet Martin McDonagh was left out of the Director race – and voters either love this film or hate it.
“Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour,” “Lady Bird” and “The Post” may not have enough support. Gay-themed “Call Me By Your Name” is problematic and “Phantom Thread” is pretentiously boring.
Although “Get Out” failed to land film editing and cinematography nods, which are the usual indicators, but I have an inkling that the timely, original, $4.5 horror-satire will triumph, perhaps closing the gap between popularity with movie audiences and acceptance by movie-makers.
It would be the third black-directed film to cop Best Picture in the last decade, following “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight” – and neither of those won Best Director.
And if you remember last year’s “La La Land” and “Moonlight” mix-up, it won’t happen again. PriceWaterhouseCooper’s has new protocols that ban the use of phones/social media backstage so their briefcase-toting accountants will not be distracted when handing out envelopes.
MY PREDICTION: “Get Out”
BEST DIRECTOR nominees are Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) and Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”).
Veteran director Christopher Nolan has his first nomination, along with Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele. I’m eliminating Paul Thomas Anderson, who, frankly, doesn’t stand a chance; how he snagged a nod and Steven Spielberg didn’t is beyond my comprehension.
If Guillermo del Toro wins, he’d join Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G. Inarritu as the third Mexican-born director to win in the last decade. Oscar voters often like to split the Picture and Director awards so that both get honored. Will that will happen this year?
MY PREDICTION: Guillermo del Toro
BEST ACTOR nominees are Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”), Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”), Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.).
Gary Oldman was nominated only once before – for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” so I think it’s his year. His Winston Churchill was beyond brilliant.
MY PREDICTION: Gary Oldman
BEST ACTRESS nominees are Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”), Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”), Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) and Meryl Streep (“The Post”).
This is Meryl Streep’s 21st nomination and talented 23 year-old Saoirse Ronan will someday win an Oscar, just not this year. The closest contenders are feisty, fiery Frances McDormand and empathetic Sally Hawkins, who dazzled earlier last year in “Maudie.”
MY PREDICTION: Frances McDormand
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR nominees are 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”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).
Willem Dafoe’s hotel manager is a shot of warmth in an otherwise cold story, but I suspect Sam Rockwell’s bumbling, utterly despicable cop is more impressive, along with Woody Harrelson’s hapless Sheriff. Christopher Plummer’s last-minute replacement of Kevin Spacey is amazing, and Richard Jenkins’ portrayal tugged at my heart strings. Any man could win in very tough category.
MY PREDICTION: Sam Rockwell
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS nominees are Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”).
In our youth-oriented culture, it’s interesting that the average age of these five nominees is 55; the youngest is 47 year-old Mary J. Blige. Both Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf are best known for their TV and stage work, and they both play combative mothers who undermine their daughters while trying to help them.
MY PREDICTION: Allison Janney
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY nominees are “The Big Sick,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
While the thriller “Get Out” is ostensibly about a black photographer who must flee from his white girlfriend’s family, its scope transcends the horror genre with a compelling script that wastes no words or images, exposing deep racial unease in post-Obama America.
MY PREDICTION: Jordan Peele for “Get Out”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY nominees are “Call Me By Your Name,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Logan,” “Molly’s Game” and “Mudbound.”
MY PREDICTION: James Ivory for “Call Me By Your Name,” continuing the acceptance of LGBT-themed films.
BEST FILM EDITING: “Baby Driver,” “Dunkirk,” “I, Tonya,” “The Shape of Water” and “
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Odds favor “Dunkirk’s” Lee Smith who intercut three narratives to shape the harrowing story of survival and resistance with stunning precision.
MY PREDICTION: “Dunkirk”
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY nominees are “Blade Runner 2049,” “Darkest Hour,” “Mudbound,” “Dunkirk,” and “The Shape of Water.”
Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) is the first woman ever nominated in this category; she also did the cinematography for the current hit “Black Panther.” Odds favor Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for an Academy Award 14 times, yet never won an Oscar.
MY PREDICTION: “Blade Runner 2049”
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS nominees are “Blade Runner 2049,” “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” “Kong: Skull Island,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
Four-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri of Weta Digital enhanced the emotional depths of Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar, while leveraging depth of field to sculpt his realistic journey.
MY PREDICTION: “War for the Planet of the Apes”
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN nominees are “Beauty and the Beast,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk” and “The Shape of Water.”
MY PREDICTION: “The Shape of Water”
BEST COSTUME DESIGN nominees are “Beauty and the Beast,” “Darkest Hour,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Shape of Water” and “Victoria and Abdul.”
MY PREDICTION: “Phantom Thread”
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING nominees are “Darkest Hour,” “Victoria & Abdul” and “Wonder.”
It took Kazuhiro Tsuji three hours each day to mold Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill, using a combination of prosthetics along with makeup and a finely crafted wig.
MY PREDICTION: “Darkest Hour”
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM nominees are “A Fantastic Woman” (Chile), “The Insult” (Lebanon), “Loveless” (Russia), “On Body and Soul” (Hungary), and “The Square”(Sweden).
Real-world events could again tilt the scale, as “Foxtrot” examines the continuing conflict between Palestinians and the Israeli soldiers who man security check-points, while “The Insult” is a legal drama about Lebanon’s sectarian divide between Christians and Muslims. The current standoff with Vladimir Putin might eliminate Russia’s “Loveless,” and “In the Fade” looks at the rise of racist violence through a neo-Nazi who murders a German woman’s Kurdish husband a child. Which leaves the art world satire “The Square,” “A Fantastic Woman” about a Chilean transgender (played by transgender Daniela Vega), and “On Body and Soul,” the surreal love story of an autistic woman and an emotionally and physically crippled man.
MY PREDICTION: “A Fantastic Woman”
BEST DOCUMENTARY nominees are “Faces Places,” “Icarus,” “Last Men in Aleppo,” “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” and “Strong Island.”
I favor 89 year-old French filmmaker Agnes Varda who received an Honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards. Her prime competitor is “Icarus,” a timely look at state-sanctioned steroid use by Russian Olympians. Plus, there’s “Abacus” about a small family-owned bank in New York’s Chinatown; “Last Men in Aleppo” honors civilian rescuers known as White Helmets; and “Strong Island” about the 1992 murder for an unarmed teacher.
MY PREDICTION: “Faces Places”
BEST ANIMATED FILM nominees are “The Boss Baby,” “The Breadwinner,” “Coco,” “Ferdinand” and “Loving Vincent.” Previously, only animators nominated in this category but, this year, the Academy opened nominations to members who had seen a majority of the 26 eligible movies, indicating when and how they viewed each film.
“Loving Vincent’ is perhaps the most unusual nominee, since each frame is hand-painted in oils in the style of Vincent Van Gogh, while Pixar’s poignant “Coco” explores death as a Mexican affirmation of remembering the past; its theme song “Remember Me” melts the heart.
MY PREDICTION: “Coco”
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE nominees are “Dunkirk,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Shape of Water,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
MY PREDICTION: ”The Shape of Water”
BEST ORIGINAL SONG nominees are “Mighty River” (“Mudbound”), “Mystery of Love” (“Call Me By Your Name”), “Remember Me” (“Coco”), “Stand Up for Something” (“Marshall”) and “This Is Me” (“The Greatest Showman”).
Last year, Justin Paul and Benj Pasek won for “City of Stars” from “La La Land.” If they win again, they’ll be the first songwriters to score consecutive victories since Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer won for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) & “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962).
MY PREDICTION: Justin Paul and Benj Pasek for “This Is Me.”
BEST SOUND EDITING nominees are “Baby Driver,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
MY PREDICTION: “Dunkirk”
BEST SOUND MIXING nominees are “Baby Driver, “Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk,’ “The Shape of Water” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
MY PREDICTION: “Baby Driver”
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM nominees are “Dear Basketball,” “Garden Party,” “Negative Space,” “Lou” and “Revolting Rhymes.”
MY PREDICTION: “Dear Basketball”
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM nominees are “The Eleven O’Clock,” “My Nephew Emmett,” “The Silent Child,” “Watu Wote: All of Us” and “Dekalb Elementary.”
MY PREDICTION: “DeKalb Elementary”
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM nominees are “Edith & Eddie,” “Heroin(e),” “Knife Skills,” “Traffic Stop” and “Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405.”
Issue-oriented “Heroin(e)” grapples with the grim epidemic of drug addiction in Huntington, West Virginia, while “Knife Skills” outlines a Cleveland-based program teaching culinary skills to former convicts at a French restaurant doubling as a training facility. Tackling elder abuse, “Edith & Eddie” focuses on a Washington D.C-area couple, fighting to remain together. “Heaven is a Traffic Jam” profiles artist Mindy Alper, who loves sitting in her car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And “Traffic Stop” reveals the ordeal of a 26 year-old black schoolteacher in Austin, Texas.
MY PREDICTION: “Edith & Eddie”