Nail Your Oscar Pool, But Don’t Drown in Hype

#OscarsSoSo: Will politics determine the winners of this year' Academy Awards?

March 1, 2018 5:00 am
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in 'Darkest Hours' (Focus Features)
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in 'Darkest Hours' (Focus Features)

For most Americans, the Oscars are one night of the year – and if the meager $16 M domestic box office gross of Best Picture nominee Call Me By Your Name is any indicator –that has been eclipsed by high-grossing event films, such as Wonder Woman, which were refused invites to the black-tie affair.

However, in the cottage industry of Oscar prognosticators (no, you can’t be arrested for that, but I confess my guilt) Awards Season has become a year-round hustle beginning at January’s Sundance Film Festival and never stopping. And, so, as we approach the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday night, while we have a pretty good idea of who will win – the joke’s on us. There will always be an upset, if not a major clusterf-ck like last year’s final minute shuffle of the award from favorite La La Land to upstart Moonlight that left old-guard star presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty standing in a shame-puddle alongside gob-smacked host Jimmy Kimmel.

While we can make educated guesses about Oscar outcomes, it’s the screw-ups that keep us coming back for more. Nevertheless, here’s our first Real Clear Life Oscar prediction to push you to the front of the Oscar pool. Trust my cousin Jessie in Staten Island, it works!

BEST PICTURE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My gut tells me this is going to Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – even though the Academy robbed McDonagh of a Best Director nomination. The film seems to have overcome the racial backlash against the film’s empathetic portrayal of violent white cop Dixon, played by Best Supporting Actor nominee Sam Rockwell. When three red billboards calling out Congressman Paul Ryan appeared following the Parkland shooting, it was clear that the film’s rage against random acts of violence and the law’s inability to protect individuals touched a nerve. The fiercest contender is The Shape of Water, and some on are calling Guillermo Del Toro‘s visually stunning beauty-and-the-sea-beast tale for the win. I’ll hedge my bets here – I don’t think the whisper-campaign-turned-lawsuit that Del Toro plagiarized will totally sink the film but a love-like relationship among viewers may. I was only lukewarm about Shape despite its obvious merits, so that’s my bias speaking. The potential big upset is Get Out, the so-called masterpiece from debut director Jordan Peele. With the old guard Academy members still questioning whether this genre movie is even an Oscar film (and opinion that also extends to Lady Bird), a win is unlikely but not impossible.

BEST DIRECTOR: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water

New guard versus old guard? After months out in front, Dunkirk‘s Christopher Nolan has been torpedoed. That leaves Del Toro for the win in a share-the-wealth Oscars where Shape loses Best Picture and gains recognition in this category. The nomination of newbies Peele and Greta Gerwig, both essentially first time directors, seems meritorious but goes against the grain of a category recognizing the best in the craft. Yes, they check off the boxes of #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo, but do they have the chops to win? Paul Thomas Anderson made the cut in this very competitive category, and ranks very high among critics (who are not Academy members) and auteur-lovers. But, perhaps the much-maligned Jennifer Lawrence said it best when she admitted she stopped watching after “about three minutes.” The Oscar winner isn’t alone she’s just confident of her opinion and willing to take the Twitter-heat of her convictions. Even if Daniel-Day Lewis‘s great white artist gets his comeuppance ultimately at the hands of a wily female, Phantom Thread is still a movie that’s distinctly out of touch with the times — and that white man’s burden lies with Anderson.

BEST ACTRESS: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

For her blistering performance as bereaved and ballistic mother Mildred, Frances McDormand has been kicking ass from the critics’ awards to the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, where Three Billboards won the all-important Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture a.k.a. the ensemble award. She is as much a lock as anyone. Remember this as the year that Meryl Streep was nominated, for playing Katherine Graham in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, and wasn’t even a real threat for the win. Sally Hawkins would be a lovely upset for her role as a lonely custodian in The Shape of Water, a part much quieter than McDormand’s. If more folks had seen Hawkins in Maudie, that might have boosted the deserving British actress’ chances. That leaves young Saoirse Ronan as the standard bearer for Gerwig’s Lady Bird – close but not quite. And the surprising and deserving Margot Robbie, who reinvented ice skating “villain” Tonya Harding in the surprising revisionist dramedy I, Tonya. All the actresses in this category will return again in the future – but this is McDormand’s year.

BEST ACTOR: Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour

Yeah, yeah, yeah: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in stodgy biopic The Darkest Hour will likely win. I mean – the guy played the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious – that’s range! A cloud of domestic abuse accusations  surrounds him – but doesn’t seem to have obscured his lead. Call Me By Your Name’s charmer Timothee Chalamet (who is also in Lady Bird) is the male ingénue, and is simply too damn young to knock out his more experienced elders. He’ll be back if talent wills out – and all the Oscar festivities don’t go to his head. Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis delivered a masterclass in Phantom Thread, what may be his last role, but, as stated above devotees of the film aren’t universal. What about Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out? That’s an honor just to be nominated. And Denzel Washington could have been a contender in Roman J. Israel, Esq. if the filmmakers had let the movie marinate for another year so that the script could match Washington’s exquisite performance. The winner? The eloquent statesman in the fat-suit and faux jowls: Oldman!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Allison Janney, I, Tonya

This is a squeaker even if it seems that Allison Janney is the frontrunner for her abusive mother deluxe in I, Tonya. The Golden Globe winner has never been to the Oscars but has a shoebox of Emmy’s. It’s mama versus mama as her chief rival is the brilliant Laurie Metcalfe who plays the stressed to bursting mother of Lady Bird in a role that is much less broad that Janney’s. It’s possible that Metcalfe will squeak ahead, particularly in light of the popularity of her film and the possibility that it will win no other Oscar among its five nominations. Mary J. Blige, the earthy mama of Mudbound, is a serious contender for the under-appreciated historical drama but, damn, this is one of those honor-just-to-be-nominated moments for the famed singer-songwriter who will also perform at the event. As for the un-mothers: Octavia Spencer rides The Shape of Water luge but the part is no departure for her while Leslie Manville delivers in The Phantom Thread but lacks the previous wins during Awards Season that indicate the top slot. So – there could be an upset here and if you’re looking for a spot to separate yourself from the pack, consider a vote for Metcalfe.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Before I even saw Three Billboards, a publicist buttonholed me in a positive way outside a Toronto theater where it was about to screen and said “Sam Rockwell!” From his mouth to God’s ears, perhaps, as long-time indie favorite Rockwell, 49, has only just now received his first Oscar nomination for his meaty role as Dixon, a mama’s boy police deputy with an unforgivable violent streak and, perhaps, a golden heart that just needs to be unpacked.  Rockwell leads the pack but it’s a testimony to McDonagh’s ability to write roles and direct actors that Woody Harrelson has also slipped in to the top five for his cancer-stricken sheriff whose name lands on those titular red billboards in an accusatory tone.  Willem Dafoe looked like a winner for a while as the grounded adult at a fleabag motel on the dark side of Disneyworld in The Florida Project – but that movie failed to gain overall traction with no other nominations. Shout out to Christopher Plummer and Richard Jenkins – neither of whom will score this year. It’s Rockwell’s to lose.

The open questions this year is what the impact be of an influx of younger and more diverse Academy members and reactions to the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite political movements will be on the winners. We’ll return after the Oscars early Monday morning to sort out the winners and losers – and discover if we’ve helped you win your Oscar pool or doomed you to the kind of social ignominy that can only be drowned in chips and Chile con Queso.

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