This year’s Oscar telecast will have to reckon with the same issues that marked recent awards shows: sexual harassment and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, accusations of sexism and racism in the movie business, and general political fury in 2018 America.
Funny thing is, those don’t even qualify as the 800-pound gorilla in the room. We refer to the uproarious climax of last year’s Oscars, when the Best Picture winner was mistakenly announced as “La La Land,” leading to a glorious couple of minutes of confusion before the real winner, “Moonlight,” was acknowledged.
I say “glorious” because there are far too few moments in our slickly-produced media machinery when anything actually gets real. I know the “La La Land” people were disappointed, but it was a mistake, and mistakes sometimes happen, and the world keeps turning.
So expect returning host Jimmy Kimmel to have fun with the fiasco. It would be surprising if presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (who weren’t at fault — they were handed the wrong envelope) didn’t come back for an encore gag.
As for the rest of Sunday’s big show, the winners feel uncertain only at the very top. These days there are so many awards given out before the Oscars that a consensus tends to lock in place — meaning, for instance, it would be a shock if anybody but Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand win the two lead actor awards.
Nevertheless, there are wild cards that make it more difficult to predict winners than in the past. One is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added a huge number of new voters in the last two years, in response to complaints that the nominations had become very staid and very white. The other is a weighted voting system in which Best Picture voters can also pick their No. 2 and No. 3 etc. choices, which could tilt results in favor of movies that everybody just sort of generally likes (think “The Shape of Water”) rather than bolder but more divisive films (think “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).
So maybe things aren’t so locked in. At the very least, Best Picture could go to one of four real contenders, depending on the breaks. And yes, thank you for reminding me that I picked the “Moonlight” upset last year, but please don’t put down any wagers based on what follows.
Meanwhile, there’s time on the broadcast for some soon-to-be-forgotten songs, but not for proper tributes to the winners of honorary Oscars for their career work, so I’ll mention them here: director Agnes Varda (also nominated this year, for her documentary “Faces Places”), actor Donald Sutherland, director Charles Burnett, and cinematographer Owen Roizman.
So let’s predict the winners. These are what I think will win, but I’ll put my own preference at the end of each category.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Here’s my thought process: The new, younger voters will split their ballots between “Get Out” and “Lady Bird,” while “Three Billboards” will appeal to voters who lean toward more serious Oscar fare. The irony is that “Three Billboards” — spiky, difficult, blackly comic — is anything but a normal choice for the top prize. However, the next likeliest compromise option is “The Shape of Water,” which everybody seems to like, with good reason. But fantasy elements rarely figure in Best Picture winners. In short: This is going to be interesting. The other nominees don’t seem likely: “Call Me By Your Name,” “Phantom Thread,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk” and “The Post.” My choice: My best film vote would be “Phantom Thread,” but if I’m voting for the movie that somehow seemed to be THE film of 2017, I’d happily opt for “Get Out.”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” McDormand’s turn as an angry, grieving mother is all the better for not conforming to our ideas about what a heroine should be: Mildred Hayes is a very flawed character. McDormand doesn’t blink at any of that. It’d be a pretty big surprise if she lost to Sally Hawkins, excellent as the mute amphibian-lover in “The Shape of Water,” or Saoirse Ronan, the awkward teen of “Lady Bird.” Less likely to upset are Margot Robbie, for “I, Tonya,” and someone named Meryl Streep, notching her 21st nomination for “The Post.” My preference: McDormand.
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour.” This is an example of an actor, overdue for an Oscar, who gets his gold watch for one of his worst performances. But playing Winston Churchill under a pound of prosthetics will not be denied. It’d be quite a shock, and a sign of the younger Oscar voters flexing their muscle, if either Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) or Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) — age 29 and 22, respectively — were to win. Probably out of the running: Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”) and Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”). My preference: Day-Lewis.
Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya.” The veteran actress nailed the role of Tonya Harding’s unspeakable mother, and made it real rather than a cartoon. Her main competition is Laurie Metcalf, dandy as the mother of “Lady Bird.” Also in the mix: Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound;” Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water;” Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread.” My preference: Janney.
Best Supporting Actor
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Rockwell’s been underappreciated for so long, it’s nice to see him get kudos for a tricky and unlikable role. The more indie-minded sentiment is behind Willem Dafoe, who is fine in “The Florida Project,” but that simply seems less like an Oscar performance to me. Rockwell’s “Three Billboards” co-star, Woody Harrelson, is also entirely worthy, and he really needs to win one of these someday. Also nominated: Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water,” and Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World.” My preference: Rockwell.
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water.” The movie is very exuberantly and colorfully directed, and del Toro gives a good speech (Google his BAFTA-winning speech for a lesson in how to do this).
With “Three Billboards” director Martin McDonagh not nominated here, this seems like the obvious choice, unless somehow either “Lady Bird” (Greta Gerwig) or “Get Out” (Jordan Peele) generate one of those nights where a single film sweeps everything in sight. Seems like Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) will have to wait a while, and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) the same. My preference: Anderson.
Best Original Screenplay
Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” But this feels like an anything-goes category. If Greta Gerwig won for “Lady Bird” or Jordan Peele for “Get Out,” those wouldn’t be surprising at all. The other nominees are “The Shape of Water” and “The Big Sick.” My preference: for sheer ingenuity, “Get Out.”
Best Adapted Screenplay
James Ivory, “Call Me By Your Name.” Here’s a sure thing: Ivory is an industry veteran, the director of movies such as “A Room with a View” and “Howards End,” and long overdue. (Of course he will undoubtedly benefit from the well-known Academy bias toward University of Oregon alumni.) The others are in the distance: “Mudbound,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Molly’s Game” and “Logan.” My preference: “Call Me By Your Name.”
Best Animated Feature
“Coco.” Should be an easy win for Disney-Pixar this time around. Kudos to the Academy for nominating a couple of smaller-scale efforts, “Loving Vincent” and “The Breadwinner.” The others are “The Boss Baby” and “Ferdinand.” My preference: “Coco.”
Best Documentary Feature
“Last Man in Aleppo.” Just a guess here, as the Oscars often tilt toward war and other serious subjects. The critical favorite, “Faces Places,” might be seen as too lightweight for the average voter. The other nominees: “Icarus,” “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” and “Strong Island.” My preference: “Faces Places.”
Best Foreign Language Film
“A Fantastic Woman,” Chile. This would seem to have the whole package, and because it stars a transgender actress, it would likely appeal to voters who want to make a social statement. Should be a close call, though, because “The Square” (Sweden) is a wildly entertaining ride, “The Insult” (Lebanon) is a heavy take, and “Loveless” (Russia) and “On Body and Soul” (Hungary) have strong reviews behind them. My preference: “A Fantastic Woman.”
Best Music (Original Score)
“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer. It’s a very unusual score — my only rationale for a toss-up category. “The Shape of Water” could easily win for Alexandre Desplat’s clever music, and Carter Burwell did another great score for “Three Billboards.” There’s wall-to-wall music from Jonny Greenwood in “Phantom Thread,” and a certain John Williams (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) can never be counted out. My preference: “Phantom Thread.”
Best Original Song
“This Is Me,” from “The Greatest Showman.” Everybody seems to think this will win, and the award does usually go to the brassiest number. Also up: “Mighty River,” from “Mudbound;” “Mystery of Love,” from “Call Me By Your Name;” “Remember Me,” from “Coco;” and “Stand Up for Something,” from “Marshall.” My preference: Sufjan Stevens’ “Mystery of Love.”
Watch the Oscars
The 90th Oscars will be held on March 4 in the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live at 5 p.m. on ABC’s channel 4.