Making the Movie’s Complete Oscars Predictions and Analysis

When and What Channel

First things first. The show will air on Sunday, March 4, 5pm PST on ABC.

Gearing up for the big night? I know I am. Now that the nominees have been known for about a week, I thought I’d analyze the categories and make some predictions.

Qualifications

What are my qualifications for predicting? I’ve been working in the industry for more than a decade and I hear the scuttlebutt. Historically, I get a good sense of what films have momentum going into Oscar night. Also, I’ve had the good fortune to see most of the nominees this year. In addition, I have a track record of winning the office Oscar pool several times. So take that for what you will.

Now, let’s break it down…

Academy Awards 2018 Nominations

Best motion picture of the year

  • Call Me by Your Name Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges and Marco Morabito, Producers
  • Darkest Hour Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten and Douglas Urbanski, Producers
  • Dunkirk Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
  • Get Out Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Jordan Peele, Producers
  • Lady Bird Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Evelyn O’Neill, Producers
  • Phantom Thread JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison and Daniel Lupi, Producers
  • The Post Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers
  • The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale, Producers
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Martin McDonagh, Producers

Analysis: This category has a ranked ballot. It is still new enough that Academy members haven’t figured out how to game it. A lot of people don’t understand ranked ballots. Essentially, what it means is that the big, expensive, prestige movies have not been winning. The films that everyone at least kinda likes are the winners. You can read at length about the reasons that Moonlight won last year. If anything, the trends that pushed that over La La Land should continue even stronger this year.

Many will say that hearkens well for Call Me By Your Name, another gay coming-of-age film. However, I think Call is more divisive than Moonlight. The main characters lead a life of privilege and there is little dramatic conflict in the story. Lady Bird has seemed to have a broader appeal and less backlash. It also has a strong female voice in the year of #metoo.

Three Billboards, with the dynamic central performance by Frances McDormand, could also get some momentum from the cultural moment. I doubt it, though, since it has been way more divisive. The marginalization of the black characters has lead many to dub it “problematic.” On a personal note, I actively disliked the film and the way it manipulates the audience. It has a terrible cop-out ending that leaves a bitter note. Although it has some other awards momentum, notably winning the highly-predictive SAG Ensemble Award, I do not think it has enough love to overcome a ranked ballot system. A sizable group will be ranking “this year’s Crash” last.

Dunkirk was headed into awards season strong but the momentum seems to have faded. That, Darkest Hour and The Post are the kind of big production-value, glossy films that used to win. The Post, in my opinion, is coasting on the reputation of Spielberg, Hanks and Streep. It is an okay movie, crafted with consummate skill, but dramatically confused and treacly.

Phantom Thread will be the choice of Academy voters who like auteur cinema. It is P.T. Anderson’s portrait of an artist as a costume designer. It’s too weird and dark, I think, to be a consensus ballot pick.

Get Out is the lowest-budget film, and has a very strong fan club. However, I have to think the older generation of Academy voters just will not get it. They won’t understand or appreciate the satirical aspects. And of course, horror is perhaps the Academy’s least favorite genre. The same group that will be putting Three Billboards at #1 on their ballots will probably be putting this last. Likewise, the groups that are voting for the big production value movies will also be ranking this film pretty low.

That leaves The Shape of Water. As the movie with the most nominations, it is the one to beat. It has also been pretty inoffensive — there are very few people who absolutely despise the film. Academy members will also appreciate the craft aspects of the film more than average filmgoers. Things like costume, lighting, production design etc. are all very skillfully blended in ways that help tell the story. That said, it is far from a lock, especially when there are movies like Lady Bird that may win the hearts of voters.

Performance by an actor in a leading role

  • Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name
  • Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
  • Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
  • Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour
  • Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Analysis: I loved all of these performances! Chalamet and Kaluuya are two strong ‘debuts’ and have a real chance here. While the best actress category has a history of wins by ingenues, this category has historically gone to mid- and late-career iconic roles. If that trend holds, that leaves the other three nominees. Day-Lewis won in 2012 for Lincoln, so many voters will probably feel he doesn’t need another award so soon. Denzel is fantastic, as usual, but the movie has gotten little love. My personal prediction is Gary Oldman, an actor with a long history of phenomenal performances, absolutely embodying Winston Churchill, much the way Day-Lewis did Abraham Lincoln.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

  • Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project
  • Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water
  • Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World
  • Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Analysis: Even if Three Billboards ends up with a surprising amount of love, Woody and Sam will probably cancel each other out. Plummer’s nom is widely believed to be there simply as a pat on the back for replacing Kevin Spacey at the last minute. That leaves Dafoe and Jenkins. Jenkins was nominated in 2008 but did not win. The Academy likes him and it loves Water (judging by the amount of nominations). However, that character is nowhere near as memorable as Dafoe’s character in Florida Project. Dafoe has never been nominated, despite a long history of strong screen performances. It seems like he may be a big chilly as a person and unwilling to play the glad-handing game. I give the edge to Dafoe simply on performance, but I would not be surprised if Jenkins wins in a Shape of Water love-fest.

Performance by an actress in a leading role

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

Analysis: This one is difficult to call. I never thought I’d rule out Meryl Streep first, but she was not helped by the approach of The Post, which requires her character to be so weak and milquetoasty. Margot and Saoirse are brilliant, especially when you consider they are non-Americans playing very American roles. However, Frances McDormand has the heat and Sally Hawkins is the lead in the film that got the most nominations. I give the edge to Frances, even though I have reservations about Three Billboards as a film. No one can deny her righteous fury, and a lot of voters will be looking to see that fury in an acceptance speech.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

  • Mary J. Blige in Mudbound
  • Allison Janney in I, Tonya
  • Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread
  • Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water

Analysis: The favored performance here is Allison Janney’s. I can envision scenarios where any of the other nominees win, especially Laurie Metcalf, who really broke my heart in Lady Bird.

Best animated feature film of the year

  • The Boss Baby Tom McGrath and Ramsey Naito
  • The Breadwinner Nora Twomey and Anthony Leo
  • Coco Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson
  • Ferdinand Carlos Saldanha
  • Loving Vincent Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Ivan Mactaggart

Analysis: This pretty much always goes to the PIXAR/Disney movie. So… Coco. My theory is that not enough Academy members are friends with the people who make the weird indie animated movies and the other Hollywood studios (say, DreamWorks with Boss Baby) don’t get enough respect from the non-animation wing voters.

Achievement in cinematography

  • Blade Runner 2049 Roger A. Deakins
  • Darkest Hour Bruno Delbonnel
  • Dunkirk Hoyte van Hoytema
  • Mudbound Rachel Morrison
  • The Shape of Water Dan Laustsen

Analysis: Roger Deakins is a legend and, amazingly, has never won. This might not be his year, however, since Rachel Morrison’s work in Mudbound is incredible and Bruno Delbonnel’s lensing of Darkest Hour is perhaps what elevated that film to a Best Picture level. Dunkirk, shot on film for IMAX release, is also an achievement. If Shape of Water is sweeping the technical categories, it could even win here, although that seems less likely. I’m still predicting Deakins, but people have been wrong with that prediction thirteen times before.

Achievement in costume design

  • Beauty and the Beast Jacqueline Durran
  • Darkest Hour Jacqueline Durran
  • Phantom Thread Mark Bridges
  • The Shape of Water Luis Sequeira
  • Victoria & Abdul Consolata Boyle

Analysis: If Phantom Thread doesn’t win this, I will be very surprised. It has the unfair advantage of the costumes telling a huge part of the story, many times being like another character on the screen.

Achievement in directing

  • Dunkirk Christopher Nolan
  • Get Out Jordan Peele
  • Lady Bird Greta Gerwig
  • Phantom Thread Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro

Analysis: This is a tough cookie. Guillermo del Toro is the favorite. However, any of the other nominees is worthy. Peele and Gerwig might get marginalized since they are both coming in as first-time directors. Nolan and Anderson (similar to del Toro) are part of the 90’s indie wave that may now finally be getting some prestige recognition. The control and craft that are on display in their films are hard to deny. Still, I like del Toro since it would be great if the ‘Three Musketeers’ of Mexican cinema all had Best Director hardware.

Best documentary feature

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman
  • Faces Places Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda
  • Icarus Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan
  • Last Men in Aleppo Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen
  • Strong Island Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes

Analysis: The only one of these I’ve seen is Icarus, and it was very good. Academy voters will like that Vladimir Putin is one of the villains of the story. Faces Places has the prestige of Agnès Varda. Last Men in Aleppo seems to be doing well on Gold Derby.

Best documentary short subject

  • “Edith+Eddie” Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright
  • “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” Frank Stiefel
  • “Heroin(e)” Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon
  • “Knife Skills” Thomas Lennon
  • “Traffic Stop” Kate Davis and David Heilbroner

Analysis: I have made the mistake in the past of trying to predict these short film categories from actually watching the films. The tack I am taking this year is to read a summary of what they are about and then think which one of those sounds like what an Academy voter would pick. HBO has good track record here, so I’m going for their “Traffic Stop”.

Achievement in film editing

  • Baby Driver Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos
  • Dunkirk Lee Smith
  • I, Tonya Tatiana S. Riegel
  • The Shape of Water Sidney Wolinsky
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Jon Gregory

Analysis: This category would seem to belong to Dunkirk. Nevermind that there is way more to editing than just the cuts and the layering in ‘splosions, that’s what the Academy in general seems to award. Dunkirk is beautifully edited, but for more than that reason. If there is an upset here, I pick Baby Driver, which is, in many ways, an extended music video and thus very ‘edit forward’.

Best foreign language film of the year

  • A Fantastic Woman Chile
  • The Insult Lebanon
  • Loveless Russia
  • On Body and Soul Hungary
  • The Square Sweden

The Square is the best-known movie here. It also has a lot of English language in it, so WTF? A Fantastic Woman is the choice of the awards gurus, so I’m going with that for now.

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling

  • Darkest Hour Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick
  • Victoria & Abdul Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
  • Wonder Arjen Tuiten

Analysis: This category has had some surprising picks. (Suicide Squad! Well-deserved, but still surprising.) Still, I’ll predict the safe choice of Darkest Hour, which had Gary Oldman’s brilliant Churchill makeup and is also a Best Picture nominee.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

  • Dunkirk Hans Zimmer
  • Phantom Thread Jonny Greenwood
  • The Shape of Water Alexandre Desplat
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi John Williams
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Carter Burwell

Analysis: Your best bets here are Dunkirk, with that incessant ticking clock beat, and The Shape of Water, with the lush, memorable theme. I give the edge to Desplat and Shape of Water.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

  • “Mighty River” from Mudbound
  • Music and Lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson

  • “Mystery Of Love” from Call Me by Your Name
  • Music and Lyric by Sufjan Stevens

  • “Remember Me” from Coco
  • Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

  • “Stand Up For Something” from Marshall
  • Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn and Diane Warren

  • “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman
  • Music and Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Analysis: “This Is Me” seems to have the most heat going in. Coco is basically a movie-length ad for “Remember Me”. That said, it doesn’t take long for an Academy member to listen to the nominees and pick, you know, what is the song they like best. “Mystery of Love” or “Mighty River” might sneak in. (No one seems to be hyping the song from Marshall.)

Achievement in production design

  • Beauty and the Beast Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • Blade Runner 2049 Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Alessandra Querzola
  • Darkest Hour Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • Dunkirk Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
  • The Shape of Water Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin

Analysis: These are all outstanding examples of production design. If Shape of Water is sweeping the technical categories, as it is poised to do, then this is another good place for it to win. Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are also up for Best Picture, but they might cancel each other out a bit, seeing as they are from the same time period. I wouldn’t rule out either Beast or Blade Runner, as they are pinnacles of cinematic imagination. Both, however, are drafting on the previous design work of earlier films, so the Academy will probably choose to go with something “pure,” like Shape.

Best animated short film

  • Dear Basketball Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant
  • Garden Party Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon
  • Lou Dave Mullins and Dana Murray
  • Negative Space Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata
  • Revolting Rhymes Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer

Analysis: Always pick the PIXAR. That means “Lou”. However, Glen Keane is a legendary Disney Renaissance animator and should have a lot of friends in the Academy, so I give “Dear Basketball” an outside shot.

Best live action short film

  • DeKalb Elementary Reed Van Dyk
  • The Eleven O’Clock Derin Seale and Josh Lawson
  • My Nephew Emmett Kevin Wilson, Jr.
  • The Silent Child Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton
  • Watu Wote/All of Us Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen

“DeKalb Elementary” seems to be leading among the online predictors as I write. “My Nephew Emmett” is about Emmett Till, which should attract some Academy voters looking to reward a story about racism.

Achievement in sound editing

  • Baby Driver Julian Slater
  • Blade Runner 2049 Mark Mangini and Theo Green
  • Dunkirk Richard King and Alex Gibson
  • The Shape of Water Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce

Analysis: Dunkirk. The others also have beautiful sound editing. I might give it to Blade Runner 2049, personally, because so many of the environments in that movie are really defined by the sounds.

Achievement in sound mixing

  • Baby Driver Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis
  • Blade Runner 2049 Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth
  • Dunkirk Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo
  • The Shape of Water Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson

Analysis: Dunkirk. Again, this often goes in tandem with Sound Editing. I actually disagree with Christopher Nolan’s philosophy of sound mixes, but there’s no denying that the Academy doesn’t. They nominated Interstellar, The Dark Knight and awarded Inception.

Achievement in visual effects

  • Blade Runner 2049 John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick
  • Kong: Skull Island Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
  • War for the Planet of the Apes Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist

Analysis: A lot of people are predicting Apes here, and it would be a well-deserved win. That team has advanced the performance animation techniques every film. However, Blade Runner is going to attract all the votes from the voters who prefer their visual effects to be more practical, less digital. It’s also a nominee for Best Cinematography, which means it has a style to the effects that is getting appreciated by the more visually-sophisticated Academy audiences.

Adapted screenplay

  • Call Me by Your Name Screenplay by James Ivory
  • The Disaster Artist Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
  • Logan Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; Story by James Mangold
  • Molly’s Game Written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin
  • Mudbound Screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Analysis: Only one of these is also up for Best Picture, and that’s Call. Molly’s Game I love for all its Sorkin-ness, but it doesn’t seem to be getting wider support. Mudbound could sneak in here, doing such a nice job of adapting the poetic inner monologues of the underlying book.

Original screenplay

  • The Big Sick Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
  • Get Out Written by Jordan Peele
  • Lady Bird Written by Greta Gerwig
  • The Shape of Water Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; Story by Guillermo del Toro
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Written by Martin McDonagh

Analysis: Lady Bird? Three Billboards? Shape of Water? My pick here is Get Out, which is a thoroughly brilliant script and which probably won’t be getting as much love in the other places it is nominated. It seems right for Jordan Peele to get an award somewhere!