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Oscars 2018: Who will win, and who should win the major awards

Friday 2nd March 2018

And the award etc...

 

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out.
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out.

Still: Universal Pictures

It’s that wonderful, possibly irrelevant time of the year when miniature golden men are given to self-congratulatory movie industry folk.

On Monday afternoon, Hollywood’s annual victory lap - the Oscars - takes place.

The film community is in the midst of a vital reckoning, and this year’s edition must appropriately address and confront this.

As fractured as America’s political state is right now, #TimesUp must be the focus, and not relegated to watered-down monologue gags.

I’ve spent far too many hours sat in dark, unsociable cinemas and lying in bed casually breaking piracy laws (PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME A TEST CASE) to watch every movie in every major category.

Here are my picks for who I think should, and who will scoop the major awards.

BEST PICTURE

Call Me by Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird - SHOULD

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - WILL

The Best Picture category this year appears to be the most open on the card, but there are only two movies with a chance of winning - Three Billboards and Shape of Water - and both are two of the weaker entries.

Three Billboards is a quirky, fun movie - and the frontrunner - but it’s also deeply flawed.

It has the whitest gaze of any film that thinks it’s making a political statement. Its point-of-view of all that’s wrong with America is misguided and the film is far less intelligent than it thinks.

It attempts to comment on race, yet black people are relegated to the background, and “background” is generous. A violent, woman-beating, racist policeman is redeemed by a single, barely moral act.

And just because a film ends without tying up any of its loose threads, doesn’t make it high art.

The Shape of Water is better, but comfortably inferior to director Guillermo del Toro’s best work (Pan’s Labyrinth). For a weepy romantic melodrama, it left me cold.

And for a movie that appears so imaginative and wondrous, it follows every predictable plot beat and lacks any tension.

Its supporting characters are also woefully under-written. Take Richard Jenkins’ repressed gay father figure whose key moment is his rejection by a younger man in a scene I’m sure I’ve seen in every soap opera ever. Or Octavia Spencer’s black best friend who exists only to chide and warn.

So what should win?

Lady Bird.

Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.

Still: Universal Pictures

Greta Gerwig’s debut is a small, perfect movie, similar to last year’s standout, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.

As a coming-of-age flick, it’s a perfectly observed picture of a time and place, and subtly says more about financial anxiety and class division than anything bar The Florida Project.

Lady Bird’s characters, most notably Saoirse Ronan’s electric protagonist and Laurie Metcalf’s flawed, wonderful mother, are deeply drawn in what might be the first great feminist teen movie.

An envelope mixup where Three Billboards director Martin McDonagh has to pass the staturette to Greta Gerwig would be as fitting as last year’s snafu.

As for the other contenders, Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out and Dunkirk are each incredible and worthy of other awards.

The Post is entertaining, yet far too polished for its own good and lacking any of the immediacy of Spotlight, while Darkest Hour will be forgotten and left in a vault containing the good, not great films of yesteryear.

BEST ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”

Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread” - SHOULD

Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”

Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” - WILL

Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Aaaaand yet Gary Oldman will almost certainly win his first little gold man.

The scenery-chewer is convincing as Winston Churchill, but then who in the enormous pantheon of actors to have played the politician hasn’t been? Even Rod Taylor’s caricature in Inglorious Basterds was worthy.

Oldman has done the promotional stops and licked the right boots this year, yet like Casey Affleck last year, his shady past has been conveniently removed from the narrative.

Churchill’s story is not one we needed to hear again.

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour.
Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour.

Still: Focus Features

Why not Timothée Chalamet or Daniel Kaluuya? Both young actors nailed tricky roles. Has any face ever captured such horror as Kaluuya’s? His wide eyes face the horror of the “sunken place” - a powerful metaphor for the prison-industrial complex.

No one cares about Roman J. Israel, Esq., and they shouldn’t. It’s dull and Denzel Washington looks almost sheepish about being nominated in a strong field. Why not recognise Robert Pattinson’s kineticism in Good Time?

Like Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis’ name seems an obvious ballot-filler, but he really is superb in the low-key masterpiece Phantom Thread.

If this is his horrifying, Freudian swansong, then bury the crown with him. The funny thing is, his is not even the best performance in the movie...

BEST ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”

Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” - WILL

Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”

Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird” - SHOULD

Meryl Streep, “The Post”

...that distinction belongs to Luxembourgian newcomer Vicky Krieps. Yet Krieps is nowhere to be seen - an embarrassing omission.

Frances McDormand is fearful as an angry mother (does any actor say “f**k” better?), despite the role being slightly onenote.

Meryl Streep was terrific in The Post, comfortably outshining Rita Wilson’s husband, Tom Hanks. The film may as well have been titled “Screw You, Trump.” A shame its deep supporting cast was wasted.

Margot Robbie becomes the first actor to be nominated in a film she/he produced. I, Tonya isn’t quite the entertaining Scorsese-lite fare it thinks it is, but Robbie is great.

But please, please give the award to Ronan, who does everything in Lady Bird.

How cool would it be to see a rare young, nuanced female role honoured? And Lady Bird - the character - actually likes herself!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project” - SHOULD

Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”

Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” - WILL

This is the weakest of the acting categories. Where is Jason Mitchell for Mudbound? Michael Stuhlbarg deserves the Oscar alone for his devastating monologue that makes sense of the anguish in Call Me By Your Name.

Sam Rockwell will win for his showy cop, but anyone familiar with his filmography knows the character is his paint-by-numbers.

Everyone loves Woody Harrelson. And he never disappoints. But what was special about his cancer-suffering police chief in Three Billboards? He’s had far more memorable cameos - when he played his hitman father in No Country For Old Men, for instance.

The one great performance here is least likely to win - Willem Dafoe in the quietly devastating The Florida Project.

Forgotten are his tortured villains - his warm motel manager grounds Sean Baker’s confronting tragedy. Acting alongside non-actors, Dafoe is no less real.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya” - WILL

Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread” - SHOULD

Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Oh my God. Lesley Manville. If glares and stares could kill. Her matriarch in Phantom Thread is terrifying.

There is an early shot of Manville staring blankly down the barrel of the camera and it might be the most frightening moment of the year.

Or if Laurie Metcalf causes an upset, then fantastic. The performance is so deeply layered, I want to see Lady Bird a fourth time to discover more. Her airport breakdown made me cry.

Allison Janney will likely win, though. As good as she is, the role - which was written expressly for her - is unsurprising

Octavia Spencer is a character actor who should be celebrated, but not for Shape of Water.

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water.
Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water.

Still: Fox Searchlight Pictures

BEST DIRECTOR

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele - SHOULD

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig

“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro - WILL

There has been a tendency to treat this as a technical category - to honour the likes of Damien Chazelle, Alejandro Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón for their mechanical feats.

Yet Jordan Peele gave us something revolutionary. He made a powerful social critique funny, and frightening, and endlessly entertaining.

What a shame then, that the self-importance of Oscar voters will likely skip over him. Just today, the website Indiewire was told a “large faction of older voters would rather see Gary Oldman fuming in a fat suit than watch a challenging horror-comedy about the black experience”.

They’re not watching, but we are.

Christopher Nolan should also be credited for finally making a perfect film. It’s no coincidence Dunkirk is his shortest effort in forever.

Some more predics:

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig - SHOULD/WILL

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory - SHOULD/WILL

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood - SHOULD

“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat - WILL

The Oscars take place at 2pm on Monday.



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Max is a journalist who has worked for The Star, Bleacher Report and RNZ News.
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