So here we go again. The movie awards season gets capped today at the annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles. However, as I’ve said many times before, I generally don’t put much store in film awards - the Oscars or any other - since merit and quality are hardly the only criteria on which these are judged or conferred. Too many other factors are in play - PR machineries, popularity, career achievements, (socio) political imperatives, and so on and on - when juries judge and/or when voters cast their ballots. And that’s not even considering the folly (perhaps) of even trying to pick a winner in such subjective matters as moviemaking or acting. So, I stopped seriously following film awards a long time ago.
That being said, here are my picks for the main categories at the 90th Academy Awards. Note that The Shape Of Water leads all nominees with thirteen nominations; Dunkirk is second with eight, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes in third with seven.
Nominees: Call Me By Your Name; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Post; The Shape Of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
It’s a tossup between Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri and The Shape Of Water. Three Billboards, writer/director Martin McDonagh’s tale of loss, grief, anger, retribution, bigotry, race relations, empathy, sympathy, unexpected humour, compassion and even redemption (of sorts) set in rural America takes you to unexpected places, gives you no simple answers, would have been my choice. It’s already picked up the BAFTA Best Picture and Golden Globe for Best Film (Drama) and looked like being the Oscar winner just a few weeks ago. But in recent weeks the momentum has shifted to The Shape Of Water, a dark modern fable, - dark, scary, lusty, disturbing and not necessarily ending in a happy-ever-after. Director Guillermo del Toro also wears his other influences on his sleeve - old creature features (in particular, The Creature From The Black Lagoon), MGM musicals, and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comic book universe. Shape has won the Producers Guild award for Best Picture and Directors Guild award for Best Director. It’s only been the rare occasion when the DGA winner hasn’t gone on to win the best film award at the Oscars and a win for Mexican del Toro would also be a thumb-in-the-eye for Donald Trump. Plus Three Billboards has been receiving some (unwarranted, in my opinion) backlash for its redemptive arc for a racist character. So The Shape Of Water is likely to take home the Best Picture Oscar. The only possible spoiler in this category for Shape and Billboards would be Call Me By Your Name, a highly praised and sensuous tale of sexual awakening but too drawn out and, ultimately, prosaic depiction of a love affair between a 17 and a 24 year old. A win for Name would be a (political) win for LGBTQ rights but that doesn’t mean that the movie would actually deserve that recognition.
Nominees: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk); Jordan Peele (Get Out); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread); Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
For reasons discussed above, the Mexican director is likely to come out on top and I won’t be unhappy if he wins. But I would probably have gone for Christoper Nolan for his superb storytelling in Dunkirk. The movie put on screen the miraculous evacuation of hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops from the French coast against the threat of advancing German troops in June of 1940. In under two hours, Nolan depicts in an understated but in an increasingly tense atmosphere the events that unfolded on land, sea and air and also does not fail to capture the vagaries of humanity - courage, fear, empathy, cowardice, leadership, kindness, forgiveness, and so on. Martin McDonagh was unlucky to miss out on a nomination.
Nominees: Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name); Daniel Day Lewis (Phantom Thread); Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out); Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour); Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
There is only one winner in this category. Gary Oldman is a lock for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. He perfectly catches the performance within the performance (Churchill, from all accounts, was always playing to the gallery) while covered under tons of makeup, prosthetics and padding. He’s already picked up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA and a host of other awards for Best Actor for his performance and the Academy loves makeup enhanced historical portrayals which also come with a distinctive accent or elocutionary style (preferably British). However, while the movie that he stars in is rather perfunctory, his own performance will be deserving of the award.
Nominees: Sally Hawkins (The Shape Of Water); Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); Margot Robbie (I, Tonya); Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird); Meryl Streep (The Post)
All the nominees were excellent but Frances McDormand will win for steely-eyed, no-nonsense portrayal of a grieving mother who takes matters into her own hand when she feels that no progress is being made in the murder-rape case of her daughter. She’s been winning all the awards this season and will also win her second Oscar come Sunday. The only other possible winner is Sally Hawkins, carried on the goodwill for The Shape Of Water.
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: 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); Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).
Woody Harrelson would have been my pick for his understated but dedicated small-town sheriff in Three Billboards but the award is likely to go to Sam Rockwell, for his violent, racist deputy in the same film as he’s been taking all the honours this season. A possible surprise winner might be Willem Dafoe not only for his fine, no-frills performance in The Florida Project but also as a quasi-lifetime achievement award for his whole body of work. Supporting category winners are often winners for that very reason.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound); Allison Janney (I, Tonya); Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread); Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird); Octavia Spencer (The Shape Of Water)
Allsion Janney will win for her arch, blackly funny performance as Tonya Harding’s mother in I, Tonya who thinks tough love and ritual humiliation are the only way to get the best out of her ice-skating daughter. Lesley Manville was also excellent in the The Phantom Thread but the only potential upset I see coming is from Laurie Metcalf for her loving but exasperated mother in Lady Bird. If she wins, it might actually be a consolation prize for Greta Gerwig’s fine, knowing film which is likely to be shut out of all the other major awards.