Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Movie Review: Annihilation

Annihilation **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Alex Garland.
Written by: Alex Garland based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer.
Starring: Natalie Portman (Lena), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dr. Ventress), Tessa Thompson (Josie Radek), Gina Rodriguez (Anya Thorensen), Tuva Novotny (Cass Sheppard), Oscar Isaac (Kane), Benedict Wong (Lomax), David Gyasi (Daniel).
I have been sitting with Alex Garland’s remarkable Annihilation for a couple of days now, trying to figure out how best to review this odd, transfixing film. It has been marketed as a genre film – and that it certainly is – it is definitely science fiction, and there are elements of a horror film as well. But it’s a deeper film than most – one that not only encourages but demands introspection on behalf of the audience. The film’s tone is odd from the outset, and it gets stranger the further along it goes. The story hits the beats we expect it to in this type of a film – when a group of people head out into the unknown wilderness, not sure what they will find, you expect them to be picked off one at a time – but not like this. The ending of the film is odd, transfixing and profound. The fact that this is a film from a major studio, being given a wide release (at least in North America – the rest of the world will get it on Netflix, which is a shame – this film DEMANDS to be seen on a big screen, with the best sound possible) is amazing to me. How many wide release films so beholden to the work of Soviet master Andrei Tarkovsky are there?
The film stars Natalie Portman as Lena – a biologist, teaching at Johns Hopkins University, who used to be in the military. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac) still is – but he went on a mission a year ago, and has yet to return. She has heard nothing from or about him, and has been told he was killed on some sort of top secret mission. Then, he shows up at their house one night. There is something very definitely wrong with him – he doesn’t seem himself, and when he starts bleeding into his water glass she calls the ambulance. They don’t end up at the hospital though – but at Area X. This is where Lena learns of the Shimmer – a strange border that looks just like the name implies. The area enclosed in the shimmer keeps growing, and while you can cross the border into it, nothing comes back. Nothing except for Kane, who is now facing almost certain death? The last group to cross was all military men – so the next group is going to be a group of scientists – all women. They are led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a psychologist and also include Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), a physicist, Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) a paramedic and Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), another scientist. Lena volunteers to go along as well – their goal is the lighthouse where the shimmer started, but to get there they have to go on a long walk, through dense woods, full of god knows what.
I don’t really want to discuss much of what happens beyond this point – it is better to experience that for yourself. What I will say is that director Alex Garland does a marvelous job at keeping every moment of the movie unsettling and disorienting. We are clearly on earth here, yet it almost seems like an alien planet – and one moment to the next, anything is possible. Garland metes out information in the film slowly and methodically. The structure of the film involves Lena being interviewed by a man in a biohazard suit, but also contains flashbacks to Lena and Kane’s time before the Shimmer, which do more than just provide backstory. The visuals, and in particular the sound design – with the strangest, most distinctive score in recent years by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, which contribute to the strange otherworldly tone of the film. What’s also remarkable is how, despite the tone, the actresses all create distinct characters in the film, which keeps things grounded. Cass observes early in the film that every one of them is hiding something – that they have their own, dark reasons for coming into the shimmer – which effects them all in different ways, and changes their perspective.
The obvious touchstone here is Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece Stalker (the great podcast The Next Picture Show is doing their duo next week on Stalker and Annihilation – and I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated a podcast more). Tarkovsky’s science fiction films – which also included Solaris (1972) – his best film – are different from most in the genre, as they require us to look inwards, not outwards (Solaris would make a great double bill with Kubrick’s 2001 – they are opposites in many ways).
The ending of the film is probably what concerned Paramount the most – what caused them to dump the film into theaters here, and sell it off to Netflix internationally, because they really don’t know what to do with a film like this. It very well may frustrate some viewers – viewers who want to be spoon fed everything, and told what to think, feel and what it all means. I don’t think Annihilation is all that hard to follow, or even interpret – but it certainly demands something on the part of the viewer that some just will not want to give. For those who want something more in their science fiction – something truly unique, Annihilation is a must see. It confirms Garland as one of the most interesting new directors around – following up his great 2015 film Ex Machina (a completely different kind of sci fi film) with something more ambitious, more ambiguous and altogether more remarkable. The film will likely not last long in theaters, but it will be remembered for years to come.

Oscars - Should Win, Will Win Summary

For those of you didn't want to want my epic post (good call) but still want to know what I think will and should win the Oscars this weekend, here's a quick summary.

Winner Predictions
Best Picture: Get Out
Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Lead Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Lead Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Adapted Screenplay: Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory
Original Screenplay: Get Out – Jordan Peele
Animated Feature: Coco
Best Documentary Feature: Faces Places
Best Foreign Language Film: Loveless (Russia)
Cinematography: The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen
Film Editing: Dunkirk
Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
Original Score: The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat
Original Song: Coco - Remember Me
Production Design: The Shape of Water 
Costume Design: Phantom Thread
Makeup and Hair: Darkest Hour
Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049
Should Win Summary
Best Picture: Phantom Thread
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Lead Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Lead Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Supporting Actress: Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Adapted Screenplay: Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory
Original Screenplay: Get Out, Jordan Peele
Animated Feature: Coco
Best Documentary Feature: Faces Places
Best Foreign Language Film: Loveless (Russia)
Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins
Film Editing: Baby Driver
Sound Editing: Blade Runner 2049
Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
Original Score: Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood
Original Song: Call Me By Your Name - Mystery of Love
Production Design: Blade Runner 2049
Costume Design: Phantom Thread
Makeup and Hair: Darkest Hour
Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

Oscar Predictions

The Oscar season is finally coming to an end this Sunday, when the awards will be given out. The season has both felt longer than normal – the Olympics pushed them back a week – and surprisingly more civil than most. There was a major backlash against Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri – but that was grounded in real complaints about the movie (I don’t share them, but I understand them) and less like people trying to dethrone an Oscar frontrunner. So, here we go – an epic post on what will win, what should win, and why for this Sunday – for everything except the shorts, which I didn’t see, so I didn’t predict.
Best Picture
9. The Post
For It: For a certain, old school voter, The Post hits the sweet spot of smart, adult entertainment, delivered with polish by a legendary director, and two great stars, ably supported by a great cast. The film is backwards looking, and yet timely – and is quietly becoming a box office hit.
Against It: With only two nominations total, this just isn’t Spielberg’s year. Most of the other films in the running have higher passion fan bases, so they’ll get the number one votes to hang around a little longer than The Post. After an up-and-down season for the film, the nomination is the win.
8. Call Me by Your Name
For It: It has a highly passionate fan base behind it, and is probably winning one of the two screenplay awards – usually a good sign. The younger branch of the Academy, that they’ve cultivated the last few years, could push it higher.
Against It: That fan base has other things they can vote for, and the screenplay win is almost by default, as there is not much else in the Adapted Screenplay running. Overall, support for the film could have been stronger – it picked up just four nominations total, leaving out two great supporting performances, and any number of tech prizes, that you would think it would have gotten nominated for if this was going to win – not to mention no director nominated.
7. Darkest Hour
For It: All those old school fans who in another year may vote for The Post, could flock here – to a similarly old school film, with broader support. The total of 6 nominations was more than expected – the film was seen as a play for Oldman alone heading into the nominations, but the tech awards show broader support.
Against It: If the film had real broad supporting, the director, screenplay or a supporting performance would have broken through – it didn’t. I have a feeling the campaign behind the movie will do its best to make sure Oldman doesn’t slip out of frontrunner status, and let the film itself be an also ran.
6. Phantom Thread
For It: The film clearly has some very passionate fans in the Academy – who gave it a much stronger show of support than expected, pushing it into the Best Picture, Director and Supporting Actress lineups, alongside expected noms for Best Actor, Score and Costumes. Those who love it, really love it – meaning a lot of number 1 votes will be coming its way.
Against It: The film is clearly not for everyone – and leaves as many people cold as those it charms. In a ranked ballot, you need consensus more than passion at a certain point – and I just don’t think the film has that consensus.
5. Dunkirk
For It: The early frontrunner, the film is a certified box office hit, a critical hit and finally a film from Christopher Nolan, a beloved director, that the Academy can truly embrace (hence his first director nod). The Academy loves a war film – roughly one per decade wins, and it hasn’t happened since 2009, so perhaps it’s due.
Against It: While it showed up as a nominee everywhere, it didn’t actually win very much. It will likely win a number of tech prizes, and Nolan is a (very) dark horse directing candidate, but I just have a hard time seeing the film pull this out. No film since Grand Hotel in 1932 (!) has won without an actor or screenplay nominated – and while I normally don’t put too much stock in those stats, that is a doozy.
4. Lady Bird
For It: A truly beloved film, it’s been able to ride high all Oscar season, and has not even really generated any sort of backlash – which is easier said than done. It has the passionate fan based that will keep it high in the earlier rounds of the ranked ballot, and the consensus that could push it across the finish line. In the year of #MeToo, having a female directed film win would look good. The first of four films that I think has a real shot of winning this thing.
Against It: It’s hard seeing this win anything else – it’s not the frontrunner for Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Actress or Director, and while it has a shot at all of those, it’s not a good shot. It’s not wise to bet on a film to win Best Picture and nothing else (something that hasn’t happened since, wait for it, Grand Hotel in 1932!).
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
For It: The film is the frontrunner for Actress, Supporting Actor and could easily win Original Screenplay – and has some of the precursor support (Golden Globe for Best Picture, SAG Ensemble award) that you usually see a best picture winner have. It’s become a critical hit, and a decent commercial one for a small film, and in a year of #MeToo, the righteous female anger of Frances McDormand’s character rings true.
Against It: It has clearly become the most controversial contender of the year, with the biggest backlash – which means it could place down the rankings for some Academy members, making consensus harder. Martin McDonagh didn’t get nominated for Best Director – and while Argo showed that may not be necessary in the ranked ballot era, it certainly doesn’t help. If Get Out or Lady Bird can pass it for Original Screenplay, watch out.
2. The Shape of Water
For It: It has the most nominations by a large margin with 13 – showing across the board support, from the tech branches, to writers to actors in a way that no other film in the running can claim. It won the PGA award – one of the only precursors to use a ranked ballot like the Academy. It has the old fashioned trappings that older members, but is cool enough for the younger members. In the new era, you need consensus, and this may be the safest bet.
Against It: We all realize that the film is about a woman who falls in love with a fishman monster, right? It looks like a prestige drama, but the subject matter will turn some off – as will the genre trappings, that the Academy usually does not embrace.
1. Get Out
For It: It’s run a long distance race since last February, become a bona fide box office smash, the film of the year according to critics, and the timeliest one of the year. It had to overcome genre bias all the way through the season. If there’s a backlash against the film, it’s a small one.
Against It: It is a horror film, and those usually do not win Oscars. It’s also a very small film in terms of budget for Oscar as well. If it was making a real push, I would have expected to see it show up in Editing at the very least – and it didn’t. It isn’t the frontrunner in any of the categories it’s nominated, except maybe – Original Screenplay, but I’m not convinced it will pull it off. Like Lady Bird, it isn’t wise to bet on a film to win Best Picture, and nothing else.
Will Win: This is the most wide open race in years – with any of the top four being very real possibilities. In such a fractured year, it’s probably best to go with the safest choice which is The Shape of Water. But why do a feeling that this isn’t going to happen – and specifically that Get Out will Spotlight in winning Screenplay and Picture and nothing else. It doesn’t make much sense, and yet, that’s my call. I’ve gone with the safer choice of The Revenant and La La Land the last two years, despite my nagging doubts at the time. This year, I’m going ith those doubts (which is probably the surest sign that I’ll be wrong).
Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread was my favorite film of the year, so meticulously crafted, and yet so open and raw. It is a masterpiece – and clearly the best film of a strong list of nominees.
Least of the Nominees:
So strong in fact that the weakest nominee is still a film I quite liked – Darkest Hour – which is a fine, if somewhat straight forward and middle brow period pic. Its fine, but I would gladly watch any of the other 8 nominees again before it.
5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
For Him: He is the only nominee this year to have previously been nominated for Best Director – so if anyone is “overdue”, it’s him. Phantom Thread is the most meticulously crafted film of the year – those who love it, wouldn’t dream of voting for anyone else.
Against Him: Surprise nominees – and Anderson was a surprise – rarely pull off the victory. The other films have broader support, and fanbases who are just as passionate. I have a feeling that we’ll be talking about how ridiculous it is that Anderson has no Oscars for years to come.
4. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
For Him: I’m not sure that any current director has a fan base as avid as Nolan, who view him as the next coming of Kubrick. Dunkirk is such a monumental technical achievement that he could draw Best Director votes from those voting for something else for Best Picture. Yes, it’s his first Director nomination – but he is one of the biggest directors working, so some will say he’s overdue.
Against Him: Dunkirk got off to a hot start this summer, but cooled considerably once the season got underway. While Nolan’s fans are avid, I wonder how many of them are in the Academy. You would think he would need some precursor support if he was going to win – and he hasn’t gotten it.
3. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
For Her: Lady Bird is truly beloved, and given how this year has gone, a woman winning the Best Director Oscar for only the second time really would cap things off nicely. If the film is really going to make a push to win Best Picture – a possibility – she really does need to make a show of it here.
Against Her: Her direction isn’t as “flashy” as the other nominees (that doesn’t mean it isn’t as good, but it doesn’t call as much attention to itself) – and they usually like it when that directors do that. Lady Bird has a chance to win Best Picture, sure, but it’s a longer shot – and still, probably a better chance than Gerwig does actually winning Director.
2. Jordan Peele, Get Out
For Him: He has made the most critically acclaimed film of the year, which is a triumph both of his writing and directing. Since they may want to honor McDonagh and Peele, and they have to do that with McDonagh in Original Screenplay, Peele could get a boost here for director. In recent years, two films directed by black filmmakers have won the Best Picture Oscar, but so far none have won Best Director. If they want to make history, here’s their chance.
Against Him: Genre bias could hurt him (although, The Shape of Water is essentially a horror film too, so perhaps not too much). Typically, a Best Director win is accompanied by some tech award wins – and Get Out didn’t get in there. I could see the film squeezing out a victory for Best Picture easier than I can see Peele win here – although it’s possible.
1. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
For Him: Guillermo del Toro is a well-respected veteran filmmaker, who has been making films for 25 years, and finally got himself into the big categories (he came close with Pan’s Labyrinth, but didn’t get the big ones). His film is visually stunning, and has the kind of prestige gloss that they like. Even if The Shape of Water falters down the stretch, and doesn’t win Best Picture, it’s likely to win the most awards of the night – and del Toro should easily get swept in as well.
Against Him: Again, this is a film about a woman falling in love with a fish monster – which isn’t typical Oscar bait, and could turn some people off. The outside, political factors may well favor two of his fellow nominees.
Will Win: I think Guillermo del Toro wins this one, even if the film doesn’t end up with the Best Picture trophy, but Peele and Gerwig are lurking.
Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson really is at the top of his game with Phantom Thread – you know you’re in the hands of a master from the opening frames. He’s also the best filmmaker working today, and has zero Oscars at home.
Least of the Nominees:
This is an absurdly good group of nominees, and I really don’t want to pick any of them. I guess, if forced, I’d say Guillermo del Toro is the weakest, but it pains me so much I’d rather abstain.
Lead Actor
5. Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
For Him: He’s Denzel Washington, and they clearly love him – he got his eighth nomination for a film that wasn’t critically loved, or a box office hit. He was close to winning his third last year for Fences, but came up just short, so payback?
Against Him: No one really likes the film, even if they admire the performance. His nomination is in part because of a weak field, and in part because the performance is so unlike anything he’s ever done. The nomination is the reward here.
4. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
For Him: Many call him the greatest living actor, and since this is apparently his last film, it is the last chance to give him an Oscar – a feat that would tie him with Katherine Hepburn for most all time. The support for the film is broader than anticipated, so that can only help.
Against Him: It took Hepburn twice the number of nominations (12) that Day-Lewis has to win that fourth Oscar, and I really don’t think there’s a pressing need to give him his fourth – and third in just over 10 years. The nomination itself is a fitting goodbye from the Academy.
3. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
For Him: Kaluuya has already overcome genre bias, and a general bias against subtle, understated performances just to get the nomination – whose to say he cannot ride the love of the film all the way to an Oscar win? They clearly love the film, but it could easily go home empty handed on Oscar night if he doesn’t win.
Against Him: He is a newcomer, he is a young for a Best Actor winner, and the genre bias and bias against subtly still applies in the winning round. The film, and now the nomination, is a huge boost to his career – and that will likely have to be enough.
2. Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
For Him: Chalamet has had a real breakout year this year – with Lady Bird alongside this performance – that has made the young actor into a star. The passion of his supporters is intense. The critical establishment really went to bat for Chalamet, and turned him from a perhaps unlikely nominee, into an actual threat for the win.
Against Him: He would be the youngest Best Actor winner ever – by quite a margin as well – as the Academy typically makes actors (not actresses) wait. The film didn’t quite get the broad support he may need to push off a season long frontrunner. For someone of his age, the nomination is HUGE for his career – and likely going to have be enough.
1. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
For Him: Oldman has been doing great work in films for 30-plus years at this point, and the Academy has mostly overlooked his brilliant career (he has only got one other nomination – for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) – he is LONG overdue for recognition. The role is catnip for Oscar voters – playing Churchill at his most blustery, under layers of makeup.
Against Him: Doesn’t playing Winston Churchill under layers of makeup strike you as a little too much Oscar bait-y a role? It isn’t really a subtle performance, and the film feels old fashioned in a year like this. There are those spousal abuse allegations making the rounds, and if it takes hold, it could derail him.
Will Win: Gary Oldman has been the Oscar frontrunner since the fall festival circuit when Darkest Hour premiered, and nothing has much threatened that, even when others were winning all the critics’ awards, we knew Oldman was still secure. The competition isn’t strong enough to knock him off – with two previous, multiple winners, and two newcomers, who they like to make wait.
Should Win: While I don’t think it’s quite at the level of Lincoln or There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in Phantom Thread, as a fussy man, who doesn’t quite know what he’s getting himself into. He plays things closer to the vest, and quieter than normal – and is great.
Least of the Nominees:
I have mixed feelings about the work of Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. – I still don’t know if it’s a good performance, but it’s an interesting one from him, and completely different than anything he’s done before. It’s the weakest – but I do hope the nomination gets some people to wrestle with the performance – and movie – like I have.
Lead Actress:
5. Meryl Streep, The Post
For Her: In the #MeToo year, Streep’s role and performance really is a powerful one – as she is constantly in rooms full of men, all of whom talk down to her, but finds her inner strength anyway. She’s got 21 nominations, and three wins – you figure at some point they may give her a fourth to tie Hepburn.
Against Her: There is no pressing need to give Streep a fourth win right now – and The Post didn’t quite catch with the Academy the way they hoped. She may well get to 4 wins – just not this year.
4. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
For Her: The Oscars love it when a beautiful, young actress truly breaks through with a remarkable performance – and they often win. Here, Robbie really has to dig deep and hit many different notes and tones, and make a sympathetic character out of Tonya Harding, but not too sympathetic. She threads that needle brilliantly. Even those who don’t seem to like the film’s portrayal of Harding don’t seem to blame Robbie – who they still love.
Against Her: In another year, I think she could easily win. This year, she’s a long shot at best – sometimes strength of competition really is your only weakness.
3. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
For Her: She’s only 22, and already on her third nomination – which is about the number than they really start feeling like you’re overdue. Remarkably, all three performances are so completely different that they really show off her range. She anchors one of the most beloved movies of the year.
Against Her: I have a feeling that role isn’t quite show-offy enough to overtake the top 2. Comedies don’t much win acting Oscars, and even though there is a lot more going on in Lady Bird, that is the perception. Oddly, the fact that her three nominations come from such different performances – and she hasn’t really become a huge star – may hurt that overdue narrative a little. There’s little doubt she’s winning one of these – just not this year.
2. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
For Her: This is her second nomination, and it’s a show-off performance, which requires her not to speak the whole time, and show a massive range of emotions. She’s in the best picture frontrunner, which can never be a bad thing. Even if you don’t love the movie, it’s hard not to love her in it.
Against Her: There is so much technical wizardry going on in the movie, I wonder if at times the performances are overshadowed – not an issue with the performance I think will win, which is front and center. In another year, she could be a shoo-in, here she may make it interesting.
1. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
For Her: This has been one of the most talked about and praised performances of the year – even those who don’t particularly like the movie, don’t seem to have a problem with her in. In the #MeToo year, this kind of fiery performance may be seen as a rallying cry. She’s also great at speeches – because she doesn’t seem to give a shit if she pisses anyone off. How can you not love Frances McDormand?
Against Her: The backlash against the film could be enough to knock her back just enough that someone else sneaks in. She has an Oscar already – something the next three in line do not.
Will Win: I think Frances McDormand is pretty much a shoo-in here. If there was just one other performance knocking at the door, than sure, the backlash against the film may hurt – but with three of them, the competition is probably too diluted to take hold.
Should Win: I’ll go with the popular choice and say Frances McDormand, who grabs hold of that film and won’t let go. It’s her best work since Fargo – which is one of the best performances in history.
Least of the Nominees:
I really don’t want to choose – all five of these performances were in my personal top 10. I think Meryl Streep was lowest – but like Best Director, a ridiculously strong field.
Supporting Actor:
5. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
For Him: How amazing of a story is this – that he was cast in November, and in January he gets an Oscar nomination? The only thing that would make it better is if he actually won! The narrative is irresistible.
Against Him: While the reviews were strong for Plummer, they weren’t for the rest of the movie. He’s against four well respected veterans, none of whom have won an Oscar before, and he has. The nomination makes sure this remarkable story won’t be forgotten – but it’s the reward.
4. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
For Him: A very well respected veteran, on this third nomination, without a victory he is overdue for some Oscar love. It is a great performance, and an unforgettable one. Since the controversy around the film mainly swirls around the other role nominated in this category, they could give Harrelson an Oscar, and reward the film, but steer (a little) clear of the hornets’ nest.
Against Him: The internal competition with Rockwell will eat Harrelson alive. Rockwell has won more of the prizes, so if anything, Harrelson will spoil his parade, not go after the win himself. His time should come – it’s just not this year.
3. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
For Him: A well respected character actor, on his second nomination, Jenkins really is a delight in this film – as a gay man and who drinks to hide the pain, who decides to go all in for his friend. It’s a sweet, delightful performance – and should Rockwell falter, the love could fall to Jenkins as having a key role in the Oscar frontrunner. Although through the season, he had internal completion, as some groups went with Michael Shannon, he’s by himself this time.
Against Him: I wonder if Jenkins is just missing that one big Oscar moment that could truly put him in play in this race. You expect the Oscar winner to have won something – and it just didn’t happen for Jenkins.
2. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
For Him: He is clearly the critic’s favorite – he pretty much swept all of those awards. He is a well-respected veteran actor, doing great work for more than 30 years, and on his third nomination now. If the Academy wants to street clear of Rockwell given the controversy around the film, Dafoe is right there waiting.
Against Him: The film was also a huge critics favorite – and yet, this is the only nomination it secured, meaning critics loved it more than the Academy. He hasn’t won one of the BIG precursors, which is usually what you need.
1. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
For Him: Rockwell has been around for a while, doing solid work, so even if this is his first nomination, he has a solid enough resume to win. He also has the Golden Globe and the SAG award. While there has been controversy around the role that somehow hasn’t much translated into people criticizing Rockwell.
Against Him: That controversy really could sink him – although it hasn’t so far. If the love for Harrelson is real, then internal competition could cost them both the win.
Will Win: It seems silly to bet against Sam Rockwell, so I won’t. The controversy around the role is real, but it hasn’t slowed him down much this season – no reason to think it will now.
Should Win: Willem Dafoe delivers perhaps the best performance of his brilliant career in The Florida Project – such a rich, sympathetic, natural character that blends in well. In a better world, he’s your winner.
Least of the Nominees:
I do quite like Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World, but it’s hard to argue he’s not the weakest link here.
Supporting Actress:
5. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
For Her: She’s in the best picture frontrunner, so a sweep could push her along. She’s been nominated three times now, in a relatively short period of time – they’ll clearly like her.
Against Her: The film was liked so much that she got sweep in for a nomination – but I just don’t see there being enough here for a win, especially since she has won already, and no one else in the category has.
4. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
For Her: It would not be the first time the Academy awarded a singer who decided to act, and did so brilliantly. Mudbound has a very passionate fanbase that could help push her along.
Against Her: If the fan based was that passionate, it would have picked up a few more major nominations than it did. While she got nominated everywhere, she hasn’t won much this season. It’s a quiet, subtle performance.
3. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
For Her: She is a well-respected veteran, and they clearly loved the performance, since she got in with little precursor support. People are still not over the fact she didn’t get nominated for Mike Leigh’s Another Year – here’s a chance to fully, completely rectify that injustice, and give her the prize.
Against Her: It just is not her year – the race has been dominated by two performances, and nothing is changing that. Much of her best work is silent, and in the background.
2. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
For Her: She is a well-respected actress, who has had a long career on stage and screen – and while almost all of that is on TV, so is the work of her major rival. This is the type of story they love, when an actress plugs along for years, and finally get a big screen role that was made for her. Out of the nominees, they clearly like her film the best – and it may walk away empty handed if they don’t give it to her.
Against Her: It’s a little less show-offy than Janney’s work, and Janney won the major prizes. While she is respected, it’s not as much as Janney either. This is more about her competition than her.
1. Allison Janney, I, Tonya
For Her: Janney is beloved in the industry, and while that has mainly been on TV (where she has won tons of Emmys), those lines are dissolving more than ever before. This is the kind of big, brash, ballsy role that they love to reward – and Janney plays it to the hilt. She has the Globe and the SaG
Against Her: I, Tonya wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, and Lady Bird was. For those who want more depth and feeling in their Oscar winning mother role, that’s also Metcalf.
Will Win: Allison Janney probably has this – and while it is a deserved win, I must say I’m puzzled a little, because before the Globes and SAG, I assume Metcalf was the frontrunner. Not quite sure why Janney seems to have this locked in.
Should Win: Lesley Manville really does deliver a masterclass in understated, background acting through Phantom Thread – and it’s one of my very favorite performances of the year. (In case the above wasn’t clear though, since this is a two horse race, I’d throw support behind Metcalf).
Least of the Nominees:
I always find it boring when the Academy just throws in a good supporting performance in a film they love – like the one delivered by Octavia Spencer – rather than a great performance in perhaps a lesser movie. It makes you wonder just how many films they don’t see.
Adapted Screenplay:
5. Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
For Them: Far and away the highest grossing movie nominated, and one of the best reviewed superhero movies ever. If superheroes really are the new norm in Hollywood, eventually, the Academy will embrace them right?
Against Them: Not this year. This got in because it was a really, really weak year in this category. It’s cool it got nominated, but that’s about it.
4. The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
For Them: The movie is fun and funny, and about Hollywood – which the Academy often loves. There is a segment of people who love The Room, so who knows?
Against Them: They didn’t nominate Franco, so that pretty much spell doom for the slim chance they had to actually win this.
3. Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin
For Him: They do quite like Sorkin – who keeps getting nominated in the writing categories, even if they don’t embrace the movie (this is the lone nod it got). It feels like the most “written” of the films, and the one whose success is most derived from the screenplay.
Against Him: They didn’t like the movie as much – Chastain couldn’t even get in. He has an Oscar already, so this isn’t his year.
2. Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
For Them: Mudbound has a lot of passionate fans, and the film got more noms than some expected. This will get a lot of votes, and will be the spoiler in the category. It’s also an intricately structured screenplay, with multiple character arcs, and is expertly written – and is timely as well.
Against Them: I wonder how much anti-Netflix bias there is amongst the old school wing of the Academy. The passionate fan base couldn’t push it into the Best Picture lineup.
1. Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory
For Him: The only nominee from a Best Picture nominee this year, it automatically becomes the frontrunner. Add in the passionate fanbase of the film – who do not want to see it get overlooked, and the fact that Ivory is a multiple past nominee (for Best Director), and is 89(!) so its likely his last chance, and its almost a prohibitive frontrunner.
Against Him: I wonder how much people think Luca Guadanino (who apparently did some uncredited work on the screenplay, as well as directing) is the real reason why the film is so good – and the performances – and the screenplay was secondary.
Will Win: Call Me By Your Name is a safe, easy call for them, and no one will much complain when he wins. Mudbound is a legit dark horse candidate here though.
Should Win: Call Me By Your Name really is an intricately structured and written piece – regardless of who’s responsible. Yes, the directors and actors make the film, but the screenplay is more than good enough to win a weak category.
Least of the Nominees:
I like The Disaster Artist a great deal, but the screenplay pulls some punches, and the film is really all about Franco’s performance, and the cast being game to do what they need to do.
Original Screenplay:
5. The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
For Them: The film is the Best Picture frontrunner right now, and that normally means you have a good chance at winning the screenplay award you’re up for.
Against Them: When you talk about The Shape of Water, you mention the direction, the performances and the great technical details – and then, maybe, the screenplay. The other for nominees have their screenplay front and center, and so while its odd, I think the Best Picture frontrunner is a long shot here.

4. The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
For Them: This is one of the best feel good stories of the year – a married couple writes a movie about the unconventional way they fell in love, it becomes a hit film, and the couple themselves seem like the nicest people in the world. Who doesn’t want to see what would be the most adorable Oscar speech in history?
Against Them: As the films only nominees, its clear the Academy didn’t love the film as much as others (the other four are major Oscar contenders). It is a great feel good story, but it stops at the nomination for them.
3. Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig
For Her: In many years, Lady Bird would be the prohibitive frontrunner for this prize – a great, young, emerging director who also wrote the screenplay for a beloved film, that probably isn’t winning the Best Picture or Director Oscar, this would be a constellation prize for Gerwig. The passionate fanbase is voting for it.
Against Her: Jordan Peele has the same basic narrative this year, and Three Billboards has won the precursor awards. I think it’s possible, but it’s a longer shot than it normally would be.
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh
For Him: One of the most talked about films of the year, with the wittiest, most quotable screenplay. The film is making a real push to win Best Picture, and while that may not happen, it could easily win here. He has enough precursor support.
Against Him: The screenplay really is at the heart of the backlash against the film, so some will not vote for it just because of that. There is perhaps more passion behind some of his competition.
1. Get Out, Jordan Peele
For Him: The film has been a hit all year, and there will be quite a contingent who want to reward Peele for that and he is unlikely to win Best Director, so if he’s going to win, it’s here. The screenplay has been winning awards all season – mostly from critics groups – and it is an intricate piece of writing. It did win the WGA award (although Three Billboards wasn’t eligible).
Against Him: His main competition has won the bigger awards, and is making a real push to win Best Picture – and similarly, will be the only place they can reward the writer/director. Genre bias will not help.
Will Win: I see this as a genuine three way race, and wouldn’t be shocked to see any of those win. I think Get Out has overtaken its competition down the stretch – but it’s still neck and neck.
Should Win: Lots of great work nominated here, but I’ll go with Get Out which has layers on top of layers, and is perhaps the best screenplay of anything this year.
Least of the Nominees:
A strong lineup, but I’ll say The Shape of Water because its success is least dependent on the screenplay of any of the nominees.
Animated Feature:
5. Ferdinand
4. The Boss Baby
3. The Breadwinner
2. Loving Vincent
1. Coco
Analysis: Someone really does need to do a deep dive into why this branch hates the Lego movies – the original won pretty much every award that yet but wasn’t even nominated by the Academy, and now The Lego Batman Movie is also not-nominated – which had they gone with something better than The Boss Baby and Ferdinand than okay, but they did. Seriously though, nothing is beating Coco.
Will Win: Coco wins this one in a cakewalk – not great Pixar sometimes wins this, so a great one like Coco is easy, especially in this field.
Should Win: A part of me wants to see The Breadwinner do it – because I love that studio, even if I think this is perhaps their weakest to date. Still, Coco is head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
Least of the Nominees: The Boss Baby
I guess – although, I wasn’t a huge fan of Ferdinand or Loving Vincent either.
Best Documentary Feature:
5. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
4. Icarus
3. Last Men in Aleppo
2. Strong Island
1. Faces Places
Analysis: I have to say I was shocked than Jane didn’t get nominated – I thought it was going to win this one going away. Also surprised to see City of Ghosts and Human Flow overlooked as well. This isn’t a bad lineup overall, but I’m not really sure which why they’ll go. Do they finally give an Oscar to Steven James and go with Abacus? Go timely, and give it to Icarus on the eve of the Olympics and the Russia scandal? Go for the heartstrings and Syria and Last Men in Aleppo? Timely, and closer to home, with Strong Island about violence against African Americans by white people? Or give it to a legend, and go Faces Places? I can see an argument for any of them.
Will Win: I am guessing Faces Places wins this, but really you can make a case for any of them.
Should Win: Faces Places was my favorite doc of the year, so I’m really hopeful it wins this. The other docs are all good, but not in the same league.
Least of the Nominees:
I suppose Icarus is my least favorite, because the director doesn’t quite realize his own Super Size Me like doping crusade isn’t as interesting as the rest of the doc, and spends far too much time on it.
Best Foreign Language Film
5. On Body and Soul (Hungary)
4. The Square (Sweden)
3. The Insult (Lebanon)
2. A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
1. Loveless (Russia)
Analysis: I am quite bad at figuring out which way they’re going to go here, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to their choices. It doesn’t help that three of these films are ones that haven’t really opened yet. I will guess, based on critical and audience reactions that the top three are in contention – I know The Square is too divisive to win, and I suspect On Body and Soul will be too.
Will Win: I think Loveless will be the one to beat here – people love it, and it is apparently an emotional powerhouse. A Fantastic Woman could sneak in because of its timeliness, and the critical reaction has been strong. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Hollywood style storytelling of The Insult resonates with them however.
Should Win: I haven’t seen A Fantastic Woman (I just haven't had time) of the other four, I loved Lovless most, a devastating movie.
Least of the Nominees:
I saw The Insult at TIFF, and didn’t like it much – it all felt too on the nose and obvious to me, no matter how well intentioned.
5. Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel
4. Mudbound, Rachel Morrison
3. Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema
2. Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins
1. The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen
Analysis: It seems like every year, Roger Deakins gets nominated, and every year we wonder if this will be his year – and it never happens. This is nomination 14 after all. He actually has a chance – a good chance – to win this award this year, and yet, I cannot help but think that one of the best picture nominees will take it, and we’ll be asking this question again a year from now.
Will Win: The Shape of Water is the frontrunner in Best Picture, and it has beautiful cinematography – the type that can often win here. I think it does it, although I could be talked into Deakins for Blade Runner or Hoytema for Dunkirk.
Should Win: Even if I didn’t think Deakins is one of the best around, and really want to see him win an Oscar, I would think his work on Blade Runner 2049 was the best of the year, and deserving of the win.
Least of the Nominees:
All five of these films have fine cinematography – but in year that included a lot of terrific work that didn’t make the cut, I find the nomination for Darkest Hour to be the weak link.
Film Editing:
5. I, Tonya
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. The Shape of Water
2. Baby Driver
1. Dunkirk
Analysis: You could probably make a case for any of the movies if you wanted to, but I think this is basically a two horse race – and one is way out in front. They have gone with action movies that didn’t get traction in the major categories many times before, so Baby Driver – and the brilliant work there isn’t out of the question. Yet, they also love war movies here, and the structure and the action of Dunkirk really makes it the prohibitive favorite.
Will Win: I really don’t think anything is really challenging Dunkirk here, even if it doesn’t break through in the major categories, it’s winning some tech awards.
Should Win: It really is a tough call here between Dunkirk and Baby Driver, but I loved the work on Wright’s film so good that I’ll go with that one.
Least of the Nominees:
It’s strange, I often complain that the Academy should go with more understated work, yet I’ll pick the most understated work here in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is the weakest nominee. Not because it’s bad, but because I don’t quite know what about the editing makes it stand out from any number of other films.
Sound Editing:
5. Baby Driver
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
3. The Shape of Water
2. Blade Runner 2049
1. Dunkirk
Analysis: In terms of sound, this year both Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 would normally be the run away, prohibitive favorite. I don’t think the other three have much of a shot here, so flip a coin, and choose between those two.
Will Win: I really do think Dunkirk wins this one – they like war movies, and this is the type of film they want to give some awards to, even if it’s not much of a factor in the bigger races.            
Should Win: I’ll go with Blade Runner 2049 – which I think outdoes Dunkirk just a little bit.
Least of the Nominees:
The work on The Shape of Water is fine – but I think the other four nominees are simply better.
Sound Mixing
5. Baby Driver
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
3. The Shape of Water
2. Blade Runner 2049
1. Dunkirk
Analysis: Look at what I said in Sound Editing, and basically repeat here. More often than not, the two sound categories match up.
Will Win: I tempted to hedge my bets and go Blade Runner 2049 – and maybe if you’re in an Oscar pool, it’s a smart idea, so you’ll go ½ on the sound categories. I just think Dunkirk is the safer bet.
Should Win: I went with Blade Runner 2049 in editing, so I’ll go with Dunkirk here. It’s a coin flip to see which is better.
Least of the Nominees:
Again, I like the work on The Shape of Water – but I’ll rank it at the bottom at five worthy nominees.
Original Score
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell
3. Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer
2. Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood
1. The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat
Analysis: I’m happy with these nominees for the most part – doesn’t happen often with this branch. They’ve finally let Jonny Greenwood in the club, and now that Burwell got his first nomination (for Carol), perhaps he can finally become the perennial candidate he deserves to be. I think the top three have a shot here, but Academy favorite Alexandre Desplat has the kind of work here they really love.
Will Win: Desplat is a 9 time nominee, but has only one win so far (for The Grand Budapest Hotel). His work on The Shape of Water is the kind of score they love – so while I think Greenwood and Zimmer have a shot – I wouldn’t bet on either of them.
Should Win: Jonny Greenwood continues to amaze me with his work, and finding just the right score for Anderson’s films, no matter how different they are. His work on Phantom Thread runs almost throughout the entire films, and is great.
Least of the Nominees:
At the risk of being accused of sacrilege, I think I’d have to say John Williams for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The actual new work on the film is rather forgettable right?
Original Song      
5. Marshall - Stand Up for Something
4. Mudbound - Mighty River
3. The Greatest Showman - This Is Me
2. Call Me By Your Name - Mystery of Love
1. Coco - Remember Me
Analysis: This is always a hard call to make, because it doesn’t seem like the Academy has very good taste in music (maybe it’s got a lot of Grammy voters in it who keep finding ways to not give Kendrick Lamar album of the year). Still, it’s not a bad lineup here, even if none of them really broke out of the movie bubble. I think the top three have a shot.
Will Win: I’ll say Coco – Remember Me win this one, because it’s the most popular. Although I could very easily be talked into thinking that Call Me By Your Name lovers will get behind Mystery of Love, or even the cheesy branch will go with The Greatest Showman, so use your best judgment.
Should Win: Personally, I prefer Visions of Gideon of the two Sufjan Stevens songs from Call Me By Your Name, but it’s so close, I’ll be more than happy to see Mystery of Love win.
Least of the Nominees:
This is a tough one, but I listened to all five songs back-to-back, and while there are no embarrassments here (as there often are), I’d say Mighty River from Mudbound is the least memorable, no matter how Mary J. Blige can belt it out.
Production Design:
5. Darkest Hour
4. Dunkirk
3. Beauty and the Beast
2. Blade Runner 2049
1. The Shape of Water  
Analysis: I think this is basically a three way race – I don’t think Darkest Hour or Dunkirk have much of a shot here. If they go with MOST Production Design, which they often seem to, than Beauty and the Beast could easily win. If they want to reward completely different, new environment, Blade Runner 2049 could win. If they want a mixture of period, movie history, and genre, than it’s The Shape of Water.
Will Win: Ultimately, I think the Best Picture status is what pushes The Shape of Water into the lead, and while those two could challenge, I don’t really see it happening.
Should Win: It’s a tough call for me – I really do think the production design may just be the best thing in The Shape of Water – but what they did on Blade Runner 2049 really is spectacular.
Least of the Nominees: Darkest Hour
is fine work to be sure – but I also think it’s a rather lazy choice.
Costume Design
5. Victoria and Abdul
4. Darkest Hour
3. Beauty and the Beast
2. The Shape of Water
1. Phantom Thread
Analysis: An interesting category, and another three way race. MOST Costumes equals Beauty and the Beast, nostalgia and genre gives you The Shape of Water. And yet, given the care we see with the costumes, and the talk of them in the film itself, Phantom Thread may be the favorite. It’s also unlikely to win elsewhere, so maybe?
Will Win: I think Phantom Thread has the edge here, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking.
Should Win: The work on Phantom Thread truly is stunning – and easily the best on the bunch my quite a bit.
Least of the Nominees:
The work on Victoria & Abdul is fine and not much else.
Makeup and Hair:
3. Victoria and Abdul
2. Wonder
1. Darkest Hour
Analysis: Whether they give this award to something more realistic or fantastical – they like very obvious makeup work. That leaves Victoria & Abdul out. For the other two, flip a coin – but the Best Picture nominee has the edge.
Will Win: They do love it when makeup transforms a famous actor into a famous person – so Darkest Hour is probably going to win here, but Wonder has a shot.
Should Win: I didn’t see Wonder, so I’m judging it on the trailer alone. I guess Darkest Hour is the best?
Least of the Nominees:
I’m not quite sure what work on Victoria and Abdul impressed the branch this much to get one of three slots.
Visual Effects
5. Kong: Skull Island
4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2. War for the Planet of the Apes
1. Blade Runner 2049
Analysis: I do think there will be some who think the time has come to give the team behind the rebooted Planet of the Apes films an Oscar here – they’ve done amazing work for three straight films, and haven’t won yet – in many year, that may be enough. Here, though, I think they will remain a bridesmaid – because one film just stands head and shoulder above anything else.
Will Win: I don’t think anything is really coming close to beating out Blade Runner 2049. Sometimes, this can go a strange way (like when Ex Machina won) – but that doesn’t happen much.
Should Win: Again, I would love to say the War of the Planet of the Apes team – but Blade Runner 2049 is truly remarkable work.
Least of the Nominees: Kong: Skull Island
? Really? Over Okja or Wonder Woman or Dunkirk or (name about 10 other films). Sure, I guess.