Technically, my title is inaccurate. The starting pistol for the 2018 Oscar race began a month into 2017, as it does every year, with the Sundance Film Festival. This often takes place before the previous year’s Oscars are even handed out, but represents a huge potential launching pads for the next year’s independent films to find distributors and begin their campaigns. Only one or two Sundance debuts are strong enough to last the year, but this year is no different in that contenders did indeed debut there.
Though every year’s race begins at Sundance, it doesn’t usually heat up until the fall. If you’ve read previous year’s posts, you know about the all-important trio of film festivals elemental in modern awards prognostication– Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. To put in perspective how reliable those festival are at producing Oscar winners, the last film to win Best Picture not to play at one of them was Million Dollar Baby in 2004. Which is what makes this year so perplexing as we are over a month past not only all three festivals but also the equally prestigious New York Film Festival and a front runner has yet to emerge. This is odd. Even years where the festival fare is softer resulting in unsure front runners– 2016 with Spotlight and 2015 with Birdman come to mind– there were still traditional front runners as they both went on to win beating their (arguably) better, earlier-released rivals.
But the singular nature of this race is not solely defined by the lack of a real frontrunner. There have also been seismic shifts to the Academy and to the race itself in recent months. Last March to the surprise of many, Moonlight overcame La La Land to be named the Best Picture of the year– a profound, deserving feat that almost certainly is the result of the Academy’s inviting record numbers of new inductees into its ranks in recent years led by then president Cheryl Boone-Isaacs. This came on the heels of an endemic inditement into the lack of diversity represented among recent years nominees. By embracing Moonlight, the Academy not only rewarded the smallest budget Best Picture winner in its history, but also its first directed by an African American. The fact that it’s a modern masterpiece that transcends racial and sexual lines with its beauty and empathy makes it a deserving winner all can stand proud of for years to come. But its remarkable win begs the questions: was this an anomaly or is this the new normal? That is one of the many questions we will attempt to answer this year.
Another absolutely enormous development since last year that may not initially seem to have an effect on the race is the fate of Harvey Weinstein. As anyone reading this must be aware, over the last several weeks Mr. Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment and rape by over 50 women. What does this have to do with the Oscar race you ask? Well only that the man in question basically invented the race as we know it. In the 90’s, Harvey’s company Miramax became known as the studio for awards being nominated for over 200 from 1988-2003. This is almost entirely due to Mr. Weinstein’s influence and fierce campaign techniques. He was infamous for this and though he hadn’t won a Best Picture Oscar since 2011’s The Artist, his films were a mainstay among the nominees (the last time one of his films wasn’t nominated for something was 2008). What does a modern Oscar season look like without Harvey Weinstein is big question that may affect this race. And will a sexual harassment story of this magnitude hurt other contenders in films made by those who has suffered allegations in the past like Woody Allen? The only way to find out is to go through. So with all that being said, lets take a look at the state of this strange race and see if we can decipher any of the surprises that lie ahead.
Christopher Nolan is one of the best and most exciting filmmakers working today. What’s more he’s possibly the only one making prestige films for blockbuster audiences. This has made him a fan favorite director, but also somewhat pigeonholed in the industry in a similar way to Steven Spielberg when he came on the scene. Despite directing the biggest films in the world (that also happened to be masterpieces), Spielberg didn’t win an Oscar until he made is World War II passion piece, Schindler’s List, a film of such power people could no longer deny his skill. Nolan has had a similar mountain to climb. Despite The Dark Knight nearly missing out on Best Picture in 2009, and Inception being nominated as well as winning several tech awards in 2012, Nolan has yet to win or even be nominated for Best Director. It’s true, his last two films haven’t been met with the same effusive praise but they still have their avid fans and they’ve continued to contribute to the narrative that Nolan is one of the most exciting and overdue filmmakers working today. The only thing he needs is an undeniable great and he’s in.
It’s likely more than just coincidence that “undeniable great” turned out to be a war film. We know from Mr. Spielberg’s experience that is the perfect genre to prove you’ve graduated to the big boys, and Dunkirk looks like Nolan’s ticket. It’s shot beautifully and almost entirely in in IMAX. It features an unconventional story format (Nolan’s bread and butter) and while that choice has its critics, it is an undeniably new filmic experience. The acting is strong and the story is engaging, but the most impressive aspect of the film is the craft on display. Nolan and his cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema, captured some truly spectacular visuals that immerse the audience in the war-zone the film takes place in. In any normal year, the prospect of a Nolan war movie would be enough on its own to assume it would enter the top tiers of the race. This war movie was well received by critics and audiences and continues to stand as one of the absolute best of the year.
We’ve seen a couple times recently, with Gravity and Mad Max: Fury Road, where exceptionally crafted blockbusters can enter the race and do quite well but are usually overtaken for the top prize by one of the festival movies with more buzz and import. As previously mentioned however, no festival movies this year generated that kind of talk, and it’s looking more and more like this may be Dunkirk‘s to lose.
2. The Shape of Water
While it’s true none of the festival movies generated the kind of buzz that usually turns into a Best Picture win, that’s not to say there weren’t any promising films that premiered there. The most exciting of these is Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and adult fantasy compared to del Toro’s brilliant, Oscar winning Pan’s Labyrinth. As a fan of del Toro, its no surprise he crafted something people are calling beautiful, brilliant, and brutal, but its incredibly exciting to think he may finally get some long overdue recognition for his wonderful work. As promising as the movie is, it is a fantasy romance centered around a mute woman and a creature-from-the-black-lagoon-type creature which means some could find it unpalatable hurt its overall chances. Will the Academy, new or not, fully embrace a fantasy, bi-special love story? The word is that it’s good enough.
3. Call Me By Your Name
If there was one movie whose Oscar chances were greatly boosted by Moonlight‘s historic win, it’s this gorgeous and sumptuous romance. Like Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name is a coming of age story about a young gay man, but instead of Florida, it’s set in Italy in the late 80’s. While this would have been likely been an outlier or mere performance piece in recent years, due to its ravishing beauty and the glass ceiling broken by Moonlight, its looking like Call Me by Your Name could be a top tier contender. While it winning isn’t likely, I’d like to reemphasize that 1/3 of the entire Academy has been added in the last three years and we don’t really know what movies that third will respond to. Perhaps Moonlight was the beginning of a trend.
4. Darkest Hour
Another film to break out of the fall festival doldrums this year was Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman in a transformative performance as Winston Churchill. The film, rather coincidentally it seems, offers an altogether different perspective of the same battle at Dunkirk, France that Dunkirk chronicles. Those who have seen both reflect that they’re terrific companion pieces. Instead of bombs and planes to tell his story, Wright uses words and expressions. Despite its familiar subject matter, the film itself has gotten very good reviews and will likely find itself nominated in several categories.
5. The Post
Steven Spielberg, though it took him a while to get recognition from his peers, is now seen as one of if not the modern quintessential director. He directed films entire generations will grow up with and love. He continues to make compelling work even in his fourth decade directing as Bridge of Spies was nominated for Best Picture just two years ago winning a Supporting Actor Oscar for Mark Rylance– the first acting Oscar ever won in a Spielberg film. When he’s not directing thoughtful adult dramas, he still knows how to entertain the masses with work like The B.F.G. and next years Ready Player One. I explain all this to set up why exactly his next film, The Post is a presumed Oscar frontrunner even though no one’s seen as much as a clip or trailer. Early this year, while still working on post-production for Ready Player One, Spielberg announced he was going to be rushing into production on directing another film, for release later this year starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Now when you hear the best and most popular director, actor, and actress alive are all dropping what they’re doing to work together for the first time in a film they’re pushing out the same year, you pay attention. As such, until this is proven not to be a contender, it is a frontrunner. Lets hope they can deliver on the promise their involvement alone implies because if so, I doubt anything could stand in its way.
6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
If you’re familiar with Irish writer/director Martin McDonough’s work, you won’t be surprised at the reaction to his latest work. McDonough won an Oscar for his short film, Six Shooter, and was similarly nominated for Best Original Screenplay for his first feature, In Bruges. His newest, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri features an unsurprisingly killer script and some fantastic performances. While it’s reviews out of the festivals was good if not great, what is currently propelling it to this position is its Toronto Audience Award win. While it’s not a perfect indicator for a Best Picture win, only once in the last decade did a film win and no go on to at least be nominated for Best Picture. So right now, things are looking pretty good.
7. Get Out
Every once in a while a movie comes out that’s so undeniably great, you hope the Oscars will break their traditions to honor it. This has happened in the past with Silence of the Lambs, a horror movie that came out in February becoming one of the only three films ever to with the top five awards or with The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, a fantasy, sweeping and tying the all-time win record. In recent years I’ve seen this happen with Boyhood, a non-traditional April release that defied its quiet nature to nearly claim Best Picture and with Mad Max: Fury Road defying its action genre to take home the second most Oscars of the decade. And I think I’m starting to witness it again with the revelatory Get Out, the directorial debut of Jordan Peele. Get Out hit the market like a lightning bolt in January and while usually a film released that early (especially a horror film) would lose steam, it hasn’t been forgotten. Perhaps part of it is the weakness of the year at hand and the lack of a true frontrunner, but overall I think it’s merely because it’s a great film. Some of the more self-important Oscary movies could put Get Out… er, out but I have a feeling Jordan Peele will be a multiple Oscar nominee come March.
8. Lady Bird
Lady Bird marks the second acclaimed directorial debut in a row on this list. This time helmed by writer/actress Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird got stupendous word out of the festival circuit, enough to keep it in contention not just for its stellar performances (more on those later) but as Picture and Director as well. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale about the self-christened Lady Bird in her last year of high school written and directed by Gerwig and starring the incredible Saoirse Ronan. As under represented as films by female directors are in this race, it’s awesome to see one get so embraced so early in her career.
9. The Florida Project
Sean Baker made quite a splash with his last film, Tangerine perhaps more so for the fact that he shot the whole thing on iPhones than the story or his execution. His followup, The Florida Project, is a beautiful film in a similar vein though this time shot on glorious 35mm. The Florida Project follows 6-year-old Moonee, living with her mother in a hotel, being unable to afford typical rent. Moonee is played by newcomer Brooklyn Prince in what many are saying is one of the performances of the year, comparing her to little Quvenzhané Wallis (who was the six-year-old girl nominated for Best Actress for Beast of Southern Wild a few years back). From those who’ve seen The Florida Project comes the same effusive praise that smaller films like Moonlight and Room received before they were eventually nominated for the top awards. Does Florida elicit enough passionate to follow suit?
Barring some slightly different circumstances and Mudbound could have been a real frontrunner in this race. Debuting at Sundance to very positive reviews, the film, direction, and acting were quickly cited as potential nominees. But then it was purchased by Netflix which is doing miraculous things for TV but still hasn’t quite figured out how to compete when it comes to Oscar films. It’s successfully gotten a couple documentaries nominated, and won an Oscar last year for the short animated film The World of Tomorrow, but when it comes to feature Oscar it still hasn’t made its mark. Two years ago it attempted a campaign for Beasts of No Nation yet failed to receive any nominations despite Idris Elba being a presumed frontrunner. Mudbound will tell whether or not they’ve gotten any better at the campaign since then. If it does catch on, however, Mudbound has the chance to make history. It would only be the second Best Picture nominee to be directed by a woman of color, Dee Rees, and were she to get a nomination, she would be the first black woman ever nominated for Best Director. This is a ceiling that we must break through and hopefully sooner rather than later. Lets just see if Netflix has it in them to make this the one count.
11. Phantom Thread
While his last two films haven’t done much with the Academy outside some acting nominations, Paul Thomas Anderson is always a director to watch. He very likely nearly won an Oscar or two for his modern masterpiece There Will Be Blood, and it’s really only a matter of time before he does take one home. His latest work comes with the distinction that its reportedly the last acting gig of the great Daniel Day-Lewis. While no one really knew what to expect, the recent trailer showed a movie that might fit directly into the Academy’s wheelhouse– a period piece romantic drama. Everything could be lining up for Anderson to be the belle of this years ceremony, but we won’t know for sure until someone actually sees the movie…
12. The Big Sick
This was another Sundance sensation that went on to do very well with both critics and audiences. It’s a romantic comedy– not something that has been up for Best Pictures since… what?… Four Weddings and a Funeral? I’m honestly not sure what the last romcom nominee was but it’s been a while. Also a comedy film hasn’t won Best Picture since Annie Hall. So despite its rapturous reviews, The Big Sick would still have to overcome a lot of hurtles to find itself among the nominees.
13. Battle of the Sexes
Directed by Little Miss Sunshine‘s Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris, Battle of the Sexes chronicles Billie Jean King’s tennis match again Bobby Riggs. While receiving positive word out of the festivals, its early release and muted box office response will likely make it difficult to stand out by the end of the year. But it does feature some terrific performances by Steve Carell and last years Best Actress winner, Emma Stone.
14. Blade Runner 2049
While 2017 hasn’t been a particularly strong year for story in film– it’s almost November and I’ve yet to see a film I feel is unreservedly great– it has been a stellar year for genre in film. Starting with Split and Get Out in the horror genre and continuing on with Logan, Baby Driver, and Wonder Woman in the action/super hero genre we have had some really great blockbusters this year. That continues with the impeccably crafted Blade Runner 2049 directed by last year nominee, Denis Villenueve. While sequels to sci-fi cult classics don’t often receive Oscar nominations, that was before Mad Max: Fury Road and many are predicting Blade Runner 2049 will follow in its footsteps. I’m less optimistic. I think it will inevitably get nominations (and maybe even wins) for cinematography and production design, that’s where its real Oscar chances stop.
15. Wonder Woman
Same too for the aforementioned Wonder Woman. Though 20th Century Fox is mounting a full Oscar campaign, I just don’t know if the Academy is ready to nominate a super hero film for Best Picture. And even if they are, should it be Wonder Woman? Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the film and I think Patty Jenkins should have been a Academy Award Nominated Director for a decade and a half now, but as a film it doesn’t stand out enough. Who knows though, Deadpool came really close to getting a Best Picture nomination last year and Wonder Woman is about twice the movie that was so we’ll see.
Other Contenders: All the Money in the World, Downsizing, I, Tonya, Detroit, The Greatest Showman
1. Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
2. Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
3. Luca Guadagnino – Call Me by Your Name
4. Joe Wright – Darkest Hour
5. Steven Spielberg – The Post
Traditionally, Best Director and Best Picture were intrinsically linked. If you film was up for Best Picture, chances are you’d compete as Best Director. Perhaps this is because oftentimes if the film wins Best Picture, the director doesn’t automatically win the Oscar. Best Picture Oscars are received by the producers of that film. If a director of a film is also a producer, then they would win an Oscar for Best Picture like Steve McQueen did when 12 Years a Slave won. But last year when Moonlight won, even though he spoke afterwards, Barry Jenkins did not win a Best Picture Oscar because he was not one of the three producers of Moonlight (he did still win for Best Adapted Screenplay so he didn’t go home empty handed).
So rewarding Best Director in tandem with Best Picture makes a lot of sense. Recently however we’ve seen a trend where the director of the eventual Best Picture winner, while nominated, does not claim Best Director as well. This has happened four out of the last five years with La La Land‘s Damien Chazelle winning over Barry Jenkins last year, Alejandro G. Iñárritu beating Tom McCarthy when Spotlight won, Cuáron toppling 12 Years a Slave‘s Steve McQueen with Gravity and Ang Lee winning for Life of Pi as Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Argo. This, again, could be coincidence or the new normal.
In recent years, the Academy has opted for truly breathtaking and occasionally highly visual effects-ridden direction which at this moment looks really good for Christopher Nolan (even if Dunkirk doesn’t end up taking Picture). If the Academy goes ham for The Shape of Water it could also bring del Toro to the stage which would be particularly sweet since he’s the last of the self-christened “Three Amigos” (with Cuáron and Iñárritu) yet to win this award. Spielberg just has to announce a project to be in contention and considering his urgency to put this one out, there’s a pretty good chance he could end up here. He could even win a third trophy. As long as the film is good. Guadagnino and Wright helmed two favorites, likely to score numerous nominations across the board. This should work in their favor, but there are many others biting at their heels.
6. Martin McDonaugh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri
7. Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
8. Jordan Peele – Get Out
9. Dee Rees – Mudbound
10. Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
If any of the above fail to ignite the interests of the Academy, there’s a whole stock of newcomers ready to take one of their coveted spots. Only Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA) has been nominated in this category before, but I could see a scenario where any one of the above get in. This is a particularly exciting prospect if its one of the ladies. Discrepancy between top tier male directors and their female counterparts is downright embarrassing. Sure Katherine Bigelow was the first woman to win, but another woman has yet to be nominated since. Though it’s painfully unlikely, this year we could actually have two women nominees! (A shameful record).
At this moment its much more likely for McDonaugh or PTA to sneak into the nominations (one is the helmer of the Toronto Audience Award and the other is a respected auteur with seemingly very Academy-friendly fare), but the ladies still have a chance! Greta Gerwig‘s campaign is just starting and if Lady Bird continues its passionate support it could happen. Kathryn Bigelow has another well-reviewed movie out this year with Detroit that could put her back in the race, but it doesn’t seem like it will be able to maintain the buzz. Again I’d be way more optimistic about Dee Rees chances if anyone besides Netflix was putting out Mudbound. It would be pretty incredible if she were able to make history like that, but until it happens or Mudbound starts picking up support, its not looking likely. Patty Jenkins accomplished numerous incredible feats in front of and behind the camera this year. If there were justice in the Academy, she would have been a nominee 14 years ago with Monster. As such I don’t think here Wonder Woman chances are strong, but I’d be pretty okay if it happened. The one person from this level that I think has the best chance of jumping into the top five however is Jordan Peele. He would mark only the fifth black directing nominee, but Get Out seems to have the support to go the distance. Lets all keep our fingers cross for him.
Other Contenders: Denis Villenueve – Blade Runner 2049, Patty Jenkins – Wonder Woman, Sean Baker – The Florida Project
1. Gary Oldman – Dunkirk
2. Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
3. Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
4. Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger
5. Tom Hanks – The Post
In every year, there’s one or two categories where the race is over before it starts– where a performance (or film) is just so good, it becomes the de facto winner months out. This year there are very few categories like that, maybe only one. But Best Actor is the one. Based on all reviews and reactions so far Gary Oldman is basically a lock to win Best Actor. And I have no problem with that. Oldman is a previous nominee who’s work is of the calibre that he’s developed an overdue status. Actors at this level often just need that one role that is good enough to reward them (think Julianne Moore in Still Alice or J.K. Simmons in Whiplash).
The only one who even has a chance to challenge him is Daniel Day-Lewis and that’s because he’s won an Oscar for two of his last three roles. He also happens to be maybe the best actor alive and he’s retiring. Even so, his performance would have to be pretty revolutionary to be handed a fourth Oscar, third in 10 years. It’s certainly in his capability, but based on the trailer the role doesn’t seem to require that of him. The rest should just enjoy being nominees. Despite his young age, Timothée Chalamet is getting rapturous reviews for his performance in Call Me by Your Name and will likely hear his name called on nomination morning. Gyllenhaal has been doing world class work consistently for a couple years now, yet none has propelled him to his second nomination. He’s supposed to be better than ever in Stronger so hopefully he can finally snag another nom. Tom Hanks has been great recently, but he’s holding onto that position mostly due to clout at this moment. While being absolutely great in many roles in recent years, Hanks hasn’t received a nomination since 2001’s Cast Away so either they’re still tired of him or he’s overdue for a come back. Spielberg is good horse to bet on when you want to have a come back.
6. Andrew Garfield – Breathe
7. James Franco – The Disaster Artist
8. Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.
9. Joaquin Phoenix – You Were Never Really Here
10. Hugh Jackman – The Greatest Showman (or Logan)
This is the third year in a row where the Best Actress race is significantly more exciting and competitive than its male counterpart. While there’s some great work being done, very little is at the level that traditionally garners nominations. Last year’s nominee, Andrew Garfield could be back with Breathe a super Oscar-y role where he’s paralyzed and must overcome hardships for the sake of his love for his family. Should Hanks not live up or Stronger fail to make a mark, this would be an easy performance to vote for. Franco is better than ever in the self-directed The Disaster Artist but I’m having trouble remember the last time a comedic role was nominated for Best Actor. Surely we’ve had someone since Roberto Benigni in 1998… right? Denzel almost won last year, and there could be a lot of left over love. After premiering at Toronto to mixed reviews, the film makers took Roman J. Israel, Esq. and re-edited it to better highlight Denzels performance which could be enough to get him in… or it could fall even more flat. We’ll see. Phoenix may be the best actor alive without an Oscar currently and he top on that list of just needing the right performance to claim a deserved win. Is You Were Never Really Here the right one? Buzz has been muted for a while now. Hugh Jackman got stellar reviews for his super hero swan song Logan as wells as having a big musical coming out around Christmas. If it’s good, Jackman could be looking at nomination number two. If it’s not, don’t expect any surprise nominations for Logan as much as it might deserve them.
Other Contenders: Christian Bale – Hostiles, Matt Damon – Downsizing, Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
1. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
2. Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri
3. Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
4. Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
5. Meryl Streep – The Post
One of the most consistent things coming out of the festivals this fall was how strong the actress category is this year. This has been consistent the last couple years, but that doesn’t make it any less delightful. I have these exceptionally talented ladies separated, but at this point in the race any one of the ten of them could win. I give the edge currently to Sally Hawkins who not only delivers a complex, wordless performance in The Shape of Water but got stellar reviews for Maudie earlier this year as well. Frances McDormand gives a scorched earth performance in Three Billboards but since she already won and Billboards isn’t getting quite the positive mentions as Shape of Water I think she’ll get her third nomination but not her second win. Also going for their third respective nominations are the incredible Saoirse Ronan as the title character of Lady Bird and Jessica Chastain as the title character in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game. Meryl is here because she’s basically nominated every year and it’s becoming foolish not to choose her, especially since she’s working with Spielberg and Hanks for the first time. Not unlike Day-Lewis, Streep has three Oscars and really only needs the right role for her fourth. It could be this one.
6. Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
7. Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes
8. Kate Winslet – Wonder Wheel
9. Annette Benning – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
10. Diane Kruger – In the Fade
Moving on, Margot Robbie has received career-best citings for her performance as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya which premiered at Toronto and was picked up by Neon, a relatively new competitor at the Oscar game. If they are able to run an effective campaign, Robbie has a real shot, but that’s a big if at this point. Last years reigning queen, Emma Stone is receiving equal and even better reviews for her performance this year as Billie Jean King is Battle of the Sexes. Many said she was a surefire nominee, but her buzz has already begun to fade. She could still make it in, but it’s unlikely she’ll get much further than that this year. Kate Winslet is going for her eighth nomination for her first collaboration with Woody Allen. She’s getting best in show reviews, but the film is getting a lukewarm reception. She also has to fight against any backlash that could arise just from acting in a film for Woody Allen. Annette Benning is one of the best actresses working and absolutely in the league of those who only need one more “right” role to claim the prize. She was not only the presumed runner-up to both of Hilary Swank’s Oscars, but I believe she should have been nominated and won last year too for 20th Century Women. She’s one of our best actresses and it’s only a matter of time. Unfortunately I’m not sure Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is quite big enough. Maybe next year. One of the more exciting performances in this category is Diane Kruger for In the Fade. It’s a German performance that won her the best actress award at Cannes. The film is Germany’s official foreign language submission so there’s a possibility that Kruger could still build enough buzz to be nominated for this lauded performance.
Other Contenders: Jennifer Lawrence – mother!, Judi Dench – Victoria and Abdul, Michelle Williams – All the Money in the World
Best Supporting Actor
1. Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
2. Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri
3. Armie Hammer – Call Me by Your Name
4. Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me by Your Name
5. Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Like Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor is currently a bit of a crap shoot. There are probably about a dozen nomination-buzzy performances, but no one seems to be quite sure who the nominated five will be. The consensus does seem to be that Willem Dafoe is in the lead for his warm and wonderful performance in The Florida Project. Dafoe is a well-liked actor who’s been respected in the industry for a number of decades, yet he’s never won an Oscar. Right now, he’s looking like he has a pretty good shot. The one person that could still come in and steal it however is Sam Rockwell. He’s been a favorite to get a nomination for a while now, but never seems to be able to make the cut. Finally it looks like he’s found the right role to showcase his talents and it could absolutely bring him up to the podium in victory. Both Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg give passionate, memorable performances in Call Me by Your Name. Chances are they don’t both get in. A film hasn’t received two Supporting Actor nominations since 1991’s Bugsy, but if Call Me by Your Name strikes a passionate fanbase, that records could be updated. Same too with Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon from The Shape of Water. Both are respected previous nominees and either would be deserving of the recognition.
6. Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water
7. Idris Elba – Molly’s Game
8. Jason Mitchell – Mudbound
9. Ben Mendelsohn – Darkest Hour
10. Mark Rylance – Dunkirk
If Mudbound defies the limitations of its distributor and becomes a real contender, expect Jason Mitchell to have a good shot at a nomination. He received a lot of best in show praises and still has a bit of afterglow from last years Straight Outta Compton. Idris Elba nearly received a nomination for Beasts of No Nation two years ago so that leftover love may be enough to push him in, especially if Chastain is nominated. If she doesn’t get in, he doesn’t have much chance but lots of people are still itching to finally get Academy Award Nominee in front of his name. Ben Mendelsohn doesn’t have a large or showy part in Darkest Hour but he doesn’t need much screen time to bring his particular brand of seething bravado to a compelling crescendo. He’s won an Emmy or two the last couple years, it’s easy to think an Oscar isn’t outside his grasp. Rylance won this award two years ago and while it’s not a particularly large or showy performance, neither was the one he won for. He has the distinction of being the sole potential nominee from the current frontrunner, Dunkirk. Though it’s not likely he gets in, this wouldn’t be the first time this talented thesp has surprised.
Kevin Spacey – All the Money in the World, Patrick Stewart – Logan, Mark Hamill – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Best Supporting Actress
1. Allison Janney – I, Tonya
2. Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
3. Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
4. Melissa Leo – Novitiate
4. Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
If I were to guess one category that would look the most different from what I currently have listed, it would be Supporting Actress. I’m not altogether confident two or even three of these lovely ladies won’t be replaced with others come nomination morning. Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf however are fully expected to earn their first nominations. These are two of our finest actresses who made names for themselves in decades of solid TV work. Anyone who saw Janney in the West Wing (for which she won four Emmy’s in two categories) or Metcalf in Getting On know they have the goods to deliver. The only real question between the two of them is which is going to win. I have Janney with the edge currently but if Neon, the film’s distributor, fumbles the campaign, Metcalf could easily reap the benefits. I am a little wary that they’re both play a slightly antagonistic mother to their respective film’s lead character, but unless their performances are similar (not something I’ve heard) I don’t see it getting in the way. Octavia Spencer made history last year when she became the first Academy Award winning black actress to receive a second nomination. It’s kind of ridiculous it took this long but if things go her way, she could further extend that record this year for her lauded performances in The Shape of Water. Reviews are kind but not transcendent and I could still see her edged out by a more competative performance. Leo and Hunter are both respected previous nominees that give fantastic performances, but I would also say neither have significant buzz. While they maintain in the top five currently, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came along to displace one or both of them.
6. Tatiana Maslany – Stronger
7. Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
8. Michelle Pfeiffer – mother!
9. Claire Foy – Breathe
10. Kristen Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour
One performance that I have a feeling will get in is Tatiana Maslany from Stronger. She plays the supportive girlfriend role (and Academy favorite) but, based on early reviews, she still manages to create a compelling three-dimensional character . Anyone who’s watched Orphan Black knows the magical alchemy that is Maslany’s talent. If the film continues to gain buzz, she could really benefit. Michelle Pfieffer does her best work in years in Darren Aranofsky’s mother! The film wasn’t particularly well received but has some passionate fans, including many in Hollywood. It is possibly the best made film of the year and if the Academy wants to send unintelligent audiences a message, they could really get behind it. If they do, Pfeiffer is a no-brainer. Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan both have stand out roles in Mudbound and with the right push could find themselves in contention. That, again, comes down to Netflix and the campaign they mount. Claire Foy, Emmy nominee for The Crown plays Andrew Garfields supportive wife in Breathe. From the trailers it reminds me a lot of Felicity Jones’ performance in The Theory of Everything which did bring her a nomination. The Academy loves their supportive wives. Which is why Kristen Scott Thomas has a chance here as well playing Winston Churchill’s. Reviews say her screen-time isn’t great, but she’s a great, overdue actress, so don’t count her out.
Other Contenders: Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread, Hong Chau – Downsizing, Carey Mulligan – Mudbound
Thanks to everyone who read this far or read at all. The Oscar Race is always one of my absolute favorite parts of the year and this year’s unpredictability just makes it all the more exciting. Lets hope that translates into surprising but deserving winners. We only have to wait until March to find out. A lot can happen between now and then. I’ll be here to cover it as the race evolves.
Thoughts? Questions? Critiques? Let me hear about them in the comments or on Twitter!
Author: Radcliff Weir, @radcliffweir