The Shape of Gold: 2018 Oscar Nomination Predictions

oscars statues

by Ken Bakely

More than any other year since I’ve started following the awards season race, there has been a lack of consensus. To put it in more common terms, the 2017 awards derby is a madhouse. Even as the nominations close in, frontrunners have been few and far between. Ask five different prognosticators what will win Best Picture, and you’ll get five different answers.

But, we still must muddle through the chaos and produce our predictions. And here are mine, as educated a guess as anyone else’s. Not only are good picks based on the films themselves, but from following the precursor awards (guilds, groups, Globes, etc.), and having an ear on the ground in the industry (you must have friends in low places, so to speak, or at least, know where to find the relevant chatter). As always, let me reprint my annual awards season mantra:

“To predict the outcome of award shows, you don’t need to have seen all of the nominees, you just need to have seen award shows before.”

I’ll be repeating my approach to this column from last year: instead of running through an exhaustive list of all 24 categories, I’ll stick to predictions for a handful of major races, providing more in-depth commentary for each one. Each category’s predictions will be ranked in order of how likely it is that each title or individual will be nominated. Every category will also have one or two “biggest threats” – potential, less likely nominees which could still find themselves in the mix on Tuesday morning.

UPDATE (January 23): I have added a “reaction” section to each category now, detailing my accuracy score and my thoughts on what ended up getting nominated. These comments will be in blue.

BEST PICTURE

Rank Film
1 Lady Bird
2 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3 The Shape of Water
4 Dunkirk
5 Get Out
6 The Post
7 Call Me by Your Name
8 I, Tonya
9 The Big Sick
10 Molly’s Game

BIGGEST THREATS: Darkest Hour and Wonder Woman

COMMENTS: What was long known as a “year without a frontrunner” is still without a frontrunner. The reading of the room right now seems to favor Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but both films have weaknesses – the former might be too slight to garner the relevant support, and the latter has a backlash brewing. It could elevate one at the cost of the other… or could allow another movie to win the day altogether. The Shape of Water seems to be having a pretty good time at the moment. Spots 1 through 7 feel like “safe” nominees, with the next three filling out the remainder of the available slots, depending on how the math works.

REACTIONS: 7 for 9. I had a suspicion that Darkest Hour had an outside shot at a Best Picture nomination, but I had no idea the Academy had such widespread respect for Phantom Thread. This year is going right down the wire. Right now, you could make a case for three or four of these movies to win the big prize.


BEST DIRECTOR

Rank Nominee Film
1 Guillermo del Toro The Shape of Water
2 Martin McDonagh Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3 Greta Gerwig Lady Bird
4 Christopher Nolan Dunkirk
5 Jordan Peele Get Out

BIGGEST THREAT: Luca Guadagnino – Call Me by Your Name

COMMENTS:  Once you get past Del Toro and McDonagh, this category is a tossup. The five nominees for the Directors Guild award – those two plus Gerwig, Nolan, and Peele – seem like a solid bunch, but it’s very rare for there to be a perfect carryover from DGA to Oscar. There are many candidates for the vulnerable slots – Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World), Steven Spielberg (The Post), Sean Baker (The Florida Project), Luca Guadagnino, and Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049), to name a few. The narrative has now been for a few weeks that Del Toro is a near-lock for the award, so the branch may be more diversified in their picks down the ballot. Come Tuesday morning, we could be looking at a roster here far different than any of us are predicting.

REACTIONS: 4 for 5. McDonagh out, Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread in. I wondered if we’d see typical deviation from the DGA’s nominees, but who knew it would be Anderson – taking out McDonagh, no lessOnce again, we all underestimated this movie’s power. Regardless, this race appears to hold del Toro as the safe frontrunner.


BEST ACTOR

Rank Nominee Film
1 Gary Oldman Darkest Hour
2 Daniel Day-Lewis Phantom Thread
3 Timothée Chalamet Call Me by Your Name
4 Daniel Kaluuya Get Out
5 Denzel Washington Roman J. Israel, Esq.

BIGGEST THREAT: James Franco – The Disaster Artist

COMMENTS: Gary Oldman is the presumptive frontrunner, but this category is definitely more complicated than it seems. Although I have Day-Lewis, in his supposedly final role, as the second most likely to get a nomination, I don’t think he has much of a chance of actually winning. Further on, Timothée Chalamet reminds me of Eddie Redmayne on the awards campaign a few years ago – a charming, young upstart in a critically acclaimed role who’s using his charisma to network all over the industry, while the veteran frontrunner has taken a late start to the circuit. Redmayne wound up with the Oscar. Will that be enough to turn the tide again? Maybe not, but I’d advise you to watch this space.

REACTIONS: Perfect score. Many thought that James Franco would take that fifth slot, but I figured there would be more sympathy for Denzel Washington, considering that many are still disappointed at his loss last year. This one feels increasingly locked-up. I’m sticking with an Oldman win here, unless I have legitimate reason to believe otherwise. (And no, my strong personal preference for Chalamet’s performance doesn’t count.)


BEST ACTRESS

Rank Nominee Film
1 Frances McDormand Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2 Saoirse Ronan Lady Bird
3 Sally Hawkins The Shape of Water
4 Margot Robbie I, Tonya
5 Meryl Streep The Post

BIGGEST THREAT: Judi Dench – Victoria and Abdul

COMMENTS: This is probably the safest feeling category of the major prizes. You won’t find much deviation from this shortlist. However, I hear rumblings that there’s a small contingent of the that Academy likes Victoria and Abdul. If enough of them are in the acting branch, and took note of Judi Dench, something could brew there. Additionally, don’t discount the hype that Molly’s Game has been subject to, and Jessica Chastain’s performance therein.

REACTIONS: Perfect score. There was never an imminent risk of massive variance from these five. McDormand is still ahead.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Rank Nominee Film
1 Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2 Willem Dafoe The Florida Project
3 Richard Jenkins The Shape of Water
4 Christopher Plummer All the Money in the World
5 Woody Harrelson Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BIGGEST THREAT: Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes

COMMENTS: An odd resurgence (odd as in, it seems to have come from nowhere), has led Battle of the Sexes from obscurity following its innocuous September release, to the peripheries of awards consideration. Carell has appeared in the lineups of a few precursors, and it would be foolish to think that he doesn’t have a shot here. In other words, Plummer and Harrelson look especially precarious in their positions – not least of which because, in addition to the abovementioned X factor, Plummer’s movie came out at the last minute, and Harrelson is competing for votes with another actor from the same film in this category (Sam Rockwell).

REACTIONS: Perfect score. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri becomes the first movie since 1991’s Bugsy to double dip in the Supporting Actor category. The SAG Awards last weekend proved that Rockwell can consistently win, even when competing for votes with one of his costars. Therefore, he starts off this final stretch as the key favorite.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Rank Nominee Film
1 Allison Janney I, Tonya
2 Laurie Metcalf Lady Bird
3 Holly Hunter The Big Sick
4 Octavia Spencer The Shape of Water
5 Mary J. Blige Mudbound

BIGGEST THREAT: Hong Chau – Downsizing

COMMENTS: Initially heavily favoring Laurie Metcalf for her outstanding work in Lady Bird, the race has quickly turned into a dead heat between her and Allison Janney. The winner of the Screen Actors Guild award this weekend could provide some much-needed clarity on how this race will go, but beyond those two, the other prospective nominees in this category are nowhere near locks.

REACTIONS: 4 for 5. Hunter missed, Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread got in. Daniel Day-Lewis carried in a lot nominations for Phantom Thread on his coattails, and this supporting performance was one of them. Can you believe that Manville has never been nominated for an Oscar before? How is that even possible?


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Rank Film Screenwriter(s)
1 Lady Bird Greta Gerwig
2 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Martin McDonagh
3 Get Out Jordan Peele
4 The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro
5 I, Tonya Steven Rogers

BIGGEST THREAT: The Big SickEmily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani

COMMENTS: Any original screenplay with a prayer at a Best Picture nomination is vying to show up here. Some will and some won’t, but will they be the ones we think?

REACTIONS: 4 for 5. I, Tonya out, The Big Sick in. I really went in on I, Tonya‘s reported late surge, but between this and Best Picture, it appears that I may have been too bullish. This race seems very open – Lady Bird, Get Out, and Three Billboards all have legitimate shots.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Rank Film Screenwriter(s)
1 Call Me by Your Name James Ivory
2 Mudbound Dee Rees and Virgil Williams
3 Molly’s Game Aaron Sorkin
4 The Disaster Artist Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
5 Wonder Stephen Chbosky, Steven Conrad, and Jack Thorne

BIGGEST THREAT: Logan – Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green

COMMENTS: I very highly doubt, at this stage, that this Oscar will go anywhere besides Call Me by Your Name or Mudbound, and the race is quickly sliding towards the former. The other nominees, whatever they may be, will have to play the Just Happy To Be Nominated game. If Logan gets in here, it will be the first superhero film to have an Oscar nominated script.

REACTIONS: 4 for 5. Wonder out, Logan in. That script makes aforementioned Oscar history, but James Ivory is still the heavy favorite. In the increasingly likely event that Call Me by Your Name wins nothing else on Oscar night, this award can serve as a consolation prize for the movie, and Ivory’s career achievement honor.


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Rank Film Country of Origin
1 A Fantastic Woman Chile
2 The Square Sweden
3 In the Fade Germany
4 Foxtrot Israel
5 Félicité Senegal

BIGGEST THREAT: Loveless (Russia)

COMMENTS: The convoluted and confusing nomination process can often make predicting this category a fool’s errand. While I did go five-for-five last year, it was more of a fluke than a sign of any great insight into the race.

REACTIONS: 2 for 5. In the Fade, Foxtrot, and Félicité out; Loveless (Russia), On Body and Soul (Hungary), and The Insult (Lebanon) in. Total collapse for my score here. I think A Fantastic Woman could prevail, but we’ll have to see.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Rank Film Composer
1 The Shape of Water Alexandre Desplat
2 Dunkirk Hans Zimmer
3 Darkest Hour Dario Marianelli
4 Phantom Thread Jonny Greenwood
5 Star Wars: The Last Jedi John Williams

BIGGEST THREAT: The Post – John Williams

COMMENTS: “Never discount John Williams” seems to be a good rule here, and it’s possible he could get in for one or both of his major projects. Additionally, I suspect that Darkest Hour may be more popular with the Academy than the conventional wisdom suggests (which argues it’s an Oldman-only affair), so expect it to pop up in more than a few technical categories.

REACTIONS: 4 for 5. Darkest Hour out, Three Billboards in. The Churchill biopic showed up in a lot of technical categories, but this wasn’t one of them.


BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Rank Song Film
1 Remember Me Coco
2 This is Me The Greatest Showman
3 Prayers for this World Cries from Syria
4 Evermore Beauty and the Beast
5 Mystery of Love Call Me by Your Name

BIGGEST THREAT: Stand Up for Something” – Marshall

COMMENTS: Here’s another tough-to-predict category with a convoluted nomination process. Everything here is based on precursor buzz, from the few awards shows that have an Original Song category, or what could be charitably described as some educated guesses. (Note that clicking on a song title will take you to a YouTube video where you can listen to the selection.)

REACTIONS: 3 for 5. “Prayers for this World” and “Evermore” out, “Stand Up for Something” and “Mighty River” (Mudbound) in. “Mystery of Love” probably won’t win, but “Academy Award nominee Sufjan Stevens” is just a wonderful phrase.


SUPERLATIVES:

OSCARS-SO-WHITE METER (percentage of white nominees, should every predicted actor and director in the top five categories get in): 80%

O’NEAL-PLUMMER INDEX (average age of acting nominees, should every actor predicted for a nomination, get nominated): 52.3 years (ranging from Chalamet, age 22, to index namesake Plummer, age 88).


And there are my predictions in select categories for the 2018 Oscar nominations. More than anything, this feels like a year where upsets will rule the day, so don’t get comfortable with the grand narratives or supposed safe spots. When I return to this post next week to tally my score and comment on the results, it’s possible we may be playing a whole new ballgame.

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2018, in a live broadcast slated to air at 5:30AM Pacific Standard Time.

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