Oscar politics and predictions

Nothing this year is likely to be as bizarre as last year’s mishap when the presenters mistakenly announced that La La Land and not Moonlight had won, but there could be a few surprises.

Oscar trophies (photo credit: TNS)
Oscar trophies
(photo credit: TNS)
It’s that time of year again, and you can watch the broadcast of the Academy Awards live at 3:30 a.m. on March 5 on YES 1. Fashion mavens will want to watch the red carpet coverage that begins at midnight.
On March 6 at 9:30 p.m. on YES 1, there will be a rebroadcast of the ceremony, which will also be available on YES VOD.
Both HOT and YES are featuring special programs of Oscar-winning movies before the ceremony.
In this era of #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and the 50/50 movement (a push to address male dominance of various industries), it may seem as if the actual quality of the movies nominated for Academy Awards has been pushed even farther back than usual.
There was controversy in recent years over the low numbers of minorities getting Oscar nods — the #OscarsSoWhite movement — and this year there is a fair amount of diversity among the nominees. More importantly, many good movies are getting recognition this year. The most interesting, original movie of the bunch, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which tells the story of a young black man who goes to visit his fiancee’s family in Connecticut and finds his life menaced by evil forces, mixes biting social commentary, black comedy (no pun intended) and horror. But it’s nominated not because its writer/ director is black but because it’s good. But would actress turned writer/ director Greta Gerwig’s quirky, coming-of-age drama Lady Bird have gotten five Oscar nods in another year? It’s impossible to know. In any case, this year, Lady Bird is front and center.
The truth is that the Oscars have always been a barometer of whatever was trendy at the time voters filled out their ballots. How else can you explain the Sylvester Stallone extravaganza Rocky beating out Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver in 1977, or Dances with Wolves winning over Scorsese’s Goodfellas in 1991?
In recent years, the Oscars have become even more complicated because of the decision to open up the Best Picture category to potentially 10 nominees instead of the traditional five. Doctoral dissertations could be written on the changes to the voting system engendered by this new ballot, but few will really care to dwell on this minutia.
Nothing this year is likely to be as bizarre as last year’s mishap when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced that La La Land and not Moonlight had won, but there could be a few surprises.
BEST PICTURE: The movie this year that is uniquely placed to turn the #MeToo, anti-Trump zeitgeist to Oscar gold is Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a drama with comic overtones about a mother whose daughter is murdered and who posts notices on the titular billboards to nudge the police into solving the crime.
There is much about the film that doesn’t fit the mode of an Oscar winner. It is rife with black comedy, at times almost magic realism, that isn’t consistent with the kind of earnest, “message” movie that tends to win Oscars. Perhaps the most daunting obstacle in its Oscar ascent is that its director, who is British and is known for comedy, did not receive a Best Director nomination.
There have only been three films that have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. The most recent one was Argo in 2012, when Ben Affleck did not get a nod for directing.
But Three Billboards has some important facts on its side. It has won a great deal of awards, notably several Screen Actors Guild Awards, which are especially predictive of the Oscars, since actors make up the largest branch of the Academy.
The film has a stunning performance by Frances McDormand as an ornery, avenging mother, and it has a theme — shaming the authorities for inaction in a teen’s death — that plays right into today’s headlines. And it has a you-go-girl sentiment embodied by a mature actress, who often elicits cheers from audiences with her toughness.
The biggest challenge to Three Billboards will come from The Shape of Water, a fable critical of Cold War-era conformism and paranoia that takes the form of a love story between a mousy but wise mute cleaning woman who falls for a sea creature kept in a US government lab for use as a secret weapon against the Russians. Still with me? It was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who should win the Best Director award and who is known for his skill with fantastic creatures, in such films as Pan’s Labyrinth.
The only other nominated film that stands a chance of winning is Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is too low-key for Oscar gold. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is too high-minded, while Darkest Hour by Joe Wright is an actor’s showcase.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is an intricate historical drama without an obvious hero. Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is too literary for Best Picture. Steven Spielberg’s The Post is impressive but not his most rousing film.
WINNER: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
BEST DIRECTOR: If they want to go with a woman — and they might — it will be Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. If they want to go with an African American — and they might — it will be Jordan Peele. But there is a certain fondness among the Academy members for Mexicans who have mastered American movie-making, and in that case it will be Del Toro.
WINNER: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
BEST ACTRESS: There are some terrific performances this year, but one outshines them all. Meryl Streep makes Kay Graham compelling and sympathetic in Steven Spielberg’s The Post; Margot Robbie brings out Tonya Harding’s grit in I, Tonya; Saoirse Ronan wins hearts in Lady Bird; and Sally Hawkins makes her waifish heroine believable in The Shape of Water. But Frances McDormand in Three Billboards fulfills the one requirement that matters most for an Oscar win: After you see her, you can’t imagine anyone else in the part.
Winner: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
BEST ACTOR: Forget the fact that Gary Oldman is arguably the best of the recent fictional Winston Churchills — a distinguished group of actors that includes John Lithgow and Brian Cox — Oscar science says he’s the winner. He’s playing a real person, this real person is heroic and noble, and this real person had a disability — mental illness, since he suffered from depression. These factors are what win Oscars. Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out and Timothée Chalamet from Call Me by Your Name are both very young and will have many more opportunities to win. Denzel Washington who starred in Roman J. Israel, Esq. already has two Oscars, and Daniel Day-Lewis, who is in Phantom Thread, has three.
Winner: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Allison Janney is the favorite in the Best Supporting Actress category for her performance as Tonya Harding’s crazy, demanding mother in I, Tonya. Janney has had many terrific character roles in movies but is best known for her television work, for which she has won six Emmys. She already won the Golden Globe for I, Tonya, and this year it is the well-liked Janney’s turn to win an Oscar.
Winner: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: There was a great deal of controversy over the character Sam Rockwell plays in Three Billboards, but there is no arguing about the fact that he turned this racist cop into the most interesting person in the film.
Winner: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: This is perhaps the most competitive category this year. There is no question that Get Out is the most original screenplay, but it seems likely Oscar voters will decide that Three Billboards is the best original screenplay.
Winner: Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Call Me By Your Name is a gay, Jewish love story and an adaption of an acclaimed novel by Andre Aciman. The screenplay was written by a veteran of prestige filmmaking, James Ivory, who once had the courage to stand up to Harvey Weinstein for his mercenary business practices.
Winner: James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: We tend to watch this category here, and we would have done so more closely this year had Israeli Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot gotten a nod. The remaining films, Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul, an offbeat love story in an odd setting; Andre Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, a look at a bitter custody battle; Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult, a look at the complexities of the political reality in Lebanon; and Ruben Östlund’s The Square, a sophisticated comedy that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, are all fine films, but Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman has the advantage of a trendy storyline about a transsexual.
Winner: A Fantastic Woman