There has been plenty of criticism in past years that the Academy Awards honor movies that don’t really connect with the movie-going masses. There have also been even more noteworthy protests against the lack of minority representation in nominations and awards at the Oscars.
Now, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has taken steps to broaden their membership to improve the odds against “whitewashing” the nominations, the past two seasons have shown some interesting changes toward honoring a slate of films that were both critically acclaimed and big hits.
With so many great selections from which to choose (well, except “Phantom Thread” and “Call Me,” both of which I hated), here are my choices for this year’s races in the six key categories.
Should Win: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s brilliant take on an anguished mother who turns her small down upside down in a quest to find her daughter’s killer features three of this year’s greatest performances (Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell) and perhaps ever, complementing a masterpiece of mood, emotion and redemption.
Will Win: “The Shape of Water.” A truly original film that combines sweeping romance with a sci-fi thriller that provides edge-of-your-seat tension, “Shape” has more nominations than any film this year. That’s usually a sign that a film’s support base crosses a wide swath of Academy voters and that nomination total is pretty much unstoppable.
Dark Horse: “Get Out.” No other nomination this year was a bigger surprise than this one, as the Academy rarely recognizes thrillers, horror or comedies, and this one is a brilliant combination of all three. Combined with a timely race-relations message, this could be a surprise winner, but is mostly likely to earn its writer-director Jordan Peele the Best Original Screenplay honor.
Should Win: Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) gave a towering performance as Winston Churchill, utterly transforming himself physically while delivering an intensely emotional take on one of the great leaders of modern history at his most decisive moment.
Will Win: Gary Oldman.
Dark Horse: Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”) gave an annoyingly mannered performance in an overbearing film featuring characters with ridiculous names (he plays Reynolds Woodcock!). But he’s also announced that this is his last role before permanently retiring, so the Academy could very well give this iconic performer their equivalent of the ultimate gold watch.
Should Win: Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards”) gave a towering performance of steely resolve, playing a woman who channels her grief into righteous revenge while occasionally revealing a glimmer of softer sadness.
Will Win: Frances McDormand.
Dark Horse: “Lady Bird” star Saiorse Ronan is in her 20s, giving her decades to win an Oscar, so Meryl Streep could take this home for starring in the liberal message-movie “The Post” just so she can give a fiercely political speech.
Best Supporting Actor
Should Win: Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”) has the greatest character arc in that brilliant film, portraying a racist redneck cop who is emotionally shaken into doing the right thing when tragedy hits a friend. His ultimate act of near-martyrdom is a shocking and powerful turn that marks this as a performance for the ages.
Will Win: Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) is a beloved industry veteran who played one of the kindest, most quietly noble characters in ages as the manager of a cheap motel who has to look out for dozens of neglected children living there. “Project” was a film of quiet beauty that was otherwise overlooked, so it will be honored here.
Dark Horse: At age 88, Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”) stepped into a role already played by the disgraced Kevin Spacey and pulled off an impressive performance on very short notice. The Academy may vote for him both out of respect for that achievement and as a final slap to Spacey, who has become a hopeless industry pariah.
Best Supporting Actress
Should Win: Alison Janney (“I, Tonya”) delivered a poisonous yet funny portrayal as controversial figure skater Tony Harding’s mom, complete with an utterly bizarre bird on her shoulder. Spewing hate hilariously, she made an unlikeable character eminently watchable.
Will Win: Alison Janney.
Dark Horse: Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) delivered a beautiful nuanced performance as a middle-aged Catholic mom struggling to relate to her complex teenage daughter in a film that got everything right about the complicated yet loving relationships between parents and teens.
Should Win: Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards”) accomplished the rare feat of directing three actors to nominations, yet was inexplicably left out of the nominations. So, out of the field that remains, Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) has the strongest chance since his movie was a masterful meld of multiple genres.
Will Win: Del Toro has been a highly respected director for the past decade or so since “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and outdid himself here with a film that was richly entertaining on every level.
Dark Horse: Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) came out of nowhere (aka Comedy Central) to stun the world with his brilliantly calibrated mix of horror and humor, and adventurous voters may choose to give him the ultimate reward. n