By Noah Gittell
This year at the Oscars, anything can happen. It’s a lesson we learned last year, when, in what was one of the most exciting moments in Oscar history, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway gave Best Picture to the wrong film, “La La Land,” before a small man with a headset microphone came onstage to correctly award “Moonlight.”
The victory of the fiercely independent “Moonlight” over “La La Land,” which ticks off so many Oscar boxes, wasn’t just an isolated moment of chaos. It signifies a shift in the character of the Academy itself. For the last few years, Academy leaders have sought to diversify its membership, to bring in more young people and artists of color. The coronation of “Moonlight” was the fruits of their labor, and now the old rules no longer apply. In other words, take these predictions with a mountain of salt.
Will Win: Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Dark Horse: Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
McDormand, a previous Oscar winner for “Fargo,” is deservedly the favorite here. Her deft performance holds “Three Billboards” together amidst its wild tonal shifts and sudden plot twists. But I’d keep an eye on Sally Hawkins. The Academy loves “The Shape of Water,” which garnered a whopping 13 nominations. Playing a mute, as Hawkins does here, is also a well-worn path to Oscar glory. See “The Miracle Worker,” “Children of a Lesser God,” and “The Piano” for proof.
Will Win: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Dark Horse: Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
In this category, all signs point to Oldman, a veteran character actor long overdue for recognition. His speechifying performance as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” seems ready-made for an Oscar clip. Still, “Call Me By Your Name,” a gay love story set in the sun-kissed Italian countryside, has its fervent supporters, and Chalamet’s performance is preternaturally great. At 22 years old, he would be the youngest winner in history for Best Actor, which makes this category a test of the strength of the Academy’s youth movement.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Dark Horse: Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Historically one of the most unpredictable categories, this year the precursors all line up for Alison Janney. Playing Tonya Harding’s abusive mother in the polarizing “I, Tonya,” Janney is another longtime character actor who the Academy would love to recognize. If she somehow falters, look for Laurie Metcalf, as a less-abusive mother in “Lady Bird,” to fill her shoes. Finally, I would not count out Mary J. Blige in “Mudbound,” which the new, diversified Academy might be tempted to recognize.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Dark Horse: Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
It’s hard to be impartial here, as Rockwell is one of my favorite actors (I thought he deserved a nod for 2013’s “The Way, Way Back”), but his magnetic performance as a bumbling, racist cop in “Three Billboards” seems like a lock. In a film that garnered six nominations, Rockwell’s character goes through the biggest transformation, and his ability to make us feel empathy for such a rotten character is a major achievement.
Will Win: Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Dark Horse: Guillermo Del Toro, “The Shape of Water.”
If Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), or Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) wins here, nobody will complain. Del Toro is, by most measures, the favorite, having turned his obsession with ancient creature features into a mainstream hit. But Christopher Nolan somehow went from impressive young upstart to box-office champion to old master, all without being even nominated for an Oscar. “Dunkirk” is his most Oscar-friendly film yet. He’s the one to beat.
Will Win: “The Shape of Water”
Dark Horse: “Get Out”
Here is where it gets exciting: I think there are four films with a legitimate chance here. “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards” won their respective categories (Comedy/Musical and Drama) at the Golden Globes. “Get Out” was the most talked about film of the year, and for the <whole> year. Rarely has a film that was released in February still found itself in contention a year later. But “The Shape of Water” must be the favorite. In some ways, it’s a classic Oscar film: politically liberal without being overly didactic, and celebratory of film itself, always a plus with the Academy. Despite this, it never feels like Oscar bait, probably because of its idiosyncratic central relationship. Can a movie about a woman who romances a fish win Best Picture? After “Moonlight,” anything is possible.