21 Questions: 2018 Oscars Edition

It’s October. Fall Film Festival season is essentially over (there are still a couple notable NYFF and AFI Fest premieres, but mostly everything has been seen). That means it’s officially awards season in the cinephile community, much to the chagrin of some. I follow and track the Oscars year round hoping to get a leg up on the competition when it comes to predicting and gambling. I did well last year if I may toot my own horn (8 of 9 best picture nominee, 18 of 20 acting nominees). In this post, I get weird and ask myself questions designed to help you follow awards season.

I’m doing things a bit differently this year. Rather than post actual predictions and analysis on this blog, I’m doing them on this GOOGLE SHEET. It’ll be easier for me to update and for you to follow along.

This is a rather long post, so let’s get started. Feel free to jump around as the questions aren’t posed in any particluar order.

#1) Which, if any, early year/summer hits will actual factor into the Best Picture race?

Modern conventional Oscar wisdom is relatively simple; distributors hit the fall festival circuit with their top horses, then position them as limited October/November/December releases that slowly expand as awards season heats up. There’s sometimes room for a hot Sundance buy or popular foreign film in the field (though those films usually play the festivals as well). But every now and then there’s a studio film from the year’s first half that sustains hype and plays a major role in the race. Take recent examples Mad Max: Fury Road (a May release) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (a March release), which went onto ten and nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture nods, respectively. Could there be an already-seen juggernaut lurking this year?

Dunkirk is the most likely to last the season. Christopher Nolan’s latest (and possibly greatest) blurs the line between commercial mass-market entertainment and more typical prestigious filmmaking the Academy tends to favor. Oscar also loves them some WWII. Dunkirk will fight for the most overall noms on Oscar morning thanks to the support it’ll get from “below-the-line” branches such as the cinematographers and sound editors. It surely won’t win Best Picture, but looks like a lock for a nomination unless Warner Bros really fucks up the campaign.

Elsewhere, for all the deserved talk about its importance and Oscar campaign, Wonder Woman is looking less and less likely to be a factor everyday. Oscar pundits fell for the early year blues yet again. We talked about Wonder Woman mostly because there was nothing else to talk about. Now that other contenders have emerged, and Warner Bros has both Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 to work, Wonder Woman looks like a PGA/Golden Globes player at best. It’s not your fault fanboys (girls, too) and overzealous Oscar prognosticators…we fell for the same trap last year with Deadpool.

Also on the superhero front is Logan, which Fox has been working all year and supposedly already sent out screeners for. It’s a very popular film and certainly has its Oscar merits (Marco Beltrami’s film-carrying score, Patrick Stewart’s vulnerable supporting turn) but like with every other film named after a comic-book character, Oscar isn’t ready to embrace it just yet.

I adored Get Out but it has serious genre stigma to overcome and has fun laughing at old, white, wealthy, half-woke liberal archetypes who still fill up the majority of the Academy despite the organization’s best efforts the last two years. Universal’s best chance for the film remains Jordan Peele’s screenplay. The Big Sick (Amazon Studios) also sees its best chances come via writing, but unlike Get Out, it’s managed to sustain buzz all year. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are both players in supporting acting races. If other assumed contenders falter, the film could make Best Picture noise.

That’s it.

#2) What are the Sundance darlings that will emerge as Oscar players?

There is almost always a film that premieres at Sundance in February then goes on to battle the big boys all year on its way to a Best Picture nom. 2012 was the last time such wasn’t the case. Now, the film(s) that becomes a contender isn’t always the one we expect immediately following the ‘Dance (last year, mostly in response to #OscarsSoWhite, everyone labeled The Birth of a Nation an Oscar frontrunner at Sundance. But then Nate Parker got exposed, and more people actually saw the not-very-good film. Manchester by the Sea, another Sundance hit, went on to score a BP nom). This year’s Sundance films with real Oscar hopes include:

  • Novitiate, a very small film even by Sundance standards, but one purchased by Sony Pictures Classics with intention of the great Melissa Leo winning Best Supporting Actress.
  • The Big Sick, Get Out, and Wind River all premiered out-of-competition at Sundance and all have varying screenplay hopes.
  • Mudbound premiered to acclaim, and was then scooped up by Netflix. Many are saying it’s the film that’ll finally see the streaming company break through into major awards categories.
  • And then there’s Call Me By Your Name. Sony Pictures Classics appears to have a major Oscar player on its hands, and I’d even go as far as to say it’s more likely than not that it gets a BP nom. Critics certainly love it; actors will too. Althout it is suffering from lazy and unfavorable comparisons to Moonlight due to its subject matter.

#3) Is it Gary Oldman’s Oscar to lose?

Probably, yes. All the stars are alinging to Oldman in Lead Actor. He’s playing Winston Churchill in a BP contender (Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright). He’s got a strong overdue narrative as a popular actor who’s never won before (and with just one nomination, somehow). He’sbeen labeled as a must-see frontrunner for all voters to an extent only matched by Leonardo DiCaprio and Julianne Moore in recent years.

Oldman is very much the favorite, but there are a few upset possiblities, naturally. Don’t rule out the also-overdue Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger), rising star Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), or the legend himself Daniel Day-Lewis (still untitiled Paul Thomas Anderson film).

#4) Can new distributors break through?

A couple of distribution companies with no awards campaign experience picked up some Oscar hopefuls at the last minute on the festival circuit. Enterainment Studios grabbed Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, whoch stars Academy favorite Christian Bale. I, Tonya, which sparked Oscar buzz for Margot Robbie & Allison Janney at TIFF, was scooped up by Neon. Just because a distributor is new doesn’t mean it can’t run a great campaign. A24 Films saw Moonlight WIN BP just three years after the company started distributing films.

#5) What impact will the continued changes to Academy membership have on this year’s race?

For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) broke its own record for new member invites. This year sees 774 new invitees (i.e. Oscar voters) added to the pack. This is part of the Academy’s continued effort to get more diverse in terms of race, gender, and -most significantly in terms of film tastes- AGE. The changes come in part as a response to #OscarsSoWhite from a couple years ago, a legitimate but misdirected gripe aimed at the Academy (a union, more or less) rather than the actual industry responsible for the problematic hiring practices.

39% of new members are female. 30% of new members are people of color (though POC still represent just 13% of the overall Academy, a staggeringly low figure). The acting branch, the largest and therefore most powerful subset of the Academy, saw many big names added. Donald Glover, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Naomie Harris, Margot Robbie, all the Marvel Chris’ (Pratt/Evans/Hemsworth)…just to name a few. This isn’t a battle that’s going to be won overnight seeing as there’s about a century of ugly history to fight against, and even Moonlight winning last year is more of an outlier than a sign of actual change. But it’s encouraging to see AMPAS -who have the inherently difficult task of representing an industry that struggles so much with representation- at least trying.

Also, AMPAS is reportedly taking away voting privileges from some old folks who haven’t worked in years.

on top of fighting Thanos, these three Chris’ will also be voting on the Oscars.

#6) Speaking of diversity, are this year’s acting races really that white again?

They sure are. I’d like to reiterate that Oscar isn’t to blame for what’ll likely be another nomination morning filled with mostly white English names. Oscar reacts to and judges what is presented to them. If the studios and production companies either don’t make films with POC or don’t handle their POC-driven films in an Oscar-friendly way, I’m not sure what you can expect the Academy to do.

A few non-white names to keep an eye on this year, though I wouldn’t feel good about betting on any of them right now:

  • Idris Elba, playing Jessica Chastain’s attorney in Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin.
  • Downsizing scene-stealer Hong Chau, who’d be a shoe-in if the film had played festivals better.
  • Octavia Spencer is in likely BP nominee The Shape of Water, but most praise for the film has been directed at other cast members.
  • Always a threat and a nominee last year, Denzel Washington is said to be great in Roman J. Israel, Esq., if only word for the film as a whole was as kind. But hey, he got in for the god-awful Flight.
  • Jason Mitchell broke out two years ago with Straight Outta Compton and is said to be the best performer in BP hopeful Mudbound.

#7) Is it FINALLY Roger Deakins’ year?

Once DiCaprio won his, the biggest overdue narrative amongst Oscar fans shifted to Roger Deakins, the now legendary cinematographer and thirteen-time nominee who’s back in the race this year, having shot Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. If you’re not familar with his name somehow, google his filmography. I guarantee he’s shot one of your favorites.

His work on 2049 is arguably the most praised element of a critically-adored film that’ll factor in everywhere below-the-line with Oscar. One of his prior Villeneuve collabs, the exceptional Prisoners, netted him a nom. There are certainly other deserving contenders –Hoyte van Hoytema’s work on Dunkirk is stunning, and the great Vittorio Storaro appears to have shot Wonder Wheel exquisetly- but it still looks like Deakins’ award. Bet the house on him. He’s the winner I’m most confident in right now; even more so than Oldman.

#8) What’s up with The Weinstein Company?

Harvey Weinstein, through both Miramix and his current self-titled company, was once the Oscar game’s King Midas. He could buy a middling film after a mediocre festival premiere, take his scissors to its liberal running time, and then campaign it to a slew of nominations. But TWC has struggled a bit in recent years. Lion snuck into BP last year, snapping a year-long skid for the company that included high-profile BP misses Carol and The Hateful Eight (both would’ve been deserving, I might add). TWC hasn’t won the big prize since The King’s Speech, which feels like decades ago given how much awards season has changed. All of this comes amidst continuing reports of financial struggles for the company, though it’s not as if TWC isn’t trying because they can’t afford to.

The company looks hopeless in the BP race yet again this year. Garth Davis, who directed Lion, saw his already controversial film Mary Magdalene pushed back to 2018. Wind River has had a nice box office run, but it isn’t this year’s Hell or High Water. The critical love just isn’t there. The Current War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, has had bad buzz surrounding it for over a year and premiered at TIFF to boos and harsh reviews. It’s dead on arrival.

#10) Just how loaded is the Best Actress race?

Loaded, as loaded as any race I’ve seen since following the Oscars (~11 years now). Here are just some of the names of previously-nominated ladies who’ve had their films seen and already labeled as contenders:

Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul), Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game), Jennifer Lawrence (mother!), Annette Bening (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool), Carey Mulligan (Mudbound), Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled).

Then there’s relative youngin’s Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), and Claire Foy (Breathe). Then there’s unseen but highly-anticipated work from Oscar favorite entering the race (Meryl Streep in The Post, Kate Winslet in Wonder Wheel).

Like I said, loaded.

#11) Can any currently unseen studio films surprise and enter the race at the last minute, a la The Big Short?

Of course, I’d even wager that there will at least one BP nominee that nobody has seen yet. The hard part is forecasting which one. AFI Fest in early November is traditionally the last jumping off point in terms of festivals, but oftentimes last-minute contenders aren’t ready in time and have to work the Oscars without a festival boost. These films usually come from major studios with deep pockets though, so building buzz isn’t a huge issue.

The most obvious possibility this year is Fox’s The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep. On top of the film’s Oscar pedigree (Spielberg’s usual craft team is in tow) it’s a historical drama whose freedom-of-the-press themes are very timely, for obvious reasons.

Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World has a great cast, a great trailer, and Sony subsidiary TriStar Pictures is having the film make its debut at AFI Fest. Ridley is hit-or-miss with the Academy, but he hit big as recently as The Martian.

Also, dealing with the 2015 Thalys train terrorist attack, Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris stars its actual subjects as themselves and seems very interesting. It started shooting in mid-July, so while it being done in time is far from a guarantee, I wouldn’t bet against the uber-efficient Eastwood.

#12) Any chance we see a “lone director” nom this year?

– The “lone director” refers to when a filmmaker is nominated in Best Director despite his or her film missing out on a Best Picture nod.

As the directors branch grows, the possibility of a lone director nom becomes less likely. A small group of directors who really love a specific film or filmmaker  don’t have the same power they used to. The tastes of the branch continue to inch closer to the tastes of the overall Academy. The last time we saw a lone director was three years ago with Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher). Before that, you have to go back ten years to get one (Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

Even with a wide-open BP race, it’s hard to see a lone director happening this year. The best bet is probably Paul Thomas Anderson, a respected filmmaker whose work is often a bit strange for general Academy/BP tastes (for example, The Master didn’t get a BP nom despite THREE acting noms). His still untitled 1950’s Londo couture drama satrs Daniel Day-Lewis and will get a Christmas release from Focus Features.

#13) How come the screenplay categories seem so inbalanced this year?

No real reason, it just so happens that the vast majority of BP players this year come from original screenplays rather than adapted ones. Perhaps an open Best Adapted Screenplay race could result in an out-of-left-field nominee like The BeguiledThe Disaster Artist, or even Logan.

#14) So what exactly is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing with Oscar?

It’s simple enough. Best Sound Editing (preveiously called Best Sound Effects) is an award for exactly that; sound effects, or non-dialogue/music created sounds for a film. Best Sound Mixing awards the cominbing and blending of all sounds in a film, including the sound effects that are awarded in editing.

Common confusion between the two stems from there being so much overlap in nominees between the two categories. Last year, three films (Hacksaw RidgeLa La LandArrival) were nominated in both places. The year before that, four film were nominated in both.

#15) The last couple years have seen FOUR first-time Best Director nominees each, can we expect the same this year?

Probably not, though the changes to the Academy certainly make it more likely. The directors branch is a very old branch that prefers to nominate fellow veterans. They really make you earn it for years, usually across at least five films, before they notice you. Damien Chazelle (La La Land) made for the younges winner ever at 32.

Barry Jenkins, Kenny Lonergan, and Damien Chazelle were all first-time directing nominees last year.

New films from big, previously nominated names such as Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott, and Clint Eastwood make it unlikely we’ll see four cherries popped again, but two or three is certainly possible. Keep an eye on:

  • Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), who has somehow never been nominated as a driector.
  • Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
  • Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Joe Wright (The Darkest Hour)
  • Sean Baker (The Florida Project)

Those five all helm BP contenders and look like decent bets right now (in descending order).

#16) Is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a Best Picture lock?

I hesitate to use the word “lock” with something I haven’t personally seen yet, but recent history suggests that it is. The latest from Martin McDonagh (In BrugesSeven Psychopaths) won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Eight of the last nine winners of that prize have gone on to score BP noms, and the one that didn’t was Where Do We Go Now?, a Lebenase film.

#17) Who’s the frontrunner in a fascinating Best Visual Effects race?

It really is going to be an interesting race, unlike last year, where nothing was touching The Jungle Book (and deservedly so). For much of the year, War for the Planet of the Apes was considered the heavy favorite given its groundbreaking mo-cap work and the fact that the franchise has never won the award before (the second one losing to Interstellar still stings three years later). But then Blade Runner 2049 premiered, and it’s even more of a visual treat than folks anticipated. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is of course a formidable contender, as is The Shape of Water. We saw that “best visual effects =/= most visual effects) with Ex Machina winning a couple years ago. So while Guillermo del Toro’s film may be a bit more understated in the VFX department, the VFX he does employ may be scene as absolutely essential to his story. These four all look like locks for a nomination. One of them will win. I’m still leaning Apes until I see the other films.

As for the fifth nomination…it probably comes down to the Marvel trio (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming”, and Thor: Ragnorak), the practical VFX driven Dunkirk, or Wonder Woman (which has bad VFX for my money but is a popular film people will want to see cited somehwere).

#18) What’s a film nobody is really considering right now that could surprise on Oscar morning?

Here’s a dark horse for ya’….The Disaster Artist. The dramedy from A24 Films (who took Moonlight all the way) is directed by and stars previous Oscar nominee James Franco. It tells the story of the making of the historically awful film The Room. It drew raves at both SXSW and TIFF, and pundits have started putting Franco’s name on Best Actor lists. I can’t say much more until I actually see it when it comes out in December, and perhaps it’ll be too silly, but it seems like a film that’ll really play to the tastes of industry folks, and with the very-popular Franco at the center of it, you never know.

#19) Is that little movie called Star Wars: The Last Jedi a real Best Picture threat?

I fully believe it is. If it’s the Empire to TFA’A New Hope, which I think it may be with the great Rian Johnson at the helm, it’ll be in the discussion. I don’t think people realize just how close The Force Awakens was to a BP nom two years ago. It received a PGA best film nom and an Oscar nom for Best Film Editing, two of the awards that most often go hand-in-hand with BP. It also received four other Oscar noms, winning best VFX.

Star Wars is the one franchise that doesn’t really suffer from franchise/sequel stigma when it comes to reviewers and industry tastes. The Academy doesn’t view these films like Transformers movies or Marvel movies.

#20) What events should you follow throughout Awards Season to keep up with everything?

To some, awards season begins on Oscar nomination morning. For us obsessives, the real fun is the road leading up to Oscar. Predicting nominations is the most fun and (relatively) challenging part. Here are some important dates along the way:

  • Nov. 16th: Screen Actors Guild (SAG) voting opens.
  • Nov. 24th: Golden Globe voting opens.
  • Nov. 27: Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) voting opens.
  • Nov. 28th: National Board of Review (NBR) winners and top 10 films announced (this is the first major awards announcement of the season).
  • Nov. 29th: Director’s Guild of America (DGA) voting opens
  • Nov. 30th: New York Critics winners announced.
  • Dec. 4th: Annie Awards (for animated films) nominations announced.
  • Dec. 11th: Golden Globes nominations announced.
  • Dec. 13th: SAG nominations announced.
  • Dec. 14th: Producers Guild of America (PGA) voting opens.
  • Jan. 5th: PGA nominations announced.
  • Jan. 5th: ACADEMY AWARDS nominations voting opens.
  • Jan. 7th: Golden Globe awards are held.
  • Jan. 9th: British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) nominations announced.
  • Jan. 11th: DGA nominations announced.
  • Jan. 12th: ACADEMY AWARDS nomination voting closes.
  • Jan. 20th: PGA awards are held.
  • Jan. 21st: SAG awards are held.
  • Jan. 23rd: ACADEMY AWARDS nominations announced.
  • Feb. 3rd: DGA awards are held.
  • Feb. 3rd: Annie Awards are held.
  • Feb. 11th: Writers Guild of America (WGA) awards are held.
  • Feb. 18th: BAFTA awards are held.
  • Feb. 20th: ACADEMY AWARDS final voting opens.
  • Feb. 27th: ACADEMY AWARDS final voting closes.
  • Mar. 4th: ACADEMY AWARDS (Oscars) are held.

#21) So, who are you predicting to win?

I don’t like calling winners this early, and for full detailed predictions for nominees in every category, check here:

OSCAR PREDICTIONS

But for the hell of it, I’ll throw some way-too-early stabs at winner.

  • Best Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight)
  • Best Director: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
  • Best Actor: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
  • Best Actress: Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
  • Best Film Editing: Lee Smith (Dunkirk)
  • Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
  • Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water)
  • Best Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Best Sound Editing: Blade Runner 2049
  • Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
  • Best Costume Design: Currently untitled Paul Thomas Anderson film
  • Best Production Design: Blade Runner 2049
  • Best Hairstyling & Makeup: Darkest Hour
  • Best Animated Feature: Coco (Pixar)
  • Best Foreign Language Film: The Square (Sweden)

That’s all folks. I look forward to continuing to cover the race throughout the coming months.

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