Saturday, March 3, 2018

Predicting the 2018 Oscar Winners

Welcome friends, to the most polarizing and unpredictable Best Picture race of my lifetime! Oh, and also welcome to the 2018 Oscars, the year of #TimesUp, the year of #MeToo, the first Oscars Harvey Weinstein won’t be attending in probably 30 years, and the first Oscars where Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (they’re back!) will announce the correct Best Picture winner. This also happens to be the first year where I didn’t read predictions from anyone else before making my own. I have listened to podcasts or seen tweets where people made their predictions for a few of the top awards, but I haven’t actually looked at a full set of predictions from anyone, and on most of the smaller categories, I haven’t even seen or heard a single prediction yet. So let’s see if I’m actually any good at this! This will be fun, and also mildly terrifying.

The goal is always to go 20-4, which I’ve never actually done. My best is 19-5, and I usually get 17 or 18 (as do most experts). Particularly exciting this year is that there’s a wide range of Best Picture predictions, probably the widest ever. While many experts have converged on The Shape of Water, I’ve also seen experts predict Get Out, Three Billboards, and Lady Bird, and I’m (perhaps stupidly) picking none of those.

So read on for all of my predictions and rambling logic, as well as for fun things like which winner will be the oldest Oscar winner in history, and which winner will get the evening’s first standing ovation (the first of many). Categories are listed in vague order of relevance, with all nominees appearing alphabetically at the top, and then my predicted winner is hidden somewhere in the explanation—but in bold for those of you that don’t want to read all 7,000 words of this mess. (Shame!)

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

First, a quick refresher on the rules: Academy members are asked to rank all nine nominees in their order of preference. The goal is for one film to receive over 50% of the first-place votes. Assuming that doesn’t happen on the initial ballot count (which would be virtually impossible), then films start getting eliminated from contention. First, the film that gets the fewest amount of first-place votes gets eliminated, and all of the ballots where that film was ranked #1 get reallocated, turning into votes for whatever those ballots had ranked second. Assuming that still no film has over 50% of the vote yet, then the new lowest film is eliminated, the ballots that had that film ranked first are turned into votes for what was ranked 2nd on those ballots, and so forth. Until eventually one film has over 50% of the vote.

Now, this year is really tricky, because passion seems very equally spread among several of these films. On the first vote count, I don’t think any film will even get 20% of the first place votes. That means that getting to a winner won’t simply be a matter of eliminating the bottom few films. It’s very likely that at least six—or probably even seven—of the nine films will have to be eliminated before a winner can be declared. And that means that how voters rank their entire ballots will really come into play. A film getting a lot of second-place votes won’t be all that matters. By the time the sixth film is eliminated from contention, reallocating that film’s ballots will likely be based on what many of those voters ranked 4th or 5th, because their top four films have all already been eliminated. So here’s what I think the key is, as I explained on Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men podcast a few weeks ago: we’re effectively looking for the film that finishes lower than fifth on the fewest number of ballots. That’s our target.

So how do we figure out what that is? Ha! No one knows. But we can guess at a lot of things. From the outset, we can divide the Best Picture nominees into two groups: the ones that will get eliminated early and the ones that won’t. Darkest Hour, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, and Phantom Thread look to be, in some order, the four films that will get the fewest first-place votes, and will therefore be eliminated early in the process. How the ballots that ranked any of those films #1 get reallocated will be important to the next step of the process. Because the voters that heavily support Darkest Hour and The Post will tend to be older people with more traditional taste, I think the reallocation of those votes will heavily favor Dunkirk, and give it enough of an extra bump to survive the fifth elimination. From there, it starts getting really difficult to predict, and involves VERY hypothetical territory. But once it’s down to the final four films, I like Dunkirk’s chances specifically because I think it has the best chance of staying in the top half of most of the ballots.

Fair or unfair (it’s unfair), Get Out, Lady Bird, and The Shape of Water are films that many voters just don’t get. Get Out strikes some people as nothing more than a well-done genre film that voters are being race-baited into supporting, Lady Bird feels too uneventful and provokes a “nice, but is that it?” reaction, and The Shape of Water requires the audience to be able to get behind a woman having a visibly sexual relationship with a vaguely monstrous sea creature. Three Billboards, meanwhile, has been the subject of several pseudo-eviscerations by the critical community, and some voters will decide they agree with those takes, or that the critical backlash to the film is enough reason to not support it. There will be a decent number of voters that place some or all of these toward the bottom of their ballots. But Dunkirk, for better or worse, just isn’t a movie that no one gets. At the very least everyone respects it as an immense piece of craft, even if they find it slightly confusing or emotionally distant.

Here’s how I imagine voters filling out their ballots: they know what films they love, and they put those at the top. Then they know what films really didn’t work for them, and they put those at the bottom. And when it comes to filling out the middle—the films they don’t feel particularly strongly about one way or another—they’ll just put Dunkirk at the top of that group, because at the very least it was an incredible undertaking. I think Dunkirk will rack up enough first place votes to survive the first four rounds of elimination, it will rack up enough vote reallocations from the Darkest Hour and The Post ballots to survive the fifth elimination, and it will rack up enough fourth- and fifth-place votes across all of the ballots to keep getting steady bumps with every subsequent elimination, while other films succumb to just not really working for a significant amount of voters. Dunkirk is the film that everyone agrees on just enough, and in a bizarro year like this one, I think that’s the kind of math we’re looking for.

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Most pundits believe this is a two-person race, but I think it’s actually a 2 ½-person race, with Paul Thomas Anderson as the half person. That does, unfortunately, still mean that Gerwig and Peele have virtually no chance here, but they both have an excellent chance to win Best Original Screenplay, so all is not lost for them. Paul Thomas Anderson is the interesting one. Phantom Thread is basically a film about being an Anderson-like director. It’s about the narcissistic compulsion to control every element, and use others as glorified props and enablers for your own creativity, while still (sort of) loving and appreciating them for the small ways in which they make your art possible. There’s clear evidence that the Academy loves Phantom Thread a lot more than we thought prior to the nominations, and Paul Thomas Anderson has been one of the most passionately adored auteurs for nearly two decades. He has a chance here. It’s just not a great one.

Between Nolan and del Toro, it’s a tough call. The consensus is that del Toro will win, and I won’t argue that too much; he’s won all of the major precursor awards and his film has more overall nominations. Best Picture and Best Director also tend to go to different films most of the time these days, and because I’m predicting Dunkirk to win Best Picture, it theoretically makes perfect sense that del Toro should win here. But there is a part of me that thinks, because most voters assume The Shape of Water will win Best Picture, that may incline more of them to support Nolan here. But I’m trying to squash that voice that demands I overthink everything. Guillermo del Toro will become the fourth Latino Best Director winner in the last five years, following wins by his countrymen Alfonso Cuarón in 2014 and Alejandro G. Iñárritu in 2015 and 2016).

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

The four acting categories are fascinating this year, because they’ve gone to the exact same four actors in all of the major precursor awards—SAG, the Golden Globes, and BAFTA. In a world where people increasingly agree on nothing, the idea that those three institutions AND the Oscars would all have perfect alignment across all four acting categories is both unprecedented and kind of insane. And I don’t think it will happen. Between McDormand, Oldman, Janney, and Rockwell, I think one of them is staying in their seat on Sunday night. The challenge is correctly guessing which one.

McDormand is a heavy frontrunner, but she’s not without serious competition—particularly from Hawkins and Ronan. At the age of 23, Saoirse Ronan already has three nominations, and Lady Bird is a phenomenal showcase of her talents. She’s in virtually every scene, she loses her accent, and the role depends on her ability to portray a mostly selfish teenager without ever losing the audience’s sympathies or rooting interests. Meanwhile, Hawkins is the star of the Best Picture frontrunner that received 13 nominations, and it required two things of her that are hallmarks of numerous Best Actress winners: a character with a disability and a substantial amount of nudity. That’s kind of a joke, but it also kind of isn’t. Hawkins showed incredible vulnerability, both physically and emotionally, in a role that didn’t even allow her to use her voice. She had to visibly emote everything in a way that came across without being over the top or devolved to pantomime. No one should be surprised if either Ronan or Hawkins win. But I don’t think they will. Awarding Frances McDormand the Oscar for her role in Three Billboards is not the most flawless statement of solidarity the Academy can give to the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, but it’s the one we’re going to get.

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

In our quest to find the big upset in the acting categories, don’t look here. There are only two times in my life that I have been watching a movie in a theater—long before that year’s Oscar nominations—and known within a matter of minutes, beyond any doubt, that I was watching an Oscar-winning performance. The first time was Christian Bale in The Fighter, and the other was Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour.

It’s true that Oldman is maybe (probably) an asshole, and it’s true that a shocking upset by either Chalamet or Kaluuya would be an incredibly exciting moment for Oscar viewers. But if either of those things actually prevent Oldman from winning, it won’t really be the good look for the Oscars that people think it would. Yes, it could lead to a future ratings bump and excitement that some conclusions aren’t as foregone as we assume, and it could lead to nice PR about how it’s time to no longer award men like Oldman. But the worst thing the Oscars can do to damage their long-term reputation is hand out awards for blatantly transparent political reasons, and denying Oldman his deserved reward for such a monumental performance would be just that. I said the same thing last year about Casey Affleck’s impending win—it’s perfectly okay to be against men like this getting these roles in the first place, but once they do, and they turn in performances like these, I think we just have to tip our hats. We don’t want the Oscars to turn into “Best Actor That We Think Is Still Basically an Upstanding Guy.” If one performance was better than the others, then that’s who deserves the Oscar. And this year, in this category, that evaluation is easy.

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

And here we are, my big upset pick! (Well, other than Best Picture, which my thinking on may just prove that I’m a crazy person.) Alison Janney has won the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award, and the BAFTA Award for her role as Tonya Harding’s abusive mother in I, Tonya, but I don’t think she will win the Oscar. How do I discount so much precedent for her to win the Oscar? Well, I don’t take the Golden Globes seriously at all. The winners are decided by less than 90 people who have absolutely no voter overlap with the Academy, and there’s virtually nothing to be gleaned from their results. With SAG, when the results differ from the Oscars, I think the SAG winner tends to lean a little more mainstream and safe than the Oscars, or the SAG winner is a more popular and beloved figure. Two recent examples are Denzel’s SAG win over Casey Affleck last year, or Idris Elba’s win over Mark Rylance two years ago. Lady Bird is a more subtle, less plot-driven film than I, Tonya, and I think it’s the exact type of film that SAG wouldn’t appreciate as much as the Oscars. And as for BAFTA, I think I, Tonya prevailed there for the same reason Three Billboards did—because it’s the perfect depiction of how Brits see America in the Trump era.

And I just don’t think those sets of reasoning or circumstance apply to the Oscars. There’s less overlap than you’d think between the Academy and either BAFTA or SAG, and Lady Bird feels like the exact type of movie that the Academy will value more than other institutions. It’s a film that’s genuinely American instead of stereotypically American. Metcalf’s performance requires an emotional range that I, Tonya just doesn’t demand of Janney. And that’s no knock on Janney, who is one of the best actresses out there—but her role in I, Tonya just doesn’t give her the opportunity to show all that she can do. Because of the wonderful depiction of the mother-daughter relationship in Lady Bird, I expect women in the Academy to strongly vote in favor of Metcalf. The key, then, is what the men do. If men at least don’t favor Janney by too much, then Metcalf will win. But if men vote for Janney in droves, then she’ll take it easily. I think it’ll be really close, but I’m predicting Laurie Metcalf to pull off the upset.

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Had The Florida Project gotten a Best Picture nomination, I would have strongly thought about picking Willem Dafoe here, because I really think he could win. But without that sign that the film has substantial support in the Academy, it’s hard to talk yourself into it. And Sam Rockwell benefits from having what is basically a co-lead role alongside Frances McDormand. Though his character’s arc in the film isn’t especially believable, that redemption is one of the major things you come away from the film with.

In some ways a Rockwell win reeks of a “See, we can ALL overcome racism” statement from the Academy. But despite some very fair complaints out there about the way the role is written, Sam Rockwell makes it work, and the way he plays the character almost convinces you that someone writing him a letter about how he could be a good person was just the lightbulb he’d needed this whole time.

The Big Sick (Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani)
Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

There are two relatively easy eliminations here: The Big Sick is the only non–Best Picture nominee in the field, and the story for The Shape of Water—though lovely—is the most derivative and predictable of the bunch. From there, it’s a bloodbath. Because Get Out and Lady Bird also received Best Director nominations, they probably have more support from the indie- or auteur-minded members of the Academy. But Three Billboards appears to have the most support from the Actors Branch of the Academy. I think the key here is (again) how women vote. Because this is a winner-take-all category, a vote split between nominees pulling from the same demographic could easily decide the race. If women vote overwhelming in favor of either Lady Bird or Three Billboards, then the film they side with will win. But if women tend to support both Lady Bird and Three Billboards in fairly equal proportions, then Get Out will most likely prevail. And that’s what I think will happen.

Call Me By Your Name (James Ivory)
The Disaster Artist (Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber)
Logan (James Mangold, Scott Frank, & Michael Green)
Molly’s Game (Aaron Sorkin)
Mudbound (Dee Rees & Virgil Williams)

This year is the first time in over a decade that we’ve seen a Best Adapted Screenplay race with only a single Best Picture nominee in it, and as such, Call Me By Your Name looks like a very obvious winner. Further cementing that is its writer, James Ivory, has three previous nominations as a director (for A Room With a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day), and the 89-year-old has never won before. When he does win—and he will—he’ll be the oldest Oscar winner in history, across every category (unless Agnès Varda has already won for Best Documentary earlier in the evening, because she’s eight days older than Ivory). While I think Mudbound and Molly’s Game both have an outside chance, it’s really hard to talk yourself into either one pulling off an upset.

A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio, Chile)
The Insult (Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon)
Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia)
On Body and Soul (Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary)
The Square (Ruben Östlund, Sweden)

The Square won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and has been a presumed front-runner for this category ever since, but I think it has one of the lowest chances. It’s just too esoteric and cryptic for the broader Academy. I also don’t love the chances for On Body and Soul, which will feel too small for voters who prefer this category to make some kind of grand statement about the world. The others each have a good shot. The Insult is powerful, and there’s certainly some recent precedent for this award to go to films exploring the complicated social politics of the Arab world. But that might be the exact reason The Insult doesn’t win; because voters will feel they’ve already been there and done that with the two Asghar Farhadi films that have won this category in the last six years.

I think Loveless and A Fantastic Woman have the best chances. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s previous film, Leviathan, was nominated in this category three years ago, and both films are extremely critical of how contemporary Russian society is dehumanizing its citizens in subtle but affecting ways. That’s a message that could have powerful sway with the largely liberal Academy, who are no big fans of Russia at the moment. But that’s also the problem—technically, the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is actually an award for the country, not for the film or the filmmakers. If Loveless wins, the presenter of the award will open the envelope and read that the winner is Russia. Who knows how many voters thought about this small technicality, but the word “Russia” absolutely appeared on their ballots, and that might be enough to make a difference in a race with no clear favorites.

That’s why I like A Fantastic Woman to win here. The story of a transgendered woman dealing with her partner’s less-tolerant family in the wake of his death, A Fantastic Woman is a film that speaks to the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, as well as to the broader movement of progressive politics and the newly diversified Academy. It’s also a wonderfully made film that doesn’t resort to preachiness by keeping many of the lead character’s emotions internalized. For voters looking for a film that would be a powerful steward of where we are as a global film community, A Fantastic Woman will be their best choice.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James)
Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR)
Icarus (Bryan Fogel)
Last Men in Aleppo (Feres Fayyad & Steen Johannessen)
Strong Island (Yance Ford)

Normally, the easiest way to starting the process of elimination with the Best Documentary category is to cross off the most depressing film, which never ever wins. That’s undoubtedly Last Men in Aleppo, but it’s slightly more complicated this year because the filmmakers won’t be able to attend the ceremony due to the travel ban. Last year, when that happened to the Iranian film The Salesman, the extra support and attention it garnered the film helped it actually win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. But that won’t happen this year. Most Oscar voters won’t resort to protest votes over the same thing for a second year in a row, and I just don’t see a film this unbearably depressing succeeding in a race where that tends to be a death sentence.

I also think we can cross off both Abacus and Strong Island. They’re both very good (seriously, you should watch them), but neither have something specific about them that will galvanize voters—something that both Faces Places and Icarus absolutely have. For Faces Places, that something is Agnès Varda. The 89-year-old French New Wave legend has never won a competitive Oscar, and if she wins here she would become the oldest winner in Oscar history, across any category. And Faces Places also happens to be a beautiful, funny, and uplifting movie in a category where that typically makes a big difference. Icarus, meanwhile, is nothing less than the film that got Russia banned from the Winter Olympics, which, by the way, were happening as voters were filling out their ballots. It’s one of the hardest calls of the year, but I think Icarus wins. We saw three years ago with Citizenfour’s win that voters respond to the opportunity to award a documentary that unveils a major world event as it’s happening. And because Agnès Varda received an honorary Oscar last year, I think just enough voters will feel that she’s already been taken care of and they’re free to vote for the film that stuck it to the Russians.

The Boss Baby (Tom McGrath)
The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey)
Coco (Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina)
Ferdinand (Carlos Saldanha)
Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman)

The Boss Baby is this year’s Suicide Squad: the single worst film to be nominated for an Oscar. So it’s out. And I confess I haven’t seen Ferdinand or The Breadwinner, but they’re not winning anyway. It’s theoretically possible to talk yourself into Loving Vincent, which has stunning style and feels like the most original of the choices. But it’s also a movie with a forgettable script, so you’d have to talk yourself into voting for style alone. That just won’t work against Coco. A top-tier Pixar film has never lost this category, and this year won’t be the first time.

Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer)
Phantom Thread (Jonny Greenwood)
The Shape of Water (Alexandre Desplat)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (John Williams)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Carter Burwell)

The Last Jedi is the easiest one to cross off, because very few voters will even understand how to differentiate the new elements that Williams wrote for this film from the classical elements used in every Star Wars film. And I don’t see Dunkirk or Three Billboards being much of a factor here because they’re just not films where the scores stay with you. This is effectively between Phantom Thread and The Shape of Water, both of which are excellent. In some ways the Phantom Thread score may be the better, more compelling piece of music, which is why its chances have to be taken seriously. But The Shape of Water’s score is the one that voters may feel pairs more elegantly to its film, helping the viewer into the elegiac beauty of the story in a way that seems almost more whimsical than heavy-handed.

“Mighty River” (Raphael Saadiq, Mary J. Blige, & Taura Stinson, Mudbound)
“Mystery of Love” (Sufjan Stevens, Call Me By Your Name)
“Remember Me” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, Coco)
“Stand Up For Something” (Common & Diane Warren, Marshall)
“This Is Me” (Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, The Greatest Showman)

My single biggest wish for the 2018 Oscars—other than to go 24-0 on my predictions—is for Sufjan Stevens to win for his utterly gorgeous song from Call Me By Your Name (which is used to great effect in the film). And he has a small chance, as do Mary J. Blige, Diane Warren (a nine-time nominee that’s never won), and the Coco song. It’s possible to talk yourself into a narrative for all four to be the winner. Sufjan will appeal to all of the younger, more auteurist members of the Academy that don’t like awarding conventional Oscar fare, Mary J. Blige is having a moment, Diane Warren is due, and the Coco song is basically the film’s driving plot point. But they’re still all going home empty. “This Is Me” is the perfect Oscar song—it’s great on its own, it’s used to powerful effect as the film’s centerpiece, it’s anthemic, it has real showmanship and pizazz, it’s classical Broadway appeal will resonate with older voters while it’s proud stance on identity will appeal to younger and minority voters, and the song reached the zeitgeist by being played ad nauseam during the Olympics. It has absolutely everything going for it that a Best Original Song nominee could, and it’s not going to lose.

Blade Runner 2049 (Roger Deakins)
Darkest Hour (Bruno Delbonnel)
Dunkirk (Hoyte Van Hoytema)
Mudbound (Rachel Morrison)
The Shape of Water (Dan Laustsen)

This is the first nomination for Morrison, Laustsen, and Van Hoytema, and it’s the fifth nomination for Delbonnel. But it’s the 14th nomination for Roger Deakins, and he’s never won. This is the year that changes. Blade Runner 2049 had the year’s most arresting visuals, and the demands of justice for Deakins have taken on a life of their own. This is the evening’s most guaranteed standing ovation.

Baby Driver
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

On one side are three films that might win Best Picture, and on the other side are two films that primarily work because of their great editing. In some ways Dunkirk would seem to be the obvious winner, because it’s a tense war film that juggles several plot lines and dozens of characters. But I don’t love its chances because I think the film’s editing is one of the few major complaints people have about Dunkirk—they don’t understand the film’s timeline and why it switches between day and night, and they can’t tell the characters apart.

Instead, I would really look to either Baby Driver or I, Tonya here. For the latter, the skating scenes—and making Margot Robbie look like she legit belongs in the olympics—could be enough to get it the win. But I can’t escape the feeling that Baby Driver is taking this home. The whole film is essentially a two-hour music video, and editing is primarily what makes it all work. Plus, I, Tonya is considered an extremely likely winner in the Supporting Actress category, and I really do believe that a lot of voters try to spread the love as much as they can (while still voting for deserved winners).

Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
The Shape of Water

This one is (probably) easier than it might seem. What’s the chief visual element voters will associate with each of the nominees? For Beauty and the Beast, it’s probably the costumes. For Blade Runner 2049, it’s certainly the cinematography. For Darkest Hour, it has to be the makeup. And for Dunkirk, it’s likely the editing. But for The Shape of Water? It’ll be the whole visual style of the movie—the pervasive use of green, the way the ‘60s lab looks, the double apartment above the old movie theater. And if voters aren’t clear whether the creature’s style counts as costume design or production design (it’s actually the former), that will help it even more.

Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

I think Blade Runner 2049 is the least likely to win here, because there’s no particular element or scene of effects wizardry for voters to latch onto, and most of the film’s stunning imagery will be credited to the cinematography rather than the effects. Beyond that, voters basically get to choose what animal(s) brought to digital life they found most impressive: cute little porgs, an angry raccoon and his pet tree, one giant ape, or a whole hell of a lot of normal-sized apes. I would bet on the latter, because there are so many more of them, and they’re almost the entirety of the movie. The emotional tug of War for the Planet of the Apes rests almost solely on the shoulders of the effects team, and they are the chief reason the movie works. None of the other nominees can say that.

Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

This category is randomly kind of tricky. Phantom Thread feels like the obvious pick because it’s a movie about a dressmaker, and a significant amount of its imagery is devoted to that task. But the film’s costume design is actually kind of understated and doesn’t call attention to its opulence as much as its precision. That makes Phantom Thread difficult to predict with too much confidence, because this category tends to very explicitly be about the film whose costumes do call attention to themselves. In that spirit, Beauty and the Beast is the obvious pick for most opulent costume design. But it also might be a film that few voters got around to watching, and that’s tough to overcome when you’re up against three best picture nominees.

The biggest threat to Phantom Thread is probably The Shape of Water, both because of the beautiful design for the creature and because it’s a film that could sweep most of the craft categories on sheer momentum. But it will be unclear to many voters whether the design of the creature counts for this category or for production design, and I just can’t talk myself out of Phantom Thread here. I don’t imagine voters spending a lot of time deciding on this category, and when they look at the five options, there’s only one that will make them think “Oh yeah, the film about costume design.”

Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul

Turning Gary Oldman into a convincing Winston Churchill is the best film makeup achievement we’ve seen in years, and Darkest Hour is winning an Oscar for it. I’m sure Wonder also had great makeup, but I didn’t see it, and I doubt many voters did either. Victoria & Abdul, meanwhile, just feels like it’s here because they needed a third movie on the ballot. This is the easiest category on the board.

Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

First, here’s your quick annual reminder (copied and pasted from last year!) on what the difference is between the two sound categories: Sound Editing is basically sound creation. It’s manufacturing, and recording, every sound that happens in a film but that doesn’t literally happen in front of the camera—dinosaurs roaring, transformers transforming, aliens gurgling, et cetera. Sound Mixing, on the other hand, is controlling the volume and focus of all of these sounds within the finished film. Sound mixers guide your ears to what’s important when dozens of things are happening simultaneously on screen, from dialogue to score to sound effects.

The Best Sound Editing Oscar almost always goes to a Best Picture nominee, but there’s virtually no correlation between this award and what actually wins Best Picture. Basically, voters just end up picking whichever Best Picture nominee in the category they think had the most noises. This year, that’s undoubtedly Dunkirk, and it should win here. But if The Shape of Water wins this early in the night, that could be a bad sign that it’s just going to run the table.

Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Since 2000, this award has split pretty evenly between tense action/war movies and musicals (or musical-adjacent movies, like Whiplash). And lo, Baby Driver is basically both of those things! The way the film guides your ear between its intense car chases and its compulsively enjoyable soundtrack should help it cruise to this award. If Dunkirk pulls off an upset here, that could mean it has more support than people realize, which would bode well for my Best Picture prospects. If The Shape of Water wins here, that could mean it has a LOT more support than people realize, and my Best Picture prospects are toast.

Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

Outside of the major categories, this is actually the toughest race for me to predict. The two big questions are: (1) Do voters think of Kobe Bryant (the creator/producer/narrator of Dear Basketball) chiefly as a an all-time great Los Angeles Laker, or chiefly as an alleged (and probable) rapist? If it’s the former, then Dear Basketball is probably our winner. If it’s the latter, that brings us to (2) Which of the other films will voters most respond to?

I confess I have no clue what to do with the first question. In a year that Casey Affleck isn’t even showing up to the Oscars and Three Billboards may win best picture, it seems especially unlikely that voters would award a probable rapist, but man, sports tribalism is strong in people, and Hollywood loves the Lakers in a way that’s primed to really challenge people’s rationality.

As for the other films, Revolting Rhymes is the one that’s too long, so it’s out. Lou is by Pixar, which rarely wins in this category (though they did last year), so we’ll say it’s out too. Negative Space and Garden Party are tough to choose between. Garden Party is probably the weirdest and the most impressively animated of the five, both of which may help it stand out to voters. Negative Space is probably the most narratively interesting, but it’s stop-motion, which usually doesn’t do well in this category.

Dear Basketball has a score by John Williams and gorgeous hand-drawn animation by Glen Keane—a long-time Disney supervising animator for films like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin—who is receiving his first Oscar nomination here. Keane may strike some Academy members as due, but the presence of he and Williams here may work against the film for the same reason Pixar rarely wins in this category—it feels like too much of an unfair advantage against the other, smaller films in the race. And narratively, Dear Basketball might as well be what a high school freshman turned in for his first poetry assignment. While the pull of awarding both Keane and an LA Laker will be strong with a lot of voters, I think the controversial baggage of Bryant (especially in the #TimesUp era) and the novice writing of Dear Basketball will turn off just enough voters for Garden Party to get the win. But also, I think I’d rather just get this one wrong than congratulate myself for correctly predicting Kobe.

DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
The Silent Child
Watu Wote / All of Us

I think three of these are pretty easy to eliminate; DeKalb Elementary is a compassionate look at a difficult subject, but because it asks the audience to sympathize with a school shooter, it’s just woefully in the wrong place at the wrong time. Watu Wote, about real people surviving an African civil war, is the kind of movie that never wins in this category—too heavy, and prevented by run-time constraints from actually fleshing out the issues it’s dealing with. And The Silent Child just feels like it was commissioned by an advocacy group.

I think the real question here is between The Eleven O’Clock (the funniest of the bunch) or My Nephew Emmett (the one with the best filmmaking). The cinematography in My Nephew Emmett is impressive, and because it’s about a sudden tragic situation, the short run-time actually works in its favor. But because voters generally watch all five films in one sitting, being the lone comedic film in this category is a huge advantage. And The Eleven O’Clock isn’t merely funny; despite it’s painfully obvious plot holes, it’s the one film of the five that you walk away wanting to talk to someone about.

Edith + Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

Because the documentary shorts are all quite a bit longer than the animated or live action shorts (they’re all 30-40 minutes), that makes it far less likely that voters will watch them all in one sitting. That, in turn, makes it less likely that one has the power to stand out just by virtue of being notably different than the others; the winner will have to stand on its own merits. Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 is a nice portrait, but doesn’t really present something that stays with the viewer. Traffic Stop is the most frustrating of the five, because you just feel that everyone acted poorly (though some—the cop—certainly more poorly than others).

The remaining three all give powerful takeaways to the viewer. Edith + Eddie is the most depressing of the five, so I don’t think that bodes well for its chances. Heroin(e) and Knife Skills both strike me as very possible winners. The former—about three women fighting in their own ways against the opioid epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia—is the better of the two. But it also shows an unvarnished middle America that I don’t think will be nearly as appealing to voters as the French cuisine (by way of Cleveland) portrayed in Knife Skills. The combination of a Bravo cooking show laced with progressive ideas about criminal justice reform will be irresistible to voters.

And I’ll leave you with two other random predictions:

1. This will be the most standing ovation-happy Oscars ever, with a minimum of five.

2. The Post will be the only Best Picture nominee that doesn’t win a single Oscar.

Happy viewing!!