The 2018 Academy Awards - hosted by Jimmy Kimmel for the second time - airs live March 4 on ABC. Before you sit down to watch, here’s insights on the annual Oscar Derby from Nebraska film studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon. He divides his predictions into two groups: Who will win and who ought to win.
Who will win: Gary Oldman for “Darkest Hour”
Who should win: Daniel Kaluuya for “Get Out”
Oldman did a creditable job as Winston Churchill, but did we really need another biopic on the Churchill? It’s true that Oldman won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Leading Actor Award recently, but it’s not all that surprising given the highly Brit-centric subject matter. Meanwhile, Kaluuya’s remarkable work in the leading role of director Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror/ social criticism mash-up “Get Out” made the film arguably the most important and influential picture of the year. Made for a mere $4.5 million, as Peele’s first directorial effort, “Get Out” has to date grossed more than $255 million worldwide, and sparked a long overdue discussion about race, class, and privilege. Daniel Kaluuya is also a key player in director Ryan Coogler’s game-changing “Black Panther” (2018). I wonder how that film will do next year at the Oscars? If it doesn’t get a stack of nominations, I’d be both surprised and disappointed.
Who will win: Frances McDormand for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Who should win: Frances McDormand for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
McDormand’s show-stopping turn in Martin McDonagh’s widely heralded film about a mother seeking justice for her daughter’s murder has been winning awards left and right leading up to the Oscars, including a BAFTA, a Critic’s Choice Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe. It’s hard to top that; she has a lot of momentum going in, and she more than deserves it.
Best Animated Feature
Who will win: “Coco”
Who should win: “Coco”
This energetic animated feature directed by Adrian Molina for Pixar has strong support heading into the Oscars. The affecting story of a young boy who finds himself in the land of the dead, and then must seek his grandfather’s help to return to the world of the living, Coco boasts an all-Latino cast, and has made more than $732 million worldwide. With the voice talents of Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt and Edward James Olmos among others, this is a fresh departure for Pixar, and a milestone in feature animation.
Best Supporting Actress
Who will win: Allison Janney for “I, Tonya”
Who should win: Allison Janney for “I, Tonya”
Janney simply has no real competition in this category. She got a break from her sitcom duties on the hit series “Mom” for a chance to demonstrate her power and range as an actor. Janney has been working steadily in a number of excellent projects over the years, and more than deserves the Oscar for her all-stops-out performance as Tonya Harding’s overbearing “momager.”
Best Supporting Actor
Who will win: Sam Rockwell for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Who should win: Willem Dafoe for “The Florida Project”
This is just simply a personal choice; Rockwell’s work in “Three Billboards” is excellent, but I think that “The Florida Project” is the more interesting and original project — and given that McDormand seems a lock for Best Actress, I’d like to see the love spread around a bit.
Who will win: Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water”
Who should win: Jordan Peele for “Get Out”
While “The Shape of Water” has won a plethora of audience and critic’s awards, I’d like to see Peele win for Best Director, simply because his accomplishment is so much more audacious. It’s his first feature film, he had very little money to work with, it was shot on a tight schedule basically on one location, and is thus a very modest film in every way from a financial point of view. But it’s not too much to say that “Get Out” not only redefined the horror film; it also offered a much-needed examination of racism in America today, and has been warmly received by audiences as well as critics.
For a first-timer, this is a stunning piece of work, and though Peele won’t win, it would be nice if he did. But then again, Kenneth Branagh didn’t win for his first, and arguably best, feature film, “Henry V” (1989) - and he should have won that, as well. Let’s not forget that Peele also wrote the screenplay for “Get Out,” which is up for an award in the Best Original Screenplay category. I think, and hope, that he will win the Oscar there.
Who will win: “The Shape of Water”
Who should win: “Get Out”
While de Toro’s film is an affectionate homage to the Universal “Creature from the Black Lagoon” films — there were three in all — “Get Out“ ‘s agenda is so much more ambitious and timely that, as far as I can see, it’s the film to beat this year for sheer invention and audacity. “Call Me By Your Name” and “Lady Bird” would also be excellent choices, but I have the feeling that “The Shape of Water” may well sweep the Oscars here and in the lesser categories, given the number of nominations the film received. In that light, all of the above may be wrong; “The Shape of Water” may sweep the Oscar playing field altogether.
Best Documentary Feature
Who will win: “Faces Places”
Who should win: “Faces Places”
I’m going out on a limb here, as there’s no clear front runner, but Agnès Varda and conceptual artist JR’s sunny, optimistic documentary, chronicling Varda and JR crisscrossing the French countryside to take pictures of the local citizens, and then blow them up to billboard size to plaster on the sides of buildings and monuments is one of the most human, accessible, and uplifting films of the year.
Varda, who is 89 years old -and incidentally the oldest nominee ever for an Oscar — was one of the founders of the French New Wave with her first film “La Pointe Courte” in 1955. She’s been making superb films ever since, while her colleagues have fallen by the wayside. Varda has already received an honorary Academy Award — the first one for a female director (shame, shame) — for her lifetime contribution to film in 2017.
Varda charmed the audience by briefly dancing on stage with Angelina Jolie as she accepted the award, not so subtly hinting that while an honorary Oscar was nice, a real one would be even better. Varda is someone who should have won an Academy Award a long time ago; I hope she wins this time.
Surprises and Shutouts
Martin McDonagh could well have been nominated for his direction of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” However, for me, the real injustice is the complete shutout of Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” which didn’t pick up a single nomination, even in the technical categories. Jenkins’ film is a real groundbreaker not only in comic book movies, but also for women in front of and behind the camera. “Wonder Woman” is an excellent and impassioned piece of feminist cinema, with a surprisingly assured performance by Gal Gadot in the lead.
After a boring spate of recent superhero films from both Marvel and DC, it was refreshing to see an energetic, female-centered commercial film reaching large audiences. It made nearly a billion dollars at the box office worldwide, but not one — one — nomination? I think that Patty Jenkins should have been nominated for Best Director at the very, very least. Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” should also have been given a nomination for Best Picture — but the film got only one nod, for Willem Dafoe’s supporting performance.
As for the rest of the categories, I leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks. Bear in mind that these are simply educated guesses, nothing more, and I could easily strike out straight across the board. But in view of the trends in awards, and word of mouth, these seem the most likely outcomes.