Oscar Sunday is nearly upon us and with a Best Picture shortlist including coming-of-age stories (Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird), racial politics (Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), World War Two (Darkest Hour, Dunkirk) and interspecies lovemaking (The Shape of Water), there's a lot to discuss.
The funny thing about this season is there hasn't been a clear Best Picture frontrunner. Three Billboards' good chances were weakened after director Martin McDonagh missed out on a nomination, but strong showings at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs keep it in the running.
The film courted controversy for its handling of US race relations, particularly compared to fellow contender Get Out, Jordan Peele's satirical horror. A more accomplished race drama, however, is Dee Rees' Mudbound, receiving four nominations that included adapted screenplay and supporting actress, but somehow not picture or director.
Leading the nominations with thirteen is Guillermo del Toro's romantic fantasy, The Shape of Water, featuring a wonderfully physical performance from nominee Sally Hawkins. This was starting to look like a shoo-in for Best Picture until a plagiarism lawsuit was filed by the family of late Pulitzer Prize-winner, Paul Zindel, who claim del Toro stole inspiration from his 1969 play, Let Me Hear You Whisper.
The directing category is hugely exciting. Not only are del Toro and Christopher Nolan – nominated for tense World War Two thriller, Dunkirk – established auteurs receiving their first nominations, but they are up against two nominees making their solo directorial debuts: Peele and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird). That said, the absence of Call Me By Your Name's Luca Guadagnino is very disappointing.
The biggest surprise for me, however, is Paul Thomas Anderson – the only non-first-time nominee in this category – for romantic drama Phantom Thread. This is an intriguing film to be nominated for, given that Anderson has done outstanding work since receiving his last directing nod a decade ago for There Will Be Blood. But given his lack of screenplay nomination and the fact that, while excellent, Phantom Thread is pretty esoteric, he probably doesn't have much chance.
Daniel Day-Lewis is nominated for his superb (career-best?) performance in Phantom Thread, supposedly his last film. I would be happy to see him win his fourth Best Actor Oscar, but the smart money is on Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. This would be a ‘career achievement' award for Oldman, who, although transformative, is a safe choice. More exciting winners would be Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya or Call Me By Your Name's Timothée Chalamet, but both are probably too young for the Academy's taste – 22-year-old Chalamet would be the youngest winner ever by six years.
Make no mistake, Frances McDormand will win her second Best Actress Oscar for her tour de force in Three Billboards. Margot Robbie is also brilliant as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, but I would choose Saoirse Ronan's brave yet understated work in Lady Bird. Egregious snubs include Phantom Thread's Vicky Krieps – who more than holds her own against Day-Lewis – and Florence Pugh for Lady Macbeth, a subversive take on female empowerment for which playwright Alice Birch should have been recognised for her brutal but poetic screenplay.
Best Supporting Actress is being fought out by two popular performers nominated for the first time – I, Tonya's Allison Janney and Lady Bird's Laurie Metcalf. Lesley Manville is also fantastic in Phantom Thread – can you tell I like Phantom Thread? – but Metcalf has the edge for me. Notable emissions include Ana de Armas for humanising the role of a hologram in Blade Runner 2049, and Hong Chau, the best thing about Alexander Payne's lacklustre Downsizing.
Three Billboards has two nominations for supporting actors Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who will probably win. But none of the nominees exceeds the power of Call Me By Your Name's overlooked Michael Stuhlbarg. As Elios' father, he exudes warmth and wisdom that culminates in a devastating, beautifully delivered monologue. Rob Morgan (Mudbound) should also have been recognised for his powerful work.
History was made this year when Mudbound's Rachel Morrison became the first woman in the Academy's 90 year history to be nominated for cinematography. I'd love it if she won, but I think, after 14 nominations, the voters will reward Blade Runner 2049's Roger Deakins, whose extraordinary career has yet to be adorned with a golden statuette. Original score seems to be between Dunkirk's Hans Zimmer and The Shape of Water's Alexandre Desplat, but my choice would be Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's dreamlike work on, yep, Phantom Thread, which has been playing in my head on repeat for two weeks.
Ultimately, how damaging The Shape of Water‘s lawsuit will be to its chances of winning is difficult to say. I therefore cannot predict with any confidence what will win Best Picture, and neither Shape of Water nor Three Billboards particularly excited me anyway. But it is refreshing in this year of the Time's Up campaign that the two frontrunners are female-driven stories, with a female director nominated for the first time in eight years. My personal favourites – Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, Lady Bird – are unlikely to triumph in the major categories. Then again, we complain every year that awards bodies get it wrong but obsess just as much when the next awards season comes around. So with that, see you next year.
The 90th Academy Awards ceremony will take place on 4th March 2018.
Prediction: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Preference: Call Me By Your Name
Prediction: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Preference: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread or Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Oversight: Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
Prediction: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Preference: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Oversight: Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
Prediction: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Preference: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Oversight: Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
Best Supporting Actor
Prediction: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Preference: I'll be honest, without Michael Stuhlbarg, I don't really mind
Oversight: Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
Best Supporting Actress
Prediction: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Preference: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Oversight: Carey Mulligan, Mudbound
Best Original Screenplay
Prediction: Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Preference: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Oversight: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Best Adapted Screenplay
Prediction: James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name
Preference: James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name
Oversight: Alice Birch, Lady Macbeth
Words by Logan Jones @LoganOnFilm