Oscars 2018 Nominees: Winner Predictions and Analysis

We dive into the major nominees for the Oscars 2018 season to predict who we think will win and who should win, plus other analysis.

And like that, our awards season has entered the home stretch. It feels like just yesterday, after the smoke cleared from the La La Land and Moonlight confusion, that we all swore we’d never get sucked into this craziness again. Yet here we are in one of the most open and competitive fields in recent Oscar season memory. With the impending 90th Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has locked down the envelope-delivery process. But even so, no one can be clearly sure who is going to win at this year’s Oscars.

Not that this is going to stop us from guessing! Every year, we give our predictions, and each following March, you’re allowed to come and gawk at the egg on our face (which should be quite spectacular in such an open year as this). Then again, year’s nominees were already filled with surprises and the unexpected. While we have pegged for a while now that The Shape of Water is the closest we’ll get to a frontrunner, it was still a shock to see Guillermo del Toro’s movie about a love story between woman and fish become the belle of the ball with a staggering 13 nominations. These nods ranged from Best Picture and Director, to Best Actress for Sally Hawkins, and Best Original Screenplay for del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. It also earned nods in almost every technical category.

Dunkirk took home the second most amount of nominations with eight total nods. While this is great news for longtime fans of Christopher Nolan, as The Dark Knight auteur finally got a Best Director nomination after being snubbed arguably three or four times, most of the nominations are in well-deserved technical categories like Best Cinematography and Best Editing. Nolan getting a Best Director nomination, as well as the movie standing among the nine Best Picture nominees, is impressive, but we imagine that The Shape of Water’s real competition will come from films that also took home some major acting and screenwriting considerations.

This includes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the darling of the SAG Awards on Sunday and a movie that Academy voters from the acting profession will adore. It is also a critical favorite (including for our critics). However, as we’ll get to in our predictions, it is quite vulnerable in spite of its seven nominations, including for Best Picture, Martin McDonagh getting nominated for Original Screenplay, and acting nods given out to Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson. Also receiving a healthy number of nominations are the six nods earned by Darkest Hour, five nominations for Greta Gerwig’s delightful Lady Bird, and four nominations for Get Out. In fact, Get Out taking nominations for Best Picture, Best Director for Jordan Peele, and especially Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor were major gains for what was ostensibly a little horror movie from Blumhouse Productions.

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Indeed, Kaluuya likely benefitted from the public controversy that has recently embroiled James Franco. Once a seeming lock for a Best Actor nomination after winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical (for which Kaluuya was also nominated), allegations of sexual misconduct seemed to have pushed Franco down in Academy voters’ estimation. Indeed, as the first Oscar ceremony in the year after the fall of Harvey Weinstein—a man who defined our modern understanding of what is an “Oscar movie” (i.e. Oscar Bait) is in the 1990s—the Academy Awards are in a moment of transition. Some of this has led to boons for this year’s nominees, including Christopher Plummer earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination after replacing Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World (making him at age 88 the oldest competitive Oscar nominee on record), but for the most part, the industry and their self-congratulatory ceremonies are in a moment of intense introspection.

But if that means we live in a world where Harvey Weinstein is in ruin, former Oscar winners like Kevin Spacey are in the wilderness, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird can take home five nominations and be a potential Best Picture dark horse, and a superhero movie like Logan can earn a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar—making it the first superhero movie since The Dark Knight to receive a nomination in a non-technical category—then it is a long overdue introspection, indeed.

So without further ado, here our predictions for who will win and who should win. We will bold below who we predict the Oscars will choose as the big winners, and we shall italicize those we think should be chosen. Sometimes it will be one in the same, but for the most part, there will be some differences in our predictions for the biggest awards of Hollywood’s big night.

Best Picture

Call Me by Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

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Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

At the end of the day, The Shape of Water’s unexpected and relatively low frontrunner status will power it through to Oscar’s biggest prize. Awards voters from technical and craft guilds will rally around Guillermo del Toro’s gorgeous film, which also celebrates the oppressed and marginalized. By imagining a time where some pretend America “was great,” del Toro deconstructs the menace of white privilege in a film about an older woman and a closeted gay man finding their salvation in a monster who 60 years ago would be considered the stuff of B-movie creature feature. Admittedly, that genre accentuation might weaken the film’s appeal to more old-fashioned Academy voters, but its politics will be seen as a virtue, especially since its biggest competitor that appeals to actors in the Academy—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—is about to undergo some intense scrutiny.

While I personally strongly disagree with the narrative that has taken root on social media and “Woke Twitter” about Three Billboards being a “racist movie,” or “that racist cop movie,” its sympathetic portrayal of Sam Rockwell’s quite racist cop will become a much talked-about lightning rod over the next month. And considering that La La Land lost support amongst Academy voters after a legion of think-pieces decried the idea that a white man could love jazz (even when it was written and directed by just such an artist), then Three Billboards is almost certain not to withstand such intense criticism when one of its characters is a violent and abusive police officer. Such scrutiny might have been what already cost Three Billboards a Best Director nomination, an indicator that the Academy is not as high on the film as SAG has been.  Meanwhile, if there is one dark horse who could benefit from votes being split between Shape and Three Billboards, it’s Lady Bird. However, we think at the end of the day, the frontrunner will not lose out to what might be receiving a lot of #2 and #3 votes in the Academy’s famed tiered voting system.

Best Director

Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

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Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro 

… However, we do think the love for Greta Gerwig’s buoyant Lady Bird could allow the first-time director to become a first-time Oscar winner. Gerwig’s film is indeed a wonderful portrait of a young woman in transition—as well as her mother’s major life change—and it speaks well to all moviegoers. While Guillermo del Toro’s movie should still win Best Picture, Gerwig’s effervescent film—and the narrative around it—should propel Gerwig to the top prize. This is in spite of the fact that Christopher Nolan has directed yet another stunningly precise epic that somehow made a desperate retreat on a vast French beach feel claustrophobic and terrifying while captured in immense IMAX photography.

Best Lead Actress

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Frances McDormand, Three Billboads Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

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Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post 

Frances McDormand gave a powerhouse performance as Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards. While we think Oscar politics and social media narratives will cost Three Billboards in Best Picture, there is no denying McDormand is phenomenal as this steely woman, who not-so-incidentally is also an avatar for the long overdue #MeToo movement, as she uses grit and determination to make all the men in power in her small town to see things her way—as opposed to their usual inclination to dismiss her as just some “crazy woman” or a beleaguered ex-wife.

Best Actor

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

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Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

This is an easy-to-call one. Gary Oldman should have several Oscars at this point, so it is definitely “his year.” Further, he plays Winston Churchill, which is an automatic awards earner, be it Oscars, Emmys, or otherwise. And lastly, Oldman is magnificent in a performance that chews the scenery, but given the larger than life subject matter, that’s par for the course in a turn that folks will remember for years to come.

Best Supporting Actress

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

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Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water 

Definitely an upset, but we’re calling Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird. Conventional wisdom says that Allison Janney should win for her scene-stealing role in I, Tonya. Yet we think Metcalf’s turn as a different kind of distressed mother had more dimension and depth than Janney’s flashier performance. And the reason we think the Oscar voters will agree is they don’t always go along with SAG and Golden Globe picks, and I, Tonya’s snub for Best Picture suggests that Janney is vulnerable.

Best Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboads Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

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Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboads Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Also like our prediction for Best Actress, we don’t think the thespians will be punished for what is perceived to be failings in the overall picture. Actors who vote for Oscars will be overruled on Best Picture, but not in categories relating to their own profession. And quite frankly, Sam Rockwell is a wonderful character who deserves his moment, especially after giving a nuanced performance that could make you despise his character and then later empathize with him, while never forgiving his sins. It’s a marvelous turn that will win the day.

* But if I can take a moment to discuss a snub right here, the failure to nominate Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me by Your Name remains a major failure on the part of all awards shows this season. The man is in three Best Picture nominees between that film, The Shape of Water, and The Post, and gives a devastating monologue in Call Me by Your Name that was well worth a nomination. It should even compete with Rockwell.

Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjani

Get Out, Jordan Peele

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Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Martin McDonagh

We may have ultimately gave the edge to Three Billboards in our preferences, but we’d be just as happy to see Jordan Peele win for his incredibly inventive and charming-in-it-insidiousness Get Out. But The Shape of Water’s vision of repressed mid-20th century America, and its ability to find humanity in a special effect will power it to the prize in this category. Plus, in Get Out’s case, it is a horror movie, and the traditional notion that genre should be happy just to be nominated will stay intact with the new AMPAS. Also, we suspect Get Out, Lady Bird, and The Big Sick could cancel each other out in votes from younger Academy members wishing to shake things up.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

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Logan, James Mangold and Michael Green

Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

This one is easy to predict since Call Me by Your Name is the only one of the five films nominated for Best Picture! And while I personally loved Call Me by Your Name—it is in my top five for the year—so much of that film’s success also relied on directing (which it was snubbed for) and acting. James Ivory delivered a beautiful script, but it was in how that it was told that made that film extraordinary. Whereas Molly’s Game was another Aaron Sorkin high-wire act with wall-to-wall voiceover narration that somehow added to the allure of a film essentially about a woman dominating an activity that involves sitting around staring at cards. Yet Sorkin’s script was as pointed as the eponymous Molly’s heels as she kicked down the doors to a man’s world and then made it her own—and in a very underrated film to boot.

Best Animated Film

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

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Coco

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Admittedly I haven’t seen Loving Vincent, but among the rest, Coco is by far the best. It is also Pixar in a year where there are no Walt Disney Animation Studios movies, so the Oscar voters are doubly predictable.

Best Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

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Dunkirk

Mudbound

The Shape of Water

Dan Laustsen photographed a beautiful film with The Shape of Water, but what Roger Deakins achieved in Blade Runner 2049 was breathtaking. He reinvented Ridley Scott’s original vision of a cyber noir dystopia into something as tenderly beautiful as a painting of winter’s first snowfall—on an urban hellscape. He also is arguably the best working cinematographer who, despite being nominated 14 times at the Academy Awards, has never won an Oscar. And because Blade Runner isn’t what the Academy deems as “Best Picture” material, sadly we suspect that losing streak will continue. Also look at first time nominee Hoyte Van Hoytema to be a spoiler given his excellent IMAX photography on Dunkirk.

Best Editing

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

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I, Tonya

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This will be one of the few places where Dunkirk is given some much needed love. The way Nolan and editor Lee Smith balance three different timelines in this taut, precise manipulator of nerves is masterful.

Best Score

Dunkirk

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Alexander Desplat’s original music for The Shape of Water is genuinely heartbreaking and illuminating. It will and should win this award.

Best Original Song

“A Mighty River,” Mudbound

“Mystery of Love,” Call Me by Your Name

“Remember Me,” Coco

“Stand Up for Something,” Marshall

“This is Me,” The Greatest Showman

The Academy will use this category to award the lone musical its single award, especially after The Greatest Showman has become a box office sleeper hit. However, as nice as that song is, like almost everything else in The Greatest Showman, it is standard four-chord progression pop music meant to evoke Top 40 standards. The central tune of Coco is filled with emotional yearning that helps underscore its entire film and conflict, all while introducing el mariachi influences that can surprise viewers.

Best Production Design

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

The level of craft and artistry in Dunkirk is enormous. To ignore how it recreated the harrowing evacuation of the entire British forces from the continent of Europe would be ridiculous.

Best Costume Design

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Victoria & Abdul

While this is one we would actually love to see The Shape of Water win, never underestimate the Academy’s passion for a World War II drama set primarily in the halls of English power.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Darkest Hour

Victoria & Abdul

Wonder

They made Gary Oldman look like Winston Churchill. Enough said.

Best Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis as Caesar. It is still an amazing special effect that encapsulates the wonder of War for the Planet of the Apes.