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Critics Weigh In On
2018 Oscar Favorites

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Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins plays a woman trying to save a humanoid-amphibian creature (Doug Jones) in the fantasy The Shape of Water, which is favored to win Oscars on March 4. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)
According to Many Hollywood Insiders, Three Billboards and The Shape of Water Lead The Pack, But Which Film Will Bring Home The Top Prize And Who Will Capture Individual Accolades?


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By Karen Weil
Modern Times Magazine

March 2, 2018 — Will Oscar voters be swayed by a highly unconventional love affair between a woman and a sea creature with supernatural powers, or the story of a determined mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter? Until Sunday (March 4) rolls around, that’s the big question as awards season winds down, with the Academy Awards still being the top prize of all for filmmakers and actors. The two films that have garnered the most accolades are Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. Modern Times Magazine interviewed two movie critics for their thoughts on who will take home gold.

Best Picture
This year’s crop features themes that involve gritty social and racial issues, a tortured fashion designer, Britain’s courage during World War II, an eccentric teenage girl, the American free press and same-sex romance.

Along with Billboards and Shape, the other contenders are Call Me by Your Name, The Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread and The Post.

Joel David Amos, a critic who founded the Movie Mensch website, said director Guillermo del Toro's fantastical Shape, with its 13 nominations, is the front-runner (as it just won the Producers and Directors guild awards). Amos said his personal pick would be Billboards but added that based on the Academy voting format, it’s not impossible that Get Out might win.

Will Ashton, a freelance entertainment writer and critic who has written for The Playlist and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, agrees about Shape of Water being the one to beat.
However, he added that, as viewers saw last year when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the Best Picture winner over the actual winner, Moonlight – the Oscars can still surprise. Even with its clumsy handling of certain issues, there is a chance that Billboards might collect the top prize because it “has everyone talking,” Ashton said.

Best Director
Del Toro — the visionary who recently won the Directors Guild of America award for The Shape of Water — is considered a lock. But he does face heavy competition in Paul Thomas Anderson, for Phantom Thread; Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird; Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk and Jordan Peele, Get Out. This is the first directing nomination for everyone except Anderson.

Gerwig and Peele are well-regarded actors, but novice filmmakers. Anderson, del Toro and Nolan all have at least two decades in the business, with the latter two having created monster hits like del Toro with Hellboy and Nolan, who revamped the Batman franchise. Anderson, meanwhile, is revered for his unconventional films like Inherent Vice.

Amos said del Toro is adored the world over, particularly in Hollywood. “What he’s done is craft a magical, magical movie,” Amos said. Ashton described this year’s slate as a great but tough category. “Whoever wins it will be most deserving,” he added.

Ashton said del Toro should win for bringing his vision to the screen, and “he did it almost flawlessly,” but there is a chance that Gerwig or Peele might be called on that night.

Best Actress
Three Billboards star Frances McDormand already has a gold statue, which she won for Fargo in 1997. The four others hoping to win are Sally Hawkins, for The Shape of Water; Margot Robbie, I, Tonya; Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird; and Meryl Streep, The Post .

Although this is her 21st nomination, the formidable Streep – portraying legendary Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham – is considered to be out of the running this year.

McDormand, who already has a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award for her latest role, is considered the front-runner. To Amos, she is deserving for a “hurricane of a performance.” He noted that the Academy “wants someone who gives an amazing speech,” something for which McDormand is noted. “I see her knocking our socks off on the Dolby Theater stage.”

Amos also praised Hawkins for playing a mute woman who movingly conveys her character’s emotion, and is glad Robbie (a first-time nominee) and Ronan (who has been nominated twice before) are among the contenders. Ashton said this category is a tough one, with Ronan being a serious challenger — but McDormand has the advantage because “her role is so pivotal to that film.”


Best Actor

Gary Oldman, long admired for his daring performances, is the one to beat for his take on Sir Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. His competition includes both veteran performers and two newcomers: Timothée Chalamet, for Call Me by Your Name; Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread;  Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out; and Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel. Day-Lewis and Washington are no strangers to the Academy, as the pair have five Oscars between them.

Amos said that when the Hollywood press first saw Darkest Hour, “the [sense] was that the Oscar was his.” He added, “The Academy likes to be timely, and we’re living in a time when we’re craving strong leadership with huge world issues. To see Oldman play Churchill gives people hope.” Chalamet has received considerable accolades for his role as a teen who falls for a male grad student in 1980s Italy in Call Me By Your Name, but he’s just 22 and will have plenty of chances for a future Oscar, Amos said.

Ashton agreed on Oldman, and said that after Casey Affleck – now under scrutiny for alleged sexual harassment – won last year, “it would be good for the Academy to pick a non-controversial actor.”

Best Supporting Actress
Over the years, Academy voters have favored younger actresses in this category. For 2018, however, it comes down to two mature and much-respected names: Allison Janney for I, Tonya and Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird.  Amos described it as the “battle of overbearing mothers,” in reference to the characters the actresses play. The other three who have turned in nomination-worthy performances are Mary J. Blige, for Mudbound; Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread; and Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water. This is the third nomination for Spencer, who won in 2012 for The Help. Blige is a music superstar, while Manville is highly regarded for her stage and screen work in the United Kingdom.

Amos said although Metcalf gives the better performance playing Ronan’s mother, Janney — who has won both a Golden Globe and a SAG for playing skater Tonya Harding’s mother — will be called to the podium on Oscar night.  Ashton said he too would like to see Metcalf win, “[the Academy goes] for showier performances, which Janney’s is.”

Best Supporting Actor
Amos and Ashton agree that this year, Sam Rockwell will win for his work in Three Billboards. Rockwell is nominated along with a highly regarded crew, many of whom are previous nominees (with one having won an Oscar): Willem Dafoe, for The Florida Project; Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri;  Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water; and Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World.

Both critics said DaFoe is great in Florida, but the momentum now belongs to Rockwell, who now has a Golden Globe and SAG award for his portrayal of a racist sheriff’s deputy.
His character’s arc is “one of the most stunning in recent memory,” Amos said.

Other categories:
Original screenplay: Ashton said best picture winners often pick up a statuette, but he feels Gerwig will win, especially if her movie gets shut out in other categories. Amos likes Three Billboards, but would not be surprised if del Toro or Peele win.

Adapted screenplay:  Amos and Ashton pick is CallMe By Your Name, by veteran filmmaker James Ivory. “This will be the Academy’s chance to honor him,” Amos added. “It’s beautifully written.”

Foreign film: Both critics said the entry from Chile, A Fantastic Woman, is the likely winner. The film, which centers around a man’s relationship with a transgendered woman, “is timely and powerful,” Amos said. “It would be fantastic to see a winner from the Spanish-language and English-speaking world up on stage.”

Original documentary: Amos described this filed as wide open, because of releases which were not nominated, including Jane and An Inconvenient Sequel.  He and Ashton said Last Men in Aleppo, about the Syrian civil war, is the favorite. Whichever film wins “will make some sort of statement, Amos said.  However, Ashton also said that Faces Places -- the latest from French New Wave director Agnes Varda – “is a crowd-pleaser in every sense” that might win over voters.

Original score: In a category filled with titans like John Williams, Amos said The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat will take it. “There’s something about that soundtrack that transcends the movie,” Amos said. “It’s so powerful.” Ashton’s personal is pick Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread but he too thinks Desplat – who has one Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel – is the likely winner. Amos singled out Roger Deakins – who has no less than 13 Oscar nominations – as the long overdue winner for his cinematography work on Blade Runner: 2049.

To learn more about all the nominees, visit http://oscar.go.com/nominees
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