With the Oscars coming this weekend, here are our picks for Best Picture and the four major acting categories. Included are also some thoughts on each category and some suggestions in regards to betting the Oscars.
Note that money pick denotes the pick that offers the best risk / reward ration maximizing return on investment where applicable. Obviously picking the favorite here would be counterintuitive as the line set on the favorite typically offers very little value.
THE BEST PICTURE RACE IS MORE OPEN THAN IT APPEARS
Ask me a month ago and I would have told you Best Picture was a soft lock for Three Billboards, the film that by in large had all the momentum in the precursory awards but now with the ceremony just a few days away, that stranglehold seems much less secure.
With growing sentiment that Three Billboards is insensitive and tone deaf to the realities of the political landscape director Martin McDonagh is trying to depict, the backlash against the film has soured its once-strong position as the frontrunner. As such from a predictive perspective (and frankly a personal one), I am far more inclined to place my bet on The Shape of Water if you are looking to win your office Oscar pool. Safe, sweet and just flashy enough to appeal to the widest academy voter base, it fulfills all the standard criteria of a traditional Oscar winner.
Prediction: The Shape of Water
Money Pick: Get Out (6/1 ODDS)
However, if you are looking to make any sort of real money off Sunday’s festivities that cannot be accomplished by simply picking the favorites so if you are in it to strike it rich, my pick would be for Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Arguably more poignant in its social commentary than Three Billboards, Get Out shines a light on the inequities plaguing America without being aggressively obtuse about its intent. It is that same subtlety that has caused Get Out’s message to fly completely over the heads of some academy voters (ironically the same voters praise Three Billboards for its “poignancy”) that will end up hurting its chances but like we witnessed last year with Moonlight’s somewhat surprising win over presumptive favorite La La Land, backlash against a film (justified or not) can dramatically affect outcomes.
KAZUHIRO TSUJI IS THE BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman’s turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is everything that the academy has traditionally loved. There is no money pick here because the chances of an upset happening are so slim that taking on the risk is a losing proposition on all fronts. As evidenced by the wide variety of our personal picks, the case for Oldman is much less a runaway outside academy circles.
Kaluuya, Chalamet, Day-Lewis all give great performances that we as a staff clearly appreciate but all three are the type of performances that are not immediately tangible. In all three cases, they are performances defined by their discreet nature existing in understated forms of expression, utilizing silence and visual cues to convey tone rather than far more recognizable means like transformation and loud declarative monologues – both tenants of a traditional Oscar winner.
Prediction: GARY OLDMAN
Money Pick: N/A
Oldman has all that going for him from the incredibly contrived speech seemingly made for Oscar sizzle reels to the transformation. Oh the transformation, easily the most discussed aspect of Oldman’s performance that is accomplished through the stellar prosthetic work of Kazuhiro Tsuji. Let me be the first to congratulate Kazuhiro Tsuji on his win as he will be joining a very small group of people of Asian descent to ever win an Academy Award. In typical Hollywood fashion, however, his win will be whitewashed and accepted by yet another white man.
ONLY FOR THE DEGENERATES
Similarly to Oldman’s dominance over the Best Actor field, Frances McDormand has an overwhelming lead over her fellow actress nominees. Loud, edgy and again immediately identifiable as “acting”, McDormand’s turn as the fiery Mildred Hayes drives much of Three Billboards proceedings. To her credit, she is indeed the strongest point of an arguably flawed film but it is those same issues that plague Three Billboards’ chances at Best Picture that also leaves the door open for an (unlikely) upset.
Prediction: FRANCES MCDORMAND
MONEY PICK: MARGOT ROBBIE (50/1)
If that were to come to pass, all of the remaining nominees provide good value relative to their current odds but as a pure “go for gold” play I like Margot Robbie at 50/1 in another aggressively noticeable performance filled with the generic hallmarks of performance that the Academy loves. In I,Tonya, she transforms from the beautiful bombshell we’ve seen in Wolf of Wall Street and Focus to become the significantly more frumpy Tonya Harding. She plays the role with gusto exhibiting the same truth (however disputed) that the real-life Harding believes. The knock against her and I, Tonya itself might just be the overly sentimental lens it views Harding but when evaluating performance it is definitely the type that the Academy gravitates towards.
I would only take Robbie if you are feeling particularly adventurous though because by all accounts McDormand remains the leader by a comfortable margin. At 25/1 Saoirse Ronan presents a decent option (whom on a personal level I will be supporting) but the subdued nature of that performance is one that rarely gets rewarded despite its excellence.
WHERE IS THE LOVE?
I’ve harped on enough about transformation, over-performance and Academy bias – all of which factor into Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney’s likely wins in the two supporting categories so I won’t get into it again. But I do want to pour one out in eulogy to the overlooked performances of the year chiefly that of those who were not even nominated. Mani Lazic wrote today on Vicky Krieps performance in Phantom Thread which is worth reading because she is 1) a very talented writer and 2) a model herself offering unique insight into the crux of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film.
Our very own Mike Pisacano also wrote a piece in part touching on the brilliance of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and indeed the performances of Ronan and Metcalf (a topic I myself hope to explore in greater depth) are worthy of awards but in the limited space here I’d love to show some love to Rooney Mara for her unrecognized performance in A Ghost Story.
Prediction: ALLISON JANNEY
MONEY PICK: LAURIE METCALF (6/1)
Mara portrays grief in A Ghost Story that to me is far more real than McDormand’s unbridled rage from which she channels her grief. I can see both avenues and certainly anger is a part of the process however in my experience, grief, whether it’s in heartbreak or loss, occurs mostly as a private singular expression. Mara’s pain over her loss is compartmentalized, she grief eats an entire pie in an attempt to bury her feelings and spends much of the film in silent wallowing. Director Dave Lowery makes us feel the passage of time and this lengthy nature of this process but more importantly focuses the camera on Mara’s face and the masks she has to put on during this time.
Life hits hard but that’s reality, as much as one makes want to angrily thrash things or cry our eyes out we can’t because life moves forward. The sadness over a loss is still felt but it is not always openly expressed, the hollow sadness of Mara’s eyes as the frame tightens on her face to her gradual process of acceptance is an arc that is beautifully articulated by the collective efforts of Lowery and Mara.
WHERE IS THE LOVE? PT 2
Two of the biggest snubs of this year’s Oscars have been Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg in the supporting actor category. Here it is all but a foregone conclusion that Sam Rockwell will win for playing the extremely divisive Officer Racist…ehh..I mean.. Dixon. He shares nomination honors with co-star Woody Harrelson whose respective arcs have been the source of much of the backlash surrounding Three Billboards. Even with that in mind though, the rest of the field lacks the relative strength to even come remotely close to challenging Rockwell which gravely reduces the likelihood of any return on investment in picking anyone else.
This makes the noted absence of both Call Me By Your Name stars all the more noticable because both, in theory, would have made for a more compelling race.The central relationship at the core of Call Me By Your Name is held entirely in the hands of Chalamet and Hammer. How that relationship translates is entirely subjective but judging by the near universal acclaim for the film, one can safely conclude that it was effective. For as great as Chalamet is (which he is) any relationship takes two and his performance is heightened by his interplay with Hammer. Some may question the slow meandering pace that Call Me By Your Name falls into but as mentioned in our review, it is this pace that allows the relationship to blossom from uncertainty to passion.
Prediction: SAM ROCKWELL
MONEY PICK: N/A
The case for Stuhlbarg is both more and less obvious. On one hand, he is far less prominent than Hammer is in the overall narrative of the film but on the other, his role is one that is perhaps in the truest sense supporting. You can make the case that Rockwell and even Hammer could easily fall into the lead categories for they have as much influence on their respective films as their lead nominated co-stars (a discrepancy that has long been an issue surrounding the Oscars). Much like Mahershala Ali who won last year in a relatively brief but still memorable portion in Moonlight, Stuhlbarg fills a similar role in the arc of Chalamet’s Elio. He offers support and advice as required and perhaps most prominently has the responsibility of delivering the film’s most powerful speech. So powerful in fact that it has been used in promotional material for the Oscars despite the actor himself missing a nomination (see video above).
We are all aware of Oscar bias and that said bias stands this year as well but as we reach the concluding stretch of the Oscars campaign, it is important to not forget the performances that have gone underappreciated, the performances that seem effortless because that’s what great acting is when executed well. Invisible. Unfortunately invisible often means forgotten but that doesn’t stop me from wondering where is the love?