THR film critic Todd McCarthy makes his case for 'Call Me by Your Name' and 'Lady Bird,' while awards analyst Scott Feinberg calculates the odds.
SHOULD WIN: Call Me by Your Name
All five of the nominees here are good enough that none would be an embarrassing winner. But while it is arguably the least showy and stylishly cinematic of the lot, I still come down decisively in favor of Call Me by Your Name for its casual intelligence, the slow burn of its gathering eroticism and intense sensitivity to the vagaries of love and sexual attraction.
WILL WIN: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Call Me by Your Name has no directing or writing nom and Dunkirk has no acting or writing nom. The Post, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards each have acting, directing, writing and score noms. Shape has the most for acting (3) and total (7), but I hear Searchlight's other title, Billboards, is slightly preferred.
SHOULD WIN: Lady Bird
As usual, this cockamamie category features only a couple of worthy nominees and one that dwarfs the rest, that one being Lady Bird. One of the most completely satisfying American writer-director debuts of recent times, Greta Gerwig's semiautobiographical project is definitely funny enough to be regarded as a comedy but remains firmly moored to its serious underpinnings.
WILL WIN: Lady Bird
The HFPA doesn't love The Disaster Artist; Get Out; The Greatest Showman; I, Tonya; or Lady Bird — none got a directing nom. They love musicals, but the best bets are critics' darlings Get Out (not helped by Jordan Peele’s criticism of its categorization) and Lady Bird (the only nominee that also got a writing nom).
SHOULD WIN: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
All five of the nominees can be fairly said to have maximized the values inherent in the stories they've told, and in very stylish ways. But for me the race is between Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro, the former telling a massive historical tale in a dazzlingly disciplined way, the latter relating a confined sci-fi fable in breathtakingly intimate terms. Flipping a coin, I'll go for Nolan.
WILL WIN: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
This rarely goes to someone whose film isn't also a best picture winner, but I feel like a split could happen this year. Any of the five — del Toro (Shape), Martin McDonagh (Billboards), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World) and Steven Spielberg (The Post) — are plausible.
SHOULD WIN: Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)
Roman J. Israel, Esq. will not go down as one of Denzel Washington's signature roles, Gary Oldman came closer than one might have thought but still no cigar as Churchill, Tom Hanks didn't quite match Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee, and Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent again in a role that may be his last but not his greatest. So hats off to Timothee Chalamet in a precocious star-is-born performance of infinite moods, flavors and shadings.
WILL WIN: Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)
This is between Darkest Hour's Gary Oldman, who has a history of slamming the HFPA, and the youngster who keeps beating him, Chalamet. The HFPA has long memories, loves rising stars and much preferred Call Me by Your Name to Darkest Hour, so this could be Oldman's Waterloo — but it will be close.
SHOULD WIN: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Fine performances all around in this category, although the two standouts are Sally Hawkins as the mute government employee who establishes an intimate bond with an aquatic monster and Frances McDormand as a bereaved small-town mother of limitless scorn and bottomless sarcasm. Hawkins' work could not be more sensitive and alert to the occasion, while McDormand puts extra spin on her every line. It's a toss-up, but I'll go for McDormand simply because I've thought of her performance more often and with deeper gut pleasure.
WILL WIN: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Never rule out Meryl Streep (The Post), but the HFPA really likes Three Billboards and its leading lady McDormand (they even nominated her for Burn After Reading). The press-shy thesp even had a good press conference with them, which can help. Only Streep or Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) could spoil.
SHOULD WIN: James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Few, if any, of the actors up in this category would rate a mention in a single Best Actor fivesome. Daniel Kaluuya and Steve Carell made the most of their roles, but the nominee who really took control and achieved his own career high-water mark was James Franco, who was uncanny and remarkably engaging as Tommy Wiseau, the auteur and star of the legendarily awful The Room.
WILL WIN: James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes) and Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman) are popular past winners up for so-so movies. Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) is a new star up for neither a musical nor a comedy. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) is a standout but too low-profile. Franco will win again, 16 years after James Dean.
SHOULD WIN: Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Dench and Mirren are British royalty hardly in their best films here, while Robbie and, even moreso, Stone impressively played athletes in intense competition. But leagues ahead of all of them this year is Saoirse Ronan, whose career just keeps fanning out in a seemingly miraculous way; in terms of she-can-do-anything versatility, the Irish actress has already carved out junior league Meryl Streep-like status at an age a decade younger than Streep's when the latter made her film debut.
WILL WIN: Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul)
The nom's the win for The Leisure Seeker's Helen Mirren and Battle of the Sexes' Emma Stone. Most think this is between Lady Bird's Saoirse Ronan and I, Tonya's Margot Robbie, stars of pic nominees. But beware of Dench — voters loved her perf as a queen and appreciated her attendance at their Venice soirée.
SHOULD WIN: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Even without the glaringly absent sixth worthy contender, Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me by Your Name, this is a strong category featuring fine work all around. Christopher Plummer's startling and vibrant turn as old J.P. Getty is freshest in the mind and hard to ignore, and Sam Rockwell kick-started his career with his amazing work as a terminally idiotic racist cop. But Willem Dafoe takes the cake playing a far more ordinary man, an empathetic low-end motel manager faced with daily challenges from the mundane to the ridiculous to the extreme.
WILL WIN: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
The Florida Project's Willem Dafoe is the Oscar fave, but HFPA members didn't love his film. They did love and nominate the films of Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water) and Rockwell (Three Billboards). Rockwell is the fave — but faced a late surge by Christopher Plummer, who rather remarkably, in just nine days, at 88, saved a movie they liked, All the Money in the World.
SHOULD WIN: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
The real juice of daily struggle amid impoverished adversity is faced by all the characters played by the five nominees, all of whom are strikingly good. Still, Laurie Metcalf has managed to strike the most resounding real-life chord here with her performance as a hard-working and overbearing mother who simply can't help herself from imposing her own frustrations and limitations on her more free-spirited and ambitious daughter in Lady Bird.
WILL WIN: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
While HFPA members love A-listers and newcomers, Mary J. Blige and Hong Chau, respectively, have the misfortune of being in movies they disliked, Mudbound and Downsizing. That leaves the stars of three films they did like (and nominated for best picture), The Shape of Water's Octavia Spencer, Lady Bird's Laurie Metcalf and the one who I think will ultimately benefit from having the showiest part, I, Tonya's Janney.
SHOULD WIN: Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Martin McDonagh gets off some of the best dialogue of the season in Three Billboards, but I share with a few others the reservation that the playwright didn't do enough to flesh out the entire town; a few characters were the whole show. So the tyro in the bunch, Greta Gerwig, earns my support on the basis of terrific character writing for roles big and small in Lady Bird, ever-resourceful naturalistic humor and the percolating dramatic tension of the mother-daughter relationship that fully pays off at the end.
WILL WIN: Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
One of the five is not also nominated for best pic — Molly's Game — a circumstance under which Aaron Sorkin won just two years ago. Of the other four, only one — The Post — is not written or co-written by its director. I expect the HFPA to treat this as a consolation prize for one of the directors it could but won't honor as best director, Lady Bird's Greta Gerwig or Three Billboards' McDonagh.
SHOULD WIN: Coco
Other than for Coco, nothing in the animation world turned my head this year, so Coco it is.
WILL WIN: Coco
In this category, the HFPA almost always recognizes the presumptive frontrunner, which, this year, is Disney's blockbuster. The fact that it also happens to be one of only two nominees in the category that also has a second nom (like Ferdinand, it's up for a song) and is competing against un-artsy (The Boss Baby) and very-artsy (The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent) fare, seems to confirm the strength of its prospects.
SHOULD WIN: The Square (Sweden)
The generally lackluster year in international cinema is reflected in the five nominees here, which deal dead seriously with hot-flash contemporary issues but fall a bit short of their ambitions in one way or another. The best of the nominees, In the Fade, Loveless and The Square, were among the worthier films in Cannes 2017, but they remain problematic, so it's hard to muster vigorous support. Pushed to the wall, I'd go with Ruben Ostlund's The Square for its rudely ambitious take on Swedish societal discomfort.
WILL WIN: First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)
Four of the five nominees — A Fantastic Woman, In the Fade, Loveless and The Square — were also shortlisted for the corresponding Oscar, but one, Angelina Jolie's First They Killed My Father, was not. Though a heavy German presence in the HFPA could benefit In the Fade, I expect the HFPA will attempt to endear itself to Jolie (of whom it was an early champion) by picking her worthy film over the others.
SHOULD WIN: Johnny Greenwood (Phantom Thread)
This is even easier than animated feature. Jonny Greenwood's score for Phantom Thread is one of the creative glories of the year, a sort of throwback to the rhapsodically melodic scores one associates with the creations of 1940s-50s composer kings like Miklos Rosza, Franz Waxman, Dmitri Tiomkin and Bernard Herrmann. The piano-and-strings-dominated music establishes at once the period, the characters' internal turbulence and the story's melodramatic trappings, and ravishingly so.
WILL WIN: Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk)
This is not infrequently a category in which the HFPA recognizes a film that it hasn't found room to recognize elsewhere. For that reason, on top of reasons of merit, I expect Dunkirk's Hans Zimmer or Phantom Thread's Jonny Greenwood to edge out The Post's John Williams (who never shows up at the ceremony), The Shape of Water's Alexandre Desplat and Three Billboards' Carter Burwell.
SHOULD WIN: "Remember Me" (Coco)
With three absolute banalities among the five, the choice is entirely between "Mighty River," a soulful, slowly building emotional wail from Mary J. Blige written for Mudbound, and "Remember Me," an agreeably jaunty bilingual ballad sung by Miguel for Coco. It's really a question of mood: "Mighty River" swells with emotion even as the tune's progress is entirely predictable, while the bouncy breeziness of "Remember Me" sweeps your cares away for several minutes. Really a toss-up, but the disarming nature of the latter grabbed me a tad more.
WILL WIN: "This Is Me" (The Greatest Showman)
Will voters want to send Mudbound's Mary J. Blige home with a win for at least one of her two noms? Will they gravitate to the star-power of Nick Jonas (Ferdinand) or Mariah Carey (The Star)? Might they recognize a song from an animated film (Coco)? All possible — but my hunch is they'll make it two in a row for Pasek and Paul, who won for La La Land last year and again are up for a pic the HFPA liked even more than the Academy.