Oscars: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

6:45 AM 2/28/2018

by Scott Feinberg and Todd McCarthy

Fill out your office pool with your gut or your heart as The Hollywood Reporter's awards analyst predicts who will win and its chief film critic suggests who should win.

Oscars Statue - Getty - H 2018
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

  • Best Picture

    WILL WIN: The Shape of Water

    Even before considering the preferential ballot’s effect (which is intended to produce a winner most people at least like), this is tough. Each of the five serious contenders faces a daunting stat: Dunkirk=no noms for acting or writing (it's been 85 years since that was overcome), Get Out=fewer than five total noms (84), Lady Bird=no craft noms (37), Shape=no SAG ensemble nom (22) and Three Billboards=no directing nom (5). All have won other awards, and Get Out and Three Billboards feel particularly timely. But Shape seems the most widely admired (among its field-leading 13 noms are three for acting, negating SAG’s snub) and could benefit from reverse-coattails (its director is winning).

    SHOULD WIN: Call Me By Your Name

    It's a sign of something when the best gay-or-otherwise picture of the year, Call Me by Your Name, is perhaps seen as too “conventional” by newer Academy members, who might actually push Get Out into the winner's circle. It's also true that the DVDs supplied for home viewing of Luca Guadagnino's sublimely observed and acted film don't look so hot; the film that clearly deserves to win here (but probably won’t) is one that plays infinitely better on the big screen despite its intimate scale.

  • Best Director

    WILL WIN: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

    Every indicator we have — Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA and especially DGA, which has predicted this winner all but seven times in 69 years — suggests that veterans Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan and rising stars Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele (this category’s fifth female and fifth black nominee, respectively) will lose to monster maven del Toro. That would make this the fourth time in five years that this prize has gone to a Mexican filmmaker — and, specifically, one of “The Three Amigos.”

    SHOULD WIN: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

    A strong case could be made for several of the nominees in this hotly contested category — only one has ever been nominated before — and the films are all auteurish high-wire acts by deeply distinctive writer-directors. For me, it's a toss-up among Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson and Guillermo del Toro. But now, more than six months after it opened, Nolan's Dunkirk still sticks in the mind as a genuinely protean piece of filmmaking, a work that goes well beyond the norm in terms of both ambition and accomplishment.

  • Best Actor

    WILL WIN: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

    Forget about Roman J. Israel, Esq.’s Denzel Washington — the nom’s the win for him. Don’t totally write off Daniel Day-Lewis for his last rodeo (in Phantom Thread) or Daniel Kaluuya or Timothee Chalamet for their first (in Get Out and Call Me by Your Name, respectively), as each anchors a picture nominee. But so does Oldman, who, unlike the others, has both paid his dues and never won. His transformation into Churchill — already recognized with every major precursor award — is just the sort of thing Academy members eat up.

    SHOULD WIN: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

    Once Oscar night is over, is anyone even going to remember that Denzel Washington was in a film called Roman J. Israel, Esq.? Daniel Kaluuya's presence is also something of a surprise, while Gary Oldman, who seems to be the odds-on favorite to win, delivers a better-than-expected impersonation of Winston Churchill while still seeming not to be genuinely suited for the role. As the Academy has demonstrated three times, it's hard to deny Daniel Day-Lewis. But I would vote for Call Me by Your Name’s startlingly fine leading man, newcomer Timothee Chalamet.

  • Best Actress

    WILL WIN: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    McDormand won this award 21 years ago for Fargo, and she’s about to join an elite group of 13 who have won it more than once. Sally Hawkins, Saoirse Ronan and Meryl Streep also anchor best pic nominees, and Margot Robbie has the more Oscar-friendly narrative (beautiful movie star morphs into less beautiful real person, and produced her own pic). But none of the others have been able to accrue any momentum because McDormand — for a John Wayne-esque turn that captures the anger felt by many of us right now — has run the table on them at other awards shows.

    SHOULD WIN: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

    Margot Robbie and Meryl Streep were both very good but not on the level of Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan, all exceptional in very fine films which are unthinkable without them. Arguably, Hawkins plays the most unusual character, while McDormand makes the strongest moment-to-moment impression. But cumulatively, with this performance coming on the heels of her very different coming-of-age turn in Brooklyn, I can only once again champion the ever-revelatory Ronan (if both she and Chalamet were to win, their combined ages would be less than those of most of the other nominees).

  • Best Supporting Actor

    WILL WIN: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    This prize has been split by two “actors’ actors” all season: The Florida Project’s Willem Dafoe, twice previously an Oscar bridesmaid, who swept the major critics groups, and Rockwell, never before Oscar-nominated, who swept the major industry awards. Rockwell’s film is more admired — Dafoe is his film’s sole nominee — but Rockwell’s costar Woody Harrelson could bite off some of his votes. Rockwell should be able to hold off them and two other beloved vets, The Shape of Water’s Richard Jenkins and All the Money in the World’s Christopher Plummer.

    SHOULD WIN: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    The roles played by Woody Harrelson or Richard Jenkins aren't quite as substantial or challenging as the others and, effective as Christopher Plummer is in his moment's-notice role of John Paul Getty, the only former winner here isn't quite deserving of a repeat. Willem Dafoe's work as the motel manager in The Florida Project begins unassumingly, only to slowly accrue a low-key working class grandeur that registers affectingly. But Sam Rockwell's wild role as a foul policeman in Three Billboards is even meatier and has a greater arc, and the actor smacks it out of the park.

  • Best Supporting Actress

    WILL WIN: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

    Among performers, only Cloris Leachman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have won more Emmys than Janney's seven, but until this year she had never received so much as an Oscar nom. Now, for her portrayal of the meanest movie mom to hit the silver screen since Precious (for which Mo'Nique won in this category), a hilarious and spot-on impersonation of Tonya Harding's mom, she looks almost certain to take home gold. Lady Bird's Laurie Metcalf did well with critics groups, and Phantom Thread's Lesley Manville has her admirers, but Janney swept the industry awards.

    SHOULD WIN: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

    Effective as Allison Janney is as Unsupportive Mother of the Decade in I, Tonya, there was something almost Saturday Night Live-ish about the one-note foulness. Mary J. Blige and Octavia Spencer did solid work entirely of a piece with the equally fine contributions of their films' respective ensemble casts. For me it comes down to Laurie Metcalf and Lesley Manville. The latter registered minutely calibrated emotional expressions of a hyper-alert character that were wonderful to behold. Still, Metcalf's distressed, limited and fearful mother of a daughter about to leave the nest clearly stands above the rest for its vivid portrait of violently conflicting emotions.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    WILL WIN: Call Me by Your Name

    At 89, and poised to become the oldest-ever Oscar winner, James Ivory's adaptation of Andre Aciman's novel of the same title looks hard to beat. He already has won best adapted screenplay WGA, Critics' Choice and BAFTA laurels, as well as the USC Scripter, which has predicted this winner seven years in a row. One should never totally count out Aaron Sorkin (Molly's Game), and The Disaster Artist, Logan and Mudbound certainly have their constituencies, but Call Me by Your Name is the only best picture nominee represented in this category.

    SHOULD WIN: Call Me by Your Name

    Unlike the original screenplay competition, this category feels undernourished this year, with one achievement, James Ivory's perceptive and lucid adaptation of Andre Acinan's novel Call Me by Your Name, standing tall over the other four nominees. Like so many of the literary adaptations Ivory directed during his heyday, this one is an intelligent and nuanced account of the intimate lives of cultivated people navigating choppy emotional waters. I can't wait to see the 89-year-old mount the stairs to the Dolby stage and say something to the effect that he's just getting started.

  • Best Original Screenplay

    WILL WIN: Get Out

    It's been 13 years since this prize went to a film not nominated for best pic, bad news for The Big Sick. Shape seems a bit quiet for the Academy to recognize here. Lady Bird is a possibility — this would be one way to recognize Greta Gerwig and her film, which otherwise could go home empty-handed — but likelier winners are Three Billboards, which won Globe and BAFTA awards, and Get Out, which won Critics’ Choice and WGA awards. Nothing screams "original" more than Jordan Peele's horrific and hilarious look at "post-racial America," so he'll carry the day.

    SHOULD WIN: Lady Bird

    The competition here is fierce, as good cases could be made for all of these nominees. The Shape of Water is the most traditional of the group, imaginative but less surprising due to its genre trappings, quite the opposite of the bracingly of-the-moment Get Out and The Big Sick, both of which bring sharp, subversive humor to racially charged central situations. It's impossible to deny the mordant, often scathingly brilliant way with words that is the greatest gift Martin McDonagh brings to Three Billboards, but I admire even more Greta Gerwig's accomplishment in Lady Bird: elevating scenes of quotidian life with dialogue that both sparkles and speaks the truth.

  • Best Animated Feature

    WILL WIN: Coco

    The last time a Disney/Pixar film lost to a pic not from Disney/Pixar in this category was more than a decade ago. That's partly because the company makes great films and partly because each time one wins, more of its employees become voters. Few voters see all five nominees, but more — particularly those with kids — have seen Coco than any other. A celebration of Mexican culture with great music, it got better reviews and grossed more money than any of its competitors and won the top Annie Award, which has differed from this category's winner only five times since 2001.

    SHOULD WIN: Coco

    I haven't seen any of the nominees here except for Coco, so I can't state with authority that one of the four others might not be more deserving than Pixar's latest. But I can testify that Coco not only introduces new flavors, sounds and perspectives into the company's portfolio, but also represents only the second first-rate film the industry's animation pace-setter has made since Toy Story 3 in 2010 — the other being Inside Out three years ago.

  • Best Documentary Feature

    WILL WIN: Icarus

    The doc community favors Faces Places, a French-language celebration of art co-directed by Agnes Varda, and Strong Island, a trans filmmaker’s directorial debut about his brother's murder. Last Men in Aleppo, about Syria, got a sympathy boost when news broke that Trump’s travel ban will preclude its producer and subject from attending the Oscars. But put your chips on Icarus, which benefits from its Netflix backing (like Strong Island), subject matter (sports play well with men, who dominate the Academy) and timing (the Olympics, sans, Russia, are happening now).

    SHOULD WIN: Faces Places

    We're in a heyday for documentaries that, due to the many new platforms and outlets for them, shows no sign of abating. Sometimes there are even multiple excellent docs covering the same subjects. But my choice for this year's best cannot possibly have a twin because Faces Places is the result of a unique collaboration between the indefatigable French New Wave icon Agnes Varda and young visual artist JR, a work that provides a privileged glimpse of backwater France seldom seen in cinema. Varda will turn 90 on May 30, exactly a week before Ivory will; hopefully they can celebrate together on March 4.

  • Best Foreign Language Film

    WILL WIN: The Insult

    What a crapshoot. Voters got links and DVDs, but many vote without watching all nominees. Sweden’s The Square won Cannes’ Palme d’Or and boasts big names, but has a daunting runtime. Hungary’s On Body and Soul, which won Berlin’s Golden Bear for best film and is backed by Netflix, is eccentric, and Chile’s A Fantastic Woman, which won Berlin’s Silver Bear for best script, has critical support, but divisive subject matter. Loveless is great, but some won’t vote for Russia. That leaves Lebanon’s first-ever entry, which puts Mideast factions on trial in a courtroom drama, as the slight favorite.

    SHOULD WIN: The Insult

    Lacking any absolute, out-of-the-park knockouts this year, the foreign film selection is loaded with heavy, socially-minded dramas reflecting various pulsating, troubling aspects of modern political and social life. A Fantastic Woman from Chile centers on trans issues; Loveless stews in the social and moral rot of Russian society; and The Square lifts the lid off Sweden's vaunted liberalism to examine the prejudices and simmering unease beneath it. The oddball, minor-key Hungarian romantic comedy-drama On Body and Soul is the exception here, but the film that lingers as the most potent of the bunch is Zlad Doueiri's Lebanese legal firecracker The Insult.

  • Best Cinematography

    WILL WIN: Blade Runner 2049

    I think the time has finally come: Roger Deakins, the legendary British lenser, has been nominated 13 prior times, but has never won. This year, he's up against formidable competition — including the first female ever nominated in the category, Mudbound's Rachel Morrison, and Dunkirk's Hoyte Van Hoytema, who captured incredible images by air, land and sea — but his stunning work on Blade Runner has already been recognized with the top cinematography prizes at the American Society of Cinematographers Awards, the winner of which has gone to also win the best cinematography Oscar in six of the last 10 years. True, Deakins won the same ASC prize three prior times and did not go on win the Oscar, but this year he also won the equivalent prize at the BAFTA Awards, which has predicted the last five consecutive winners. And the last time ASC and BAFTA picked one winner but the Academy picked another was 11 years ago.

  • Best Costume Design

    WILL WIN: Phantom Thread

    It seems like Mark Bridges, a past winner for The Artist, has this one in the bag. His film is about a man who creates beautiful dresses; beautiful dresses are omnipresent throughout the film; and the film itself even has the word "thread" in its title! He won the best costume design BAFTA and Critics' Choice awards, but did, rather surprisingly, lose the excellence in period film Costume Designers Guild Award to The Shape of Water, so one can't entirely rule out the possibility of that scenario recurring at the Oscars. Still, this is a category that Academy members rarely treat as a coattail category, and usually use to recognize the nominee that reeks the most of glamour, even if they don't all love the film. That worked last year for Jackie, and it should work again this year.

  • Best Film Editing

    WILL WIN: Dunkirk

    To most Academy members, great editing is synonymous with fast and flashy editing. This is why so many epic war films have won (including Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down and, just last year, Hacksaw Ridge), but also why it has occasionally gone to movies that aren't particularly Academy-friendly but possess lots of action and quick cuts (such as The Bourne Ultimatum and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). This year, voters have the option of choosing either sort. Dunkirk, a war film that is nominated for best picture, not only is packed with fast-paced battle scenes, but also jumps between three different storylines in a coherent and effective manner; it won the best edited dramatic feature American Cinema Editors' top prize, which has predicted this Oscar in 10 of the last 15 years. But BAFTA, which has predicted eight of the last 10 winners, went for Baby Driver, which is all about speed. I give the edge to Dunkirk partly because I believe considerably more voters saw it, and voters (tend to) only vote for things that they've actually seen!

  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling

    WILL WIN: Darkest Hour

    Many revered makeup artists, such as seven-time Oscar winner Rick Baker, feel that Wonder is the most impressive makeup achievement of the year. But unfortunately for them, makeup and hairstyling artists account for fewer than three percent of the total number of Academy members who get to pick the winner in this category. They are far likelier to be coalesce behind a movie they saw and liked, in which a famous and beloved actor is made unrecognizable in the service of turning him into an iconic historical figure. That worked just a few years ago with The Iron Lady, and it will work again this year with Darkest Hour (which, unlike The Iron Lady, is also nominated for best picture), which has already been recognized with the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards' prize for best period and/or character make-up, which predicted Suicide Squad's Oscar win last year, and the best makeup and hair BAFTA and Critics' Choice awards, which did not.

  • Best Original Score

    WILL WIN: The Shape of Water

    John Williams is arguably the greatest film composer of all time, but he's unlikely to win again for a Star Wars score. (Don't shed any tears for him — he's the most nominated man alive, with 51 noms to his name, five of which turned into wins.) Carter Burwell is also a legend, but Three Billboards' score is not as memorable as its competitors'. This strikes me as a three-way contest between Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, who scored Phantom Thread and has never won before, and two past winners, Dunkirk's Hans Zimmer and The Shape of Water's Alexandre Desplat. Desplat has already been recognized for Shape — which is less divisive than the other two — at the Golden Globe, Critics' Choice and BAFTA awards, and I see no reason to believe that he won't be recognized again at the Oscars.

  • Best Original Song

    WILL WIN: "Remember Me" (Coco)

    The margin of victory in this category could be razor-thin. Weirdly, the nominated song from the most viewed film, the Simon & Garfunkel-esque "Mystery of Love" from Call Me by Your Name, seems the longest shot. Mudbound, which is streaming on Netflix, was certainly seen by many, too, and more Academy members know its singer and one of its songwriters, Mary J. Blige, who is also nominated for best supporting actress, but end-credit songs tend not to fare as well as tunes that are better integrated into a film. Which brings me to "Remember Me," a catchy tune — written by "Let It Go" winners Bobby and Kristen Lopez — that is played, in different ways, some five times throughout Coco, a film with which any Academy members who have a child, and many others who don't, are familiar. Many are picking "This Is Me," a song by last year's winners of this category Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land) and featured in The Greatest Showman (no other song nominee this year hails from an actual musical), which has gotten a lot of exposure by playing over NBC's Olympics coverage, or "Stand Up for Something," from past winner Common and eight-time bridesmaid Diane Warren, which has been used as an anthem against gun violence and other causes. But they represent their films' sole nominations, which means they either weren't seen or weren't particularly liked by Academy members.

  • Best Production Design

    WILL WIN: Blade Runner 2049

    Here's one of the few categories where I'm betting against the odds. The Shape of Water won the Art Directors Guild's top prize for a period piece, as well as the best production design BAFTA and Critics' Choice awards. But this is often not treated as a coattail category, and in fact not infrequently recognizes visually extraordinary work in divisive films — most recently with Memoirs of a Geisha, Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Barber Street, Alice in Wonderland and The Great Gatsby. Blade Runner 2049 won the ADG's top prize for fantasy films, meaning it was not in direct competition with Shape, but was immensely admired on its own. Every three or so years, based on the past decade, the winner of this category corresponds with the winner of best cinematography and the winner of best visual effects — both of which, this year I believe will be Blade Runner 2049 this year.


  • Best Sound Editing

    WILL WIN: Dunkirk

    The sound editing community was divided between Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049, as reflected at the Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards, where each film took home one of the top two prizes. But when it comes to the Oscars, the sound community accounts for less than seven percent of the people eligible to pick the winner in this category. That may explain why war films — which require the unmistakable sounds of bullets whizzing, explosions detonating and blood gushing — tend to fare well there, and at the similarly composed BAFTA Awards, which have a unified sound category (as opposed to one for editing and one for mixing) and chose Dunkirk.

  • Best Sound Mixing

    WILL WIN: Dunkirk

    16 films have previously won both sound editing and sound mixing Oscars, and I suspect that Dunkirk will become the 17th. It won the top prize at the Cinema Audio Society Awards, which are determined by sound mixers, and also, again, the unified best sound prize at the BAFTA Awards. When war films don't win in this Oscar category, it's usually because a musical — or a film with major musical elements — is in competition. That wasn't the case last year when La La Land lost to Hacksaw Ridge, but one still shouldn't totally write off Baby Driver.

  • Best Visual Effects

    WILL WIN: Blade Runner 2049

    Ex Machina beat Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Revenant in this category a couple of years ago, so anything's possible, but I don't see Kong: Skull Island, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or Star Wars: The Last Jedi happening this year. It seems to be between War for the Planet of the Apes, the winner of the top Visual Effects Society Award (which has predicted the corresponding Oscar winner in six of the last 10 and 10 of the last 15 years), and Blade Runner 2049, which won the best visual effects BAFTA Award (eight of the last 10). I'm leaning towards Blade Runner for two reasons: (1) the Academy seems to have some sort of aversion to the Apes franchise, the prior two installments of the rebooted trilogy that War completes both also won the top VES Award, but lost the Oscar; and (2) over the past decade, as VFX have gotten better than ever, voters had have a harder time determining the difference between cinematography and VFX, have awarded those prizes to the same film as often as not — see Avatar, Inception, Hugo, Life of Pi and Gravity — making it all the more noteworthy that the only film that is even nominated for both this year is Blade Runner 2049.

  • Best Animated Short

    WILL WIN: Dear Basketball

    Each of the nominees is markedly different from the others. The Roald Dahl-inspired Revolting Rhymes, which boasts the voice acting of Dominic West, feels the longest and also the least original, both in terms of animation and story. Negative Space is a bit slight, as is Lou, about a playground bully, although the latter has the advantage of a built-in bloc of Pixar voters in the Academy who can be counted on to support it. Dialogue-free Garden Party is gorgeously animated and surprisingly funny, although it takes a dark turn at the end. And then there's Dear Basketball, a minimalist hand-drawn adaptation of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's retirement poem, featuring mostly black-and-white sketches (save for some Lakers' purple-and-gold), which I suspect will benefit from Bryant's association with it (he's a hometown hero and is nominated for the film, as its producer, alongside Disney legend Glen Keane).

  • Best Documentary Short

    WILL WIN: Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405

    Any of the five nominees are plausible winners. HBO's Traffic Stop, which looks at the life of a black woman who had an unpleasant interaction with a white cop, seems to be strongly dividing people. Heroin(e), which humanizes the opioid crisis, may benefit from being available on and promoted by Netflix. Edith+Eddie offers a moving portrait of a mixed-race couple who are forcibly separated from each other late in life, but it's a major downer. Knife Skills is probably the most feel-good and inspirational of the lot. But Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 has an even better title, is more polished and complex and offers a bigger reveal at the end.

  • Best Live Action Short

    WILL WIN: The Eleven O'Clock

    Four of the five nominees deal with pretty heavy stuff: a school shooter (DeKalb Elementary), the events leading up to Emmett Till's murder (My Nephew Emmett), a deaf child (The Silent Child) and Christian-Muslim tensions in Africa (Watu Wote/All of Us). The fifth nominee is a "Who's on First?" sort of comedy (The Eleven O'Clock) — a film about a psychiatrist interviewing a patient who thinks he's a psychiatrist, or vice-versa? — which I suspect based on recent history in this category, will benefit from being completely different from all of the others. Sure, it's a bit gimmicky, but voters appreciate a good laugh.