The Oscar Map #2: “Lady Bird” Comes On Strong, But “The Post” Is Still the Movie to Beat Thanks to Meryl Streep

It has been two and a half months since our last Oscar Map, and it’s CRAZY how different things are — not just within the awards landscape, but Hollywood itself.

For example, one of the burning questions I asked in August was, “does the Weinstein Company have a legitimate contender on its hands with The Current War?” Well, not only does it turn out that The Current War will open in 2018, but the Weinstein Company likely won’t even be called that by the time it hits theaters, if they even release it at all!

The Current War isn’t the only awards season casualty in the wake of Hollywood’s ongoing crisis. You can cross Wind River off the list of Best Picture contenders, even though the Weinstein Company’s name has already been stripped from the film. While we’re at it, pour one out for Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, which seems unlikely to recover from the Kevin Spacey scandal. Sony already pulled the film from AFI Fest, and even though the studio insists it will still open wide in December, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it move to next summer. It just doesn’t strike me as an appropriate holiday release anymore.

Other questions asked and answered: It turns out Matt Damon had nothing up his sleeves between Suburbicon and Downsizing, and the same goes for Woody Allen with Wonder Wheel, which has drawn praise for Kate Winslet’s performance and little more. While Miles Teller was good in both Only the Brave and Thank You for Your Service, he will not be the Dark Horse no one saw coming this year. Yes, mother! filmmaker Darren Aronofsky has lost his mind; yes, The Disaster Artist‘s James Franco is a genius; and yes, Guillermo del Toro delivered his best English-language film with The Shape of Water. And finally, yes, Netflix could crack the Best Picture field with Mudbound, but the streaming service is facing an uphill battle there.

For the rest of my take on awards season, including a close look at the Big Six categories, keep reading. You might just learn a thing or two, and if you don’t then maybe I’ll change your mind about something, or force you to look at a film or an actor in a different way.

BEST PICTURE

1. The Post (20th Century Fox)
2. Dunkirk (Warner Bros.) (↑)
3. Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics) (↑)
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight) (NEW)
5. The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight) (NEW)
6. Lady Bird (A24) (NEW)
7. The Big Sick (Amazon Studios/Roadside) (↓)
8. Get Out (Universal) (NEW)
9. The Florida Project (A24)
10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Disney)

The Alternates:
Darkest Hour or Mudbound
The Dark Horse:
The Disaster Artist
Off the Map:
The Greatest Showman and All the Money In the World

Analysis: So… I don’t think it’s a particularly strong year for the Best Picture race, but at least it’s going to be an exciting one, since there’s no runaway frontrunner at this point. That said, The Post seems like the film to beat on paper right now, sight unseen, given the talent both in front of (Meryl Streep & Tom Hanks) and behind (Steven Spielberg) the camera. Leave it to a movie about the Pentagon Papers to feel timely thanks to the current wave of suppression of the press, from Donald Trump’s general attitude towards reporters, to Harvey Weinstein hiring Mossad agents to spy on journalists, to Disney banning the Los Angeles Times from screenings because of negative coverage.

There are two films that I think represent its best competition — Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name. I’d have no problem predicting CMBYN for a win if Moonlight hadn’t just won last year, which I’ll admit, is a really lazy, unfair line of thinking. In my humble opinion, CMBYN is leaps and bounds better than Moonlight, and it’s not like I thought Crash wouldn’t win Best Picture just because another Paul Haggis-scripted film (Million Dollar Baby) had won the year before. Besides, Spotlight won the year before Moonlight, and doesn’t that share a lot of the same themes with The Post? Well, yes, it does. So why don’t I have CMBYN in the #1 slot? I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s more of a celebration of gay romance than a tragedy (a la Brokeback Mountain), and we all know how much Oscar loves its tragedies. I also have to wonder if the press will seize upon the fact that the film’s lead character, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is only 17 years old when he’s sleeps with a visiting grad student, played by Armie Hammer. To me, theirs is a beautiful romance, but I can see the film’s naysayers, despite its Italian setting, screaming “pedophilia” given the atmosphere permeating Hollywood these days.

As for Lady Bird, I really like and respect the film, but it felt like a fairly standard coming-of-age movie to me, driven by a strong script and solid performances. My female friends argue that Lady Bird really speaks to women, so naturally I don’t love it as much as them, but I don’t know about that. My gender has no bearing on whether I can fully appreciate a movie made by and starring women, I just really don’t think this one did anything particularly daring or original. I applaud the effort, and credit the film for showing us a different side of Saoirse Ronan, plus I think it signals big things ahead for Gerwig, I just personally don’t think it merits more than nominations for original screenplay and supporting actress (Laurie Metcalf).

As for the rest of the field, I’ve come around on Get Out. I never would’ve guessed this after seeing it in February (and again in August), but this one seems like a pretty safe bet for a Best Picture nomination, as other “prestige” titles have fallen by the wayside one after another. And yes, I still think Star Wars: The Last Jedi could crack the field if it’s any good, but I said the same thing about The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and look what happened (or didn’t).

Elsewhere, I saw Darkest Hour, and I thought the first half was pretty boring. It just felt like a history lesson. Even the speeches didn’t really land for me, but maybe that’s because I’m an American. It just seemed like the kind of film that will play with the BAFTA crowd, but won’t necessarily fly with The New Academy, which is much younger and more diverse than in years past. The only time Darkest Hour really came alive for me was when Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill (more on him later) met average citizens on the subway. That was a great scene, but beyond that, it felt like the British Lincoln.

Mudbound is right on the border for me. I thought it was really well made, from the script to the cinematography, and I liked a lot of the performances, but I didn’t cry, and I was expecting to cry at a movie about racism in the South. If Focus or Fox Searchlight were behind this movie, I might think it stands a better chance, but I’m not sure the industry is ready to give Netflix the benefit of the doubt right now. I think it’s the best “original movie” released by the streaming service yet, but is it undeniably good enough to crack The 10 (and realistically, The 8 or 9)? No, I don’t think so. But we’ll see if the Netflix PR machine is able to change my mind. After all, The Post and The Last Jedi could still come up short… though Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread could just as easily surprise.

Two movies I feel safe writing off (at least as far as the Best Picture race is concerned, anyway) are The Greatest Showman and All the Money in the World. In the latter case, the Kevin Spacey scandal has all but torpedoed its Oscar chances (goodbye AFI Fest!), which sucks, and isn’t fair to the hundreds if not thousands of other people who worked on the film. But put yourself in the shoes of an Oscar voter. Are you going to check that box? Spacey is only going to make it that much harder. I think Ridley Scott can manage a nomination if his film really delivers, but in a crowded Best Actress field, I don’t think this helps Michelle Williams one iota. Especially if she hides from the awards circuit for fear of being asked questions about working with Spacey. As for The Greatest Showman, I’m just not hearing any Oscar buzz on that one, and fear it may be more of a commercial play that could secure a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture – Comedy/Musical.

I’d still love for The Disaster Artist to sneak in, if only for the irony, but that may be wishful thinking on my part at this point. I’ll also be rooting for the bold biopic I, Tonya, which is like Goodfellas, but set in the world of figure skating.

BEST DIRECTOR

1. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
2. Steven Spielberg, The Post
3. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
4. Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name
5. Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Alternates: Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) or Jordan Peele (Get Out)
The Dark Horses: Sean Baker (The Florida Project) and Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman)
Off the Map: Joe Wright (Darkest Hour) and Woody Allen (Wonder Wheel)

Analysis: After doing a big interview at Toronto, Christopher Nolan is doing the same thing at AFI Fest. Translation? He wants this Oscar, and he wants it bad. He’s willing to glad-hand and chat with anyone who will listen right now, and frankly, I think it’s going to pay off. I think Nolan is poised to walk away with not just his first directing nomination, but his first Oscar statue, full-stop. The only person standing in his way is Steven Spielberg, who of course, did the whole war movie thing way better with Saving Private Ryan nearly 20 years ago. Forgive me, Dunkirk isn’t a war movie, it’s a survival film. My bad! Either way, if Spielberg channels his inner Old Master and delivers a classic journalism drama, the industry will be hard-pressed not to reward him again. After all, while Dunkirk was a stunning technical achievement, it only half-works as a human drama, as the emotion wasn’t there for me — which has always been the knock on Nolan, however lazy it might be. Guillermo del Toro seems like a safe bet for The Shape of Water, which is by far the best thing he has done in many years, but the film had enough niggling problems regarding its Cold War spy scenes that I don’t think it’s quite good enough to win him The Big One.

The last two slots could go a number of ways, especially since the Directors Branch is so unpredictable. Greta Gerwig and Patty Jenkins seem to have an edge on Kathryn Bigelow and Dee Rees right now, and I’d love to see one (or two) of them score nominations, but it may be tough to overlook the job Luca Guadagnino did on Call Me by Your Name, which is such a beautiful, lyrical work. I can see Rian Johnson battling Jordan Peele for that 5-slot, but given that Get Out is Peele’s first film, I think he’ll have many more opportunities in the future.

As far as Woody Allen goes, this just isn’t the right climate for Hollywood to shower him with nominations, and besides, I’ve heard Wonder Wheel isn’t very good with the exception of Kate Winslet, who always brings it. Meanwhile, Joe Wright’s work on Darkest Hour might’ve been enough to merit an Oscar nomination five years ago, but his film feels too old-fashioned for what I imagine the New Academy’s taste will be. I wouldn’t bet on him beating out filmmakers like Peele, Jenkins or Gerwig.

BEST ACTOR

1. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
2. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
3. Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger
4. Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
5. Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

The Alternates: Hugh Jackman (The
Greatest Showman) or Christian Bale (Hostiles)
The Dark Horses: James Franco (The Disaster Artist) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick)
Off the Map: Andrew Garfield (Breathe) and Chadwick Boseman (Marshall)

Analysis: Listen, Gary Oldman is certainly good (and unrecognizable) as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, but I don’t think this race is nearly as decided as other pundits would suggest. I feel like the performance is the make-up. I remember a lot of smoking and screaming, but… he just didn’t blow me away. In my eyes, Jake Gyllenhaal gave another devastating performance in Stronger as Boston Marathon survivor Jeff Bauman, but unfortunately, the film came and went. I may be biased, but Stronger is the best movie I’ve seen all year, and yet I’ve heard some of the filmmakers were very disappointed in Lionsgate, which never really got behind the film or gave it much support. Now, the same thing pretty much happened with Breathe (Bleecker Street) and Marshall (Open Road), but I think Gyllenhaal’s work is so good that he cannot be denied, unlike Andrew Garfield and Chadwick Boseman. Those performances have their defenders, but not enough of them.

The 4/5-slots are tougher to call, mainly because this seems to be a relatively weak year for Best Actor, especially with Tom Hanks tipped to campaign in the supporting category. Timothée Chalamet is terrific in Call Me by Your Name, but I’m not sure he seals a nomination until that final close-up shot as the camera lingers on his face and we see the pain in his eyes. If he gets in, I think it’ll be because of those last few minutes alone. In fact, if anyone above is vulnerable, it’s Denzel Washington, whose quirky character Roman J. Israel, Esq. is stuck in a mediocre movie bearing his name. Roman is an interesting creation and Denzel fully inhabits the character, but if he gets in (and I think he will), he should consider himself lucky it’s a weak year. We’ll have to wait and see if Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of his career (all apologies to Les Misérables) as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman.

Otherwise, keep your eye on James Franco’s out-there turn as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, which could catch on in Hollywood circles, and Kumail Nanjiani, who really proved he’s a star-in-the-making with his turn in The Big Sick, though the industry is perhaps more likely to recognize him for co-writing the screenplay with his wife, Emily V. Gordon. You can never count out Christian Bale either, but Hostiles is a tough sit and it’s hard to like Bale’s character, who’s miles from the lovable real-life people he played in The Fighter and American Hustle.

BEST ACTRESS

1. Meryl Streep, The Post
2. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
4. Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul
5. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

The Alternates: Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game) or Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel)
The Dark Horses: Diane Kruger (In the Fade) and Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread)
Off the Map: Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) and Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes)

Analysis: Just as I wrote that it’s a relatively weak year for Best Actor, it’s a super-duper strong year for Best Actress. Again, I think there are three locks — Streep, McDormand and Hawkins. Of the Next Gen possibilities, I give the edge to Margot Robbie over Saoirse Ronan and Jessica Chastain. Her movie, I, Tonya, made not be as Oscar-friendly as Lady Bird and Molly’s Game, but Robbie is ferocious as the disgraced figure skater. It’s an outrageous performance that makes you sit up and stare in awe, and I think voters will be hard-pressed to ignore it come nomination time.

And sure, international stars Diane Kruger and Vicky Krieps could surprise and beat out Judi Dench for a nomination, but Victoria and Abdul has played well with older audiences, and you know how much the Academy adores her. Michelle Williams might’ve had a chance, given her own track record with Oscar voters, but unfortunately for her, All the Money in the World strikes me as dead in the water as far as awards are concerned. She can thank her co-star, Kevin Spacey, though I’m willing to bet they aren’t speaking much at the moment.

This is one race that is going to come down to the wire. Hawkins may have the highest degree of difficulty since her character is mute and she has to express herself through sign language, body language and her eyes, but Streep and McDormand find themselves going up against a group of powerful men, and that message may be hard to ignore this season.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1. Tom Hanks, The Post
2. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
3. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name
4. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

The Alternates: Idris Elba (Molly’s Game) or Jason Mitchell (Mudbound)
The Dark Horses: Mark Rylance (Dunkirk), Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name) and the trio from Last Flag Flying
Off the Map: Kevin Spacey (All the Money in the World)

Analysis: This is probably going to be my favorite race this year, just because I love all of these performances save for Hanks, whose film hasn’t started screening yet. Willem Dafoe may very well give the performance of his career in The Florida Project, and yet, despite having only a fraction of the screen time, Michael Stuhlbarg positively dazzles in what may be the best single scene in any movie this year. His monologue at the end of CMBYN has reduced many to tears, and it’s bolstered by the fact that Stuhlbarg is really good in The Shape of Water, too. Speaking of which, my favorite performance in that film belongs to Richard Jenkins, who is absolutely wonderful as Sally Hawkins’ gay best friend. He gives that film its heart and soul, and I hope he isn’t overlooked this fall. Likewise, Sam Rockwell is always good on the big screen, but Three Billboards finally gives him a character he can really let loose with, and it pays off in spades.

As much as I liked guys like Idris Elba, Jason Mitchell, Armie Hammer and the three stars of Last Flag Flying (who’s the lead, if there is one?), I think this is going to be the final field. I had Kevin Spacey duking it out with Jenkins for the 5-slot, but obviously we don’t have to worry about that now. He’s done, as he should be.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
2. Allison Janney, I, Tonya
3. Melissa Leo, Novitiate
4. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
5. Carrie Fisher, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Alternates: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) or Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)
The Dark Horse: Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip), Bria Vinaite (The Florida Project) and Keala Settle (The Greatest Showman)
Off the Map: Julianne Moore (Wonderstruck) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour)

Analysis: So this feels like a two-horse race to me… Metcalf vs. Janney. I expect Lady Bird to get more traction than I, Tonya this awards season, but if it were up to me, I’d give the Oscar to Janney before the ceremony even starts. You simply can’t take her eyes off her as Tonya Harding’s abusive mother, LaVona. Roseanne vet Metcalf plays a similar role in Lady Bird as the title character’s mother, but she’s much softer, and the stakes are a bit lower. Metcalf is an Actor’s Actor who has paid her dues and deserves the recognition — her casting is a stroke of genius on Gerwig’s part — but so is Janney, and her performance is just that much juicier.

Elsewhere, Holly Hunter seems like a safe bet as Zoe Kazan’s mother in The Big Sick, and in my mind, she’ll kind of be representing the whole ensemble. Beyond those three though, it’s hard to find worthy contenders. I didn’t see Novitiate, but have heard past Oscar winner Melissa Leo is great in it, and who am I to argue? As for Carrie Fisher, call it a hunch. I don’t even know how much screentime she has in The Last Jedi, but looking at the other contenders. I think she has a real chance.

I will say that if Melissa McCarthy can earn a nomination for Bridesmaids, then Tiffany Haddish has to be in the conversation for Girls Trip. When that movie started, she was sort of The Other Girl, but by the time she ended, she’s the one you left the theater talking about. It’s a star-making performance, and frankly, cannot be discounted.

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One Response to The Oscar Map #2: “Lady Bird” Comes On Strong, But “The Post” Is Still the Movie to Beat Thanks to Meryl Streep

  1. Lady Bird was BORING! Why does anyone like it?

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