Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang chat about the Oscar's Best Picture, and who they think might win!
Now that voting has closed for the 90th Academy Awards we’re left with the crucial questions: Who will win? And who should win? Our critics Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang sat down to swap predictions and favorites in the top eight categories: best picture, director, lead actor, lead actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, original screenplay and adapted screenplay.
KENNETH TURAN: Ready or not — and, frankly, by this time people are likely more than ready — the Oscar ceremony is upon us. We’re both going to be glued to our TVs on Sunday, but before that happens we thought we’d take one last look at the nominees in the major categories and talk a little about both who we’d like to win and who we think will win, which are often not the same thing at all.
JUSTIN CHANG: With the exception of one or two categories, I doubt there will be any overlap between my favorites and the academy’s. I'm not complaining, really: It’s good to be going into the night with few expectations, and if a pleasant surprise awaits, so much the better. Shall we begin with the screenplay races?
CHANG: One reason this race is so tough to predict is that four of the five nominees are also up for best picture, which suggests voter enthusiasm might be fairly evenly distributed. I wouldn't rule out “Lady Bird,”“Three Billboards” or even “The Shape of Water.” “The Big Sick” would be a shocker, though far from an unpleasant one. But the smart money does appear to be on “Get Out,” especially if voters equate originality with audacity.
My favorite is an easy call, though: Like you, I found Gerwig's “Lady Bird” script nothing short of miraculous. Every line sparkles with wit and insight, every scene fits into a beautiful whole, and there isn't a single character in it who wouldn’t furnish an interesting movie of their own. It’s a gem.
By contrast, only one picture contender, “Call Me by Your Name,” is also up for adapted screenplay, and I expect this is the one category where the academy will give Luca Guadagnino’s gay love story its due. It hardly hurts screenwriter James Ivory’s chances that he’s a revered industry veteran and three-time directing Oscar nominee who has never won. He’s already picked up the WGA and USC Scripter awards, an awfully tough combo to beat.
I’m an admirer of Aaron Sorkin’s very Sorkin-y “Molly’s Game” script, and also of Dee Rees and Virgil Williams’ structurally bold work on “Mudbound.” But I'm rooting for the presumptive favorite here. “Call Me by Your Name” accomplishes what few adaptations of first-person novels do: It fully retains the psychological interiority that made the source material so distinctive. That's a testament to Guadagnino’s direction, but it also starts with words on a page.
TURAN: Sometimes all the support for a given film gathers to greatest effect around one particular nomination, and for the luminous “Call Me by Your Name,” best adapted screenplay does seem to be that category. And it’s great to see an award going to James Ivory, at 89 one of the most venerable of nominees and half of the Merchant-Ivory team that gave moviegoers so much pleasure in decades past. It’s my personal favorite of the nominees as well.
But before we leave the category I want to send a shout-out to “Logan.” It’s almost unheard of for a Marvel movie to get a screenplay nomination (though “Black Panther” may manage it next year), and it’s a tribute to the risks Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green took in bringing this brooding, melancholy, almost despairing “X-Men” movie as close to authentic drama as they could.
And speaking of age, my personal favorite in this category would be 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, who not only took on the role of J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money In the World” on ridiculously short notice but used his impeccable craft to make this impossible miser come completely alive in unexpected ways.
CHANG: I admire Rockwell too much to begrudge him his inevitable victory, though if forced to choose between the “Three Billboards” cops, my vote would go to Harrelson. But there isn’t really a weak link in this bunch. The brilliance of Plummer’s work is only enhanced by the knowledge of how quickly it came together; if he hadn’t won so recently, I imagine he’d be sweeping. And in “The Shape of Water,”Richard Jenkins does the sort of lovely, understated work that I wish the academy would recognize more often.
But speaking of lovely and understated, there’s really only one rightful winner for me, and it’s Willem Dafoe. As Bobby, the ever-reliable manager of a fleabag motel in “The Florida Project,” he doesn’t just blend in beautifully with a cast of mostly first-time actors; he gives a performance of such wise, weary compassion that he becomes the movie’s heart and soul.
Dafoe might have had a better shot if his character got to shout expletives, smack the little kids around and talk to a parakeet on his shoulder. Those scene-stealing gestures make Allison Janney all but certain to win the supporting actress Oscar for creating the year’s most quotable Gorgon in “I, Tonya.” Like Rockwell, Janney has years of terrific character work and industry affection on her side, though I wish there were more going on beneath that acidly funny surface.
As portraits of tough, abrasive motherhood go, I much prefer Laurie Metcalf in “Lady Bird.” (Voters clearly prefer the Bird Lady.) And in a battle of the icy glares, I’d back the British veteran Lesley Manville, my favorite in this category for her finely chiseled jewel of a performance in “Phantom Thread.” Manville channels Judith Anderson in “Rebecca” brilliantly — but Anderson, alas, didn’t win either.
TURAN:Janney’s much-admired television résumé — she’s won no fewer than seven Emmys — will work to her advantage and make her the favorite here, and having that parakeet to play off of certainly doesn’t hurt.
Personally, however, I will be rooting for Metcalf, another impressive talent with both an Emmy and a Tony in her résumé. We’ve seen all manner of screen mothers over the years but almost never anyone as achingly nuanced as the one her extraordinary performance creates in “Lady Bird.” The academy rarely rewards delicate work when other options are available, but this is one time when I wish it did.
In “The Shape of Water,”Sally Hawkins gives the kind of expressive non-verbal performance that silent film icons of the past might well envy. And “Lady Bird’s”Saoirse Ronan, in her third nominated role, has turned herself so completely into a convincing California teenager it feels next door to witchcraft.
CHANG: As I will never grow tired of reminding anyone, Hawkins deserved to win an Oscar outright — scandalously, she wasn’t even nominated — for her marvelous work in 2008’s “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Lovely as it would be to see her win for “The Shape of Water,” I’d give this one to Ronan, who, following her entirely different portrait of a young woman’s rite of passage in “Brooklyn,” is quickly proving herself to be the subtlest of chameleons.
But as you note, there is little chance of stopping the McDormand train, and over in the lead actor category I would say there’s even less chance of stopping the Gary Oldman train. He’s been the favorite ever since Oscar pundits caught glimpse of “Darkest Hour” last September, and no surprise: His interpretation of Winston Churchill represents the kind of extreme physical metamorphosis academy voters fall over themselves to honor, often at the expense of subtler alternatives.
TURAN: Yes, everyone seems to agree that Oldman is going to win but nobody but Oscar voters seem to be as excited by his work as they are by what the other actors have done. Sometimes the Oscars function as a kind of career achievement award, and this is one of those times.
As to my personal choice, I’m going to surprise even myself and single out Washington in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” The film is undeniably uneven, but Washington’s performance as an idiosyncratic idealist is thought out in such detail, and so different from the characters he usually plays, that it won me over completely.
When it comes to the director category, I think I am on the same page as the academy, with Guillermo del Toro as the choice, for using his transcendent imagination and skill to take “The Shape of Water” from genre roots to unexpected heights. I don’t want to leave the category, however, without tipping my hat to Christopher Nolan, whose “Dunkirk” was such an impressive achievement on so many levels I wish he could win as well.
CHANG:Del Toro will win quite handily; he’s beloved by the industry, and he’s already won a slew of precursor awards, most importantly the Directors Guild of America’s feature prize. As someone who admired but didn’t love “The Shape of Water,” I’d be happier to see Nolan win for reshaping the World War II epic into something at once classical and cutting-edge with “Dunkirk.” Nor would I mind if Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) or Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) pulled off an upset, less for the history-making implications than for the satisfaction of honoring a first-time feature director who knocked it out of the park.
But if I had a vote, I confess it would be for Paul Thomas Anderson. His well-earned reputation as one of our greatest living filmmakers lost none of its luster with “Phantom Thread,” an exquisitely textured and perversely funny 1950s love story that I found to be sheer cinematic bliss. It’s wonderful that so many academy voters agreed.
Which brings us, finally, to best picture, which seems to be one of the few major categories where the outcome isn’t entirely predictable. “The Shape of Water” leads the pack with 13 nominations, but neither that nor Del Toro’s inevitable directing win necessarily means the film will triumph here. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” surging after its big BAFTA blowout, will be a formidable rival. And I have a sneaking suspicion that “Get Out,” perhaps last year's most talked-about movie, will be a force to be reckoned with on the academy’s preferential ballot.
In fact, after making seven fairly risk-averse predictions, I’m ready to go out on a limb: “Get Out” will win best picture. As for what should win, I’d just about die of happiness if either “Call Me by Your Name” or “Phantom Thread”pulled off an upset. What can I say, I’m a sucker for romance and beautiful clothes and heaping platters of food, and both movies had those in spades.
TURAN: It's satisfyingly true that the best picture Oscar may well be the toughest race to call this year. I’d love to see“The Shape of Water” win, but though its 13 nominations showing support in both above- and below-the-line categories make it the clear favorite, favorites have had a tough time in recent years, and the academy has often declined to give best picture and best director to the same film.
So if “The Shape of Water” falters, what steps into the breach? It could be “Three Billboards,” which has stubbornly refused to fade from contention though its appeal is not universal. But more and more, especially after the WGA victory for “Get Out,” and the excitement surrounding “Black Panther,” voters may be feeling that Jordan Peele delivered the film of the moment. Whatever is chosen, one thing is for sure: We will all be hoping that envelope snafus are a thing of the past.