This is the post I almost didn't write.
Because if you thought I was bored and apathetic about the Oscars last year, you have no idea how uninterested I was this time around.
My enthusiasm for the 2018 award season quickly began to wane about the time that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri swept the Golden Globes. When it subsequently picked up an armload of Screen Actor's Guild awards, my growing apathy morphed into rage. By the time of its stellar showing at the BAFTAs (Britsh Academy Awards) I had progressed to outright stupefaction.
Every year has its share of overrated critical darlings whose appeal I cannot begin to fathom, but Three Billboards outstrips them all. Where so many others apparently saw a modern masterpiece, I saw a muddleheaded, mean-spirited, pointlessly sadistic screed containing not one iota of truth or genuine insight. And I've worshipped Frances McDormand for most of my adult life, but I swear if I see her unsmiling, make-up free face behind one more awards podium, I'm going to pitch a fit so loud the folks at the Kodak Theater will stop applauding, cock their heads and ask each other "Did you hear that fit being pitched? It sounded like it was coming from Chicago!"
Three Billboards aside, I also find I am intensely weary of the self-imposed pressure to see every major Oscar nominee before the ceremony. And this year, I gave up the fight. As I write this, I still have not seen The Post or All the Money in the World - let alone most of the Best Documentary, Foreign Language or Feature-Length Animated films on the Oscar Ballot. But before we get to my terribly important thoughts about what should win, what shouldn't win, and who got unfairly overlooked for a chance at Oscar glory... let's talk about this year's host.
For years now, I've been carping about the Academy's inability to find a master of ceremonies who sets the right tone for the evening. They've cycled through everyone from James Franco to Ellen DeGeneres, but they finally found the right man. I'm very pleased that Jimmy Kimmel will be returning as emcee this year; he strikes exactly the right balance between pointed, topical comedy and low-key, light-hearted mischief. Now if only the Academy would pick the right nominees and winners!
Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Allison Janney for I, Tonya
I love Allison Janney, I really do. I will watch anything this woman acts in, primarily because she is in it. I even cheered when she accepted a BAFTA award while wearing a bizarre gown that made her look like a giant space alien. (I'm not kidding about that - Google it and see for yourself.) But in all honesty, this is not the best supporting female performance of the year. Janney nails the character's coldness and anger alright, but it's a fairly one-note take on Tonya Harding's monstrous mother. And frankly, it's the kind of role she could do in her sleep.
Should win: Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird
Metcalfe's take on stressed, imperfect motherhood was lovely, rich in nuance and brilliantly rendered emotional detail. The actress, at 62, has been enjoying a bit of a late-career renaissance, starting with her Tony Award last year for A Doll's' House, Part Two. An Oscar would be a perfect, well-deserved companion for that Tony. She's recently emerged as a dark-horse possibility for taking this category from Janney, so the idea is not entirely far-fetched.
Overlooked: Michelle Pfeiffer for mother!
Pfeiffer swaggered into the middle of a difficult, enigmatic and divisive film, providing a bracing shot of much-needed comic relief. The film was always better when she was onscreen. There's no better recommendation for an Oscar nomination, and Pfeiffer certainly deserved one.
Also overlooked: Vicky Krieps for Phantom Thread - She more than held her own against old pros Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville. And, like them, she deserved a nomination.
Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
I like Rockwell, and I'll admit he made a pretty interesting meal out of this film's most problematic character. So I'm actually kind of OK with him taking this trophy - although I wish to God it had been for a better movie.
Should Win: Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project
People tend to think of Dafoe as the guy who plays creepy or bizarre characters, but niceness and restraint are also qualities in his wheelhouse. (After all, he's played both Jesus and T.S. Eliot). As the motel manager working on the tawdry edge of Orlando, Dafoe comes off so authentically torn between frustration and compassion towards his residents that he doesn't seem to be acting at all. You forget you're looking at Dafoe and just see a man who tries to be fair to his residents and look out for their neglected kids. He's the quiet soul of a fine film.
Overlooked: Armie Hammer for Call Me By Your Name
I'm not quite sure how Hammer has been so overlooked in the slew of awards nominations for this film. His Oliver is the perfect match to Timothee Chalamet's justly praised Elio in this emotionally charged romance. Just his dorky dance moves alone are award-worthy.
Also overlooked: Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller for The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Collected) - Two stunning performances by these actors playing estranged brothers. Each has an electrifyingly good monologue and many great scenes. I'd have expected as much from Stiller, but Sandler's work is revelatory.
Will win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Oh, dear. I worship McDormand and can name at least three other films I'd loved to have seen her get an Oscar for (in addition the one she deservedly won for Fargo.). But I just can't get past how much I hate this film in general, and her character in particular. So I can't rejoice about this, but it's a foregone conclusion.
Should win: Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water
Hawkins' performance was so beautiful, sweet but not cloyingly so. Her character had a refreshing grit and stubbornness. The scene where she tells her friend - without words -- why the sea monster's love meant so much to her was the most emotionally devastating piece of acting I saw all year. Also, this would be a welcome corrective to the academy's unforgiveable snub of her performance in Happy Go Lucky in 2009.
Overlooked: Diane Kruger for In the Fade
Forget McDormand's Mildred Hayes. If you want to see the best, most devastating portrayal of a grieving, vengeful woman look to the German film In the Fade and the riveting performance of Diane Kruger. Kruger won the Best Actress award at Cannes; I can only assume her absence from most awards slates this year is due to the fact that In the Fade has not yet opened wide in the U.S. It's a devastating, harrowing film, and Kruger's performance is one for the ages.
Also overlooked: Cynthia Nixon for A Quiet Passion - Her take on the poet Emily Dickinson delved into deep emotional corners of anguish and frustration.
Will - and probably should- win: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour
Darkest Hour doesn't really amount to much, but Oldman's Winston Churchill is wonderful. Consider the Oscar he's certainly going to win as a very well-deserved lifetime achievement award. The emotion in his eyes behind all that old-Churchill makeup is the whole show here.
But I wish we could give one last Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread
If this really is his last film, that's a damn shame. Phantom Thread is a gorgeous film that celebrates the fine art of acting in stillness and nuance. Day-Lewis communicates more with an artfully arched eyebrow or a fleeting glance than most actors do with a whole, scenery-chewing cathartic monologue. I know he already has three Oscars, but this was his last chance....
Overlooked? No one, really.... I'm pretty happy with this category as is. (Although I suspect if I'd gotten around to seeing The Post, I'd be filling the space with my annual rant about Why Tom Hanks is a Better Actor than the Academy Thinks He Is.)
Will win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water
Del Toro is pretty much a shoo-in here, having won every other Best Director trophy on the planet this season. It's not undeserved either. The Shape of Water is beautifully crafted fairy tale for adults and it's a stunning achievement. But...
My heart is with Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread
Overlooked? How about an Honorable Mention to Joe Wright for Darkest Hour?
Oh sure, I could make a case for Luca Guadagnino and Call Me By Your Name (which is up for Best Picture) or Dee Rees for Mudbound (which isn't - more on that later). But apart from Oldman's performance, I think the whole reason Darkest Hour got a Best Picture nod is Joe Wright's inspired direction. The script is awful, really, and most other directors would have delivered a stillborn, stodgy snoozefest. But Wright finds a stunning visual style and utilizes fluid, urgent camera movement to ratchet up the drama - and it just about works. And while we're at it, let us remember that in 2007's Atonement, Wright managed to evoke the entire Dunkirk experience in one spectacular 5-minute tracking shot. Take that, Best Director nominee Christopher Nolan!
Will win ( probably?....) The Shape of Water
I say 'probably?" because - although The Shape of Water has been the odds-on favorite in this category for weeks - there has been some late-breaking groundswell for both Three Billboards and Get Out. I can't bear to think of the former film winning, and I can't wrap my mind around how the latter one even got into this category. (I've seen Get Out twice now; I liked it and thought it was a solid debut for Jordan Peele, but also significantly flawed. It will be interesting to see how it's regarded five or ten years from now.) Anyway, I won't be disappointed if Shape takes the top prize - it's certainly deserving.
But... again, my heart is with Phantom Thread
Because the happiest two-and-a-half hours I spent in a movie theater this year was watching this. As previously noted, I still haven't seen The Post. But I would rank the other 8 nominees in this order: 1. Phantom Thread; 2. The Shape of Water; 3. Lady Bird; 4. Call Me By Your Name; 5. Dunkirk; 6. Get Out; 7. Darkest Hour; 8 and a Distant Dead Last. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.
I guess it's encouraging that this straight-to-Netflix release got any nominations (for Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Song). Oscar voters have been slow to embrace films distributed through home streaming channels, and I suspect that if Mudbound had been a theatrical release, it might have knocked Darkest Hour off the Best Picture roster. The story of two Southern families - one black and poor, one white and poor ( and there's a difference between what poor means for each family) - it's emotionally gripping and effectively subtle in rendering the details of an ingrained, unconscious racism practiced even by the most well-intentioned characters. There is a particularly horrific sequence late in the film, but it doesn't feel forced or exploitative - only sadly inevitable. It's downbeat but honest, offering no easy solutions or breakthrough moments for any of its characters. Director Dee Rees does skillful, masterful work; as noted above, she deserved a Best Director nomination.