Life is busy and just getting busier. Kids. Work. Yoga. By the time you get home and take a breath, sit down in front of the TV, you’re confronted with another list of things to do: your Netflix queue. Seems there’s a new buzzworthy show dropping ten episodes each week. Plus summer movie blockbuster season starts earlier each year. And that stack of books you keep meaning to read just gets taller with each Amazon delivery. Entertainment should be fun. Not a chore.
That’s where I come in.
I used to work in the City of Dreams. I ran corporate communications for two of the big talent agencies as well as for Twentieth Century Fox where I also handled their Oscar campaigns. I know what hype is all about. And I can help you cut through some of the buzz to get at what’s really worth your precious time.
It’s appropriate that this is our first column together because it’s that time of the year again! OSCAR TIME. Even if you’re gripped in the middle of #WakandaForever fever today, this weekend all of Hollywood will take a bow as they unveil the best in film from the last year.
Whether you’re participating in any Oscar voting pools, watching from home in your jammies or attending a viewing party and want to sound like the smartest one at the buffet spread, I’ve got you covered. We’ll do some predictions, sprinkle in some trivia and suggest some hot conversation topics. By the end of this column, you’ll be ready for your closeup, Mr. DeMille.
Predictions. Guessing who’s going to win. This is the bread and butter of the night. This is where you can show not only your own refined taste but also your clairvoyant powers to read the minds of the Academy.
In the acting categories, there’s been a real consensus around all four front-runners as each have won all the major televised precursor award shows: The Golden Globes, The Screen Actors Guild Awards and The Broadcast Film Critics Awards. Let’s break down the big eight categories along with potential dark horses:
Best Actress. This looks like Fran McDormand’s to lose for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Not only is she Hollywood royalty, married to Oscar darling Joel Cohen and a former winner in this category for Fargo. But her performance feels very of the moment with the #TimesUp scandals embroiling Hollywood right now. She gives voice to a pent up anger that we’re seeing across the nation. Plus, no one’s been better at giving speeches this year than Fran. The potential spoiler here is Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird. At 23, she’s already on her third nomination and well on her way to being this generation’s Kate Winslet. Here’s how tough the competition is this year: The grand dame of Oscars, Meryl Streep, was lucky to be nominated.
Best Actor. The front-runner here is Gary Oldman for his scenery chewing performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour. It’s a real barn burner for the veteran who only got his first nomination a couple years ago for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There’s a feeling of it being his turn this year. His potential spoiler is the newcomer Timothee Chalamet, just 22 and such a revelation in Call Me By Your Name. The two are sort of inverse mirror images of each other. One a big showy performance by an actor at the tail end of his career and one a quiet thoughtful turn by an actor at the start of what will surely be a career for the ages. I say, Gary Oldman by a (prosthetic) nose.
Best Supporting Actress. One of my very favorite actresses of all time, Allison Janney of The West Wing fame is the leading contender here for her work as Tonya Harding’s mother in I, Tonya. Her chief competitor is fellow TV actress Laurie Metcalf playing a decidedly less monstrous mother in Lady Bird. Interesting to have two actresses best known for their work on the small screen going head to head at the Oscars this year. I love the blurring of media. If Metcalf pulls off the mild upset, she’ll have the Acting Triple Crown having won the Tony last year to go along with her three Emmys for playing Roseanne’s sister in the early 90s. My pick: Janney. Oscar loves momentum and she’s got it.
Best Supporting Actor. This looked like Willem Dafoe’s after he swept the New York, Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics awards for his work in The Florida Project. But momentum shifted to Sam Rockwell when we got to the televised awards and his work in Three Billboards got all the glory. It’s a tricky role he’s got as the racist cop who somewhat redeems himself by the film’s end. Dafoe’s more subdued work as a kind manager of a low-budget motel seems to have lost some stream. Both have that “overdue” narrative but look for Rockwell to grab his first statue on his first nomination.
Best Original Screenplay. This is a crowded category this year with the screenplays for 4 Best Picture nominees all landing here. It looks like a battle between Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Both are first time nominees with their debut pictures. Both have history making narratives behind them. My tossup pick goes to Peele for the inventiveness of mixing the horror genre with social commentary. Get Out felt like nothing we’d ever seen before and the Academy should reward that.
Best Adapted Screenplay. Unlike the Original category, this one has only one Best Picture nominee represented, Call Me By Your Name written by the 89 year old James Ivory. As one half of powerhouse Merchant Ivory that dominated the 80s to early 90s Oscar scene with their tasteful literary productions of A Room with a View, Howard’s End and The Remains of the Day, James Ivory is a sentimental pick here as he’s never actually won before. Plus it’s a gorgeous adaptation of a touchy subject matter. The only potential spoiler here is the always great wordsmith Aaron Sorkin, he of The West Wing fame and winner a few years ago for The Social Network. But the Academy will want to honor a veteran who is still performing at the top of his game and Ivory is the king of adaptations.
Best Director. This category used to go hand in hand with the Best Picture winner, but recently we’ve seen a trend of the Academy splitting their votes in four of the last five years. The Director trophy has
seemed to have gone to the more visually and technically difficult film lately. Expect that to happen here too. Guillermo del Toro has won most of the bellwether events including the all important Directors Guild of America. He’ll repeat the win this Sunday for The Shape of Water. And rightfully so. It’s stunning on the big screen and he’ll join the other Three Amigos of Mexican cinema, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, in Oscar’s winners circle.
Best Picture. This is the most wide open field in this category in years, maybe ever. A strong case could be made for six of the nine nominees. Three Billboards won the Golden Globe but missed out on the usually important Director nomination. If it wins, it will join Argo and Driving Miss Daisy as the only movies in the last 30 years to win Best Picture without a corresponding Director nomination. The Shape of Water has the most nominations with 13 and won the Producers Guild but lost the Globe to Three Billboards. Plus it’s going to win Director and the trend seems to be to split them. Lady Bird has charmed everyone and might not win anything else that night so this might be it’s only chance. Dunkirk is classic moviemaking and might be a consensus pick. Phantom Thread was released late and came out of nowhere when nominations were announced. It missed most of the precursor awards but now that everyone has seen it, it might be a late dark horse winner. The Post should have hit the zeitgeist with the obvious parallels to our current political situation, but never quite got there. But I’m going to go with Get Out, which is the most relevant and resonating movie of the year. The Academy’s attempts to increase the diversity of the group makes this the more appealing choice for the ascendant new members. It was released all the way back on February 24th and it’s horror genre is not one the Academy usually smiles upon. But guess what the last horror movie to win Best Picture was? It was The Silence of the Lambs. And it’s release date was February 11th.
That’s a wrap folks! Good luck this weekend. I hope I’ve steered you in the right direction. If I didn’t, please forgive me and remember the immortal words of legendary screenwriter William Goldman talking about people in Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.”
P.S., for my top picks in the culinary department, be sure to catch my ‘about town’ restaurant review segment, Lunch With Mom on IM360’s talk show, In The Moment. Mama Lux and I lunch on Sundays and I dish up the details on various Valley restaurants from ambiance to food and drink on the show. Cheers!