The Straits Times' picks for the Oscars

The Straits Times predicts the winners and gives its take on who should win at this year's Academy Awards

As we ride into the Academy Awards ceremony on March 4 (March 5, Singapore time), a few things are certain: Pixar's Coco will pick up the Best Animated Feature Oscar and Baby Driver will get the award for Best Sound Editing.

But beyond that, the picture gets murkier. Yes, writer-director Guillermo del Toro's romantic fantasy The Shape Of Water is strongly placed to win Best Picture and Best Director, but at the British Academy Film Awards last Sunday, the revenge drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri did well, showing that many voters had a soft spot for the story about the feud between a murder victim's mother and her town's police chief.

Here are The Straits Times' predictions on the winners and who we think should win.

BEST PICTURE

Nominees:

•Call Me By Your Name

•Darkest Hour

•Dunkirk

•Get Out

•Lady Bird

•Phantom Thread

•The Post

•The Shape Of Water

•Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will win: With its 13 Oscar nominations, the most for any film in this category, the human-monster romance The Shape Of Water by writer-director Guillermo del Toro is the one to beat.

Should win: Christopher Nolan's account of a massive evacuation in Dunkirk deserves the prize for how it breaks a big story into small, brilliantly staged setpieces and its focus on the exhaustion and griminess of war, rather than heroism and glory and, after all that, creating an uplifting story about self-sacrifice.

The human-monster romance The Shape Of Water is poised to win and it is a worthy candidate. Like Dunkirk, it recognises that the best stories are ones that can be told with the least number of words. But the same cannot be said of Three Billboards, tipped as the strongest competitor to Shape.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh's picture is not on the same quality level as the others here. It is not even a strong McDonagh movie; his criminals-on-the-run dark comedy In Bruges (2008) remains the high point of his career.

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees:

•Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan

•Get Out, Jordan Peele

•Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

•Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson

•The Shape Of Water, Guillermo del Toro

Likely to win: Guillermo del Toro (above centre), for The Shape Of Water. He recently nabbed the Best Achievement Feature Film at the recent Directors Guild Of America Awards, a strong indicator of which way the winds are blowing in this category.

Should win: Actress-turned-director Greta Gerwig (above), for her superb and sharply observed mother-daughter story Lady Bird. Gerwig's tonal control is exquisite - she never goes for the easy joke or the trite observation in this teenage drama-comedy. Finding freshness in a story that hangs on the drama of two combative people is tricky, but Gerwig guides Saoirse Ronan, as daughter Christine, and Laurie Metcalf, as mother Marion, into a place where magic happens.

Jordan Peele, like Gerwig, makes his feature film directing debut with the popular satire on race relations Get Out. He deserves a win because, like Gerwig, he is a master at tonal blending. Get Out mixes drama, horror and comedy as if they were always meant to go together.

LEAD ACTOR

Nominees:

•Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

•Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

•Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

•Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

•Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Will win: Gary Oldman (above centre), for playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. His role has the traits the Academy voters like: a radical body transformation and altered speech patterns. Oldman's range is on display - his wartime prime minister splutters with rage, sinks into depression and is the master orator everyone knows when he delivers his speeches.

Should win: Three-time winner Daniel Day-Lewis (above) should pick up his fourth statuette for his portrayal of the demonic dress designer Reynolds Woodcock, a man who can sit silently at breakfast yet cloak an entire room in his baleful personality. Day-Lewis, like Oldman, is an actor who seems to be in complete command of every twitch and gesture when at work.

LEAD ACTRESS

•Sally Hawkins, The Shape Of Water

•Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

•Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

•Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

•Meryl Streep, The Post

Will win: Frances McDormand (above) will pick up her second Oscar for her work as a steely-eyed goddess of vengeance seeking justice for her murdered daughter in Three Billboards. Voters like big, dramatic performances and McDormand's work fits their requirements. In the film, she appears in almost every scene and is involved in everything from arson to attempted murder, while dealing with the emotional trauma inflicted on her remaining children.

Should win: The competition is much fiercer in this category than for the men, but Margot Robbie (above) deserves a win for playing figure skater Tonya Harding, the woman who was reviled across America for her role in the assault on Olympic rival Nancy Kerrigan. As her character moves from guileless teen to hardened survivor of a crucifixion by the media, Robbie keeps her character's core - a working-class girl with big dreams - intact and, most of all, interesting and funny.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

•Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

•Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

•Richard Jenkins, The Shape Of Water

•Christopher Plummer, All The Money In The World

•Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will win: Sam Rockwell (above) looks on track to pick up his first Oscar. As the aggressively stupid and bigoted small-town deputy Dixon, he is the villain of the piece until inner depths are revealed as the story evolves. In Trump's America, his right-wing lawman, who becomes a force for good, seems to have struck a chord with Academy voters, say pundits.

Should win: Rockwell. Richard Jenkins' (above) shy artist Giles, the helpful neighbour in The Shape Of Water, is a hugely charming character but it is too slight a role to deserve the prize. As for the others, their parts, like Jenkins', are too small or have too flat a trajectory, compared with Rockwell's.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

•Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

•Allison Janney, I, Tonya

•Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

•Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

•Octavia Spencer, The Shape Of Water

Will win: Allison Janney (above). She, like Frances McDormand, plays a Mum From Hell, a part that voters in Hollywood love to see older women take up, probably because it is the kind of part that offers the broadest range. Janney is Lavona, the bitter, bird-loving waitress who drives her figure-skater daughter to succeed while shredding her child's self-esteem, then wonders why her child is so broken inside.

Should win: Both Janney and Laurie Metcalf (above right) play disappointed mothers to wayward daughters and both deliver superb performances. But the stage-trained Metcalf, known for her supporting parts on sitcoms such as Roseanne (1988 to 1997) and The Big Bang Theory (2017 to present) has the bigger, richer role as Marion, the maternal figure in Lady Bird who is so much a part of her daughter's personality that it drives both of them crazy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'ST's picks for the Oscars'. Print Edition | Subscribe