Los Angeles — Ahead of Sunday's 90th Academy Awards, Associated Press film writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle share their predictions for a ceremony that — at least at the end — should be a nail biter.
The 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: No controversy, timely messages, a dash of fantasy and a love of movies, The Shape of Water seems to be the safe, if a little boring, front runner.
Should Win: Aside from Dunkirk, which I saw three times in theatres, Lady Bird is the movie I want to watch over and over again. It is such an effortlessly perfect slice of life film that will be around far after this awards season noise comes to an end. The best picture category gets a bad reputation for all the times the award has gone to something that fades from memory a few years down the line. That wouldn't be an issue with Lady Bird.
Should Have Been a Contender: The Florida Project, Sean Baker's loving and heartbreakingly honest portrait of the hidden homeless around the happiest place on earth was one of the great cinematic triumphs of the year.
Will Win: There are five movies with a legitimate shot to win, which makes this year more difficult than usual to call. I'm going to say Jordan Peele's cultural sensation Get Out wins because it has two crucial things going for it: the all-important SAG ensemble nomination and a good shot at a recently highly predictive screenplay award. That, and it did more to re-energise genre filmmaking than anything in a decade.
Should Win: I'd be thrilled if Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird or Phantom Thread took home the top prize, but Call Me By Your Name stood apart for me. It's a movie that feels like it has the windows open, and life just flows through it.
Should Have Been a Contender: The Florida Project is a neo-realistic masterpiece of the first order. It's staggeringly good.
The 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 has won most of the major awards so far and there's no reason he wouldn't continue the streak at the Oscars, much to the chagrin of the internet's darling, Timothee Chalamet, who will definitely get another shot at this award down the line.
Should Win: There have been so many lame "Oscar-baity" biopics that it almost diminishes his achievement, but honestly, Gary Oldman's full and complete transformation into Winston Churchill is something they should teach in acting (and makeup) classes forever.
Should Have Been a Contender: Never in a million years would this have been a real Oscars possibility, but Robert Pattinson is so, so good as the bleached blonde Queens crook Connie Nikas who is trying to get his mentally handicapped brother out of jail in Josh and Bennie Safdie's exhilarating indie Good Time.
Will Win: Oldman has this one in the bag.
Should Win: I wouldn't begrudge Oldman, an actor's actor for decades, his moment in the sun. But I'll say Day-Lewis, who we all know is simply the best there is. Maybe a surprise Oscar would coax him into rethinking retirement.
Should Have Been a Contender: Adam Sandler was brilliant as the rumbled, divorced son of a famous sculptor in Noah Baumbach's sibling drama The Meyerowitz Stories. But, yes, it's tough to win an Academy Award the same year you star in andy Wexler.
The Nominees: 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: It's funny how uninspired the acting categories can seem when the same people win every award. This is Frances McDormand's year, plain and simple.
Should Win: This is an extremely tough category, not only because all of the performances are so good, but they're good in different ways. Still, out of this batch, it was Margot Robbie who stretched herself beyond anything I might have assumed her capable of as the proud, defiant and unapologetic Tonya Harding. That shot of Robbie smearing on her stage blush while she tries to smile through the rising tears? It's a classic.
Should Have Been a Contender: There were quite a few great leading performances by women this year (Brooklynn Prince and Jennifer Lawrence among them), but Vicky Krieps is the one that sticks out as a real gem for her work in Phantom Thread as the smitten but never swoony Alma, whose flushed cheeks don't make her seem weak, only more resolute.
Will Win: McDormand is a virtual lock.
Should Win:Three Billboards wouldn't exist without McDormand, who towers over the film like only she can. And Streep gave one of her most subtle performances in The Post. But most deserving is Ronan, who's perpetually playing a jumble of emotions, most of them contradictory, at once.
Should Have Been a Contender: Michelle Williams, the real standout in All the Money in the World, deserves a shoutout, as does Lawrence, who carries mother! But I don't understand a world in which Prince isn't nominated for The Florida Project. That she's seven-years old doesn't do anything to detract from one of the year's most memorable performances. (And her fictional mom, Bria Vinaite, is equally good.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Nominees: 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 went big in Three Billboards as the racist cop who decides to (maybe) start rethinking (some of) his ways. Love it or hate it, but Rockwell is on a winning streak.
Should Win: It is Willem Dafoe who gives The Florida Project its beating heart. He is the one person who even takes notice of the residents of that low-rent motel on the outskirts of Orlando. Dafoe makes every moment he's in memorable, whether he's escorting a suspicious character off of the property or just trying to count the rent money.
Should Have Been a Contender: This is a stretch since he's a true supporting character in a star-studded ensemble (and thus probably would never have been pushed for an actual nomination), but Bob Odenkirk was just phenomenal as Ben Bagdikian, the dogged and heart-achingly believable reporter who actually cracks the case, in The Post.
Will Win: Rockwell is the favourite but I smell an upset. There's not much evidence for it. I just think good sense will prevail and Dafoe will win his first Oscar.
Should Win: This category is awash in terrific character actors. Would it not be great to see Jenkins win? Would anyone not cheer seeing Harrelson at the podium? But Dafoe's low-rent motel father-figure will go down as the iconic performance of the bunch.
Should Have Been a Contender: Dee Rees' Jim Crow-era Mudbound boasts an impressive and starry cast, but the most soulful performance comes from one of its cast members less-recognised names: Rob Morgan. As Hap Jackson, Morgan plays a weary but strong patriarch of a sharecropping family, living somewhere in between slavery and freedom.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Nominees: 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, who is very excellent as the caustic, complicated mother LaVona in I, Tonya, and everyone has noticed.
Should Win: Lesley Manville upstaged Daniel Day-Lewis (in a good way) as the steadfast Cyril, who can be sometimes terrifying and often funny and without whom the House of Woodcock (and Phantom Thread) would have come crashing to the ground.
Should Have Been a Contender: Aside from Manville, there are few performances that gave me such joy as Michelle Pfeiffer's wickedly funny intruder in mother! Her icy glares alone were enough for a nomination at least.
Will Win: Janney, a riot in I, Tonya, is the favourite.
Should Win: Nothing could ever be wrong with the fantastic Janney winning an award. But I'd cast my non-existent vote for Metcalf, in her first film in almost a decade. Her character in Lady Bird is one of the finest working mothers I've ever seen in movies.
Should Have Been a Contender: Rarely does a performer breakthrough the way Tiffany Haddish did in Girls Trip. A more sensible award show would reward Haddish, but the Oscars have the snobbiest attitudes about comedy. (See also the missing nod for Holly Hunter of The Big Sick.)
The Nominees: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Will Win: Affable, undeniably talented, quick to drop an expletive and "in love with love and movies," Guillermo del Toro is the likely pick for this year's best director. Also, The Shape of Water could only have been made by him.
Should Win: Although he's been left on the cutting room floor this awards season, Christopher Nolan really should be getting more awards for his achievement with Dunkirk. Perhaps it came out too early, or didn't have that extra performance component to keep its worthiness narrative alive? Maybe the film didn't work as well in screener format as it did on the big screen. Whatever the reason, Nolan still made a masterpiece of suspense like we've never seen before.
Should Have Been a Contender: Sean Baker is one of the most uniquely talented and truly visionary directors working today and if The Florida Project is any indication — which he shot on location with a tiny budget and mostly non actors — he is only getting better.
Will Win: Del Toro seems to have this locked up. With a win, he'll join his friends and Mexican countrymen Alejandro Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron. The three counterparts will have won four of the last five best director awards.
Should Win: I really have no idea. The filmmakers in this group are impossible to compare against each other; all of the movies are so singular to the director. Anderson's impeccable comedy? Gerwig's richness of lived-in detail? I don't like choosing but Nolan's feat in Dunkirk is a majestic creation of sight and sound.
Should Have Been a Contender: No, documentary filmmakers are never considered for this award, for some reason. Wiseman, 88, took home an honorary Oscar in 2016, but he hasn't slowed down. "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library" is his latest sprawling portrait of an institution worthy of deep appreciation. And these days, any still-working institution deserves our applause.
The Nominees:Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Faces Places, Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo, Strong Island
Will Win: Perhaps it is because she really doesn't care and isn't afraid to call the Governors Awards the "fake Oscars," but Agnes Varda and her cardboard cutout and two-toned hair have become the unlikely stars of the awards season.
Should Win: Never mind that Faces Places isn't even the best documentary Varda has made (that would be The Gleaners and I) — it's about time Varda gets one of the little gold men (the (asterisk)real(asterisk) one).
Should Have Been a Contender: When I saw Brett Morgen's transcendent Jane Goodall documentary Jane, I assumed it would win the Oscar. In another baffling documentary category oversight, it wasn't even nominated.
Will Win: Varda and JR's Face Places has the edge, and for good reason. It's simply a joy, never mind that it's a radiant capstone for the 89-year-old Varda.
Should Win: I'll be rooting for Faces Placesbut don't overlook the two powerful docs about American injustice. Yance Ford's "Strong Island" is potent, gut-wrenching personal filmmaking. And Steve James' Abacus details the perverse ironies behind the only U.S. bank that faced criminal charges after the 2008 financial crisis.
Should Have Been a Contender: Bill Morrison's Dawson City: Frozen Time is a masterpiece that unearths lost histories in both the Yukon and silent-movie Hollywood, through the discovery of reels of frozen nitrate film.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Nominees: A Fantastic Woman, Chile; The Insult, Lebanon; Loveless, Russia; On Body and Soul, Hungary; The Square, Sweden
Will Win: The biggest conversation-starter of the bunch is Ruben Ostlund's The Square, which I believe will work to its benefit in a crowded field of worthy and interesting films. Also, it has the benefit of that must-see banquet scene with Terry Notary.
Should Win: Sometimes the most obvious choice is the right one too: The Square.
Should Have Been a Contender: The incredibly moving look at the AIDS epidemic in France with near universal acclaim, BPM(Beats per Minute) was a big oversight in the foreign language category.
Will Win: I think Ostlund's Palme d'Or-winner The Square takes it.
Should Win: Loveless, Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Leviathan, is a staggeringly grim portrait of a sick Russian society. To say the least, Zvyagintsev doesn't mess around.
Should Have Been a Contender: The oversight of BPM is inexplicable. Rarely has a protest movement been more intimately captured.
(Photos: AP, Ster-Kinekor, Empire Entertainment)