Oscar Predictions 2018: Will ‘The Shape of Water’ Rise to the Top in the Wildest Race in Years?

We know who’ll win the acting awards, but several other categories — notably including Best Picture — are completely up in the air as Oscar night approaches

Last Updated: February 28, 2018 @ 8:26 AM

The Oscar acting races have rarely been more predictable than they are this year. The Best Picture race has rarely been less predictable.

Welcome to the 90th Academy Awards, a mixture of categories that are easy to call (nine out of 24, by my count) and ones that are fiendishly difficult (five or so). Complicating things further is the fact that Oscar voters just don’t do sweeps anymore: One of the last five Best Picture winners, “Birdman,” won four Oscars in total; three of them won three; and one, “Spotlight,” won only two.

This should be another year in which voters spread the love. By my reckoning, “The Shape of Water” will win four awards and “Dunkirk” and “Three Billboards Over Ebbing, Missouri” will win three, but recent shows have been full of upsets up and down the ballot. And really, the Academy membership has changed so dramatically over the past three years, adding record numbers of members and getting far more international, that it’s hard to even get a read on who’s voting these days, much less what their favorites are.

One longtime member put it succinctly this week by starting with a William Goldman quote: “‘Nobody knows anything’ has never been truer.”

But voting has concluded, and here are our Oscar predictions of what we’ll find in those envelopes on Sunday night.

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”

“The Shape of Water” has the most nominations, 13. It won the Producers Guild and Directors Guild awards. It’s a valentine to the art of cinema. And Guillermo del Toro is almost certainly going to win Best Director. “The Shape of Water” should be a clear front runner — so why has it always felt as if it might well be another “La La Land” or “The Revenant,” the dazzling movie that wins for director but loses Best Picture to something smaller? For months, I’ve been thinking that the preferential system of vote-tallying in the Best Picture category will hurt it, and a different, less divisive choice will emerge.

But I’m sticking with “Shape of Water,” because there are too many other contenders, and I don’t see a consensus emerging around any of them. “Dunkirk” doesn’t have writing or acting nominations and didn’t do as well as it should have at BAFTA; “Three Billboards” is missing a key Best Director nomination and, more to the point, is the most divisive of the big contenders in a system that works against divisive movies; “Get Out” just doesn’t have enough other nominations; and “Lady Bird” seems unlikely to win a single other Oscar, making Best Picture all but impossible.

I’ll kick myself if one of those pulls off the upset, and “Get Out” and “Three Billboards” — in that order — seem particularly primed to do so. But I think del Toro’s film will be the rare recent front runner to hang on for the win.

Winner: “The Shape of Water”

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

If Best Picture is so split between “Shape of Water,” “Dunkirk,” “Lady Bird” and “Get Out,” shouldn’t this race be a nail-biter between del Toro, Nolan, Gerwig and Peele? Nope. Just as it has in every recent year, the heat has coalesced around a single director, in this case del Toro. This seems to be one of the nine categories that are pretty much a lock.

Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Darkest Hour trailer

BEST ACTOR
Nominees:
Timothée 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.”

This is another of those locks. (In fact, all four acting categories are.) While Chalamet and Kaluuya are two of the year’s big discovery, this award was Oldman’s as soon as Focus began screening his all-but-unrecognizable performance as Winston Churchill. Throw in the fact that he’s a huge influence on a couple generations of actors and he was never even nominated for an Oscar until “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in 2012, and this is an Oscar standing ovation just waiting to happen.

Winner: Gary Oldman

BEST ACTRESS
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”

It initially seemed to be one of the year’s most competitive categories, with McDormand, Ronan and Hawkins landing massive acclaim, Robbie sneaking into the field with a bold performance and Meryl being Meryl. But then McDormand, an absolute force of nature in “Three Billboards,” starting winning all the awards. And she’s not going to stop now.

Winner: Frances McDormand

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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”

The two supporting categories followed a similar path. Initially, this one seemed to be a tight race between Willem Dafoe and Sam Rockwell, with Dafoe having a slight edge because he’s been on voters’ radar for longer and his character is more likable. And then Rockwell, playing a dimwitted and thuggish racist who is one of the only people in “Three Billboards” to slightly change, won SAG and the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Award and BAFTA, which has made him a prohibitive favorite.

Winner: Sam Rockwell

i tonya allison janney

Neon

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees:
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

In this category, too, the softer (and more nuanced?) performance once seemed to have the upper hand, with Laurie Metcalf’s conflicted mom in “Lady Bird” offering more to like than Janney’s fearsome harridan in “I, Tonya.” But voters for all the precursor awards embraced the fun Janney had playing the monster, and Oscar voters seem all but certain to do the same. If there’s an upset in any of the acting categories, this is the likeliest category in which it could happen — but there’s not likely to be an upset.

Winner: Allison Janney

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nominees:
“Call Me by Your Name”
“The Disaster Artist”
“Logan”
“Molly’s Game”
“Mudbound”

This is by far the easier of the two writing categories to predict, because the five nominees only include one Best Picture contender, “Call Me by Your Name.” While voters occasionally decide that the best screenplay is the one with the most words, which would be good news for Aaron Sorkin and “Molly’s Game,” nothing seems positioned to challenge James Ivory’s adaptation of the Andre Aciman novel. Plus, it would be the first Oscar for the acclaimed filmmaker who directed such classics as “A Room With a View” and “Howards End.”

Winner: “Call Me by Your Name”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nominees:
“The Big Sick”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

This writing category, on the other hand, is fiercely competitive, with four Best Picture nominees going up against the extremely well-liked “The Big Sick.” And it’s a measure of just how competitive when you realize that the best-pic favorite, “The Shape of Water,” is probably only the fourth-likeliest winner, behind “Three Billboards,” “Get Out” and “Lady Bird.” This is likely a very close race between “Three Billboards” and “Get Out” — and while Jordan Peele wrote the year’s most zeitgeisty movie and could easily win, “Three Billboards” is a showier piece of writing.

Winner: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

blade runner 2049 vegas everything we learned trailer

“Blade Runner 2049” / Warner Bros.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“Mudbound”
“The Shape of Water”

My thinking in this category might be colored by the idea of justice — because “Blade Runner” DP Roger Deakins, a pretty unanimous choice as the greatest living cinematographer, has been nominated 13 previous times but has never won, and his astounding work on the Denis Villeneuve epic ought to finally do the trick. But the cinematographers’ names aren’t on the ballot, just their films, and the competition is fearsome, particularly Hoyte van Hoytema’s dazzling large-format work in “Dunkirk” and Dan Laustsen’s fairy-tale world in “The Shape of Water.” Either of them could win — and even without names on the ballot, voters are probably well aware of (and possibly tempted by) the fact that “Mudbound” was shot by Rachel Morrison, the first female cinematography nominee in history.

But particularly after the American Society of Cinematographers and BAFTA did it, I have to think that Oscar voters will finally do right by Roger Deakins. I just have to.

Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”

BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
“Baby Driver”
“Dunkirk”
“I, Tonya”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“Baby Driver” is such a virtuoso piece of fast-paced editing that it could well prove an exception to the usual rule that you need to be a Best Picture nominee to win in this category (as 13 of the last 15 winners have been). But the whole setup of “Dunkirk,” which simultaneously cuts between three different war stories taking place at different locations and different times, is an advertisement for its editing. The film may join “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Gravity,” “The Hurt Locker” and “The Bourne Identity” as a movie that sweeps film editing and both sound categories.

Winner: “Dunkirk”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Darkest Hour”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Shape of Water”
“Victoria & Abdul”

It was a shock when the Costume Designers Guild gave its period-costumes award not to “Phantom Thread,” the movie about a clothes designer, but to “The Shape of Water,” most of whose characters sport lab coats or cleaning-lady smocks. But unless they think that the design of that movie’s aquatic creature qualifies as a costume, it’s unlikely that Oscar voters will go the same route. Instead, look for them to recognize the movie in which the man makes the clothes and the clothes make the man … and the women.

Winner: “Phantom Thread”

The Shape of Water

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Nominees:
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“The Shape of Water”

“Beauty and the Beast” is the kind of beautiful, wildly elaborate fantasy that often wins in this category, but it won’t help that a lot of the design is a variation on the design created by the Disney animators back in 1991. This should be a showdown between the amazing futurescapes of “Blade Runner” and the richly detailed environments of “The Shape of Water” — and the fact that voters like the latter movie better than the former one could tip the scales.

Winner: “The Shape of Water”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Nominees:
“Darkest Hour”
“Victoria & Abdul”
“Wonder”

Here’s another lock, because only one of these films features makeup that is instrumental in an Oscar-winning performance. Before Gary Oldman could act like Winston Churchill, he had to look like Winston Churchill, and that was the considerable accomplishment of the “Darkest Hour” makeup team.

Winner: “Darkest Hour”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
“Dunkirk”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

John Williams is a giant who has been nominated an astonishing 51 times, but he hasn’t won in 34 years and it’s hard to imagine his eighth “Star Wars” score breaking the streak. (He only won for the first one, in 1977.) Carter Burwell’s “Three Billboards” score is subtle and understated, Hans Zimmer’s “Dunkirk” music bold and intricate, and Jonny Greenwood’s “Phantom Thread” score alternately stately and challenging. They’re all terrific — but voters love a piece of music that instantly captures the mood of a film they admire, and Alexandre Desplat provides that in his music for “The Shape of Water.”

Winner: “The Shape of Water”

This Is Me The Greatest Showman

20th Century Fox

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Nominees:
“Mighty River” from “Mudbound”
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name”
“Remember Me” from “Coco”
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall”
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman”

Nine-time song nominee Diane Warren, who has never won, has been tireless in pushing her anthemic “Stand Up for Something,” and the song does seem to have some momentum. But it’ll be difficult to overcome the visibility of “Remember Me,” the centerpiece song from “Coco” and a new composition by the team that gave us “Let It Go”; and “This Is Me,” a highlight in the surprisingly successful musical “The Greatest Showman” and a song that is suddenly all over YouTube and has been featured in NBC’s coverage of the Olympics.

“Remember Me” is from a bigger movie but “This Is Me” is becoming a phenomenon at just the right time, which will probably give “City of Stars” writers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul their second consecutive song Oscar.

Winner: “This Is Me”

BEST SOUND EDITING
Nominees:
“Baby Driver”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Dunkirk”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

It might be hard for laymen to understand the difference between the two Oscar sound categories — but most voters understand that sound editing involves the creation of artificial sound effects, which means that this award typically goes to one of the biggest, loudest nominees. Two previous Christopher Nolan movies, “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” have won in this category, and his “Dunkirk” should have the scale and drama to give him a third — unless voters want to reward the scrappy little “Baby Driver” or give a nod to “Blade Runner 2049,” whose director Denis Villeneuve was also responsible for last year’s winner, “Arrival.”

Winner: “Dunkirk”

BEST SOUND MIXING
Nominees:
“Baby Driver”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Dunkirk”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

Over the last 12 years, the same film has won in both Oscar sound categories eight times — so when in doubt, it’s best to predict a sound-category sweep. This year also lacks the kind of big musical nominee that often wins in the category, which will help “Dunkirk” in its quest to win another.

Winner: “Dunkirk”

War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
“Kong: Skull Island”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“War for the Planet of the Apes”

At the Oscar nominees luncheon, I listened as one of the other nominees told Joe Letteri, the 10-time Oscar nominee and four-time winner who’s up again for “War for the Planet of the Apes,” that there was no way he wouldn’t win another Oscar. And if other VFX whizzes were voting, that’s no doubt true, since the last three “Apes” movies have won the top prize from the Visual Effects Society. But they’ve never won the Oscar despite the remarkable work they’ve done in creating a world of completely believable apes, and “Apes” faces a formidable challenger this year in the futurescapes of “Blade Runner 2049.”

Still, unless the resistance to the “Apes” movies runs deep — which, for some inexplicable reason, it might — we’re guessing that voters will finally come to their senses and realize what an accomplishment the simian saga has been.

Winner: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
“The Boss Baby”
“The Breadwinner”
“Coco”
“Ferdinand”
“Loving Vincent”

Has “Coco” lost anything it’s been nominated for this year? If so, I wasn’t paying attention. Pixar is a juggernaut in this category, with 11 nominations and nine wins since the category began in 2001; the last one of their films that was nominated but didn’t win was “Cars” in 2006. Despite the technical accomplishment of “Loving Vincent” and the cross-cultural beauty of “The Breadwinner,” “Coco” really can’t lose.

Winner: “Coco”

The Insult

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
Nominees:
“A Fantastic Woman,” Chile
“The Insult,” Lebanon
“Loveless,” Russia
“On Body and Soul,” Hungary
“The Square,” Sweden

Every year, we look at the field and say, “If the voters watch all the movies before they vote, the way they’re supposed to, Movie X will win.” And every year, that movie loses to something more timely (“The Salesman” over “A Man Called Ove” last year) or more significant (“Son of Saul” over “Mustang” the year before). This year, the “if voters watch everything” movie is probably Lebanon’s personal/political drama “The Insult.”

The Palme d’Or-winning “The Square” is bigger and more acclaimed, but it might well be too divisive and too much of a comedy to win. That leaves the touching “A Fantastic Woman” as the important movie (featuring transgender Oscar presenter Daniela Vega) that could win if voters want to send a message about inclusion and LGBT acceptance. In a very close race, we think the Euro-centric nature of the Academy’s international membership may give the slightest of edges to “The Insult.”

Winner: “The Insult”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Nominees:
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“Faces Places”
“Icarus”
“Last Men in Aleppo”
“Strong Island”

“Last Men in Aleppo” might have gotten a boost from the publicity when its producer couldn’t get a visa to attend the Oscars — but a film about Syria’s White Helmets won the short-doc Oscar last year and voters might not want to honor another so soon after. “Icarus” could have gotten a bump by the Olympics, since its investigation into Russian sports doping helped get that country banned from the Pyeongchang games — except that every time we saw another athlete competing under the “Olympic Athlete from Russia” banner, it undercut the movie’s tagline as “the thriller that brought down an empire.”

With none of the four issue-oriented films really standing out, it’s quite possible that the serious vote will split four ways and allow the beloved French icon Agnès Varda to become the oldest Oscar winner ever for her and co-director JR’s wry and delightful travelogue “Faces Places.”

Winner: “Faces Places”

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Nominees:
“Edith+Eddie”
“Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405”
“Heroin(e)”
“Knife Skills”
“Traffic Stop”

In what is probably the Oscar category with the fewest voters, the two strongest contenders are “Heroin(e),” a wrenching but also inspiring look at the opioid crisis in West Virginia though the eyes of three women (a fire chief, a judge and a crusading volunteer) on the front lines, and “Edith+Eddie,” a character study of the country’s oldest biracial newlyweds that leaves viewers utterly infuriated at government indifference toward the elderly. (But don’t underestimate “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” a character study of an L.A. artist that plays into voters’ affection for films about the arts.) Typically, the film that wins in this category is the film that leaves viewers with some hope, which could give “Heroin(e)” a tiny edge.

Winner: “Heroin(e)”

Dear Basketball

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Nominees:
“Dear Basketball”
“Garden Party”
“Lou”
“Negative Space”
“Revolting Rhymes”

At the Oscar nominees luncheon, there was no bigger star in the room than Kobe Bryant, and nobody who posed for more selfies. That kind of star power could well push “Dear Basketball” to victory — although it has also caused a quiet backlash among some Academy members who aren’t Kobe devotees and may balk at giving an award to a guy who once settled a rape accusation out of court. Perennial winner Pixar’s sweet “Lou” might be too much of a kids’ film to prevail, but the wry and touching family story “Negative Space” or the dark and amazingly photorealistic “Garden Party” could benefit if the backlash takes hold.

But “Dear Basketball” is a very personal film in a category that often goes to the most personal nominee, and animator/director Glen Keane is a Disney vet almost as beloved in animation as Kobe is in basketball.

Winner: “Dear Basketball”

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Nominees:
“DeKalb Elementary”
“The Eleven O’Clock”
“My Nephew Emmett”
“The Silent Child”
“Watu Wote/All of Us”

Three of the nominees — “DeKalb Elementary,” “My Nephew Emmett” and “Watu Wote” — are exceptional, fact-based student films that could not be timelier: “DeKalb” deals with a shooter at an elementary school, “Emmett” with a horrifying episode that helped trigger the civil rights movement, “Watu Wote” with Christian/Muslim tensions. Crucially, “DeKalb” and “Watu Wote” are works that showcase the best side of humanity and give hope that there can be a way out of impossibly dark situations — but if the serious vote splits between the four tough and sobering films, the sharp and very funny “The Eleven O’Clock” is positioned to sneak in and win in a very strong category and a very tight race.

Winner: “DeKalb Elementary”