They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Acting Races

By J. Don Birnam

February 22, 2018

She's a pirate! Yar!

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With the clock ticking down to the 90th Oscars and voting well underway, we take a look today at the four acting races, which are the most predictable than they have been in years, and that is saying a lot.

Last year, I split this up into two separate columns but went 4/4 in my initial predictions, only to be stupidly swayed by the Internet that Denzel was going to win and switching at the last minute. I’ve said many times that one should not listen to the Internet’s collective Oscar wisdom, including on things like Stallone vs. Rylance, but failed to heed my own advice here.

Still, I was convinced The Internet was completely overstating the love for Moonlight, and of course, how wrong I was.

But this year something funny has happened in the acting races. All four have four-peat winners, with the lead contenders having won the Critics Choice, the Globes, the SAG, the BAFTA, and, most likely now, the Oscar. Not since Russell Crowe’s cellphone fiasco did someone win all four of these and lose the Oscar. Of course, the Critics’ Choice and BAFTAs both changed their voting this century, meant to match/predict/influence the Academy, and since then no one has won all four and lost.

So, if you want to be perhaps brave, perhaps foolhardy, go ahead and predict an upset. You will look brilliant and win your Oscar pool if it happens, but if it does not, you will cook your own goose. Remember that it has been over a decade since we had a true surprise, unexpected stunner in these races. People point to Rylance defeating Stallone, but I maintained the entire year that Stallone would never win and was not surprised by his lose in the least. There have been close years like Meryl vs. Viola, Penn v. Rourke. There have been years with no clear frontrunner, specially in the acting races (like when Christoph Waltz won his second Oscar), but the last time the entire Oscars world agreed someone would win only to see someone else triumph was arguably in 2002, when Denzel and Halle Barry both surprised pundits. Surprises just don’t happen in the acting races.

So let’s look at them quickly to see what the other nominees are all about.

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Best Supporting Actor

The five nominees in this category are Christopher Plummer for All the Money in the World, Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water, Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project, and both Woody Harrelson and the likely winner, Sam Rockwell, for Three Billboards. The question was always about that fourth or fifth slot. Would it be Armie Hammer for Call Me By Your Name? Could Michael Stuhlbarg turn one of his performances in no less than THREE Best Picture nominees, into a nomination? In the end, it was clear that the Academy liked Three Billboards so much that it gave it two nominations in the same category, the first time that has happened since 2002 when Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah were up for Chicago. It hasn’t happened in this category since Bugsy in 1991.*

But the road ends here for Harrelson, who has won nothing (and did not even get the panoply of nominations), and will likely see the prize go to his costar. The same can be said for Plummer, who has his movie’s only nomination here. Although people probably are rewarding him stepping in at the last minute to remove Kevin Spacey, some of the fallout from that decision have likely hurt the movie’s chances. And while Richard Jenkins could plausibly ride a Shape of Water wave to victory, that wave looks less and less likely.

The only potential spoiler I suppose would be Dafoe. Although he, too, is his film’s only nomination, it was at the very least the critical consensus such that it may have a grain of persuasive truth. But do not bet your life on it.

Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards
Could Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress

Supporting Actress also had a couple of contenders that could have plausibly made it in, including Downsizing’s Hong Chau and The Big Sick’s Holly Hunter. Both missed as the former was completely shutout and the latter received a lone Best Picture nomination. The final five actually were Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water, Mary J. Blige for Mudbound, becoming the first person to receiving two nods across those two categories, surprisingly, Leslie Manville for the over-performing Phantom Thread, and the two supposed leading contenders, Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird and Allison Janney for I, Tonya.

Here, it seems as if Spencer has the least chance of all, obtaining yet another nomination for playing a similar, 1950s/1960s character. Blige at least got a SAG nod but missed out on BAFTA (her movie did not do well there), while Manville missed SAG but could not convert a favorable BAFTA crowd to a win, so she’s out too. So the race boils down to the two we always thought would be in the lead. And while Metcalf won most critics’ awards for her admittedly more subtle performance, there is little to be said in this race too. How can one predict the winner of all four precursors to lose? It just would be madness.

I guess if I’m nervous about one of them, it is this one. Metcalf has the only realistic chance left for Lady Bird to win a consolation prize. She is well liked. But so is Janney, and her performance is over the top and showy. “Most” acting.

Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Could Win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

*Than you to Mark Brinkerhoff for correcting a prior version of this article which wrongly stated Platoon was the last time this happened.


Best Actor

Here, again, the win comes down to the critical favorite versus the industry favorite. What is weird about the year is not only that four people went 4/4, it is that all four were NOT the critics’ consensus pick, maybe to remind us that critics and Internet dwellers are not the insiders (obviously) and are most assuredly not the Academy. But before we get to the Timothee Chalamet vs. Gary Oldman fiasco, let’s take a look at the other nominees.

Like in the supporting races, the drama here was about the nominees. It ended up being Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq., Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out, Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread, and the two aforementioned thespians. On the outside looking in ended up being James Franco for The Disaster Artist, whose candidacy may have been (or may not have been) affected by sexual harassment allegations, and Tom Hanks for The Post, who seems to have pissed off the Academy at some point or something--what else explains that he has not received a nod in over a decade.

You can clearly eliminate Washington, who has his film’s sole nod here. While he arguably came close to a win last year, there is no consolation prize in the works for what is, in my mind anyway, a pretty weak performance. And while Day-Lewis has three Oscars well--he has three Oscars (all in lead, the most by any man) which seems enough. If his retirement was going to prompt them to give him a fourth, you would have seen it happen already. Instead, he may be a little Meryl Streep-ed out, in that people take him for granted. Finally, Kaluuya could have caught a Get Out wave as that movie’s popularity persisted through the year but, again, it just never happened.

So what about Chalamet? If all you read is Twitter, you would be convinced he is going to win by unanimous acclaim of all 8,000 Academy members. The critics also broke for Chalamet, but it is not to be. The industry has instead acclaimed a long-overdue and well-liked actor. They love to reward characters that transform themselves, political leaders, and familiar figures. Chalamet would become the youngest Best Actor winner in history. It just will not happen. Sorry Call Me By Your Name fans!!

Will Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Could Win: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Best Actress

Last but not least, the lead acting race. Heading into it, the question again was who would miss and who would be in, with at least a half dozen additional credible contenders hanging out around the edges. But this category had the least surprise of them all. Although Meryl Streep had missed on a SAG nomination (which went to Judi Dench) and on a BAFTA (which went to Annette Benning for Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool), she managed to keep her slot for her role in The Post. Margot Robbie got her first nod for her transformative performance in I, Tonya, and Saoirse Ronan cemented her status as a serious actress with yet another nomination for Lady Bird. The star of Shape of Water, Sally Hawkins, also scored a nod for her mostly silent performance, while Frances McDormand made it in for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Here too, it is pretty boring. Streep arguably gave the best performance and a career high for her, but her movie has faded from contention and she is going to need to basically play herself to ever win an Oscar again. A lot of people do not like Lady Bird the character (they think she’s a brat) so a win for it also seems unlikely. And as much as I’d like to see Margot triumph for her performance as Tonya Harding, her status as a first time nominee playing a wacky character makes it tough for her.

My hope all along was that Sally Hawkins, long overdue since her roles in Happy Go Lucky or this year’s Maudie would sneak in somewhere, but not even her fellow Brits rewarded her at BAFTA this weekend. Heartbreaking.

Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
Could Win: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Next week: We handicap Best Picture (twice) and then…FINAL PREDICTIONS



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