And the Oscar goes to: My Picks for the 90th Annual Academy Awards

The Oscars logoThe nominations for the 90th Annual Academy Awards (aka the Oscars) were announced this past Monday and since I live with a film student and hang out with a bunch of nerds I’ve become pretty invested in this year’s awards.

I’ve seen six of the nine films nominated for Best Picture and a larger number of the nominees in general this year than usual for me. In fact, I’ve probably watched more movies in the last year than in any other year of my life.

It’s been a great year for film, but it’s honestly kind of a strange year for the Oscars. This year’s major nominees seem like a bit of a motley group compared to years past. Some popular categories, including Best Actor in a Lead Role, have surprisingly weak nominee pools.

I’m excited for the Academy Awards though, it’s kind of like the Super Bowl for culture nerds. And since the Grammy’s are basically meaningless now, it’s really the only award show that I try to pick winners for. So here are my projections for most of the categories and some honorable mentions that I really just wanted to write about.

Best Picture

My Pick: Lady Bird

I haven’t seen Lady Bird. I really want to, but it seems like most people have already seen it and I just haven’t found a good opportunity to go to the theater. With nearly unanimous acclaim from both critics and audiences I honestly don’t see how this couldn’t win. Lady Bird has been so well-loved it broke the all-time record for positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. It would be nuts for the Academy not to choose this film, especially after the debacle of last year’s Best Picture announcement.

Honorable Mention: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Of the Best Picture contenders I’ve seen, Three Billboards is probably the best overall film. It’s a great look at how grief and trauma affect individuals and communities. It’s also way funnier than a movie about the aftermath of such a violent crime should be. The whole cast does a great job of making Ebbing, Misouri feel like a lived-in community, but Frances McDormand dominates this film in a way I haven’t seen in a long time.


My Pick: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Not all art is emotionally and physically affecting, but Dunkirk absolutely was for me. The anxiety of this film totally worked on me. The sequences involving sinking boats were totally nerve-wracking. Nolan’s vision of this pivotal battle in the second world war focuses in on the lives of individuals on and around the battlefield and the fear they feel.

Honorable Mention: Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water

I’m not normally a fan of Guillermo del Toro, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Below the surface of this film’s surprisingly conventional love story are some really interesting questions about personhood. The story is immersive and well paced like a great novel. The acting is superb and the world feels surprisingly believable. The Shape of Water is an impressive example of the craft of filmmaking.

Original Screenplay

My Pick: Get Out — Jordan Peele

Get Out is one of the only movies that I re-watched this year. A lot has been said about Jordan Peele’s unique blend of horror, humor and social commentary. What blows me away about this screenplay though is how subtly the foundations for the twists are laid throughout. Peele has proven his long-form chops after an impressive history in sketch comedy.

Honorable Mention: The Big Sick — Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

I really need to see The Big Sick. Nanjiani and company have gotten a lot of praise for the film, but its had some strange distribution making it a bit hard to find. I can see this winning, but without having seen it I’m still rooting for Get Out.

Adapted Screenplay

My Pick: The Disaster Artist — Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

In the spirit of full disclosure, I kind of love The Room. I’ve watched it four times now,  and probably will a half dozen more times. I’ve been excited about The Disaster Artist all year and it definitely lived up to my expectations. The brothers Franco embody Sestero and Wissaeu well, but the credit must go to Neustadter and Weber for an impressively concise screenplay. They cover a lot of ground, yet The Disaster Artist never really feels rushed. There’s a loving and positive feeling about this movie, even in scenes where it lets you laugh at the character’s complete ineptitude.

Honorable Mention: Call Me By Your Name — James Ivory

I think Call Me By Your Name has a better chance of winning than The Disaster Artist, but I didn’t find the screenplay quite as impressive. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic movie. I just think it’s strengths lie more in the actors performances than the screenplay.

Actor in a Leading Role

My Pick: Gary Oldman — Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill is too good. The hair and makeup team make it almost impossible to see his natural face (more on that below), but he still manages an emotionally stirring performance. He brings a legend to the screen in a performance that feels at times larger than life, but grounds the role in more intimate moments. Darkest Hour feels a little broad (and at times tone deaf) in comparison to Dunkirk, but Oldman blows the doors off in the lead role.

Honorable Mention: Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out

Kaluuya had a lot of work to do in Get Out. He handles a meaty part really well for a young-ish actor in a complex situation. I’d root for him if he didn’t have to contend with the likes of Gary Freaking Oldman in this category this year.

Actress in a Leading Role

My Pick: Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water

I’m honestly not sure if I’m backing the winning horse here, but Sally Hawkins blew me away in The Shape of Water. She acts 95% of the movie in American Sign Language and shares many of her scenes with an amalgam of motion capture and CGI. She’s emotive with her facial expressions and signing in a way that drew me into a movie that might have otherwise pushed me away. The sequence where she asks Giles to speak her signing aloud is probably the most moving moment of film I saw this year.

Honorable Mention: Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan has gotten a ton of (presumably) well-deserved hype for Lady Bird. I haven’t seen it so I can’t speak to her performance, but she seems to be many people’s favorite.

Actor in a Supporting Role

My Pick: Sam Rockwell — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I usually hate Sam Rockwell, which is probably just a result of effective type casting. He plays a lot of characters with very punchable faces. His role as Jason Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misouri isn’t much of a departure there. Dixon is extremely unsympathetic for most of the movie, and even when he turns things around you’re still not sure you’re supposed to like him. He’s a strange foil to Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby, but I found him to be the second most fascinating character (behind France McDormand’s Mildred, of course).

Honorable Mention: Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Woody Harrelson was good as Chief Willoughby in Three Billboards, but the performance didn’t stand out in the same way Rockwell’s did. This part felt like a pretty boilerplate Woody Harrelson role, much like Rockwell’s Dixon, but I’m not sure he brought as much to it.

Actress in a Supporting Role

My Pick: Allison Janney — I, Tonya

Having only seen the trailers for I, Tonya I feel pretty confident in Allison Janney’s chances at taking home the Academy Award in this category. She’s well-known, well-respected and playing a role right up her alley.

Honorable Mention: Octavia Spencer — The Shape of Water

Octavia Spencer did a good job Zelda Fuller in The Shape of Water, but the part felt too similar to other roles she’s played to really impact me. Her best scene, in my opinion, was the brief glance we got into her relationship at home with her husband. She complains about him in many other scenes as a device for comic relief, but seeing more of their relationship first hand might have elevated this role for me.

Animated Feature Film

My Pick: Coco — Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson

I think Coco is probably Pixar’s most visually stunning movie. With each outing they improve one technical element of their software stack that allows them to tell a richer story. This time around it was processing more animated objets on screen than ever before. From massive crowd shots to a beautiful bridge made out of flower petals, Coco includes some of the largest set pieces in Pixar history. It’s story, by contrast, is intimate, familial and personally touching. The original music created for the film is great, the art style is a welcome change of pace and the characters are extremely lovable. Coco is my new favorite animated film.

Honorable Mention: The Boss Baby — Tom McGrath, Ramsey Naito

Can we just admit that this got nominated for the lulz and the dank memes?


My Pick: Dunkirk — Hoyte van Hoytema

There is not a bad shot in Dunkirk. If it’s not beautiful it’s claustrophobic or frenetic. Hoyte van Hoytema manages to capture land, sea and air combat in ways that feel novel despite the war film genre’s extensive baggage. I saw Dunkirk in the theater, but I’d also love to see it in digital 4k. It’s a beautiful film.

Honorable Mention: Blade Runner 2049 — Roger A. Deakins

Deakins did a hell of a job here. For a film with so many synthetic and computer generated elements, Blade Runner 2049 feels, at points, like you could reach out and touch it. The vehicle sequences especially feel like the fully realized version of a vision and a world we only got a glimpse of in the original.

Production Design

My Pick: Blade Runner 2049 — Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola

Though it was definitely well shot, I think the production design of Blade Runner 2049 is really where it shines. It has all the flying cars and holographic billboards of the original, but it adds new layers with drones, elaborately animated AI assistants and a gorgeously run-down futuristic casino. The holographic Elvis was a little tacky, but I’ll let it slide since Elvis himself was a little tacky. Like

Honorable Mention: Darkest Hour – Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

It’s good looking World War II movie. Not much else to say.

Visual Effects

My Pick: Blade Runner 2049

The visual effects of the original Blade Runner were ahead of its time, and while 2049 isn’t quite as trailblazing it is still breathtaking. The cityscapes are massive, the CGI characters have impressive texture and depth. This movie is basically three hours of amazing effects.

Honorable Mention: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians 2 looks like a comic book in the best possible way. All of the colors on Ego’s planet are extremely vibrant, everything from the lasers to the explosions are rainbow colored. While the plot of this movie isn’t nearly as interesting as its predecessor the visuals have definitely taken a big leap forward.

Film Editing

My Pick: Baby Driver — Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos

This was the fastest and most fun movie I saw all year. Baby Driver moves at the breakneck pace you’d hope for in a heist movie. The real secret to the film’s success is the timing of its music cues. Edgar Wright, as per usual, chose a soundtrack that serves as a character element throughout the film. The editors do a fantastic job of timing their cues to make that soundtrack feel like its pushing the film forward.

Honorable Mention: Dunkirk — Lee Smith

I’ve mentioned before that Dunkirk had some seriously affecting sequences and the editing was definitely a key element of that. It could take this Oscar, and it would deserve it, but I’d rather see the statue go to Baby Driver.

Costume Design

My Pick: Darkest Hour — Jacqueline Durran

Period costuming gets a lot of praise, but it seems well deserved in this case. Darkest Hour looks great, and Jacqueline Durran’s costuming is a big part of that.

Honorable Mention: The Shape of Water — Luis Sequeira

There’s a lot of good period costuming in The Shape of Water as well, but I think Darkest Hour is more likely to take home the Academy Award.

Makeup And Hairstyling

My Pick: Darkest Hour — Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick

The transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour is incredible. I remember seeing the trailer for the film before Dunkirk over the summer and honestly not believing it was Oldman under all of that makeup. It’s pretty believable throughout most of the movie. The only things that gives Oldman away are his eyes.

Original Score

My Pick: Dunkirk — Hans Zimmer

Much like his score for Inception, Zimmer does a lot with a little in Dunkirk. Very sparse instrumentation is used to great effect in tense scenes creating a discomforting anxiety. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish non-diegetic score from diegetic airplane engines, and that just ratchets up the intensity of many of the beachfront scenes in Dunkirk.

Honorable Mention: The Shape of Water — Alexandre Desplat

I really love Desplat’s scores including this one for The Shape of Water. He captures a wide range of emotional beats while maintaining a consistent feel throughout the film. There are also some great iconic character themes and motifs.

Original Song

My Pick: “Remember Me” — Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

There are so many things to love about Coco, but the one that’s stuck with me the longest is “Remember Me.” I saw the movie once, three months ago, and this song is still stuck in my head.

Sound Editing

My Pick: Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce

If and when a Star Wars movie is up for an Academy Award its probably for something to do with sound. The franchise has a tradition of immersive sound design and The Last Jedi is no exception. From hyperspace explosions to coins rattling inside of a droid, Episode VIII was a conically complex film that somehow never felt overwhelming to the ears (though the plot certainly was a bit much at times).

Honorable Mention: Dunkirk — Richard King, Alex Gibson

Another movie with a lot going on aurally, Dunkirk did a great job of making its battle sequences feel impactful without going over the top.

Sound Mixing

My Pick: Baby Driver — Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, Mary H. Ellis

You just can’t talk about Baby Driver without talking about the effective use of soundtrack. There’s music throughout most of this movie, but it’s always used in service to the plot or the development of the characters. The mixing makes all of that possible. At no point is it hard to understand who’s saying what or what is going on, even over the crash of cars or the blaring of Baby’s headphones.

Honorable Mention: Blade Runner 2049— Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Mac Ruth

Blade Runner 2049 sounds great, but it looks much better.

So that’s a nearly exhaustive list of my picks for this year’s Oscars. It’s been a great year at the movies and I’m excited to see how it all pans out, but I’m also really glad to have seen so many good films this year. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good about an award season lineup.