Note: Each category starts off with who I think should be nominated because almost all of my picks surely won’t be, and I kind-of don’t give a damn who they actually nominate…
Who Should Be Nominated for Best Actor…
Runner-Up: Robert Redford, “Our Souls at Night”…A beautiful movie about regretting things when you get older and the hopefulness of a romance between an elderly couple whose spouses have long been dead. Redford has never even been nominated for an Academy Award and it’s doubtful they’ll get many more chances. His tender monologues to Jane Fonda about why he didn’t pursue a career in the arts (like he wanted) or a long-term affair with the woman he almost left his wife for are heartbreakingly soulful.
5. David Oyelowo, “A United Kingdom”…A movie that made about 1/100th of what “Get Out” did at the box office, but is a drastically better film about what an interracial couple actually went through. [You can always tell when a movie about black/white love is based on a true story because we’re not the villains.] Oyelowo’s heir to (what would become) Botswana and all of that is challenged by his love for Rosamund Pike from stuffy British bureaucrats, the racist neighbor of South Africa (who had anti-interracial marriage laws and threatened to invade their neighboring country if a black king married to a white woman was allowed to take power), and even the would-be king’s own uncle. Oyelowo grounds the movie in a frustrated decency that is so baffled at why the rest of the world has such a problem with his love, that it makes his antagonists look even more ridiculous.
4. Jeremy Renner, “Wind River”…Renner’s quietly cunning performance (as a professional Yellowstone game tracker looking for the murderer of a Native American girl on a nearby reservation) delivers a satisfying slowburn in Taylor Sheridan’s criminally-forgotten directorial debut. It’s not every action hero (adjacent) role that can devastate you, but even during Renner’s top moment of badassery—finally delivering his revenge but first recapping the man’s crimes—he metes justice out so understated, it’s as if he feels sorry for the villain. Behind this role is the full weight of a senseless crime, and the most subversive vigilante drama in years.
3. James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”…The only person on this list that has a prayer of actually being nominated, and I sure hope he is for what looks like a deceptively easy performance: a great actor in a great movie impersonating a terrible actor in an infamously lousy movie. Franco gets beyond cliche to serve up a shockingly fully-rounded portrait of this fascinating real life “auteur”: someone simultaneously generous but paranoid, completely mysterious and guarded with any personal information but nakedly vulnerable in his autobiographical filmmaking, and fully confident in his own abilities but perhaps aware that the rest of the world is not. Franco-as-Wiseau may start off like a walking id, but his enthusiasm for his own mad “vision” is contagious in the best way. He delivers the fundamental truth of all memorable artists (both great and terrible) which is they’re driven by dreams they have no choice but to get out of their heads.
2. Kumail Nanjiani, “The Big Sick”…I can’t remember the last time I so thoroughly enjoyed a romantic comedy and Nanjiani’s complete charmer of a performance has a lot to do with that. Kumail (often cast as fussy or sardonic nerds) is perhaps the most unexpected romantic leading man of the year, but he’s fantastic here, completely believable making smooth “meet-quirk” with Zoe Kazan, dead-pan riffing during mock stand-up sets, teasing his desperately-needing-to-be-teased traditionalist Pakistani family, wearily trying to let his mom’s arranged Pakistani dates down gently, and knowing exactly when to let scene-stealers like Ray Romano and Holly Hunter take center stage. Needless to say, his roles as sidekicks in TV series like “Silicon Valley” probably haven’t fully prepared you for his laidback, confident star turn here.
1. Sam Elliot, “The Hero”…Perhaps the only reason Redford didn’t make the top 5 is because there was an even greater towering performance from a never-nominated actor over 70 this year, and that’s Elliot’s career-best performance as a numb, typecast Western-star reinvigorated by a cancer diagnosis and Laura Prepon’s comedienne. This quietly building, slowburn of a movie (much like its main character, it springs to life around the middle and ends fantastically) manages to sidestep most of the traps of cancer-diagnosis movies, opting for something more nuanced and beautiful because it doesn’t beg you to cry. My picks for two of the most moving scenes of 2017 are Elliot merely reading a clunky sci-fi monologue (elevating it like Cormac McCarthy wrote a “Star Trek” episode) and his moved, wordless reaction to Prepon reading him a poem towards the end–one of the best endings of 2017. A testament and near-advertisement for what Elliot can do with proper roles.
Who Will Be Nominated: The three locks are Gary Oldman (The Darkest Hour), Timothy Chamalet (Call Me By Your Name), and, unfortunately, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)–in the order of most likely to be nominated. Other than that, I sure hope Franco (The Disaster Artist) is nominated, but he’s no longer a guarantee. And it wouldn’t totally surprise me to see Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) take his place. If that happens, expect either Tom Hanks (The Post) or Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel) to take that fifth slot, but most likely Hanks for the better-liked film even though (or perhaps because) he’s been snubbed a lot in recent years.
Who Should Be Nominated for Best Actress…
Runner-Up: Ahn Seo-hyun, “Okja”…You know a big part of you would feel elated if her name were called tomorrow. Not every little girl can act opposite a CGI-pig the size of a hippo, and use her imagination to make you fully invested in whether that giant pig lives or dies. Without her acting, the movie simply wouldn’t work at all.
5. Jessica Chastain, “Molly’s Game”…A role that fits the fantastic Chastain so well—tough, cerebral, vulnerable, competitive, humane, deadpan, sexy but not necessarily sexual—you almost believe Sorkin wrote the part for her. The Academy has been snubbing Chastain’s work for years, as she hasn’t been nominated since 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and was snubbed for what many thought were sure-thing performances in “The Most Violent Year” and “Miss Sloane.” If she’s not nominated this year, she might need a new publicist.
4. Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”…You may have heard that “not since Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’ has an A-list sex symbol so thoroughly smashed that image” and that absolutely would be true except for my #1 and #3 picks for last year’s Best Actress. I’ll just say for #4 that this puts all doubts to rest that Robbie can really, truly act–if there still were any.
3. Jennifer Lawrence, “Mother”…Blind-sided by a Razzie nomination (the most unfair one in years), this is actually one of the year’s best performance and hands-down the most brave. How many actresses at the height of their career would be taking the risks that Lawrence is? An out-of-control divorcee in “American Hustle,” a cash-strapped single mother determined to give the world a better mop in “Joy,” and now a literal Earth Mother who has the misfortune to fall for a craven, adoration-hungry God that would literally sacrifice his own son for a hungry following. Usually, A-list actresses win an Oscar and retreat back into more surefire box office hits, but all of this is coming after Lawrence won the Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook” and she’s still going out of her way to work with David O. Russell, date Darren Aronofsky (while more “substantial” actresses date quarterbacks or Euro-trash “aristocracy”), and make her next film “Red Sparrow,” a timely Russian spy thriller. She really and truly is the most exciting actress of her generation.
2. Saoirse Ronan, “Ladybird”…Her performance has been so deservedly praised that there’s really nothing new I can add. I hope she wins over Frances McDormand, and Frances’s own comments at the SAG could be intrepreted that even she feels that way too.
1. Salma Hayek, “Beatriz at Dinner”…Forget “Get Out,” this is the actual culture-clash, dinner-from-hell suspense dramedy you should watch, and it wouldn’t fully work without a career-best performance from Salma Hayek. She put most of her acting-skill doubters to rest with “Frida,” but she’s even better here, letting the weariness of age and tiredness of the soul seep in a way that feels subtly refreshing. She plays a healer surrounded by people who seem determined to celebrate destruction, and even though you hope she’ll win out, somehow even she seems to know that may no longer be possible. Although Lawrence was a more literal representation of Mother Earth, Hayek’s revolutionary Beatriz (who at first comes off like a naive quack, before we realize she’s right and we’ve been conditioned to think Lithgow’s cruelty is more normal) is just as effective at getting us to care about the palpable sadness of Earth’s destruction.
Who Will Be Nominated: The locks are Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Saoirse Ronan (Ladybird), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) in that order. And then you’ve got a genuinely competitive race between Jessica Chastain and Meryl Streep (The Post) for that coveted fifth slot. “The Post” is the better liked movie (but is it though?), and Streep is certainly more of an Oscar favorite than Chastain, but I think Jessica Chastain may get it by a nose. [And I’m also willing to admit I’m fully biased, and it’s more likely Streep will slip past Chastain yet again.]
Who Should Be Nominated Best Supporting Actress…
5. Michelle Pfeiffer, “Mother”…The polar-opposite of Lawrence’s protective Earth Mother, she worms her way into “the house” (the Garden of Eden) only to divide, put down, insinuate, and ultimately destroy. It’s a nasty piece of work for a beloved-actress, until you realize that she’s really symbolizing us more than the nature-figure we’ve been empathizing with. [Between this and Pfeiffer’s stand-out work as Ruth Madoff—of all people—in “The Wizard of Lies,” I think the Pfeiffer-comeback we’ve been waiting for is just on the horizon.]
4. Kelsey Chow, “Wind River”…I’ll let others decide if it’s appropriate for a Chinese-American actress to play a Native American rape and murder victim, but I do know that Kelsey is dynamite in her singular flashback scene. It comes so quick and jolting—part of writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s skillful, respectful take on what could’ve felt like cheap exploitation in other’s hands—but in a few scant minutes she manages to strike up a believable romantic spark with Jon Bernthal and look forward to the big-city life she’s destined to build. The couple’s talk of where she’ll move to once finishing school in the desolate, sub-zero Wind River reservation is the quiet before a particularly devastating storm, which only makes the act of violence that immediately follows feel even more senseless.
3. Ana De Armas, “Blade Runner”…She’s the real emotional heart of the film. Since Harrison Ford’s Deckard doesn’t actually show up until the two-thirds mark, Ryan Gosling’s conflicted “replicant” (android) would feel awfully lonely with his thoughts in this dangerous futuristic noir where he’s caught between multiple groups that either want to kill him or use him. Armas is the digital-only “girlfriend” that can never exist outside pixelated form but marvels so sensually over the “feel” of rain or smell of a “steak” dinner that she often appears to be more alive than the actual humans–whatever “humans” truly are in the world of “Blade Runner.” By the time Gosling is haunted by the enormous-King-Kong-sized naked billboard version of her (trust me, it makes sense in the movie), you can’t blame him.
2. Laurie Metcalf, “Ladybird”…In a perfect world, Metcalf would win the Oscar that seems to have Allison Janney’s name on it, even though her mother character in “Ladybird” is ten times more nuanced, fully dimensional, and deeply felt. The squabbles between Metcalf and her daughter—who she can scarcely even see because she’s so worried about her future—are hilariously realistic enough to be universal while carrying the faint whiff of Greek tragedy, since the two are not around each other when they keep having their breakthroughs about how much they love each other.
1. Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”…I’ll admit that this is really a tie between Metcalf and Hunter, but since Hunter has the shakier chance of being nominated, why not honor her here for an equally ferocious, hilarious, worn-out mother that isn’t shy about the fact she knows more than you do, even if you’re too big a fool to listen to her.
Who Will Be Nominated: The locks are Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Laurie Metcalf (Ladybird), and Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)–in that order. And that’s a real shame, because I enjoyed Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water), Hong Chau (Downsizing), and obviously Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) more than Blige or Janney. Still, it’s a race between those three for the final two slots, so who gets omitted? I have no idea, but Octavia Spencer is in the movie with the most momentum, and Holly Hunter could be the “The Big Sick”‘s best chance at a nomination. My money would be on those two since Chau is hurt by “Downsizing”‘s unpopularity (which is also a shame), but maybe voters will remember how rarely Asian actors are nominated for Academy Awards, and feel like changing that.
Who Should Be Nominated for Best Supporting Actor…
Runner-Up: Gil Birmingham, “Wind River”…As a father going through the worst loss a parent can go through Birmingham builds on the immense promise he showed last year as Jeff Bridges partner in “Hell or High Water” (he may have also been nominated if Bridges wasn’t so good in the same scenes).
5. Paul Walter Hauser, “I, Tonya”…You might be thinking “who?” This under-the-radar pick is Tonya Harding’s obese “bodyguard” and so-called “mastermind” of the attack against Nancy Kerrigan. Hauser delivers one of the finest comedic performances of the year, and steals almost every scene he’s in. The Award-worthy part comes into play with how seriously his character Shawn is taking in all the chaos he’s causing, honestly believing himself to be a power player. Whereas Janney’s mother-from-hell mostly starts off a piece of dirt and stays that way, you get the sense bodyguard Shawn actually believes he’s helping these people by living out his “Goodfellas” fantasies.
4. Jason Mitchell, “Mudbound”…Much like Janney is getting the awards and Hauser’s not even being discussed, “Mudbound”‘s accolades are going to Mary J. Blige when it’s Mitchell that’s the real heart of the film. His tragic arc is that he’s actually sad WWII is over since it ends his time in Germany being treated like an actual human being (and meeting the love of his life in a German civilian whose pregnancy he doesn’t recognize for the salvation it is) before returning to the pre-integration South, where he causes a scandal just by walking through the front door. Later, he’s asked to apologize to the non-veteran white men he’s “offended” in one of the year’s most heartbreaking scenes, at least until we get towards the end, but the actual ending offers a beautiful moment of hope and grace for one of “Mudbound”‘s few characters that seems capable of escaping.
3. Woody Harrelson, “The Glass Castle”…Woody is fantastic in lots of 2017 movies from “LBJ” to “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (he should be winning the awards Sam Rockwell is) to even “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Really you could pick any of those and see that Woody is a long-deserving character actor at the peak of his gifts, but I chose “Glass Castle” because his towering, touching performance as Jeanette’s father actually makes the entire film work (it truly wouldn’t without it).
2. Ray Romano, “The Big Sick”…Romano is doing something so subtle here, you almost miss it the first time you watch the film, more fully immersed in Hunter’s lively, excellent work right beside him. But his transition is just as remarkable as Nanjiani’s if you’re only familiar with him from “Everybody Loves Raymond” and haven’t seen his more fully-realized TV work in the underrated “Men of a Certain Age” and terrific “Parenthood.” Perhaps the only thing harder to play than “Wind River”‘s grieving father is one whose daughter is in a perilous coma she might never wake up from, and Romano manages to subvert your expectations by finding small, awkward laughs where others might steer for melodrama. You feel the anxiety beneath every awkward exchange, and also because he’s got to put his marriage to Hunter back together too.
1. John Lithgow, “Beatriz at Dinner”…The first great parody of Trump in the age of the proudly heartless billionaire (in the guise of a “Free Market Chosen Winner”), Lithgow truly is the villain of the year. Crafty in his faux-elegance and manners, sly in his putdowns, and so subtle in his brutality that you might find yourself more drawn to him (at first) than Beatriz’s on-the-surface more oft-putting, hocus-pocus minded healer. His sense of his own importance (and finances) is so vast that it’s almost like its own planet, pulling his ass-kissing underlings into his orbit. [When Beatriz offers up even mild criticisms, the dinner’s host looks like he could kill her.] By the end, this party from hell is ready to light one of those paper lanterns into the Southern California hills despite reports that that’s what’s causing wildfires–a metaphor for how the one percent will burn down a forest if it might cause a minute’s amusement or that they’ll continue to soar up and up because they take risks? I’m sure Lithgow’s character would say the latter, even if we’re pretty convinced it’s the former.
Who Will Be Nominated: The locks appear to be Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), and that’s actually all in terms of people we know will be nominated. I also believe Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) will be, but his film is so little-seen, who knows? Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) also seems likely given how weak this category is this year. And then the question becomes who’ll get that crazy fifth slot: Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes), Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), or even—please God—one of my picks? Every year there’s at least one out-of-nowhere actor nominee, and this seems like this best category for it. Since most prognosticators are picking Plummer, I’m thinking the Academy just might go with Woody Harrelson but for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri rather than my preferred film.
Who Should Be Nominated for Best Director…
5. Amma Asante, “A United Kingdom”…When “Selma” came out, Ava DuVernay was 100% right that the Academy needs to honor a black female director, she was just wrong about it being herself. Because that same year, Amma Asante was making the fantastic “Belle,” and this year she’s topped that with “Kingdom.” It’s not easy to make a geopolitical love story that combines a believable romance with global concerns about political stability, impending war with South Africa, tribal strife, and even the price of gold, but somehow Asante pulls it off with some of the most beautifully lush scenery and romantically old-fashioned photography rarely done (convincingly) in this era where CGI trumps adventure.
4. Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”…It’s not that Nolan doesn’t deserve this, so much as I’m pretty sure he’s the only one of my picks that’ll actually be nominated, so I’ll focus a little bit more on the ones that should’ve been. But make no mistake, he deserves to win this year’s Best Director Oscar, and I just hope he does.
3. Darren Aronofsky, “mother!”…Those blind bullies at the Razzies also nominated him for Worst Director because I suspect they’re jealous he dated Jennifer Lawrence more than they truly believe this was bad directing. Aronofsky does something nearly incredible: he takes a stage bound-set (the first act of “mother!” could really be a play) and keeps finding ways to enhance and demolish it before our eyes, building simple set pieces that flow into delirium until we’re so fully caught up in the rush of his tricky allegory, it’s nearly impossible to break your eyes away from it. Not everyone will like “mother!” (is perhaps an understatement) but it’s guaranteed to stay with you longer than most of the 2017 movies you will like. At this point, I’ve been watching 100 to 300 movies a year, every year for my life, and all I can really ask is that a filmmaker gives me something new every once and a while. Well, he did that.
2. Taylor Sheridan, “Wind River”…The Western is dead, long live the Western! Sheridan wrote the screenplay for last year’s Best Film (“Hell or High Water”), and his script for the “Sicario” sequel “Soldado” has led to a fantastic trailer that’s already getting audiences excited. I can’t wait to see what he does next. For now, you’ll just have to enjoy this soulful vigilante film that strips back the very nature of that label by showing just how brutal and pointless the central violent act was, and how much collateral damage results from the ripple effects of it. Also, it doesn’t hurt that this has some of the most beautiful snow-covered scenery I’ve seen in ages, and a few wide shots of the mountains looked better than any special effect during this movie’s theaterical release (where I hope you caught it).
1. Denis Villenueve, “Blade Runner 2049”…Between this and 2016’s “Arrival,” Villenueve is becoming the go-to man for soulful, cerebral sci-fi. But to me “Blade Runner” was the most cinematic experience I had in a movie theater in 2017. I can still remember the whoosh of Gosling’s flying car prowling the desolate L.A. streets as rain pangs against it and a jarring, synthesized score surrounds an audience. The fact that I can still remember not just the film but the theater experience is why he’s chosen as 2017’s Best Director. [And it should be noted that my second-most cinematic experience was “Dunkirk” which really doesn’t deserve some of the backlash it’s been hit with. I guess audiences feel tricked that they watched something challenging for two hours, but how much better is that than the 15th Marvel movie you could sit numbly through?]
Who Will Be Nominated: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), and Greta Gerwig (Ladybird) appear to be the safest bets (and Gerwig really did make one of 2017’s best). And I would also say Martin McDonaugh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is a decent bet. That means the final slot will likely go to either Steven Spielberg (The Post) or Jordan Peele (Get Out), and who really gives a shit? It’ll probably be Jordan Peele for the terrible “Get Out” but I’m hoping against hope it’ll be one of my picks by some miracle.
Who Should Be Nominated for Best Picture…
[For the why on these nominations, see previous comments about these films]
Blade Runner 2049
The Disaster Artist
The Big Sick
Beatriz at Dinner
Who Will Be Nominated: “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,” “Ladybird,” “Dunkirk,” and I would say “The Post” are the safest best–in that order. Then we start with the annual guessing game of whether they’ll be 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 nominees total, which makes the other slots pretty much impossible to predict since you never really know if they’ll be 6 or 10 or in-between. I think the lousy “Get Out” will be probably be nominated to fully cap off a year of showing how much audiences and critics hate interracial couples on screen, and probably also “Call Me By Your Name.” And then it’s most likely to come down to a tug-of-war between one of 2017’s biggest films (“Wonder Woman”) and one of its smallest (“The Florida Project”), and outside contenders like “I, Tonya” and “Mudbound” still remain. But I’m hoping-against-hope that the wild card slot will go to The Big Sick which so fully deserves it, of course it’s chances aren’t better.