The Oscar nominations will be announced this Tuesday, and while the unsettled field has gradually come into focus, this still feels like an up-in-the-air year. By now, the potential nominees usually feel so locked in that it becomes boring, but as I rifle through my final predictions, I’m struck by how few sure things there really are. Let’s take a closer look at the top eight Oscar categories, where there are a few safe bets in each race and then a whole host of on-the-bubble contenders.
Safe: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Lady Bird; Get Out; The Shape of Water; Dunkirk; Call Me by Your Name
On the Bubble: The Big Sick; The Florida Project; The Post; I, Tonya; Darkest Hour; Molly’s Game
First, we’ve got our clear top tier of potential Best Picture winners in Three Billboards, Lady Bird, Get Out, and The Shape of Water. Add to that Dunkirk, which ought to do well below the line, and Call Me by Your Name, which will earn a lot of passionate No. 1s on the preferential ballot. Beyond those six movies, the other nominees will depend mostly on how many films make the Best Picture lineup this year. I feel pretty comfortable picking The Big Sick, since there’s plenty of precedent for a summer-movie platform hit of its size to score with Oscar, but all of the remaining films should be biting their nails until the final title is read. (Yes, even Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which came late into this season ready to receive laurels that haven’t arrived.)
Safe: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water; Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
On the Bubble: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk; Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird; Jordan Peele, Get Out; Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name; Steven Spielberg, The Post; Sean Baker, The Florida Project
McDonagh directed what may be our current Best Picture front-runner, and del Toro picked up the Golden Globe and offers an easy pick for voters who once again would like to split their votes between Best Picture and Best Director. Were it not for del Toro, I would feel more confident about Nolan’s safety, but I have a nagging feeling something could go wrong here since del Toro already offers the safe pick for a technically accomplished auteur. Gerwig and Peele both deserve their nominations and ought to see their chances boosted by an Academy that knows what a shitstorm they’d have on their hands by snubbing them, but you truly never know with this branch.
Safe: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour; Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
On the Bubble: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out; Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread; James Franco, The Disaster Artist; Tom Hanks, The Post; Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Though I think the top five will be Oldman, Chalamet, Kaluuya, Day-Lewis, and Franco — and it helps that there’s such a thin bench of contenders trying to supplant them — I believe that only Oldman and Chalamet are truly safe. Kaluuya has a strong shot at making it in after his SAG nomination, but I worry for Day-Lewis since many members never got around to Phantom Thread, and sexual-misconduct allegations against Franco surfaced in the final few days of voting. Should one of them fall, dependable stalwarts Hanks and Washington could fill the gap.
Safe: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird; Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water; Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
On the Bubble: Meryl Streep, The Post; Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul; Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game; Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World
Four women seem locked and loaded here: McDormand, Ronan, and Hawkins all lead our top tier of Best Picture contenders, while Robbie has impressed with her verve and campaigning. That fifth slot would normally be a gimme for Streep, but The Post has been brutally snubbed so many times this season that, for once, I don’t think Streep’s candidacy is automatic. If she’s out, then SAG nominee Dench, Chastain for the surging Molly’s Game, and an in-the-headlines Williams have the best shot at rounding out the five.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Safe: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
On the Bubble: Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World; Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water; Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name; Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name
Rockwell will win, and the critically acclaimed Dafoe has been his dependable No. 2 all season. The big question marks in this category are whether Plummer can build on his Golden Globe and BAFTA nods and actually snag an Oscar nod for his last-minute role, if Jenkins can continue to fly under the radar and still slip in, and whether Three Billboards can become the very rare recent movie to land two nominees in this category and, in so doing, thwart Hammer and Stuhlbarg from finding a foothold.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Safe: Allison Janney, I, Tonya; Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
On the Bubble: Hong Chau, Downsizing; Holly Hunter, The Big Sick; Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water; Mary J. Blige, Mudbound; Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread; Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
Janney and Metcalf are guaranteed, but they’ve made so much noise all season that the other contenders seem perilously quiet by comparison. Chau is contending for what may be Downsizing’s only nomination, Hunter is fabulous but under-discussed, and it’s anybody’s guess whether Oscar stalwart Spencer can brush past Blige (who may be hamstrung by anti-Netflix sentiment and the lack of One Big Moment for her character), Manville (who is fierce in Phantom Thread, but would have benefited from an earlier rollout), or dark-horse passion pick Haddish.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Safe: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Lady Bird; Get Out
On the Bubble: The Shape of Water; The Big Sick; I, Tonya; The Post; Phantom Thread
This is one of the most crowded Original Screenplay races we’ve ever had, but again, I think Three Billboards, Lady Bird, and Get Out are in the very top tier of Best Picture contenders and should be considered safe here. The Shape of Water is also a very strong candidate across the board, but I’m not sure it leads with its screenplay as much as those other three do. Still, I think it’s likely to make it in, as should audience favorite The Big Sick.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Safe: Call Me by Your Name; Molly’s Game; The Disaster Artist
On the Bubble: Mudbound; Wonder; Logan; Victoria and Abdul; All the Money in the World
Eighty-nine-year-old Call Me by Your Name scribe James Ivory will make history as the oldest Oscar nominee ever this Tuesday, and he should be comfortably followed by Aaron Sorkin for Molly’s Game and Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for The Disaster Artist. Though voters seem somewhat reluctant to break big for Netflix in the big categories, Mudbound has its best shot in doing so here, and then the last slot could go to just about anything, including a comic-book film (Logan), a heartwarming sleeper hit (Wonder), and two somewhat more traditional picks (Victoria and Abdul and All the Money in the World). Like so many of this year’s races, this one has plenty of potential to surprise.