Oscars Cheat Sheet: What to Watch For at This Year’s Ceremony

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Photo: A24

There’s got to be some specific component of the brain that makes Homo sapiens so persistently obsessed with statistics. How else to explain the perennial need to reorganize a given year’s crop of Oscar nominees into a collection of factoids and trivia? (Hell, how else to explain the entirety of sports?) Taking a look at trends established in races past can help the oracles of awards season clarify their crystal-ball readings, but something stronger and more basal compels us regular folks to similarly obsess over win-loss counts and new record setters. The impulse to give awards to something as subjective as art in the first place speaks to the comfort that comes from imposing concrete order on the messily abstract.

But because you most likely do not spend your free time slavishly studying the annals of Academy history, Vulture has prepared a cheat sheet to impress friends and bewitch cocktail guests with your insider info — stats, fun facts, and trivia — on this year’s biggest categories. Feel free to play your party’s color commentator and read this list aloud during the ceremony.

Best Picture

• It’s a family affair in 2018, as husband-and-wife team Christopher Nolan and producer Emma Thomas lead the largest-ever set of married couples sharing nominations with their Dunkirk nod. Also included in this select group are Phantom Thread’s producers; the teams behind documentary shorts Heroin(e) and Traffic Stop, as well as animated short Negative Space; The Big Sick’s scribes turned stars; Coco’s songwriters; and the dual directors of animated feature Loving Vincent.

• This year has also seen an all-time spike in actors appearing in multiple Best Picture nominees. Michael Stuhlbarg, so wonderful in The Shape of Water, Call Me by Your Name, and The Post, is the first actor to pull off a hat trick of Best Picture nominee appearances since John C. Reilly tripled up in 2002 with Chicago, Gangs of New York, and The Hours.

• Believe it or not, a Meryl Streep–led feature hasn’t made it to the big dance since The Hours at the 75th ceremony — the Streep name isn’t the guarantee it once was.

• The wild card of the bunch is Get Out, the first horror contender since Black Swan. The genre hasn’t landed any gold since The Silence of the Lambs took Best Picture, which also happens to be the most recent instance of a February release earning the top prize.

Best Director

• The auteur reign: For the first time in history, all five directors singled out in this category also either wrote or had a hand in writing the screenplays that they put onscreen.

• Aside from that tidbit, it’s not a year of firsts but of fifths in the Best Director race. Greta Gerwig marks the fifth woman to earn the distinction, while Jordan Peele ranks as the fifth black director (though he’s the first to pull the triple crown of nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay), and Guillermo del Toro is the fifth Latin American nominee.

• In four of the past five races, the award has not gone to the director of the Best Picture winner but the director who mounted the most technically involved production — your Revenants, your Gravitys, your Life of Pis.

Best Actor

• The spread of nominees is wide and strange: In the same year that we get the first Best Actor nominee born in the 1990s with millennial dreamboat Timothée Chalamet, Best Supporting competitor Christopher Plummer raises the bar for the oldest actor ever put up for a non-honorary award at age 88. (He’s still the oldest actor to have won the prize, taking Best Supporting Actor six years ago for Beginners.)

• Denzel Washington continues to quietly excel, as his nod for the little-seen Roman J. Israel, Esq. makes him the first black male actor to earn back-to-back nominations and the most-honored black actor of all time. Irrespective of race, he’s fifth in line behind some esteemed company, including Al Pacino and Marlon Brando.

Best Actress

• Meryl Streep is back at it again, landing her 21st nod to reaffirm her status as the actor with the most nominations overall, or for the glass-half-empty types, the actor who has lost the most Oscars. (Composer John Williams is presumably unfazed by this, as he collects his 51st nomination and remains the most-nominated person in any field.)

• Sally Hawkins is coming back for seconds after her previous nomination for Blue Jasmine, though her wordless performance in The Shape of Water is not the first example of a silent performance in a sound film landing a nomination. Holly Hunter took Best Actress in 1993 for another forbidden romance while mute, The Piano.

Best Supporting Actor

• As mentioned above, Christopher Plummer stands out in this category as both the oldest acting nominee, the oldest winner in the acting races, and the only Best Supporting Actor nominee to join his production approximately one half-hour prior to the theatrical release. This year really does belong to the old-timers; at 89 years old, Best Documentary Feature nominee Agnès Varda will be the oldest person ever to compete for an Academy Award, while the 89-year-old James Ivory assumes his station as the oldest man to compete for an Oscar for his work on the Call Me by Your Name script.

• Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell both rode Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s buzz to nominations; a single film hasn’t contributed two Best Supporting Actor nominees since Ben Kingsley and Harvey Keitel both made it for Bugsy in 1992.

Best Supporting Actress

• Denzel Washington’s back-to-back nominations mark the first such occurrence for a black actor, but he shares that honor with Octavia Spencer, returning this year for Shape of Water after taking on the world in Hidden Figures last year. Another distinction Spencer must share is that of the most-nominated black actress of all time, tied at three with the great Viola Davis. (Though in a curious coincidence, Spencer’s three nominated performances have come from films set in the 1960s.)

• In other “firsts” news, Mary J. Blige is now the only person nominated for acting and songwriting in a single ceremony for her double Mudbound nods.

Phantom Thread nominee Lesley Manville noted in her official press release on the morning of the nomination announcement that she’s happy for ex-husband and fellow nominee Gary Oldman; not since Kathryn Bigelow bested James Cameron for the Best Director award in 2010 has there been such high-profile, good-natured competition between a divorced couple.

Assorted Miscellanea

Mudbound brings us a trio of firsts: writer-director Dee Rees is the first queer black woman nominated for Adapted Screenplay and only the second black woman overall to be nominated in a writing category, while her director of photography Rachel Morrison is the first female cinematographer to crack her category. Mudbound also represents Netflix’s first entry into the major categories, having only competed for Best Documentary in years past.

Logan is the only superhero film — though isn’t it really more a noir Western influenced by Ozu? — to land an Adapted Screenplay nod. (The Incredibles made the cut for Original Screenplay in 2005.)

• Carlos Saldanha, the director of the animated feature Ferdinand as well as many past projects for Blue Sky Animation, is now the only Brazilian to garner more than one nomination in his career.

• Yance Ford, director of the documentary feature Strong Island, is now the first openly transgender director ever nominated for an Oscar. In related news, Daniela Vega (the star of A Fantastic Woman, Chile’s chosen entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category) will take the stage to present during the ceremony, the first trans actress to do so.

• Kobe Bryant, who wrote the nominated short film Dear Basketball, is the only NBA player to ever land an Oscar nomination.

Oscar Cheat Sheet: What to Watch For at This Year’s Ceremony