Saturday, March 03, 2018


God bless Bonnie and Clyde.

One year ago, the already well-blessed Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty found themselves onstage at the Academy Awards, together again to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of the Arthur Penn-directed movie that pretty much ignited about eight years of what many consider the last “golden age” of American movies, to read the name of what would be coronated Best Picture of 2017. They were handed an envelope, having no idea that the name of the winner inside was that of Emma Stone, who moments before had been awarded the Oscar for her performance in La La Land. When Beatty broke the envelope’s seal after intoning those momentous words “And the Oscar goes to…” there was a brief hesitation (suspense!), followed by an uncomfortable extension of that hesitation (what’s going on?), followed by Beatty turning to Dunaway and muttering, “Read this.” Had Beatty said to Dunaway what he probably meant, something on the order of “Take a look at this”—or even if he’d glanced off-stage and asked someone in the wings to do the same—it’s likely that one year later you wouldn’t even remember the names of the movie royalty who announced the name of last year’s winner. But he didn’t, and as a result landed himself and Dunaway front and center into one of the biggest, if not the biggest flapdoodle in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards. (A delicious oral history of the circumstances leading up to the moment when “They got the wrong envelope!” can be read here.)

Recently, I mused to some friends that what Oscar ought to do is invite Beatty and Dunaway back to read this year’s Best Picture winner, not as a moment of redemption (it wasn’t their fault they were handed the wrong information in front of a worldwide audience), but instead as an act of goodwill and a juicy bit of publicity. But who would have ever expected that the famously mercurial Dunaway and the famously guarded Beatty would accept such an offer?

Well, they have, and it’s a development that has lent even more unexpected tingle to an Oscar ceremony which looked a few weeks ago like just another anticlimactic night packed with prescribed, overanalyzed winners and precious little surprise. The four acting categories may still be top-loaded with award-season favorites that all may well trample very rich competition on their way to the stage. (I have my suspicions that one of them may be the occasion for an upset—more on that in a minute). 

But suddenly, thanks to the effect of a preferential ballot, expansion of Academy membership to include a newer, younger cadre of voters, and the prevailing winds of change throughout Hollywood and the country in regard to matters of diversity, equality and the often repugnant behavior of people (usually men) in power, Academy voters may be beginning to reflect a range of different perspectives and motivations behind the way they fill out their ballots, and they’re already tending to be more vocal about those perspectives. A declaration such as the one made by one voter interviewed in the Vulture piece linked above-- “My joining the Academy is political, so I will never overlook that who I nominate is driven by my agenda”—may be cause for either celebration or alarm, depending, I suppose, on whether you presume art to be more instructional than grounded in the interplay of conflicting emotions and ideas, the better for the viewer to reach her or his own conclusions.

But that’s an argument for another time. As far as Oscar goes, art has always been subjugated to entertainment, and the tension between a new, “fresh” sensibility and the old guard of the Academy has ended up making the evening’s ultimate moment, the crowning of the Best Picture winner, even more fraught with suspense and multiple possibilities than any in recent memory. Those of us who thought in November that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a sure thing, or that The Shape of Water couldn’t possibly lose after winning the prestigious honors from both the Producers and the Directors Guilds, are going into Sunday night having to consider at least two other reasonable scenarios which would place the words Dunkirk or Get Out into the mouths of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway… unless those two rapscallions decide, at least momentarily, to play the moment for all it’s worth and blurt out “Moonlight!” or “The Magnificent Ambersons!” instead.

Whatever happens, you’ll probably be watching. I know I will, just as I have since the very first Oscar broadcast I saw in 1969, my pizza and nachos and beer-stained office Oscar pool ballot in hand. I’ve long since given up any emotional stake in the Oscars having a lot of meaning beyond the buzz of the moment and the occasion to get together with friends and crack wise at the TV— the Oscar certainly has only the remotest connection to artistic achievement or the “best” of anything. (It’s easier to go to sleep after the typical Oscar show if one keeps this in mind.) But every year I do enjoy playing the game of trying to guess what “Oscar,” intangible intellectual entity that he stubbornly remains, might do. And so it is this year. Please join me then as I stroll along and engage in every movie fan’s early-spring game of folly, predicting the outcome of the Academy Awards. What follows is not analysis but mere guesswork, and I have refrained from predicting outcomes in the Documentary Short, Live Action Short, Animated Short categories due to 90% ignorance of the films nominated—go, Heroin(e)! You choose to follow my choices in filling out your own Oscar office pool ballot at your own risk.


As I said, this award, courtesy of that preferential ballot, could credibly shake out one of four different ways. But I suspect that new membership roster is going to make their influence felt right out of the gate, and what has emerged as the true movie of the moment may well hold court tomorrow night,  the historical corollary being as if, as a friend pointed out on Facebook yesterday, Cat People had won Best Picture in 1943.

WHAT SHOULD WIN: Phantom Thread


Despite the conventional wisdom of Frances McDormand being the front-runner here, I think this is the one acting category where an upset could well be brewing. And since I can’t just say that and then pick Frances McDormand…

PREDICTION: Sally Hawkins
WHO SHOULD WIN: Sally Hawkins


The case for an upset, based on that younger, more diverse Academy membership, could be made here as well (Timothée Chalamet, anyone?). But the winner will be the guy who best fits the Academy’s long-standing preference for portrayals of real-life figures with the help of heavy prosthetic makeup.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis


I have rarely rooted against an actress I like more than I am rooting against Allison Janney and her one-note gorgon performance in I, Tonya. But barring providential intervention (and the stage at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood would be a mighty strange place for something like that to start happening), a bet against the gorgon (and her parrot) seems like giving away money.

PREDICTION: Allison Janney
WHO SHOULD WIN: Lesley Manville (though I would cheer just as hard for Laurie Metcalf)


Again, a bet against Sam Rockwell, who I loved in Three Billboards, would seem unwise. But I think it’d be grand to see Christopher Plummer up on stage for the night’s most galvanizingly pointed moment of praise.

PREDICTION: Sam Rockwell
WHO SHOULD WIN: Sam Rockwell


This is Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar to lose, and if he does, especially to Jordan Peele, the suspense will leech out of that Best Picture moment faster than a trip to the Sunken Place.

PREDICTION: Guillermo Del Toro
WHO SHOULD WIN: Paul Thomas Anderson




One of the two oldest-ever Oscar nominees will make his way to the stage Sunday night.

PREDICTION: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name


This category and its cluster of heavyweight nominees could provide the most significant indicator as to the eventual winner of the big prize.

PREDICTION: Jordan Peele, Get Out
WHO SHOULD WIN: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird (though I would shout with happiness for Martin McDonagh)


The laser-intense focus of the evening for cinephiles. Will the 14-time nominated Deakins finally get his due, for what some regard as less than his best work? Or will he be the figurative bridesmaid once more, the award going to one of three likely spoilers, each of them first-time nominees?

PREDICTION: Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
WHO SHOULD WIN: Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049


The other oldest-ever Oscar nominee will make her way to the stage for this category.

PREDICTION: Agnès Varda, Faces Places
WHO SHOULD WIN: Agnès Varda, Faces Places


PREDICTION: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)


This category is usually a bellwether for Best Picture, but maybe not this year. Will Oscar go flashy 
and self-conscious, or radical and challenging?



I’m guessing here that radical and challenging will still hold court…



But flashy and self-conscious may have the edge here…

WHO SHOULD WIN: Blade Runner 2049


PREDICTION: The Shape of Water
WHO SHOULD WIN: Blade Runner 2049


Again, if we were talking about the most radical score, or the one most emotionally integrated into the film, then the choice would have to be Hans Zimmer or Jonny Greenwood. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

PREDICTION: The Shape of Water
WHO SHOULD WIN: Phantom Thread


PREDICTION: “Remember Me” from Coco
WHAT SHOULD WIN: “Remember Me” from Coco



PREDICTION: Darkest Hour


Based on its subject, you would think that Phantom Thread would be an easy winner here. But some Oscar voters have been heard to complain that the dresses designed by Reynolds Woodcock weren’t all that, presuming (arrogantly and erroneously, I think) that A) the dresses designed by Reynolds Woodcock are themselves the costumes that have been nominated for the Oscar, and that B) those dresses are intended as a representation of the be-all and end-all of 1950s London fashion, and not a reflection upon both their creator and those who covet them. That said, I still think the Academy will go for the obvious.

PREDICTION: Phantom Thread
WHO SHOULD WIN: Phantom Thread


I am not trying to be a wise-ass when I say that this is the year of the ape, as well as the orangutan.

PREDICTION: War for the Planet of the Apes
WHO SHOULD WIN: War for the Planet of the Apes


The Oscar show commences at 5:30 pm PST tomorrow, March 4, on your local ABC affiliate.

And one final word on 2017: the Muriel Awards, which I talked about last week, have completed their announcements, and you can click to their official website, Our Science is Too Tight, where you will find a handy list of winners as well as links to all the Muriels categories, which are accompanied by essays from The Usual Gang of Muriels Writers and some welcome newcomers as well. Here’s a taste of my piece celebrating the achievement of 2017 Muriel Award winner for Best Lead Performance, Daniel Day-Lewis:

“…(T)he height of (Phantom Thread’s) emotional pitch arrives in a moment so off-rhythm and cloaked in reserve that it might be easy to miss. Reynolds, beginning the long, measured process of unveiling himself to Alma during a phase of what could be described as mannered infatuation, turns his reticent, reedy voice to the subject of his late, revered mother, a persistent ghost whose presence is ever felt, yet never quite so much comforting as unsettling. Her eerie silence is, for Woodcock, a terrible barrier, a measure of unattainable perfection for the designer who fears his work will never fill the void created by her absence. To Alma he hints at secrets which he routinely incorporates into the very fabric of his clothes, invocations and bits of physical memory sewn into the lining which make them unique to their owner. He then reveals that a lock of his mother’s hair has been hidden in the breast of his own jacket, and in doing so he hitches and swallows, interrupting but for an almost-imperceptible moment the flow of the confession. It’s a perfectly modulated moment from the actor, one that barely moves the ‘Acting!’ needle but somehow still registers an earthquake’s worth of character truth and mystery, and it’s as moving as anything on Day-Lewis’s Oscar résumé.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Have a happy Oscar weekend!


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