— by Renard N. Bansale —
Potential spoilers below
The 90th Academy Awards take place this Sunday. Betting contests on who will win and debates on who should win rage until the moment each category’s presenter reads the card from the sealed envelope. I prefer to just stick by my personal picks (strictly from the final list of nominees), accept the presumed frontrunners, and avoid having any of the votes I had made in small contests compromise the excitement of the whole ceremony.
Best Original Song:
“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman may have grown in popularity, but I hesitate to vote for it due to its on-the-nose and pandering sentiment and its detour-like placement. I hesitate also with the all-too-brief placement of ”Mystery of Love” in the rather touchy coming-of-age drama Call Me by Your Name, despite the superiority of Sufjan Stevens’ lyrics to most of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s lyrics in The Greatest Showman. (Stevens’ end titles song “Visions of Gideon” does get repetitive, but more viewers remember it because it accompanies Call Me by Your Name’s sorrowful final shot.) Coco’s “Remember Me”, on the other hand, appears in various emotional forms throughout the Disney-Pixar film’s runtime. Between the Lopez couple (who won here for Frozen’s “Let It Go” from 2013) and Pasek & Paul (who won last year for La La Land’s “City of Stars”), I prefer the Lopez couple to become two-time Oscar winners first.
(Listen to the various versions of “Remember Me” here.)
Best Original Score:
With his recent Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice victories in this category, little stands in Alexandre Desplat’s way from winning his second Academy Award for his Shape of Water score. However, I would vote for what will go down as one of the richest, most full-bodied scores of the decade. (A thousand apologies to Hans Zimmer, whose score for Dunkirk was my vote for the last half of 2017.)
(Listen to Jonny Greenwood’s score here.)
Best Sound Editing:
The 90th Oscars sees both Sound categories matching for the first time since 2006 (when Editing still had only three nominees to Mixing’s five). At the moment, the odds favor both going to either Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, Baby Driver, or a split between the first two. I prefer to split the two sound Oscar categories in my personal votes. For Editing, no organization of dialogue, foley, sound effects, and—perhaps most importantly—music, has thrilled me more in 2017 than Julian Slater’s work for Baby Driver.
(Relive one of 2017’s best demonstrations of sound editing here.)
Best Sound Mixing:
The Star Wars saga has always produced great sound editing, but what struck me in my four viewings of Episode VIII—The Last Jedi was the quality of the sound mixing. Precise audio leveling on top of well-placed camera angles enables viewers to accept the force connection between Rey and Kylo. Great sound mixing enables the ominous draft surrounding a stoic Leia, standing in the closing doorway of the rebel base on Crait, to speak volumes. And who could forget the ten seconds of awe-inspiring silence that accompanies what is now known as “the Holdo Maneuver”?
Speaking of the image that scene creates…
Best Visual Effects:
With no Best Picture nominee here, Best Visual Effects becomes a free-for-all. Blade Runner 2049’s blend of computer and practical effects has the edge to emerge victorious here, but the overwhelming quantity of visual effects on display in Episode VIII—The Last Jedi earns my vote.
Best Film Editing:
Baby Driver’s Julian Slater may have demonstrated the superior sound editing of 2017. However, by cutting writer-director Christopher Nolan’s war drama down to a mere 106 minutes, I knew that Dunkirk would become Lee Smith’s shining moment as an editor. Smith’s frame-perfect and sound-perfect cutting of Dunkirk deserves the Film Editing Oscar. What a way to celebrate a director-editor duo that started with 2005’s Batman Begins.
Best Makeup & Hairstyling:
This screenshot alone takes home Best Makeup & Hairstyling by default. The noticeable makeup jobs on the other Darkest Hour actors, compared to Wonder’s nomination applying to Jacob Tremblay and practically none of his co-stars, only widen the margin of Darkest Hour’s automatic victory here.
Best Costume Design:
Mark Bridges, who won his first Best Costume Design statuette for 2011’s The Artist, deserving to win his second Academy Award for a movie about dressmaking? Who would have figured?
Best Production Design:
The ‘60s-era Cold War look of The Shape of Water will take Best Production Design on Oscar Sunday, but I support the pristine grandeur of cyberpunk future Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas (pictured above) in Blade Runner 2049.
Many predict and desire for Roger Deakins to win for once on his fourteenth nomination here for Blade Runner 2049. As a fervent Deakins supporter, it will give me much relief if and when the presenter calls him up to the Oscars stage, regardless of the film. However, I have supported Hoyte Van Hoytema’s frenetic camerawork in Dunkirk ever since I first saw it. Judging both cinematography efforts as beautiful, my tie-breaker is which movie I preferred more.
If Deakins manages to win, then hey, good for him and good for the Academy to check a big box off their bucket list.
Even though Dunkirk ranks just outside my top 5 for 2017 and is my second favorite Best Picture nominee, I still find it impossible to not vote for Christopher Nolan’s audacious, on-location recreation of a defining World War II episode in Best Director. In the face of Guillermo Del Toro’s expected victory here for his period romantic fantasy The Shape of Water, I still would rather vote for Nolan’s tight blending of land, sea, and air storylines, keeping within a tight 106 minutes, on top of directing the stars and legions of extras.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
I wish that Best Adapted Screenplay was going to Aaron Sorkin’s riveting depiction of an almost Olympic athlete turned underground poker empress, rather than veteran filmmaker James Ivory’s sensual but sparse and problematic screenplay for Call Me by Your Name. Part of me would have given Sorkin the Oscar anyway as payback to the Academy for snubbing his most excellent script for 2015’s Steve Jobs. The fact that Molly’s Game is electrifying entertainment, through and through, only makes my decision easier.
Best Original Screenplay:
With Steven Rogers’ I, Tonya screenplay out of running here, I choose to back writer-director Greta Gerwig’s effortless and brisk survey of Saoirse Ronan’s angsty titular teenager surviving her senior year of high school. If not Ms. Gerwig, then I hope predicted winner Jordan Peele and his script for Get Out prevails over Martin McDonagh’s frustrating script for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Best Supporting Actress:
I was a default supporter of Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird…until I finally saw I, Tonya and Allison Janney’s performance as Tonya Harding’s monster of a mother. Sure, one can argue that Metcalf’s exhausted mother is a more nuanced character, but she stood in the background a bit too much compared to Janney’s scene-stealing turn. Once the scene in which Janney visits Margot Robbie at her apartment concluded, so did the contest for Best Supporting Actress in my mind.
Best Supporting Actor:
The shift in awards momentum from Willem Dafoe’s manager-king in The Florida Project to Sam Rockwell’s bumbling racist cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri disappoints me in the way 2014’s Best Actor race shifted from Michael Keaton in Birdman to Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. I wish Rockwell had won instead for his lead turn in 2009’s Moon or for his wacky and dialogue-heavy supporting turn in 2012’s Seven Psychopaths, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s last movie. Rockwell’s victory here means that Willem Dafoe, whose role of a lifetime as a Florida motel manager-king became my favorite film character of 2017, will end up going home empty-handed, and that saddens me a great deal.
Frances McDormand will win her second Best Actress Academy Award for her grief-stricken and indignant mother in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I, however, rank her performance and that of Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water as my two least favorite in the category. As the star of my favorite movie of 2017, Margot Robbie’s take on the unpolished yet formidable, redneck princess on ice gets my vote, with Saoirse Ronan’s titular high school student in Lady Bird as my second choice.
The Academy will not resist giving Gary Oldman his first Oscar for playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. After re-watching Darkest Hour, I will admit that Oldman has earned this win, although a career Academy Award for 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy might have suited him much better. With James Franco’s delightful rendition of Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist shamefully out of the category, I will no longer hold back from handing a fourth statuette to Daniel Day-Lewis for his exquisite swansong performance in Phantom Thread.
Best Documentary—Short Subject:
“Heroin(e)”’s topic of hope and endurance in the face of the rampant opioid addiction in Huntington, West Virginia captivated me the most out of this category’s five nominees.
Best Animated Short Film:
There are some who detest the idea of this vivid and heartfelt short winning, in light of its subject’s past settled case, the ongoing #MeToo movement, the supposed elementary quality of Kobe’s poem, and John Williams’ sentimental score. The fact that Kobe Bryant and his wife have since separated, then reconciled and welcomed their third daughter helps me put aside such negativity. I have weighed this year’s batch of animated shorts and “Dear Basketball” emerged as my favorite (followed by “Lou” and “Negative Space”), pure and simple.
In any case, an Academy Award statuette in the hands of esteemed Disney animator Glen Keane should make everyone happy.
Best Live Action Short Film:
Most years, this category is impossible to predict, although the Academy does have their favorites—typically cute, funny, and unchallenging over dour and thought-provoking, for example (which contrasts with animated short never going for Pixar and documentary short going for the most timely and/or “virtue-signaling” subject matter). I liked “Watu Wote (All of Us)” the most for deftly handling a contained yet harrowing episode that promotes peace between people of different religious beliefs. The “cute” inclinations favor “The Eleven O’Clock” (humorous, if unsurprising in the end), while the political contexts of “My Nephew Emmett” (visually rich, but narratively short) and “DeKalb Elementary” (too sparse to win, even in the shadow of a recent high school shooting) could draw votes. That leaves “The Silent Child”, whose sympathetic topic combines both cute and depressing. We will know the result on Oscar Sunday.
After getting criminally snubbed her for 1994’s spectacular Hoop Dreams and 2014’s poignant Life Itself, documentarian Steve James finally gets nominated for his take on the family-owned community bank situated in New York City’s Manhattan Chinatown that somehow became the only financial institution to face criminal charges following the subprime mortgage crisis. (I know, right?) As much as frontrunner Visages Villages (Faces Places) and the unnominated Jane delighted me and as heart-pounding as Icarus (a possible winner, given the recent Winter Olympics) was, I remain wowed by how Steve James captured the Sung family’s perseverance in their pursuit of justice.
Best Animated Feature Film:
Disney-Pixar’s Coco, as usual for every critically-acclaimed output of the Emeryville, CA studio, won this Academy Award from the moment it went into wide release, and director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson will deserve the statuettes given to them. That said, I saw The Breadwinner mere hours before I saw Coco. While it may not have affected me on the same pure emotional level as Pixar’s offering, the Cartoon Saloon-produced drama gave me a rich mix of Middle Eastern culture and politics while also demonstrating the neglected truth that animation is not just for family fare.
It disappoints me that Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (In This Corner of the World) could not make the final five, but I am glad The Breadwinner got nominated. I hope that the Academy backtracks their recent decision to open up the nominating phase to the entire voting body and leave the Short Films & Feature Animation branch to nominate for Best Animated Feature on their own.
Best Foreign Language Film:
Voters disappointed in the absence of Ruben Östlund’s 2014 offering Force Majeure in this category at the 77th Oscars could very well vote for Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning satirical drama. I would not blame them—the Terry Notary dinner banquet scene alone earns my vote.
My Best Picture Rankings: 1.) Phantom Thread ~ 2.) Dunkirk ~ 3.) Lady Bird ~ 4.) Get Out ~ 5.) The Post ~ 6.) The Shape of Water ~ 7.) Darkest Hour ~ 8.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ~ 9.) Call Me by Your Name
Of this Best Picture slate, Phantom Thread ranks the highest in my 2017 list, so naturally it is my pick for Best Picture, followed by Dunkirk (my Best Director pick), then Lady Bird (my Best Original Screenplay pick), and so on. As I wrote in my Top 10 Films of 2017 article, “Anderson wrote and directed a period romantic drama centering on fashion, yet every scene is somehow as captivating as the last, if not more. That is the sign of a master.” Those words rang true for me upon my first viewing, they rang true on my re-watch, and they continue to ring true as Oscar Sunday comes upon us.
MY VOTING TALLY:
- 4 votes
- Phantom Thread: Picture, Actor, Costume Design, and Original Score (out of 6 nominations)
- 3 votes
- Dunkirk: Director, Cinematography, and Film Editing (out of 8 nominations)
- 2 votes
- I, Tonya: Actress and Supporting Actress (out of 3 nominations)
- Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi: Visual Effects and Sound Mixing (out of 4 nominations)
- The remaining works come away with 1 vote each (in alphabetical order by work): Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Documentary—Feature), Baby Driver (Sound Editing), Blade Runner 2049 (Production Design), The Breadwinner (Animated Feature Film), Coco (Original Song), Darkest Hour (Makeup & Hairstyling), “Dear Basketball” (Animated Short Film), The Florida Project (Supporting Actor), “Heroin(e)” (Documentary—Short Subject), Lady Bird (Original Screenplay), Molly’s Game (Adapted Screenplay), The Square (Foreign Language Film), and “Watu Wote (All of Us)” (Live Action Short Film)
What would you vote for if you had a ballot for the 90th Academy Awards?
One last time…
Godspeed and Farewell, Cinema of 2017!
Welcome, Cinema of 2018!
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature-film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard is currently pursuing his M.A. in Biblical Theology (Catechetical track) at JPCatholic after graduating from the school in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting).
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.