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And the winner is … Dan Webster picks the Oscars

UPDATED: Sun., March 4, 2018

By Dan Webster For The Spokesman-Review

Voting habits of the 7,000-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – as self-important a title as has ever been invented – are often hard to predict.

Just think of last year when “La La Land” … no, “Moonlight” … wait, let’s get this right, now … yes, “Moonlight” … won. Who’d have predicted that?

Well, lots of people, actually. It’s just that the initial announcement by presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who had been handed the wrong envelope, was a mistake. And so we ended up with the embarrassing situation of both film’s casts mingling on the stage, hugging one another, no one quite understanding what had happened.

Still, yes, “Moonlight” won. And the ever-changing face of Hollywood continued it socio-cultural evolution. The traditional musical, a love letter to the industry that spawned it, lost out to a small but poignant study of gay men in Miami.

And what can we look forward to in 2018? What will take the Oscar for best picture? A fantasy/romance about a mute woman and a merman? A small-town study of a woman seeking justice for her murdered daughter? An exploration of a California girl’s search for meaning? A love affair between a teenager and his father’s research assistant? A look at a newspaper publisher’s decision to print the uncomfortable truth?

Not a particularly easy call, considering the various attitudes, interests and opinions of those Academy voters, whose number grew in 2017 by 700-some voters of various ethnic, gender and age differences.

Following is our attempt to cut through all the factors and predict what might happen in tonight’s popularity contest.

We’ll do our best not to … um … reach for the wrong envelope.

Best Actor

The nominees: Timothée Chamalet (“Call Me by Your Name”), Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”), Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”).

Three of the above comprise a who’s-who list of acting talent, to which have been added the skilled newcomers Chamalet and Kaluuya. Yet with wins in virtually every other awards shows, from the Screen Actors Guild to BAFTA, the British version of the Oscars, Oldman is the overwhelming favorite.

Webster’s pick: Gary Oldman

Best Actress

The nominees: Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”), Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”), Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”), Meryl Streep (“The Post”).

Dame Streep picked up her 21st acting nomination, while McDormand received only her fifth. Ronan, Hawkins and Robbie all put in critically acclaimed performances. But if Oldman is a lock for Best Actor, Golden Globe and SAG winner McDormand is an even surer bet for Best Actress.

Webster’s pick: Frances McDormand

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees: Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”), Woody Harrelson (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”), Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).

Despite Oscar-worthy performances by all the actors in this category, especially Dafoe and Jenkins, Rockwell ranks as the overwhelming favorite.

Webster’s pick: Sam Rockwell

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees: Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”), Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”).

Even if she weren’t eligible for the veteran’s award, which historically has been the reward for the winner in this category, Janney would be the favorite here.

Webster’s pick: Allison Janney

Best Director

The nominees: Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”), Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”).

Here’s where things start to get a bit difficult. Nolan is a popular choice, as are first-time directors Gerwig and Peele. Anderson is in a category all his own. But it is the veteran del Toro who, coming off his Director’s Guild, Golden Globe and BAFTA wins, who is the front-runner.

Webster’s pick: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture

The nominees: “Call Me by Your Name,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Post,” “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

So many choices, so few statuettes. The race here comes down to “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards,” with diehard fans vying between “Lady Bird” and “Call Me by Your Name.” But barring a “La La Land”-type upset, the merman movie should win.

Webster’s pick: “The Shape of Water”

Other categories

Best Animated Feature: “Coco” in a runaway.

Best Cinematography: Veteran Roger Deakins could win his first statuette for “Blade Runner 2049.”

Foreign Language Film: “A Fantastic Woman,” Chile

Best Original Screenplay: “Three Billboards,” Martin McDonagh

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory

Best Animated Short: “Dear Basketball”

Best Documentary Feature: “Icarus”

Dan Webster is a former arts reporter and film critic for The Spokesman-Review who co-hosts “Movies 101” on Spokane Public Radio.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of the factbox in this story was altered to correct the channel on which the Oscars were aired. That channel should be ABC, not NBC.

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