In my first Oscar discussion of the season I will take an inside look at all of the major categories. I've had the opportunity to catch many of this year's biggest awards season players, but there are still quite a few I'm waiting to catch. Some of the contenders I'm still yet to see include The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, Mudbound, Molly's Game, as well as unseen works Phantom Thread and The Post. I'll catch all of them at some point, but in the meantime let's break down this year's upcoming Oscar contests.
Safe Bets: There are a few films that feel like guaranteed nominees for Best Picture even this early in the game. Martin McDonagh's dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water lead the pack as early head-to-head frontrunners. Following closely behind and rising is Greta Gerwig's critically adored debut, Lady Bird, along with Joe Wright's Lincoln-esque examination of Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour.
Other Potential Nominees: Outside of the four films listed above, anywhere from 1 to 6 more entries could sneak into the final vote. While the Academy has a history of turning their nose of to Christopher Nolan's work, Dunkirk has held firm as a viable option for Best Picture. Festival darling Call Me By Your Name continues to surface in conversations and I can personally vouch for the strength of Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya. And although The Post hasn't screened yet, you can never count out a film from the beloved Steven Spielberg.
Dark Horses: With the not-so distant memory of #OscarsSoWhite still looming over them, the Academy may feel hard-pressed to include a film with ties to the African American community. While Jordan Peele's Get Out is the strongest option, the content isn't quite up to Oscar standards. Therefore, Netflix film Mudbound may be a surprise inclusion, as could any of Blade Runner 2049, Last Flag Flying, Phantom Thread, Molly's Game and even The Florida Project.
Safe Bets: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) continues to widen his lead over the rest of the field, while Atonement snub, Joe Wright (Darkest Hour), feels like a safe redemption pick. Finally, I'd be very surprised if Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) gets omitted for what's clearly his strongest directorial work to date.
Other Potential Nominees: If Three Billboards continues to hold strong as one of two or three possible Best Picture winners, then Martin McDonagh should also find his way into the mix for directing. Steven Spielberg (The Post) is always a potential spoiler in this race, as well as newcomer Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) and regular fixture Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049).
Dark Horses: Other long-shots to steal a nomination include Dee Rees (Mudbound), Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), Richard Linklater (Last Flag Flying) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread).
Safe Bets: The universe could be aligning for veteran performer Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) as his epic portrayal of Winston Churchill stacks up very well in an unusually weak year for the Best Actor category. Oldman's staunchest competition will come from three-time Academy Award Winner, Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), who always delivers an exceptional performance.
Other Potential Nominees: Jake Gyllenhaal's valiant work in Stronger shouldn't be ignored, and Andrew Garfield certainly carries the surprisingly worthwhile film, Breathe. Steve Carell continues to offer stellar onscreen work, and his quiet and subtle turn in Last Flag Flying is no exception. James Franco's work in The Disaster Artist has been lauded by the critics, while Tom Hanks (The Post) is always a threat to snag a nomination as well.
Dark Horses: Other potential spoilers include Jeremy Renner (Wind River), Christian Bale (Hostiles) and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name).
Safe Bets: Much like last year, the Best Actress field is flooded with supreme talent and for that reason no one feels particularly "safe" (do we remember what happened to Arrival's Amy Adams last year?). However, for the sake of argument I, Tonya's Margot Robbie, The Shape of Water's Sally Hawkins, Three Billboards' Frances McDormand and Lady Bird's Saoirse Ronan feel like the strongest four contenders at this early stage of the game.
Other Potential Nominees: While the aforementioned women above all deliver superb performances, it's still not out of the possibility for any of them to relinquish their spot for the also impressive work of fellow competitors Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game), Meryl Streep (The Post), last year's winner Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes) and Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel).
Dark Horses: With eight elite ladies listed above it will be hard for any of these long-shots to find a way into the final mix, but it's worth noting performances from the Dame Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul), Diane Kruger (In the Fade), Annette Bening (Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and youngster Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project).
Best Supporting Actor
Safe Bets: My love and affinity for Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards) can't be overstated, so rarely am I in an actor's corner like I am for Rockwell. He's the most formidable character in one of the year's finest films, but he still finds staunch competition at the pinnacle of the Best Supporting Actor race with veteran Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and rising star Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name).
Other Potential Nominees: Bryan Cranston is not only the comedic energy throughout Last Flag Flying, he's also the film's heart and soul. In fact, Cranston and Carell almost feel misplaced in their respective categories. Woody Harrelson offers a quality turn in Three Billboards and could ultimately steal support from Rockwell. But if both make it into the final five, it will be the first time that's happened since Barry Levinson's 1991 film Bugsy. Richard Jenkins and co-star Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) also prove to be a fearsome pair that could sneak into the mix.
Dark Horses: It seems odd that Dunkirk could draw a Best Picture Nomination without a single performance, so recent Oscar Winner Mark Rylance could play the spoiler role in this race. Mudbound's Jason Mitchell has an outside chance to muscle past the competition as well.
Best Supporting Actress
Safe Bets: With the meteoric climb of Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, which still holds an astounding 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Academy often times tries to find a way to reward a multitude of strong films and perhaps Laurie Metcalf will be the biggest beneficiary. However, it won't be an easy task supplanting the vulgar and hilarious work of I, Tonya co-star, Allison Janney, who gives one of the year's finest performances.
Other Potential Nominees: Kristin Scott Thomas possesses a quietly effective role in Darkest Hour but the film's strong standing could help propel her into the final five. Grammy winner Mary J. Blige received high praises out of Sundance for her work in Mudbound and deep down I'm sure the Oscars fear another year without an African American nominated in an acting category. Similarly, previous Academy Award Winner and the always-great Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) may find herself in the final running as well. Furthermore, Melissa Leo's role in Novitiate is said to be exceptional (I haven't seen it), but it's also rumored to be more of a lead performance that could either push her into the other, more competitive category, or alienate some of the voting body.
Dark Horses: Sadly, it appears that the Academy may be sleeping on one of my favorite supporting turns of the year, Tatiana Maslany's heartbreaking performance in Stronger where she stands toe-to-toe with Jake Gyllenhaal. I was also extremely impressed with Claire Foy's work in Breathe and stand firmly in her corner, despite being a huge long-shot in the race. Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) was a bit of a pleasant surprise and Hong Chau (Downsizing) has garnered some rumblings for a nomination as well.
*** Stay tuned throughout the next few months as the road to the Oscars continues ***