The Oscar race continues to divide Oscar watchers and critics. We’ve only heard from one major guild or, more specifically, a randomly selected 2000 members of the SAG-AFTRA union. Other than that, we’re waiting to see what the thousands of guild members think in the Writers Guild, the Producers Guild, the American Cinema Editors Guild, the American Cinematographers Society, Sound, Makeup, Costumes, etc. We only know what the small group of self-designated vetters thinks and there is SOME consensus.
One of the big debates online (at least in my corner of the world) is about the battle between Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour and Timothee Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name. Both actors give vivid, memorable performances, though in completely different ways. Oldman comes at his role from an entire career of giving great transformative performances, from Sid and Nancy, True Romance, and The Contender to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and he’s given his share of big blockbuster performances too. He’s been working for many decades and yet has only had a single Oscar nomination. To my mind, his performance in Darkest Hour is unequivocal. It is beyond brilliant and one of the best, if not the best, I saw this year. Admittedly, I am a Winston Churchill devotee and I’ve seen all of the Churchills. Oldman’s is the best.
Still, Chalamet is a vibrant force in Call Me By Your Name. He is disarming, charismatic, and does a great job of expressing the internal battle going on within himself about who he wants to be. In a sense, he and Saorise Ronan of Lady Bird are kind of cut from the same cloth, and their personae (onscreen and off) seem to appeal to the same people. Both characters are struggling with their identities. Neither has fully determined a deeper sense of who or what they want to be. Chalamet’s Elio is a brilliant musician already, so he does have that going for him. Stars like Chalamet don’t come around very often. They are like supernovas. Bright and brilliant, they take your breath away. Thus, he is going to prove a challenge for Oldman whose work isn’t catching on with the loudest of the vetters. In fact, there seems to be a concerted effort by many I’ve seen online to stop the veteran from winning, justifying their stance in a number of ways. And that’s a real shame.
Either way, the thing about a Best Actor winner is that he is often attached to, at the very least, a Best Picture nominee. It is looking like Call Me By Your Name will get that, and maybe director too, but Darkest Hour is a longer shot for both. The only actor who recently won without a Best Picture nomination was Jeff Bridges. He won a career Oscar for Crazy Heart, like Julianne Moore did for Still Alice — like so many others have. But Bridges was everywhere that year. He pulled out all the stops to win that Oscar. He was on every single show, shaking every hand, making sure voters knew he was in it to win it, as you really have to do much of the time (Mark Rylance notwithstanding). Oldman is clearly not doing that this year. He’s done a few things here or there, but it is not in his character to self-promote.
The thing about the Oscars is that they are, as it turns out, much less about who’s worthy or deserving and much more about likability. Sally Field had it 100% right when, upon winning her second Oscar, she said “You like me.” If they like you they vote for you. If they don’t, they won’t. It is the single most frustrating and disappointing thing about the Oscars that I’ve learned and had to accept in the 20 years I’ve been covering them. Would that winning an Oscar had to do with actual effort and superlative skill put in. The halo effect blooms around those anointed with affection by a consensus. Deserve has got nothing to do with it.
People vote for what makes them feel good. They don’t vote for what makes them feel bad, or even ambivalent. Predicting this ingredient is not easy, but a few patterns do emerge if you watch them long enough. One of those factors is the Best Picture/Best Actor pairing. Thus, if Darkest Hour does get a nomination then my own personal attachment to Oldman may prevent me from turning away from him, just like I felt compelled to predict Denzel Washington last year because I truly believed his was the most worthy performance. But Chalamet will most certainly go into the race backed by a Best Picture nomination — and might end up being the only one of the five who does. Daniel Kaluuya looks good for Get Out, and perhaps Tom Hanks for The Post, but there’s a fairly full slate just ahead of them. If you go by SAG, it’s Chalamet and Kaluuya as the only two to potentially have a Best Actor/Best Picture match.
If Darkest Hour does not get a PGA nod or a Best Pic nomination (which I still hope it does) then we’re looking at a much harder win for Oldman. What’s the guy have to do, for chrissakes?
The latest Gurus of Gold has Best Picture kind of all over the place:
My prediction for Get Out has to do with how much its buzz is surging of late. It also seems to have caught of a bit of a zeitgeist wave. I don’t know what this means ultimately, but I like that it’s heat for a movie that the public has seen and liked. A win for this movie would be as timely as you can possibly get. I also see Peele winning in Original Screenplay. His biggest competition is Lady Bird and The Shape of Water. But I feel like, and I could be wrong, that Get Out has its fan base, whereas Lady Bird and Shape of Water could be splitting a segment of voters whose tastes are similar. Figuring out the preferential ballot from this moment in time, without yet knowing what the guilds will do, means you have envision not which movie is going to be number one but which movie is going to accumulate a sizable share of number two, number three, and number four slots on ballots. If The Post is voters’ number one, which film is their number two? After a while, it will become clear which films have the fewest number of people criticizing it and the largest number of people rooting for it, even if it isn’t their favorite. That feels like Get Out to me, but we just don’t know how it’s going to go.
For Best Actor, the Gurus all still think Oldman has it. Will this change when the Best Picture nominations come down? Perhaps. It’s hard to say.
Best Actress is also a jumble of choices, though it does seem to come down to Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan. Funny, because now you have two old industry vets who have given countless performances over a lifetime — Oldman and McDormand — vs. two young actors whose careers are just starting out, Ronan and Chalamet, although Ronan has been acting in films for a while now. I suspect that there are a lot of people who would love for this to be the newly minted “young fresh Oscars for a new generation,” as there will be another group of people who want the old pros to be honored. I know which camp I stand in on that.
The only category that feels solidly locked in the acting categories is Best Supporting Actor, where Willem Dafoe appears to be locked and loaded. Strangely, two of the Gurus have Sam Rockwell to win there. That’s an interesting thing to note. Dafoe will be winning a career Oscar in addition to playing a likable role. Like Oldman, though, there is no denying his thus far unrewarded brilliant career as a character actor.
Laurie Metcalf has pulled ahead in Best Supporting Actress, due to a few major wins from the critics. Like most of the categories, Best Picture heat is the thing. Metcalf will enter the race alongside one of the strongest and most beloved contenders. This will be yet another career win for Metcalf (funny how people only complain about Oldman’s, ain’t it?), an actress who’s long been respected for a brilliant career, now looking at her first Oscar.
Best Director is another wide open race right now, though Guillermo Del Toro has pulled ahead of Christopher Nolan based on wins by critics so far and the popularity of The Shape of Water. Who knows how it will turn out by the end in a crazy wide open race. For all we know, Peele and Gerwig might win this.
And finally, the screenplay categories are another crazy mess. Although I do like how the Gurus overall have symmetry with Picture/Screenplay giving both to Lady Bird. That is the most likely scenario: one movie wins both.
And that, as they say, is that. Merry Christmas Oscar watchers. Be good to each other.