Oscars predictions: Will 'Shape of Water' dominate at the Academy Awards?

Get out the envelopes. It’s Oscar time in “La La Land.”

The musical sensation may have famously lost Best Picture to “Moonlight” last year, but Hollywood’s greatest awards show must go on. Once again, all eyes are on the top prize.

Do the signs point to victory for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri?” Or will “The Shape of Water” wash away the competition? Might “Dunkirk” win the battle? Or does “Lady Bird” soar? And can “Get Out” really get it?

Here now are my predictions for the 90th annual Academy Awards. (May the night be free of envelope error.)

BEST PICTURE:

Actress Abbie Cornish starred in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Actress Abbie Cornish starred in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." (Reuters)

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

PREDICTION: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

This is a two-way race between the Cold War drama meets fantasy/fairy tale “The Shape of Water” and the contemporary revenge tragedy “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” (Sorry “Dunkirk,” “Get Out” and “Lady Bird.”) Until recently, I was betting on “Water.” It scored a near-record 13 nominations and won both the Critics’ Choice and Producers Guild awards, two fairly reliable bellwethers of Oscar fortuity. However, “Three Billboards” has done even better – sweeping at the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and British Academy (BAFTA) ceremonies. It boasts a stellar cast and there’s a clear passion for it. It’s arguably the most talked-about film of 2017. The biggest hurdles for “Three Billboards” are its lack of a directing nomination and a much-publicized backlash in the wake of its success. Given the preferential ballot used only in the top category, I am still giving the slightest edge to “Three Billboards.” It would seem to be more of a consensus choice than “The Shape of Water,” whose sci-fi elements might turn off some traditional voters. (Remember, both the highly-touted “Avatar” and “Gravity” failed to nab Best Picture.) This is definitely a cliffhanger. But barring a “Moonlight”-style shocker, watch for “Three Billboards” to shine.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING:

Guillermo del Toro directed "The Shape of Water."

Guillermo del Toro directed "The Shape of Water." (Reuters)

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

PREDICTION: Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”

Regardless of how Best Picture goes, this one is already signed, sealed and delivered to del Toro. “The Shape of Water’ is widely seen as this year’s most creative and beautifully crafted film, a truly astonishing achievement by the visionary director. It’s reminiscent of “Life of Pi,” “Gravity” and “The Revenant” – all of which earned Oscars for the masters behind the lens (even as their films conceded the biggest award.) Del Toro has already been presented with the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, Directors Guild and BAFTA trophies. All that’s left for him is the shape of the Oscar.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:

Actor Gary Oldman stars in "The Darkest Hour."

Actor Gary Oldman stars in "The Darkest Hour." (Reuters)

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

PREDICTION: Gary Oldman, “The Darkest Hour”

He is perhaps the biggest lock of them all. The veteran English talent was hailed as the Best Actor frontrunner the moment that the “The Darkest Hour” debuted at the Telluride Film Festival in September. As twentieth century British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Oldman is completely unrecognizable on the screen. There’s the brilliant prosthetic transformation (which will likely result in the Oscar for Best Makeup.) And then there’s the distinct speaking style, physical mannerisms, and facial expressions - which seem virtually replicated from archival video of Churchill. The actor’s accomplishment has thus far been acknowledged by the Broadcast Film Critics, the Golden Globes, the SAG and the BAFTA. In short, Oldman’s trip to the Oscars looks to be the brightest night of his life.

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:

Actress Frances McDormand stars in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Actress Frances McDormand stars in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." (Reuters)

NOMINEES: Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water;” Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri;” Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya;” Saiorse Ronan, “Lady Bird;” Meryl Streep, “The Post”

PREDICTION: Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Early in the season, the Best Actress contest appeared to be the most wide-open in recent memory. But then something happened: McDormand started winning the televised awards. First it was the Golden Globe. Then it was the Critics’ Choice. Then the SAG and the BAFTA.  At this point, you don’t need a billboard to tell you that she’s going to take home the Oscar. It’s not without reason. As a grieving mother seeking revenge for her daughter’s murder in “Three Billboards,” the actress delivers a powerhouse performance from start to finish. She’s careful not to overdo it, with surprising and skillful subtlety in a number of key scenes. Her competition is quite fierce. Hawkins impressively carries “The Shape of Water” with almost no dialogue. Saiorse Ronan has earned glowing notices for her role as a trouble teen in “Lady Bird.” And Margot Robbie is a champion at channeling notorious figure skater Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya.” Unfortunately, they’ll have to settle for the silver as McDormand gets the gold. McDormand received her first Best Actress statuette for 1996’s “Fargo.” She’ll finally get a bookend for “Three Billboards.”

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Actor Sam Rockwell stars in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Actor Sam Rockwell stars in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." (Reuters)

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”

PREDICTION: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Rockwell and his costar McDormand may have clashed on-screen, but they’ve followed the same course throughout the derby. The first-time nominee has attained almost every award that his leading lady has, making his Oscar win just as inevitable. As a violent, racist cop who slowly changes his attitude and behavior, Rockwell delivers the type of fierce, flashy performance that Academy electors esteem. His only risks might be the mild controversy surrounding his character, as well as his “Three Billboards” fellow nominee Harrelson cutting into his vote. Jenkins is sensational in “The Shape of Water” and Plummer has a zesty plum role in “All the Money in the World.” Still, all indications are that Rockwell will rocket away with the Oscar.

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Actress Allison Janney stars in "I, Tonya."

Actress Allison Janney stars in "I, Tonya." (Reuters)

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

PREDICTION: Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

After amassing a plethora of kudos from the critics, Metcalf was positioned to be the lucky lady for “Lady Bird.” Her Oscar prospects fell after Janney beat her at the Golden Globes, and every ensuing awards show. It’s easy to see why. As the manipulative mother of the title character in “I, Tonya” Janney steals scene after scene with her tart-tongued torments. It’s the type of evil, featured role that often wins these categories, like Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men,” Heather Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds,” Mo’Nique in “Precious” and J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash.” Janney gets bonus points for her impressive list of film credits, which range from “American Beauty” and “The Hours” to “Hairspray” and “The Help.” All of that will help her win the Oscar for her delicious diabolicalness in “I, Tonya.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Martin McDonagh wrote "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Martin McDonagh wrote "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." (Reuters)

NOMINEES: “The Big Sick;” “Get Out;” “Lady Bird;” “The Shape of Water;” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

PREDICTION: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Any one of these five could prevail in a less competitive year. “The Big Sick” is a one-nomination wonder, making its very inclusion in the group a big reward. “The Shape of Water” is seen more as a directorial realization than a literary one. “Lady Bird” failed to fly away with any of the major precursors. So it comes down to “Get Out” and “Three Billboards.” “Get Out” is regarded as the most original and this is its best chance at recognition. Still, it has a tough task in stopping the “Three Billboards” express.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Actor Armie Hammer stars in "Call Me By Your Name."

Actor Armie Hammer stars in "Call Me By Your Name." (Reuters)

NOMINEES: “Call Me by Your Name;” “The Disaster Artist;” “Logan;” “Molly’s Game;” “Mudbound”

PREDICTION: “Call Me by Your Name”

There’s only one Best Picture nominee in the lineup, which makes this class a no-brainer. The coming-of age-drama “Call Me by Your Name” has had critics swooning since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early last year. Unlikely to wangle any of its other three bids, this is the most fitting place for the Academy to honor it. As if those reasons aren’t enough, there’s yet another. The Italian countryside-set tearjerker was penned by prolific filmmaker James Ivory, who contended for Best Director three times in the past. This would mark his first Academy Award triumph, at the age of 89. Hearing his name called out at the 90th Oscar ceremony will be one of the highlights of his life – as well as the night.

BEST ANIMATED FILM:

The voice of actor Gael Garcia Bernal is featured in the animated film "Coco."

The voice of actor Gael Garcia Bernal is featured in the animated film "Coco." (Reuters)

NOMINEES: “The Boss Baby;” “The Breadwinner;” “Coco;” “Ferdinand;” “Loving Vincent”

PREDICTION: “Coco”

I loved “Loving Vincent” and “The Breadwinner” won me over. But I would be “cuckoo” not to pick “Coco.” The animated charmer received rapturous reviews and proved to be a box office bonanza. The Broadcast Film Critics, the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild and the BAFTA have already chosen it. There’s no way that the Academy won’t go equally hot for “Coco.”

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:

Actress Rachel Shenton stars in "The Silent Child."

Actress Rachel Shenton stars in "The Silent Child." (Reuters)

NOMINEES: “DeKalb Elementary;” “The Eleven O’Clock;” “My Nephew Emmett;” “The Silent Child;” “Watu Wote / All of Us”

PREDICTION: “The Silent Child”

This is a special bonus category, so that you can impress your friends and hit pay dirt in the office Oscar pool. Even a child could tell you that “The Silent Child” is the standout. It’s the one with the most arc, the strongest character development, and finest production values. It also deals with a serious subject matter – the lack of resources available for deaf children. An acceptance speech by “The Silent Child” filmmakers will raise the issue loud and clear to Oscar’s global audience.