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‘Shape of Water’ Poised to Lead Oscar Nominations: Final Predictions in All Categories

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will unveil nominations for the 90th annual Oscars. It’s been a season marked, refreshingly, by a lack of frontrunners in most major categories. Combined with an extended phase two this year (thanks to the Winter Olympics), it ought to make for a spirited sprint to the finish line after the races are firmed up next week.

Here are In Contention’s final predictions for nominations in all 24 Oscar categories.

Best Picture

  • “Call Me by Your Name”
    Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Marco Morbito
  • “Dunkirk”
    Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan
  • “The Florida Project”
    Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou
  • “Get Out”
    Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jordan Peele
  • “Lady Bird”
    Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neill, Scott Rudin
  • “The Post”
    Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger
  • “The Shape of Water”
    J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
    Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, Martin McDonagh

Eight best picture nominees is the bet, with the five DGA players locked and loaded. After that, “Call Me by Your Name” ought to make it through on the passion of its supporters. “The Post” has really struggled in the lead-up to nominations, so don’t be surprised if it ultimately falls out, but its dance with the zeitgeist could pull it through (plus it was a late-breaker). Finally, while movies like “The Big Sick,” “Darkest Hour,” “I, Tonya” and “Mudbound” have shown themselves to be in the mix, it’s hard not to keep coming back to “The Florida Project,” which has a wealth of industry admirers that simply need to push it over the finish line. It’s true the film hasn’t performed well on the guild circuit but neither did “Room,” which ended up netting not just a best picture nomination but a surprise best director bid as well. Which brings us to…

Directing

  • “Dunkirk” Christopher Nolan
  • “The Florida Project” Sean Baker
  • “Lady Bird” Greta Gerwig
  • “The Shape of Water” Guillermo del Toro
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Martin McDonagh

Something unexpected almost always happens in the best director category. From Ridley Scott being passed over for “The Martian” (amid a full-court press to get him the win), to Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) unseating sure-things Ben Affleck (“Argo”) and Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), you just never can confidently take this branch’s pulse. It’s risky to take a flier on “Get Out” helmer Jordan Peele being the unexpected exclusion, but here we are. Either Luca Guadagnino or Sean Baker could capitalize on the support systems in place for “Call Me by Your Name” and “The Florida Project,” respectively, but Baker reads like just the sort of jaw-dropper the branch has been known to deliver.

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Timothée Chalamet “Call Me by Your Name”
  • Daniel Day-Lewis “Phantom Thread”
  • James Franco “The Disaster Artist”
  • Daniel Kaluuya “Get Out”
  • Gary Oldman “Darkest Hour”

One “snub” lurking in the shadows here is Daniel Day-Lewis. “Phantom Thread” just never seemed to generate the same excitement with voters (many of whom failed to catch it in time) as it did with critics. Nevertheless, if anyone took the time to view the alleged “final” performance from the three-time Oscar winner, it’s the actors branch. The recent sexual misconduct allegations against James Franco arrived with two days of voting to go, so they didn’t likely have a huge impact, but he could still get squeezed out for Screen Actors Guild nominee Denzel Washington.

Actress in a Leading Role

  • 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”

This category has felt more or less firmed up for a number of weeks, which means it’s probably ripe for surprise. Maybe British Academy (BAFTA) nominee Annette Bening (“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”)? The right balance could be four of the SAG nominees plus a latter-season player, so Judi Dench (“Victoria & Abdul”) yielding to Meryl Streep computes. But there’s clearly industry support for “Molly’s Game” out there (nominations from the producers, writers and editors, etc.), so Jessica Chastain is in the mix. Meanwhile, one of the biggest must-see titles heading into voting was “All the Money in the World,” and Michelle Williams does not disappoint there. Keep your eyes peeled.

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • 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”

The biggest question mark here is the dueling “Call Me by Your Name” performances from Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. Stuhlbarg was anointed by fans out of Sundance, but Hammer clearly gave the charismatic turn of the piece, yielding more recognition during the season. But that BAFTA nomination for “All the Money in the World” savior Christopher Plummer is far more interesting than his Golden Globe bid, signaling respect, support and, potentially, a desire to make a statement. It seems likely someone will bump off “Battle of the Sexes” star Steve Carell and join the other SAG nominees, and Plummer might have morphed into the one to beat in that micro-race.

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Mary J. Blige “Mudbound”
  • Hong Chau “Downsizing”
  • Holly Hunter “The Big Sick”
  • Allison Janney “I, Tonya”
  • Laurie Metcalf “Lady Bird”

Sticking with the SAG five feels right here, though Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”) is always a threat, particularly in a serious best picture contender. Meanwhile, Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”) and Kristin Scott Thomas (“Darkest Hour”) landed BAFTA nominations. If anyone falls out it might be Hong Chau, in a film largely unloved this season. But the category also feels ripe for a party crasher. Catherine Keener (“Get Out”)? New York Film Critics Circle winner Tiffany Haddish (“Girls Trip”)?

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • “Call Me by Your Name” James Ivory
  • “The Disaster Artist” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
  • “Logan” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
  • “Molly’s Game” Aaron Sorkin
  • “Mudbound” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

It’s been an uncharacteristically thin year for adapted screenplays, but four spots would appear to be spoken for here. The last could go to BAFTA nominee “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” Writers Guild nominee “Logan,” Critics’ Choice nominee “Wonder,” dark horse contender “Wonder Woman,” or even surprise University of Southern California Scripter Awards finalist “The Lost City of Z.” There’s also “Victoria & Abdul” lingering around as a possibility, just harmless enough to register with older members. Though a 100% match with the guild seems unlikely, it’s as good a place as any to look when in doubt, so, “Logan” it is. (That would, by the way, make it the first superhero movie ever Oscar-nominated for writing.)

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • “The Big Sick” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
  • “Get Out” Jordan Peele
  • “I, Tonya” Steven Rogers
  • “Lady Bird” Greta Gerwig
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Martin McDonagh

Suggesting that overall industry favorite “The Shape of Water” might fall to Oscar season upstart (and BAFTA/WGA nominee) “I, Tonya” could be inching out too far onto a limb, but let’s live a little. Something is sure to give with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” back in play after being ruled out of WGA consideration. Others might contend that “The Big Sick” will officially run out of gas here, but it was out there early and garnered a lot of support quickly. Also possible — again, if enough saw it — is “Phantom Thread”; Paul Thomas Anderson has popped up before after being counted out (“Inherent Vice”).

Cinematography

  • “Blade Runner 2049” Roger Deakins
  • “Darkest Hour” Bruno Delbonnel
  • “Dunkirk” Hoyte van Hoytema
  • “Mudbound” Rachel Morrison
  • “The Shape of Water” Dan Laustsen

There isn’t much to analyze here as the American Society of Cinematographers carved out a clear quintet. If something squeezes in, it could be BAFTA nominee Ben Davis for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” or six-time Oscar nominee Janusz Kaminski for “The Post.” Looking back to last year’s Camerimage festival, Anthony Dod Mantle placed with some of the richest photography on display this year in “First They Killed My Father,” while the legendary Vittorio Storaro’s “Wonder Wheel” work was gorgeous enough to be a dark horse consideration. But, again, the ASC might have taken out all the guesswork.

Costume Design

  • “Beauty and the Beast” Jacqueline Durran
  • “The Greatest Showman” Ellen Mirojnick
  • “Murder on the Orient Express” Alexandra Byrne
  • “Phantom Thread” Mark Bridges
  • “The Shape of Water” Luis Sequeira

With design categories you may as well just pick the right mix of period and fantasy guild nominees, toss in a left-field possibility if you’re feeling bold, and see how it shakes out. For costumes, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Phantom Thread” certainly appear safe. (Both also received BAFTA nominations.) The “Shape of Water” coattails ought to extend to here, though a miss wouldn’t shock. “I, Tonya” is eccentric enough to make sense (and costumes become a plot point as well), but then there are guild nominees like “The Greatest Showman” and “Murder on the Orient Express” to consider, to say nothing of BAFTA nominee “Darkest Hour” or something truly unexpected, like “Wonder Wheel.” Given that Oscar winner and four-time nominee Alexandra Byrne was behind the work in “Murder,” and that “Showman” is a sheer orgy of costumes, they both make sense.

Film Editing

  • “Baby Driver” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
  • “Dunkirk” Lee Smith
  • “I, Tonya” Tatiana S. Riegel
  • “The Shape of Water” Sidney Wolinsky
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Jon Gregory

“Baby Driver” proved to be more than just a critics’ favorite in this category by picking up both BAFTA and American Cinema Editors nominations. It looks good to join the cascading timelines of “Dunkirk” (though don’t be too sure — remember “Inception”), as well as overall crafts giant “The Shape of Water.” After that, it could be any combination of precursor-approved contenders, though “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” feels in the pocket. The blockbuster appeal of “Blade Runner 2049” could find love, as well as the flash of “I, Tonya.” “Get Out” is a distinct possibility, too, depending on how deep the love for the film runs. But it was “I, Tonya” that caught a buzz wave during balloting.

Makeup and Hairstyling

  • “Darkest Hour” Ivana Primorac, Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
  • “I, Tonya” Deboray Lamia Denaver, Adruitha Lee
  • “Wonder” Naomi Bakstad, Robert A. Pandini, Arjen Tuiten

Like the visual effects category, this boils down to how each semifinalist fared at the Academy’s official bake-off, where presentations of the work are the final word before the branch votes at the event. This year, “Darkest Hour” and “Wonder” were said to go over quite well, with “I, Tonya” scoring major points with the hairstyling contingent. Of course, any of the fantasy elements from other Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild nominees like “Bright,” “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” or even “Ghost in the Shell” could register, while “Victoria & Abdul” picked up a BAFTA nomination, further complicating things. If something does nudge “I, Tonya” out of the way, it feels like it would be “Bright.”

Music (Original Score)

  • “Darkest Hour” Dario Marianelli
  • “Dunkirk” Hans Zimmer
  • “Phantom Thread” Jonny Greenwood
  • “The Post” John Williams
  • “The Shape of Water” Alexandre Desplat

John Williams is John Williams, so never overlook him. He could even be a double nominee this year, but “The Post” is the prestige entry so it’s the safer bet. “The Shape of Water” is a lock, with Alexandre Desplat the likely frontrunner for the win, while “Phantom Thread” is also a favorite among branch members (as well, providing a chance to give Jonny Greenwood his due after that “There Will Be Blood” debacle 12 years ago). Hans Zimmer’s “Dunkirk” work is part of the experience of the film (he also has, with co-composer Benjamin Wallfisch, “Blade Runner 2049” in play), and Dario Marianelli adds a whole other dimension to “Darkest Hour” with his work, so he makes sense. Still, this is an unconventional branch. If you want to predict a total surprise, spring for “Victoria & Abdul”; 14-time nominee Thomas Newman has been a consistent presence in the annual Oscar lineup lately.

Music (Original Song)

  • “Evermore” from “Beauty and the Beast”
    Alan Menken, Tim Rice
  • “Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name”
    Sufjan Stevens
  • “Remember Me” from “Coco”
    Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
  • “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman”
    Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
  • “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall”
    Diane Warren, Common

There’s a list of 70 eligible tracks to look over if you really want to be thorough. Suffice it to say, “Remember Me” is assured. Eight-time nominee Diane Warren also looks good to go with her Common collaboration “Stand Up for Something,” while a pair of musicals — “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Greatest Showman” — ought to secure spots for their Oscar-winning songwriters. After that, it’s hard to say. Songs from “Fifty Shades Darker” and “The Promise” are Grammy nominees. A pair of Sufjan Stevens tracks from “Call Me by Your Name” are two of the best in the category overall, while Mary J. Blige could be a double nominee if she scores for “Mudbound” both here and in supporting actress. Ultimately, Stevens’ work plays best in-context, and that can be a difference-maker.

Production Design

  • “Beauty and the Beast” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
  • “Blade Runner 2049” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
  • “Darkest Hour” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
  • “The Post” Rick Carter, Rena DeAngelo
  • “The Shape of Water” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

See: Costume Design. But to expand, “Dunkirk” is obviously a threat here, though other elements of the production could out-register the design. In its wake, there are a lot of other choices in the period and fantasy realms. The locks are probably “Beauty and the Beast,” “Blade Runner 2049” and “The Shape of Water.” Two-time Oscar winner Rick Carter (“The Post”) and a double dip for Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer (“Darkest Hour”) make as much sense as the next lineup.

Sound Editing

  • “Baby Driver” Julian Slater
  • “Blade Runner 2049” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
  • “Dunkirk” Alex Gibson, Richard King
  • “The Shape of Water” Nathan Robitaille
  • “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

There is very little to say about the sound categories at this stage. The Cinema Audio Society nominated “Baby Driver,” “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Wonder Woman,” while the Motion Picture Sound Editors group won’t announce nominees until Monday. BAFTA — with the organization’s consolidated single category — went with the predicted five above, the same five that have been reflected on this page for weeks. No reason to change now.

Sound Mixing

  • “Baby Driver”
    Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
  • “Blade Runner 2049”
    Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
  • “Dunkirk”
    Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
  • “The Shape of Water”
    Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
  • “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
    Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

And while we’re at it, how about just the same quintet in both categories? Something is likely to give, like “Wonder Woman” making it in somewhere or a musical like “The Greatest Showman” registering. It would also be a pity if the current “Planet of the Apes” franchise sailed off into the sunset without ever having been recognized for its top-notch sound work. If you want to go way out on a limb with something, here’s a suggestion: “Life.” Space movie, heavily laureled sound team, etc. Just saying…

Visual Effects

  • “Blade Runner 2049”
    John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer,
  • “Dunkirk”
    Andrew Jackson, Andrew Lockley, Scott Fisher, Paul Corbould
  • “Okja”
    Erik-Jan De Boer, Stephen Clee, Lee Jeon Hyoung, Joon Hyung Kim
  • “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
    Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlon
  • “War for the Planet of the Apes”
    Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

The battle for the Oscar may end up being “Blade Runner 2049” versus “War for the Planet of the Apes” (a franchise still Oscar-less, believe it or not). An lineup lacking an Industrial Light & Magic should would be unexpected, so between Visual Effects Society success story “Kong: Skull Island” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Lucasfilm’s ongoing cash cow franchise looks more the part. “Dunkirk” ought to get in on the strength of any practical effects contingent, leaving one empty chair. BAFTA nominee “The Shape of Water” was ignored by VES entirely, as was “Okja.” But the latter was reportedly well-received at the Academy’s visual effects bake-off.

Animated Feature Film

  • “The Boss Baby”
    Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
  • “The Breadwinner”
    Nora Twomey, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Leo, Tomm Moore, Paul Young
  • “Coco”
    Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
  • “The Lego Batman Movie”
    Chris McKay, Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
  • “Loving Vincent”
    Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Pixar’s “Coco” is way out in front of the rest of the pack in precursor wins; it’s clear that it’s the frontrunner. What will be interesting is to see how the rest fills out, particularly given recent procedural changes (i.e., anyone who wants to opt into the committee can vote for nominees, not just members of the short films and feature animation branch). To that end, there are a number of big-studio players critics didn’t exactly warm up to, that could nevertheless score. You can parse the reasoning a thousand ways, but the fact is, unless GKIDS can find a foothold with another contender besides “The Breadwinner” (likely to join “Loving Vincent” as the two indies in the mix), then look to Universal, DreamWorks, Fox, Warner Bros., and wager a guess. “The Boss Baby” has performed better than “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” for DreamWorks overall, so, sure, that. Maybe something like “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” or “The Girl Without Hands” can push out the latest Lego hopeful, but it’s hard to say.

Foreign Language Film

  • “A Fantastic Woman” Sebastián Lelio (Chile)
  • “In the Fade” Fatih Akin (Germany)
  • “The Insult” Ziad Doueiri (Lebanon)
  • “Loveless” Andrey Zvyagintsev (Russia)
  • “The Wound” John Trengove (South Africa)

Germany’s “In the Fade” has pulled ahead in the precursor race with wins at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards, but those voting bodies are a far cry from the Academy’s foreign film committee, so it’s not a lock. Chile (“A Fantastic Woman”) and Russia (“Loveless”) seem the most likely, with Lebanon’s “The Insult,” anecdotally, in decent shape as well. Palme d’Or winner “The Square” could be the big “snub” of the lot, but it’s still a popular bet, as is Israel’s “Foxtrot.” But a surprise could pop out of this year’s crop, and South African entry “The Wound” might be that surprise.

Documentary (Feature)

  • “City of Ghosts” Matthew Heineman
  • “Faces Places” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
  • “Icarus” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
  • “Jane” Brett Morgen, Bryan Burk, Tony Gerber, James A. Smith
  • “Strong Island” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

Where to begin? Matthew Heineman’s “City of Ghosts” has out-performed the other contenders with documentary and industry groups: Producers Guild, DGA, International Documentary Assn., Cinema Eye Honors, etc. “Jane” is the clear critics’ champ, also shortlisted by the PGA, along with “Chasing Coral.” Other DGA nominees to consider are “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (though the branch sure hasn’t been quick to nominated Steve James again) and the ever-timely “Icarus,” while “Faces Places” (co-directed by Angés Varda, one of last year’s Honorary Oscar recipients) and “Strong Island” have shown strength in precursors as well. Somehow all the above went into a thought process and out popped some predictions. Keep an eye on how many spots Netflix can nail down, though.

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • “Alone” Garrett Bradley
  • “Edith+Eddie” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
  • “Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405” Frank Stiefel
  • “Heroin(e)” Elaine McMillion, Kerrin James Sheldon
  • “Kayayo: The Living Shopping Baskets” Mari Bakke Riise, Jørgen Lorentzen

Picking the short film categories is always a little tricky. You more or less have to go with your gut, because there aren’t too many precursors to help point the way. For docs, Netflix’s “Heroin(e),” about a West Virginia town that’s become ground zero for the nation’s opioid epidemic, seems secure, along with “Edith+Edie,” a zeitgeist-tapping portrait of America’s oldest interracial newlyweds. Individual profiles like the artful “Alone” and engrossing “Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405” will score emotional points, while “Kayayo: The Living Shopping Baskets,” about young girls who work as real-life shopping baskets in Ghana, is the only film of its kind in the lineup. A curiosity like “Ten Meter Tower” could pick up votes, while “Knife Skills” taps a social vein. Again, you have to just go with your gut (and yes, all contenders have been viewed before wagering guesses in these categories).

Short Film (Animated)

  • “Dear Basketball” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
  • “In a Heartbeat” Esteban Bravo, Beth David
  • “Lou” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
  • “Negative Space” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
  • “Revolting Rhymes” Jan Lachauer, Jakob Schuh

If Pixar is in the mix with something that really works, as “Lou” does, then you have to consider the Emeryville, Calif.-based studio a player. Meanwhile, “Oscar nominee Kobe Bryant” will probably be too tempting to pass up, though it helps that “Dear Basketball” is a beautiful little movie. “In a Heartbeat,” the story of a young closeted boy helpless at the whims of his heart, went viral last year, while “Negative Space” provides a passion point for supporters of stop-motion animation. For the last spot, there’s no reason to assume “Revolting Rhymes” won’t go the way of films like “The Gruffalo” and “Room on the Broom” before it. But that quintet could easily be crashed by a number of the other semifinalists, to be honest. It’s a solid crop.

Short Film (Live Action)

  • “The Eleven O’Clock” Derin Seale
  • “Icebox” Daniel Sawka, Camille Cornuel
  • “The Silent Child” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
  • “Watu Wote/All of Us” Katja Benrath
  • “Witnesses” David Koch

How about a lightning round to close things out? “The Eleven O’Clock” (directed by Derin Seale, son of cinematographer John Seale) is hilarious and could be win the Oscar. “Icebox,” centered on illegal immigration, has already been tapped for a feature film adaptation by producer James L. Brooks, meaning it has a significant footprint. “The Silent Child” might be the biggest heartbreaker of the bunch. “Watu Wote/All of Us” (a student Academy Award winner) presents handsome production value, as does “Witnesses,” about a war photographer in Syria. The Jack London adaptation “Lost Face” could slide in, however, as could student Academy prizewinners “My Nephew Emmett” and “Facing Mecca.”

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