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Handicapping the 2018 Oscar nominations

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Now that the Oscar nominations have been announced, it’s time to handicap the six most popular Academy Award categories.

Best Supporting Actress

This category is a Battle of the Moms – Allison Janney in “I,Tonya,” and Laurie Metcalf in “Ladybird.”

“I, Tonya”

Janney plays Tonya Harding’s foul-mouthed, chain-smoking terror of a mother. It’s a broad, comic performance that makes a big splash in very few minutes of screen time. Janney has won most of the pre-Oscar awards (the Golden Globe, the Critics Choice, and the Screen Actors Guild.)

“Ladybird”

Laurie Metcalf plays Ladybird’s mother who, try as she might, can’t help but be critical of her teenage daughter. Unlike Janney’s performance, Metcalf’s is naturalistic and relateable.

Both women would be worthy winners, but I’d vote for Metcalf over Janney. Metcalf is more central to the success of “Ladybird” than Janney is to “I,Tonya.”

Best Supporting Actor

This category is the Battle of the Billboards.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson have been nominated in this category for their film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Rockwell plays a dim-witted, racist cop and Harrelson is his big-hearted sheriff. Both men are excellent in their roles, but Rockwell is showier. He’s been sweeping up this awards season and should prevail over Harrelson.

If Rockwell and Harrelson should split the “Billboards” vote, Willem Dafoe, as the put-upon motel handyman in “The Florida Project” could come away with a victory. He’s a critics’ favorite, and is the only nomination this much-loved film garnered.

And finally, if the Academy Award members wanted to make a pointed statement, they might give the Oscar to Christopher Plummer in “All the Money in the World,” just to stick it to the now disgraced Kevin Spacey. (Plummer took over Spacey’s role in the film after Spacey had already finished filming his part.)

Despite all that, my vote is with Rockwell.

Best Director

The Best Director category is a story of firsts.

“Get Out”

Both Jordan Peele, with “Get Out” and Greta Gerwig, with “Ladybird” scored Best Director nominations for their very first film. Peele is only the fifth African American to ever earn a Director’s nod. Gerwig is only the fifth woman to do the same.

“The Shape of Water”

Two veteran directors, Guillermo Del Toro for “The Shape of Water” and Christopher Nolan for “Dunkirk,” also received their first Oscar nominations in this category. Both have been fixtures in Hollywood for years, so it’s a surprise that they haven’t been nominated before.

I think Martin McDonagh should win for Best Director for “Three Billboards,” but since he wasn’t even nominated, Del Toro will likely pick up the win.

Best Actress

Here we have the closest thing to a lock.

Although Sally Hawkins is exquisite as the mute cleaning woman in “The Shape of Water,” and Saoirse Ronan perfectly embodies the gangly teenager of “Ladybird,” Frances McDormand delivers a performance for the ages in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

She plays an aggrieved mother who’s furious that no progress has been made in finding her daughter’s killer. She’s a volcano of rage who just barely keeps her sanity with a withering sense of humor. McDormand not only taps into her ferocity but also her guilt and vulnerability.

McDormand has been winning everything this season, so I fully expect her to add a second Oscar to her collection.

Best Actor

I’m afraid this one has “Oscar bait” written all over it.

“Darkest Hour”

English actor Gary Oldman has had a long, distinguished career. He was nominated for Best Actor a few years ago for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and now gets to play one of the giants of British politics, Sir Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.”

But this rather stodgy film seems to be little more than an Oscar grab for Oldman, who bellows and mumbles his way through the film.

Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread” and the newcomer Timothee Chalamet in “Call Me By Your Name” are more deserving, but I’m sure it will be Oldman who will win. We’ll call it a “career achievement” Oscar.

Best Picture

This seems to be a two-film race between the monster fantasy romance “The Shape of Water,” and the dark and prickly “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

“Shape” earned by far the most Oscar nominations (13) and has already won the Critics’ Choice and Producers Guild awards for Best Picture. “Three Billboards” has countered with Best Film wins at the Golden Globes and at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, to go along with its seven Oscar nominations.

In what appears to be a neck-and-neck race at the moment, my hunch is that the gorgeous “The Shape of Water” will eke out a win. It doesn’t risk offending anyone like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” does.

“Shape” is a love letter to a lot of things – our humanity, old time movies, and yes, love itself. “Three Billboards” is more of an angry scrawl full of pain, confusion, and black humor.

I think love will win out, but I’d vote for “Three Billboards.”

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