Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Oscar Lineup & Predictions 2018

Mar 04 2018 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

For the second year in a row, I’ve managed to screen all the Oscar nominees in all 24 categories before the ceremony – 59 films in total this year.

Likewise, my picks and predictions are included below. I’ve posted this every year since 2012, so you can follow my track record from past years. I’ve been embarrassingly bad the past couple years, but historically done pretty good:

Best Motion Picture of the Year


Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Dark Horse: The Shape of Water

My Favorite: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (from this list), Blade Runner 2049 (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Blade Runner 2049, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Coco

There are some general rules for getting the largest category right. Nine times out of ten Best Picture goes to the top winner of the Producer’s Guild Awards. Nine times out of ten, it is the same film that wins Best Director.

I’m taking a slight risk by breaking those rules this year. Del Toro is considered a lock for Best Director and The Shape of Water won the Producer’s Guild Award in this category. The Shape of Water was leading predictions until quite recently, having to no one’s surprise garnered the most Oscar nominations. However, Three Billboards has been a slow burn since November and has gained rapidly in the past couple weeks, setting up a tight race and potential last minute upset – that frankly I’ve been expecting since November. It’s considered a virtual tie between The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and strangely this may be the closest race on the ballot. So why would I lean towards the underdog?

One, despite historical trends, we’ve seen a lot of Picture/Director splits in recent years (2017: Moonlight/La La Land, 2016: Spotlight/The Revenant, 2014: 12 Years a Slave/Gravity, 2013: Argo/Life of Pi). The sheer statistical improbability of this run (80% of the last 5 years), compared to solely historical trends (~10% of the last 89 years) is astonishing and is a good reason to assume that the shakeup in Academy membership rules over the past few years has made a huge impact on this trend that we might expect to continue.

Two, The Shape of Water is running a much stronger race in the technical categories, versus Three Billboards in the acting categories. Since a large portion of the Academy’s voting body is actors, those films tend to have an edge. Three Billboards‘ win for Outstanding Performance by a Cast at the SAG awards confirms this logic whereas Shape of Water‘s PGA and DGA wins don’t necessarily prove anything similar. Lastly, Three Billboards seems to capture the spirit of the age and follow current issues a little more closely – which is always a plus with how political the Oscars can get.

I’m disappointed to not see Blade Runner 2049 on the list – which proved so much more than a reboot or nostalgia film. A technical masterpiece, deep smart, and thoughtful film, it should have been a serious competitor in no fewer than 8 categories.

Best Achievement in Directing


Will Win: The Shape of Water

Dark Horse: Lady Bird

My Favorite: Greta Gerwig (from this list), Denis Villeneuve [Blade Runner 2049] (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Blade Runner 2049, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Coco

With 93% of precincts reporting: Guillermo del Toro is a lock for Best Director. Three Billboards‘ McDonagh is not even nominated here – even though this category matches up with the Best Picture winner 90% of the time. It’s exceedingly rare that a Best Picture winner would miss a nomination in this category, but actually it last happened in just 2013 (Argo for Picture, Life of Pi for Director).

That said, with his toughest competition not on the ballot, no one is betting against del Toro. With the most total nominations and as a strong contender in several technical categories, The Shape of Water definitely speaks to his skill at pulling all the separate elements together. All the end-of-year praise for Lady Bird makes Greta Gerwig your obvious runner-up, but not a likely spoiler. The popularity of that film seems to have peaked a bit too soon.

After last year’s nomination for Arrival and a vast improvement in his performance with Blade Runner 2049, one would’ve expected to see Denis Villeneuve’s name in strong contention here.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role


Will Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Dark Horse: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) or Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)

My Favorite: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Idris Elba (Molly’s Game)

Like Best Director, there’s likely to be no surprises across any of the four acting categories. Your ballot will probably match that of most of your pool, and this probably isn’t the place to get ahead by picking a dissenting option.

When the opportunity exists, acting Oscars seem to have a penchant for going to a role that includes a brilliant makeup job which transforms a famous actor or actress into a historical figure. Think Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady for a recent notable example. That film expectedly won for Best Makeup & Hairstyling, and then surprised everyone when Streep took home a Best Actress statue as well.

Similarly, expect Darkest Hour to net both awards this year – just don’t expect the accompanying surprise. Although Timothée Chalamet gave a highly praised performance in Call Me By Your Name and perennial favorite Daniel Day-Lewis may gain a solid bump from his announcement that he’s retiring after Phantom Thread, Oldman’s look-alike performance as Winston Churchill is simply one you know will win as soon as you see it.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role


Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Dark Horse: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

My Favorite: Frances McDormand (from this list), Brooklynn Prince, [The Florida Project] (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project), Jennifer Lawrence (mother!)

You’ll probably notice a pattern shortly in that all the likely acting winners match the SAG award winners. This should be expected given the Academy’s largest branch is the actors branch, and that produces fairly similar voting bodies. Granted, the nominees from both organizations were only an exact match in the Best Lead Actor category, so there’s slightly more ground for an upset going forward.

That said, expect Frances McDormand here. McDormand’s performance was actually just one of three SAG Awards taken home by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, also including Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture – which is a good indicator for Best Picture, let alone the acting categories.

As the most nominated film of the year and long-time Best Picture forerunner, The Shape of Water‘s Sally Hawkins would be your runner-up. Unfortunately, since the Academy tends to under-represent outstanding child actors, Brooklynn Prince is not even in contention.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Dark Horse: William Dafoe, The Florida Project

My Favorite: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Jared Leto, Blade Runner 2049

Sam Rockwell is the clear front-runner for the same reasons as Frances McDormand – despite being nominated against co-star Woody Harrelson. This is a strange move because it would typically be expected to split votes. So far, it’s paid off as Rockwell withstood this at the SAG awards and is expected to here too. One of the two must arguably be the lead actor in the film, so there’s certainly a small bit of category fraud going on here.

William Dafoe and Richard Jenkins both have ardent supporters should the Three Billboards vote suddenly decide to split. Christopher Plummer’s performance is also exceedingly notable since he was recast in Kevin Spacey’s former role just three weeks before the film’s release – and in no small part either!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Dark Horse: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

My Favorite: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Even the nominations for this category were fairly predictable – and the winner should be too.

Allison Janney picked up the SAG award in this category, and is widely expected to repeat at the Oscars. Playing a recognizable real person often helps in these categories and Janney is the only one of the Supporting Actress nominees to check that box.

Best Writing, Original Screenplay


Will Win: Lady Bird

Dark Horse: Get Out

My Favorite: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: mother!

A lot of people seems to guess Get Out, to a degree where it’s tempting to just go along. Their reasoning is not entirely clear to me. It’s possible they’re making that pick largely because the WGA awarded it in this category amidst a similar pool of nominees (I, Tonya instead of Three Billboards).

That alone does not have me convinced. The Academy does follow the WGA’s lead on many occasions, but it’s not one of the stronger indicators. My guess is they’ll pass over the novelty factor of Get Out for something a little deeper. At the same time this category is close to a five-way tie and none of the choices would truly surprise me.

It seems that Academy voters like Get Out and Lady Bird enough they wouldn’t let them leave empty handed. This would be basically the only chance that either has to leave with a win, so I lean slightly toward those two. Of those two, Lady Bird is much more Academy friendly.

Should The Shape of Water or Three Billboards start to rule the night – as is quite possible – don’t be surprised to see either snatch up this category on the way thru.

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay


Will Win: Call Me by Your Name

Dark Horse: Molly’s Game

My Favorite: Molly’s Game (from this list), Blade Runner 2049 (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Blade Runner 2049

Adapted screenplay is by far the less competitive writing field this year. It includes three films with no other nominations, though I would argue that Molly’s Game and The Disaster Artist are the two most deserving nominees.

That leaves Call Me by Your Name as the likely winner – matching the WGA pick as they did with the nominees. Call Me by Your Name probably won’t win anywhere else, having only a slight chance in the Best Actor race. In the exceedingly unlikely event of an upset, you’d have to assume it would be Aaron Sorkin who pulls it off.

How you don’t nominate Blade Runner 2049, one of the most thoughtfully artistic scripts of all time, I’m not quite sure…

Best Achievement in Cinematography


Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Dark Horse: The Shape of Water

My Favorite: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Florida Project, Loveless

If you’ve been following Roger Deakins’ career, you know he’s been nominated in this category 14 times without a single win. You may also know he’s been nominated for this award 9 times in the past 11 years and roughly a third of his films have been nominated for this award since his first nomination in the category (The Shawshank Redemption).

The Academy’s Cinematographer’s branch has clearly been pushing to get him on top of the ballot with all these nominations. I don’t think his most recent nominations are his best work, and probably lost to better ones. However, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t just the best cinematography of the year, it’s among the best of all time. This should be his year.

The only real chance for a spoiler would be with The Shape of Water‘s interesting color palette and dry-for-wet technique. Heavily nominated and a favorite in many technical categories, that could possibly carry over here.

Best Achievement in Production Design


Will Win: The Shape of Water

Dark Horse: Blade Runner 2049

My Favorite: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

As we enter the technical categories in full, things start to get a little less clear cut. Period pieces, are often in play here – and technically all the nominees qualify as just that.

The Shape of Water is expected to do well in the technical categories, so I’ll go ahead and say it starts that run here. Sci-fi epic Blade Runner 2049 will also be in very heavy contention – so feel free to flip a coin if you wish.

Sarah Greenwood is typically a big contender in this category – and you could expect the same from a film like Beauty and the Beast. I shy away from that only because she’s competing with her own nomination for Darkest Hour and that’s got to prove rather harmful when there are two other major players on the ballot.

Best Achievement in Costume Design


Will Win: Phantom Thread

Dark Horse: Beauty and the Beast

My Favorite: Victoria & Abdul

Should Have Been Nominated: The Greatest Showman

Jacqueline Durran would usually be considered a solid choice in this category and Beauty and the Beast could have been predicted to be in contention even a full year ago.

However, much like with Best Production Design, being nominated against yourself for Beauty and the Beast and Darkest Hour probably isn’t helpful.

Furthermore, Phantom Thread is a film about creating clothes, so former winner Mark Bridges (The Artist) is highly favored instead.

Best Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling


Will Win: Darkest Hour

Dark Horse: Wonder

My Favorite: Darkest Hour

This is another no-brainer choice. Wonder is a heartfelt film where the entire plot totally depends on Jacob Tremblay’s facial transformation and executes that at the highest technical level.

This sounds like a winner, but unfortunately it was released in the same year another makeup team was tasked with doing similar work on another lead, Gary Oldman. The latter flawlessly made him an exact look-alike of Winston Churchill – which is really quite an unimaginable thing.

That alone is enough to remove any doubts, but when you consider that Darkest Hour had double the nominations of Wonder and Victoria & Abdul combined, it’s quite possible many voters didn’t even have time to screen it’s competition. Oldman’s unrecognizable performance makes the makeup team look even better and makes a repeat of The Iron Lady‘s Best Lead/Best Makeup & Hairstyling wins more than likely.

Best Achievement in Film Editing


Will Win: The Shape of Water

Dark Horse: Dunkirk

My Favorite: Dunkirk (from this list), Blade Runner 2049 (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Blade Runner 2049, Detroit, mother!

Dunkirk is another major player in the technical categories. The marketing push for heavy awards consideration to that effect should not be underestimated. It’s a film that absolutely lives or dies on its editing. If the Academy enjoyed the film, they absolutely must vote it in here. If they were as confused by it as many claim, then not so much.

Many claim this category is a strong indicator of a Best Picture winner. I don’t necessarily agree with that line of thinking in general. I don’t think Dunkirk is a shoe-in here, so I do lean towards the two Best Picture frontrunners, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards. Of this contingent that doesn’t go for Dunkirk you can expect them to fall in line for The Shape of Water – praised more for its technical achievements versus acting-heavy Three Billboards.

Personally, I can’t pass up a film that entraps you as much as Dunkirk or a nearly three-hour marathon that stays as engaging as Blade Runner 2049 for consideration in this category.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing


Will Win: Dunkirk

Dark Horse: Baby Driver

My Favorite: Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk‘s heavy Oscar marketing campaign is most likely to pay off in the two sound categories. War films and Christopher Nolan films traditionally do well here. So, check both those boxes on the way past.

Sound is another huge part of Blade Runner so I’m hoping that voter’s saw (heard?) that and it’s not as overlooked as expected.

There’s some uncertainty in both sound categories every year because no one is sure what percentage of Academy voters understand the difference between editing and mixing. However, the nominees and rational match up in both categories this year, so I don’t believe that will be as much of an issue as in years past.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing


Will Win: Dunkirk

Dark Horse: Baby Driver

My Favorite: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Greatest Showman

Although there is a difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, I don’t feel the need to change my rational in this category given this year’s nominees. I did think the mix on The Greatest Showman was infinitely better than the edit – and, as a musical, that easily could have been recognized here.

Baby Driver is heavily reliant on music, and that certainly keeps it in contention for these races, but I don’t think Dunkirk will leave empty-handed, nor do I think it will win outside of the sound categories.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects


Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Dark Horse: War for the Planet of the Apes

My Favorite: Kong: Skull Island, War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Have Been Nominated: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Life

I have a longstanding beef with the Academy for getting this one wrong year after year – though they pleasantly surprised me by voting Ex Machina into this spot two years ago.

Surprisingly, Kong: Skull Island has the best effects of the bunch, followed very closely by War for the Planet of the Apes. The latter could win, but it’s safe to say that with no other nominations, the Academy won’t consider either as seriously as they should.

Blade Runner 2049 is your remaining contender. It’s quite deserving from a quality standpoint, even if the quantity of VFX is slightly less complex.

Best Achievement in Music, Original Score


Will Win: The Shape of Water

Dark Horse: Phantom Thread

My Favorite: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Blade Runner 2049

By now you’ve probably noted a distinct lack of wins for The Shape of Water in my predictions. This is a category where you can expect it to make a strong showing with Alexander Desplat as its powerhouse composer.

I’m a Desplat fan too, but I was immediately struck by the score for Three Billboards myself, as well as Blade Runner. Some may claim the latter borrows too much from the Vangelis score of the original, but by that logic, John Williams shouldn’t be in contention either (unless it’s for The Post).

Best Achievement in Music, Original Song


Will Win: Coco

Dark Horse: The Greatest Showman

My Favorite: Coco

Should Have Been Nominated: Beauty and the Beast

The music branch usually finds some good material for this category, both in terms of solid films that aren’t represented in other categories and the nominated tracks themselves. This year is no exception.

Ultimately the Academy tends to choose a song that encapsulates the message of its film and creates a cathartic moment within that narrative. This year, that moment is undoubtedly “Remember Me” from Coco. “This is Me” and “Stand Up for Something” would be solid picks in any other year – both are solid musically and sum up the somewhat political messages of their respective film.

Musicals are typically in play here as well. The three original songs from Beauty and the Beast were released long before awards season and didn’t quite make the cut with such a strong field. For comparison, The Greatest Showman is a musical released in awards season, and Coco, which is inherently about music, was out just before.

Best Documentary Feature


Will Win: Icarus

Dark Horse: Faces Places

My Favorite: Icarus

Should Have Been Nominated: The Farthest: Voyager in Space, Voyeur, Trophy

Two documentaries seem to consistently top most people’s list – Icarus and Faces Places.

Admittedly, Faces Places officially has the odds in its favor. I’m not entirely sure I understand why. As the only limited-release/foreign film on the list, it seems at a disadvantage the same way last year’s Fire at Sea was.

The Academy usually awards a documentary about art (like Faces Places) or a major issue of injustice (Last Men in Aleppo, Strong Island or to a lesser extent Icarus). Though Last Men in Aleppo and Abacus: Small Enough to Jail might have fit the latter once upon a time, it seems we may now be a few years past that time (Last Men in Aleppo is very much a rehash of last year’s Documentary Short winner, “The White Helmets“).

I’m going with Icarus because it seems a little more timely with its handling of Russia – both because of political issues and its direct effect on the Olympics within just the past two weeks. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a thriller as much as a documentary – making it both the most interesting and accidentally giving it the highest stakes too.

Best Foreign Language Film


Will Win: A Fantastic Woman

Dark Horse: The Insult or The Square

My Favorite: The Insult

Should Have Been Nominated: First They Killed My Father

A Fantastic Woman and The Insult both have a current political bent that should lend them an edge in the same way The Salesman grabbed a last minute boost from the travel ban last year. The Square is inherently about art, rather weird, and completely non-narrative in a way the Academy would probably award otherwise.

These three films are also the ones that received the most press in Hollywood – which further confirms suspicions. Ultimately, the thematic nature of A Fantastic Woman is what all the pundits agree will win this race.

Best Animated Feature


Will Win: Coco

Dark Horse: not possible

My Favorite: Coco

Should Have Been Nominated: The LEGO Batman Movie, Despicable Me 3

Pixar used to be the favorite every single year. After taking several years off from the work of producing absolute masterpieces, Coco is not only a return to form, but one of the best Pixar films to date. Widely considered the best animated feature of the year, I’d even place it in my top three of 2017 overall – and I’m typically not an animation fan.

I find no need to call a dark horse in this race, although Loving Vincent‘s hand-drawn oil on canvas approach is certainly one of the most innovative and physically impressive animation styles imaginable.

Best Short Film, Animated


Will Win: Dear Basketball

Dark Horse: Lou

My Favorite: Negative Space

The three shorts categories are notoriously hard to predict. As with the feature category, the animated winner is Pixar 50% of the time. “Lou” is the Pixar entry and therefore a fairly safe bet should you wish to take it. It did play before Cars 3 theatrically, not Coco, so there will be no added boost from the love lavished on Pixar in other categories this year.

Dear Basketball” is actually considered the favorite. This is a category where a film could be carried by the name recognition of producer and star Kobe Bryant and composer John Williams alone, but the piece is also a moving tribute that truly feels like a winner in its own right.

As someone who is not really a basketball fan, I lean towards “Negative Space” for storytelling and note the amazing lifelike quality of the CG 3D animation in “Garden Party.”

Best Short Film, Live Action


Will Win: Dekalb Elementary

Dark Horse: The Silent Child

My Favorite: The Eleven O’Clock or DeKalb Elementary

If it’s even possible to reliably guess this category from year-to-year, it’s only because the Academy tends to go with the most heartfelt option. That would be “The Silent Child” – which agrees with many predictions. Of course, it’s never a surprise when the short categories don’t go according to the place, so runner-up “DeKalb Elementary” could be poised to pick up the prize.

I would have totally guessed “The Silent Child” two weeks ago, but I argue that recent events sparked voters to make a last minute political play favoring the most dramatic and edge-of-your-seat entry, “DeKalb Elementary.” This is much like when last year’s travel ban probably pushed, in part, the wins for The Salesman and “The White Helmets” (neither recipient was in attendance because of the ban).

The Eleven O’Clock” is clever enough to warrant inclusion in my top picks as a great premise that did not initially go in the direction that I had hoped, but ends up someplace better.

Best Documentary, Short Subject


Will Win: Edith+Eddie

Dark Horse: Traffic Stop

My Favorite: Knife Skills

There seems to be an unlikely consensus forming around “Edith+Eddie” – which strangely makes this a simple pick. Obviously, there’s still a good deal of uncertainty as there always will be in this category, but if everyone chooses the same option, you won’t lose any ground in your pools by following suit.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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