Taking Down the Oscar Frontrunners

And More from the UrbanDaddy 2018 Academy Awards Survey

Photo: Getty Images

As you might've heard from someone, anyone on this here internet, the 90th Academy Awards are going down Sunday, hosted by the increasingly likable Jimmy Kimmel. And while nothing can top last year's envelope fiasco (aka, The PwC Brain Fart Heard 'Round the World), it still promises to be a pretty eventful night, if only because it's one of the only Oscars in recent memory with no clear frontrunner for Best Picture (and because there's bound to be some, err, particularly pointed political humor). 

So with that in mind, we sent out a survey to our writers, to get a sense of their favorite underdogs, their least-favorite frontrunners and the person they'd most like to see win, exclusively based on his or her potential speech...

For reference: here are the odds we used to determine frontrunners and underdogs.

1. Write a takedown of the frontrunner of your choice.

Joe Eichner: I don't think it's a coincidence that the two frontrunners for Best Picture this year (Three Billboards and The Shape of Water) are the two films I have no desire to see. And, if you'll excuse my ageism, I think it's because they're movies by, starring, and for old people marketed as movies that are somehow "of the moment." (At least Darkest Hour and The Post know what they are.) It's like when your parents got on Facebook and thought it was cool but you'd already moved on to Instagram. 

Cait MunroThis piece of writing articulates my problems with The Shape of Water far better than I ever could. Though perhaps the fish sex movie is the Best Picture winner that the year 2017 deserves. 

Hadley Tomicki: Hands down, without question, Dunkirk deserves the Oscar for Best Sound Editing. But Best Sound Mixing? Dream on, Dunkirk, dream on...

Thompson Brandes: There’s a part in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri where an openly racist police officer marches over to a local advertisement firm, smashes the door in, and beats the living hell out of its owner with a pistol and nightstick before tossing him out of a second-story window. And then, here’s what happens to that police officer: nothing. He just gets fired. (So politely even, that he can’t even tell if he’s actually fired or not.)

That was my first “What the fuck is this movie about?” moment during Three Billboards, and I had a few more by the story’s end (which, I should add, is a remarkable WTF moment in its own right).

Najib Benuoar: My case against the frontrunner for Best Animated Short, Dear Basketball: DO NOT LET KOBE BRYANT WIN. As a lifelong Sacramento Kings fan I should realize I'm just wasting my digital breath here, but I'll be damned if just sit idly by and don't protest this travesty. This is supposed to be Sacramento's night. Get Kobe's smug face all the way the hell out of here. Frontrunner? Who is running this awards ceremony, the same refs that rigged the 2002 Western Conference Finals Game 6...? COME. TF. ON. 

Geoff Rynex: Gary Oldman was fine in Darkest Hour. He did his usual Gary Oldman thing of sinking completely into his role, this time with the assistance of an amount of make up that made him almost unrecognizable. But this was nothing transcendent. It was a by-the-numbers performance for a by-the-numbers movie. Oldman probably gets points deducted for the fact that there’s an argument to be made that he wasn’t even the best actor to play Churchill in the last couple years. He probably edges out Lithgow, but not by a lot.

Sam Eichner: If the Academy awards Gary Oldman for delivering a series of bombastic speeches in a fat suit with a cigar it will be the darkest hour of the Oscars. This is a joke I will be retweeting on Twitter throughout the evening Sunday. 

2. If you could pick one person or movie to nominate that wasn't recognized by the Academy, who/what would you choose and why?

Cait MunroThe Florida Project was so beautiful and unexpected and easily Best Picture material, were the Academy a little more open-minded. Happy to see that Willem Dafoe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but I think it deserved way more attention than it got. 

Geoff Rynex: I would have liked to see Logan tossed into the mix for Best Picture since the field is so wide and since the Academy left the tenth nomination slot open. There’s something to be said for the quiet ambition and all-in seriousness of the final chapter in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine story. Take away the claws and the (incredible) action sequences, and you’ve still got an interesting existential road movie, and a fine grace note for a character who, for better or worse, defined the modern era of the comic blockbuster (and thus, the film industry as a whole as it now functions).

Thompson Brandes: I would’ve liked to have seen Lakeith Stanfield get nominated for about two, three, five more awards than he did.

Sam Eichner: David Lowery, who made the transcendently beautiful love story called A Ghost Story, is the best director of the year, by a laughable margin. The movie redefines the ghost story while paying homage to it, transforming the frivolous Hollywood notion of "haunting" into a weapon with which to argue for the immortality of the soul. It's a film whose central action is inaction, an hour and a half of waiting; and yet it's never, ever boring. It teaches you how to watch it as you watch it. The Academy will likely award Guillermo del Toro because of his "craft"; The Shape of Water, which I found to be offensively dull, is nominated for 13 awards, which includes almost every technical category. But nobody exemplified the craft of directing better that Lowery, whose film has a grammar all its own—from the sound design, to the camera's point of view, to the devastating way in which he shows the passage of time. A Ghost Story rises to the ineffable level of poetry; the rest of the movies this year are strong prose. 

Joe Eichner: Everything about Good Time—a movie that's, compared to the above, frankly too cool (and too subtlypolitical) for the Oscars. Give Robbert Pattison Best Actor. The Safdie brothers for Director. Talia Webster AND Jennifer Jason Leigh for Best Supporting Actress. Buddy Durress for Best Supporting Actor. And that acid trip monologue alone should earn an original screenplay nom. As I've told friends, this movie is like an arthouse Crank. 

3. Make the case for your favorite Oscars underdog.

Najib Benuoar: My favorite Oscars underdog is Sacramento. My city has always been considered an underdog, but if Lady Bird wins, we win. (Also, if you're detecting a theme, it is very on purpose that I'm working Sacramento into each entry BECAUSE WE OUT HERE. LET'S GOOO.  *B'KAWW!! *CONTINUES TO MAKE LOUD VAGUELY BIRD-LIKE SOUNDS *)

Cait Munro: Get Out is probably not technically an underdog, though it's also not a frontrunner, especially given the fact that, apparently, a number of Oscar voters haven't even seen it. I think it was the smartest, strangest, most subversive and definitely most timely picture of the year, bar none. I will hear no dissenting opinions on this, and if it doesn't win I will be very angry. By this point in the night, I will also probably be very drunk and will yell some things about racism and old white men. These things will be true, but my friends will be very tired of hearing me say them. Moral of the story: maybe don't watch the Oscars with me.

Sam Eichner: Phantom Thread has no chance of winning best picture. I don't even really think it should. Even if I think it's the best movie nominated, it's not my favorite movie nominated (that's Lady Bird) and it's not the movie that best (and most effectively ) captures our current moment, and therefore deserves the win (that would be—no, not Three BillboardsGet Out). But I do think Paul Thomas Anderson deserves the win for Best Director (as of this writing, he's at 80:1). Phantom Thread was the last Oscar movie I saw this year, and it was a reminder that this dude's movies are just on another level; Jordan Peele, who I think is the second-most deserving in this category, is dwarfed by comparison. PTA, a filmmaker obsessed with his craft, made a movie about obsession and craft starring a person obsessed with his craft who played a person obsessed with his craft—while also making one of the most interesting, specific and poignantly funny love stories of his time. He should've won for There Will Be Blood, which will always be his masterpiece. But I'd be happy if the Academy made it up to him here.

Joe Eichner: I'm pretty sure Get Out is the favorite for Best Original Screenplay. But Lady Bird is the best written thing in the category. This isn't to take anything away from Get Out, it's just to say that writing is only one aspect of what makes that movie great (it's much better directed than Lady Bird, and more interesting visually, and should probably win Best Picture). Lady Bird, on the other hand, almost wholly relies on writing—its details, its specificity, its voice—to take it from a run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story to a hilarious and touching movie about family, artistic ambition and class.

Kelly Larson: Wait, The Boss Baby is a Best Animated Feature underdog? How did I wake up one morning, smile at the sun and tell myself it was going to be a great day while the world was simultaneously shitting on the finest Alec Baldwin-helmed portrait of a baby businessman of our generation? 

Sometimes I accidentally answer my own questions.

Thompson Brandes: Daniel Day-Lewis is suffering from a common case of the LeBrons—exhausted to the point of an underdog, but probably still the MVP.

Geoff Rynex: There’s a passage in a J.D. Salinger story I’ve always loved. It describes a renowned poet navigating social situations with a younger crowd of strangers at a party he’s brought to by his anxious young lover:

“Nothing he said or did during the evening even faintly smacked of performance. He simply was a great man whose greatness had been cornered at a dinner party, and who fought his way out not with theatrical aphorisms or with boorish taciturnity, but—generously, laboriously—with himself. It was a great evening. If not everyone actually knew it, everyone at least felt it.” 

Lady Bird should win Best Picture. And it’s not about striking a symbolic blow for #metoo, although that’d be a nice bonus result. It’s about the fact that Greta Gerwig made something new and inarticulable without sacrificing relatability or familiarity. Lady Bird winning would be striking a blow for making more original stories that do the noble work of moving viewers using a toolbox consisting only of people living their lives and telling those simple stories from a singular perspective. Lady Bird fought its way out not with magical realism or outsize set pieces or historical gravitas, but—warmly, subtly, with itself. That should be rewarded.

4. Which major category-nominated movie did you not see and/or have no interest in seeing? What prompted this reaction?

Joe Eichner: I really, really don't want to see The Shape of Water. I bet it's got merit. I bet the fish fucking is kind of interesting. Go Sally Hawkins. But at the end of the day, I just don't care

Thompson Brandes: The Post. It just feels like a movie I’ve already watched a few times without ever having seen it.

Geoff Rynex: I have no interest in seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I don’t really know why. I’m not even sure I’ve seen a full trailer. But in my mind, it’s a Coen Brothers movie not affiliated with the Coen Brothers, and I can’t imagine that being good. I’m sure I’m wrong. I don’t care.

Cait Munro: I haven't seen Three Billboards. I kind of want to see it but my boyfriend doesn't and his is the computer we use for all of our illegal movie downloading endeavors, so who knows. (I am too poor and too lazy to go to the actual movies.) Also, I'm aware this is an unpopular opinion, but I kind of don't like Frances McDormand. I think it's because I've never forgiven her for how overbearing she was as the mom in Almost Famous. Don't @ me.

Hadley TomickiPhantom Thread. I will never see it. That way I can perpetually always need to catch up with Daniel Day-Lewis’s latest film. Because once you finally see it, that’s it. No more Day-Lewis for you.

Sam Eichner: I actually saw every Best Picture nominee this year but wish that I could go back in time and un-see Darkest Hour, which is less a movie than a series of parliamentary addresses, dimly lit rooms and unsmoked cigars. 

5. Who would you most like to win, based on potential acceptance speech/shenanigans alone?

Kelly Larson: Sadly, I haven’t seen Three Billboards yet. But I have seen Iron Man 2Seven Psychopaths and Sam Rockwell’s 2018 Golden Globes speech. Ignore how many volumes those first two things speak of me and try to focus on that last part for now. Good speech. Funny speech. Good and funny enough for me to demand a Best Supporting Actor encore on Sunday, if for no other reason than to see if he says the word “dick” in front of Oprah again.

Joe Eichner: Praying that Sufjan wins for "Mystery of Love" and, as the song plays, he pulls a Chalamet and dead-eyes the audience with a tearful stare. 

Geoff Rynex: Jordan Peele winning director would be interesting only because I think we’ve barely begun to see his range and I have no idea what direction he’d take his speech in (he’d also be the first-ever black winner for best director). Gary Oldman though, even though I don’t think he should win, would make for a great speech. He’s an irrepressibly candid dude who famously doesn’t give a fuck. Who knows what kind of results that could produce in such a culturally loaded year. 

Thompson BrandesJordan Peele.

Hadley Tomicki: Jordan Peele. Because in this scenario in my head, I imagine Key being there too, and in character.

Cait Munro: Jordan Peele or Greta Gerwig. I wish there was a way I could have Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, like in that exceedingly charming Vanity Fair cover story, but alas.

Sam Eichner: I'll tell you who I wouldn't want to win based on acceptance speech alone: Greta Gerwig. Her breathless, cloying sincerity is too much for me. It makes me viscerally uncomfortable. If she wins (which I hope she does for Original Screenplay), I'll happily enjoy her acceptance speech from the other room. 

6. What are you most looking forward to that has nothing to do with an actual award?

Cait Munro: The FASHUN. If I'm being honest, I'm looking forward to it much more than anything involving any actual award.

Joe Eichner: PwC jokes re: last year's envelope mix-up. 

Najib Benouar: Looking forward to seeing how many times we can get Sacramento mentioned during the broadcast. This will probably be the best chance we ever get. I don't care if Jimmy Kimmel uses it for multiple punchlines. Let's run up the numbers. All Sacramentions is good Sacramentions. (TM)Ed Goldman, whose long-time local magazine column on the city's goings-on was entitled Sacramentions.)

Sam Eichner: I'm looking forward to Chalamet-ing in front of my TV when Sufjan Stevens plays "Mysteries of Love" in a backwards cap and/or angel costume.

Hadley Tomicki: Jimmy Kimmel. And the dresses. Always the dresses.

Geoff Rynex: The lack of Stranger Things kids. They’re not invited to this, right? 

7. Give us your hottest one-sentence Oscars take.

Sam Eichner: Meryl Streep should win Best Actress for The Post.

Hadley Tomicki: Wow, we almost forgot the motion picture industry is still dominated by pervy white men.

Joe EichnerPhantom Thread is the most overrated movie of the year—it's like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but with louder toast.

Geoff Rynex: None of the #metoo-related jokes are going to go over.

Thompson Brandes: Lady Bird or—

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