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Oscar Predictions, Part 3: The Writing and Directing Categories

Can Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ break out?

Universal Pictures/Ringer illustration

Why do we want our favorites to win Oscars? What does it say about the social contract between artists and their fans, and why is it the Oscars—the most high-profile award that is also decided upon by insiders—that we choose to invest in? The pomp and pageantry of this show in particular—the machine and all of its spinning cogs—accounts for much of it. We’ve been trained to care. Some combination of admiration, adoration, and idolatry defines the Oscar obsessive. But these people are not quite the same as cinephiles. The Oscars is not always a friendly space for them.

Except in the categories we’re focusing on here—this is where the movie nerd is often placated, where the taste-forward devotee can find respite. These categories have given awards to Spike Jonze, Kenneth Lonergan, Diablo Cody, Alfonso Cuarón, Sofia Coppola, John Ridley, Cameron Crowe, Kathryn Bigelow, Alexander Payne, Larry McMurtry, Ang Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Tom Stoppard, Adam McKay, Jonathan Demme, Barry Jenkins, Charlie Kaufman, Jane Campion, and dozens more. The writing and directing awards are cooler, smarter, and more often than not, the winners in those categories tend to reflect the films with the longest-lasting and deepest resonance. Something tells me that will be true this year, too.

Best 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

Poor James Ivory. It appeared the 89-year-old maestro of English repression—who, with producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, created Oscar-worthy films for decades—had grabbed ownership of a historic Oscar factoid. When he was announced as a nominee in January, it seemed as if he had become the oldest nominee ever for his long-gestating adaptation of André Aciman’s novel Call Me by Your Name. (He had always planned to co-direct, but was ultimately replaced by Luca Guadagnino.) It might have been doubly sweet, as this is also a year in which 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, born just 18 months after Ivory, was also nominated. But lo, it was not to be. Documentary Feature nominee Agnès Varda was born just eight days before Ivory, robbing him of this history—if not a statuette. Because Ivory is far and away the front-runner in this—an uncommonly weak—race that is most notable for the inclusion of Logan, a comic book adaptation (albeit a quite good one). An Ivory win would be, in a sense, a career achievement award, and also an adequate acknowledgment of one of the year’s most acclaimed movies. He may not be the oldest nominee, but, I suspect, he’s about to be the oldest winner.

The Prediction: Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory
The Upset Bet: Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out, Jordan Peele
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

This is the single most difficult major category to predict, and its small margins speak directly to the polarity of the race and so much of the year’s Oscar rhetoric. On the one hand, there is Jordan Peele and his financially, culturally resounding social thriller about race and power. On the other, stands Martin McDonagh’s violent polemic about disintegrating American values. One has been praised for its keen observation about this national moment. But which one? The Three Billboards backlash, if that is the right word for it, has been loud. But has it taken hold or been persuasive enough? Likewise, will voters be able to accept a horror movie into their precious club? It hasn’t happened since The Exorcist 44 years ago. Be careful not to take too much stock in strident voices on social media platforms or angry, anonymous voters who share their ballots with publications. Neither should be trusted when money is on the line.

Get Out was given the highest honor by the Writers Guild of America—a strong indicator of the eventual winner—but Three Billboards was ineligible for the WGA award. (And as Variety wrote earlier this year, “Dismissal from the WGA proceedings is never an albatross in the Oscar race. Recent nominees and winners of the Academy’s prize that were excluded from the guild competition include Birdman, Brooklyn, Lion, Room, and The Theory of Everything.”) This is really tough.

I’m going with my gut, and with the movie that people have been watching on repeat on HBO for the past few months: Get Out.

As we broke down the movie on this week’s episode of The Rewatchables, Bill Simmons, Wesley Morris, K. Austin Collins, and I often returned to the little turns of phrase and the subtle insinuations viewers pick up during second and third viewings. (Related: Where’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s nod for Phantom Thread?) Peele’s script isn’t just clever or trenchant—it’s cleverly trenchant. It rewards rewatchers. It creates a world, establishes characters, sets tension, releases with laughs and terror. It is what we talk about when we talk about movie magic. And it will be rewarded for that on Sunday.

The Prediction: Get Out, Jordan Peele
The Upset Bet: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

Best Director

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

Hm. How to write about this category without giving away my Best Picture pick. I’m not sure it’s possible. Regardless, del Toro is a perfect winner for the category, which tends to reward craftsmen and visionaries—and if possible, those who fuse the two. (Let us ignore that time in 2011 when the Academy awarded the prize to Tom Hooper over Darren Aronofsky, the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, and David O. Russell.)

It has been said that a win for Guillermo del Toro would put a cap on a miraculous run for him and his best pals, fellow Mexican filmmakers Alejandro González Iñárritu (winner of two of the past three Oscars in this category) and Alfonso Cuarón, who won for 2013’s Gravity. The winner of this award in four of the past five years has received it as a kind of consolation—their film did not go on to win Best Picture. Could Peele make a bid here along with a screenplay win? It’s plausible. Not probable. But plausible. Still, I think we underestimate just what a juggernaut The Shape of Water truly is. I talked about it in this recent Ringer video conversation. For further context: Only 13 movies in Oscar history have had at least 13 nominations. Ten of the previous 12 films won at least five awards that night. Remember that when del Toro strides to the stage.

The Prediction: The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro
The Upset Bet: Get Out, Jordan Peele