By Dan Urda (@Eagles_Dan88)
If you listened to the latest Philly Fast Break podcast, you heard Sean admit to not being too familiar with the films that are represented in this year’s Oscar nominations. First off, if you did not listen to that mailbag podcast, do so right now, it is great. But while Sean has terrific thoughts on everything from LeBron potentially coming to the Sixers to the Phillies 2018 outlook, Oscar talk is where I come in.
Off the bat, I will admit that the Oscars are stupid. It is Hollywood’s way of patting itself on the back, a room full of people whose idea of their own importance is usually much larger than their actual importance. Every year people get angry that their favorite film was not nominated, sometimes rightfully so, and many winners don’t stand the test of time. In the last 15 years, The Artist and Crash have both won the Oscar for Best Picture. Just think about that for a second.
But I love movies, and following the awards circuit is part of my obsession with the film industry as a whole. In the past, I have made money off the event as well, as sportsbooks post odds for each category. Unfortunately, in recent years there have been very few actual races, meaning the favorite is juiced extremely high and there is little value in betting on them. As you will see in this column, that is the case with most of the awards this year, but I will do my best to seek out some value.
However, unlike recent years, this column is less about betting on the Oscars and more about just discussing the categories. If you have the passion for movies that I do, I always welcome film discussion on Twitter @Eagles_Dan88. Hot and cold takes are welcome. On to the categories:
The Ones You Don’t Care About:
I have contributed to this site in various forms for a few years now, and I know the audience. I know that an Oscar column in general is pushing it, but you certainly do not care about some of the lesser known categories. So rather than spend paragraphs talking about sound editing and live action short films, I figured I would just mention some good bets and some fun things to look for.
As I said, there are very few actual races this year, so most of the lines are astronomical. I think there is value in Dekalb Elementary to win Best Live Action Short Film. The subject matter, a school shooting, is extremely prominent at the moment, and that will absolutely impact the voting. The odds seem pretty good to me at -300. Also, I do expect the Kobe Bryant documentary, Dear Basketball, to win for Best Animated Short. This one currently has odds of -400, so you won’t get rich off these bets, but they should start your night off in the green.
There are two legitimate toss-ups that I am actually somewhat excited to see who wins. For Best Original Song, the winner will either be Remember Me (-175), from Coco, or This is Me (+125), from The Greatest Showman. I think there is some value in the dog here. First off, This is Me is awesome. The song is such a banger that it was used in Olympic promotions. Secondly, hot take: I am a little tired of Pixar films. Sure, most of them are good movies, but I don’t like how recently they just have to put out a film and they automatically win Oscars (Brave beating out Wreck-it-Ralph years ago still angers me).
The only downside is sometimes stuffy voters do not want to vote for the song because they don’t like the film, and The Greatest Showman is not liked by many critics, despite being a huge hit and a crowd pleaser. Still, ill take it at plus money.
Finally, the category of Best Documentary is extremely interesting. The favorite at -400 is Faces Places, a delightful film about director Agnes Varda’s trip around France with her photographer. That description does not do it justice. However, Icarus, about Russian doping in Olympic sports, might be too topical for voters to ignore. You can argue that at +375, there is legitimate value here.
Still, I am rooting hard for Faces Places. If Varda wins at age 89, it would make her the oldest Oscar winner of all time. She is awesome, and seeing her accept the award could be one of the moments of the night. I will not be betting on this, but it is something to watch for during the show. Fun fact, it is widely believed that screenwriter James Ivory, who is also 89, is going to win the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Agnes Varda is 8 days older than him! There is a chance, depending on the order of the awards, that Ivory wins, becomes the oldest Oscar winner of all time, and holds that title for about 15 minutes.
War for the Planet of the Apes for Best Visual Effects: -125
A Fantastic Woman for Best Foreign Language Film: -185
The Six Major Awards:
Realistically, the casual filmgoer cares more about these six categories than any other. wo of those categories, Best Actor and Best Director, have stone cold locks to win. Guillermo Del Toro is going to win Best Director for The Shape of Water (more on this film later). Gary Oldman is going to win Best Actor for The Darkest Hour. While neither movie is an all-timer, both of these film veterans brought something special to films that could have been duds without them. While I strongly encourage people to seek out Pan’s Labrynth, by far Del Toro’s best film to date, it is good to see the Academy ready to reward one of the most creative minds in the business. And Gary Oldman is just awesome.
Best Supporting Actress
This just misses being lumped in with the “locks” I mentioned above. Allison Janney is going to win this for I, Tonya; she has won all of the major awards leading up to this one and there is no reason to think that won’t continue. I just don’t understand how this became the runaway choice. Between Janney and Lady Bird’s Laurie Metcalf, there are many similarities between both actresses and their respective roles. Both played the mother of the strong, eccentric female lead character. Both actresses are extremely well respected, but known more for their work outside of the silver screen; Janney is a television veteran and Metcalf has built a remarkable career on the stage.
It is too bad that this was likely the only chance for both of them to win an Oscar and it had to happen in the same year. Janney is projected to win, but I found Metcalf’s performance to be more memorable. I found her character to be real, while Janney, who was hysterical don’t get me wrong, was more of a caricature. Oh well, I do think there is an ever so slight chance of an upset, but in all likelihood, Allison Janney will add an Oscar to her mantle. At -1000 though, there is no value betting on her.
Best Supporting Actor
There is heavy chalk here as well, as Sam Rockwell is widely expected to win Oscar gold for his work as the dim-witted, racist police officer in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That film, which we will discuss later, has faced a lot of backlash as of late, and while it doesn’t seem to appear that the backlash will trickle down into this category, it is at least something to think about.
Rockwell is a very respected character actor. My issue is this probably isn’t even a top 5 role for him. If you have not seen Moon, finish this column and seek it out immediately (editor’s note: now available on Netflix). Just pretend that the voice of the AI on his spacecraft isn’t Kevin Spacey, if that will make you feel better. I do expect Rockwell to win this award, but keep an eye on William Dafoe; like Rockwell, Dafoe is a very well respected supporting actor who has a great body of work, and if voters decide to hold the vileness of Rockwell’s character against him, it is possible that Dafoe pulls the upset. Nothing worth betting on here though.
Another one that could have been listed with the stone cold locks, Frances McDormand is going to win this award. At age 21, Saoirse Ronan now has three nominations, and while she will likely win an Oscar or two in her career, this does not appear to be her year. My vote would have gone to Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water, but for some reason, the fact that I was an extra in The Happening does not get me an Oscar vote. No value here at all.
Now I am going to rant a little bit, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. It has become an annoying trend that in between the time when front-runners start to emerge and the night the Oscars are announced, smear campaigns for certain films start popping up. It happened last year with La La Land and this year it was Three Billboards that felt it the worst. They are usually for nonsense reasons. The ripping of La La land was that it was “too white.” The case against Three Billboards is actually a fairly in-depth one, but much of it is based upon the redemption arc of Sam Rockwell’s character. Whether or not this despicable character deserves redemption is half of the issue, and the other half is how he decides to achieve it.
There have been numerous “Actually, Three Billboards is bad” articles written in the last month, and while the arguments have merit, what is the point of these smear campaigns? I believe that the writer and the director have every right to tell their story about their characters. I fear that in 5 years, any film that does not have a black character, a Hispanic character, a gay character and a trans character is going to be ripped for lack of diversity. Of course at least one of them must be a woman. Oh, and all of those characters have to be strong and well-developed. And a white character can’t be the hero in the end, because we can’t perpetuate the stereotype that the minority characters needed him.
I don’t mean to turn this into a political article, but the diversity issue in films is extremely relevant right now. Three Billboards is being ripped because the characters are stupid, selfish, racist and overall pieces of garbage. But you know what, it is okay for there to be a movie that has characters that are racist pieces of garbage! In no, way, shape, or form does the film glamorize them for being this way, quite the opposite actually. It is beyond annoying that this subtext now goes into deciding if a film is “worthy” of award season praise. If voters liked the film, they should vote for it. If they didn’t, they shouldn’t.
Having said all that, while not being offended or triggered by it, I found Three Billboards to be a solid B, no better, no worse. I would not vote for it to win Best Picture, but only because I did not like it that much, not because I found it problematic. I feel the same way about The Shape of Water. Guys, there is a chance that we are about to have a Best Picture winner where a woman has sex with a fish monster. Yes, the film was beautiful and Del Toro is amazing at what he does. But in one scene, a woman fills her apartment with water, covering the doors with towels, and has underwater sex with a fish monster. She also faces no consequences for the flooding she causes in her building. I can’t get over that.
My favorite film of the Oscar nominees is Get Out, and I think that at +800, it has a legitimate chance to pull off an upset. I like that both of the favorites have issues and neither is a perfect film; these aspects work to Get Out’s advantage. The race aspect can’t be ignored here, and I am sure there will be social justice voters to help its cause. But aside from any exterior motivations, Get Out was just an incredible film that deserved every bit of praise it got. It is poignant, relevant, and incredibly smart. I would not vote for Get Out in order to appear “woke” or because I didn’t like that characters in other films weren’t good people, but I would vote for it because it was the Best Oscar nominated film of 2017.
War for the Planet of the Apes for Best Visual Effects: -125
A Fantastic Woman for Best Foreign Language Film: -185
DeKalb Elementary for Best Live Action Short: -300
Dear Basketball for Best Animated Short: -400
This is Me for Best Original Song: +125
And my long shot, Get Out for Best Picture: +800