Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The 2018 Best Picture slate doesn't look that different than it has in past years, despite the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' much ballyhooed membership boost in an effort to increase diversity and redefine what is considered an Oscar-worthy movie.
The academy, which bestows the Oscars, frequently recognizes war epics such as nominees Darkest Hour and Dunkirk, European romances such as Call Me by Your Name and Phantom Thread, coming-of-age stories like Lady Bird and celebrations of the media and its principles like The Post.
Get Out and The Shape of Water are notable additions this year because they are stellar genre movies that might have been overlooked before. The fact that they tap into the zeitgeist of racial tensions and government mistrust many people are experiencing today also could have contributed to their nominations. Much like the Best Picture front-runner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, these are not stories that have been told before.
The academy should've made room for the comic memoirs The Big Sick and The Disaster Artist, the superheroine blockbuster Wonder Woman, the western Hostiles and the dystopian drama War for the Planet of the Apes. These were fresher and more compelling stories than the by-the-book offerings The Post and Darkest Hour, or gorgeous-looking, but snooze-inducing Phantom Thread.
The Greatest Showman should've gotten recognition, although most critics didn't like it. It is a big-hearted, top hat-tipping homage to the old movie musicals of yesteryear. Most detractors seem to find it old-fashioned, but the film knows what it is and leans into that without apology. Other haters seem irked that it doesn't accurately reflect troublesome details about circus founder P.T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, but this is no biopic and doesn't pretend to be. It's interesting that the same critics who praised last year's Best Picture runner-up La La Land, which was boring and derivative, were so scornful of The Greatest Showman.
Writer-director Martin McDonagh's pitch-black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is most likely to win Best Picture.
The movie -- which has earned the top BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards -- is about Frances McDormand's furious Mildred, who demands justice after the rape and murder of her teenage daughter. When the police don't find and arrest the man who killed her, the mother posts a trio of billboards to shame Sheriff Bill Willoughby -- played by Woody Harrelson -- and his officers into working harder on a case they say is unsolvable. Sam Rockwell plays Jason Dixon, an odious deputy who goes off the rails when Willoughby dies, losing his job with the sheriff's department, then eventually trying to help Mildred.
This movie about an angry female character who takes on an institution is resonating with audiences, critics and awards voters alike during the era of the Women's March, #MeToo and Time's Up movements, when gender inequality and violence against women have gotten unprecedented media attention and support. The timing is perfect.
Three Billboards is competing in the Best Picture category with Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post and The Shape of Water.
Expect Three Billboards actors McDormand and Rockwell -- who have been collecting awards all season for their indelible performances -- to pick up the Oscars for Best Actress and Supporting Actor.
The film's gallows humor is derived mainly from the way Mildred, who has no filter and zero patience, deals with the cops and townspeople, as well as with her own young adult son and ex-husband. It is a raw portrait of grief and guilt that never tries to idealize its characters, not even the dead ones, something that rings very true to life. Mildred is motivated, rude and selfish. McDormand doesn't make her likable or even attempt to, but her portrayal is complicated, authentic and unforgettable. The character feels like a living, breathing, raging human being, not just a creation of fiction.
McDormand's Best Actress rivals for 2018 Oscar glory are Sally Hawkins, who played the lonely mute at the center of The Shape of Water; Margot Robbie, who played disgraced ice skating champion Tonya Harding in I, Tonya; Saoirse Ronan, who played a teen warring with her mother in Lady Bird; and Meryl Streep, who played a principled newspaper publisher in The Post.
Three Billboards leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether the racist and violent character Rockwell plays redeems himself. Rockwell does a masterful job of showing us Dixon's vulnerable side as he interacts with his ignorant and abusive mother -- played by Sandy Martin -- and offers a glimpse on how he came to be the man he is today. He is not a caricature, but dangerous and complex.
Rockwell is competing for Best Supporting Actor with his co-star Harrelson; Willem Dafoe, who played a compassionate motel manager in The Florida Project; Richard Jenkins, who played an open-minded neighbor in The Shape of Water; and Christopher Plummer, who played a heartless billionaire in All the Money in the World.
Cinematic chameleon Gary Oldman -- who also took home BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG awards in recent weeks -- should win the Best Actor trophy for his compelling turn as the blustery, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Wearing prosthetics and clad in detail-perfect period costumes, Oldman delivers Churchill's famous, rousing speeches, making viewers feel as they though they have been transported to the days of World War II. At 59, Oldman has amassed dozens of screen credits in iconic roles where he virtually disappears, including the lead vampire in Bram Stoker's Dracula and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise. The Best Actor Oscar would not just be validation for Oldman's portrayal of Churchill, but also recognition for a unique and respectable body of work.
His fellow nominees are Timothee Chalamet for playing a lovelorn teen in Call Me By Your Name, Daniel Day-Lewis for playing a demanding fashion designer in Phantom Thread, Daniel Kaaluuya for playing a trapped photographer in Get Out and Denzel Washington for playing an idealistic attorney in Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Allison Janney -- another BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG winner -- should be recognized for her performance as the awful, ambitious mother of disgraced ice-skating champion Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. Best known for her witty, charming characters in the TV shows The West Wing and Mom, this role shows a side of Janney many didn't realize existed. Brutal, but hilarious, she steals every scene of I, Tonya she is in.
The other contenders in the category are Mississippi housekeeper Mary J. Blige for Mudbound, Lesley Manville for playing a manipulative sister in Phantom Thread, Laurie Metcalf for playing an overbearing, but loving mom in Lady Bird and Octavia Spencer for playing the heroine's friend and co-worker in The Shape of Water.
Best Director, Screenplay, Writer picks
Guillermo del Toro, whose moody, romantic fantasy The Shape of Water, goes into the competition with a leading 13 nominations, is the front-runner for the Best Director honor after winning the Directors Guild of America title. Billboards helmer McDonagh is not nominated in this Oscar category, so it is the one main slot where voters will probably choose to reward del Toro's fine work. The film, which sees actor Doug Jones transformed through movie magic into an aquatic humanoid, could also pick up awards in numerous technical categories, such as makeup and visual effects.
Nominated alongside del Toro are Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread, Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk and Jordan Peele for Get Out. Gerwig and Peele made history this year as only the fifth woman and fifth black man to be nominated in the category.
Peele is a shoe-in for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. If he wins, he could store his Oscar beside the Writers Guild of America statuette he scored for the script. He is competing with the screenwriters of The Big Sick, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards.
James Ivory, who earned the WGA and BAFTA prizes for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me by Your Name, could also repeat here in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. His poignant, same-sex love story is a Best Picture contender, but a longshot since it hasn't won many other major awards this season. Ivory is up against the scribes behind The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly's Game and Mudbound.
Animation and Music
Coco -- a beautiful, universally praised blockbuster about a young Mexican boy's passion for music and love for his family -- is a lock for Best Animated Film, a title it has taken at the Annies, Golden Globes and BAFTAs. Also shortlisted for the honor are The Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Ferdinand and Loving Vincent.
Coco's ballad "Remember Me" will likely lose in the Best Original Song category to The Greatest Showman's Golden Globe-winning barn-stormer of an anthem to individuality "This is Me." The feel-good movie musical was panned by critics, but has been a huge hit at the box office, amassing a loyal fan-base particularly charmed by its music and message of inclusivity. This might be the chance for the industry to show it some respect after snubbing it.
The other songs nominated are "Mighty River" from Mudbound, "Mystery of Love" from Call Me By Your Name and "Stand Up for Something" from Marshall.
Karen Butler has covered entertainment for UPI since 1997.