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Oscars 2018: Will an Accused Abuser Win Best Actor Two Years in a Row?

Senior entertainment editor Marlow Stern and senior entertainment writer Kevin Fallon debate the big issues ahead of the Academy Awards, airing March 4 on ABC.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Marlow: We’ve kvetched over who should have been nominated at the Oscars, discussed this year’s biggest controversies (I can’t believe E! is still having Ryan Seacrest host the red carpet), and pondered whether, given its lagging ratings and lack of intrigue this year, the Academy Awards even matter anymore. And now we’ve finally arrived at the actual awards.

Kevin: Marlow, Get Out premiered at Sundance 14 months ago. I have aged seven years during this awards season.

Marlow: It’s been 84 years… Now, part of the reason why the Oscars has been drained of any and all suspense this year is due to the high amount of shoo-in winners. For the last month or so, it’s been a foregone conclusion among awards pundits that Frances McDormand will win Best Actress (her second, after Fargo) for her revenge-seeking Rosie the Riveter in Three Billboards; Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) will dodge controversy, including a domestic abuse allegation and anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments, and get a career statuette in Best Actor for his begging-for-it Churchill biopic; and Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell’s abusive hillbillies will snag gold in I, Tonya and Three Billboards, respectively. Yawn.  

Kevin: The biggest snore! It’s so annoying, too, because, as we mentioned before, there was the most fleeting of moments when it seemed like each of those races were going to be two-way photo finishes, with Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Laurie Metcalf, and Willem Dafoe at one point galloping neck-and-neck alongside those frontrunners. Of course, obvious Oscar night winners is nothing new in increasingly interminable, increasingly consensus award seasons. But while other years have treated us with spectacular speech after spectacular speech from these winners—I mean, Viola Davis was pop culture’s therapist, historian, preacher, and friend all at once last year—this year’s quartet have been pretty lame at the microphone. Save, of course, the always unpredictable firecracker, Frances McDormand.

Marlow: Look, I love Frances McDormand—that time we talked about dropping LSD remains one of my most fun movie-star chats ever—but none of the aforementioned frontrunners would be my picks. Saoirse and Timothée so perfectly realized the throes of teen agony in Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name, and it’s a shame their work won’t be properly rewarded, while Lesley Manville was an icy delight in Phantom Thread. The Kris Jenner of House Woodcock. And for Best Supporting Actor, I’d go with Willem Dafoe’s empathetic manager of those on the margins in The Florida Project, a film that deserved far more recognition at this year’s ceremony.

Kevin: I’m with you that The Florida Project should have scored way more nominations than it did: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, for starters.

Marlow: Justice for Moonee!

Kevin: But for how much I adore that movie—it’s my favorite of the year—I actually wouldn’t even have nominated Dafoe for Best Supporting Actor. That’s not a knock on his performance. Everything about the film is pitch-perfect, and his work is integral to that harmony. But it’s such a subdued, quiet role that, though he plays it exactly how it should be played, doesn’t really showcase the kind of acting I’d deem award-worthy. But since my Supporting Actor vote, Michael Stuhlbarg, isn’t even in the conversation I’m not entirely sure who I’d throw my support to, if not Rockwell or Dafoe.

Marlow: Can’t believe Stuhlbarg wasn’t nominated. And everyone should read your piece on why his was the monologue of the year. Where’s my Halo Top when I need it.

Kevin: And it’s interesting that you mention Manville because, while I think most people think Laurie Metcalf is Allison Janney’s biggest competition—the Metcalf vs. Janney debate has nearly broken the gay community altogether—I think the most likely upset on Oscar night is Manville benefitting from a surge of Phantom Thread love.

Marlow: That would mean Manville and her ex-husband, Gary Oldman, would both be taking home statuettes. Our own Ira Madison recently made a compelling case for why Phantom Thread should win the Best Picture Oscar (more on that later this week), and a great deal of that had to do with Manville, who manages to transcend her 1950s London milieu through sheer force of will, laying waste to musty patriarchal conventions. She’s a big reason, too, why I ranked the exquisite Phantom Thread as my No. 1 movie of the year.

Kevin: Phantom Thread is the weirdest movie. That’s not to say I didn’t love it. But I still giggle every time I think about the plot—kinky mushrooms!—or remember that Daniel Day-Lewis was referred to as “the hungry boy.”

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Marlow: Or that he is “Mr. Woodcock,” which is quite literally the title of a shitty Seann William Scott movie. There’s been some chatter about how Denzel Washington could pull off an upset in the Best Actor race—for the little-seen Roman J. Israel, Esq., my second-favorite Washington character name to Lincoln Rhyme, followed by Easy Rawlins and Napoleon Stone—given how many in the Academy and beyond thought he should have won over (accused sexual harasser) Casey Affleck. Spike Lee even slipped a dig at the decision into his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Is there any chance of this happening, or is it wishful thinking?

Kevin: What bleach-swilling Looney Tune were you talking to who thinks that Denzel Washington could win? The voters on our radar have all not-so-jokingly quipped that they haven’t even bothered to watch the movie, that’s how little chance he stands of winning.

Marlow: The Gold Derby! (Although I agree, it reads like Oscar fanfic intended to enliven an otherwise dull category.)

Kevin: That’s not to say that I don’t agree with the idea that he should have won last year. I definitely think he should’ve, though also remember most people thinking that was a crazy opinion to have, even with Affleck’s controversy. The truth is, though, that while we assume all these races are sewn up, the changing, fresher, younger, more diverse make-up of this year’s voters really could mean a few surprises. I’d venture that Chalamet is the most likely to benefit from that, with Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya a possibility, too. Do you think there is any chance that this new voting body makes any sort of difference this year?  

Marlow: Lemme drop some stats on ya: the Academy invited a record 774 new members last year, 30 percent of which were people of color. But that only raised the total amount of POC in the Academy to a paltry 13 percent (it was at 8 percent in 2015, so has gone up considerably over the past two years). I think it made a difference in that Kaluuya got nominated—it’s pretty atypical for the Academy to recognize a performance in a horror film—but I’m not sure it will lead to any inspired choices as far as the actual acting winners go on Sunday (although there could be a lil’ surprise in store in Best Picture). Gary Oldman is impressive under a heap of prosthetics in Darkest Hour, but I’d like to see more young, deserving men be recognized in the Best Actor category. For so long, since the Academy was so overwhelmingly old, white and male, the winners reflected their tastes: young white women in the prime of their careers and older white men in the twilight of theirs. And at this point, I have serious Oscar-bait-biopic fatigue.

Kevin: I will say that, while Oldman’s dominance this season is hardly good evidence of this, there does seem to be movement away from rubber-stamping what would be traditional Oscar movies and performances. Get Out’s inclusion in Best Picture certainly suggests that, and renegade moves like including Mad Max: Fury Road in the past support that idea. But in a year when Meryl Streep played Katherine Graham, Judi Dench played Queen Victoria, and Annette Bening was Gloria Grahame, to name a few, it’s encouraging that Best Actress is filled with untraditional characters: an angsty teen, a mute in love with a monster, a curse-happy mom on a revenge mission, and, um, Tonya Harding. I think you see similar shifts in the kinds of movies and performances being rewarded across all the categories. There’s a long way to go, and I’ll groan when Oldman wins, but it seems like faint progress.