Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Shape of Oscars 2018

We're back on our bullshit again. Please put your hands together for the Oscar article that needs no introduction! Except our lawyers have informed us that we must officially refer to it as The Only Oscar Article Longer Than The Oscars (™).

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Jimmy Kimmel says: And now, please welcome our first presenter: James Toback!

James Toback says: I've never done this before, but I just saw you five lovely nominees, and I've got to tell you: I'm a movie director. A VERY important one. You may have seen my classic film, Harvard Man. And I think I could make you all stars! What do you say we discuss this back at my hotel ro —

** Tom Hanks rappels down from the rafters.**

Tom Hanks says: I'm afraid there's been a mistake. James Toback is no longer part of this ceremony. I will now be presenting the award for Best Supporting Actress.

Jeremy says: Sometimes, a performance stands out so much that no matter how much you enjoyed other nominees, you can't really give them much consideration. That's definitely the case with Lesley Manville's performance in Phantom Thread. On one had, she has the advantage of being a co-lead rather than a supporting role. On the other, she spars with Daniel Day Motherfucking Lewis and is utterly captivating the whole time. So it's not a fair fight, but I still want her to take home the prize.

I suspect/hope Octavia Spencer has reached the point where she'll keep getting award-worthy roles, and we'll see her on the list of nominees every couple years. Her screen presence is such that she could always charm enough voters to pull off a surprise win, especially if there's a split vote. But this year, the race is between the two white ladies playing moms who have complicated relationships with their daughters.

Laurie Metcalf has the more heart of the two performances, as Lady Bird's strong emotional core is the reason the film is so affecting. Allison Janney, however, has a showier roll in a showier movie, and her ability to play comedy and tragedy at the same time will no doubt catch voters' attention. Unless voters have more affection than I realize for Lady Bird (the better movie and performance), I suspect Janney will take it.

Prediction: Allison Janney
Preference: Lesley Manville

Chris says: Sounds to me like Allison Janney has picked a fight with the wrong person. Don't pick a fight with Lesley Manville, Allison, you certainly won't come out alive. She'll go right through you and it'll be you who ends up on the floor. Understood?

But yes, I agree with everything Jez said, except perhaps for the remark about it being a co-lead role, which I don't think it is. Vicky Krieps' role is definitely a co-lead, but Manville's power is a sneaky sort; she disappears for chunks at a time and you only gradually realize what power she has, in every aspect of Reynolds' life. It's funny - especially considering Roger Ebert's mildly infamous critique of There Will Be Blood as being flawed because it didn't have enough women - how PT Anderson's recent work has given us female characters who slowly reveal themselves to be much more powerful, even dominant, figures than we initially suspected they'd be. First it was Amy Adams and that vigorous handjob (I'm not being flip about that - the handjob scene is a legit game-changer for both her character and Phil Hoffman's), now it's Krieps and Manville in Phantom Thread. After somewhat surprisingly being overlooked for Another Year a few years back, Manville finally scored her first career nomination, the first of many pleasant Phantom Thread-related surprises. A fun game would be figuring out exactly at what point each viewer realized you cannot, under any circumstances, fuck with Cyril.

Also performances worthy of consideration include Lois Smith for Marjorie Prime, Hong Chau for Downsizing, Good Time's low-key MVP Taliah Webster, and Rebecca Spence for Princess Cyd. But of those who did make the cut, it's pretty clear it's going to be either Janney or Metcalf. I thought for a while that Metcalf would be the one to sail to the Oscar, but it seems Janney has taken clear frontrunner status.

Here's one thought to consider, though: In looking through Lady Bird's five nominations, I can't see a clear path to it winning any of the other four ... so might this be the category where its strong overall goodwill pushes it through the rest of the pack?

I mean, with most of the acting categories seemingly locked down in an otherwise very unpredictable year in the major categories, there's gotta be an upset somewhere, right? Right. (Probably wrong. But. For the moment: Right.) Fuck it.

Prediction: Laurie Metcalf
Preference: Lesley Manville

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

This year's crop of supporting-actor nominees features some of our most reliable character actors, wh—

... um ... sorry, what was I saying? Oh right, supporting actor. So what's interesting ab—

... I, uh ... well as I was, uh ... I mean ....

... why am I crying ... what's happening, why do I feel warm ...

... what are you, you magic emotional sorcerer, how are you doing this, hey that reminds me, I should call my parents and tell them I love them ...

Chris says: Alright, Tom Hardy, you've made your point - you have big beautiful eyes and a wrinkled brow that out-acted virtually everyone else on screen this year by themselves. We get it. I apologize on behalf of the Academy.

Anyway: Now that Sam Rockwell has finally gotten his first Oscar nomination after two decades of standout work, I guess that leaves ... * checks notes * ... yes, it says here "Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell" as the two most egregiously un-Oscar-nominated living actors. On account of the Academy hates the Irish. I guess those two were the sacrificial lambs a decade ago, going overlooked for Martin McDonagh's In Bruges so that one day the Academy would realize their mistake(s!) and nominate the equally deserving Rockwell for McDonagh's Three Billboards. They threw in Woody Harrelson, too, for good measure.

This category is kind of a win-win, its only two possible winners - Rockwell and Willem Dafoe - being highly deserving both for these specific performances and for their entire body of work. The only caveat to the "win-win" thing is that, in fact, one of those two will lose. So the more accurate way to put it is: this category is a kind of a win-lose. Anyway, what I'm really trying to say is that one of my favorite actors is going to win an Oscar on Sunday, so I can't complain.

If Dafoe were to pull the upset, there would be a small irony to him finally getting his due for a role like this. He's been so defined by villains, complicated antiheroes, cops, brutes and rogues, and here the plaudits have come for one of the great regular-joe performances of recent years. At the same time, the performance is vintage Dafoe - the urgent humanity in his eyes, the uncommon gentleness that makes even his roughest characters deeply worthy of compassion. In The Florida Project, the strangely delicate forcefulness of his presence is put to use for a character who is, simply, decent - and who displays as much natural empathy as Dafoe himself always provides his characters. Dafoe has never played a dishonest note, and this was a performance that will stay with me a long time.

I suppose Dafoe's best chance at an upset is if enough dummies who mistook the arc of Rockwell's Three Billboards character as a matter of easy, quick redemption decided to vote. But he probably has more than enough support to take the prize anyway. You could argue, at least in light of the barrage of bad takes that have followed the film over these last few months, that he almost did too good a job imbuing some pathos into a generally repugnant character. Then again, a lot of those bad takes don't seem to have much of an understanding of what the word empathy means - or who needs it, or who is worthy of it - so why would I listen to anything they have to say about an actor's performance. (The same goes for the concept of redemption, but that's a whole other can of worms.)

As for the rest of the nominees? With all due respect, Christopher Plummer was nominated entirely on account of the unprecedented narrative surrounding his eleventh-hour (re)casting. (Though he's easily the best thing about a mostly lousy film.) And the other two - Harrelson and Richard Jenkins - seem to primarily be beneficiaries of their respective movies' award-season dominance rather than these specific performances blowing people away. Both are great actors who did strong, sturdy work, but there were better choices. One oversight that continues to surprise me - and which I doubt would have been overlooked if the actor in question were a more known commodity - is Paul Walter Hauser for I, Tonya. The film has been a significant awards player - and was considered a bubble possibility for a Best Picture nomination - yet no momentum or campaign ever developed for Hauser, who gives the film's best performance as the hilarious, bumbling, deluded, quick-to-crack-under-pressure, entirely-un-self-aware Shawn Eckhardt. His line delivery of "Jeff did it" belongs in the Smithsonian.

On a similar note, I'm also surprised Rob Morgan hasn't gotten more attention for Mudbound, matching nominated co-star Mary J. Blige's quiet dignity and presence, but in a more fleshed-out role.

And since the Academy loves going for villains in the supporting actor category, might I suggest The Last Jedi's Adam Driver for his continued brilliance as Kylo Ren, or newcomer Barry Keoghan for his polite, deranged, menacing work in The Killing of a Sacred Deer? Or even more of a wild card, how about Billy Magnussen - or his non-villainous co-star O'Shea Jackson Jr, for that matter - for Ingrid Goes West?

Michael Stuhlbarg is no stranger to being overlooked by the Academy (in fact, he and Jeff Goldblum called me personally after my opening comments, enraged that they were not mentioned alongside Farrell and Gleeson), and his closing speech in Call Me by Your Name could well have earned him his first nod. I'd have to imagine his day, like Rockwell's, is coming eventually.

Prediction: Sam Rockwell
Preference: Willem Dafoe

Jeremy says: I guess if you need someone to absolutely kill a monologue, you call Michael Stuhlbarg. But if you need someone to receive an Oscar, you call someone else. Poor Mr. Stuhlbarg. One day your genius will be recognized.

As for the actual nominees, I agree with Chris's prediction on Rockwell, but I would love to see Dafoe pull that upset. As Chris says, there's not a false note in that performance. A particular scene, in which his character drives off a shady old guy hanging around the children, packs so many feelings into a short amount of time that it's almost overwhelming.

Prediction: Sam Rockwell
Preference: Willem Dafoe

Chris and Jeremy in unison: Holy fuck, how did either one of us - let alone both - forget to mention Ben Mendelsohn?

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul

Winston Churchill says: Hello, normal British Citizens of all races and genders. I'm thinking, what if we don't give out a Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar this year. How would you feel about that? What say you, smiling black man on the tube that I, Winston Churchill, would be totally friendly with?

Smiling Black Man on the Tube says: Why, the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar is what makes Britain Britain! If we didn't have one, we might as well just roll over and let the Nazis win!

Smiling Pregnant Woman says: If I saw a makeup-hating Nazi, I'd punch him in the nose!

Winston Churchill says: It's all settled, then! We will never surrender this Oscar. Let's find out who the winner is!

Jeremy says: I should disclose that I still haven't seen last year's winner in this category, Suicide Squad, so I'm clearly not qualified to make a prediction. I think it was Chris' favorite film of the year though, so he's definitely a makeup expert.

The work in Darkest Hour was seriously impressive in re-creating the feel of the characters and the era. It complements the performances without drawing attention to itself — an achievement that's surprisingly rare. Victoria & Abdul is similarly stately.

And that brings us to Wonder. On one hand, it's the only non-period piece of the lot. On the other, it's got a lot of latex and shit. But latex didn't seem to do Star Trek: Whatever the Last One Was Called any good last year. Combine that with the voters' clear affection for Gary Oldman's performance, and you might have a winner for the work that augmented it.

Prediction: Darkest Hour
Preference: Darkest Hour

Chris says: I've already ranted about this to Jeremy personally, but let me just say that the old-man (or "oldman," if you will) makeup in Darkest Hour is so immaculate that it retroactively re-pisses me off about various other movies that had essentially the same damn assignment and wound up with embarrassing wax monstrosities. Do you remember this shit?

What the fuck even is this? It doesn't look like Alfred Hitchcock, and it doesn't look like Anthony Hopkins. It looks like the result of some shitty new iPhone app that combines two celebrity faces, neither of which are Alfred Hitchcock or Anthony Hopkins.

And then there was this:

This literally doesn't look like a human person. It looks like a Dick Tracy villain or something. Is that William Forsythe under there?

The Oldman/Churchill makeup is so good that, if I hadn't already known otherwise, and you told me Oldman had simply put on 80 pounds for the role, I would have believed you unreservedly.

Prediction: Darkest Hour
Preference: Darkest Hour

Best Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

Kate Middleton says: Allo, mates!  I'm 'ere to present this categ'ry because it ain't no proper costume Oscar if it ain't got royalty innit. The Shape of Water done got itself in on a technicality — "the princess wifout voice." 'at's mental, innit!

Chris says: Look, it's no business of ours what the Academy decides to do with its life, but it can no longer nominate movies like Beauty and the Beast and still be dressed by the House of Woodcock.

This is nothing, of course, against Jacqueline Durran, a double nominee for Darkest Hour and the execrable Beauty and the Beast. She's certainly done fine work over the years - including a well-deserved Oscar for Anna Karenina in 2013. But her work in Beast seems hamstrung by the whole production's commitment to preserving the visual ideas and wardrobe choices of the 1991 animated version as closely as it can - which over two hours plays like a cruel, vulgar experiment to sap an entire, accomplished film crew out of as much of its creative inspiration as possible. (And it worked! The terrible experiment was successfully terrible!)

This nomination is the costume-design equivalent of judging a screenplay based on how closely it followed its source material, rather than on the quality of the new work.

In fairness, the Beast does wear a bomb-ass dinner jacket in one scene, so I'll give it that.

A better genre option - though it would run the risk of being closer to a contemporary setting than the Academy is usually comfortable with in this category - would have been Okja, with the playful specificity and general cleverness of its costumes, and their importance to the characters who wear them.

And while I know this film was on no one's radar, the costumes in Slack Bay - dazzling in their own right, but brilliantly deployed as underplayed commentary on the absurdities of high-society fashion - deserved a nod. I bring this up out of sheer moral obligation.

Victoria & Abdul depicts both 19th-Century royalty and "exotic" visitors, so all the obsolete Academy members who haven't worked in four decades but who still have an Oscar ballot for some reason will definitely vote for this one. But otherwise, this seems to be a two-movie race between Phantom Thread and The Shape of Water. While one might assume this would be a lock for Thread, the fact that Shape beat it out at the Costume Designers Guild Awards suggests it's a tighter race than expected. Hopefully any of the crossover voters between the guild and the Academy will come to their senses and give it to Phantom Thread instead of something they might think is more fucking chic.

Not giving this movie the costume design Oscar would be like not giving Best Makeup to Holy Motors, and that would never happen.

Prediction: Phantom Thread
Preference: Phantom Thread

Jeremy says: Let me just take a look at my notes in this category...

Hmmmm. I guess I can delete this three-page rant about how you shouldn't award people for copying designs that animators made a couple decades ago.

So yes, the idea of Phantom Thread not winning is pretty silly. The designs work on several levels, but the most important level as far as the Academy is concerned is "fucking stunning." The costume guild folk might try to be hipsters and vote against expectations, but not these Oscar squares.

Prediction: Phantom Thread
Preference: Phantom Thread

Best Documentary Short
Edith + Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

Best Animated Short
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes Part One

Best Live Action Short
DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O'Clock
My Nephew Emmett
The Silent Child
Watu Wote: All of Us

Matthew Modine says: Hey, anyone want to hear some stories about Stanley Kubrick?

Chris and Jeremy say: No. Anyway, If we had research assistants at The Same Dame, we would make them find out if there's ever been a short about people traveling in a bus that gets stopped by terrorist/guerrilla soldiers that didn't get nominated for an Oscar. We should probably stop writing this and start preproduction on our upcoming work, A Bus & Some Guns in the Desert. Also, we should hire a research assistant.

Jeremy says: Voters often favor lighter fare in the live-action category, which could give an edge to The Eleven O'Clock. The only catch is that this psychiatry-session farce is thoroughly clumsy, and doesn't seem to know how painfully obvious its twist is. Then again, giving Academy voters credit for intelligence has never been a wise move, and I'm not sure any of the other nominees will draw more attention.

My Nephew Emmett, about the night leading up to the murder of Emmett Till, may be the most accomplished film, but it's also rather slow and quiet, which may work against it. Given the recent spate of gun violence in the past 20 years, DeKalb Elementary's depiction of a near-shooting may benefit from that — and from its strong performances as well, I guess — and take the trophy.

On the documentary front, Knife Skills takes an interesting subject and fails at both coherency and depth. Traffic Stop also feels a bit slapdash, but at least provides a compelling character study of its subject.

That leaves three contenders. Edith+Eddie, about an elderly couple that's separated due to a family feud and cold legal system, has the most touching content, so could win voters over with that angle. Heroin(e) is the best film, following three different women as they fight on different fronts of the overdose epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia. But Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 reaches intimate depths with its subject, mentally tortured artist Mindy Alper. Alper's distinctive speech, personal story and compelling art will probably connect strongly with voters.

The animation slate didn't necessarily have a standout, with LOU being the most charming, Dear Basketball being the best celebrity vanity project, Negative Space being the most artsy and Garden Party being the most delightfully bizarre. (No, I'm not going to mention Revolting Rhymes.) I really want to call this for Garden Party, as it's got the most attitude, but I suspect the heart of LOU will get to voters. Unless they really like Kobe.

Predictions: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, LOU, DeKalb Elementary
Preferences: Heroine, Garden Party, My Nephew Emmett

Chris says: Hmm, I can't imagine any reason why the voters in Los Angeles, California would be big fans of Kobe Bryant, so I guess that's just a mystery that'll have to remain unresolved. What I'm trying to say is Dear Basketball is going to win. And if I were just scoring on animation style, I'd be fine with that - Glen Keane's pencil work is more inherently more interesting and feels more personal than the rest of the shorts. But other than that ... I mean, it's a nice sentiment and all, but there's just not much to it. We hear so often about movies that are love letters to this or that, but this one is just a literal love letter to a sport. The figurative kind is better. No doubt Kobe loves the game; but Keane's drawings would be better served with something much less narrow than one athlete's earnest but uninsightful letter to his own sport.

I'm glad Garden Party - with its terrific sight gags that keep building into better sight gags - has Jez's support as well. I think that makes two of us. Sadly, we're not members of the Academy, despite our preemptive Oscar nomination for this year's A Bus & Some Guns in the Desert, featuring an original song by U2 entitled, "Put Away Those Guns Here in the Desert (Get Off This Bus)."

I suppose if Dear Basketball is to be upset, Pixar would be the most likely culprit. And LOU is not only great fun but, along with last year's Piper, signifies a massive improvement over the studio's recent duds like Big Dumb Volcano Sings a Terribly Written Narrative Song Whilst Cruising for Lady Volcanoes or The Blue Umbrella - even if neither is quite up to the standards of their One Man Band / Presto heyday.

As for live-action, I was with Jeremy's fave My Nephew Emmett for a while, but at a certain point - like fellow nominee The Silent Child - it hits a wall and doesn't know what else to do. So it lands as this half-shaped story that only gets closure with a quick clip of a famous news broadcast and a couple of title cards that explain what happened.

I think the best of these - and the likely winner, incidentally - is DeKalb Elementary, both for the specificity of its camera placement throughout, and for the unnerving stillness of its peculiar atmospheric tension.

I would imagine, if only for timing's sake, that Traffic Stop will take the doc short category, which is a shame because it's a very bad film that makes none of the important points it thinks it's making. Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 is the best of the bunch, though I admit being so enamored with the eye-openingly personal and expressionistic qualities of Mindy Alper's art that I may be giving the filmmaking itself the benefit of the doubt over Heroin(e).

One thing to remember: I am terrible, terrible, absolutely fucking terribly godawful at picking the shorts categories, and I always get them wrong, every damn year, always always always. You know that movie The Cooler? Yeah, that's me with this category. Alec Baldwin even stops by to yell at me whenever I accidentally pick one right.

So there's that. In that spirit, here are my totally useless picks:

Predictions: Traffic Stop / Dear Basketball / DeKalb Elementary
Preferences: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 / Garden Party / DeKalb Elementary

Best Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

George Lucas says: Hold on you guys! Hold on! I went to see The Last Jedi and was appalled to see images on screen that were NOT wholly created in a computer! There was even empty space in some of the compositions — why not digitally add some shit flying around? Why the fuck wasn't CGI Peter Cushing in there? I took my penis out for nothing.

Louis CK says: Did someone say take out my penis?

**Mo-cap robot Tom Hanks descends upon the stage via rocket boots.**

Mo-cap robot Tom Hanks says: I'm afraid there's been a mistake. George Lucas and Louis CK are no longer part of this ceremony. I will now be presenting the award for Best Visual Effects.

Chris says: Though I wouldn't have minded seeing Ghost in the Shell, A Cure for Wellness or Dunkirk squeeze into the final five - not to mention the latest entry in the always-deserving Transformers franchise, regardless of my feelings about the movies themselves - this is still a strong group of special-effects nominees.

My conflict in picking a preference here is simply a matter of emphasis. The most likely winner, War for the Planet of the Apes, is unquestionably deserving, and the biggest argument for it is simply that the effects are responsible for so much emotional information - along with its predecessor, far more than any other effects-driven films of recent years. Though obviously we won't discount the contributions of Andy Serkis and the other mo-cap performers for the breadth of the apes' emotional range, the effects work for this whole franchise - the last two entries especially - has been a remarkable accomplishment.

Yet my eyes keep turning back to the top of the list, and Blade Runner 2049's very different, but equally spectacular, special-effects achievements. Aside from the dazzling creation of the dystopian world itself, 2049 contains the most moving, artful use of a special effect I saw this year - that being the syncing effect of the holographic characters and physical ones, most memorably in a sex surrogacy scene in which Ana de Armas' artificial consciousness merges with Mackenzie Davis' physical body. The detailing and deliberate imperfections of the effect speaks to the level of artistry that went into creating that moment in particular; I've rarely seen such genuine intimacy that relied so heavily on technical wizardry.

Personally, I'd be fine with either winner (although I'd guess The Last Jedi would have a better chance at the upset here). War's degree of difficulty is greater, but 2049's best is fucking intoxicating.

Prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes
Preference: Blade Runner 2049

Jeremy says: From an effects point of view, Kong: Skull Island is cool in that it's an homage to many past special effects extravaganzas with epic-looking monsters fighting each other. And it does that very well. At the same time, much of the best material has so little live-action footage that it's essentially a photo-realistic animated film. So the movie's team deserves kudos, but not necessarily the big prize.

I agree about the effects in Blade Runner 2049, but wonder if the amount of practical and projection effects will lead some members to think certain things fall under cinematography — basically, a modern misconception that only CG counts as a special effect. That said, War for the Planet of the Apes does what it does remarkably well, to the point of out-shining the already impressive effects of the franchise's last two films. When you factor in that what Andy Serkis does counts as part of the effects process, it's hard to ignore it. Consider that the previous two films didn't win, and this is a good chance to honor the whole franchise.

Prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes
Preference: War for the Planet of the Apes or Blade Runner 2049

Best Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Our next category needs no introduction. Mostly because all you assholes are skipping it.

Jeremy says: Well, one item of note here is that both sound categories have the same set of nominees this year. I don't think that's happened for a long time, I'll get our research assistant on that. Whether or not it means the same film will win both categories is anyone's guess. But Chris and I are not just anyone, we're experts. So this is an expert's guess.

On the mixing front, the mingling of music and foley, the use of multiple channels and the straight up fun of Baby Driver make it a clear standout. But it's not the favorite, partly due to it not necessarily having the most noise.

I wouldn't be shocked by a surprise award for Blade Runner 2049 in either or both of these categories, but Dunkirk's immersive experience, which places us right in the middle of action on land, air and sea, is the frontrunner for good reason.

The big question for me is whether Baby Driver can take enough votes in mixing to split the statues. I'm going to say yes.

Predictions: Sound Mixing: Baby Driver / Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Preferences: Sound Mixing: Baby Driver / Sound Editing: Dunkirk

Chris says: Dunkirk is such an overwhelming sonic experience that I can't imagine it won't win at least one of these, if not both. While I think it's probably the most deserving in both, I'd also like to see Baby Driver get some recognition; Dunkirk has already gotten plenty. Plus, I mean if fucking Suicide Squad gets to have an Oscar, Baby Driver ought to, too.

Predictions: Sound Mixing: Baby Driver / Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Preferences: Sound Mixing: Dunkirk / Sound Editing: Baby Driver (twist!!)

Best Original Score
Dunkirk - Hans Zimmer
Phantom Thread - Jonny Greenwood
The Shape of Water - Alexandre Desplat
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - John Williams
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri - Carter Burwell

John Williams says: Oh, hey fellow nominees — how's it going? Jonny, you got your first nomination, that's cute. I got a nomination taking a shit this morning. You're lucky I let you have the same name as me, bitch. Carter, you've been doing this for a while so you must be on — oh boy, your second nomination?  That must be really exciting for you! I remember when I got my second nomination — it was the same year I got my third nomination. Hey, Nine's not bad, Alexandre. And look at little Hans here, made it into double digits with 11. You can all suck my foot-long list of 51 motherfucking nominations! Check out my imdb bio — they just left it at "over 41" because they got sick of updating the damn thing. That's who the fuck I am.

Chris says: I said back in the summer, and still believe, that no score in 2017 could have as profound an impact as Alex Somers' in Dawson City: Frozen Time ... and while I was correct, Jonny Greenwood comes pretty close in Phantom Thread. As of this writing, we're a few days away from the Oscar ceremony, so I'm still waiting for the Academy to burst in and fuck Greenwood over like they did for There Will Be Blood. There's still time, you guys. (To say nothing of not even nominating him for The Master.) Years from now, we will be looking back on Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonny Greenwood as one of the great artistic collaborations of our time.

While Greenwood's work - which is a drastic departure from his previous scores, yet no less bold - is essential to creating the mood and emotional undercurrents of Anderson's delicate clash of wills and desires and personalities, Hans Zimmer's great Dunkirk score is every bit as inseparable from its images, and its director. That's rare territory to achieve, but sometimes the fit is simply a fit. The sweeping operatic aesthetic he and Nolan have been refining since The Dark Knight Rises takes a fascinating direction in Dunkirk, whose score so exquisitely echoes the action and emotional beats that the music on its own - without the benefit of the imagery's considerable impact - still manages to tell the story remarkably well.

I'm Team Greenwood, but Zimmer - whose only win was 23 years ago for The Lion King - would be a worthy winner as well.

The other three nominated composers are all greats - indeed, Carter Burwell has long been one of our best but has only recently, between this and Carol, started to attract the Academy's attention - but have also done more memorable work elsewhere. More interesting choices would have been Daniel Pemberton for his terrifically inventive score for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword; legend-in-the-making Mica Levi for another unforgettable effort on Marjorie Prime, or an even more unlikely selection, Elvis Perkins for his sublimely haunting The Blackcoat's Daughter.

Prediction: The Shape of Water
Preference: Phantom Thread

Jeremy says: One of the things in that rant I deleted for costume design questioned why There Will Be Blood couldn't qualify for score, yet some people copying some old animation characters qualified for Costume Design. But I digress...

I didn't realize it had been that long since Zimmer won. He's pretty much been Hollywood's most dependable go-to guys for the same amount of time, but maybe his ubiquity has hurt his chances come awards night. That said, Phantom Thread may well be the best of Greenwood's scores for Anderson, with its disquieting arrangements evoking the tensions of a disquieting romance.

As for the winner, Alexandre Desplat is extremely good at what he does, and he does exactly the kind of stuff the Academy likes. It's kind of a wonder that he, like Zimmer, has only won once. And as Zimmer veers toward a little more weirdness, Desplat provides the comfort the Academy longs for.

And yes, that Dawson City: Frozen Time score is exquisite.

Prediction: The Shape of Water
Preference: Phantom Thread

Best Original Song
"Mighty River" from Mudbound
"Mystery of Love" from Call Me by Your Name
"Remember Me" from Coco
"Stand Up for Something" from Marshall
"This is Me" from The Greatest Showman

John Williams says: Oh, hey assholes. It's me again: John Williams, the Oscar-winning composer. You know how many times I've been nominated for Best Original Song? Five! Shit, I don't even remember writing some of these. I think Stevie had someone write a few words to my score and BOOM! I'm looking at another fucking Oscar nomination. But yeah, I can see how being nominated might seem special to you guys.

Jeremy says: This one looks to be a two-horse race between the songs from musicals with the word "me" in the title. "Remember Me" is both a better song than "This is Me" and is integral to Coco's emotional core. It's certainly no "Let it Go" as far as Disney song sensations go, but it's a memorable tune that's memorably used.

"This is Me" is a tacky song with tacky production, but it has one thing going for it. What if Academy voters remember giving a standing O to Lady Gaga and Diane Warren in 2015, only to see their song lose to that super-forgettable Sam Smith Bond song? They might have learned the wrong lesson, and decided to vote for anything with a potentially powerful message accompanying it. There could be a bunch of freaks onstage, and the crowd would be like, "Look, freaks, they're like us only freaky! Standing ovation!"

But then again, "Remember Me" could feature a montage of immigrants being separated from their families by Donald Trump, and then the voters would look like dipshits once again. So better stick with "Remember Me."

To build on my opening metaphor, there could be a dark horse. If the Academy wants to get some hipster cred, they should give this award to Sufjan Stevens for "Mystery of Love" to show they're part of the scene and throw some accolades to Call Me By Your Name. It's the best song of the nominees, and nicely echoes the film's nervous romance. Still, Elliott Smith and Aimee Mann will tell you not to get your hopes up.

Aimee Mann: Yeah, Sufjan, you better wise up. *winks*

Elliott Smith says: I'm not going to tell them anything, I'm dead!

Prediction: "Remember Me" (Coco)
Preference: "Mystery of Love" (Call Me by Your Name)

Chris says: This shouldn't be a category anymore.

Prediction: "This is Me" (The Greatest Showman)
Preference: "Mighty River" (Mudbound)

Best Cinematography
Blade Runner 2049 - Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour - Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk - Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound - Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water - Dan Laustsen

John Williams says: Guess how many cinematography nominations I have. Guess! Honestly, I don't even know. But probably a couple, at least.

Chris says: Recent buzz suggests Roger Deakins may finally get his long-deserved Oscar this year, which seemed somewhat unlikely just a couple months ago. But we've heard this before. And you know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 14 times, you can't get fooled again.

With the caveat that a lot of what I've seen people respond strongly to in Blade Runner 2049's images has more to do with production design than cinematography, the film is still a dazzling visual work, and Deakins would be a worthy (not to mention overdue) winner. While attention has understandably been a paid to the more customarily dystopian exteriors - and the ways in which the film expanded on the groundbreaking vision of the 1982 original - here Deakins shines brightest in the interiors, using some pretty elaborate lighting setups to achieve moods that carry the film through the clunkier aspects of its storytelling. The cavernous look and feel of Jared Leto's shadowy, amber-hued corporate factory is especially remarkable. Back out in the city, the neons are as brilliant as advertised, and the haze that seems to fill the spaces within every wide shot does wonders for the film's cloudy sense of time, direction and awareness.

As great as 2049 looks, I'd personally give the slight edge to Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk, whose images packed more raw power (not to mention narrative importance, given the sparseness of the dialogue) than just about anything I saw this year. But as for picking a winner, I still get the sense that Dan Laustsen is going to take it for The Shape of Water - unless I'm overestimating the breadth of the film's overall support within Academy ranks. Shape won some of the early precursors before 2049 recently took ASC and BAFTA honors. I'd like to think that's a sign of things to come, but I still think it's Laustsen's to lose.

As lovely as his photography is, I'd say it's not even the best aquatically themed, green-dominant cinematography of this year. That honor would go to the criminally overlooked Bojan Bazelli for A Cure for Wellness. Of course, the film's low visibility since its February release gave it no shot at a nomination, but the film as a whole is truly one of the most striking (and playful, clever, grotesque) visual accomplishments (both cinematographically and otherwise) of 2017.

These five nominees did seem to dominate the cinematography race - with guilds and critics' groups - throughout the last few months, so there were no surprises or stunning omissions. (An early contender, Vittorio Storaro for Wonder Wheel, fell out of favor for reasons beyond his control.) But such conformity often leaves out some of the more daring and noteworthy feats in this category. In this case that would be not just Wellness but The Beguiled's Philippe Le Sourd, whose shafts of light told bountiful mini-narratives on their own, and who so memorably used the elaborate curves of the willow trees and the angles of the Southern Gothic architecture to frame and comment on the film's quietly volatile set of characters.

Or how about Darius Khondji's harsh yellows and greens - or his haunting, occasionally devastating shadows - in The Lost City of Z? Sean Price Williams could have been recognized for either of his bold experiments in color and emotional mood - Thirst Street or Good Time - while Andrew Droz Palermo (A Ghost Story) and Matthew Libatique (mother!) did exquisite work as well. Finally, I'm a bit uncertain about whether Phantom Thread was even eligible in this category - on account of PTA serving as his own cinematographer and not even giving himself a credit - but if it was, it should've been a lock for a nomination. Oh, well.

Prediction: The Shape of Water
Preference: Dunkirk

Jeremy says: Sorry Rog, but at a certain point you've just got to recognize that no matter what you do, it ain't gonna happen. We held onto the dream so long, but now it's time to let go.

I'm thinking back to 2007, when Guillermo Navarro won for del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, beating out the absolutely amazing Children of Men work by Emmanuel Lubezki, who later won the Oscar three times in a row. My point is that The Shape of Water has way more support than Pan's did, therefore Dan Laustsen will definitely win. My logic here is water-tight.

Prediction: The Shape of Water
Preference: Blade Runner 2049

Best Documentary
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

**Best Documentary opening theme song starts playing.**
Jeremy says: Through a blend of charm, ambivalence and her status as a cinema legend, Agnes Varda has found Oscar buzz with a documentary that is not the Academy's usual jam at all. Varda and photographer/street artist JR's documentary about their travels through France is a feather-weight delight, as they meet people and put striking images of them in the towns and countryside. Personal and universal, improvised and staged, with the perspective of young and old, the movie's loose collection of episodes shows the power of exploring new places and meeting new people.

As I've discussed before, the art of predicting the documentary and foreign-language categories has changed in recent years, and the formula is simple: Pick the nominee with the most buzz. There's no longer any mechanism to make sure voters watch all the nominees, so there's a good chance they're just going to pop in a screener of the one they heard was good, watch it and vote for it.

If there's a catch this year, it's that a couple other documentaries are also being talked about, namely Icarus and Last Men in Aleppo, perhaps enough for voters to bother to watch them. The latter — Feras Fayyad and Steen Johannessen's look at the brave work of the White Helmets, who rescue bombing victims of the Syrian civil war — is the most heart-wrenching entry.

But Icarus is highly topical as it explores Russia's corruption and propaganda efforts through the lens of doping. And I use the term "lens" generously, as it seems to have been edited as cluelessly as it was made. Director Bryan Fogel gives you the experience of filmmakers discovering they have a much more interesting film on their hands than what they'd originally thought, without providing enough context to make that shift make sense structurally. It's interesting in that it almost echoes Varda's free structure, but without the tone and wherewithal to pull it off.

Yance Ford's Strong Island is also an interesting counterpoint to Faces Places as far as filmmakers putting themselves in the story goes. No one else could provide Ford's perspective to the tale of her brother's murder and the failure to prosecute the white-on-black crime. Yet the emotional scenes feel like a bit of a cheat — not so much insincere as a suspicious form of self-exploitation to meet the movie's ends. Still, it's a strong work.

Also, I must give a shout-out to Steve James for finally getting a Best Documentary nomination! Abacus: Small Enough to Jail finds the intimate details in the story of the small family bank that was the only one to be criminally indicted after the 2008 mortgage crisis. It's got the quality we expect from James, but it's not his best. Unless voters are feeling guilty about not nominating him before, it'll probably be forgotten as Varda gets her first non-honorary Oscar.

Prediction: Faces Places
Preference: Faces Places

Chris says: Though there were a few moments in Strong Island that, as Jeremy suggested, were a bit dubious with regard to the film's emotional ethics, I still think the film overall is the clear standout in the category. The confidence and clarity of its form; its forceful, emotionally courageous use of the close-up; the granular way it peppers its personal story with authentic, even incidental detail. And for all the movies whose filmmakers take other people's stories and inject themselves into them (Finding Vivian Maier, anyone?), this is the perfect counter to that trend - it is what it is because of its specific point of view. Ford's presence is powerful and essential.

Of course, the best doc of the year was Bill Morrison's sublime, unsettling, dreamlike Dawson City: Frozen Time, but as the Academy so frequently overlooks the best available docs, its omission is no surprise. Aside from Strong Island, I wasn't overly wild about any of the other nominees, although Faces Places is a delightful hangout movie. Abacus is strong but slight work (90 minutes for a case that took years to resolve itself?), but I'm happy James finally got a documentary nod. Last Men in Aleppo - which if I'm not mistaken was edited by William S. Burroughs - has some tremendously powerful footage but is a mostly shapeless collection of scenes (only taking any kind of shape at all in the final few minutes).

But sadly, the Academy seems primed to award the weakest of the lot, Icarus, whose first 45 minutes - while important for context purposes - seem in retrospect like an almost complete waste of time. While Icarus has the benefit of an indelible subject in Grigory Rodchenkov, who is as fun and decent and charming as any crook could be, any film that - however unexpectedly - witnesses the unraveling of a vast criminal conspiracy involving national governments needs a hell of a lot more sources and more context. Ninety percent of the film's information comes directly from Rodchenkov, which would be fine if it was just about Fogel and his doping regimen. The occasional one-off quote from another source is helpful, but only to a very minimal degree.

Also it's a bit hard to accept the film's (and Rodchenkov's) overplayed sense of "they're going to murder me!" / "I'm about to be assassinated!" hysterics when the dude casually left his wife and kids behind in Russia to go chill in the states. What, Putin's web is so evil and ubiquitous that we're looking over our shoulder the entire second half of the movie ... but no one's worried about the presumed target's family? Maybe I'm missing something - but if I am, it's because the movie didn't show it to me.

Icarus blows.

Prediction: Icarus
Preference: Strong Island

Best Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
The Shape of Water

Alex McDowell says: Oh, hey guys. I couldn't help but notice that in recent years, you guys have been nominating a lot of sci-fi films. Some of those films had similar production design to that film I did back in '02, what was it called? Oh yeah — Motherfucking Minority Report! I'm trying to remember, did I win for that, or was I just nominated? Oh that's right, I forgot - neither!

John Williams says: You know who was nominated for an Oscar in '02? John Williams, that's who.

Chris says: To follow up on something I touched on earlier, at a film's visual best, the cinematography and production design bend toward each other so seamlessly that they become, if not exactly inseparable, at least codependent. So given my cinematography comments, it should come as no surprise that my favorite of the production-design nominees is Blade Runner 2049, which contributes so much to the imagery everyone has been rightly drooling over since the first trailer dropped.

It has to be an unenviable challenge to revisit a setting that has become so iconic, as Blade Runner's has (hat tip to original production designer Lawrence G. Paull, who earned his only career Oscar nod for it, hilariously losing to Gandhi). But Dennis Gassner and set decorator Alessandra Querzola never shied away from it, using the 1982 film's ideas as a springboard for their own big, bold experiments and flourishes. There are so many movies that ape Blade Runner's dystopian look, most of which have little inspiration of their own and wind up more or less blending together into a codified Dystopian Chic aesthetic. That 2049 managed to stand out not only against the legacy of its own namesake but within a cinematic landscape rife with similarly conceived futures is an accomplishment in and of itself.

I don't wish to spend too much time going back to the same Best Picture nominees over and over again - we'll inevitably end up talking about them more than enough by the time this long-ass article is done - but in the interest of thoroughness, I'll say the production design for The Shape of Water, Dunkirk and the un-nominated Phantom Thread are all terrific in their own ways. But I mean fuck this Beauty and the Beast nomination. Once again, as with costume design, the film's basic conceit hampers the overall quality of the production design, and comparing it to the thing it's trying to be (the '91 animated version) does it no favors. One of the worst examples of any category in any movie this year is the design of the CGI household items, which are so profoundly dull and inexpressive they would have sabotaged the scenes in which they appeared even if the rest of the movie hadn't sabotaged them already. I mean I know it's hard, but these are professional production designers - designing the clock and the candlestick in a way that would express something, ANYTHING, about the characters is somehow beyond their capability? It's not, of course - which is why I blame Bill Condon and Disney's overall approach more than the nominees themselves.

But ornate, big-budget fantasies are the production design category's second-favorite genre behind Stodgy Period Piece, so maybe a Beauty and the Beast nod was inevitable. Pity, then, that the voters didn't take notice of the spectacularly evolving environment within the simple country house in mother!, or the sheer imagination in every single detail of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Or, to return to a movie that even I didn't expect to be mentioning this often, A Cure for Wellness, with its unsettling mint-green patina invading every location and its fabulous cocktail of Gothic horror and surrealist impulses. I could go on - The Florida Project? Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets? Slack Bay? Personal Shopper? - but that creepy as fuck CGI mantel clock is telling me my time's up. I will now cede the floor to Jeremy, then go backstage and manually remove every spring, gear, wheel and pin in Cogsworth's stupid body. (There's also, according to the diagram of the inside of a clock I just looked up, something called a "ratchet cock" in there. If that's what I think it is, then Disney has deprived us of a much more interesting take on this story.)

Prediction: The Shape of Water
Preference: Blade Runner 2049

Jeremy says: Yeah, fuck Beauty and the Beast. Especially when you remember Downsizing, which had the most wonderfully realized, idiosyncratic world of any 2017 release.

The other nominees demonstrate fine work. Dunkirk, with its expansive environments, may be the most unnoticed for what it does, but it never feels inauthentic, even on a giant screen.

But the standout nominees are definitely The Shape of Water and Blade Runner 2049. Think of all the details in that apartment as they emerged in Water's opening shot. Or the abandoned Vegas of 2049. Both these nominees nailed what they set out to do. I'd give the dystopian sci-fi the edge simply because of how expansive it is, but both are very deserving.

Prediction: The Shape of Water
Preference: Blade Runner 2049

Best Editing
Baby Driver - Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos
Dunkirk - Lee Smith
I, Tonya - Tatiana S. Riegel
The Shape of Water - Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri - Jon Gregory

Christopher Plummer says: Hi everybody! It's your pal Christopher Plummer, star of American Beauty, The Usual Suspects and K-Pax. And, of course, Best Editing frontrunner Baby Driver. The important thing about movies is that they last forever, but to make sure they don't last forever, we hire a crack team of editors. So give it up for the nominees!

Jeremy says: Prediction-wise, this one feels pretty straightforward. Cross-cut storylines often have an edge in the editing category, so if you factor in that Dunkirk is well-edited and epic on top of that, you have a pretty compelling case for a winner. However, there's one potential pitfall: Not everyone loved the conceit of cutting between events that took place over multiple periods of time. People were known to shout, while leaving the cinema halfway through the movie, "My god, this is so confusing, what is happening?!?"

That could conceivably open the door for another title. I, Tonya certainly has the most showy style, as it jumps around place, time and tone, but it isn't quite as slick as it thinks it is. But Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos snappy, clever editing in Baby Driver is where the film really shines. Whether Edgar Wright's film has enough overall goodwill to pull of such an upset, I don't know, but you never know what'll happen at the wild ride we call the Academy Awards.

Prediction: Dunkirk
Preference: Dunkirk or Baby Driver

Chris says: I'd love to toss another one to Baby Driver but I kinda don't think this one is close. The editing is just so baked-in to the very concept of Dunkirk (to say nothing of the degree of difficulty) and Nolan and his longtime editor Lee Smith (who has never won an Oscar) pretty astonishingly pull it off. There's a lot of grace to the way it plays with time, but more importantly there's also real poetry to the way the images bounce off each other from timeline to timeline, from sea to land to air.

Also, The Last Jedi and Thelma should have been nominated, but that's another story.

Prediction: Dunkirk
Preference: Dunkirk

Best Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name - James Ivory
Logan - Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Molly's Game - Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound - Dee Rees, Virgil Williams
The Disaster Artist - Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

Wake me when we get to Original Screenplay.

Chris says: Scott Frank wrote fucking Minority Report, fucking Dead Again, fucking Get Shorty and The fucking Lookout, and he's nominated for fucking ... Logan? In fairness, he thankfully got fucking nominated for writing Out of fucking Sight twenty fucking years ago, but Logan marks his only other nomination. And I'm not knocking Logan. I liked it well enough. I'm simply emptying my "why the fuck wasn't Scott Frank nominated" drafts folder while I have the chance. So there we go.

Anyway, I'm burying the lede. This is a terrible category. What the fuck happened to adaptations this year? This category is always loaded with contenders. This time they were like 'oh I don't know, maybe the wolverine movie where wolverine got to say fuck a lot? we like hearing wolverine say fuck, and he didn't say fuck at all in the greatest showman, so that settles it.'

And Logan is far from the most inexplicable nominee. I suppose Aaron Sorkin just rode his reputation to another nod, despite Molly's Game demonstrating a version of Sorkin very conspicuously off his game, relying on loads of clunky voiceover and only finding his vintage voice in fits and starts. (It's not a well-directed movie, either, so he only has himself to blame for how poorly his script comes across.) The Disaster Artist is an even weaker script, namely because - like James Franco's direction - it really doesn't have any strong, committed approach to its enigmatic, inexplicable subject. (Only Franco's performance could salvage anything out of it.)

I wasn't especially high on Mudbound - and the difficulties of its adaptation are noticeable, even for someone unfamiliar with the source novel - but next to some of these other nominees it looks positively golden.

But obviously, the far-and-away best script of these choices is Call Me by Your Name, which is wise, tender, and fiercely intelligent - with a level of maturity and wit that more than makes up for all those penises James Ivory wasn't able to convince Luca Guadagnino to include. (Sorry James, but the Ewan McGregor/Harvey Keitel version of this movie just didn't get any traction with investors.)

There is rarely as much of a gulf between the best of a group of nominees and the rest - especially in a major category - as there is between Call Me by Your Name and the field. As for what might have replaced the four undeserving nominees ... you know what's a damn good script? The LEGO Batman Movie, that's what. I mean, they nominated Logan, which was, what, the fourth-best superhero movie of this year? (At least it wasn't Wonder Woman, I suppose.) In more traditional territory, Marjorie Prime or The Lost City of Z would have been worthy considerations.

Or how about - since there's no way this guy would have squeezed into the director race - tossing a nomination Rian Johnson's way for The Last Jedi?

Prediction: Call Me by Your Name
Preference: Call Me by Your Name

Jeremy says: Yeah, how The Lost City of Z didn't get in amongst these contenders is beyond me. James Gray dove through depths of human endeavor, while The Disaster Artist writers took a naturally funny topic and failed to do anything but the most conventional option at every fucking turn. And haters be damned, Rian Johnson deconstructed the ethos of the modern action film while being entertaining as hell and avoiding all the obvious scenes.

There's not too much to add about the rest. I was looking over the list while prepping and thinking about how this category sucked.

Prediction: Call Me by Your Name
Preference: Call Me by Your Name

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

Richard Spencer says: Alright assholes, get out your tiki torches because this category demonstrates how the white American man can't catch a break.

**Tom Hanks rappels down from the rafters and punches Richard Spencer in the face.**

**The world cheers.**

Jeremy says: While most of the prognosticators see this category as pretty narrow, I feel like it could go any of four ways.

While frontrunner Martin McDonagh's character work in Three Billboards is impeccable as ever, there are a few contrivances and conveniences that prevent the film from being his strongest work. Also, the film's failure to solve racism must be taken into account. It's hard to gauge the strength of the backlash against the film, or whether there's a Backlash to the Backlash™. However, McDonagh is so noticeably good at dialogue and soliloquies that it's hard to see him being knocked down as frontrunner.

However, barring any potential upsets in other categories (but we'll get to that later), voters might see this as the best chance for Get Out to win something. Jordan Peele taps into the anxiety of a black person in white America with cleverness, depth and dark humor.

Without those two seeming so difficult to top, I could easily see this going to Greta Gerwig's intimate and perceptive Lady Bird, which is delightfully sublime, or to The Big Sick, whose success boils down to that screenplay and its performances. Only The Shape of Water, whose greatest strengths lie elsewhere, seems out of contention. (SMASH CUT to Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor accepting the award.)

In lieu of any certainty, I'm going to lean to the most noticeably written work and guess McDonagh takes it.

Prediction: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Preference: Get Out or Lady Bird

Chris says: Now that's what I like to hear - someone who doesn't buy into the conventional wisdom that this is a two-horse race. I confess, I've bought into that wisdom myself. But I see your logic - even if you threw me an extra curveball by suggesting The Big Sick was the fourth contender and not The Shape of Water.

If we're both wrong and The Shape of Water ends up winning this one, then it's winning fucking everything. Because this certainly seems like the place to honor Get Out or Three Billboards. I almost think the worst thing to happen to Three Billboards' already troublesome reputation is for it to win this award over Get Out, though I also don't think that will be a motivating factor for very many voters.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to briefly defend McDonagh's (excellent) film and its script. What bothers me, aside from the callous shallowness of the way its racist-deputy arc is being discussed, is that too many seem to be analyzing the film on literal terms instead of moral, archetypal, literary ones. McDonagh is so deliberate in how his characters' actions, choices and physical arrangement are structured, and how they affect one another, and he's so specific in his symbolic imagery, that the majority of the angriest reactions to the film seem to be built on flimsy logic that misses the point. But we could go on and on about that and maybe I should just leave it at that.

I do believe Get Out will have the slight edge here - and good thing, too, because it's the best, savviest script of the bunch. Of all the nominees, this is the one that rewards you more and more each time you watch it (little details, little turns of phrase) and the way Peele marries his satirical, political, historical and psychological ideas is a more difficult feat than I think he makes it seem. This could have been a clusterfuck; instead it's a movie that - in his script and his direction - achieves a rare tonal harmony straddling genuine horror and confusion with genuine humor, both interacting anxiously with Peele's uncompromising sociopolitical angle.

As for the final nominee: The Big Sick is bad. It is a bad movie. But it is not a bad movie because of its script, which is kinda good, except only good when it's dealing with character, and not very good at all when it's trying to shoehon that strong character work into narrative boxes. The whole Montreal Comedy Fest subplot is a waste of time that feels like a Syd Field note - give the protagonist a goal he's trying to accomplish! - and the growth/reconciliation portion of the relationship is handled poorly. But there's some really good stuff, too - and an all-timer of a 9/11 joke.

Of course, a good director would have excised that Montreal Comedy Fest angle entirely, and Michael Showalter is absolutely not one of those. As critical as I am of some aspects of The Big Sick's screenplay, it's Showalter who torpedoes the whole thing, displaying absolutely no understanding of what to do with a camera (or even what a camera is), how to frame a scene, or even a shot, or giving us anything that is even remotely specific to a visual medium. He should never direct anything again for the rest of his life.

On a lighter note, I want to quickly recognize, though he wasn't nominated here, Paul Thomas Anderson specifically for his writing. Everyone rightly recognizes him as a master director, but his writing too often gets overlooked. He's made eight films, and has been the sole screenwriter on all eight of them. Who has a record like that? And whose scripts are so consistently personal and strange and rich with unexpected detail and characters that upend our expectations in such beautifully bizarre ways? He should have been nominated here, is what I'm saying. Then again, I'll take what I can get - and there's only one undeserving script of this bunch, so I accept that this was simply a very competitive category.

If not Anderson, I would have liked to maybe see Columbus or Loveless or The Killing of a Sacred Deer get a look here. Or maybe just get rid of the adapted category for this year only and nominate 10 originals instead. Is there still time?

Prediction: Get Out
Preference: Get Out

Best Animated Feature
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

The Head of Dreamworks Animation says: The Boss Baby? You thought we were serious about that? LOL fuck you guys.

Chris says: Not in a million years did I ever think I'd be in the position of pining wistfully for the days when Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius was a nominee for Best Animated Film. But here we are. Of course, I never thought I'd be faced with a reality in which I'd pine wistfully for the president during the Jimmy Neutron era, but ... well, the world is terrible, is what I'm saying. I suppose this is a fitting enough comparison, given the similarities between our current president and the title character of The Boss Baby. Although by this logic, that would make George W. Bush ... a boy genius? OK, this analogy is falling apart.

Point being: Even with the occasional Despicable Me 2 or Puss in Boots that squeaks into the field of nominees, we've never had an overall group this weak in the history of the category. Coco is the obvious winner and the best of the choices - a constant delight, even if it spends too much time on narrative autopilot - but it's certainly not peak Pixar. Loving Vincent and The Breadwinner have their merits as well, but neither compares to the more under-the-radar choices that have earned nominations in this category in recent years.

That this was also a largely underwhelming year for animation in general certainly doesn't help, but the shortlist included Sebastien Laudenbach's outstanding The Girl without Hands - easily the year's most impressive piece of actual animation, all drawn by hand - and the near-brilliant parody The LEGO Batman Movie, which is sure as shit more worthy of recognition than fucking Ferdinand.

Prediction: Coco
Preference: Coco

Jeremy says: I must confess that I didn't see Ferdinand, nor did I make an effort after Chris told me it was worse than The Boss Baby. Of the other nominees, Coco is visually wonderful, with some very poignant moments, but the story is over-reliant on the lazy narrative device of the arch-villain, when the premise really calls for something more intimate. Loving Vincent is also visually impressive and unique in its hand-oil-painted style, but the screenplay felt a bit like it was mainly written as an excuse to exercise that style. Nora Twomey's The Breadwinner isn't quite up to the level of the films Twomey worked on under director Tomm Moore, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, but it does have the most genuine story of the lot, and is way better than Boss Baby. So there's no masterpiece in the bunch, but a few acceptable options.

Prediction: Coco
Preference: The Breadwinner

Best Foreign-Language Film
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

From slaughterhouses to art galleries, this year's crop of foreign-language nominees runs the —

* crow smashes into window *

... as we were saying, what's unique about this group of nominees is th —

* three more crows smash into window *

Thelma from Thelma says: Hmm?

Oh, I'm sorry Thelma, I didn't see you there. We were just talking abo —

* giant ceiling fixture sways violently *

Thelma: Oh don't mind me, you guys, I'll be over here with all the other movies you didn't nominate for an Oscar.

Look, there's really no need for

* all infant children of Academy voters spontaneously disappear *

Now wait a goddamn minute

Thelma: Oh no, no, by all means, keep talking about Middle Eastern Version of Changing Lanes Starring Ben Affleck and Sam Jackson Except Even Stupider. No I'm serious, go ahead. I mean, it's not like Norway selected me as its official Oscar submission or anything. Go ahead, really, it's fine.

* everyone's clothes fall off *

Thelma: I'm not mad, Academy. I'm just disappointed.

* babies reappear underneath everyone's seats *

Thelma: I can kill you with my brain.

Jeremy says: You want to talk about insults? It seems like we've established that you do not want to insult Thelma, and yet insult it is exactly what the Academy did by nominating The Insult. The other four nominees all at least have a unique voice and a visual sense for their stories. But The Insult plays like an after-school special that thinks it's an Asghar Farhadi film. The close-ups of the two main characters in the final montage alone should have disqualified the film from all awards, without even considering the movie's striking inability to let anything exist as subtext. The Insult is so clearly the worst film of the lot, it probably has a chance of winning.

Fortunately, Sebastián Lelio's A Fantastic Woman has thoroughly upstaged it. It hits all the emotional sweet spots that Oscar loves, and Daniela Vega's killer performance drives home the humanity of her character.

Enough voters will have seen The Square, but it will surely have rubbed some of them the wrong way. I enjoyed Ruben Östlund's confrontations and ambiguities more than in the director's last film, Force Majeure, but they will no doubt have alienated at least a chunk of the voting block. Granted, a film could win without that block if allegiances are split enough ways, but it'd be a surprise.

Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless might also turn off voters by being rather depressing, but it's a genuine punch in the gut, depicting two self-centered exes who, when a crisis strikes, have to reckon with their treatment of their son and each other. Zvyagintsev doesn't let his characters hide, and refuses to hide anything.

Ildikó Enyedi's On Body and Soul has all the trappings of a trite romantic fantasy, but is so droll and idiosyncratic as to win over even my cold, black heart. In fact, I feel like this could draw a few votes — not necessarily enough to win, but enough to create a bit of a shakeup.

So there you have it. Four good nominees, one bad one that could still somehow win, but let's not think about that.
Prediction: A Fantastic Woman
Preference: On Body and Soul or Loveless

Chris says: Yeah, if Jeremy hadn't held me back, I would have spent the next 10 pages outlining all the ways The Insult is a disgrace. He made the point more succinctly than I would have.

I'm not a fan of The Square, but until recently I assumed it was a co-frontrunner with A Fantastic Woman. I guess I didn't quite have my finger on the pulse of the Academy's voting habits, but apparently it's The Insult that has somehow stampeded to the front of the pack. Which ... I mean, I'll put it like this. If The Insult and The Boss Baby both win their respective categories, The Boss Baby would be the less embarrassing winner, and it wouldn't be close.

Aside from Joachim Trier's deeply internal and psychologically haunting Thelma, the Academy had other much better options to choose from, among them France's BPM (Beats Per Minute), Thailand's By the Time it Gets Dark, Cambodia's Angelina Jolie-helmed First They Killed My Father, or the surprise Israeli snub Foxtrot, which even though I felt its final third severely underwhelmed after the first two segments, is still a far superior option than The Insult. I hope my saying that doesn't spark some sort if inexplicable, absurdist international incident that nobody realizes is hilarious.

I like both A Fantastic Woman and On Body and Soul (which I think has been unfairly maligned in some corners), but I think the standout is once again Zvyagintsev, who was passed over for Leviathan a few years back, for his devastating Loveless.

Prediction: A Fantastic Woman
Preference: Loveless

Best Actress
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

John Williams says: I have an announcement. *reaches down to his lower neck, yanks off a Mission: Impossible-style mask to reveal ...*

I am Meryl Streep.

Make that 72 nominations, bitches.

Chris says: Three years ago, we had a year with so many strong lead actor choices, we put together four separate groups of nominees, each as strong top-to-bottom as the next, with no overlap. In typical Academy fashion, that year - of all years - they gave the award to fucking Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything, the most Oscary of Oscar choices ever made.

Well, 2017 was the lead-actress equivalent - but thankfully, there's no Redmayne analog in these five choices for Best Actress. In fact, all five choices are worthy, even if I've come to believe that the Academy's Meryl Streep fetish has become actively destructive in its laziness, nominating her for any role that has even a hint of prestige, fundamentally at the expense of other actresses doing more interesting work and who actually might need the career boost an Oscar nomination might provide.

Which is not to knock her performance in The Post. It's good! And unlike her miscast co-star, she makes the role her own. But, as good as she is, she's not Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread good. She's not Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus good. She's not Eili Harboe in Thelma good. She's not Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper good. Or to highlight possibly my favorite performance of the year (but which nonetheless had no chance of being noticed by the Academy), she's not Kiernan Shipka in The Blackcoat's Daughter good, either. Shipka's masterful shifts in consciousness, awareness in mood - from chilly unease to meek uncertainty, and a million places in between - holds that entire delicately calibrated movie together.

I'd also like to point out - simply because I don't think people have taken her seriously enough yet, probably on account of the comedy background the Academy seems to inherently distrust - just how fucking great an actress Jenny Slate is, and how great she is in Gillian Robespierre's Landline (which should come as no surprise to anyone who saw Obvious Child). You can't play an authentic person better than she does in that movie.

While we're at it, quick shoutouts for Florence Pugh in Lady Macbeth, Jennifer Lawrence in mother!, Lindsay Burdge in Thirst Street, Amy Ryan in Abundant Acreage Available, Cate Blanchett in Manifesto, Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion, Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project and Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West.

But I know, I know - let's talk about the actual nominees. Margot Robbie salvages a lot out of a movie that never actually attempts what it proclaims it's attempting, but I, Tonya never brings her down with it. Frances McDormand seems like a shoo-in at this point, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if either Robbie, Saorise Ronan or Sally Hawkins pulled the upset. I could see this being a year in which votes get split in an unexpected way. Or maybe I'm overthinking it and McDormand will win in a landslide. That she's tremendous in Three Billboards is no secret, but I think my preference - with respect to Ronan, who should have 20 Oscar nominations by the time she's done and I'm kinda not exaggerating - would be Hawkins. Maybe I'm still smarting from her Happy Go Lucky snub a decade ago; either way, she deserves an Oscar. This performance is the polar opposite of that one, which relied on her talking virtually non-stop. The Shape of Water requires everything but. The raw expressiveness of her face makes the film's subtitles during her sign-language signs almost entirely unnecessary.

Prediction: Frances McDormand
Preference: Sally Hawkins

Jeremy says: This is a difficult category for me simply because I've been captivated by Ronan's work since I saw Atonement, yet I am also a complete Sally Hawkins fanboy. I guess it's nice that McDormand is going to win this thing since then I don't have to grapple with my mixed emotions.

While Sam Rockwell has worked his charm to keep criticism of Three Billboards at bay, McDormand's disinterest in campaigning at all has kind of kept her out of the conversation. Even when the material doesn't work 100 percent, McDormand performs it 100 percent. And since she doesn't really care if she wins another Oscar, she's destined to get one.

Also, the earlier mention of Gandhi beating Blade Runner in Production Design must also be in the running for Most Oscary Oscar Choice.

Prediction: Frances McDormand
Preference: Sally Hawkins

Best Actor
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Kevin Spacey says: You know who I'd really like to work with? Timothée Chalamet!

**Christopher Plummer rappels down from the rafters.**

Christopher Plummer says: There was no mistake. I have always been introducing the Best Actor category.

Jeremy says: Gary Oldman's work in Darkest Hour doesn't really deserve a V for victory (get it?!?), but it sure looks like he's going to get one. Call it a mix of the famed career-achievement award and his superb body language and portrayal of a flabbergasted and increasingly mentally distressed man in difficult times. The holes in Oldman's performance are partly due to his film's inability to create a convincing conflict arc, instead relying on over-the-top transitions. Despite those shortcomings, the film absolutely nails certain moments in tone and performance, and that's likely what will stick in voters' minds.

Speaking of sticking, a Timothée Chalamet win would please many of us snooty critics. His portrayal of a cocky kid whose vulnerability starts to show through as he falls in love is truly touching. Daniel Kaluuya is even more of a long shot, though his character's increasing discomfort is brilliantly realized.

That people aren't giving too much consideration to Daniel Day-Lewis in this category reflects (a) how much we tend to take a great performance from him for granted and (b) just how brilliantly understated his work in Phantom Thread is. It's OK though — he may be a hungry boy, but I don't think he's hungry for more Oscars.

Judge: I'll allow it.

Prediction: Gary Oldman
Preference: Timothée Chalamet

Chris says: I already called my acting-category upset, although I'm tempted to call this for Chalamet, who has been lingering as Oldman's possible spoiler for a while now but hasn't been able to land the precursor awards. What's unique about his performance is how internal it is - he spends a lot of the movie alone on screen. Alone in thought. His body language, his anxieties, the way the wheels turns in his head, the small ways he communicates with himself. It's actually pretty unusual to spend so much time with a character in these in-between, hidden, generally unremarkable moments, but Chalamet makes a whole person out of the conflicts and desires and nervous energies interacting inside his head.

But since we're on the subject of internalized anxieties, Daniel Kaluuya would be the guy I'd most like to see pull the upset. I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis is my favorite of the performances, but Kaluuya is a close second - and unlike Day-Lewis, he doesn't have 11 Oscars already. Kaluuya's performance is so quietly, carefully modulated, made up of small, almost invisible reactions, subtle changes in tone of voice, that guarded yet hyper-aware physical and emotional demeanor that's a perfect fit both for the character and the scenario he finds himself in.

Oldman is great in Darkest Hour, even if I wasn't wild about the movie in general, but I would have preferred to see him win a few years ago for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Also, while he never had a chance, James McAvoy should have earned more serious consideration for his Split performance than he did.

I'll be quiet now.

Prediction: Gary Oldman
Preference: Daniel Day-Lewis or Daniel Kaluuya

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

Greta Gerwig says: I got tired of my screenplays and performances not getting nominated for Oscars, so I decided to direct something myself. Turns out it's easy as fuck. They give you awards for it and everything!

John Williams says: I know how you feel.

*Noah Baumbach cries.*

Noah Baumbach says: Check out my new movie on Netflix, tho.

Chris says: There I was, before the Oscar nominations were announced, all ready and prepared to champion Christopher Nolan as the deserving Best Director recipient for the symphonic brilliance of Dunkirk, a towering accomplishment of pure filmmaking that people will be examining for years. (Especially once the hip anti-Nolan posturing wears off.) And then the Academy went and threw me for a loop, unexpectedly dropping Paul Thomas Anderson into the mix and ... well, that was that. Sorry, Chris.

Anderson directed the best, strangest, nerviest, most nakedly human movie of the year, and for it he deserves every available award, all of which will go to other people. Then again, his mere inclusion in the final five is such a pleasant surprise - along the lines of The Tree of Life or City of God scoring directing nominations, that I can't complain when he inevitably loses. Nor will I bitch about how he's only been nominated for directing twice during his two-plus decades.

I also can't complain much because this happens to be a really good group of nominees. Five distinct filmmakers, each with a distinct voice, all of whom made good movies. There's not a Lenny Abrahamson, a Morten Tyldum or an American Hustle in the bunch.

If I had seen all of the year's movies but had been able to completely ignore any news or industry coverage, and I was told that someone had a chance to be the first woman to win Best Director, I would have just assumed everyone was talking about Sofia Coppola, whose masterful handling of The Beguiled's insular, dreamlike mood and its sardonic sexual undertones made it one of the year's very best. But while it's a bit of a bummer that The Beguiled was so thoroughly overlooked, Greta Gerwig made a strong case of her own, delivering one of the finest coming-of-age films in years - and in reading a lot of the coverage about the movie I actually think her directorial chops have been undersold.

Jordan Peele's sudden ascension to A-list director is well-deserved as well - and should come as no surprise to anyone who's heard him talk about cinema over the years, or watched enough of Key and Peele, both of which demonstrated an artist with a deep command of genre, structure, and cinematic language as a whole. Indeed, Get Out's visual and modular precision suggests a filmmaker with more titles under his belt - the rare debut feature that doesn't feel anything like a debut.

I don't think this qualifies as "complaining," but I do want to quickly recognize a few other directorial efforts that could have justifiably made the cut. No one did anything quite like Darren Aronofsky did with mother!, which is in some ways as bold - if not bolder - experiment than Nolan's. Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi), Joachim Trier (Thelma), Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat's Daughter) and Gore Verbinski (A Cure for Wellness) did near-virtuoso work in their genre entries. And despite the long odds, I certainly wouldn't have minded seeing Andrey Zvyagintsev (Loveless), Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper), Nathan Silver (Thirst Street), James Gray (The Lost City of Z) or Cristian Mungiu (Graduation) on a list like this. Or, y'know ... *screams into void* ... Bruno Dumont for Slack Bay. But who am I kidding.

Some are predicting a picture/director split, with The Shape of Water winning top honors and Nolan taking Best Director. But I don't see that happening - and in fact I think a different picture/director split is more likely. Guillermo del Toro has dominated the directing awards on the circuit this year, including the Globes, the BAFTAs, and the DGA. So I think the trend will continue. I'll be happy for del Toro, even if I think he's done much better films than Shape.

Prediction: Guillermo del Toro
Preference: Paul Thomas Anderson

Jeremy says: In some ways, del Toro is a victim of his own success — his success in making great films that have given me high expectations, and his film's success this year. The more awards The Shape of Water gets, the more we think, "well it isn't THAT good." Which is a perfectly fair reaction, yet does forget about some of the great images and moments created in the movie. That opening underwater shot. That flooded bathroom. That quaint-looking pie restaurant that's actually a prototype chain restaurant and bastion of hate. So while he wouldn't be in my top choices to receive this award, I'll still give me a little smile when he accepts the award. Maybe even a wink. Also worth noting: If he wins, all three of those Mexican bad boys from back in the day will officially be decorated Hollywood sellout hacks.

As someone who has occasionally provided some hip anti-Nolan posturing (although I like most of his films), I didn't really have any of the issues I've had with some of his films. In fact, I suspect he consciously challenged himself to do something with less need for explanatory dialogue, allowing the visuals to speak for themselves. Especially when you see the film on 70mm, and take in the openness of that beach while at the same time realizing how trapped everyone is, it's impossible not to appreciate what Nolan created. To be honest, I'm quite surprised he isn't the frontrunner here, and if anyone pulled an upset, I'd expect it to be him.

But yeah, Paul motherfucking Thomas goddamn Anderson. He's the man.

Prediction: Guillermo del Toro
Preference: Paul Thomas Anderson

Best Picture
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Same Dame Research Assistant says: Fun fact: This is the last category!

Jeremy says: The Academy doesn't care about mother! or The Lost City of Z. The Beguiled couldn't get a shout-out for anything in front of or behind the camera. Columbus might as well not exist, and A Ghost Story was left behind. So it's important to put everything into perspective and remember that winning these things doesn't actually mean all that much.

The top film here is Phantom Thread, in case you didn't pick up that Chris and I both like that one. This definitely isn't the worst batch of Best Picture nominees ever, with Dunkirk, Lady Bird and Get Out being among my other strong choices.

As far as the actual race goes, The Shape of Water is the favorite in a lot of the categories that point to Best Picture, and yet... no one is really all that sure what the hell is going to win. Maybe it's part of the Best Picture fiasco of last year. People heard La La Land, it made sense, and then they got the Moonlight curveball. Now nothing makes sense. They might as well just give it to Phantom Thread.

OK, so that won't happen, but with these new ranked ballots, you never know. Dunkirk could pull ahead for its vast achievement. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri could win for its great ensemble and brilliant examination of certainty or doubt. Or maybe a little film that everyone loves enough to rank could work its way up from a sunken place to Best Picture. That's right, I'm calling this thing for Get Out, partly because it'd be awesome if it won one or no awards then took Best Picture.

Prediction: Get Out
Preference: Phantom Thread

Chris says: My thinking is the same, though the recent Anonymous Oscar Voter snippet that I shamefully read was worrisome. The voter in question seemed confused by the insinuation that Get Out was about actual social and racial issues, rather than "just a fun B-movie." So my worry is that there's a whole contingent of voters who genuinely didn't get what they were seeing, and have been turned off by the ensuing conversation about the film.

But since there are no stakes here, I'm still going to pick it to win. This is the most wide-open Best Picture race I've ever seen; I could reasonably see five different movies taking it, none of which would shock me. The Shape of Water is the safest bet, but Get Out has been easily the most culturally relevant movie of the year, and has a lot of support among the newer members on the Academy's voting rolls, and the overall enthusiasm for it could push it over the top. I would say Three Billboards, Dunkirk or Lady Bird have outside shots just because the vote could split in odd ways, leaving one of those three to slip past Shape and Get Out.

Prediction: Get Out
Preference: Phantom Thread
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