"The Shape of Water" received a leading 13 Academy Award nominations on Tuesday. Photo from FoxSearchlight/YouTube
“The Shape of Water” received a leading 13 Academy Award nominations on Tuesday. Photo from FoxSearchlight/YouTube

Producers of Sunday’s 90th Oscars are likely hoping for a much less dramatic end to the event than last year, when the wrong film was announced as the best-picture winner, but that category is ironically the one generating the most drama this year.

Most pundits have narrowed the best-picture race to a two-horse sprint between Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy romance “The Shape of Water” — the top nominee with 13 — and Martin McDonagh’s crime drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

“Shape of Water” appears to have the upper hand, having already collected the usually prophetic Producers Guild of America Award, although the winner of that honor the past two years has failed to win the top Oscar. Del Toro also won the Directors Guild of America Award, making him the front-runner in the Oscar directing category, while McDonagh didn’t even earn an Academy Award nomination for directing “Three Billboards.”

Some Hollywood crystal-ball-gazers have suggested the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ voting system of ranking the best-picture nominees might open the door for an underdog to slip into winner’s envelope. Other films in the category are “Call Me By Your Name,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Phantom Thread” and “The Post.”

So while the final award of the night will provide some excitement, the acting awards aren’t likely to.

Gary Oldman is widely expected to take home the best actor prize for his role as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the wartime drama “Darkest Hour,” while Frances McDormand is considered a lock for best actress for her turn as the mother of a murdered daughter in “Three Billboards.”

Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney are also heavy favorites for their supporting roles — Rockwell as a police officer in “Three Billboards” and Janney as figure skater Tonya Harding’s abusive mother in “I, Tonya.”

Oldman, McDormand, Rockwell and Janney made clean sweeps of the major pre-Oscar awards, including the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild honors, so they’re unlikely to go home empty-handed Sunday night — but not for a lack of formidable competition.

Oldman is in a powerhouse field of nominees, led by past winners Daniel Day-Lewis for “Phantom Thread” and Denzel Washington for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” Newcomers Timothee Chalamet of “Call Me by Your Name” and Daniel Kaluuya of “Get Out” round out the category.

Day-Lewis is a three-time Oscar winner for “My Left Foot,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Lincoln,” while Washington is a nine-time nominee and two-time winner, for his lead role in “Training Day” and supporting work in “Glory.”

McDormand, who previously won a best-actress Oscar for “Fargo,” is competing with Sally Hawkins of “The Shape of Water,” Margot Robbie for “I, Tonya,” Saoirse Ronan of “Lady Bird” and Oscar history-maker Meryl Streep for “The Post.”

Streep’s nomination is the 21st of her career, and the 17th as best actress, extending her lead as the performer with the most career Oscar nominations. She previously won best actress for “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Iron Lady,” and for supporting work in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Janney will be challenged for supporting-actress honors by Mary J. Blige for “Mudbound,” Lesley Manville for “Phantom Thread,” Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird” and Octavia Spencer for “The Shape of Water.”

Rockwell leads a supporting-actor category that also features Willem Dafoe of “The Florida Project,” Woody Harrelson of “Three Billboards,” Richard Jenkins for “The Shape of Water” and Christopher Plummer for “All the Money in the World.”

Plummer was a late addition to the film, replacing Kevin Spacey, who was removed from the movie following allegations of sexual misconduct. At 88 years old, Plummer holds the record for the oldest acting nominee. He is also the oldest person to win an acting Oscar, earning a supporting-actor honor for “Beginners” at age 82.

The DGA win makes del Toro a front-runner for best director for “The Shape of Water.” Also vying for the prize are Christopher Nolan for “Dunkirk,” Jordan Peele for “Get Out,” Greta Gerwig for “Lady Bird” and Paul Thomas Anderson for “Phantom Thread.”

McDonagh was a notable snub in the directing category, although he is nominated for best original screenplay for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Peele and Gerwig are also nominated for original screenplay, while del Toro is nominated along with Vanessa Taylor for “The Shape of Water.” Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani round out the original screenplay category for penning “The Big Sick.”

“The Shape of Water” also has nominations for cinematography, costume design, film editing, original score, production design, sound editing and sound mixing.

“Dunkirk” has eight total nominations, followed by “Three Billboards” with seven and “Darkest Hour” and “Phantom Thread” with six each.

Jimmy Kimmel will return to host the Oscar ceremony at the Dolby Theatre for the second year in a row. He received high marks for his freshman hosting effort last year, highlighted by his casual handling of the end-of- ceremony flub that saw presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing “La La Land” as the winner of the best picture Oscar, when the prize actually went to “Moonlight.”

The turmoil led to an investigation that primarily laid blame for the snafu on a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, Brian Cullinan, who handed Beatty the wrong winner’s envelope backstage. Officials noted that Cullinan was frequently on his cell phone backstage, even snapping a photo of best-actress winner Emma Stone as she walked off stage — around the time he should have been handing the best-picture envelope to Beatty.

Cullinan won’t be back this year, and the Academy has banned “electronic devices” backstage to ensure there are no more distraction- related foul-ups.

For people looking for a little more drama on stage Sunday night, there are a few things to watch:

— Retired Laker star Kobe Bryant is nominated for an Oscar in the best animated short category for “Dear Basketball,” a dramatization of his retirement announcement.

— Rachel Morrison is the first woman ever nominated for the Oscar for best cinematography for her work on “Mudbound,” so she could break another glass ceiling with a win. But she is faced with formidable competition, most notably from Roger Deakins, a sentimental favorite whose nomination for “Blade Runner 2049” is the 14th of his career, but he has never won.

— Regardless of whether he wins the original score prize for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” composer John Williams’ appearance at the ceremony pads his already history-making impact on the film world. The nomination is the 51st of his career, second only to Walt Disney’s 59. Williams holds the record for original-score nominations with 46. His other five nods were for original song.


—City News Service

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