There’s no room for sentimentality if you want to win the Oscar pool at your office or Academy Awards viewing party.
“Keep your own personal views of the nominees out of things,” advises Tom O’Neil, editor and founder of GoldDerby.com, the show-biz awards prediction site. “You’re predicting what Academy members will think of contenders. No one cares what you think.”
And in a wide-open year, picking the movie with the most nominations to win the top prize at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony may not be the smart play, either.
Guillermo del Toro’s cleaning lady-meets-merman romance “The Shape of Water” is considered the favorite, thanks to its leading 13 nominations. But other Best Picture nominees — notably the World War II drama “Dunkirk” (eight nominations) and the small-town crime drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (seven nominations) — could have a solid shot.
Part of the reason an underdog might take Best Picture — the way last year’s winner, “Moonlight,” beat out the musical “La La Land,” despite the latter having more nominations — is because of the way members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences vote in that category.
“Best Picture is the hardest category because it uses a unique voting system: a preferential ballot,” O’Neil said.
For the other categories, it’s simpler: Pick one of the five (or three, in the Makeup and Hairstyling category) nominees, and the top vote-getter wins. In a preferential ballot, voters pick their No. 1 favorite movie among the nine nominees, but they also pick No. 2, No. 3, and so on down the line.
When the folks from PriceWaterhouseCoopers — yes, they still have the gig, even after last year’s flub that momentarily gave Best Picture to “La La Land” — get the ballots, they count up the No. 1 votes for each of the nine nominees. Votes for the movie that comes in last are divvied up based on the voters’ No. 2 preference. This process continues until there are two piles left, for the top two vote-getters. The bigger stack of ballots wins.
The preferential ballot “means a movie with the most No. 2 or No. 3 votes can beat a rival that has the most No. 1 votes,” O’Neil said. “You’re looking for the film with the widest consensus support.”
One way some Oscar prognosticators see this year playing out is that “The Shape of Water” will win several categories — director for Guillermo del Toro, probably original score and production design — but will be denied Best Picture. Instead, a movie that is well-liked by Academy voters, maybe “Three Billboards” or even Jordan Peele’s hot-button horror thriller “Get Out,” will take the top award.
I’ve found that the precursor awards are helpful, but not definitive. The Golden Globes, for example, matter in terms of setting the stage for nominations, but not so much in the final Oscar winners. The guilds, like the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America, often are better barometers, because their voters are often the same ones who vote for the Oscars.
But it’s all speculation and educated guesses before Sunday night, when the 90th Academy Awards will be handed out at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. (The show airs live on ABC — KTVX, Ch. 4, in Utah — starting with the red-carpet coverage at 6 p.m. MST.)
If it were completely predictable, there would be no chance for an underdog to win an Oscar — or your Oscar pool.
Here are my predictions for who will win Sunday, along with my picks if I were blessed with an Academy Awards ballot:
Actor in a Leading Role
The nominees are • 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.”
Who will win • Academy voters love transformation and impersonation, and the skinny Oldman’s uncanny performance as the bulldog Winston Churchill fills both criteria.
Who should win • The precision of Day-Lewis’ reportedly final film performance, as he inhabits the perfectionist and passionate fashion designer in Paul Thomas Anderson’s rich drama, deserves giving the actor what would be his fourth Oscar. (Disclaimer: I never saw Washington’s performance in “Roman J. Israel Esq.”)
Actress in a Leading Role
The nominees are • 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.”
Who will win • McDormand is practically a lock to get her second Oscar (after “Fargo” two decades ago). If there’s an upset, it could be Hawkins for her tender, mute performance.
Who should win • There are no bad performances in this category. My favorite is Ronan’s delicate, funny portrayal of a high school girl finding her identity.
Actor in a Supporting Role
The nominees are • 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.”
Who will win • Rockwell has won many of the precursor awards, and other actors — the Academy’s largest voting bloc — admire him greatly.
Who should win • Rockwell and Harrelson are both excellent in “Three Billboards,” but my preference would be Dafoe, whose role as a gruff-but-fatherly motel manager is the beating heart of “The Florida Project.” (Disclaimer: I never saw “All the Money in the World,” so I can’t judge Plummer’s performance.)
Actress in a Supporting Role
The nominees are • Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”; Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”; Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”; Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”; Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water.”
Who will win • Janney is expected to take the Oscar, to go on the shelf with her seven Emmys.
Who should win • As good as Janney’s performance as the hard-bitten mom of skater Tonya Harding was, I was touched by another movie mom: Metcalf’s turn as an exacting, but secretly loving, mother to Ronan’s rebel teen.
The nominees are • Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”; Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”; Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”; Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”; Jordan Peele, “Get Out.”
Who will win • Del Toro’s magic touch on the otherworldly romance of “The Shape of Water” is a lock.
Who should win • A strong field all around, and anyone winning here would make me happy. My vote would go to Peele’s nail-biting tension in “Get Out.”
Writing — Original Screenplay
The nominees are • Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, “The Big Sick”; Jordan Peele, “Get Out”; Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”; Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (story by Guillermo del Toro), “The Shape of Water”; Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Who will win • Peele’s scary, smart and racially contentious script for “Get Out” is the winner here — and that’s not just white liberal guilt talking.
Who should win • “Get Out” had an amazing, thought-provoking script, but I’d vote for “The Big Sick” for the way married screenwriters Gordon and Nanjiani mined their personal courtship story for universal laughs and insight.
Writing — Adapted Screenplay
The nominees are • James Ivory, “Call Me By Your Name”; Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, “The Disaster Artist”; Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green (story by James Mangold), “Logan”; Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”; Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, “Mudbound.”
Who will win • The 89-year-old Ivory, who has never won an Academy Award for the films he directed in his partnership with producer Ismael Merchant (“A Room With a View,” “Howards End,” etc.), is so far ahead of the pack that no one will catch him.
Who should win • Ivory deserves the award just for Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech at the end.
The nominees are • “Call Me By Your Name,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Post,” “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Who will win • Here’s where the preferential ballot may tip the balance: Even though “The Shape of Water” has more nominations than any other film, I think “Three Billboards” may eke out a win because it’s perceived as more socially relevant.
Who should win • “Get Out” is socially relevant, to be sure. It’s also, by a mile, the sharpest and best-made movie of any of the nominees.
Did you make it this far? Awesome! For your prize, you get bonus predictions, my web-exclusive picks for the rest of the Academy Awards categories — the obscure ones that can make or break an Oscar pool ballot:
Animated Feature Film
The nominees are • “The Boss Baby,” “The Breadwinner,” “Coco,” “Ferdinand,” “Loving Vincent.”
Who will win • Pixar strikes again with “Coco.”
Who should win • As much as I loved the funny and touching “Coco,” I was deeply moved by “The Breadwinner,” with its inventive animation and its compelling story of an Afghan girl driven to extremes to rescue her family during war.
The nominees are • Roger A. Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049”; Bruno Delbonnel, “Darkest Hour”; Hoyte van Hoytema, “Dunkirk”; Rachel Morrison, “Mudbound”; Dan Laustsen, “The Shape of Water.”
Who will win • Deakins, after 13 previous nominations and no wins, will finally hear his name read from an envelope on the Dolby Theatre stage.
Who should win • For capturing the grimy future look of “Blade Runner 2049” even better than Jordan Cronenweth did in Ridley Scott’s version, Deakins deserved to end his Oscar drought.
The nominees are • Jacqueline Durran, “Beauty and the Beast”; Jacqueline Durran, “Darkest Hour”; Mark Bridges, “Phantom Thread”; Luis Sequeira, “The Shape of Water”; Consolata Boyle, “Victoria & Abdul.”
Who will win • “Phantom Thread,” a movie about clothes, is the favorite to win this category.
Who should win • The gowns in “Phantom Thread” get the attention, but Day-Lewis’ own fastidious wardrobe is equally impressive.
Documentary — Feature
The nominees are • “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” “Faces Places,” “Icarus,” “Last Men in Aleppo,” “Strong Island.”
Who will win • James Ivory won’t be the oldest Oscar winner this year — that honor will go to 89-year-old French New Wave icon Agnès Varda, born eight days before Ivory, and collaborating with Paris street artist JR to photograph everyday French people in “Faces Places.”
Who should win • There’s not a bad movie in the bunch, with topics ranging from Syria (“Last Man in Aleppo”) to Russian athletes’ doping (“Icarus”) to the 2008 financial crisis (“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”) — plus a chance for Varda to remind the world what a jerk her old colleague Jean-Luc Godard is. But the most moving of the lot is “Strong Island,” in which filmmaker Yance Ford details the racially motivated shooting that shattered his family and prompted his coming-out as a trans man.
Documentary — Short Subject
The nominees are • “Edith + Eddie,” “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” “Heroin(e),” “Knife Skills,” “Traffic Stop.”
Who will win • “Edith + Eddie,” an intimate look at two nonagenarians who fall in love but are separated by their relations, is the odds-on favorite, thanks to a boost from Cher, one of the executive producers.
Who should win • Hard to choose when the documentary-short format either doesn’t deliver enough or drags a slight story on too long. My pick here is “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” an emotional chronicle of artist Mindy Alper’s struggles with mental illness and day-to-day life in Los Angeles.
The nominees are • Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, “Baby Driver”; Lee Smith, “Dunkirk”; Tatiana S. Riegel, “I, Tonya”; Sidney Wolinsky, “The Shape of Water”; Jon Gregory, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Who will win • Smith’s work on “Dunkirk,” for melding three timelines into a seamless whole.
Who should win • It’s been ages since we’ve seen car chases as dynamic as those in “Baby Driver,” and the editing by Machliss and Amos was the star of the show.
Foreign Language Film
The nominees are • “A Fantastic Woman,” Chile; “The Insult,” Lebanon; “Loveless,” Russia; “On Body and Soul,” Hungary; “The Square,” Sweden.
Who will win • A close call, but Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” will probably win out over Ruben Östlund’s Palme D’Or-winning “The Square.” One sign that the award may be in the bag: The ceremony’s producers signed “A Fantastic Woman” star Daniela Vega as a presenter — the first trans actress to receive such an honor.
Who should win • Intellectually, I was more impressed with the art-world satire of “The Square,” but my heart goes with the triumphant love of “A Fantastic Woman.” (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the Russian film “Loveless.”)
Makeup and Hairstyling
The nominees are • Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick, “Darkest Hour”; Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard, “Victoria & Abdul”; Arjen Tuiten, “Wonder.”
Who will win • “Darkest Hour,” for Tsuji’s transformation of Oldman into Churchill.
Who should win • Tsuji’s work on “Darkest Hour” allowed audiences to see both Churchill and Oldman at the same time — no easy task.
Music — Original Score
The nominees are • Hans Zimmer, “Dunkirk”; Jonny Greenwood, “Phantom Thread”; Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”; John Williams, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”; Carter Burwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Who will win • Desplat’s ethereal score will be part of Sunday’s haul for “The Shape of Water.”
Who should win • The collaboration between Paul Thomas Anderson and Greenwood, the lead guitarist and keyboardist for Radiohead, reached its peak with “Phantom Thread,” producing music as haunting and as sharp as the romance it accompanied.
Music — Original Song
The nominees are • “Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” music and lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson; “Mystery of Love” from “Call Me By Your Name,” music and lyric by Sufjan Stevens; “Remember Me” from “Coco,” music and lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez; “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” music by Diane Warren, lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn (aka Common) and Diane Warren; “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” music and lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Who will win • A close call between “Coco’s” tender ballad and “The Greatest Showman’s” show-stopping anthem — but “Remember Me” probably will score the Lopezes their second Oscar (they also won for “Let It Go” from “Frozen”). Locals will get the joy of Brigham Young University and Southern Utah University alumna Keala Settle belting out “This Is Me” during Sunday’s ceremony.
Who should win • Stevens’ “Mystery of Love” most perfectly fits its movie moment, as it plays under the tender romantic tug-of-war in “Call Me By Your Name.”
The nominees are • Sarah Greenwood (production design) and Katie Spencer (set decoration), “Beauty and the Beast”; Dennis Gassner (production design) and Alessandra Querzola (set decoration), “Blade Runner 2049”; Sarah Greenwood (production design) and Katie Spencer (set decoration), “Darkest Hour”; Nathan Crowley (production design) and Gary Fettis (set decoration), “Dunkirk”; Paul Denham Austerberry (production design), Shane Vieau and Jeffrey A. Melvin (set decoration), “The Shape of Water.”
Who will win • The Cold War-era look of “The Shape of Water” is a winner here.
Who should win • The world-building of “Blade Runner 2049,” which borrowed from Ridley Scott’s 1984 original and expanded it, was the most arresting look of the five nominees.
Short Film — Animated
Who will win • “Dear Basketball,” a love letter to the game from Kobe Bryant set to evocative images animated by the great Glen Keane (who animated Ariel and Tarzan for Disney), is the favorite — especially since many of the voters are Lakers fans. It’s unclear if Bryant’s chances will be dimmed in the #MeToo era, because of the 2003 sexual assault allegation against him.
Who should win • Pixar’s “Lou” (which screened with “Cars 3”) is wonderful, an inventive story of lost-and-found items forming a consciousness and protecting their playground. But it doesn’t generate quite as many quiet tears as the eccentric stop-motion tale “Negative Space,” in which a man recounts bonding with his late father over packing luggage.
Short Film — Live-Action
The nominees are • “DeKalb Elementary,” “The Eleven O’Clock,” “My Nephew Emmett,” “The Silent Child,” “Watu Wote / All of Us.”
Who will win • The timeliness of “DeKalb Elementary,” based on actual 911 calls of a troubled teen entering a school with a semi-automatic rifle, may make this one a winner.
Who should win • The most complete and most dramatic of the five is “The Silent Child,” about a social worker (played by Rachel Shenton, who wrote it) helping a deaf 5-year-old (Maisie Sly) learn sign language.
The nominees are • Julian Slater, “Baby Driver”; Mark Mangini and Theo Green, “Blade Runner 2049”; Richard King and Alex Gibson, “Dunkirk”; Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira, “The Shape of Water”; Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
Who will win • The World War II bombast of “Dunkirk” will win in the two sound categories.
Who should win • The sound team of “Dunkirk” did a lot of the heavy lifting in making the combat experience feel as authentic as possible.
The nominees are • Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis, “Baby Driver”; Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth, “Blade Runner 2049”; Greg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo and Mark Weingarten, “Dunkirk”; Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier, “The Shape of Water”; David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
Who will win • “Dunkirk” will double up in the sound categories.
Who should win • The sound mix of “Dunkirk” envelops the viewer in the realism of the battle.
The nominees are • John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover, “Blade Runner 2049”; Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”; Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus, “Kong: Skull Island”; Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Courbould, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”; Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist, “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
Who will win • The realistic, expressive creatures of “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
Who should win • It’s a battle of the simians, with the emotive faces of the primates in “War for the Planet of the Apes” beating out the bigger-than-life spectacle of “Kong: Skull Island.”