Handicapping the 9 nominees for best picture.
The story: A young man meets his girlfriend’s wealthy, oddly welcoming family.
In its favor: Deft skewering of white liberalism, and the most crowd-pleasing moment of the year.
Then again: Call it a comedy, call it a horror film — the Academy doesn’t much like either genre.
The Shape of Water
The story: A Cold War-era mashup of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Creature From the Black Lagoon.”
In its favor: Gorgeously filmed; a standout cast with a mute Sally Hawkins at its poignant center.
Then again: Does it want to be a romance? A sci-fi flick? A buddy picture? A spy movie?
Call Me by Your Name
The story: A teenager falls for his father’s graduate assistant in 1980s Italy.
In its favor: It’s both halting and exhilarating in its exploration of fresh love. The dewy-eyed Timothée Chalamet is a revelation.
Then again: Languid to the point of narcolepsy, it will test the patience of non-art-house viewers.
The story: Winston Churchill faces his country’s titular crisis in the early days of World War II.
In its favor: A towering performance by Gary Oldman; lush cinematography that puts you right in Piccadilly Circus.
Then again: This is really a one-man show. And come on, did the great leader really descend into the Tube?
The story: Christopher Nolan’s retelling of a daring and pivotal World War II rescue mission.
In its favor: A you-are-there realism, with Hans Zimmer’s thrumming score ratcheting the tension to 11.
Then again: The minimal exposition and pliable timeline mean short attention spans need not apply.
The story: A year in the life of a disaffected Sacramento teenager (the luminous Saoirse Ronan).
In its favor: A tenderly realistic portrayal of the mother-daughter bond, and a fresh take on a universal subject.
Then again: Cue the eye roll — some quirks are just for quirkiness’ sake. And does anything really happen?
The story: A couturier in postwar London takes on a headstrong muse who disrupts his fastidious world.
In its favor: It’s as luxuriously elegant as a ballgown. Spoiler alert: Daniel Day-Lewis is riveting. But so is newcomer Vicky Krieps.
Then again: No one is particularly likable, and the film’s vaguely Hitchcockian pretensions fall short.
The story: A newspaper publisher risks everything in a battle against the government.
In its favor: A rousing counterargument in the era of “fake news,” it’s got Streep and Hanks and Spielberg.
Then again: You could call it “All the President’s Men” lite. That’s a mighty high bar to transcend.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The story: A bitter, grieving mother takes in-your-face action.
In its favor: A blistering turn by Frances McDormand, tart dialogue and surprising zigzags. With Golden Globes and SAG wins, it’s got the hot hand.
Then again: Our heroine’s bad-assery is a shade over the top. Can you say Molotov cocktail?
Two acting heavyweights will battle it out.
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Role: Reynolds Woodcock, obsessive London couturier.
In his favor: A joyfully complex role as an enigmatic, vulnerable egomaniac in love. Day-Lewis seems to be a clairvoyant channeling him, not an actor playing him.
Then again: Voters who watch this confounding film on DVD rather than in a full theater may underrate the eccentric humor he weaves into the role, and regard it as a standard tortured-artist yarn.
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Role: Winston Churchill in his first days as prime minister.
In his favor: It’s uncanny to see an actor lose himself so deeply when playing a legendary figure. Oldman doesn’t hide in the amazing prosthetics; he captures the temperament, the amiability and the oratory. (Globes and SAG winner)
Then again: A feel-good episode toward the film’s end feels like pure, unadulterated Oscar bait.
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Role: Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old exploring his sexuality.
In his favor: He’s the protagonist in the upmarket art-house hit of the year, the sort of prestige that draws Academy voters like bees to honey. Coupled with his turn in “Lady Bird,” he’s become this year’s breakout star.
Then again: There’s no urgency to give a new arrival to Hollywood the big prize the moment that he appears.
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Role: Chris Washington, a photographer in an interracial romance.
In his favor: Kaluuya brings a crucial amount of intelligence and energy to the role. The little indie wouldn’t have been such a hit without him.
Then again: The last time a male performer won for a straight-up horror movie was Fredric March in 1931. And it’s been 15 years since best actor went to a black man (Forest Whitaker).
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
Role: A mild-mannered lawyer takes on a tough case.
In his favor: It’s a real stretch for Washington, who usually plays Mr. Take-Charge, to tackle a character so meek and nerdy. And he pulls it off surprisingly well.
Then again: The Academy usually favors commanding characters who are larger than life, not smaller. And compared to Oldman’s full-body resurrection as Churchill, a Don King head of hair isn’t much.
Who got robbed
Tom Hanks, “The Post”
Role: Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post.
In his favor: He turns a role that might be a pure vanilla history lesson into an enjoyable blend of skepticism, cynicism and gruff guts.
Then again: In “All the President’s Men,” Jason Robards didn’t just play Bradlee, he immortalized him — and won the Oscar for it. So why repeat the exercise?
There's one sure bet, but all the nominees are worthy.
Will (and should) win:
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Role: Mildred Hayes, a raging, grieving mother.
In her favor: A great role as a sarcastic, smug antihero. She sparks fire from Mildred’s alienation, her hard-edged humor and her one-woman assault against male authority. (Globes and SAG winner)
Then again: She won the 1996 prize as sweet-tempered Marge Gunderson in “Fargo.” Is one prize for nutty regionalism enough?
Also should win
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Role: Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning lady in love with an amphibian man.
In her favor: Elisa may be speechless, but Hawkins is pitch-perfect. Her adventure — discovering love in an unfriendly world — is a remarkably sensitive, sexually candid feat of acting.
Then again: The film’s genre, science fiction, has long been considered trivial kids’ stuff by the Academy, which could create a significant disadvantage. Not that the film’s scenes of white-knuckle R-rated violence and full nudity are an easy sell, either.
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Role: Role: Disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding.
In her favor: Absolutely everything. She gives us a ridiculously enjoyable character who is the untrustworthy narrator of her own life. Even in tacky homemade costumes and permed hair, Robbie is rapturous fun.
Then again: Voters prefer films filled with hope and optimism. This cynical comedy replaces smiles with morbid giggles.
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Role: Christine McPherson, a Catholic high schooler aiming for an exciting life.
In her favor: As a secretly vulnerable, well-meaning but inept dork, she is delicious. She encapsulates both youth’s wounds and its unbeatable hope. The spectrum of adolescent foibles has never seemed so charming.
Then again: The quiet, outwardly mundane role might not stand out in this category.
Meryl Streep, “The Post”
Role: Katharine Graham, a newspaper publisher finding her footing in a man’s world.
In her favor: A sophisticated performance as a woman evolving from polite, passive femininity to polite, decisive, feminist agency. Every scene with her rings true, even when she’s not front and center.
Then again: The other nominees’ work elevates them to a career peak. Wouldn’t it be good to give them a chance?
Who got robbed
Jessica Chastain, “Molly’s Game”
Role: Role: Molly Bloom, promoter of underground poker games for rich men.
In her favor: In a smart, ethically elastic role, Chastain rat-a-tats nonstop smart-aleck dialogue and squeezes tasty juice out of a real-life character.
Then again: Chastain plays resolute women more often than Ben Stiller plays glum middle-aged men. It’s talented work in a repetitive package.
Best supporting actor
There's mounting opposition for the favorite here.
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Role: Toxic billionaire and ruthless grandpa J. Paul Getty.
In his favor: He’s remarkably good in the role inherited from the disgraced Kevin Spacey. It’s amazing that the old pro (88!) could nail those Hail Mary reshoots at rocket speed over just nine days. And no, “nine” is not a typo.
Then again: No downside; this prize favors villains. Plummer, already an Oscar winner, twirls a good mustache.
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Role: Jason Dixon, a doofus police deputy.
In his favor: Swinging from giggle-your-butt off comedy to crushing drama in a role that subverts character clichés, Rockwell crawls from racism and corruption to a hard-won moral victory. (Globes and SAG winner)
Then again: Some voters might feel his shifting from Barney Fife to Travis Bickle and back is outlandishly over the top.
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Role: Bobby Hicks, manager of the low-budget Magic Kingdom Motel.
In his favor: Dafoe may never have played a person as realistic and authentic as this gentle, good-hearted man. He’s the emotional crux of the film.
Then again: A case could be made that spirited 6-year-old newcomer Brooklynn Prince, who plays the protagonist, is the real standout star.
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Role: Bill Willoughby, a respected police chief with a terminal illness.
In his favor: He’s pure class as the ethical center of a roller-coaster revenge thriller. It’s a three-dimensional role and he fills every quadrant with fine pieces of acting.
Then again: He has never won a prize in the competitive big leagues. For his talent to be underappreciated is simply wrong, but a trend is a trend.
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Role: Giles, a sympathetic friend to a mute woman.
In his favor: Among a great cast following a fine script, he’s a standout. Playing a hopelessly romantic gay man trying to find his place in early 1960s America, his lonely-hearts life parallels the heroine’s, but to sillier comic highs and sadder isolated lows.
Then again: It’s hard to steal a movie away from supporting co-stars like Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Who got robbed
Armie Hammer, “Call Me by Your Name”
Role: Oliver, a gay grad student exploring a summer romance.
In his favor: Screen presence, movie-star good looks and a challenging role. He subverts a lot of expectations as a 24-year-old history scholar who falls in love with a professor’s teenage son.
Then again: The thematically similar “Moonlight” won in this category last year. Could it have hurt him?
Best supporting actress
Come get your Oscar, Allison Janney.
Will (and should) win
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Role: LaVona Golden, Tonya Harding’s spiteful mother.
In her favor: Janney is on fire here, turning a gargoyle of a dysfunctional mom into a creature both horrifying and hilarious. No other nominee plays so magnetic a character. (Globes and SAG winner)
Then again: If voters can’t see the painful comedy gold in emotional abuse and profane dialogue, Janney’s precisely calibrated hatefulness will go unrewarded.
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Role: Florence Jackson, the quietly strong wife of a tenant farmer.
In her favor: Blige totally remade herself for the part. Her performance tells us everything about what Florence is feeling. And there’s the novelty of an R&B/ hip-hop star acting her heart out onscreen.
Then again: The film had a minimal release in theaters. The prize is more likely to go to an industry lifer.
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Role: Cyril Woodcock, the curt, formidable sister of a fashion designer.
In her favor: A thoughtful, subtle, and effective performance as a prim workaholic who is her obsessive brother’s guardian in business and life.
Then again: Supporting players in the strange, unconventional, downright weird world of Paul Thomas Anderson films get nominations. They do not win Oscars. At least not yet.
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Role: Marion McPherson, the brusque, long-suffering mother of the title character.
In her favor: She plays great verbal volleyball with Saoirse Ronan, not stealing scenes but enriching them. You can see where her stubborn, smart daughter got her spirit. She’s tough love personified.
Then again: She’s already won an Emmy and a Tony. Maybe adding the Oscar would bring her trophy shelf crashing down.
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Role: Zelda Fuller, a heroic cleaner at a secret government facility.
In her favor: Spencer knows how to cock an eye, launch a line and kidnap an audience better than anyone. Her back story makes her more interesting than the standard-issue faithful friend.
Then again: She won this category in 2012 for “The Help.” Will voters reward her again for playing a sassy servant sticking it to the powers-that-be?
Who got robbed
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Role: Beth Gardner, the tiny but terrifying mother of a comatose woman.
In her favor: She gives real-life resonance to a comedy role, playing a mama bear who will claw your head off. It’s easy to look past the charming central love story and fall head over heels for Hunter instead.
Then again: There’s sort of an extended-cameo feeling to Hunter’s role.