By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 04, 2018 at 10:56 AM

It's amazing what one simple envelope can do. 

Until a little after 11 p.m. on Oscar night last year, everything was going to plan. The obvious, unanimously picked winner, "La La Land," had won, the Academy was still in love with itself and all the usual awards season narratives worked. But then people with headsets started wandering on stage, Warren Beatty looked really uncomfortable and ... what did that one "La La Land" producer just say about losing?

In a moment, everything changed. A tiny indie film could win Best Picture. A Hollywood love letter could go unreciprocated by the Oscars. The precursor awards could predict nothing.

Now, a year later, we're still trying to figure out what the echoes of last year's scream-inducing surprise actual say for today as we head into one of the closest races in Oscar memory. Five of the Best Picture nominees have worthy arguments for why they could win Sunday night – maybe even more – and while the acting categories feel pretty wrapped up, does anybody really know anything anymore?

Well, I'm going to pretend I do. Here are my picks for who will win – and who should win – in each category Sunday night. Last year, I got 16 out of 24 – and that was back when things were easy to predict. So this should go great.

Best Picture

Will win: "The Shape of Water"

Should win: "Dunkirk"

Normally, you're lucky if you get just two movies remotely competitive by the time Oscar Sunday rolls around. But this year, the race for the podium is startlingly and thrillingly crowded, with almost half a dozen movies all still vying for the final trophy of the night. 

An amazing five movies all still in contention: "Dunkirk," "Lady Bird," "Get Out," "Three Billboards" and "The Shape of Water." Christopher Nolan's war movie is the biggest hit of the bunch, but it came out half a year ago – and feels that long ago. Plus, I'm worried about how well its overwhelming theatrical experience plays on a living TV on an Academy DVD screener.

Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" also has its fans, and it could sneak into the top spot thanks to the preferential ballot, which rewards universally liked movies rather than polarizing love-it-or-leave-it types. But it's also easy to confuse its smallness for simplicity, its perfect natural ease as unsophisticated (for instance, its editing is not as flashy as, say, the time puzzle of "Dunkirk," but it perfectly captures the staccato pace of growing up). 

That leaves three. On paper, "Three Billboards" would seem to be the winner, scoring wins at most of the big televised awards prior to the Oscars. But it's also suffered the most backlash, and it has very vocal haters to go along with its champions – something that'll take a Molotov cocktail to its chances on the preferential ballot. "Get Out" is the season's most exciting choice, defying almost every odd to reach this moment. Released over a year ago? Not a problem. Edgy subject material? Barely a speed bump. Horror movies don't get Academy recognition? Somebody forgot to tell writer-director Jordan Peele. Somehow, the oldest movie of the bunch feels like the freshest. It seems like the one people are most excited to vote for – though hopefully not in a Bradley Whitford-voted-for-Obama three times way.

Can "Get Out" get over this one final bump? My heart says yes, but my brain, after watching years upon years of the Oscars avoiding horror like, well, the horrors they depict, can't quite convince me to risk it. So I'll go with the safe choice: the fish monster romance movie. Odd times indeed, but "The Shape of Water" is universally liked without stirring too much trouble, while also paying tribute to Hollywood and hitting on some timely messages. For such a weird concept, it's the most normal choice of the nominees. 

Best Actor

Will win: Gary Oldman, "Darkest Hour"

Should win: Timothee Chalamet, "Call Me By Your Name"

The Academy's perspectives have changed a lot in just these past few years ... but not enough to turn down giving an Oscar to a well-regarded and well-overdue actor plastered in makeup to play an historical figure in a biopic. Sorry, Timothee, you're just going to have to wait 40 years and five additional nominations for your win, probably for putting on a 300-pound body suit to play former U.S. president/Supreme Court justice/walrus William Howard Taft. 

Best Actress

Will win: Frances McDormand, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Should win: Frances McDormand, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

No matter if you love or hate the movie, everyone agrees Frances McDormand gnaws into every piece of meat the script offers her. Even when the plot goes off the rails, she stays on track. And after winning pretty much every award en route to the Oscars – the Golden Globe, the SAG, the BAFTA, the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award – she should easily keep on track for her second career trip to the podium. 

Best Supporting Actor

Will win: Sam Rockwell, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Should win: Willem Dafoe, "The Florida Project"

Thanks to the backlash against his racist cop character, Rockwell feels like he could easily be unseated as the favorite here. There's just nobody here to do it.

Fellow "Three Billboards" castmate Woody Harrelson mostly just plays Woody Harrelson (not technically a bad thing!) before disappearing halfway through, while Christopher Plummer got solely nominated for his magical appearing act in "All the Money in the World." Jenkins is charming if not exceptional in "The Shape of Water," while Dafoe – probably Rockwell's closest rival – is in a movie that's fallen off the radar and off studio A24's promotional buzz (they've got "Lady Bird" to focus on). 

What this category needs is a bit of the Barg: Michael Stuhlbarg that is, who appeared in not one, not two, but three Best Picture nominees ("The Shape of Water," "The Post" and "Call Me By Your Name," which he steals in the last ten minutes before Chalamet takes it back during the end credits). Can you do write-in votes? Which movie does he sit with Sunday night? Will the "Post" afterparty let him in if "The Shape of Water" wins Best Picture? I have so many questions – though it's no question that Rockwell will win. 

Best Supporting Actress

Will win: Allison Janney, "I, Tonya"

Should win: Laurie Metcalf, "Lady Bird"

I've always been a massive fan of Allison Janney's – which makes it even more of a bummer that she's going to win an Oscar for THIS performance.

Her fitfully amusing but consistently one-note turn as an abusive skating mom in "I, Tonya" is everything wrong with the movie in a nutshell: tonal confusion that can't stop chuckling at her profane insults, then wanting you to feel bad that it laughed. It's even more of a shame since Janney's closest competitor, Laurie Metcalf in "Lady Bird," is the total inverse of her performance. While Janney's showbiz mom is all surface-level yelling and barking, Metcalf is heartbreakingly nuanced as she tries to understand the child she's given everything and never will – all while still loving her and bonding over the perfect prom dress. But hey, it wouldn't be the Oscars without a Most Acting performance winning out over a Best Acting one. 

Best Director

Will win: Guillermo del Toro, "The Shape of Water"

Should win: Christopher Nolan, "Dunkirk"

It's nice when everybody in a category truly deserves to win. That's the case here, as all five directors made impeccable work this year. Peele and Greta Gerwig are probably too fresh to win already; they'll save their acclaim for the screenplay category. Meanwhile, Paul Thomas Anderson's work is too idiosyncratic and odd to take the trophy. 

That leaves del Toro and Nolan, two wildly inventive visual masters, two fanboy favorites and two directors who seem due. But thanks to its later release, del Toro's film is more at the forefront of people's minds – and Nolan isn't one for Oscar campaigning, so "Dunkirk" has mostly stayed stuck on the mental back burner. Plus, for as tense as it is, "Dunkirk" is a more cerebral film while "The Shape of Water," like the best of del Toro's work, feels profoundly personal and in love with every frame and character. The Academy will return that love Sunday night. 

Best Original Screenplay

Will win: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Should win: "Get Out"

In a year as deep as this one, voters are going to want to spread the love – especially here in Best Original Screenplay, where you have the season's unexpected belles of the ball: "Get Out" and "Lady Bird." Ironically enough, in the hopes of recognizing one of them, they'll do the opposite. I predict voters will split on which one, Gerwig or Peele, to shine the spotlight on, opening the door for the writerly-to-a-fault "Three Billboards" to snag another win. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will win: "Call Me By Your Name"

Should win: "Call Me By Your Name"

As deep as the Original Screenplay category is this year is as kiddie-pool shallow the Adapted side of the spectrum sits. Case in point: There was a brief horrifying moment when "Beauty and the Beast" was a viable contender here.

Thankfully the fifth slot went to the infinitely more deserving "Logan," but it was out of the race as soon as its name was announced. ("A comic book movie winning an Oscar!? Preposterous!" *slips monocle over eye, bikes away on a penny-farthing*) As for the other contenders, there's only one Best Picture nominee amongst them – complete with an almost 90-year-old, four-time bridesmaid but never a bride behind the screenplay. So expect "Call Me By Your Name" to hear its name called. 

Best Animated Film

Will win: "Coco"

Should win: "Coco"

"The Boss Baby" is here ... and that's not even the worst nomination of the bunch. That should tell you how weak this collection of animated selections is – and how strong Pixar's place is on top of this otherwise unremarkable heap. The Angelina Jolie-produced "The Breadwinner" might steal some nominations thanks to the starry name attached, but what do you think this is, the Golden Globes?

Best Foreign Film

Will win: "A Fantastic Woman"

Should win: "A Fantastic Woman"

"The Square" was the early favorite, but while the Academy appreciates movies poking fun at movies and the art world, they don't like them as much when they're TOO critical. "Loveless" is too grim – surprise, it's Russian! – while not even Netflix seems aware that Netflix's "On Body and Soul" exists. "The Insult" has gained some late steam, but in a year where the Academy is spotlighting increased diversity throughout the nominations, "A Fantastic Woman" – featuring acclaimed transgender lead actress Daniela Vega – would make a strong statement and an even stronger winner. 

Best Cinematography

Will win: "Blade Runner 2049"

Should win: "Dunkirk"

After 14 nominations, Roger Deakins is finally going to get his Oscar Sunday night. I mean, almost every single shot in "Blade Runner 2049" is already an iconic work of beauty being recreated and imitated. How could he not win?

*Nervously gulps*

Well, there is "Dunkirk" and its insanely immersive camera work that had me begging for 47 new aerial dogfight movies yesterday, while "The Shape of Water" has clearly entranced voters with its sumptuous fairy tale photography. Deakins is the safe bet, but he's been in that place many times before – and look how that's turned out. At this point, after more than a dozen empty-handed Oscar nights, what's one more?

Best Editing

Will win: "Dunkirk"

Should win: "Dunkirk"

There's been some grumbling about "Dunkirk" being too confusing ... ignore those people (I know the big kabooms and beautiful Harry Styles face can be distracting, but Nolan even labeled the three different times on screen for you). The perfectly jumpy editing helped make "Dunkirk" a one-of-its-kind relentless assault of tension, the immersive intensity of the D-Day landing scene from "Saving Private Ryan" stretched to feature length. Sorry, it wins. 

Best Production Design

Will win: "The Shape of Water"

Should win: "The Shape of Water"

"Blade Runner 2049" could steal this thanks to its massive imaginative sets. But I imagine most voters will give Deakins the credit for its incredible visuals. Plus, I doubt many made time in the hectic hustle to the finish line to watch the nearly three-hour sci-fi opus over, say, the comparatively breezier, award-buzzy "Shape of Water." 

Most importantly, however, Guillermo del Toro's signature directorial stamp is caring about every tile and texture that makes it to the screen, each hallway and set having its own detailed story to tell. Also known as great production design. On a night that'll celebrate his work, it only makes sense to shine a spotlight here. 

Best Costume Design

Will win: "Phantom Thread"

Should win: "Phantom Thread"

As a costume design nominee about fashion design – a period piece at that – the luxurious "Phantom Thread" has got this one all sewn up. Unless they include the fishman body suit as a costume – but even then, I'd go with ravishing capes over erotic man-carp. 

Best Makeup

Will win: "Darkest Hour"

Should win: "Darkest Hour"

Congratulations to the "Darkest Hour" makeup team for its second win of the night.

Best Score

Will win: "The Shape of Water"

Should win: "Phantom Thread"

Jonny Greenwood's "Phantom Thread" work is an old-school swooning orchestral score, cascading beautifully and unpredictably over Paul Thomas Anderson's equally unpredictable love story. You just want to bathe in its notes – and the Academy seems to agree at least a little, considering the movie jumped from a certain Oscar snub to one of the most nominated films, plus a Best Picture nod.

But "The Shape of Water" is the more beloved film – and the precursor awards have hinted that Alexandre Desplat's playful musical backdrop is the more beloved score. I'd give my personal ballot to Greenwood, but either one is music to my ears. 

Best Song

Will win: "Remember Me" from "Coco"

Should win: "The Mystery of Love" from "Call Me By Your Name"

Thanks to its crowd-pleasing success and impressive box office legs, "This Is Me" from "The Greatest Showman" has made itself a player in this once locked-up category. Plus, it's a musical. How do you not give Best Song to the musical?!

Well, when the nominated song is far from the musical's best tune – especially how it's used in the film. It plays like the writers had the song before they had an actual place for it in the story, resulting in a proud, jubilant anthem ... to listening to orders, falling into line and getting back to work for a boss who sees you as less than him. THIS IS ME! So yeah, still give me "Remember Me" for the win – though it sure would be nice if Sufjan Stevens won and we could all pretend it was for "Visions of Gideon."

Best Sound Mixing

Will win: "Dunkirk"

Should win: "Baby Driver"

War movies are always a smart bet when it comes to the sound categories. And while the jukebox action musical "Baby Driver" could be a contender for mixing – the award about the best blending of dialogue, music and other audio – anybody who saw "Dunkirk" in theaters knows the immense, roaring power of its sound mix, so immersive that you thought you had to pour beach sand out of your shoes as the end credits rolled. 

Best Sound Editing

Will win: "Dunkirk"

Should win: "Dunkirk"

War movies are always a smart bet when it comes to the sound cate ... wait, did I already say all of that? Oh. OK, well, then "Dunkirk" again.

Best Visual Effects

Will win: "War for the Planet of the Apes"

Should win: "War for the Planet of the Apes"

After overlooking the "Apes" franchise twice before – in 2012 in preference to "Hugo" and in 2015 for "Interstellar" – the Academy won't let this groundbreaking work end without recognition. 

Best Documentary

Will win: "Icarus"

Should win: "Faces Places"

The predictably unpredictable documentary category started early with the surprises when the assumed frontrunner, Bret Morgan's Jane Goodall doc "Jane," failed to make the cut.

So who's left? "Last Men in Aleppo" got a little push with the controversy surrounding one of its producer's struggles to get a visa to attend Sunday's ceremony, but the story feels like it got too little traction too late. "Strong Island" has been quiet, while weirdly ostracized documentarian Steve James (never nominated before, even for 1995's "Hoop Dreams") is probably just happy "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail" got this far.

That leaves "Icarus" and "Faces Places." I have a feeling the Academy will consider the Honorary Oscar it gave "Faces Places" star Agnes Varda this year as fitting enough recognition, so the Russian doping doc "Icarus" gets the nod. 

Best Documentary – Short Subject

Will win: "Heroin(e)"

Should win: "Heroin(e)"

When it comes to the short film categories, accessibility is key. The still old crotchety majority of voters don't want to be bothered by tedious processes like "watching all of the nominees" or "doing their job." Thankfully for them, "Heroin(e)" is right there on Netflix (which has quietly gotten very good at wedging itself into these smaller categories). Thankfully for us, it's at least a worthy winner – and a timely one, taking on a small town overcome by the opioid epidemic. 

Best Animated Short Film

Will win: "Dear Basketball"

Should win: "Lou"

You thought "Kobe Bryant, Oscar nominee" sounded goofy? Wait until you hear "Kobe Bryant, Oscar winner" Sunday night. This is Los Angeles after all, where the Lakers are to movie stars what movie stars are to normal people – which will probably be enough to score the NBA icon a trophy for a glorified halftime tribute video. Take that, MJ.

Best Live Action Short Film

Will win: "DeKalb Elementary"

Should win: "DeKalb Elementary"

This powerful short film based on a real 911 call during an Atlanta school shooting was already a frontrunner a month ago, but after the most recent attack in Parkland, Florida, it's locked in as a guaranteed winner – and as one of the night's most political moments. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.