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The Globe and Mail's film critic, Kate Taylor, and film editor, Barry Hertz, make their bets and name their favourites for this Sunday's Oscars ceremony

Second World War epic Dunkirk may be too old-fashioned of a choice for best picture, but its majesty and power is undeniable.

Best Picture

Will win: The Shape of Water. This sci-fi romance may come out on top in 2018 as the sentimental favourite that ticks off the right boxes without getting too political or in-your-face: Its topical message about the power of outsiders who stand up to abusive authority is nicely coated in a fantastical love story about a mute cleaning lady who rescues an aquatic creature from an evil government agent. Expect Academy members to vote for having their political cake and eating some Hollywood icing, too.

Should win: Get Out. If the Academy wants to recognize the most topical – and bravest – American film of the year, it should single out Jordan Peele's deftly political Get Out. Part horror movie, part satire, Get Out's story of a young black man held hostage by white liberals is a wonderfully fresh example of how you can use classic movie conventions to haul dark social material out into the light. It's the most culturally and historically important of the best-picture nominees.

– K.T.

Will win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I'm not quite sure why this year's other best picture nominees have not erected their own Three Billboards-style campaign against Martin McDonagh's film. Just rent some advertising on Sunset Boulevard with the messages:

"Acclaimed yet slight."

"And still a best picture lock?"

"How come, Academy?"

This suggestion is coming too late for the other contenders, so everyone is just going to have to be content with watching McDonagh's faux-zeitgeist-catching drama walk away with Sunday's big trophy.

Should win: Dunkirk. Is picking a Second World War epic too old-fashioned of a choice for best picture in 2018? Sure, but Christopher Nolan's twisty thriller reaffirms the sheer majesty and unmatchable power of big-screen cinema in just 116 economical minutes.

– B.H.

Best Director

Will win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water. So, the Academy will occasionally do this weird thing where it picks a best picture and then snubs its director, but Guillermo del Toro is a strong candidate to win both prizes this year. The Shape of Water is so exuberantly fashioned by such an idiosyncratic vision, it calls out for recognition in this category. Another possibility, however, is that Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig beats him out for her refreshing and uplifting coming-of-age movie.

The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro is a strong candidate to win both the best director and best picture prizes this year.

Should win: Jordan Peele for Get Out. As he riffs off classic Hitchcock strategies for creating psychological horror, Jordan Peele stands out as a director who is breaking new ground, successfully blending genres and creating that rare satire that is also satisfyingly dramatic. For courage, innovation and engagement, he deserves the prize.

– K.T.

Will win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water. Your mother probably loves Guillermo del Toro. I mostly love him, too, with his schoolboy-like giddiness serving as a charming antidote to the image of the high-minded auteur. While the prestige-for-prestige-sake The Shape of Water didn't entrance me nearly as much as his earlier, more consciously gonzo low-brow efforts, nearly everyone in Hollywood recognizes it's GTD's time to shine. He deserves a best-director Oscar – just not for this film.

Director Guillermo del Toro, left, on the set of The Shape of Water, with Octavia Spencer, middle and Sally Hawkins.

Should win: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. Yes, for her solo directorial debut, it's astounding how much command Greta Gerwig has over style, tone, performance and mood. But Lady Bird – perhaps a smaller movie than the Academy is used to honouring, and not nearly as "of-the-moment" as leading contenders Three Billboards, The Shape of Water and Get Out – would be recognized as an all-timer whether it was someone's first, third or 31st film. There is no rookie-film handicap required in grading the excellence on display here. This is simply perfect filmmaking from a voice that demands to be spotlit.

– B.H.

Best Actor

Will win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. Ah, the transformative power of some good prostheses and a historical figure. The Academy loves nothing more than a famous actor successfully disguising himself as another famous person and, to give Gary Oldman his due, his successful disappearance into the body and soul of Winston Churchill at the outset of the Second World War relies as much on his penetrating performance as it does on the fat suit. Cast in a flawed film that can't help but take for granted the fact that Churchill was right, Oldman does reveal the doubt beneath the bombast.

Daniel Kaluuya stars in the Jordan Peele film Get Out.

Should win: Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out or Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread. Pick either Daniel. Get Out turns on Daniel Kaluuya's ability to make the cheerful protagonist seem sympathetically trusting without being impossibly naive – even if his alarmist buddy keeps warning him against his white girlfriend's rich family. Meanwhile, Daniel Day-Lewis's showy psychological performance as a neurotic fashion designer in Phantom Thread is a delicious dramatic treat – even if the movie goes off the rails in its final act.

– K.T.

Will win: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. The 59-year-old actor has several things going for him this year: Despite a lengthy and wildly varied filmography, he's never won an Academy Award and only been nominated once before. By playing Winston Churchill in Joe Wright's biopic-cum-historical-tick-tock-drama, Oldman offers a completely transformative performance, so much so that any trace of the actor disappears. And he does all this under pounds of makeup and prosthetics, a torturous feat typically honoured by industry peers for its sheer in-the-trenches difficulty. No matter who else came along in 2017, Oldman had this in the bag from the moment he strapped on Churchill's jowls.

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour.

Should win: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. For all the reasons above, but also because Oldman is damn fine as the war-time British PM, regularly leaping over the annoying narrative and aesthetic choices of his director.

– B.H.

Best Actress

Will win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Loud, angry and often very funny, Frances McDormand's work as a raging mother demanding justice for her murdered daughter in Three Billboards is the kind of attention-grabbing performance that seems certain to take the prize.

Frances McDormand’s attention-grabbing performance in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems certain to take the prize.

Should win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It's also a performance that takes a central observation about the mechanics of human emotions – that anger is usually a symptom of grief – and pursues it in novel ways, quickly noting the sorrow over the dead daughter before sticking with the anger until the character threatens to lose our sympathy. Whatever the social limits of the film's observations of rural America, McDormand's tour de force deserves to be honoured.

– K.T.

Will win: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Just as McDonagh's drama has been steamrolling over the competition since awards season started, McDormand's mother-on-the-warpath performance has been picking up honours like righteous indignation was going out of style.

Saoirse Ronan, left, and Beanie Feldstein star in Lady Bird.

Should win: Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird. As impressive (even fun) as McDormand's fiery turn was in Three Billboards, there just wasn't a 2017 performance as strong and gut-punching as Ronan's. After she got close to the Oscar statuette for her almost-as-good turns in Brooklyn and Atonement, industry etiquette demands that Ronan be honoured this year. But more than that, she deserves it, too.

– B.H.