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Three Billboards deserves to sink The Shape of Water

Woody Harrelson value to defeat Gary Oldman's Churchill

Tonya Harding biopic 'I, Tonya' could get an Oscar
1 of 1

90th Academy Awards
Sky Cinema Oscars, 1.30am Sunday night

If they decided the Best Picture Oscar by the number of four-letter words it casually supplies, then the foul-mouthed and bloody Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would beat the most-nominated film The Shape of Water hands down.

In an outstanding year, these two favourites have flip-flopped since the nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced in January but we have the right market leader now because Three Billboards deserves to win.

All the effing and blinding is essential to the plot and the entire cast deserve Oscars right down to the bit parts including Samara Weaving and Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage.

It is loud, moving, filthy, brutal and genuinely funny, a masterpiece that grabs you from the start, wrongfoots you now and again, but never lets go. Critics say the up-in-the-air ending weakens its chance but if that’s the worst fault, we’ll settle for that.

It won’t hurt in the current climate that the main character is a middle-aged woman, wonderfully played by Frances McDormand, one of Hollywood’s favourites and an Oscar winner 21 years ago for Fargo.

It’s written and directed by British-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh who surprisingly has not been nominated for Best Director. That could be seen as a negative but is not as unusual as you might think. He is up for Best Screenplay instead.

Best Picture is the only one of the six chief categories where punters can get a decent bet unless you fancy taking on prohibitively-priced favourites. That didn’t work at the recent Baftas as the good things for Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress and Best Director all dotted up.

For the Oscars, Gary Oldman is 1-20 for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is 1-12, Guillermo Del Toro is 1-10 for directing tender Cold War fantasy The Shape of Water, Allison Janney 1-6 as the abusive mother in I, Tonya and Sam Rockwell 1-6 for his vindictive deputy police chief in Three Billboards.

They are all expected to click again when Tinseltown rolls out the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday. Are any of them worth opposing?

Best Picture
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, a bloody and foul-mouthed blackest of black comedies, is all about an avenging mother’s campaign to shame the law into finding her daughter’s killer by calling them out on three edge-of-town billboards.

It opened up a shade of odds-on after its Golden Globes success and retreated to 2-1 when the bizarre Shape of Water won a couple of gongs but, after mopping up at the Baftas, Billboards is back at the top of the list.

The Shape of Water is a sweet love story between a mute office cleaner and a humanoid amphibian fished out of the Amazon and brought to 1960s Baltimore to help the USA in the Space Race. Bizarre isn’t the word for this marmite movie you will either love or hate.

But you won’t hate quirky British actress Sally Hawkins, who is amazing without saying a word. The naked love scene in the bath between the cleaner and the scaly alien is quite something and her use of facial expressions is very affecting.

Some judges believe Lady Bird can beat both. It is the only contender directed by a woman, Greta Gerwig, which could be significant.

It is a coming-of-age story that people can relate to, beautifully done and the value alternative to Three Billboards.

Dunkirk was the early favourite but this second world war epic is a big price now, has been on the road a long time, and probably peaked too soon while I, Tonya, about a real-life Olympic ice queen from the wrong side of the tracks, is another sweary black comedy that’s funny but not quite good enough.

Recommendations
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
6pts 11-10 Ladbrokes
Lady Bird
1pt 12-1 Betfred

Best Director
Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro has swept the board with his fantasy romance-drama The Shape of Water, which picked up the most nominations with 13. Defeat is not envisaged.

Lady Bird’s writer-director Greta Gerwig could benefit if the 6,000 Academy voting members want to see a female winner. Christopher Nolan is second in the betting for Dunkirk.

Best Actor
The hottest favourite of all is Gary Oldman and his prosthetics. Oldman looks nothing like wartime hero and prime minister Winston Churchill but gets as close as he can in looks and voice for this juggernaut of a role in Darkest Hour.

It’s a towering performance by a first-time nominee in a so-so film.

Daniel Day-Lewis as a renowned dressmaker in Phantom Thread is the only one seriously thought of as a danger in what the three-time Oscar winner says will be his final film. But Oldman looks unstoppable.

Best actress
Back to her Fargo-like best, McDormand looks set fair for her second Oscar 21 years after her first as hard-woman Mildred Hayes seeking vengeance for her murdered daughter in rough-and-ready Ebbing, Missouri.

It’s a humdinger of a part and McDormand doesn’t miss a trick in her battle with the dying police chief and his vindictive deputy who have got nowhere with their investigation.

But she has two genuine award rivals - Sally Hawkins, extraordinary as a mute office cleaner falling in love with another non-speaker an amphibian, in The Shape of Water, and Saoirse Ronan for her rebellious teenager in Lady Bird.

Ronan is no stranger to Oscar nominations. She was put up for a gong for Atonement as a 13-year-old ten years ago and more recently for Brooklyn. Could it be third time lucky?

If the Academy takes notice of what McDormand said in her Bafta acceptance speech: “there’s a lot of young ones coming up and they need doorstops too,” then the 23-year-old Irish-American actress, who has already won a Golden Globe for her terrific performance in the title role, would have a shout.

Advised at 10-1 when nominations were announced, she’s even better value now, while Hawkins is even more tempting. 

Recommendations
Saoirse Ronan
0.5pt 12-1 Betfred, bet365
Sally Hawkins
0.5pt 22-1 BoyleSports

Already advised January 24
Saoirse Ronan
2pts 10-1 Coral, Ladbrokes, Sky Bet

Best supporting actor
It’s rare for two actors from the same movie to get nominated for the same award but that’s what’s happened with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, the chief of police and his bloodthirsty deputy in Three Billboards.

Rockwell has carried all before him but Harrelson’s performance was so moving he might just turn over the favourite.

Christopher Plummer, drafted in at the last moment to replace the discredited Kevin Spacey as John Paul Getty in All The Money in the World, could get a sympathy vote. If successful, the Canadian actor would, at 88, be the oldest Oscar winner ever.

Willem Dafoe has his admirers too for The Florida Project but one of the Billboards stars should get it.

Recommendation
Woody Harrelson

1pt 40-1 bet365

Best supporting actress
Allison Janney has had her name on this Oscar from the start for her prickly, abusive mother of Olympic ice skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, winning this category at three big awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Bafta.

The West Wing star is most unlikely to fall at the final hurdle but she faces competition from Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory) as Lady Bird’s mother and British actress Lesley Manville as Day-Lewis’s sister in Phantom Thread.

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All the effing and blinding is essential to the plot and the entire cast deserve Oscars
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