shape of water
“The Shape of Water”

If there’s anything that can be said with almost near certainty, it’s that there will be no surprises in the acting categories at the Academy Awards this Sunday. And that’s not a bad thing; all of the actors are more than deserving. To wit: Gary Oldman, for his masterful mix of bravura and benevolence as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour; Frances McDormand’s steely determination as a mother robbed of her violently murdered daughter in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Sam Rockwell as the racist cop turned unlikely comrade-in-arms to McDormand in the same film; and finally, Allison Janney as figure-skating’s mother from hell in the Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya.

Though there may be no mystery in who’ll be receiving the top acting accolades, I did find some surprises amongst the other nominees (and one shockingly overlooked performance) featured in the most acclaimed movies of the year.

vicky krieps
Vicky Krieps in “Phantom Thread”

Luxembourg-born Vicky Krieps was an actress previously unbeknownst to me – and to most, it’s safe to assume – yet what a revelation she is as partner to Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays the tyrannical fashion designer in the moody and evocative period piece, Phantom Thread. Just the fact that she more than holds her own with the titanic talent that is the three-time Oscar winning British thespian (in possibly his final film performance) is sheer marvel. To crib from an Eminem lyric, he’s the tornado meeting the volcano at the heart of Kriep’s character, both patching into each other’s less-than-healthy neuroses in a way that (hey!) works for them.

Krieps’ co-star Lesley Manville, in the role of Day-Lewis’ sister (and crisp as a Scarlatti sonata) grabbed the nomination for supporting actress, but it’s grand theft that she and Krieps could not have at least shared the glory.

Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) will also come away empty-handed, but both left their indelible impact in vastly contrasting fashion — Chalamet’s by way of his soft and wondrous exploration of a young man’s coming to terms with his newly found and ambivalent sexuality; Kaluuya in a riveting turn that’s captured in an image as iconic as Macaulay Culkin’s “scream” visage from Home Alone.

In the male supporting category, I was most moved by the magnificent veteran actor Richard Jenkins, whose lovely effort as the lonely best friend to Sally Jenkins in The Shape of Water was just one of the highlights of what I’m hoping will come away with the Best Picture honors. Director Guillermo del Toro’s exquisite panoply of fantasy and pathos reminds us of the unbounded geography of love, in stunningly visual and emotional terms.

If the acting winners look to be set in stone, the main prize is totally up for grabs, and with any luck, the artistic achievements of Water will come out on top in the end (though Three Billboards is giving it a mighty race for the money).

Here’s rooting for the Fish Man!