This Academy Awards rundown is the final that I’ll be doing of the major acting categories, Best Director, and Best Picture. Definitely follow this blog on either Twitter, Facebook, or WordPress to keep up!
Additionally, this list is in order of least to most likely to win, and per usual, is accompanied by gifs. Enjoy!
When Steven Spielberg announced his docudrama about The Washington Post’s fight to publish the “Pentagon Papers,” there wasn’t a person who didn’t think, “Best Picture.” But The Post never really hit with award voters. One reason could be that it was released so late, with wide release occurring in early January. Because of that release date it missed out on a few Golden Globe noms, possibly halting any momentum. Another reason could have been that the film was simply rushed. The film never knew whether it wanted to focus on Katherine Graham’s story or the Pentagon Papers. I think if Spielberg and co. had taken their time with it, instead of rushing it as Oscar bait, it would have had great potential.
While The Post did ultimately end up on the Best Picture list, and was incredibly well acted, one has to think it did so because of the reputations of Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep dragging it over the finish line. If The Post wins, I’ll literally type out the Pentagon Papers in their entirety on whatever typewriter Tom Hanks has lying around. It’s chances are dead on arrival.
One of two films nominated that centers around the rescue at Dunkirk, Darkest Hour is mainly a vehicle for its lead. With Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill, we’re given a character study of a famous leader before the mythology. Like The Post, Darkest Hour typically would have been handed Best Picture upon arrival in previous years, see The King’s Speech. Still, it does seem weird that Darkest Hour isn’t a bigger player. It did receive 6 nominations, more than Get Out, Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post.
So why do I have it ranked so low? It’s mainly to do with promotion. Yes, Darkest Hour has 6 nominations, but most of the publicity has centered around Oldman and the Makeup Department. In a year where Best Picture seems wide open, the fact that there’s not been a bigger push for the overall film says that the studio probably knows that the film really isn’t a Best Picture contender. In short, it’s a read the tea leaves moment.
The swan song for Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ode to men with mommy issues also has 6 nominations. There are few films that were more beautifully shot and crafted than Phantom Thread. The whole film is a lesson in film making, from the acting, to the score, to costumes, to editing, and cinematography. Anderson’s film is when movie making is made into an art (barring a shaky script and a dependence on toxic masculinity).
So, why is it above Darkest Hour when both have the same number of nominations? I’m mostly zeroing in on the two acting noms the film has received, Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville. The largest bloc of voters in the Academy is actors (you’ll hear this a lot from me). Also, this is Day-Lewis’s “final” role, and maybe the Academy may see fit that his final project is showered in accolades. But I think there’s a greater chance that Manville puts Day-Lewis in a a headlock before they win. Phantom Thread, as with The Post, probably suffered from being released too late in the year.
Call Me By Your Name
Luca Guadagnino’s heartbreaking exploration of sexuality, love, and youth has been in the middle of the Best Picture pack since its release. However, it’s not been able to rise to front runner status or even viable winner status in the intervening months. Call Me By Your Name has four Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor Adapted Screenplay, and Original Song. If Guadagnino had somehow been able to nab a Best Director nom, then we’d have a decent contender.
Instead, Call Me By Your Name came into the Oscars bleeding, having Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg both missing out on Best Supporting Actor noms. In fact, the only reason I have it ranked slightly ahead of Phantom Thread is because of the Adapted Screenplay nomination. The last Best Picture winner without a Screenplay nomination was Titanic (1997). And neither Phantom Thread nor Call Me By Your Name have Best Director nominations. That’s bad news for Phantom Thread, as no film since Grand Hotel (1932) has won Best Picture without a Best Director and a Best Screenplay nom. The screenplay nom gives Call Me By Your Name the upper hand, even if it doesn’t ultimately win.
The shock! Yes, I have the beloved Lady Bird not ranked in the top 3. Greta Gerwig’s semi-directorial debut has been considered a front runner since award season began, and for many it remains so. With the preferential ballot (which requires 50% +1, or it goes into elimination style rounds, rather than a plurality), Lady Bird feels like the film that’s garnered the least criticism. It’s the type of feel good coming of age movie that the Academy loves to honor. So why am I placing it this low?
I think there’s a good shot that Lady Bird leaves empty handed. It has 5 nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. Saoirse Ronan isn’t winning Best Actress (that would be a monumental upset). Gerwig isn’t beating Del Toro for Best Director (he’s a lock). Peele won the WGA over Gerwig for his screenplay, so screenplay would seem to be shutout. And though I predicted Laurie Metcalf for Best Supporting Actress, that was an upset pick and could easily be wrong. If I’m wrong and Metcalf doesn’t win, then what are the odds that Lady Bird goes 0/4 in the main categories, and somehow comes back to win in Best Picture? Not likely. The only chance the film has is if Gerwig somehow beats Peele, and even then, we’d still need to see a Metcalf upset for a Moonlight situation (Moonlight only won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor). I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Dunkirk?!? “But Robert, you just said that Screenplay nominations matters. You just said the actors’ bloc is the largest voting bloc in the academy. Dunkirk has zero acting nominations.” Yea, I’m going to backtrack a bit to make this argument. Screenplay and acting nominations are paramount in Best Picture races. So why am I giving Nolan’s patient perspective on the rescue at Dunkirk a better chance than Lady Bird? Because of the type of film it is, and because it may get some wins on Oscar night.
Typically, a screenplay nom is absolutely required. However, Dunkirk’s dialogue is simplistic and light. It’s screenplay isn’t the type that you’d readily expect to receive a nomination anyways. Dunkirk missing out on screenplay isn’t as big of a deal as Phantom Thread, which is dialogue heavy. Also, Christopher Nolan did receive a Best Director nom, so that takes the film out of Grand Hotel Hail Mary territory. And the acting noms? Well, there have been 11 films that have won Best Picture without any acting noms, and they’re not all ancient history. The list includes “recent” winners, like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Slumdog Millionaire. Both Dunkirk and The Lord of the Rings featured large casts, which made it difficult for actors to have singular performances, and were dependent on technical and directorial ingenuity. And while The Lord of the Rings did have an Adapted Screenplay nom, that’s the only large difference between their two profiles. Dunkirk also has a great chance of making a run in the technical categories.
If you’re looking for a massive upset, I would say that you could see it with Dunkirk.
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, has been championed by a lot of smart people as the Best Picture winner. His horror film (a rarity of a nomination for the genre by the Oscars) is about a black protagonist named Chris who gets stuck in a Stepford Wives-like nightmare. The film focuses on racism, white people’s preconceived notions about blacks, and what it means to be black in America. The film certainly fits the zeitgeist. But currently, I’m not a believer.
Yes, Get Out has the big four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay. In fact, it’s the only film other than The Shape of Water and Lady Bird to have the big four this year. Peele also has a good chance of winning Screenplay over Gerwig. And a lot of smart people have compared Get Out’s possible Best Picture trajectory to Moonlight’s. Here’s the issue, Moonlight got an acting win. Unless a major upset happens to Oldman in Best Actor, Get Out will not have an acting win. Also, while the film did get a Best Picture nom, make no mistake about it, the Academy still has a bias against horror films. It’s still a voting bloc that is heavily old and white. While Moonlight overcame that, Moonlight wasn’t fighting against genre bias. Get Out is.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh’s film about a vigilante mother seeking justice for her raped and murdered daughter is probably the most “divisive” nominee of the category. The film has been strong throughout the award season. It won big at the Golden Globes, and it won just as big at the BAFTAs. It has nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, two Best Supporting Actors, Best Original Screenplay, and Editing. Three Billboards has a few things going for it. It’s likely to win Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. That shows wide support from the largest voting bloc in the Academy, the actors. It also has the Screenplay nod, and it has the Editing nod.
We haven’t talked about Editing a lot, but one other reason I don’t think Get Out or Lady Bird will win is their lack of an Editing nom. Only 10 Best Picture winners have won without an Editing nomination. In the last 40 years, there were only two: Ordinary People (1980) and Birdman (2014). Having an editing nomination is big. So why am I not picking Three Billboards?
For starters, it lacks a Directorial nom. It’s rare to win Best Picture without an Editing nod, it’s even rarer without a directing nom. Only four films have won Best Picture without receiving a nomination for direction: Wings (1929), Grand Hotel (1932), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), and Argo (2012). It’s a very seldom event. There’s also rumor of a backlash against the film. Now, I believe that it’s not as divisive in the Academy as on Film Twitter. I think there’s a lot of love for Three Billboards within the Academy, and it would not shock me to see it win. I think it by far has the best chance to break away from the previous stats. Because of that, I really want to pick it as the winner. And part of me has a gut feeling that it will win, even if the stats say that it won’t (I’ll probably be kicking myself for not going with my gut, like I did with Moonlight).
The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro’s fantastical fairy tale, The Shape of Water, follows a mute janitor as she befriends an amphibious humanoid sea creature. Del Toro’s film is the only other to have the big four noms: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. It also has nominations for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Costume, Sound Design, Sound Mixing, and Production Design. It even has the Editing nom to boot. That many nominations takes The Shape out of a lot of trend breaking positions that its competition is in.
We don’t have to worry about the lack of a Directing nom. We don’t have to look at Editing. We don’t have to look at Screenplay. We know the film has broad actor support, with only Three Billboards having as many acting nominations. We also know that it’s rare for a film to receive the Big Four nominations, get at least 13 overall, and still lose Best Picture. The last was La La Land, and before them, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966). It’s another seldom event. Also, barring a few recent plagiarism controversies, The Shape of Water is well loved across the board. While fantasy isn’t something that the Academy typically awards, I can see The Shape of Water being top 3 for a lot of voters.
And in the end, I don’t really have a better choice for Best Picture. I’m burying the lede a bit here, but there’s a reason this is the most wide open Best Picture race in recent memory (even the films that are fighting against history have legitimate shots to break those trends). In my opinion, none of the nominated films are “Best” Picture quality. They’re all very good films, by fine film makers, but none of them were “wow” moments. I never had a Moonlight epiphany this year. I never had the feeling of walking out of the theater, as I’ve had in previous years, where I knew I saw the Best Picture winner. Personally, my Best Picture winner didn’t get nominated…**cough** Blade Runner 2049**cough** Does anyone else’s coughs sound like Blade Runner 2049?
Still, when you have a group of good to great pictures, but none that are amazing, you get a year where no one is able to separate from the pack. I expect The Shape of Water to win, but I’m not remotely confident in that prediction. I’ll give them 51% odds of winning. And no, that wasn’t scientific.
This brings me to the end of the rundown series. If you’ve gone through the other rundowns, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director, then thank you. If you haven’t had the chance to read the others.
These rundowns do take a bit of time and research, and I’ve learned more-and-more about Oscar history than most people should know. It does mean a lot when people keep up with these types of series. Be on the lookout for my overall Oscar predictions for every category at the end of the week!
Photo credit: ScreenRant