Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture

The competition: Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Previous winners: Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: There are a whole bunch of statistics this year, with a guarantee that the winner will defy at least one historical trend. First, let’s start with the sheer numbers for each film. “The Shape of Water” is the nominations leader with thirteen bids. “Dunkirk” follows with eight, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with seven, “Darkest Hour” and “Phantom Thread” with six, “Lady Bird” with five, “Call Me By Your Name” and “Get Out” with four, and “The Post” with two.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” won the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama and the BAFTA Award for Best Picture, where neither “Get Out” or “Lady Bird,” both competing in the comedy races at the Globes and only recognized in other categories at the BAFTAs, were nominated. It also won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble, where those two films were in the running, but “The Shape of Water,” which took the PGA, the Critics’ Choice Award, and the DGA as well as all major director prizes so far, wasn’t. The PGA and Critics’ Choice Awards represent the closest scenario to this field, with seven of these films all nominated and the missing two certain not to affect the outcome, which suggests that “The Shape of Water” can eclipse the rest. But there’s much more to say, below!

Who should win: I’ll be starting my own awards this week, where you’ll see which films I loved and which I didn’t. I wish I was more enthusiastic about “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Get Out,” but I’m just not. The former was a disappointment after liking Martin McDonagh’s previous work (and his brother’s), while the latter was much better than I expected but still much more social commentary than award-worthy movie. I wouldn’t put “Phantom Thread” and “The Post” on this list either, but the other five are pretty good. “Call Me By Your Name” and “Darkest Hour” were both strong in their own ways, “Dunkirk” was extremely well-done, and “Lady Bird” is a terrific film. To me, someone who liked but didn’t love “Pan’s Labyrinth,” it’s all about “The Shape of Water,” which ranks in my top five films of the year and is my firm choice to win this award.

Who will win: This is the first time since I’ve been watching the Oscars (2002, officially) that we truly have no idea what film will win. There’s always been a frontrunner and often a primary challenger, and rarely a third, which would have been “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015 and “Juno,” which I predicted to no avail, in 2007. This year, there are legitimately three films that all stand a good chance of winning, with “Lady Bird” and “Dunkirk” as possible but unlikely spoilers.

Here’s where that history mentioned above matters. Let’s look at typical Best Picture requirements and which films don’t have them. “The Shape of Water” is missing a SAG ensemble bid that has been necessary for every film aside from “Braveheart” since the category existed (the same year, 1995). “Get Out” and “Lady Bird” have that but are missing Best Film Editing nominations, which every film in the past thirty-five years except for “Birdman” had. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” won the SAG ensemble prize and the big prizes mentioned above, but it was shut out of the Best Director category. Only four movies since the inception of the Oscars have won without that. “Wings” and “Grand Hotel” were both in the first decade of the Oscars. “Driving Miss Daisy” scored, but director Bruce Beresford had already been left off the DGA and Globe lists when his film triumphed at PGA and the Globes anyway, so his omission wasn’t all that relevant since his film didn’t seem to need him to win. Most recently and famously, Ben Affleck got shockingly snubbed for “Argo.” In that case, however, he had won the DGA, the Globe, and pretty much every other award, so his film probably got even more votes for Best Picture because he wasn’t nominated.

To me, that’s the most crucial statistic, and one that could work in McDonagh’s favor if they want to honor his film with him absent, but, though he has taken home a handful of writing prizes, he hasn’t won a single directing award this year. On the other hand, Del Toro has won every major directing award, and his film has triumphed when the lineups have been closest to this field. It’s certainly possible that “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” will win, but it’s likely that “Get Out,” which would represent a more monumental victory for its fans, is actually in second place. Everyone seems to like “Lady Bird,” and the question is whether people really love it enough to vote for it as their first choices. “Dunkirk” will get votes too, but not enough. In recent years, the Best Picture winner has won very few trophies, which means that even if “The Shape of Water” wins almost every award it’s nominated for, I’ll still be on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what film is announced as Best Picture. Last year’s “La La Land” snafu won’t soon be forgotten, but the most crucial thing for this year is that it had already won six prizes, with “Moonlight” taking only two, and then the latter film prevailed. Perhaps unwisely, I’m going to predict The Shape of Water to narrowly eclipse “Get Out” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in the wildest Best Picture race I’ve ever seen.

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