They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
First Shots Fired in 2017-2018 Oscar Race
By J. Don Birnam
December 5, 2017


The Oscar race officially entered its second phase this week when several critics groups began handing out their prizes for the top films of the year. But no immediate favorite or consensus emerged among the various contenders, with movies from Call Me By Your Name to Lady Bird to even The Post all getting top honors. Nor did the acting races, for the most part, seem ready to be called just yet. More will happen in the next two weeks when Globe and SAG voters reveal their nominations but for now, let’s take a look at what the early critics’ awards mean.

Best Picture: No Clear Favorite Yet

Coming out of Toronto, it was natural to wonder whether People’s Choice winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the film to beat. And while Martin McDonough’s dark humor satire of American life has continued to wow audiences since its theatrical release, its fate at the Academy Awards is now a bit more uncertain.

Since then, however, Three Billboards has seen little action awards-wise. Early in the week, the Gotham Independent Spirit Awards named the gay love story by Italian director Luca Dugadino Call Me By Your Name (or CMBYN for short) their favorite film. Later in the week the sort of non-predictive National Board of Review went gaga for Steven Spielberg’s new movie The Post, giving that their top prize, while the New York Film Critics Circle went for a different coming of age story, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. And on Sunday, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association spoke up and also rewarded CMBYN the best movie. LAFCA always has a runner-up, but this year they gave it to the indie film The Florida Project.

Many people will dutifully point out that critics are not Oscars voters and that is all well and true, but the tastes of the two have started to converge in the last few years as the Academy has pushed to make their membership more diverse and younger. Consider that LAFCA predicted Best Picture the last two years in a row, after only guessing once in the last ten, the year of The Hurt Locker. Could an LGBT-themed movie really win Best Picture two years in a row?

Consider also that no movie released at Sundance has ever made it all the way to the top at the Oscars. So while CMBYN is probably now at least as likely to win as Three Billboards, it truly seems like it is still anybody’s game.

Check out our debut Best Picture power rankings: here.

Lead Acting: Two Young Stars To Win It All?

The lead acting races have also not gone as expected. I fully expected Gary Oldman to be the prohibitive favorite for a number of different reasons following the spectacular Darkest Hour. Instead, it has been young Timothee Chalamet from CMBYN who has taken most awards, scoring a clean sweep of New York, Los Angeles, and Gotham, with only the NBR going for Tom Hanks in Spielberg’s film. Of course Oldman could still win - again, consider the age difference that may characterize Oscar voters from critics - but things are looking mighty strong for young Elio to take home the top awards. Meanwhile, James Franco has also received a citation for his work in The Disaster Artist, though the Best Actor field remains weak.

Here are our debut rankings for that race.

The lead actress race is no less confounding. The list of contenders is longer than one can keep track of, with leads apparently switching every day. But there is no question that the young and talented Saoirse Ronan is now the small favorite for her moving performance in Lady Bird. It may not even be the best performance of the year, but she has been an Academy darling since her debut in Atonement and was robbed of the Oscar the year of Brooklyn. Her nomination seems a guarantee but watch out, because comedic turns rarely do well in lead acting races.

Meanwhile, the NBR (did we mention they loved The Post?) also went for that movie’s lead actress, Meryl Streep, who seems headed for her 158th nomination. But Saoirse won both New York groups only, and Los Angeles went for Sally Hawkins’ incredibly touching silent performance in The Shape of Water, so the race remains tight. Los Angeles also gave Frances McDormand a runner-up citation for her work in Three Billboards, so while the list is whittling down, it is still anybody’s guess.

Check out the debut Best Actress rankings here

Supporting Races: Dafoe Close to a Lock

Meanwhile, in the supporting side, we have what appears to be closer to locks than in the lead (for now). In the supporting actor side, Willem Dafoe seems to have a commanding lead over the competition for his role in The Florida Project. After wins across the board, New York, Los Angeles, and NBR, it is hard to deny him. Winners of those three tend to go on to win the Oscar over 75% of the time. Sam Rockwell got a runner-up notice for Three Billboards and Michael Stuhlbarg has a mortal lock on a nomination after a crazy year that has him appearing in several Best Picture contenders from The Shape of Water to CMBYN and The Post. It is anyone’s guess beyond that, as the year is also weaker for the supporting men.

Here are our early power rankings in that category: here.

Supporting actress by contrast is like the lead female race, all over the place with a lot of good candidates. Laurie Metcalf has opened a small lead for Lady Bird, after citations by Los Angeles and NBR. But New York did something different and gave it to Tiffany Haddish for her hilarious performance in Girls Trip, and Los Angeles also reminded us with the runner up spot that Mary J. Blige was perhaps the best part of the uneven Mudbound. That is without getting into other obvious contenders from Allison Janney as the evil mother in I, Tonya to Melissa Leo’s spine-tingling performance in Novitiate, and of course the always beloved Octavia Spencer for Shape of Water.

Check out where we see the early stages of the Best Supporting Actress race here

Best Director: The Year of Which Woman?

People thought that a Best Director nomination for Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman was the way to celebrate womanhood this year. As it turns out, it is a different female-driven and focused film that has been getting the attention. Greta Gerwig, in her solo directorial debut, received a prize from the NBR, and several Best Debut director awards across the board (though she did codirect a movie once before).

But the race remains wide open and The Florida Project director Sean Baker did win New York, while Guillermo del Toro and Luca Guadagnino tied for the prize with Los Angeles. It’s that close of a race, and the Academy surely will give some love to one of the technicians behind the difficult Dunkirk or Darkest Hour, so this is another one we can’t quite give away just yet.

Check out early Best Director power rankings here

Next up: What the second round of critics’ awards will tell us and what we can expect from Globe and SAG nods the week after