Three years for Three Billboards? Will the magical tale of Shape of Water reshape the way we look at the Oscars race? Or will we Get Out when a small indie horror sub-piece shock everyone, as the last minute surge of the last few days seem to suggest? One thing is certain—when that final (or next to final?) envelope is opened by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, history will be made.
They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
Final Predictions for the 90th Academy Awards
By J. Don Birnam
March 3, 2018
Some of the history may be of the kind you do not much care about, but it is some that we have discussed here just yesterday. Either a movie with less than five nominations will win for the first time in 80+ years (Get Out), or the SAG Ensemble nomination stat will finally be broken (The Shape of Water), or the softer but still tough Best Director nomination stat will fall once more (Three Billboards), further indicating that the Director branch no longer rules them all. My big fear since last year has been that the historic Moonlight win means a new Academy whose taste we are only starting to learn. We will soon find out.
But history will also be made in ways relevant beyond the world of Oscar statistics. Do you realize the subject matter of the three movies in contention? Absent a shocking upset by Dunkirk, the topic of the movie will be historic. It will be that either a movie about a woman in middle America struggling with police brutality and blue collar issues, or a movie about a mute woman, harassed and abused in the 1950s and developing a fantastical relationship, or a horror movie about racism told from the black perspective, are about to win Best Picture. Not only have we never had a race like this, no movie like any of the foregoing three have ever won. I suppose In the Heat of the Night (which won 50 years ago), is a mix of two of these films, dealing with racism in middle America during the 1960s. Silence of the Lambs is the only “genre” horror movie to ever win, and Return of the King the only fantasy. The Academy is diversifying – their membership, yes – but, really, their taste, and that is a good thing. More stories of more people will be told, making more of the world feel welcome under the embracing, warmth mantle of the Magic of the Movies.
Yes, that is a great thing.
In the face of all that, trying to pick who is going to win this or that is an afterthought, a canard. But here we are, you and I, wondering. Here I am, after having missed Best Picture two years in a row, my reputation on the line and sort of refusing to see the obvious groundswell of support that a horror film seems to have caught just as voting closed.
Perhaps I overthought it last year, but I was way off. Fewer categories seem up in the air this year, so everyone’s scores will be a point or two higher. The three shorts may literally decide who wins their Oscar pool.
So let’s recap very quickly the crazy year before I give you my final predictions. It began as it usually does at the Telluride Film Festival, where I said, and I quote, “you really have to expect that one of those is going to win Best Picture,” referring to mother!, Suburbicon, Billboards, and Shape. Not bad, and if Get Out wins it will be the first non-fall film festival movie to do so in eons. So at Telluride future Best Picture nominees Lady Bird and Darkest Hour had their world premieres, and fellow nominee The Shape of Water would play as well. Of course, in reality the race had started months earlier at Sundance, when Get Out became the runaway fan favorite and box office success, and Call Me By Your Name cemented its status as a serious awards contender. During the summer, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece Dunkirk premiered to rave reviews, and was declared by many the front-runner sort of by default.
Right after Telluride, we headed to the Great White North, where all of the foregoing played, alongside Martin McDonagh’s dark satire Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That film, like Del Toro’s movie, had premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where they split Directing and Writing awards—perhaps an omen of what was to happen again at the Globes and then again at the BAFTAs, and maybe again at the Oscars. And when Three Billboards won the audience at TIFF, it was an immediate lock for a Best Picture nomination, as 10 out of the last 11 TIFF winners have received.
At the end of this period, it was not quite clear that there was a La La Land in the room, or even a Boyhood. Though both of those movies lost eventually, they were considered the frontrunner for the entire fall of their years (maybe that’s why the lost eventually?). People just kept saying Dunkirk sort of by default, with some hinting that the Del Toro or McDonagh movies had a chance. The critics began to speak, but they all broke for The Florida Project and maybe Lady Bird. Some people held out hope that the last breaking movies would do something to shift the race, but while The Post and Phantom Thread both won some prizes that voted around the time of their press premiere, and eventually completed the Best Picture lineup, neither seems a threat today.
As mentioned, the Globes happened, and then the SAG, at which point Three Billboards did feel like the frontrunner at least to me.
There was to be yet another twist in this race, which happened on Oscar nominations morning, when the presumptive front-runner suffered a huge setback by not receiving a Best Director Oscar nomination. From then on, Three Billboards faded from contention, with The Shape of Water taking a clear lead as it won the PGA and the DGA. It was not until the Brits anointed Three Billboards two weeks ago that everyone got confused again.
Phew. That is a mouthful. Never had such complicated a recap been needed. So that is where we are. My reasoning for Best Picture is as follows: as much as I love stats, I am all about the type of movie more than anything else. That is why I predicted La La Land (and was wrong). Sure, it did not have a SAG Ensemble nod like Shape does not, but I doubt it lost for that reason. That lack of a nod may have signaled a loss of support among the Academy’s largest branch, the actors, but you will never convince me that it lost for any reason other than they did not want to seem so self-involved that they would pick a movie about them.
So that brings me to Three Billboards vs. Shape of Water vs. Get Out. I am sure that Del Toro's movie has the more love and admiration of the three. But the other two feel like the “message” movie, which is what has been winning of late (think Spotlight vs. The Revenant or 12 Years a Slave over Gravity). Maybe Get Out does have a chance after all? I really will be kicking myself, as more and more people are picking it at the last second. The lack of a Best Director nod will not stop me from picking 3BB, any more than the lack of SAG Ensemble should stop you from picking Shape. I am simply picking the movie I think they think makes them look smart. Similarly, the fact that it has only four nominations should not stop you from picking Get Out. The Departed did it with five...does one more small branch of 100 people giving it a nomination really matter when it has support from the directors, the actors, and the writers?
So there you have it. I will list my pick on the left and tell you the consensus, which I derived by looking at the movie with the best odds on betting sites plus our own picks here. Indeed, our staff consensus picks are the same as the Internet at large’s. The consensus is always wrong at least a handful of times. The fun is trying to outsmart everyone by picking where. If you guess right, you will win the pool. If you guess wrong, you will look dumb for going against the grain. In any event, I will have some non-consensus picks on purpose. I will also list the Guild winner, though if you have been reading, the tech category guilds are REALLY bad at predicting the eventual Oscar winner in their respective categories.
Best of luck Sunday, check back then for a post-mortem!!