They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Best Picture Race

By J. Don Birnam

February 21, 2017

Well, here we are. Again.

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So it all comes down to this. We have handicapped the 23 other Oscar categories, and you can read them all here, but the one that most people care about is Best Picture. So let’s do that one too, shall we?

In the last two years, where the race was slightly more in question, we looked at why this or that movie could win and why it could not win. This year, that exercise seems futile. It would be about two sentences short: La La Land can’t win because it hasn’t happened since the first year of SAG that a movie not nominated there wins Best Picture, but each of the last years has broken one of these supposedly inviolate rules about the Oscars. The truth is that the times, they are a changing. Forget what you knew from statistics.

So we know that La La Land can and will win, and that nothing else can. So here you have it:

Will win: La La Land
Could win: N/A

Still, let’s not make this the shortest BOP column ever, and look at the Best Picture race of 2016 that was. It was an interesting race at least at some times, because it landed us with nine again, after a couple of years of eight nominees. By the time the names were read out loud, however, there was no doubt that it would be these. There was no "Extremely Loud” surprise or no “Carol”-like snub. And yet, it was one of the most diverse and eclectic bunches in a long time - not just because of their themes, but because of their trajectories to get here.


The year began as it normally does these days, with the Sundance Film Festival showcasing potential nominees even before the ink was dry on the statuettes of the prior year’s Oscar winners. This time around, two movies garnered attention, but only one of them made it in. Some thought that Birth of a Nation was the early obvious winner after a second consecutive year of #OscarsSoWhite, but it was not to be. Rape allegations dogged Nate Parker over the summer and by the time the precursors started, no one wanted anything to do with the film.

Ironically enough, another Sundance movie did survive its own spate of less incendiary sexually-charged allegations, and that was Manchester by the Sea. The movie played well in Utah and then again in all the major film festivals. It was never quite a frontrunner, but it stayed in all the way, and landed nominations in all major categories.

The next of these movies to be seen and eventually end up on the list was actually Hell or High Water, which had a quiet debut in the summer and just sort of hung out through the thick of it. It never broke through with a splash, it never managed a director nod or a big guild win, but enough people liked it that it kept its way throughout. It’s like the Grand Budapest of its year in some ways, though it was a much later release.

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