They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
Calm Before The Storm: Do We Know Anything?
By J. Don Birnam
January 29, 2018
The dust has settled slightly from the Academy Award nominations announced last week, but Oscar voting does not begin for another three weeks. So the precursor awards continue to be given out by all the major guilds, giving us clues as to where the race may be headed. Today we look at some of those results and also wonder whether the nominations essentially seal The Shape of Water’s fate as your Best Picture winner. With the Oscars being on March 4 this year, the extra week gives us a little more time to think things through rationally. Thoughts? Twitter and Instagram.
ACE Eddie Guild: True Precursor?
On Friday, the important American Cinema Editors (ACE) guild handed out its top prizes, giving Coco the prize for Best Edited animated film, while the live action prizes went to I, Tonya in Comedy and Dunkirk in Drama. Those two movies seem like the natural contenders for the Academy Award, but they have to face off fellow nominees and Best Picture powerhouses Three Billboards and Shape of Water, as well as the action-packed and fast-paced Baby Driver.
Last year we noted that the ACE Eddie had predicted the Best Film Editing Oscar winner in the last 20 of 26 years. But the reality is that the statistic is slightly misleading. The wins were, for example, all in a row from 2002 through 2011. Since then, they have only matched Argo and Mad Max. The award last year went to La La Land and to Arrival, both of which lost the Oscar to Hacksaw Ridge.
But the lineups are slightly different this year. It is clear from recent winners that action and war movies are doing well with the Academy in terms of the Best Editing Oscar. A movie that is more interview-based editing like I, Tonya, does not seem to have that much of a chance (though it should). And while they like to nominate the prestige Best Picture contenders, the last few years’ wins for Hacksaw, Mad Max, and Whiplash before that show that they do not feel the need to reward the same movie they are picking for Best Picture (or consider the year of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, not even nominated for Best Picture).
So the war film + action + no need to reward Best Picture winner combo bodes well for Dunkirk. It also bodes well, however, for Baby Driver. It is a fast-paced movie, and there is precedent for it to win (Girl with the Dragon…). We will discuss more later, but this is how this race is shaping up.
The other thing it tells us is that neither Shape nor Three Billboards appear to be runaway guild winners. By contrast, La La Land did very well with the guilds last year, even though it of course surprisingly lost the top prize in the end. The fact that the awards are going to arguably the deserved winners over the potential favorites indicates that there is still space to have changes here and there.
Art Directors Guild: Another Predicted Result?
Meanwhile, the ADG also handed out its prizes. Coco again won, the first movie to win in the new animated category, showing that its path to Oscar glory is pretty unobstructed. In the live action categories, The Shape of Water won for period piece, Logan defeated Get Out and Lady Bird for contemporary art direction, while Blade Runner: 2049 won in fantasy. Logan was not nominated for the Oscar, which is between the other two guild winners plus Beauty and the Beast, Dunkirk, and Darkest Hour.
Last year, the guild went for La La Land, Hidden Figures, and Passengers, and that Oscar eventually went for the Chazelle musical. But they are not always in sync with the Academy, preferring to “me too” Best Picture contention, which frees the Oscars to vote more for what they like. Still, the win of La La Land over an obviously more “produced” movie like Fantastic Beasts last year means that the race could still go in several directions.
Best Picture: Can We Be Confident of Anything Anymore?
Looking back at some columns from last year, it is pretty funny how absolutely confident I was that La La Land would win Best Picture. In my defense, at this point in the race I did say I “did not buy the La La Land train yet”, but by the time the Oscars rolled around, a BAFTA win, plus a DGA win, seemed to seal the deal. Moreover, every single predictor agreed with me. And finally, let’s not forget that Moonlight’s win was epically stunning: the first movie since the start of SAG almost 25 years ago to win Best Picture without a single win from the guild trifecta. The only stat that thus survived is the idea that you need a SAG ensemble nod to win, which La La lacked but Moonlight had.
There are many different ways you can interpret last year (and the last couple). One is to say: OK, well, since Three Billboards lacks a Best Director nod, it is out (except for Argo, I guess?), and since The Shape of Water does not have SAG, it is also out. That leaves Lady Bird and Get Out as the only movies that click all the boxes, and Get Out does not have BAFTA, so, by process of elimination, Gerwig’s movie is the winner.
Prepare for epic egg in face in 3…2…1…. I’m just not sure that I buy this line of reasoning at all. If last year teaches us anything, I think, is that past stats do not matter as much as we think they do. If Moonlight can win without a guild win, why can’t Shape without a SAG ensemble or Three Billboards without a director nod (the latter of which happened this decade). It seems better to look for the “Oscar movie” than for stats.
Lady Bird is not a typical Oscar movie. In any way. It is about a young girl, her anxieties and foibles. On the other hand, Moonlight was unlikely any other winner too. Maybe this IS the new normal? And, given all the #MeToo and women issues that continue to flourish this year, will Lady Bird ride that momentum? I am still not seeing it. I just do not see enough voters taking it seriously enough, even though it is beloved. In some ways, it faces steeper odds than Moonlight. A movie about issues relevant to the black community had won in recent years (12 Years A Slave), and a gay drama had come close. A comedy like Lady Bird has never even sniffed the podium.
But what do I know, I guess is the point. The only thing you can be certain of is that after predicting Best Picture wrong two years in a row, I will no longer truly be certain of anything. You have to try to take stock in little things, but go with your gut. The reality is that Moonlight had significant support among the Academy—eight nominations for a movie with only mild tech aspects. Of course Spotlight had fewer and made it through, but the preferential ballot requires you to look for a movie that will achieve consensus. It is fair to ponder whether The Shape of Water can do that, no doubt.
Maybe it will be Dunkirk after all?