We’ve been throwing out nomination thoughts in various spots, and I imagine some of you will soon start posting full prediction lists. It seems to me time for a cover-the-waterfront look at what we can expect/hope for next Tuesday morning when the roster is revealed. (After I began writing this, I noted Sabin started just such a prediction thread. I’ll refrain from looking at it till I’ve finished this series.)
One oddity of the season I think has been under-noted: the Academy, looking to avoid Winter Olympics competition, has moved the ceremony late (by current standards), to March 4th. But many precursors have stayed in the early zone (or moved even earlier) – not only are the Globes and Broadcasters already in the books, PGA and SAG will both have been awarded prior to the Oscar nominations. We’ll then have a 40-day window, between nominations and March 4th, with very few major developments to chew on (DGA, WGA, ACE, BAFTA). I wonder if the unusually long gap will lead to more divergence between the Academy and the precursors (as, say, happened in the last years before the date change, 2000-2002). That, combined with whatever influence the new influx of members can provide, might make this a more interesting year than that to which we’ve become accustomed.
Anyway, to this year’s hopefuls, starting with best picture. We kind of feel like we know the field in general – the PGA and AFI top ten weren’t full of surprises, and BAFTA’s more limited field also felt roughly right (figuring in the Brit lean). But getting things exactly correct this year still seems like a challenge.
Let’s break it into categories:
1. The DGA five are all in.
This is almost always the case anyway – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the only DGA nominee since the expansion to up-to-ten that didn’t make the best picture list. But this year it seems even clearer, since these five were the ones widely predicted. I’m not as confident they’ll all repeat as directing nominees, but that’s a topic for a later post covering other categories.
The Shape of Water had a rocky opening week of the season – missing NBR and receiving no mention in NY – but, except for the “who knows how crucial it is?” miss at SAG Ensemble, it’s had otherwise a glowing run. It seems certain to lead the nominations and be at worst a 50/50 best director contender.
Dunkirk still feels, oddly, like it’s running a bit on fumes from its summer breakthrough, when it got those ecstatic critical raves and huge box office. Despite that background, it doesn’t seem to ever WIN anywhere (except for editing). However…it’s got every expected Guild and precursor mention (no one really thought it was a SAG/WGA candidate), and an omission at AMPAS would still be a stunner.
From its profile, you’d think Three Billboards would be a film needing critical push to register with the Academy, but it’s been almost the opposite – falling way short in most critics’ voting (finding its biggest success with those glorified bloggers who fill the minor critics’ groups), and doing best with things like the Globes, Broadcasters and Guilds. Despite the harsh Internet flak it’s taken, it feels like one of our possible best picture winners.
There’s resistance to Get Out on a genre level – people I know, voters at SAG or the Academy, almost unilaterally respond to its mention with “I liked it, but, come on: it’s not that big a deal”. (Its weak-ish showing at the Globes and BAFTA underlines this.) But its dominance in both critical and Guild mentions tells us it’s more or less certain to make the best picture list.
Lady Bird showed some of the same weakness at HFPA/BAFTA (and, surprisingly, the Broadcasters), though its wins at the Globes indicate the film has some broad level of popularity. I think the film is in on lovability alone, especially matched to its significant critical acclaim, with Gerwig as an extra selling point.
What then, after that five?
2. We thought they were in all year, and maybe they still are, but maybe not.
Call Me by Your Name, for almost a year, looked like it was going to follow the track of Manchester by the Sea: raves at Sundance, seemingly certain acting nominations, critical awards expected, an Oscar run for sure. As it turned out, critics were less in line than anticipated (its LA best picture win the only thing saving a shutout), the supporting acting awards considerably iffier thanks to a competitive field, and Guild support weak enough that the film was starting to look like Carol II. However…PGA, AFI, the Globes, the Broadcasters and BAFTA all gave the film a spot, suggesting it has just enough strength to qualify for the list, even if not to thrive after that.
The Post took a much different route – staying under wraps till December, relying on “this could be the big one” buzz from Oscar bloggers to suggest inevitability. And the initial awards season response seemed to validate the approach – it opened with an NBR top three sweep, scored all the big nods with the Globes and Broadcasters, and got PGA/AFI listings just like Call Me by Your Name. The Guilds/later precursors, though, were another story: you could chalk up the SAG omissions to late-screener-release, but how to explain WGA, BAFTA and, most shockingly, DGA, where Spielberg has ruled for over 40 years? (11 nominations – if all had transferred to Oscar, he’d be right behind William Wyler on the all-time list.) The film now seems fully out of the potential winners’ circle, but even a nomination is only borderline. I’d still bet on it making it, but only with your money.
Who might take one those spots, instead?
3. What to do with all these Guild favorites?
Given the bountiful number of well-reviewed, successful films this year, it’s not surprising we have many alternates to choose from…but it’s still unusual for the Guilds to show such varied taste, keeping more films than normal alive for potential best picture citation.
The Big Sick has a fairly impressive array of Guild support (SAG, PGA and WGA), made AFI’s list, and won Comedy Film at the Broadcasters…but failed to get the ACE Comedy nod, and was omitted completely at the Globes. The film could definitely get best film/ screenplay/supporting actress…or, still, end up empty-handed. Is its long-ago release a hindrance (old news), or help (it’s very widely seen)?
I, Tonya, beyond the obvious Allison Janney/Margot Robbie tandem (I list them in that order by likelihood of winning), was a late awards bloomer – getting Globe comedy nods, but missing AFI and Broadcasters. But then it struck, with unexpected WGA/PGA/ACE nominations, and has turned into something of a box-office hit. It seems as possible a best picture filler as any other.
Molly’s Game is a slightly paler version of I, Tonya. It never had the sure acting nods I, Tonya has (though Chastain did manage to slip in with the Globes and Broadcasters); all it really had going for it was a certain-because-the-category-sucks Sorkin writing nomination. But then the film turned around and scored ACE/PGA nominations (in addition to its assured WGA mention). And it, too, has been a more lucrative box-office attraction than anticipated. The film is now at least in the running to make the best picture slate.
Finally, Mudbound, which I assume no one really has any idea what to do with. Does the SAG Ensemble nod reflect anything but SAG member susceptibility to free-at-home viewing? The film has lingered despite never really making a splash anywhere – and it has possible screenplay/supporting actress/cinematography/song nominations to back up a best picture run. I’ve not been putting it into my predictions…but if someone feels otherwise, I can’t definitively argue them out of it.
Something that unites all four of these films: likely or possible screenwriting nods. Since the expansion, the best picture list has shown major correlation with the screenplay lists. So maybe they’re stronger than many think.
And there’s more:
4. Probably not, but BAFTA…
Darkest Hour has, except for Gary Oldman, failed most everywhere, even places (NBR, Broadcasters), where you’d have thought it would have broken through if it were in any way serious. But then it racked up those staggering 9 nominations at BAFTA, including best picture, and has, after a so-so opening, turned into a US box-office hit. (Where do all these people come from, who turn out so reliably for dullish Brit-bait?) Does this mean it’s more in the race than thought? I’m inclined to write the BAFTA thing off to UK chauvinism – especially noting its 9 nods didn’t include the usual harbinger director/screenplay/editing citations. But, for purposes of completeness, I’ll say it’s not yet most sincerely dead.
5. We are Amour! We are The Tree of Life!
Just as presidential candidates trailing in polls for decades invoked Harry Truman (and now will bring up -- aw, I can’t even type it), films that seem out of the running for best picture slots will champion Amour and The Tree of Life, art-house projects that also seemed dead in the water, but surprised on nominations day with film/director mentions (in the old, five-films day, they would surely have been lone directors, but these days they’re more likely to get both slots). But does such a candidate have as good a chance when there are two such possibilities?
The Florida Project would initially have appeared the stronger hopeful, given the number of film/director critics’ prizes it received. Its profile – high critical praise/low grosses – is what has created many a lone director in the past. But, Dafoe aside, it’s shown no strength anywhere since its early NBR/Broadcasters mentions. As BJ noted, it felt a bit like it could be another Beasts of the Southern Wild…but even the Zeitlin film managed a PGA nod along the way. The Florida Project has been pretty fully played out, given every opportunity to score, and it’s started to seem like voters just aren’t that into it. Yet…it seems so much like the KIND of film that pulls off this late run, I can’t discount it.
And then there’s my own fave, Phantom Thread, which 1) has a late release as excuse for missing many of the Guilds; 2) is from a respected veteran director with a history of late-breaking nominations; 3) has potential actor/supporting actress/costumes/score nods for support; and 4) appears to be cresting at the right time, with enthusiastic response from people like Barry Jenkins. In a less competitive year – like, say, 2016 – I might be all in on the film. Even now, I think it has a better shot than most people think.
That’s the full field as I see it – 14 films (3 more than I thought when I looked at things in mid-December), of which only 8 or 9 are likely to emerge successfully. As interesting a bunch of contenders as I can recall, and likely to lead to one of the strongest rosters of this millennium.
There’s of course much to say about the other categories, but I’ll cut this off here and save the rest for a subsequent post.