In the wake of a wonky political year and the overwhelming fallout surrounding sexual misconduct in Hollywood, this Oscar season has felt long and trivial. But the show must go on, so we’ve still dutifully logged predictions for the Academy’s top six categories.
If anything, this year’s awards are an opportunity to address the state of the industry and, at the risk of sounding grandiose, the state of the world we live in. The stars in attendance will rise to the occasion: They’ve already banded together to wear black at Sunday’s Golden Globes to protest harassment.
With Oscar ballots opening Friday, studios’ multimillion-dollar campaigns are near the finish line. That leaves less than three weeks until the nominations are announced on Jan. 23 ― and yet this year’s Best Picture contest is still undecided. Any number of movies could land the big kahuna, though I suspect “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “The Post,” “Dunkirk” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” are the true pacesetters.
Here are the 16 films in the lead for Best Picture, ranked according to their likelihood of winning.
No "Star Wars" movie since the 1977 original has been nominated for Best Picture, but what if we're sleeping on "The Last Jedi" in this race? It didn't screen in time for most of the precursor prizes, so it's impossible to gauge the hype based on conventional prognosticating. "The Force Awakens" made some 11th-hour wish lists, and "The Last Jedi" has been far more extolled (at least among critics) for its artistry. Oscar telecasts' ratings are typically higher when there's a blockbuster nominated, and this would be a convenient way for the Academy to honor a genre that doesn't often make it past the tech categories. Plus, Disney has unleashed
a for-your-consideration crusade; maybe it could work! At the very least, it would be a nice middle finger to the trolls complaining that "Star Wars" features too many women or isn't nostalgic enough anymore.
Thanks to the movie's gargantuan success, Warner Bros. quickly pinpointed "Wonder Woman" as an opportunity for an Oscar pursuit. And in a year full of feminist groundswells, it would seem that Patty Jenkins' superhero behemoth could lasso a nomination. After all, the Best Picture field was expanded to a maximum 10 slots partly because "The Dark Knight" was snubbed in 2009. But blockbusters of this size just aren't what the Oscars go for, no matter the politics behind them. "Wonder Woman" has a leg up on "The Last Jedi," but both are likely to be sidelined.
"All the Money in the World" boasts one of the best narratives any Oscar contender has ever seen: A month before its release, director Ridley Scott reshot chunks of the movie, replacing the disgraced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer, who received a Golden Globe nomination for his efforts. Amazingly, "Money" opened on schedule, racking up polite reviews but faltering at the box office. If it makes the shortlist, it'll be an ode to Hollywood's quick response to the ongoing sexual misconduct rejoinders.
"I, Tonya" has become an electric conversation piece, sparking fierce debates about its comedic take on domestic abuse and America's class consciousness. Those who love it really
love it, and that counts for a lot with the Oscars, which uses a preferential ballot system. This dark spin on the familiar story
of Tonya Harding's public downfall netted a Best Picture nod from the Golden Globes and a screenplay salute from the Writers Guild of America, keeping it alive even as the hot takes start to steam.
Paul Thomas Anderson's movies never find massive mainstream success, but that's never hurt him with the Oscars. Even his most enigmatic film, "Inherent Vice," earned a screenplay shoutout. "Phantom Thread" probably won't be the PTA joint that finally crosses over, and the fact that it didn't screen for press and industry folks until late November stymies its momentum. The costumes are lush, the performances are masterful, the score is divine. But it's a bizarre story about light sadomasochism, and that may not be the Academy's preferred flavor of tea.
At Sundance, "Mudbound" seemed like the festival's primo awards contender -- and then it sold to Netflix
, a platform that some old-timers still detest because it's disrupting traditional theatrical distribution. Can enough voters be convinced that Dee Rees' sprawling race drama shouldn't be penalized for its streaming affiliation? Promisingly, it got the coveted Best Ensemble nod from the Screen Actors Guild, though that represents only a fraction of the overall Academy. Directors and tech geeks will be more finicky than actors when it comes to the best format for movie watching.
"Darkest Hour" -- you know, that other movie about the Dunkirk evacuation -- screams Oscar bait. To its credit, Joe Wright's period piece is better than your average awards wannabe, and yet it's hardly the most interesting project to appear on any prognostication. A transformative Gary Oldman performance, a vigorous scored by Dario Marianelli and a peppy story about humble leadership create an appealing cocktail, particularly for older voters who'd prefer the Oscars honor the same old stuff every year.
One of summer's sleeper hits, "The Big Sick" is what a modern romantic comedy should look like. Using the American immigrant experience to tell a cross-cultural love story, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote one of the year's most charming scripts -- and they've promoted the hell out of it in the months since. It's clearly found favor with voters, too, having earned top nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Comedies like this have made the Best Picture roster before -- think "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno" -- and it seems primed for affection from the Academy's younger, more diverse membership.
"The Florida Project" is a testament to the resourcefulness of independent filmmaking. With a modest $2 million budget, Sean Baker cast unknowns to play a hard-up mother and her 6-year-old daughter living at a low-rent motel outside Disney World. What starts as a quirky charmer about the misadventures of a few ambling kids ends as a heartrending portrait of lower-class travails. The movie, which once seemed a bit small in scale for the Oscars' taste, has collected a decent sum at the box office despite peaking in a mere 229 theaters. This is one worth rooting for.
Sony Pictures Classics
"Call Me by Your Name" is universally beloved, but its momentum lacks the sort of narrative that would help propel it all the way to the Oscar podium. A gay romance
that's more luscious than it is overtly political, Luca Guadagnino's masterwork doesn't carry the same social consciousness that, say, "Moonlight" did when it scored Best Picture. Sadly, some voters
will feel like they just
handed this award to a queer movie.
And while "Call Me" has (mostly) avoided the backlash that haunts many front-runners in the Twitter age, it's had to ride its wave of fervent fandom since premiering at Sundance in January. That's a long road to travel without a more pointed angle to hook Academy members looking to honor the movie that best represents the chaos of 2017.
Rarely does a movie so seamlessly blend technical mastery and patient storytelling. None of Guillermo del Toro's previous projects have been nominated for Best Picture, which turns "The Shape of Water" into something of a career achievement recognition. With a lovely interspecies romance at its core and an old-fashioned sweep that pays homage to Old Hollywood, this lets voters think with their heads and their hearts. And yet its glowing reviews haven't translated to widespread precursor accolades. "Water" will land a bevy of influential tech nods, but it feels destined to be loved but not awarded.
Martin McDonagh's barbed dramedy scored the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival, back when there was no discernible front-runner whatsoever. That bellwether -- a reliable prophesy for Best Picture candidates -- gave "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" the semblance of a de facto pacesetter. But by the time the movie opened in November, it met a swift blowback from critics who challenged its muddy racial politics
. On the other hand, "Billboards" is a fiery portrait of a woman protesting her daughter's rape -- a timely conceit in the age of #MeToo. Which political pole will prevail? Based on the precursor prizes, "Three Billboards" is still very much in the race: It received the top nomination from the Screen Actors Guild Awards, considered the most reliable predictor because of the group's overlapping voters.
Warner Bros. has fought hard to keep "Dunkirk" in this contest, parading the never-before-nominated Christopher Nolan here, there and everywhere for screenings of and interviews about his kinetic World War II saga. Its reputation as the category's forerunner has waned, but it ended 2017 as the highest-grossing movie unaffiliated with a franchise or reboot. That has to count for something, especially when "Dunkirk" is promised a lot of love from the tech categories.
In February, Steven Spielberg dropped what he was doing to fast-track "The Post," which may or may not be why the script triple underlines its timely themes about the freedom of the press and women in leadership. That heavy-handedness hardly detracts from the movie. Moving at a rousing, old-fashioned clip, the economical ensemble piece marks Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks' first time on-screen together. And who wouldn't be seduced by Hollywood's holy trinity, especially when they've spoken so elegantly about the film's themes? "The Post" missed out on Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild nods, but that didn't stop, say, "Hacksaw Ridge" or "The Revenant" from landing the top nomination in recent years.
"Lady Bird" paved a path to the Oscars on its own merits: After the movie was warmly received on the fall film-festival circuit, A24 wisely stamped its then-perfect Rotten Tomatoes scores across advertisements. It's since become the trendy indie studio's highest-grossing release to date, besting "Moonlight" and proving that films about teen girls can be every bit as sophisticated and nuanced as the heady dramas that saturate Oscar season. "Lady Bird" is the type of movie people want to root for -- lovable and warm and nostalgic in all the right ways. With all the requisite attention (the same thing as love, don't you think?) from the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Golden Globes, it has a strong shot at nabbing this trophy.
"Get Out" mounted the year's stealthiest campaign. After it became a runaway phenomenon in February and March, Universal Pictures hosted an industry party
for its digital release -- the type of event commonly associated with Oscar bids. Writer/director Jordan Peele has remained a fixture on the media circuit, winningly advancing conversations about the story's racial satire. Just a few weeks ago, in between tweeting about how "Get Out" could be considered a Christmas movie
, Peele was profiled by The New York Times. His continued presence has lent added gravitas to what voters of yore might have dismissed as a crowd-pleasing thriller. Now, the Academy can throw its weight behind a movie that is both woke and
audience-friendly; it's exactly what 2018's awards need.