Oscars Post-Mortem: The Biggest Surprises, Lessons Learned, and Rules Broken

     March 5, 2018

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Awards season is over, at long last, and The Shape of Water is the Best Picture of 2017. It was billed as one of the most unpredictable Oscars ceremonies in history, but when all was said and done, things actually played out more or less as expected. Prognosticators and industry insiders were spooked from last year’s Moonlight shocker, which wasn’t surprising just because of the envelope mix-up, but because Moonlight broke longheld stats that paved the way to an Oscar win. Indeed, Barry Jenkins’ film won Oscar’s top prize without winning the Producers’ Guild Award, Directors’ Guild Award, or Screen Actors Guild Award, bucking longheld convention.

So as we headed into this year’s Oscar ceremony, there seemed to be three major candidates to win Best Picture, but each one of them would be busting statistics that usually prove reliable for prognosticators. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the “populist” pick, having scored the SAG award but failing to earn a Best Director nomination. If it won Best Picture, it would have been one of very few films to do so without that key nod. It didn’t.

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Image via Fox Searchlight

Get Out was the “dark horse” pick. Momentum had been building for Jordan Peele’s thriller, including a Spirit Awards win on Saturday, but only 10 films have ever won Best Picture without a Best Editing nomination, and the last one to do so was in 1980. Moreover, Get Out’s path to victory included only one other clear win, in Screenplay, so it would be an insane rarity as a Best Picture winner with only two wins overall. Indeed, it didn’t win Best Picture.

The Shape of Water did win Best Picture, but it broke some statistics along the way. It had the PGA and DGA in hand, making it the “safe” pick going into the night, but it wasn’t even nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble. Given that actors are the largest voting block in the Academy, many took this as a sign that the film didn’t have the support needed to win Best Picture. In fact, not since Braveheart 24 years ago has a film won Best Picture without that SAG nomination, making The Shape of Water only the second film in history to do so. That’s an impressive statistic to overcome.

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Image via Fox Searchlight

And yet, in hindsight The Shape of Water’s win makes a lot of sense. The film earned a ton of nominations, was clearly beloved by everyone in the Academy based on the support in the craft categories as well as acting, writing, and directing, and Guillermo del Toro was a mainstay on the campaign circuit over the last few months—it’s impossible to hear the guy speak and not fall in love with his passion for movies. And oh yeah, the film itself is pretty masterful too. This is an incredibly agreeable Best Picture choice.

By and large, the Oscars ceremony last night went off without any major surprises. Best Original Screenplay was an incredibly competitive category, but many pegged Peele for a win—the Academy has gotten more ambitious here in recent years, as when Spike Jonze’s Her beat out Oscar heavy American Hustle. And Dunkirk was clearly an industry favorite over the ensuing months after its release, so Christopher Nolan’s film racking up three awards (including a long overdue win for Editor Lee Smith) was also not super surprising.

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