Last Updated: January 8th.
If you’ve been following along with these Oscar Beat columns for the past couple of months, you’re aware that the theme of this year’s race seems to be that there is no theme. Everyone’s a bit wary of holding to old standards in the wake of last year’s big surprises, and the heavy influx of a younger, more diverse group of Academy voters has everyone wondering just what kind of changes this will reflect. More than that, though, there just hasn’t been one huge frontrunner that emerged from the fall film festival circuit. There is no La La Land or Slumdog Millionaire or King’s Speech. There are a number of different films that have chances of taking home the big prize.
But Oscar voting is now open, the Producers Guild, Writers Guild, and Screen Actors Guild have weighed in with nominations, and the Golden Globes have been awarded. So we do have some clarity on where things stand, especially in relation to the Globes which aren’t so much a harbinger of Oscar glory (there’s no voter overlap and the Globes are roundly a “joke” of an awards body) as they are a big publicity boost to those that win.
Our frontrunners for the top prize at the moment seem to be Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird, and Get Out. They all scored SAG and PGA nods, and Lady Bird and Get Out scored WGA nods (Three Billboards was ruled ineligible). I have a strong feeling one of these three films is going to win Best Picture.
Three Billboards took home the Audience Award at TIFF, which is a major harbinger of a Best Picture Oscar nomination to come, and it cleaned up with the SAG nominations, scoring nods for Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell as well as that coveted Best Ensemble nod. Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy has elicited a somewhat divisive response from some critics (some folks hate this movie), but clearly it has a lot of support amongst fellow actors, and it went over like gangbusters at the Golden Globes, where McDormand’s fiery speech may have surged her to the head of the Best Actress pack. This is an “of the moment” pick if there ever was one.
Also surging at the moment is Lady Bird, the A24 indie from writer/director Greta Gerwig. What some may have pegged as a twee and familiar coming-of-age drama is actually a tremendously well directed, impeccably acted, and incredibly tight narrative. Yes it’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s also a story about mothers and daughters, growing up, and leaving home. Reviews are soaring, it had a strong showing with SAG, WGA, and PGA, and it won the Golden Globes for Best Picture Comedy and Best Actress Comedy. It’s a lovable pick, written, directed by, and starring women, so this is a very agreeable choice. And if Gerwig is snubbed of a deserving Best Director nomination, watch out.
And Jordan Peele’s social thriller Get Out remains one of the best-reviewed and most buzzed-about films of 2017, and its status has been rising steadily over the past few months. It not only scored a Best Ensemble SAG nod but also Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya, who was flying somewhat under the radar. Additionally, the film picked up key notices from the PGA and WGA. This is the surest sign yet that this movie is connecting with those in the industry, and while it went home empty handed at the Golden Globes, I don’t think that really hurt it that much. It’ll be interesting to see which way SAG leans with regards to these three movies, and which of the three earn DGA nods.
Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale The Shape of Water is certainly towards the top of the pack as well. It’s the best film of del Toro’s career—an immaculately crafted, sweepingly romantic, and surprisingly timely story of love amongst outsiders. Those who love the film really love it, and passion is key when it comes to the Oscars. But there are destined to be those that don’t spark to the romance between a mute woman and a fish-man, so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few weeks as it starts to hit theaters. It won Golden Globes for Best Director and Score, but missed out on the key SAG Best Ensemble nomination that, statistically, is a must-have to win the Best Picture Oscar. Not since Braveheart has a movie won the top Oscar prize without a SAG Ensemble nomination.
Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino’s sensual, sumptuous summer romance film, exploded at Sundance and hasn’t slowed down since. There are some who say the Academy wouldn’t award two “gay” films back-to-back, which is nonsense (three romances won all in a row in the 90s, The English Patient, Titanic, and Shakespeare in Love), but regardless this is one of the best-reviewed films of the year. That being said, while it scored some key SAG and Golden Globe nods, as well as nominations from the PGA and WGA, like Shape of Water it also missed out on the Best Ensemble nomination and was shut out at the Globes. So we’ll see…
There’s also Dunkirk, which is somewhat non-traditional in that it opened in the summer and not the “awards-y” fall corridor, but Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan have been working hard to keep the film fresh in the minds of voters. It’s got the commercial and critical acclaim, but more importantly it seems to have gone over extremely well with those within the filmmaking community, who have high praise for Nolan’s craft here. That could go a very long way, and indeed the Producers Guild saw fit to name Dunkirk one of the best films of the year. Will the DGA follow suit, and will Nolan finally crack that Best Director Oscar race?
Somewhat less surefire is the more traditional Darkest Hour, which is a talky World War II drama with a transformative lead performance from Gary Oldman. It’s a really good film and feels like the kind of movie that wins Best Picture in 1996, but I’m curious to see if these films still have a place in the somewhat transformed Academy. Director Joe Wright certainly does a great job of making the film cinematic, and it plays as a wonderful companion to Dunkirk, so I think this one is still going to go over quite well with a section of the Academy, but will that be enough? It missed out on nominations from both the PGA and the WGA, which could signal this one’s on the downslope. But Oldman did get a PR boost by winning that Globe.
Then there’s Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which has strong reviews and a timely premise, but got shut out of the SAG nominations. That could have something to do with the fact that SAG voters didn’t receive the screener until a week into voting, and other latecomers have faced similar issues with SAG and gone on to Oscar success (see: The Wolf of Wall Street). The film was also snubbed from a WGA nomination, which was quite a shocker given that Liz Hannah and Josh Singer were earmarked to potentially win Best Adapted Screenplay. But The Post did get a bit of a surge from landing a PGA nod so it’s not in as dire straights as Darkest Hour, but it’s also far from a lock. It’ll be interesting to see if Spielberg gets a nod from the DGA.
The Big Sick is also in the mix, having been something of a bubble contender for the past few weeks but getting a well-deserved boost from SAG nominations for Best Ensemble and Supporting Actress as well as notices from the PGA and WGA. And Netflix’s Mudbound had a strong showing with both the SAG nominations and the Golden Globes and earned a WGA nod, but it missed out on the PGA nomination and I’m still wary of whether the Academy is ready to spark to Netflix original films.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is also a contender, but I’m unsure as to how big of a splash it’s going to make. Anderson’s last two films, Inherent Vice and The Master, were a bit more esoteric than his previous work, and while Phantom Thread is scoring positive reviews, it’s also apparently somewhat arch, so it may have trouble finding a significant amount of passion within the Academy. Indeed, the shut out from the WGA and PGA isn’t a great sign.
There’s also The Florida Project, an extremely emotional and a powerhouse of non-traditional filmmaking from Tangerine director Sean Baker. If it finds a passionate fanbase I think its chances are good, but it’s also a very small movie with very little plot, so A24 has a delicate balancing act to pull off. It missed out on PGA and WGA nominations, so this one’s definitely a bubble contender.
Surging at the moment is I, Tonya, director Craig Gillespie‘s darkly comedic take on the Tonya Harding story featuring a powerhouse performance from Margot Robbie. She’s close to a lock for a Best Actress nomination and the film itself landed notices from both the WGA and PGA over more “surefire” contenders like The Florida Project, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it lands in the Best Picture lineup once nominations are announced. Allison Janney certainly got a boost in the Supporting Actress race with her Golden Globe win.
Also getting a bit of a surge is Aaron Sorkin‘s directorial debut Molly’s Game, which just expanded wide on the heels of nominations from the WGA and PGA. Reviews are positive and Jessica Chastain is in the Best Actress mix while Sorkin’s in the hunt for another Adapted Screenplay nomination, so this could be something of a surprise contender in the Best Actress race. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
So yeah, things are complicated. But right now, at this particular moment in time, here’s how I see the Best Picture race shaping up—with frequent updates to come as the race continues taking shape.