Last Updated: January 30th
Well the Oscar nominations have been announced, and the Best Picture race has hit its final stage. After a number of ups and downs, we have our final eight contenders. There are still four weeks to go—and a lot can happen in that time—but for now quite a bit has been illuminated, and it appears we’re down to two frontrunners to take home the main prize.
The first is Green Book, a film that pretty much wasn’t on anyone’s radar until it won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF—which historically guarantees a Best Picture nomination. It’s had a rocky road since that time, struggling to live up to its expectations as a box office crowdpleaser and being hit with scandal after scandal. Regardless, Academy voters went for the feel-good drama hard, nominating it for five Oscars in total.
The reason it’s a frontrunner contender has to do with precedent, mostly. It won the Producers Guild Award, and seven of the last 10 PGA winners went on to win Best Picture. It’s a major harbinger for Oscar glory, although it can sometimes miss as in the cases of La La Land and The Big Short. But the PGA isn’t the only trophy Green Book has. It won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and picked up nominations from all the major guilds, from the DGA to the WGA to the SAG awards. It also carries with it significant Oscar nominations that are harbingers of Oscar glory, most notably Best Film Editing. Indeed, the Best Picture winner has scored a Best Film Editing nomination almost every year for the past two decades.
The major knock against Green Book winning Best Picture is that it’s a divisive film. Since the Academy uses a preferential ballot system to vote for Best Picture—meaning voters rank their choices from favorite to least favorite—films that are well-liked tend to do better (see: The Shape of Water) than those that are either loved or hated (see: Three Billboards).
The other major contender to pull off the W, to my mind, is Roma. The film faced an uphill battle not only due to perceived bias against Netflix inside the Academy, but also due to the fact that it’s a long, black-and-white, Spanish-language drama with no movie stars. And yet the artistry of the film is undeniable, and it scored a whopping 10 Oscar nominations. It’s one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films, and director/writer/producer/cinematographer/co-editor Alfonso Cuaron has picked up a number of Best Director and Best Picture trophies along the critics circuit. If Green Book is this year’s La La Land—a commercial, love it/hate it hit—then Roma could certainly be this year’s Moonlight. And we all know how that turned out.
Roma has likewise picked up considerable guild support, and if Cuaron wins the Directors Guild of America award that could tip the film over the edge into solid frontrunner status. The arguments against Roma winning are, well, that it’s a long, black-and-white, Spanish-language drama with no movie stars—i.e. it’s possible not all Academy voters will venture to actually watch the movie. There’s also the perceived Netflix bias, but given the significant theatrical push and massive awards campaign that Netflix has been running, I have a feeling that’s fading a bit. Plus, tons of Oscar voters themselves are now working or have worked on a Netflix movie at this point.
Then there’s one notable Oscar nominations snub that’s just strange: Roma was not nominated for Best Film Editing, but Green Book was. To be honest that entire category is baffling this year, but as I said before, save for one unique instance, it’s been a long time since a film won Best Picture without a Best Film Editing nomination. And yet, that one unique instance was Birdman—another formally ambitious film—and statistical rules were made to be broken. So yeah, at this point I think either Roma or Green Book is your Best Picture winner.
If there is a spoiler, there are a couple of curious dark horses. Black Panther won the Screen Actors Guild’s Best Ensemble prize, and Chadwick Boseman‘s stirring speech may have ramped up even more support for the Marvel Studios film. But the lack of Oscar nominations in key categories like Screenplay, Editing, Director, or Supporting Actor for Black Panther leads me to believe support in the Academy isn’t as widespread or as passionate as some may think. Still, you never know.
And then there’s A Star Is Born, which unfortunately fell prey to the “early frontrunner” status that prevented films like The Social Network and La La Land from making it all the way to the finish line. In truth, despite being nominated by nearly every industry guild so far, A Star Is Born has yet to actually win a single significant award. It was almost shut out at the notoriously celebrity-obsessed Golden Globes, and Bradley Cooper was even snubbed by the Director’s branch at the Oscars. It’s possible that the film could find some kind of resurgence in these next few weeks that puts it back on top, but I’m not seeing the same level of outcry over Cooper’s snub that vaulted Argo into the pole position back in 2012 when Ben Affleck was left off the Best Director shortlist.
BlacKkKlansman clearly has a number of fans and significant support, and a DGA win for Spike Lee would definitely shake things up, but so far the film hasn’t felt like a serious Best Picture player. Ditto to The Favourite, one of the most-nominated films of the season but one that I feel will score a bunch of #3 and #4 votes on the preferential ballot. Vice made it through divisive reviews to score a number of major Oscar nominations, but it feels like the film will be sitting at the “just happy to be here” table.
Last but not least, there’s Bohemian Rhapsody. One of the worst-reviewed films to score a Best Picture nomination in recent memory, this is another awards film that has been rattled by controversy, and yet its supporters are almost emboldened by the backlash. Support for the bona fide box office phenomenon really picked up over the past month or so as the guilds took notice, but days after the Oscar nominations were announced, The Atlantic ran a harrowing account of director Bryan Singer‘s history of alleged sexual assault. Even without the Singer stink on it I think the film would be a longshot to win, but at this point if Bohemian Rhapsody wins Best Picture, it’ll be the biggest surprise in the history of the Academy by a very wide margin.
So yeah, this is about where I’m at right now, though acknowledging that things can certainly shift in the coming weeks. Check out my full ranking of Best Picture contenders from most likely to win to least likely to win below. The Oscars will be telecast live on ABC on February 24th.