The case for and against every Oscars Best Picture nominee

By Todd VanDerWerff

Get Out, The Shape of Water, and Dunkirk all have solid shots at winning Best Picture.” data-portal-copyright=”Universal/Fox Searchlight/Warner Brothers” data-has-syndication-rights=”1″ data-focal-region=”x1:766,y1:375,×2:1054,y2:663″ src=”https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/s6_vbUnY_8Ys7hj1pQqE3_s3lss=/110×0:1710×1200/400×300/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/58789121/headshots_1519343462915.0.jpg”>

Predicting Best Picture this year is a total mess. We tried to make it less messy.

More than in any other year, predicting the film that will win Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars feels like a rigged game. After La La Land — the sort-of frontrunner that hit every mark it seemingly needed to hit to clinch the title — lost in memorable fashion to Moonlight at the 2017 ceremony, those of us who like to predict these sorts of things are more skittish than ever.

There are a bunch of reasons for this, but three rise to the top. The first is that the Moonlight upset has left people wondering if every year might feature such a significant upset. Something similar happened in 2007, when it seemed like The Departed was the favorite for Best Picture, but Crash‘s upset win over Brokeback Mountain the year before led to lots of exotic theorizing on how, say, Little Miss Sunshine would pull out the win. (The Departed ultimately won, in a low-drama ceremony.)

The second is that the Academy’s membership has diversified enough over the past few years that we don’t quite know how to predict the preferences of its voters in the way we used to. When the Academy has significantly overhauled its membership in the past, it’s led to the body embracing the sorts of movies it hadn’t before. (I wrote more about the effect of the Academy’s diversification efforts here.)

And finally, we still don’t quite know how the preferential ballot — which only affects the Best Picture category — will play out. Basically, the Best Picture winner is selected by Oscar voters ranking the nominees for tabulation throughout several different “rounds”; at the end of each round, the film that garners the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated, with each voter’s second-place choice becoming their new first place. This process continues until a winner emerges with 50 percent of the vote plus one vote. And as we found out last year, unexpected things can happen.

Consequently, in trying to predict a Best Picture winner, you’re often not looking for the movie that the most Academy members think was “the best,” but the movie that the most Academy members can agree they mostly liked. (I wrote a lot more about the preferential ballot, if you really want to get into the weeds.)

Still, it’s worth looking at the Best Picture nominees for 2018 in terms of what advantages each one might have under the current system. Here’s my estimation of the nine nominees’ individual chances of winning, ranked from least to most likely to win.

9) Darkest Hour

Kristin Scott Thomas and Gary Oldman in Darkest HourJack English/Focus Features

In its favor: Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill has become a formidable frontrunner, and having a lead performer who just keeps winning trophies from other awards bodies helps keep the movie in the public eye. It has six Oscar nominations, which is more than many of the films I’ve ranked higher.

Not in its favor: Those six nominations don’t include nominations for writing or directing, which are virtually required of a Best Picture winner. When you think about the kind of people who are likely to rank Darkest Hour first on a preferential ballot, there just aren’t too many of them. The artier types within the Academy will likely eschew its staid, traditional biopic nature, while those who like that sort of thing could easily gravitate toward some of the other nominees. I’m guessing it’s out in the first or second round.

8) The Post

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Kay Graham in The PostNiko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox

In its favor: All the things that seemed to be in its favor when it looked like it might mount a more formidable Oscar run — it’s directed by Steven Spielberg, it tells a timely story, it stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, etc., etc., etc. The Academy still has a lot of traditionalists in its ranks, and this is probably the most typical “Oscar film” in the running.

Not in its favor: It only has two nominations. A movie with that few nominations hasn’t won Best Picture since the 1930s. I could list a whole bunch of other reasons too, but really, that’s the long and short of it.

7) Call Me by Your Name

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your NameSony Pictures Classics

In its favor: The people who love this movie really love this movie, which suggests there are enough of them to keep it in the running for a couple of rounds at least, albeit toward the bottom of the pack. It’s a virtually guaranteed Adapted Screenplay winner, which isn’t nothing.

Not in its favor: The Call Me by Your Name cult, while mighty, is not exactly large. The movie’s release was bungled by Sony Pictures Classics, which held the movie back from a wide release when it was at its buzziest, thereby damaging its box office. That led to a film that could have received seven or eight nominations receiving just four instead. The Academy even nominated the wrong Sufjan Stevens song from the film for the Best Original Song category. (That’s neither here nor there; I just wanted to complain about it.)

6) Phantom Thread

Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom ThreadLaurie Sparham/Focus Features
…read more

Read more here: The case for and against every Oscars Best Picture nominee

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