A week of inaugural Oscar predictions has now come to this, at last: Best Picture. The Oscars’ biggest prize has taken some interesting left turns over the last few years. Everyone (myself included) was sure crowdpleaser La La Land had it in the bag, but instead the Academy went with the artful, challenging Moonlight. Many said The Shape of Water was simply too weird to win Best Picture. As it turned out, they were wrong.
The Academy’s demographic has been changing significantly over the past couple of years, with concerted efforts made to make the membership younger and more diverse. That’s changing what an “Oscar movie” really is—just look at all the nominations that Get Out received last year—and shaking up the race in a really exciting way. That in turn makes predicting the big category a bit harder, but there are still signposts that’ll lead you to the major contenders.
This year’s crop of potential nominees is not lacking for quality or diversity, and for the first time since 2012, a major studio has could win the top trophy as opposed to one of the prestige labels like Fox Searchlight or A24. And in a testament to the schizophrenic nature of Hollywood, this year could also see the first Netflix movie not only land a nomination, but the win. So yeah, the times they are a-changin’.
At this particular moment in time, there are three main frontrunners for Best Picture, and they could not be more different from each other. A Star Is Born was the early frontrunner, which can sometimes work out well (see: Spotlight) and sometimes not (see: The Social Network). This is an old-fashioned Hollywood studio picture. It’s got movie stars, incredible craft, and unforgettable songs, and it’s a massive hit with both audiences and critics. It’s also hard to find someone who hates this movie, and when it comes to Best Picture, a lack of divisiveness can sometimes make the all the difference—remember, they use a preferential ballot when voting, which means Academy members rank their favorites. So a film wants a bunch of 1’s, 2’s and 3’s, not split of 1’s and 9’s.
Then we have ROMA, which is the “artsy” pick, but also quite edgy given that it hails from Netflix—with which Hollywood has a love/hate relationship. The film is a masterpiece, and it’s one of the best-crafted movies in recent memory. But it’s also a long, Spanish-language film with no recognizable starts, presented in black and white. That can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to get Academy voters to actually watch the film, but again the demographic is changing—this is the same Academy that gave Best Picture to Moonlight. So I think ROMA absolutely gets in and is a serious threat.
And for a while there, it felt like a two-way race between A Star Is Born and ROMA, but then Green Book came along and crashed the party. The drama chronicles the friendship of two opposites in the 1960s—a white, working class bouncer and a black, classically trained pianist. This is very much a feel-good movie in the vein of Hidden Figures or The Help, and it’s going to be a massive crowdpleaser. I think that’s enough to get it in the Best Picture mix and make it a serious candidate, but I also think this movie is going to be incredibly divisive. Once you start to really dig into the film’s subtext, the result is… well, troubling to say the least. There will be plenty of “hot takes” written about this film over the next few months, so the question is whether Green Book is strong enough to weather the storm, or if it’ll start to fade away. For right now, I think the film’s a very serious threat and definitely a Best Picture contender.
Beyond these top three candidates, however, it’s still a really interesting and diverse field. The Favourite is, well, a critical favorite, and Yorgos Lanthimos’ most accessible movie yet. The film is already expected to be a serious player in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, and Lanthimos could very well find himself in the Best Director circle. So if the movie is as big of a hit with the Academy as I’m thinking it might be, it’s got a real shot at a Best Picture nomination.
Another “artsy” film that could be in the mix if If Beale Street Could Talk, filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ warm, romantic, yet also timely James Baldwin adaptation. This is a very small movie that’s also immaculately crafted, so it’s going to need some passionate supporters to vault it into position. But we’ll know more when Annapurna Pictures releases it in December.
Filmmaker Spike Lee will also likely find himself back in the Best Picture race with BlacKkKlansman, one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. This is an incredibly timely, well-crafted film about race relations that’s kind of the antidote to the feel-good nature of Green Book, and the fact that both will probably be nominated is a testament to the diverse range of voters in the Academy.
Also timely, but in a much more commercial way, is Black Panther. Marvel and Disney hired an expert Oscar strategist back in March, so they’ve been planning this Oscar campaign ever since Black Panther was first released, and they’ve been making all the right moves. Moreover, the film has the goods. It’s a superhero movie to be sure, but Ryan Coogler threads a thematically rich and relevant tale of what it means to be black in America throughout the action-filled sci-fi spectacle. And “Marvel movie” isn’t really a bad word to a lot of the people voting on this. Actors like Cate Blanchette, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Josh Brolin have all happily made the jump to Marvel, so voting for Black Panther isn’t some kind of frowned-upon taboo—especially when the film itself is so rich and complex.
Also in the vein of timely stories, Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic Vice was finally unveiled last weekend, and it sounds like the Big Short director’s new film is a hit—if voters can stomach it. Early reactions note that the film is extremely well-crafted with Oscar-worthy performances, but McKay connects Cheney’s life and rise to power to our current political climate in 2018. It’s apparently a film that, well, leaves the viewer feeling deflated and angry. It remains to be seen if voters will go for it (BlacKkKlansman has a similar effect, it should be noted) and Vice is a good reminder that the Oscars don’t happen in a bubble—what’s happening in the real world can affect what films voters spark to. But it’s one to keep on the radar, and given the pedigree I’m inclined to think it makes it in.
If the mood of a lot of voters is leaning towards feel-good, Mary Poppins Returns might do the trick. The Disney musical had its first screenings this past weekend and it’s apparently a genuine Best Picture contender—a joyous spectacle lovingly crafted by Oscar-winning Chicago director Rob Marshall. It’s a bit too early to tell if the field may be too crowded, or if Mary Poppins Returns is too “commercial” for the Academy, but right now it’s definitely one to keep in mind.
And in the vein of “warm” films, I think Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a serious Best Picture player, and one that a lot of folks are underestimating. This is a really lovingly crafted, character-centric tale that also doubles as an ode to New York. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are strong possibilities for acting noms, but in the vein of Brooklyn or Lady Bird, I have a feeling Marielle Heller’s rich character drama could sneak into the Best Picture race as well.
Of course there’s also the First Man of it all. On paper, this was one of the year’s biggest contenders: The next film from Oscar-winning La La Land wunderkind Damien Chazelle, a commercial biopic of a famous American hero as portrayed by movie star Ryan Gosling. Unfortunately, while the film netted solid reviews in September, it lacked the passion that keeps it in the conversation, and it really failed to connect with audiences in a big way. As a result, it’s really faded as a lot of the other aforementioned films have remained relevant and engaging with regards to the Oscar race. It still has a shot at landing a Best Picture nomination, but with Universal now likely focused on Green Book as their best bet, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Beyond these likely contenders, it’s worth mentioning critical darling Eighth Grade, which could pull off a surprise nod as I imagine it’ll do well with the critics awards next month. Ditto First Reformed, for which Ethan Hawke may find himself in the Best Actor circle. I’d love to see Widows land a nomination, but Steve McQueen’s popcorn movie isn’t off to a great start at the box office. And despite a rotten Rotten Tomatoes score, Bohemian Rhapsody could potentially pull off a surprise nomination boosted by industry support. Hey, it’s happened before with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
And while there are certainly some “popular” films with great shots at being nominated this year, it would really be great to see films like Mission: Impossible – Fallout, A Quiet Place, or Crazy Rich Asians—tremendously crafted commercial entertainment with weight and substance—get into the Best Picture race. Alas, that’s unlikely. But a guy can dream, right?
So that about does it. It’s gonna be a long race with a lot of twists and turns, so these rankings will absolutely change as the season wears on. But for now, here are my Best Picture predictions in order of likelihood to be nominated.