Time for the big boy. The category every film wants to win: Best Picture. Just being nominated is one of the highest honors in the movie industry, which is generally as high as the majority can dream. Most years the category comes down to a two-horse race. Last year, it was La La Land or Moonlight, with Manchester by the Sea being given the tiniest of chances. The year before Spotlight and Mad Max: Fury Road. Before that, Birdman and Boyhood. You get the point. Usually the race is down to two and the others so far behind its a waste of time to consider them having an actual shot.
That makes this year different.
About five nominees could be considered as having a shot at the award, with the usual two frontrunners. There’s also two potential upsetters that no one would be surprised seeing win. It’s an exciting race that makes the biggest award of the night the one that has the most intrigue surrounding it. Let me guide you through what might go down, and what will probably go down, during the last minutes of the show.
Call Me by Your Name
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Before I go into the predictions here, we must first look at how the Best Picture winner is selected. Unlike the other categories, Best Picture uses a preferential voting system. Voters rank each film, from 1-9 this year, and then turn in their ballot. These ballots are tallied, and for a winner to be declared one film must have at least 50% of the first place votes. If that doesn’t happen, the lowest first place vote getter and its ballots are knocked out. The ballots with that knocked out film then have their second place votes reallocated as first place votes. The process repeats. If the knocked out ballot’s second place vote is also a film that has already been ruled out, then the third place votes are reallocated, and so on. This continues until one film has gotten 50% of the first place votes (which, in a way, will mean whatever film has the most first, second, and third place votes will win).
For as long as the ceremony had been held, one rule held mainly true. The Best Director’s film would also win Best Picture. In the past five years, however, that has not happened. Four times has the Best Director been picked for a film that did not go on to win Best Picture. This could be attributed to the change in the voting system (this new system described began in 2009, when the amount of possible nominees increased). The system now in place could be seen as not necessarily selecting the best movie, but rather the one that was generally considered likable by most.
It’s kind of like Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes generates an aggregate score for a movie based on critic reviews. It comes out as a percentage and often times you see a movie with a 90% and think, “Hmmm. I mean, it was good, but I wouldn’t say it was a 9 out of 10.”, and you would probably be in line with what the critics thought. RT considers a favorable review as one that is basically a 60% or 3/5 rating or above. If all the critics rate a movie as a 70% in their reviews, it would get a 100% on RT. RT shouldn’t be viewed as a rating system, more so as a favorable system. And that is kind of how we should view the Oscar voting system. A contentious movie that may have received a bunch of rave reviews but also is divisive or has detractors might not perform well, while one that is generally regarded as solid and good without being phenomenal could sneak in and win.
So, let’s look at the nominees. The Post, Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, and Call Me by Your Name have no shot. They weren’t well enough regarded to receive a lot of top 3 votes and, with the exception of CMBYN, they were kind of fringe Best Picture contenders anyway. Dunkirk has a very low but still fighting chance based on history, Get Out and Lady Bird are the potential upsetters that are boosted in potential by the new movement in the Academy, while Three Billboards and The Shape of Water are the typical contenders and frontrunners.
Depending on how the night is going, The Shape of Water could very easily win in a landslide. It was the leading nomination-getter by far and is the kind of medium, non-controversial flick that hasn’t alienated any voters. If it’s doing well throughout, it resonated and the voters were loving it across the board. If not, we can start looking at the others.
The next man up, that might still have a shot if Shape of Water is sweeping, is Three Billboards. Billboards has performed very well in awards season and is a favorite among a large chunk of the academy, as the writer-director McDonagh hails from across the pond. It also has done well with the acting block, with three nominations in the categories and two likely winners. Actors easily make up the biggest fraction of the Academy. It’s a highly entertaining film that people feel strongly about, but those strong feelings could also hurt them. There has been considerable backlash against the portrayal of minority characters and Sam Rockwell’s character’s redemption. People think giving Rockwell the full redemption (he didn’t really, and assuming he did kind of falls on the viewers…so I’m not a fan of that argument) is ignorant and unjust. Of all the things to knock the movie for (of which there is actual quality- and film-related aspects to go after), this is a pretty unreasonable one. But, it might affect how the votes go. It could very easily suffer from a disparity in a lot of first and second place votes but also a lot of sixth and seventh place votes. I don’t feel high on it, but it’s a testament to how tight this race is that it could win and I would immediately go “yep, that seems right”.
Next are the underdogs. Get Out and Lady Bird benefit greatly from the new membership. The increase in youth, female, and POC members means different stories led by different people get more recognition. These are those. Get Out benefits a bit more from this as its such a different kind of film and one that has had resounding approval from the mainstream, but Lady Bird will still do fairly well among these voters.
I wish I could flat out say I think Get Out wins. I just think the preferential ballot hurts it. The Academy does not like horror movies or anything remotely close to the genre. The fact Get Out got the nods it did, and ended up in Best Picture, is a nice signal of the new mindsets behind the voting bloc, but the past is hard to ignore. Older voters, while there are less and less of them, still have an effect on the race. Older voters don’t vote for horror movies. The weird balance of respect for the film and a “this isn’t an Oscar movie” thinking is reflective of what we can expect out of the preferential vote. I think it does well, but I fear it suffers the same fate of Three Billboards for different reasons.
That leaves me with my admittedly unexpected* pick for winner: Lady Bird. This is just a movie you can’t dislike. I don’t know a single person, outside of whatever jackass gave it a rotten review on Rotten Tomatoes, that didn’t enjoy it. It has the highest score on RT out of any of the nominees, which, hmmm, interesting. RT is a good reflection of what the Best Picture voting system is like AND won the pseudo-aggregate liking competition out of contenders here on RT? Oh, how the stars line up. My only fear, outside of the lack of voting for Laurie Matcalf, is Lady Bird gets too many third and fourth place votes instead of a majority in, say, second place and falls behind the others that are more first and second focused.
*I legitimately did not think I would pick this. But after going through each of the contenders and the factors, I couldn’t deny my gut here.
Our Bet: Lady Bird
Your Safe Bet: The Shape of Water
Could Easily Win: Get Out OR Three Billboards
The Out of Left Field Upsetter: Dunkirk