Let’s get this party started, shall we? We’re just a few weeks away from Telluride and we’re not sure whether we’ve already seen the Best Picture winner, or if we’ll see it between now and the beginning of September. Keep in mind that we never know this early out which movie is going to win. We sometimes don’t even know days before the Oscars themselves, as happened with Moonlight last year, and Spotlight the year before. With the preferential ballot, anything can happen and you never know what title is going to be read when they open the final envelope.
Rule #1 – Think five, not ten. One mistake people make is thinking the Academy picks ten movies for Best Picture. But voters don’t pick ten. They each pick five. Despite recent strides in diversifying their membership, the majority is still 70-ish white men. They picked Moonlight last year so we’re not really talking about stodgy necessarily, but we are talking about what five movies they will pick as the best. Can the newer, younger members and people of color make a difference? I suppose, but it would have to be a film they all liked enough to put at number one. For now, though, think five best, not ten best, and work from there.
Rule #2 – That SAG Ensemble nomination. It’s a key prerequisite and it hasn’t failed since they gave out the award but for the very first year when Braveheart won Best Picture. That’s how long ago that was. Braveheart picked up late steam after Ron Howard failed to get a Best Director nomination. The reason is that the Oscars were held late, in March, and thus there was time to shift momentum.
The SAG Ensemble nomination didn’t fail even when only two of the Best Picture nominees had it — The Big Short and Spotlight. Many of the biggest pundits in town still had The Revenant picked to win even though it had no SAG Ensemble nom. They did the same thing the year before with Gravity and many did the same thing this past year. I almost did until I switched at the last minute to Moonlight, counting on that SAG stat not to fail. I’m not saying it won’t fail sometime some year – it’s just that it has been a fairly iron clad rule-of-thumb for over two decades, even since the introduction of the preferential ballot.
Rule #3 – Think what will the actors like?
The SAG Ensemble matters because in the Academy actors rule. Their membership is upwards of 1300 – by far the largest branch in the Academy. Most branches top out at around 400 or so max. When you’re looking for a Best Picture WINNER you’re looking not for the razzle dazzle of the director, but something that is actor-driven, character-driven. The more actors the better. The fewer actors in a film’s cast, the harder it is to win. Also, getting the SAG Ensemble nomination, along with DGA and PGA, shows broad appeal across a wide variety of tastes.
Rule #4 – Preferential Ballot Picks Winner
We’re still seeing the major pundits thinking the way people have thought for decades about Best Picture: the one the most people vote for wins. But it doesn’t work like that anymore with the preferential ballot. It has to be one a lot of people liked but not a lot of people hated.
No one walked out of Moonlight hating Moonlight. No one walked out of Spotlight hating Spotlight. You’d be hard pressed to find a Best Picture winner under the preferential ballot that a lot of industry people hated. I’ll go with Birdman as probably the only one – and much of the hatred for that film really started after it won.
Rule #5 – DGA and PGA Lead the Way
The guilds are always a great indicator of how Best Picture might go. The Producers Guild uses a preferential ballot and has ten nomination slots. The Academy’s Best Picture matches them for the most part, minus two or three films. Academy voters have only five to select, so if you put PGA, DGA, and even SAG together you’re going to be in the ballpark with how the nominations might go.
**The Best Picture WINNER should be nominated by all three of the major guilds.
**Best Picture NOMINEES can miss PGA, DGA and SAG and still get in.
So putting it all together, you’re looking for something with a strong ensemble cast that will also wow the producers and the directors.
It’s difficult at this stage to find those — but for at least PGA, we have:
Dunkirk (PGA, DGA, SAG Ensemble)
Detroit (PGA, DGA, SAG Ensemble)
Get Out (PGA, maybe SAG Ensemble)
Call Me By Your Name (PGA, maybe DGA, maybe SAG Ensemble)
The Beguiled (Possibly SAG Ensemble)
The Florida Project (possibly PGA)
Wonder Woman (possibly PGA)
What films do we know are going to Telluride?
Based on Telluride the past 8/9 years Downsizing, Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Battle of the Sexes, Hostiles is your Best Pic winner #Oscars
— Gregory Ellwood (@TheGregoryE) July 25, 2017
The Shape of Water looks like a slam dunk for at least a DGA nomination for Guillermo Del Toro — premature, I know, but he is a titan. Battle of the Sexes should do well with at least SAG, maybe PGA and DGA. Academy darling Alexander Payne brings Downsizing with Matt Damon, and Scott Cooper is bringing Hostiles, which is described this way: “In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.” The film stars Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. Cooper is always one to watch. Finally, Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s debut and who knows where that one will go.
Just because the SAG Ensemble is a pretty good indicator of a potential Best Picture winner (with the caveat that stats are only reliable until they aren’t) doesn’t mean we can’t talk about what might get nominated. If Gregory Ellwood has tagged these as our potential Oscar movies, putting together Venice and Toronto offerings and making an assumption based on that – well it’s hard to imagine we have our winner but easy to imagine we have many of the nominees. Also, the official Telluride lineup hasn’t been announced and won’t be announced until a day or so before the festival begins.
But given the limited information we have right now, there do seem to be a few frontrunners emerging, at least they seem like they are going to be formidable challengers. We’ll go through the categories – this is my impression of how I think it might go (I have put an * of those I would predict):
Best Picture – The Frontrunners (seen):
Call Me By Your Name*
Roman Israel, Esq *– Denzel Washington, aka, the greatest living actor, stars in Dan Gilroy’s new film which is expected to be good because Nightcrawler was.
15:17 to Paris *– directed by never-count-him-out Clint Eastwood, about the three men who took down a terrorist on board a train. Starring the actual soldiers who took action.
The Shape of Water*
All the Money in the World – directed by Sir Ridley, one never knows how these things turn out but it’s worth considering. Starring Kevin Spacey.
Battle of the Sexes*
Victoria and Abdul*
And possibly these:
Hostiles – Scott Cooper western
Marshall – Thurgood Marshall biopic
Phantom Thread – a Paul Thomas Anderson joint with Daniel Day-Lewis in his (allegedly) final film
Wonder Wheel – Woody Allen’s latest with a powerhouse Kate Winslet
Mother! – Darren Aronofsky’s movie with Jennifer Lawrence which should make everyone uncomfortable
Mary Magdalene – Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix as Mary and Jesus
Best Director Frontrunners (seen):
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk*
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name*
Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit*
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Todd Haynes, Wonderstruck
Best Director frontrunners (unseen):
Steven Spielberg, The Papers*
Alexander Payne, Downsizing
George Clooney, Suburbicon
Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water*
Stephen Frears, Victoria and Abdul
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Clint Eastwood, 15:17 to Paris
Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World
For Best Actor, it looks already to be yet another competitive year. Most of the movies made for Oscar season revolve around a central male protagonist, so Best Actor is always crowded.
Algee Smith, Detroit
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour*
Denzel Washington, Roman Israel, Esq.*
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread*
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes*
Matt Damon, Suburbicon or Downsizing
Kevin Spacey, All the Money in the World*
Chadwick Boseman, Marshall
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Current War
Joaquin Phoenix, Mary Magdalene
Best Actress Frontrunners (seen):
Nicole Kidman, The Beguiled
Carey Mulligan, Mudbound
Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul*
Meryl Streep, The Papers
Kate Winslet, Wonder Wheel*
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game*
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water*
Emma Stone, The Battle of the Sexes*
Jennifer Lawrence, Mother!
Rooney Mara, Mary Magdalene
Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman
Needless to say, this is just a rough blueprint. We have no idea how it will eventually go, whether these or any films will make it through the long, brutal season. But if you’re asking me what I think so far, here it is.
Tomorrow we’ll wade through the screenplay and supporting acting categories.