This Saturday, the Producers Guild will announce its winner, and it will do so without anyone knowing what the Oscar nominations will be. With a Three Billboards backlash in full swing, it would seem that the race has been tilted in a different direction, despite the amount of nominations Three Billboards has received so far. In this climate, any sort of backlash — which can be translated as a reflection of reasonable complaints about the way the film deals with racism — is powerful enough to derail a frontrunner.
Erik Anderson said on Twitter last night that Best Picture is now “Lady Bird” vs. “Get Out.” I think that the people who are targeting Three Billboards think that Get Out will be the recipient if Three Billboards fails. I think that’s unfair to Get Out, to be thought of as needing that sort of sabotage to win: it’s either the best or it isn’t. But it’s more likely that we’re looking at Lady Bird, which doesn’t offend anyone. That is how we find Best Picture these days: what movie least offends? By that metric, that movie has to be Lady Bird.
La La Land was probably hit worse with backlash than any other movie since I’ve been blogging about the Oscars in terms of a thinkpiece-prone community that really does need to run every film through the filter of “does it offend anyone for any reason.” It makes the Oscar race kind of a farce, ultimately, because though good movies do win in this climate (Moonlight, for instance, is a great movie), the reasons they seem to win can seem a little bogus when seen through this lense. Least offensive wins the day? The greatest art is often divisive and none of the best films that ever won Best Picture could probably do so today, partly because they would be put through that filter of whether they offend or not (I’m sure they would in some way or another) and partly because they would be divisive. Thus, the Best Picture win has seemed to mean less than it used to. That’s because the movies that win feel so muted in retrospect a year or so after they do win. You sort of think, “Really? That?” But that’s how it goes now.
So if I were you I would probably steer my ship in the direction of Lady Bird because no one will be able to find any sort of fault with it in ways that can derail it. It doesn’t offend because it doesn’t really try to reach beyond what its capable of. The same goes for Spotlight, for that matter. It was a good, safe, acceptable film that no one hated.
Can Get Out benefit from a Three Billboards takedown? It certainly is worthy. Get Out is daring and brave and provocative and brilliantly made. Could it be divisive enough to stop it from winning on a preferential ballot? Maybe. It’s hard to say. A lot depends on how dirty this race gets. We will find out at the Producers Guild over the weekend. Maybe it wins there, then goes on to win at SAG. Or maybe something else will win at the PGA.
So why not The Shape of Water, you might ask? I suppose anything is possible in a crazy year like this one. But having no SAG ensemble nomination, that says something about it, and what that something is is that they (the SAG nominating committee) liked five other movies more for that ensemble award. If The Shape of Water wins the PGA, that sets it up to be like La La Land last year — showing it can win on a preferential ballot and is also expected to win the DGA. But it can’t win SAG ensemble, obviously, because it isn’t nominated.
Here’s the thing to watch for: if a movie other than the frontrunners win at SAG over the weekend, say Mudbound (which it would totally deserve) or The Big Sick or even Three Billboards, then we know there is going to be a total blank, a blind spot in out view for Best Picture. But if Get Out or Lady Bird wins there, I would suspect that is your Best Picture winner on a preferential ballot.
And, as always, the key to remember is that the voters for PGA and SAG don’t have the Oscar nominations as a guide this year. So, for instance, Lady Bird could win SAG ensemble but Greta Gerwig could still be left off the Best Director list at the Oscars (I don’t think she will be but…). So everything is strange and unbalanced this year.
Let’s look at how films divided or didn’t by dusting off our old handy Rotten Tomatoes negative score. We already know going in that Lady Bird was given the 100% treatment until one brave soul dared to say something against it. Still, it isn’t a movie anyone can really hate (unless they hate the hype around it). So that takes our number one spot, but not far behind is the very well liked Get Out, with only 3 negative reviews (and was recently named by Rotten Tomatoes as the third-best reviewed film all-time on the site):
- Lady Bird — 217 positive / 1 negative
- Get Out — 296 positive / 3 negative
- The Big Sick — 240 positive / 4 negative
- Mudbound — 148 positive / 6 negative
- Call Me By Your Name — 221 positive / 9 negative
- The Florida Project — 214 positive / 10 negative
- Phantom Thread — 138 positive / 11 negative
- Three Billboards — 256 positive / 18 negative
- The Shape of Water — 243 positive / 21 negative
- I, Tonya — 183 positive / 22 negative
- Dunkirk — 342 / 28
- Wonder Woman — 336 positive / 29 negative
- The Post — 217 positive / 30 negative
- Darkest Hour — 183 positive / 31 negative
What have our Best Picture winners had in the era of the preferential ballot?
Moonlight — 302 positive / 7 negative
Spotlight — 311 positive / 11 negative
Birdman — 277 positive / 27 negative
12 Years a Slave — 306 positive / 14 negative
Argo — 304 positive / 13 negative
The Artist — 272 positive / 12 negative
The King’s Speech — 254 positive / 14 negative
The Hurt Locker — 254 positive / 7 negative
So you see, the winners are always movies — with Birdman being the exception to the rule with 27 negative — which still isn’t that much but is significantly more than the average — that people can’t really and don’t really hate.
Let’s look at the PGA and imagine, for the fun of it, how voters might vote, from highest vote getters to lowest (based on guild mentions):
The Shape of Water
Call Me By Your Name
The Big Sick
How the preferential ballot works is that you toss out the title at the bottom of the pile in each round of counting. So anyone who put Wonder Woman at number one, Wonder Woman theoretically drops out first and those ballots get redistributed. What do people who put Wonder Woman at the top put for number two on their ballots? Well, think about why many of them would be putting Wonder Woman at the top? Maybe it’s because it was a successful film directed by a woman, right? So what’s the only other movie directed by a woman here? Lady Bird gets the vote.
Next up, let’s look at those who liked Molly’s Game and put it at number one. Those voters may be be mostly men who are into poker, with a few stragglers who love Jessica Chastain or Aaron Sorkin or are even pals of Amy Pascal who want to push the movie. So what is going to be their number two? Well, I would guess probably for the poker dudes it would be Dunkirk or I, Tonya. For the Sorkin dudes it’s probably also I Tonya, maybe Three Billboards. For the Amy Pascal supporters, maybe they pick The Post. At any rate, out goes Molly’s Game.
Next they have the I, Tonya voters. What kind of people are going to be putting that at number one? So far it looks a lot like — judging from my feed — mostly men who love the dark humor of it, lots of the LGBT community who love the dark dark DARK campy humor of it. What movie are all of those folks going to put at number two? If I, Tonya is your number one, what’s your number 2?
Next up, The Big Sick. What kind of people put that at number one? Well, good people. People who like movies about good people. Honest, loving, sweet people who like movies about honest, loving, sweet people. Their number two is likely to be … wait for it … Lady Bird. Maybe The Shape of Water. MAYBE. Since The Big Sick is funny, maybe their number two is Three Billboards or I, Tonya — but I, Tonya is already out so you have to move to their number three. What’s that one? Is it now Lady Bird?
Next we get to Call Me By Your Name: Who puts that movie at number one and why? What is their number two? Probably gonna be Lady Bird, just saying. Finally, we get to the big gets and by now each of them has collected some votes from the eliminated films. When those ballots are redistributed, where do their votes go? What two movies are going to end up as the top two and why? You might have to travel all the way down a ballot to find the only movie that will count as their Best Picture choice, even if it isn’t, in any way, their number one. Someone who loved I, Tonya might end up putting in their vote for Lady Bird because every other film on their list was tossed and they just happened to put Lady Bird higher than Get Out or Shape of Water.
To this end, my prediction for PGA is going to be… Lady Bird. And my rationale for it is this: the films that are going to get the least amount of number one votes are films that are heavily driven by female performances. There is a disproportionate number of films about women in the lineup, which seems to indicate that the film that will benefit most from that would be Lady Bird.
So there you go. Complicated theory I’m laying down for a year I’m finding very difficult to read.
You can enter our contest here.