Publisher Theme
I’m a gamer, always have been.

Predictions Friday — Why Dunkirk Is Still in the Race for Best Picture and Other Odd Findings

Play

Here is a brief history of how the Oscars have changed the dates of the awards ceremony over the years. In the very beginning, way way back in the 1920s and 1930s, the Oscars were usually held in November. It wasn’t until 1934 that they moved them to March. Oscar Night would then vary between mid- to late-March and mid-April all the way up until 2004, when they would be pushed up one month to take place in February to take advantage of February sweeps. Those of us covering the race noticed that the abruptly compressed Oscar season dramatically reshaped how the Oscars went down every year. It used to be that movies opened to the public and what the public thought of those movies mattered. So if a film was a massive hit, especially during the holidays, that was important to Hollywood and the Oscars. Back then there was (like there is now) the eternal debate over art vs. entertainment and whether box office should be a factor to consider along with perceived artistic merit. That is why so many Oscar movies (movies targeted for film awards) used to be released at the end of the year, December or even Christmas, for maximum potential to win awards and thus make even more money once the Oscars anointed them a success.

To a certain degree, that is still true — it’s just that it’s been greatly scaled down. The way the Oscars have shifted is that there simply isn’t time to take the audience into account. Public reaction as measured in ticket sales longer plays any part in deciding which films are worthy of awards. That is half due to the date change but it is also due to the way Hollywood makes movies now, the movies that bring them the most profit: franchises, superhero movies, epic blockbusters, then a niche market for people who still look for quality films that have more intellectual esteem. The industry has basically agreed that the Oscars really aren’t about rewarding cinematic success. If they were, Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi would all be competing against the films with a more “sophisticated” pedigree. Instead, the Oscars are about critically-acclaimed films that can stand as a symbol to represent how Hollywood wants to be seen, how it sees itself, and to demonstrate that studios still care about making great movies, regardless of who is buttering their bread.

This is going to really matter next year when films like Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time change yet again our expectations for blockbusters vis a vis groundbreaking filmmaking. But we’ll get to that later.

So in a sense the Oscars now are kind of like the fashion industry. Nothing that happens in the couture fashion industry makes a difference to everyday people on the street in any ways they’re aware of, but as Meryl Streep says in The Devil Wears Prada, you’re likely wearing something that at some point was driven by what happens in the fashion world. This year, The Last Jedi was directed by Rian Johnson who came from the indie realm and gained credibility with films like Looper. Ava DuVernay made Middle of Nowhere which led to Selma which got a Best Picture nomination, and Disney will soon be releasing DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time. Ryan Coogler, as we all remember, was last seen taking Fruitvale Station then Creed into the awards arena, and he has now directed Black Panther. There is a kind of influencing going on — it’s just that the Academy has yet to relent in these changing times to the films that are massive hits with the public, even those that are made by esteemed filmmakers.

For most of our experience with the preferential ballot (2009 to now) we’ve been operating in the new normal of the February Oscars. And even though Oscar Night this year will be delayed a few days because of the Winter Olympics we are still roughly adhering to usual recent timeline. No film has won Best Picture since 2009 that was released late in the year. The festival circuit still rules — even the films seen at Sundance a full year before Oscar nominations have a better shot at the Oscar race than late breakers. Late breakers can get a nomination but they usually have to be attached to a well-known director so that people anticipate seeing their movie, like Martin Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson.

This year is a little different. Just a little. One week, really. But the lag time between Oscar nominations and actual voting could prove important when it comes to building a consensus. There is more time to reflect, more time to discuss, more time to decide about what film should win. For the past many years, since 2004, we’ve all been caught in a frenzy of consensus building that doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection. This year, a mixed-up year with no clear frontrunner, there is time.

2016
January 14 — Oscar nominations announced
February 10 — final voting begins
February 23 — ballots due

2017
January 24 — nominations announced
February 13 — final voting begins
February 21 — ballots due

2018
January 23 — nominations announced
February 20 — final voting begins
February 27 — ballots due

In 2014 and in 2010, Oscar Night and the ballot schedule were also shifted to allow an extra week, and in both of those years a film took hold of the consensus later than the one winning the majority of awards. Birdman overtook Boyhood (although not at BAFTA), The King’s Speech overtook The Social Network. During the Crash year the Oscars were again held just a little bit later, March 5, like this year. All I’m saying is: it’s a little odd, wouldn’t you say? LATER MATTERS. Obviously it’s not an exact science, but just know that the longer people have to sit around and mull things over, the more of a chance there is for a consensus to fade for the de facto favorite and build around a different movie.

The problem with this year is that we don’t have a Boyhood vs. Birdman year. We have a year with no frontrunner at all — just presumed frontrunners, each with its own stat deficit:

Here are the stats we usually rely upon. Since 2009, there has been at least one movie that has:

NBR Top Ten
AFI Top Ten
Globes Director nomination
Globes Picture nomination
Critics Choice nomination
PGA nomination
SAG ensemble nomination
DGA nomination

And we can add to this:

Acting and writing nominations
Directing nomination (although Ben Affleck kicked that one down in 2012)
At least one below-the-line craft nomination (thanks to Kris Tapley for this stat, which is a doozy)

Best Picture winners since 2009 have all had those. Fold in the BAFTA and there is some wiggle room, but for the most part these are the markers we rely on to indicate movies that can win. This year, several likely prospects are missing one or more of those indicators, to wit:

Three Billboards: missing NBR, missing Best Director at Oscars
The Shape of Water: missing NBR, SAG ensemble
Lady Bird: missing Globes director, no crafts nods
Get Out: missing Globes director, no craft nods
Dunkirk: missing SAG ensemble, missing acting and writing nominations at the Oscars
Call Me By Your Name: missing SAG ensemble, Globe/DGA/Oscar director
Phantom Thread: late breaker, missing SAG ensemble, missing NBR, missing Globes director or picture
The Post: missing any SAG nominations, missing DGA nomination
Darkest Hour: missing SAG ensemble, missing DGA/Oscar nomination for director, missing NBR/Critics Choice, etc.

So there you have it. Not a single film has everything that we’ve always expected a Best Picture winner “needs” — making this a stat-busting year no matter what happens. The question is, which stat is going down?

I set this up because I wanted to tell you something odd I noticed in a preliminary poll I did on Facebook. Call Me By Your Name won by a comfortable margin. It won with women, men, young, old — it was a first choice and it did well high up on the ballot. This is a film that will win almost any internet poll where awards watchers are involved. It has a passionate following, but it’s hard to tell how universal that love in the industry at large or whether it’s mostly confined to a certain subset of folks online. (Bear in mind, the demos of people on social media skew younger and more diverse that Academy voters.) I don’t know what the online enthusiasm for Call Me By Your Name might mean. But since it is missing so many key stats I’m going to set it aside for a moment to think about it for a bit. What was most surprising (that wasn’t surprising) is that Dunkirk came in second place. It turned out not to be divisive at all. It wasn’t a love it/hate it movie. It had its passionate supporters but it also had people who ranked it high anyway for whatever reason.

The three top vote-getters when all was said and done were Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, and Get Out. So what do all three of these things have in common? Well, two of them are among the highest-grossing movies of the year. Also, they are among the few films in the race that are driven by male, not female, leads. So what does that tell me? It tells me what I already knew but was afraid to confront: that male is the universal default and that movies starring men tend to do better on a preferential ballot. I don’t know if this is how things will turn out. I have no idea.

We have a long way to go yet and I won’t be taking any poll seriously until much closer to the Oscars. Not enough people have seen all of the movies. BUT it was an interesting thing to note. Dunkirk is the kind of film that if given enough time people might start to think, “Hmm. We’re really gonna pass on that? A big sweeping war epic like THAT?”

I have recorded my thoughts on this in a bit more detail on a brand new podcast I’ll be doing called “Morning Chat.” Since I have most of my ideas about the race over my first cup of coffee and usually have a whole essay written in my head before I sit down to work in the morning, I thought I’d get some of those thoughts out in a new podcast with just me, recorded on the fly. The first episode is about this very subject, Dunkirk, the poll, and the preferential ballot. You can listen here and subscribe here.

We have no idea how this is going to go down. I certainly don’t. But here are my predictions anyway.

Best Picture 
Get Out <— I really have no idea how this will go but for now I’ll keep this here on top.
The Shape of Water <—but it could be this
Dunkirk <—now wondering about this
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri <—still the stats champ
Lady Bird <—we’ll find out at WGA what’s what
Call Me By Your Name <—you just never know
Darkest Hour
The Post
Phantom Thread

Best Actor 
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Denzel Washington, Roman Israel, Esq.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Best Actress
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
Soairse Ronan, Lady Bird
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Margot Robbie, I Tonya
Meryl Streep, The Post

Supporting Actor
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Supporting Actress
Alison Janney, I Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, Shape of Water
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Best Director
Guillermo Del Toro, Shape of Water <—I think he’s got this.
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk  <—if Dunkirk Bravehearts
Jordan Peele, Get Out <—you just never know
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird <—you just never know
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Original Screenplay
Get Out, Jordan Peele <—I am predicting this to win BP so it might also win this but…
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig <—are they really going to send this home without any Oscars?
The Shape of Water, Guillermo Del Toro, Vanessa Taylor <—dat sweep
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh <—still the stat champ
The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon,  Kumail Nanjiani <—the dark horse

Adapted Screenplay
Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory <—the champ
Mudbound, Dee Rees, Virgil Williams <—only possible challenger

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin
Logan, Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green

Editing
Dunkirk <—Mmhmm. 
Baby Driver
Three Billboards
Shape of Water
I, Tonya

Cinematography
Blade Runner 2049 <—Deakins
Dunkirk <—Mmhmm
Shape of Water
Mudbound
Darkest Hour

Production Design
Shape of Water <—probably this
Dunkirk <—watch for that sweep

Blade Runner 2049
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour

Sound Mixing
Dunkirk
Baby Driver
The Shape of Water
Blade Runner 2049
The Last Jedi

Sound Editing
Dunkirk
Baby Drver
The Shape of Water
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars

Costume Design
Phantom Thread
Beauty and the Beast
The Shape of Water
Darkest Hour
Victoria and Abdul

Original Score
The Shape of Water
Dunkirk
Three Billboards
Phantom Thread
The Last Jedi

Original Song
Mighty River from Mudbound
Mystery Of Love from Call Me by Your Name
Remember Me from Coco
This Is Me from The Greatest Showman
Stand Up for Something, Marshall

Foreign Language Feature
A Fantastic Woman
Loveless
The Square
On Body and Soul
The Insult

Documentary Feature
Last Men in Aleppo <—a matter of life and death
Icarus <—could be this

Abbacus Too Small to Jail
Faces Places
Strong Island

Animated feature
Coco <—bet the farm
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent
Boss Baby
Ferdinand

Visual Effects
War for the Planet of the Apes <—probably this but…
Dunkirk <—the only BP nominee could have slight advantage
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island

Makeup and Hair
Darkest Hour
Wonder
Victoria & Abdul