Monday, February 6, 2023

Which Films Will Round Out The Best Picture Category?

Oscar nominations are tomorrow morning, and one of the biggest question marks remains in the top category: Best Picture. There (arguably) seems to be about seven movies that are a lock for nominations (going by current NBP odds): “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Fabelmans,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Elvis,” “TAR,” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The last three spots (of the guaranteed 10) have been very much in flux as the guilds and precursors shuffle around momentum across the board.

We’ll take a look at a handful of possibilities for Best Picture while also keeping in mind the fact that a Best Picture nomination is never just a Best Picture nomination. That is to say; if a film is received well enough to get a nomination for the top prize, it is likely to score multiple (potentially surprising) nominations as well. Over the last five years, Best Picture nominees have averaged nearly seven nominations apiece (6.68, more precisely). The lowest nomination total in that time for a Best Picture nominee was 2017’s “The Post,” which only got a Lead Actress nomination otherwise. Just last year, both “Licorice Pizza” and eventual Best Picture winner “CODA” had three total nominations. Understanding this, the 2-4 range on the low end is essential if you want to predict a Best Picture nominee.

By that logic, it would be foolish (outside of just cutting your losses and trying to get any random few of these contenders correct) to predict a sole Best Picture nominee. Let’s look at the paths any of these bottom-of-the-10 films could take should they make it into Best Picture.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Currently ranked 8th in the NBP odds)
Before the BAFTA nominations, I was concerned about this one. Yes, “All Quiet On The Western Front” maxed out at both the Academy’s shortlists and BAFTA nominations; there is a case for a massive overperformance, and a solid handful of nominations come next Tuesday. However, looking at the significant precursors, the “trifecta” of critics groups (New York, Los Angeles, and National Society), NBR, AFI, and PGA, it has only scored a single “Best Picture” (or equivalent) nomination (BAFTA – a big one). Suppose you do want to predict it in Best Picture. In that case, I think you would have to predict (at least) two others besides Best International Feature Film- some combination of Best Cinematography, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, Visual Effects, and Sound, with additional possibilities in Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing. Lots of flexibility here if you do believe in it in Best Picture!

“The Whale” (Currently ranked 9th in NBP odds)
Much has been made about “The Whale” making the PGA 10 (its only major Best Picture equivalent nomination of the season) on top of a strong performance at SAG. This is an arguable but certainly understandable Best Picture nominee. While not as widely strong as something like “All Quiet On The Western Front” above, if you are going to predict this in your 10, the few other possibilities for it- Lead Actor for Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau in Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Makeup & Hairstyling- seem like four absolute musts. Beyond that, not much else- but we have seen four nominations is plenty for a small Best Picture contender. Chau’s nomination is the question mark- if she’s in, I have a hard time seeing this not making Best Picture. If she’s not, it has three other fairly comfortable nominations in other categories, even if the film is less widely admired than we are thinking now.

“Women Talking” (Currently ranked 10th in NBP odds)
Once a top-tier contender, “Women Talking” is hanging on just barely after scoring a SAG Ensemble nomination. It is definitely feasible as a Best Picture nominee after being recognized at the Critics Choice Awards and making NBR and AFI’s top 10. However, it did miss PGA’s list and got harshly blanked by BAFTA, which could be reflective of its recent severe downward dive. If you buy it still getting the Best Picture nomination, it absolutely would have to get in for Best Adapted Screenplay and Original Score. Still, I would suspect at least one (now improbable) acting nomination as well between Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, and Ben Whishaw. Its ceiling overall doesn’t cover more than these. While it’s possible to get in with just three nominations, an acting nomination from its impressive ensemble cast has to follow.

“Babylon” (Currently unranked in NBP odds)
Babylon” made SAG Ensemble and Best Picture lineups at the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards, but could it still miss here? It seems possible, but note that there are pockets of strong industry support for this one. It’s ranked in the top five in five other categories right now in NBP (Best Supporting Actor, Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, even first in Production Design and Original Score!) and could even secure the average seven nominations expected of a Best Picture nominee pretty plausibly. It could get many of these despite missing Best Picture. Still, if you’re going to slot it in, nominations in at least three of these would be necessary (likely the three that BAFTA awarded- Best Original Score, Production Design, Costume Design). Suppose it comes closer to maxing out (there are twelve possible nominations in NBP’s top ten in various categories!). In that case, we might be seriously kicking ourselves hard for ever counting this out from the Best Picture lineup.

“Triangle of Sadness” (Currently unranked in NBP odds)
Many predictors have clung hard to this one since the early fall as the potential wonkier international production to make a strong mark on nomination morning that we’ve seen in recent years. After winning Cannes, “Triangle of Sadness” performed well at the Globes and BAFTA. It would be something of a big swing, and if you choose to take it, I’d say you would absolutely need to predict it as well in Best Original Screenplay and Supporting Actress (Dolly de Leon) at the very least, with possibilities for a major overperformance with Best Director as well. Like Chau and “The Whale,” who you choose in the Best Supporting Actress race may very well partially dictate your Best Picture 10.

“RRR” (Currently unranked in NBP odds)
Much was made about it being almost wholly snubbed on the Academy shortlists outside of Best Original Song. It only made the BAFTA longlist for Best Non-English Film, for which it was not eventually nominated. Without the near-guaranteed International Feature nomination at the Oscars counting toward its possible total haul (India did not choose “RRR” as their submission), it’s looking right now like Song might be it. But- the buzz around “RRR” is large and growing. Much of the cast/team has been stateside, large pieces and interviews have been popping up in the nation’s most prominent news outlets, and Los Angeles screenings have had people (literally!) dancing in the aisles. If the momentum (late-breaking as it is) is real, this could honestly be the shocker come nomination morning. It made the NBR and Critic’s Choice top ten, and director S.S. Rajamouli has scored a few impressive precursor wins and nominations. If you believe in the growing love for “RRR” and have it in Best Picture, you would necessarily need to include Rajamouli in Best Director at the very least- maybe not even much else. It reminds me a lot of “Drive My Car” from last year as far as the Picture-Director precursor trajectory going into nominations, as well as “CODA” in its late-breaking nature- I can’t help but feel that its current outlook hasn’t accounted for the most recent wave of enthusiasm around it.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (Currently unranked in NBP odds)
The more you look at the data, the more viable this seems. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” has quietly scored more Best Picture precursors than people have noticed: PGA, Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and NBR, as well as its placing at TIFF for the Audience award. That track record is legitimately hard to bet against! Its momentum has fizzled out in the new year, and it missed an expected BAFTA and SAG Ensemble nominations. However, data-wise, this still fares better in the Best Picture race than other widely-predicted contenders in those firmer seven. Yes, it could thud and maybe just get a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. But alternatively, with another Best Supporting-Actress-dependent situation, watch for Janelle Monae, making it surprisingly, along with a tech nomination if it really overperforms, like Best Film Editing, Production, or Costume Design.

This list is not exhaustive, and honestly, there are more that could be spoilers (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?” “The Woman King??” “Aftersun?!”). Seven films are vying for three spots, and all have a number of dependent nominations that would need to follow behind. With so many data points to look at, no matter which films get nominated for Best Picture, you’d have a hard time arguing you couldn’t see any of these coming.

What films are you predicting to receive Best Picture nominations tomorrow? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.

You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm

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