As October ends, the big players in the Best Picture race are beginning to take form. Disappointments and underwhelming movies are being weeded out after debuting in theatrical or festival release, and the stronger, more Academy-friendly films are beginning to align as the group likely to headline this year’s award season. That group includes “The Shape Of Water,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” which has been unseen by any critical audience, will likely join that core group of five after it’s released. Barring any unforeseen twist of nature, one of these six films will probably be voted the Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture of the year. Though “Lady Bird,” “Mudbound,” “I, Tonya,” “Get Out,” “Battle Of The Sexes,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “The Big Sick,” “The Florida Project,” and “Wonder Woman” stand a shot (Some of them, a long shot) at filling out the Best Picture nominee slots 7-10, none of these films encapsulate what the Academy is probably looking for or has gravitated toward in recent years.
How a film wins Best Picture has evolved over the years. It is interesting to think about right now because a frontrunner for this year is nebulous at this point in the season, which isn’t uncommon, but the serious lack of direction, I would argue, is. Pundits are split and are all over the place about which film to predict for Best Picture and many have their own oddball ideas about what is going to win. For the record, it is early in the awards season, and trying to make a guess right now is like aiming for a target while standing blindfolded. But let’s try to think pragmatically and logically about it.
If the two most recent Best Picture winners have taught us anything, it’s that a solidly received, consensus film is more likely to win than a movie that is sensational and revolutionary with passionate support and that teeters a love/hate reactionary pallet. Best Director-winning assumed-frontrunners “La La Land” and “The Revenant” losing to “Moonlight” and “Spotlight,” respectively, are evidence of this rule in action.
And another rule, which directly follows the first rule is, epic movies do not win anymore. Gone are the days of “Titanic,” “Out of Africa,” and “Lawrence of Arabia” (Not that movies like that are even made that often anymore, either). I would even go a step further and say another rule is, Oscar trends evolve. For instance, “The King’s Speech” could be seen as the quintessential Oscar-bait, Academy-friendly Best Picture winner of the decade. In October 2014, I recognized a similar formula from “The King’s Speech” in “The Imitation Game.” At this point in that year, I speculated “The Imitation Game” would win in the same way and for similar reasons as “The King’s Speech.” Trends do not last forever.
With all that being said, here’s how I see the primary contenders in the Best Picture race taking form. “Dunkirk” and “The Shape Of Water” may be too close to their own genres to have widespread Academy appeal. “Dunkirk” may be too much of an action film and “The Shape Of Water” may be too odd for the Academy to embrace as winners. Also, Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan have had films just as successful in the past that still missed major nominations. We can’t really talk about “The Post” yet because virtually no one has seen it. It also has skipped the film festival circuit, which never bodes well for a film’s chances to win Best Picture. Late-breaking films have a precedent of scoring nominations but not wins, with an example being “American Hustle.”
“Call Me By Your Name” has the enthusiastic critical support but faces an uphill challenge of being a small film mired in a controversy that may put off some older voters and being the follow-up act to “Moonlight” winning Best Picture last year. “Darkest Hour” fits the “King’s Speech”/“Imitation Game” mold I discussed earlier. Director Joe Wright led “Atonement” to seven nominations, yet he missed a Best Director mention and had the above-the-line failure of “Anna Karenina” in 2012 under his belt. “Darkest Hour” seems too cold of a film to win Best Picture, and the film’s reviews are the weakest of all six of the films in the frontrunner boat.
That leaves “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which just doesn’t seem to feel or look like a Best Picture winner. Yet, I had an epiphany recently, because, wait, no – yes, it could look like a Best Picture winner, a new trend of a Best Picture winner that can gather a consensus and abides by the new rules I discussed above. It’s a bold statement to make, but after thinking the possibility through, it seems the most logical and defendable case for a film to win at this point, at the end of October, before critic awards or any major nominations roll out. I may live to eat the typed words of this article if the film gets a leaner reception than expected come December and January. However, I surmise that “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” will win Best Picture for the following reasons…
Here me out. I’m not adamantly declaring “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” is definitely going to win Best Picture. This is just a theory I’m presenting to support a prediction in a mystified category early on in the awards season. Take my words for what they are worth.
Social And Cultural Significance
I have not seen the movie, but based on the reviews and general reception, it’s a film that is striking a nerve with audiences. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is said to be a harsh film that’s both darkly comedic and dramatically rough. Judging from what reviews say, this film taps into the angst and resentment that is prolific throughout the country, and specifically anger that is pervasive in smaller-town America. Whatever the movie may say and try to tackle in its themes of police brutality, racism, and division within a community, could connect with America in the post-election political temperature. This film may also click with the Academy and make sense as a winner as a movie that captures society at a point in time (And in such a uniquely brash time). An important ingredient the film possesses is the inherent humanity at its core, an emotional element that’s palpable and in which the viewer may become invested. Without that trait, a film’s chances at winning Best Picture are virtually impossible, but “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has it on top of the biting social and cultural critique. Having a Best Picture winner with a female protagonist, and one that’s brawny, gritty, and uncompromising, may be the type of message voters want to send after the failure to elect the country’s first woman president and skeletons are being revealed from Hollywood’s closet about sexual harassment and assault.
It may seem like an odd choice to win Best Picture on the surface. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a twisted, contemporary black comedy. It’s the type of movie people would assume would be the victor of a few nominations, but I’m urging people to look closer and perhaps it will become clearer after the film is more widely released in November. Take out the comedy, and its tone, style, and look are similar to a film such as “Spotlight,” an anti-corruption film which won the consensus over and had a solid base of industry and critical support. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a film that will consistently be in voters’ top three ranked Best Picture slots, if not in the first spot, whereas its competition could hit or miss, be at the top of the list or the bottom. As for the type of film it is, as well, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” could ignite a sense of nostalgia for the classic “Fargo,” which also starred Frances McDormand and featured a non-cosmopolitan view of America through dark comedy. It’s worth noting, had “Fargo” and “The English Patient” competed under the current Academy voting system, the epic “The English Patient” would fail to win in a “La La Land”-type of a fashion. A film with a female lead is usually a hard sell to the Academy, historically speaking, but if there’s one woman to get the job done in engaging voters in this kind of movie, in a brawny and badass role, it is the incomparably revered McDormand.
A Winnable Trajectory
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has already begun to lay the groundwork for a trail to Oscar victory. So far it has gained approval and endorsement from critics and won the Toronto International Film Festival Grolsch People’s Choice Award. Other recent Best Picture winners “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Slumdog Millionaire” also won the TIFF audience award. From here, there is a feasible and realistic trajectory for the film to continue to grow its momentum. It will likely be showered with critics awards in early December and have a profitable run at the Golden Globes (Where it will compete for Best Picture in the Drama category). In the end, those accolades are just ways to build a film’s reputation; the way to Academy success is strength in the guilds. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” seems to rely so heavily on its acclaimed screenplay and acting that it’s reasonable to assume the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild – the money shot – welcome it with open arms. The film will need to make an impact at the Producers Guild Awards, as well, which might prove to be the film’s biggest challenge. Also, helping “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the names attached to the project. McDormand is a master act, a previous winner, and has received multiple nominations. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell support McDormand’s headlining of the project, each carrying a certain amount of respect within the industry themselves. Writer-director Martin McDonagh won an Academy Award the Best Short Film, Live Action Academy Award for “Six Shooter” in 2006 and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for “In Bruges” in 2009. Though he doesn’t have the most copious filmography, he’s the type of filmmaker who has the potential to grow and even skyrocket into a raging success with the Academy.
Realistic Amount Of Possible Wins
In most cases, when a film wins Best Picture it usually racks up another two wins, rounding out to three Oscar wins, at least. The only Academy Award winner for Best Picture to defy this rule is “Spotlight,” which only one Best Original Screenplay in addition to the big prize. While it’s not impossible to win Best Picture without an abundance of other categories, winning several categories certainly bodes well to win the big category. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” stands a fighting a chance to win at least three categories: Best Actress (Frances McDormand; if she wins it will be 21 years after her previous Best Actress win for “Fargo”), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), and Best Original Screenplay. All three of these potential wins are above-the-line categories, too, thus earning the film even more credibility as a threat for Best Picture. And while, of course, it can win all three of those categories without winning Best Picture, having those other contenders be frontrunners creates a narrative that positions itself on fertile award-winning grounds.
So what do you think? Is my logic off? Do you think “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is our Best Picture winner, especially in a year when most are saying that there is no current frontrunner? let us know in the comments below.
You can follow Ryan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @RyanCShowers