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Well…yes and no.
The predictions of who would win the Writers Guild award for Original Screenplay were generally pretty varied among seasoned Oscarologists. Get Out, the winner, was seen as the favorite but there were also trumpets blared for Lady Bird‘s last stand to stake a claim of a guild win (it did not) and then the creeping feeling that if The Shape of Water is the Best Picture frontrunner then it winning WGA wouldn’t be out of the blue and could signal a true lead. I mean, it has PGA and DGA, after all. But, all of this is muddled by the fact that Three Billboards was not eligible. Seeing these top films compete against each other from an actual industry award perspective could have been enlightening. Get Out won the Critics’ Choice and Three Billboards won the Golden Globe but neither represent any crossover with Academy voters. Would Three Billboards have beaten Get Out at the WGA had it been nominated? Obviously we’ll never know but my gut says it wouldn’t. Moonlight won last year with just WGA but last film to win Best Picture with only WGA going in was 1995’s Braveheart which, as a non-SAG Cast nominee, is one of the long-standing stats we rely on.
Here’s where things stand with the top guilds (and head on over to the Build By Guild: Creating a Best Picture Winner chart):
PGA – The Shape of Water
DGA – The Shape of Water
SAG – Three Billboards
WGA – Call Me By Your Name/Get Out
While we still have a handful of tech guilds to announce like CAS and MPSE, those aren’t likely going to push us in a Best Picture direction. I expect The Shape of Water and Dunkirk to do well there they aren’t as influential as the main guilds above. And while it makes sense that The Shape of Water would be the Best Picture frontrunner I’ve backed off from that. I got burned last year thinking the La La Land‘s SAG Cast snub was an anomaly and that its overwhelming support with 14 nominations would jump that hurdle (and the December release obstacle). It didn’t. Not only did it lose Best Picture, it lost other major awards that films with 14 nominations just don’t lose. It even lost Sound Mixing. Watching the Oscars that night, the moment that happened is when we all should have seen what was going to happen. I don’t want to be burned again by choosing the film with a near-identical trajectory as La La Land‘s. The Shape of Water has 13 Oscar nominations (just one off from LLL), was a huge hit at Venice and Telluride, was a December release and snubbed in SAG Cast (while still earning three acting Oscar nominations). I know I can get stuck on stats and streaks, and this year will be great in that no matter what wins, something will be broken. We need less reliance on statistics to guide us, especially in an era of such divergence between the guilds and AMPAS. The Academy’s huge diversity and inclusionary push of the last two years has greatly shifted the makeup of the 90-year old organization. Guilds, like the PGA and DGA, have not made any such changes so expecting to see a difference there seems futile.
I’m going back to my December prediction that Get Out will win Best Picture. BAFTA will certainly go its own way, and Get Out isn’t even nominated for Best Film there so I understand the risk in that prediction. But, as I mentioned above, there isn’t a nominee that won’t break some kind of streak or stat with a Best Picture win. It’s just a matter how long a streak and/or how many stats will fall. While Get Out only has WGA, it still hit all the right guilds in terms of nominations. If it wins it will end the Golden Globe stat of missing a Screenplay nomination and the BAFTA stat of missing a Best Film nomination. It will also prove (like last year did) how strong a SAG Cast nomination still is. Get Out has the narrative push as the most socially progressive film nominated and the one that voters can back as a statement. It obviously doesn’t hurt that it was a giant blockbuster and one of the best reviewed films of the year.
That means that The Shape of Water is right behind at #2. It might still overcome its two big obstacles and, if it does, we can check off two big things that always seem to get in the way of modern-day Oscar predicting. It will enter the Oscars with a wealth of guild wins and still should easily be able to win Best Director for Guillermo del Toro but in a time of Best Picture/Best Director splits as routine and exception, it doesn’t make it Best Picture safe.
The case of Three Billboards is a really tough one. It killed at the Golden Globes and, more importantly, at SAG. It won three awards there: SAG Cast, Actress and Supporting Actor. Even though SAG is only 24 years old, a film winning three is still unusual. Only three other films have done that – American Beauty, Chicago and The Help. The first two also won Best Picture at the Oscars. All three won Actress at SAG but then lost those bids at the Academy Awards. Three Billboards did extremely well with BAFTA nominations and it will be very interesting to see how that plays out next weekend. But the film has two big things against it; first obviously is the Best Director snub. While we have a recent example of a film winning Best Picture without its director nominated (2012’s Argo), Three Billboards would have had to have won PGA and DGA to really push past that. It didn’t, and it’s not going to win. When you add the divisiveness of the film and its ‘take on race’ backlash (which may or may not invade voters’ choices) you have a film that cannot win on a preferential ballot. Although it would be quite something if it does win considering the time before Argo that a film won Best Picture (and Best Actress) without a Best Director nomination also had a (now) problematic view on race, Driving Miss Daisy.
At this point, those are the only real contenders. Anything else doesn’t have a path, certainly not one that’s visible or viable this late in the race. No film has won Best Picture at the Oscars without at least one major guild win (PGA, DGA, WGA, SAG) since 1985’s Out of Africa, which was before the creation of the PGA award (1990) and SAG Cast award (1995).
The prediction ranking that will (and has) cause the most eye-rolling or head-scratching is Dunkirk in last place. I stand by that. Yes, it will likely win Film Editing and both Sound awards (and possibly more). Yes, it has a great BAFTA nomination haul. Yes, it might be the least divisive film nominated and very respected. But, respect isn’t passion and passion gets you votes. But the main thing is, although stats will be broken this year, Dunkirk literally has to break ALL of them in order to win. No acting nominations, no writing nomination. No SAG Cast or even an individual nomination (not even at BAFTA, who could have nominated Mark Rylance but nominated Hugh Grant for Paddington 2 instead). No major guild wins. No festival run of any kind. Amazingly (in a good way), there are people that think it can win Best Picture. That’s how exciting and upside down this year is. But, in order to do that Dunkirk would have to take the Oscars all the way back to 1932’s Grand Hotel, which won Best Picture as its only nomination (so obviously no acting or writing noms). It hasn’t happened since and there is no logical reason to think that Dunkirk will change that. It’s a great film but it’s also a throwback, and I think the current era of AMPAS will not be interested in moving backwards with Best Picture but forward.
My Best Picture ranking with guild nominations and wins (in bold) so far:
1. Get Out – ACE, ADG, CDG, CSA, DGA, PGA, SAG, WGA
2. The Shape of Water – ACE, ADG, ASC, CAS, CDG, CSA, DGA, MUAH, PGA, WGA
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – ACE, ADG, CDG, DGA, CSA, MUAH, PGA, SAG
4. Lady Bird – ACE, ADG, CDG, CSA, DGA, PGA, SAG, WGA
5. Call Me By Your Name – PGA, WGA
6. Phantom Thread – CDG
7. Darkest Hour – ADG, ASC, MUAH
8. The Post – ACE, ADG, CSA, PGA
9. Dunkirk – ACE, ADG, ASC, CAS, CDG, CSA, DGA, PGA
What do you think is the Best Picture frontrunner? Am I crazy to have Dunkirk in last place?