Today the 2017-18 awards season comes to a close, with the 90th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. It has been somewhat of a bizarre season overall, with no clear frontrunner in the Best Picture category, despite runaway winners in the acting races, in Best Director, and a number of a technical categories. Best Picture has remained a mystery, with a number of factors making it difficult to make a decisive decision on what will take the top prize at the ceremony.
With Moonlight’s shock victory over La La Land in Best Picture last year, it showed a shift in the way we look at this category- that you can’t crown a winner before a ceremony, no matter how much the odds favour a certain film winning, that you can’t dismiss the power of the preferential ballot, and that you can’t underestimate the power a voter holds in voting in this category- they have the potential to make a statement with their votes, as well as having many other reasons to vote, or not vote, for a specific film. This year, there are three films in major contention to take Best Picture, and they’re almost neck-and-neck: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Shape of Water, and Get Out, all with plenty pros and cons attached to them.
The safe bet is Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. A weak frontrunner going into the season after winning the Toronto International Film Festival Audience Award, its awards season trajectory has been very admirable, picking up five BAFTAs, including Best Film, four Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture- Drama, and three SAG Awards, including Best Ensemble. Also, with stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell picking up every single televised award thus far (BAFTA, Globe, SAG, Critics Choice, and Indie Spirit), in Best Actress and Supporting Actor, respectively, it pretty much is guaranteed at least two awards on the night. The sticky points for the film come as it is quite divisive, being called a ‘marmite’ love it or hate it film, and of all the films nominated in Best Picture, it is the one that has received the most backlash, something that has derailed previous frontrunners La La Land and Boyhood in recent years. Its lack of Best Director nomination is also a cause for concern, but I think if it takes home Best Original Screenplay, it’ll be in a strong position to take home the Best Picture award. If it loses, however, it could be in trouble.
Another film in the hunt is The Shape of Water, the leader of overall nominations for this year’s ceremony. While it has swept the season in Best Director for Guillermo Del Toro, it has been less successful in other above the line categories, though it is worth noting its major wins in Best Picture at the Critics’ Choice, and most notably, at the PGA Awards, which is the only other place where the category is decided on a preferential ballot. Below the line, it is the strongest of the major contenders for the tech categories, being the frontrunner for Best Production Design, and Best Original Score, as well as surprisingly taking the Costume Design Guild Award ahead of Phantom Thread, something that proves its industry support more than anything else. It is also the only film nominated to pick up nominations everywhere it is historically seen as ones you need to win Best Picture: picture, directing, acting, writing, and editing. What harms the film is its lack of SAG Ensemble nomination, something that every Best Picture winner has had in the past 22 years, as well as the trend of a split between Picture and Director in recent years. It is tempting to go for, but I find it difficult to predict it, considering the strength that Three Billboards has shown at recent major precursors, showing momentum shifting back away from The Shape of Water.
Then we come to the underdog in the race: Jordan Peele’s Get Out. It was considered earlier on in the season that Lady Bird could be the biggest beneficiary of the preferential ballot, or perhaps as a political vote, but Get Out, over the last few weeks, has taken over that role, and many are looking towards the film as the potential dark horse, similar to Moonlight last year. The film has been the story of the season in some ways, as it has defied expectations to receive major nominations at almost every single awards show, and has picked up more critics Best Picture prizes than any other film, something that is very impressive for a horror film released over a year ago, with its buzz not slowing down at any point. However, it is an underdog for a reason. With only four nominations to its name, it would have the lowest tally of nominations for a Best Picture winner since 1934, and is only a real contender in one other category- Best Original Screenplay. That could be a make or break moment in the night. If it takes Original Screenplay over Three Billboards, where the two have been neck-and-neck all season, it could send a statement that it can pull off the big upset. It will also have to overcome the horror bias that the Academy have had over the years, the reports that many voters find it ‘not Oscar worthy’, and its lack of Best Editing nominations, so for it to take the victory, it would be an almighty shock. I wouldn’t discount it though…
Overall, the ceremony will be an interesting one, especially as it seems quite easy to predict on paper, Best Picture aside. What was interesting last year was seeing how the night developed in terms of trajectory. When La La Land lost in Best Costume Design, Editing, and the Sound categories, we knew that the sweep was on and, even though it was still highly unlikely, a shock in Best Picture was possible as the film wasn’t as strong as we first thought, allowing Moonlight to sneak in. Over the course of the night, if we get a few upsets to major Best Picture contenders, we’ll get a better idea of what’s going to win, particularly in Best Original Screenplay, where Get Out, Three Billboards, The Shape of Water, and Lady Bird all face off against each other, along with non-Best Picture nominee The Big Sick. The winner of that category, I think, will tell us a lot. My hope for the ceremony is that we get to the final award, presented again, hopefully with more success, by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, we will all be on the edge of our seats as what the envelope says. Given that it’s the right one of course.
The 90th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are tonight (Sunday 4th March 2018) at 5pm PST (1am GMT), live on ABC.