Oscars: The Case for & Against 12 Best Picture Contenders

The latest in my ongoing Awards Season coverage is a breakdown of what look like the 12 strongest overall contenders right now. I put on two different hats (“Zak the Champion” and “Zak the Cynic”) for each film and say why they can and can’t win Best Picture. Note that for most films my actual stance is somewhere in the middle. This is more of an exercise to look at the narratives, both good and bad, that seem to be taking shape.

For actual Oscar predictions in every category and more analysis, CHECK HERE.

Lady Bird

Zak the Champion: Not only is Lady Bird the single best-reviewed film of the year and a box office smash, it’s also dominating early awards. Greta Gerwig has won more Best Director prizes than anyone thus far. Laurie Metcalf is the runaway favorite in Best Supporting Actress. The film is also a threat in Best Film Editing and Best Original Screenplay, categories that often go hand-in-hand with Best Picture. With the preferential balloting system, where voters rank their favorite Best Picture nominees, non-divisive/offensive films that are hard to hate even if they don’t spark as much passion as others get a boost. That’s Lady Bird!. While it may not seem like typical Best Picture material, the Academy is changing with its largest new class. Look at what won last year.

Zak the Cynic: A coming-of-age film from a first-time director is simply not going to win Best Picture when competing against more major, male-driven work (the type of stuff the Academy goes for). The last time a Best Picture winner had a female lead was Million Dollar Baby (2004). Lady Bird is a cute little film that’ll be nominated but it’s not a threat to win.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Zak the Champion: Martin McDonagh’s black comedy won the People’s Choice Prize at TIFF, a serious Oscar predictor that kicked off the campaigns of recent winners such as Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and 12 Years a Slave. The film was also a huge hit with SAG, where it received not only a Best Ensemble nom but three individual noms. That shows it’s a huge hit with actors, the biggest and most powerful branch of the Academy. This is a challenging, thought-provoking film and a worthy winner in a year where police issues are a bigger talking point than ever.

Zak the Cynic: The film is very problematic in its handling of police. Some are basically saying it’s a “well, not all violent racist cops are bad” movie. There could be major backlash once more people see it. Neither of Martin McDonagh’s previous films, despite being better than Three Billboards, were even nominated for Best Picture, and now people think this can win? It’s going to have some vocal detractors, and that hurts a lot considering the preferential ballot. It’s simply too divisive to win. Maybe it wins Best Actress and Best Screenplay, but it’s not winning Best Picture.

Get Out

Zak the Champion: When will the haters realize the nomination is happening and this is a real threat to win? It’s a huge hit with critics and audiences alike. SAG went for it. It’s the most important and subversive film of the year, something that the changing Academy can cite as a statement winner. You want people to care about and tune into the Oscars? Award movies like Get Out that everyone actually sees.

Zak the Cynic: A nice story, but nope. Whatever genre you want to call it (comedy, horror, etc) it’s not Oscar material. The critics are trying to get it nominated but critics don’t matter. It isn’t a film that’s gonna drum up a ton of support from any one branch, and there are still a lot of old white people with voting power who simply won’t “get” the film.

The Post

Zak the Champion: A movie about the Pentagon Papers, released in the Trump era, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep/Tom Hanks? How isn’t this going to win the Oscar? Reviews are strong. It won Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress with NBR. The most timely film of the year with many Oscar favorites in tow (below the line as well) and a major studio backing it. The only reason it’s not considered the frontrunner is because it isn’t out yet.

Zak the Cynic: Not all reviews love it, and some think it’s baity. Other than the NBR, it hasn’t won anything else yet. SAG didn’t cite it anywhere. Much like Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, it looks like a nice historical film that’ll pick up some nominations but it’s not going to win. Not this year considering the other films in the hunt. They just awarded a “power of journalism” film two years ago with Spotlight. They’ll mix it up a bit.


Zak the Champion: The most popular film in the hunt, and critics adore it. Nolan is winning Best Director and it’ll be nominated in every technical category. Nobody really hates it, which helps considering preferential balloting. Great war films do well with Oscar. Hacksaw Ridge won some awards (including Best Film Editing) last year and this is a much better film than Hacksaw Ridge. A worthy winner that could bring more widespread attention to the Oscars as a whole.

Zak the Cynic: It wasn’t nominated for SAG Ensemble. No film has won without being nominated there since Braveheart in 1995. The actors are the most important branch and this isn’t a film they’ll get behind. It’ll win in some techs and maybe even director but it simply won’t have the support to win the top prize. No Nolan film has ever been a real threat to win. Why now?

The Shape of Water

Zak the Champion: Looks like a near-lock for double-digit noms and the most overall. Support from nearly every branch, including the actors. Guillermo del Toro is super popular and campaigns well. The film is a stunning achievement on nearly every level. It’s done very well with critics groups thus far. Should be a box office hit now that it’s in theatres everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this become the runaway favorite come January.

Zak the Cynic: Just ask The Revenant and La La Land if 10+ noms means you win, and both those were much more popular than this. No SAG Ensemble nom, so I’m not sure the actors support is really there outside of for Sally Hawkins. It’s a very weird film that may not resonate with the larger Academy when it comes time to vote on winners. Maybe it gets 12 noms, but where can you really say it’s going to win? Doesn’t look like the frontrunner anywhere.

Call Me By Your Name

Zak the Champion: One of the most acclaimed films of the year, a beautiful love story that’ll hit across the Academy, including with the actors. Sony Pictures Classics is running a great campaign. Timothee Chalamet can win Best Actor. The buzz is only growing as more people see it. Voters have been aware of it since Sundance. They’ll all give it a look.

Zak the Cynic: I hate to be that guy, but Moonlight just won last year, so I doubt they’ll go for another LGBT film so soon. There are also some people ripping it to shreds for romanticizing the relationship between a 24 y/o and a 17 y/o. So it’ll be too divisive to win. No SAG Ensemble nom either. Sorry, film twitter.

The Florida Project

Zak the Champion: Critics adore it, and we’re seeing it dominate early awards. A24 Films is running a great campaign for it like they did last year for Moonlight, so its size or lack thereof matters not. Willem Dafoe is winning Best Supporting Actor. Once people see the film, they’ll recognize it for the emotional crowd-pleaser it is. Impossible to hate this film.

Zak the Cynic: Critics don’t vote on the Oscars, and it’s hard to see it popping up anywhere with industry guilds outside of Dafoe. Where inside the Academy is there gonna be vocal support for it? I’m not sure it’ll even be nominated, much less emerge as a threat to win. A nice little film but not a serious contender.

Phantom Thread

Zak the Champion: Last time PTA and Daniel Day-Lewis worked together, it was Oscar darling There Will Be Blood. Critics love this film. It’s a real threat to win screenplay and score, and will have support from the actors and some techs (costumes, sets). Once it comes out the buzz will be major. Last minute entry that could win.

Zak the Cynic: No PTA film has ever won Best Picture, as he’s a very weird filmmaker. This looks no different, despite the critical adoration. It hasn’t popped anywhere outside a few critics groups thus far. Simply not an Oscar winner.

The Big Sick

Zak the Champion: A crowd-pleaser that a lot of people love. SAG Ensemble nominee. Amazon is working the film hard and Kumail is great on the circuit. Timely film, hard to hate. Would be another refreshing winner.

Zak the Cynic: If Amazon couldn’t win with Manchester by the Sea, no way are they winning with this early year rom-com, no offense. The film is simply too minor. SAG Ensemble is a nice citation but its only actor in the hunt is Holly Hunter. Maybe they award it in screenplay but it’s simply not an Oscar film.

Darkest Hour

Zak the Champion: This year’s The King’s Speech? Oscar loves a good period piece with a respected actor giving a powerhouse performance as a historical figure. That certainly sums up this film. Gary Oldman is the runaway favorite to win Best Actor and this film should get real love from other branches as well (writers, costumes, composers). Traditional Oscar favorites are traditional Oscar favorites for a reason. This is still the type of film much of the Academy will love.

Zak the Cynic: Maybe ten years ago. Reviews are good, not great. Even if Oldman wins, there’s no way this takes the big one given the competition. I’d be surprised if it’s even nominated. An old-school, talky movie isn’t winning Best Picture in the year 2017.

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