Tomorrow, the Venice International Film Festival will kick off the fall festival season, and effectively kick-start the Oscar race. Coupled with the Telluride Film Festival this weekend, we will soon have a likely frontrunner for Best Picture within the course of a week. With this knowledge in mind, and in the wake of the news of new Oscar categories, I thought now would be the best time to update my Best Picture predictions, one last time pre-Oscar race, in the hopes of seeing where we stand before the chaos.
As of now, only two true Oscar contenders have been screened for the general public. The first is The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which landed…just not hard enough. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film. It’s just clearly not one that will have a real impact on the race. Expect it to make a splash at the Spirit Awards, but to go unnoticed by the Academy. On the other hand, there’s BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s best outing in years. My review will be going up later this week, but there’s a few things I noticed about the film, at least in terms of the Oscar race. Yes, Klansman is smart and strong and great, but there’s two things it has that really elevate it in the Oscar race: topicality and broad appeal. What Lee has done here is craft a simple, yet elegant story that speaks to now as well as presents it in a clear-cut, good and evil sort of way. It’s a film that can appeal to the younger, edgier members of the Academy as well as the older, more conservative branch. The last film I saw that so carefully walked that line was The Shape of Water. What I’m saying is I think that BlacKkKlansman, with the right push, could not only earn an Oscar nomination – it could win. Still, I won’t get too ahead of myself. Lee himself has never even been nominated for Best Director, despite directing three of the best films since 1985. I’m currently tempering expectations at #3, with an eye on jumping higher as time goes on.
As for the rest of my Top Nine, things have relatively stayed the same. A Star Is Born and First Man are still my #1 and #2 choice, and while we won’t have anything concrete until this week is over, early buzz indicates that those two will most likely be locks. However, while the top nine really hasn’t changed too drastically, there are a few changes worth noting. For example, my #3 and #4 films were If Beale Street Could Talk and Backseat. Now, general logic dictates that both films should end up in the Best Picture race. But there are a few details that could hamper the films’ chances. With Beale Street, rumor has it that Barry Jenkins has struggled getting the film the way he wants it. This has caused him to miss his beloved Telluride Film Festival (presumably) and will likely force his back against the wall with the upcoming TIFF date. The last thing he needs is to rush production to get the film out in time. Coupled with a first trailer that left something to be desired (outside of good performances, that is), and the film finds itself dropping from #3 down to #7. As for Backseat, there is still no word that Adam McKay is anywhere near done with it. Now, this isn’t a problem for McKay – The Big Short was released under similar circumstances, and there’s always one film that gets nominated after pushing itself back as far as humanly possible (missing out on the SAG race as well, mind you). Last year it was Phantom Thread, in 2015 it was The H8ful Eight, and in 2012 and 2013 it was all of them. I’m sure McKay’s film will be out by Christmas for all the world to see. However, in my quest to predict the Oscars, the fact we know nothing about it hurts the film’s probability. I have no choice but to drop the film down to #5. And finally, trailers have played an important role in the predictions process, perhaps more so than in previous years. The Sisters Brothers remains in the Top Nine solely based on the strength of its trailer (I am currently the only person predicting Jacques Audiard’s comedic Western), while Mary Queen of Scots finds its head dangerously close to the chopping block after a mundane trailer that put more emphasis on the acting than on the filmmaking.
But if Backseat, Beale Street, and Mary Queen of Scots find themselves in danger, then what films end up benefitting? Well, there are two films in particular that I see aiming for the Best Picture race. The first is perhaps the safest choice, and the one I fear for the most. At this moment, almost all signs point to The Favourite as your Best Picture winner. The buzz is great, and at least one insider who predicted The Shape of Water and Moonlight has given the film his seal of approval. Those in the know like Anne Thompson and Kyle Buchanan have only heard marvelous things about it from within the industry. And it contains an assortment of talent, from Yorgos Lanthimos to Emma Stone to Olivia Colman. If I were to lay down a bet as of this Tuesday morning, I would say that The Favourite would probably win. HOWEVER…there are two things keeping me from placing it at #1, at least for now. The first is the frontrunner status. I’ve seen many a film buckle under the weight of being the frontrunner, and it hurts their chances in the long run. Look at Steve Jobs, or La La Land. I’m reigning in my support, if only for the film’s sake. However, the second is a bit more aesthetic. At the moment, I’m trying to predict the safest nominations by the Academy, not the right ones. If The Favourite gets nominated, it will likely win. However, in order to be nominated, the Academy will have to allow Yorgos Lanthimos, a man who broke out making weird experimental films involving incest and Flashdance and Rocky (it works in context, sort of), and only got weirder from there, within their hallowed halls. While Lanthimos certainly deserves such an honor, it’s also hard for me to see it happening. Still, the film enjoys a nice boost from #5 to #4, sitting in the wings to see if Klansman or the other two slip up in the coming weeks. And finally, I round out my Top Nine with Beautiful Boy, for two reasons. I cannot stress enough that the trailer for Beautiful Boy is one of the year’s best, showcasing the talents of its actors, its writers, and its filmmakers, and declaring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as frontrunners for their respective fields. However, the main reason I’m predicting the film is because of my personal fears. Every year, I ignore the slow-growing indie film about modern-day life, and every year it bites me in the ass. Manchester by the Sea, Dallas Buyers Club, Silver Linings Playbook, Lady Bird, Room, and The Kids Are All Right are all films I wrote off because “the Academy doesn’t do normal family dramas.” Well no more. I will not make this mistake again. I have learned, I have evolved, and I believe that the touching little drug drama will receive a nomination for Best Picture.
Of course, in order to make room for this new and improved Top Nine, I had to clear out some of the clutter. I went through and eliminated all of the films that lack distribution, ran into controversy, or got pushed back until the next Oscar race. The biggest change here was the elimination of The Irishman, which did not appear on the list of upcoming Netflix movies (more on that in a minute). I thought for sure that Scorsese would get the film done in time for the Oscar race, but it appears he’s taking his sweet time about it. Oh well. Maybe next year. Similarly, I eliminated sweeping epics The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (which only just finished), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (which lacks distribution and received mixed reviews), and The House That Jack Built (which was LOATHED at Cannes). Similarly, the dramedy Fighting With My Family has not appeared on any list of upcoming films, and has been eliminated, as well as Sundance winner Burden, which lacks distribution. However, with these films leaving, I now have room for new films bursting onto the scene. There’s films that have dropped trailers and earned buzz that have slowly started climbing the ranks, including The Front Runner, which has moved up 2 slots, and Widows, which used its stunning new trailer to move up 8. Then there’s Mike Leigh’s newest film, Peterloo, which looks to enter him in the Best Picture race for the first time since 1996. And then there’s Netflix, who has decided to enter not one, not two, but three films into the Oscar race this year. We have The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the newest surprise Coen Brother project. We have Paul Greengrass’ anti-Nazi mass shooting drama 22 July. And then there’s the pièce-de-résistance: Alfonso Cuáron’s Roma. Roma has a lot going for it: a topical story, classical filmmaking, a Mexican filmmaker, and a likely Telluride berth. Hell, the only reason I don’t have it in Best Picture this very moment is because I’m still skeptical of the whole “Netflix” thing. Still, all these films have jumped onto my Best Picture radar, particularly within my second tier.
So that’s where we stand pre-festivals. I will have updates as Venice kicks off and Telluride begins on Friday, and I hopefully will have a few more Oscar predictions like Best Actress in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can see the full list of Best Picture nominees right here. Oscar season is upon us, everyone. You can feel it in the wind.
- A Star Is Born
- First Man
- The Favourite
- Mary Queen of Scots
- If Beale Street Could Talk
- The Sisters Brothers
- Beautiful Boy