91st Academy Award Predictions: Best Picture

The Oscars are officially a week old, which means it’s time for one thing, and one thing only: the early predictions for the 91st Academy Awards! Wait, come back, where are you going?!? Yes, I’m well aware that you are still detoxing from last year’s stressful race, and I’m sure that you want to wait until, you know, we actually know what’s going to come out. I get it. At this point last year we had a vague idea of what The Shape of Water and Lady Bird were, and Three Billboards and Get Out just didn’t seem like Oscar contenders. However, this site is predicated on Oscar updates, and by God I will give you Oscar updates. I will have so many Oscar updates so far in advance, you’ll be having them coming out of your…wherever. And while I’m still 0/9 on predicting Best Picture this far in advance (damn you, La La Land), it’s still a fun journey to trace the race from beginning to end. So let’s jump ahead to January 2019 and see if we can predict what will be nominated for Best Picture!

Before we begin, I must put up my yearly disclaimer about the disadvantages of predicting this far in advance. At this point last year, I had predicted mother!, Detroit, and Downsizing, and I said that the latter two were mortal locks for the top prize. As we know now, I was horribly wrong on all three. Detroit was a commercial bomb, Downsizing was a critical bomb, and mother!…well, we all know how people felt about that. Ironically, four of my early predictions were correct, but I ended up dropping two due to lack of publicity. That’s what I get for doubting Phantom Thread and Darkest Hour. However, I feel much more confident about this year’s predictions, and while I’m sure a few new contenders will come along to change things up, I am confident that some of these films are just inevitable nominees. So with that being said, let’s get down to it.

Unlike the last two years, I’m going to jump straight into the top contenders. No more holding off on the juicy stuff until the end of the article – let’s kick things off with the four big boys. Obviously there are a lot of films competing for these slots, but let’s start with the biggest contender right off the bat: A Star Is Born will be nominated for Best Picture. The big screen musical is back in a major way after the successes of Les Misérables, Into the Woods, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, all of which were blockbuster hits with multiple Oscar noms. A Star Is Born is perhaps Hollywood’s favorite film – they’ve made three of them already! And while the original director and star of this version – Clint Eastwood and Beyoncé – have both dropped out, it has given us a chance to see how Bradley Cooper can shine behind the camera in his directorial debut, and how newcomer Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, shines as an actress. The film has some real star power in its cast and screenplay, and watching its release bump around multiple times before landing in an Oscar-friendly October premiere evokes memories of the changing La La Land debut. Perhaps my love of musicals is shining through, but I can’t help it: a good-hearted romance about movie stars is catnip to both me and the Academy. I expect big things out of this one.

Hey girl. You want me to lasso the moon for you? Because I’ve been there. And I wrote your name on it.

Now, I want to give you all a brief history lesson about the Academy’s greatest rivalry for a moment. In 1972, artistic genius Francis Ford Coppola went head to head at the Oscars with driving auteur Bob Fosse at the Oscars. In the end, Fosse’s Cabaret took home eight Academy Awards, including Best Director, but Coppola won Best Picture with The Godfather, along with Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Two years later, the two went head to head when Coppola made a sweeping epic and Fosse made an artsy biopic. And then, in 1979, the two competed again for the Oscar. Why am I telling you this story? Because two years after a big-time musical won six Academy Awards while the artsy underdog took home Best Picture, their directors are in the race again for an artsy biopic and a sweeping epic. That’s right: Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins are at it again; and if we’re lucky, they will become the next Fosse vs. Coppola. Chazelle is returning with La La Land star Ryan Gosling to tell the story of Neil Armstrong and the quest of NASA to put a man on the moon. Early word on this one has been strong, with Gosling supposedly a cross between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, and the opening space sequence truly dazzling. This will definitely be one to watch out for. Meanwhile, Jenkins is returning to a similar playground, this time adapting the works of legendary author James Baldwin. If Beale Street Could Talk follows a nineteen-year-old pregnant woman’s quest to prove her husband was falsely accused of rape by a corrupt police officer. There’s a lot of timely stuff going on there – race, gender, politics, etc. – and Jenkins is one of our greatest writer/directors, so I’m excited to see how this one turns out. Who knows? If A Star Is Born tanks, we could be looking at another Chazelle/Jenkins showdown. Or perhaps Jenkins will finally get to give his speech this time! Anything can happen in a year!

And before we move on from the frontrunners, we have to talk about The Irishman. One of Martin Scorsese’s passion projects, the film is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, and could make for an excellent swan song to his career. The film follows the life of Frank Sheeran, the labor union fixer who has allegedly performed the hit on Jimmy Hoffa and assassinated John F. Kennedy. Everything about this seems like Scorsese bringing his career full circle: he’s returning to the mob film once again, he’s reuniting with his former crew, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel, and he’s crafting an epic that spans several years. He’s even pushing the envelope, bringing on talented actors like Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, and Ray Romano, and utilizing innovative de-aging policies for the major characters. With such a surefire cast, crew, story, and direction, this should, in theory, be a home run. However, there are a few snags. First, while the film is completed, it isn’t scheduled for release until early 2019. I do expect that to change, but it does make things challenging. Second, and even more troubling, the film will be released by Netflix. While this isn’t quite as damning as it once was, thanks to Mudbound, we still have yet to see a Best Picture nominee come from the streaming service. I do think the film will come out this year, and I do think that if a film is going to break the Netflix curse, it will be this one. But until then, consider this a tentative #2.

Christian Bale has literally no regard for his well-being

Up next, it’s time to fill out the biopics and historical epics. Last year we saw these slots filled by The Post, Dunkirk, and especially Darkest Hour. This year, we have a wide variety of historical dramas to choose from. These include the Steve Carell/Timothée Chalamet drug drama Beautiful Boy, Willem Dafoe’s Vincent Van Gogh biopic At Eternity’s Gate, Melissa McCarthy’s dramatic return in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (already drawing raves, I hear), and the troubled Rami Malek Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. However, there are three that strike me as the most likely of the bunch. The first is Adam McKay’s follow-up to the revolutionary The Big Short, Backseat. The film follows Dick Cheney’s rise to becoming the most infamously powerful Vice President in history. Written and directed by McKay, the film’s script has been talked about for months in its blend of satire and drama, and it has an all-star cast of Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Bill Pullman, and Christian Bale as Cheney himself. As long as McKay continues on the path The Big Short put him on, a Best Picture nomination seems destined. Up next, we have the great Yorgos Lanthimos. Despite being a critical darling, Lanthimos has only broken into the Oscar race twice: for Best Foreign Language Film (Dogtooth) and for Best Original Screenplay (The Lobster). Perhaps that’s because he’s a decidedly un-Oscar friendly director who specializes in the off-putting (his last film ended with a laugh-out-loud sequence of a father shooting his son point-blank); perhaps its because he doesn’t really play the awards game. Whatever the reason, his next film, The Favourite, could be the one to put him on the map. Dealing with the behind-the-scenes politics involved with becoming eighteenth-century monarch Queen Anne’s court favorite, the film features an all-star cast of women, including Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman, as well as the opportunity for Lanthimos to branch out while still maintaining his trademark stoic wit. And speaking of historic political dramas, we round out these nominations with acclaimed theatrical director Josie Rourke’s take on Mary Queen of Scots. Not only does the film have a script by political thriller guru Beau Willimon and beloved British producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, but its powerful twosome, Mary and Elizabeth I, are played by current Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Expect this one to be a popular Oscar favorite, and if it’s really good, don’t be surprised if it makes a play for the title.

And finally, in my final slot, I have the auteur nominee. There are a lot of auteurs out there this year, between Spike Lee’s Black Klansman, Andrew Heckler’s Burden, or even Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You, but if there’s any director that deserves the chance to break through, it’s Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers. Known for the dark dramas A Prophet and Rust and Bone, Audiard’s U.S. debut is a dark, funny historical Western about two assassins and their prospector target. The cast includes beloved actors John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Carole Kane, and should it be the masterful genre-bender we’ve come to expect from the filmmaker, you can mark this down as a major Oscar contender. At the moment, I consider these to be the only eight Oscar nominees. You may be wondering, “But what about Black Panther?” Well, here’s the thing. Ryan Coogler’s Afro-futurist epic is very much a contender – it’s a critical darling that’s already made over a billion dollars and literally no one dislikes. However, while Get Out proved that February releases are still contenders, it’s worth remembering that no superhero film has ever gotten beyond Best Supporting Actor (The Dark Knight) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Logan). There is still a great deal of bias against the heroes in capes (or in this case, panther suits), and at the moment, it sits just outside my list of nominees at #9. We’ll see if it can go the distance, and I may end up moving it up later this year.

There are still tons of potential nominees that could sneak in as the year goes on. There’s the crime thrillers like Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, Steve McQueen’s Widows, and David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun. We have not one, but two films about conversion therapy camps that could be more relevant as certain politicians bring them back into prominence: Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased and Sundance winner Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. And we could even see a family-friendly nominee, like Isle of Dogs, Christopher Robin, or Paddington 2. Who knows? At this point last year, I had Lady Bird and Get Out way down, Call Me By Your Name in the Top Twenty, and Three Billboards and The Shape of Water weren’t even on the list. No matter what, we have six months before things get serious, and nine months before we see any nominations, so patience is key. Until then, you can see my Top 8 below, and you can see the full list of Contenders in the Oscar Predictions section by clicking here. Predict well, dear readers.

  1. A Star Is Born
  2. The Irishman
  3. First Man
  4. If Beale Street Could Talk
  5. Backseat
  6. The Favourite
  7. Mary Queen of Scots
  8. The Sisters Brothers

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