91st Academy Award Predictions, Or: Why Is Predicting Best Picture So Complicated?

I used to be so good at predicting the Academy Awards. From The King’s Speech through Birdman, I would get all of the top awards right, especially Best Picture. However, as the Academy started changing up its membership, doubling down on the preferential ballot, and splitting its love between different films, things have become unpredictable. My picks of The Revenant, La La Land, and Get Out did not pan out, and things don’t look any easier this year. So I’m going to try to break down this year’s Oscar race, and by the end of it here’s hoping I can make sense of it by the end of these predictions.

Every Oscar contender in the race right now has an equal chance of winning, as well as something major working against it. Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s go down the list, shall we? I’ll list the pros and cons for all eight films, and break down the dealbreaker scenario that would constitute a win. Let’s start with the big film on campus, Roma. Roma has been nominated for the DGA, the WGA, and the ACE awards, it won three Globes, and it won the Critics Choice and BAFTA for Best Film. It also has ten nominations, the most of any film but The Favourite. However, there are some major obstacles in Roma’s way as a frontrunner. It missed out on the vital SAG nomination for Best Ensemble (only Braveheart and The Shape of Water have won without a nomination here), and it is missing the vital Best Editing nomination (excluding Birdman, no film has won without an Editing nom since Ordinary People in 1980). There’s also the fact that there’s a deep-seeded disdain for both foreign language films and Netflix films inside the Academy – for Roma to win, it would have to be the first for both styles of filmmaking. I would keep an eye on Foreign Language Film during the ceremony – if Roma wins here, it still has a shot at Best Picture. If it loses, it wins Best Picture for sure. This sounds counterproductive, but think of it this way: they’re not going to want to give the film both awards, and they clearly love Cold War, so this is their chance to spread the wealth. Up next we have another major contender, Green Book. Green Book has a lot of support inside the Academy, and it has so far won the Golden Globe and Producers Guild Award, as well as nominations for the WGA, ACE, BAFTA, and DGA – the last of which being highly important, as the only time a film has won Best Picture without a DGA nomination was Driving Miss Daisy. The film also received that highly coveted Editing nomination that Roma missed out on. However, Green Book did not receive a nomination for Best Director, putting it in a precarious position – it is rare for a film to win Best Picture without a Directing nomination (the last time was Argo in 2012, and before then it was Daisy in 1989). It also faces severe backlash from a younger Academy that finds the milquetoast approach to both history and race to be lazy and clichéd. Its dealbreaker? If Green Book wins Best Original Screenplay, it has a very good chance to win Best Picture, even if it isn’t quite a lock.

Working our way down, we have the beloved historical comedy The Favourite, which tied Roma with a whopping ten nominations. The Favourite should, in theory, be the film to beat: it was nominated for Directing, Acting, Writing, and Editing, not to mention a smattering of technical nods. It also has massive support from the Brits (7 BAFTAS), and it won the ACE Editing award. In a normal year, this would be an open-and-shut case. However, this is not a normal year, and The Favourite is not a normal film: it was not only ignored in Best Ensemble by SAG, but it missed out on that precious, vital DGA nomination. Some major stats will have to fall for The Favourite to win Best Picture. However, stats are made to be broken, and I will note that on all preferential ballot experiments I perform, The Favourite has the healthiest amount of #2 and #3 votes – the key to winning on a preferential ballot. I’m not convinced the film can win Best Picture, but I will say this: watch out for Best Editing AND Best Screenplay. The Favourite could win one or the other easily, but if it wins both, it has a real shot at winning Best Picture. BlacKkKlansman is in a similar situation: it received all of the key lead-in nominations, including BAFTA, Globe, ACE, WGA, DGA, SAG and more, as well as received the key Best Director and Best Editing nominations. However, it faces the uphill climb of not winning anywhere else. The film is loved, but is it liked? As much as this feels like your eventual Oscar winner, I’m just not seeing it right now. However, I would watch for this scenario: if BlacKkKlansman wins Best Editing AND Best Screenplay, look for it in Best Director. If Klansman wins at least two out of these three categories, then look for it in Best Picture. Up next we have Black Panther, which has been coming on strong since it won the SAG award for Best Ensemble. Panther has support amongst the different branches, but honestly, there’s not much evidence supporting its success (unless Disney rigs things the way they have with the rest of the ceremony). The British were incredibly indifferent to it, it lacks that all-important DGA nomination, and it missed out on Directing, Writing, and Editing. No film has ever won without those three, and I doubt any film ever will. I guess if Panther were to win EVERY tech category, it could have a decent chance. However, if it loses anything that’s not called Best Original Song, consider it an over-and-done scenario.

Similarly out-of-the-running is Bohemian Rhapsody, despite its Globe and ACE win. Rhapsody stands a good shot at winning four of its five nominations – Rami Malek’s a lock (more on that in a minute), the Editing is currently the frontrunner, and it has an excellent chance in the sound categories. However, it lacks a DGA nomination and a Directing nomination (gee I wonder why), not to mention that people really dislike the movie for…well, for not being good. And while we’re on the subject of flawed contenders, Vice. It’s clear that a lot of Academy members like Vice – it received eight nominations, it got that DGA nod, and it’s up for Director, Writing, and Editing. However, there’s a lot working against Vice as well. For as many people really love Vice, there are just as many who loathe it with every fiber of their being – both due to its quality as well as its politics (there’s a large conservative subsection in the Academy, and a lot of folks on the left felt it was smarmy and insulting to them as well). This lack of love is also prevalent in its lack of a SAG Ensemble nomination, despite being tailor-made for such a film. I would expect potential spoilers in Best Actor, Best Editing, and Best Original Screenplay, but make no mistake: Vice cannot and will not win Best Picture. Which brings us to our golden boy, A Star Is Born. This is the film we once thought would win Best Picture: it had all the precursors, everyone loved it, and it was front of the pack everywhere it went. However, despite nominations from literally everyone, from SAG to DGA to ACE to BAFTA and beyond, A Star Is Born found itself snubbed in two key categories: Best Director and Best Editing. I already noted how vital these two categories are above – and that was individually. The last time a film won without Best Director AND Best Editing was…well, never. I would say it is highly unlikely for A Star Is Born to win Best Picture, and I wouldn’t waste your money betting on it in Vegas. However, IF Bradley Cooper happens to win Best Adapted Screenplay or Best Actor, I would keep an eye out in Picture – the preferential ballot can be tricky, and those would be the categories where the film could make a move.

In the end, I’m going to predict Roma, for three major reasons. First, it has the largest swath of support through the industry – that DGA win, BAFTA win, Critics Choice win, and three Globe wins are nothing to sneeze at. Second, on my personal preferential ballot competition, it had a large number of #4 and #5 votes as well as #1s, which I think will be a deciding factor in a year when no one can agree on which films they tend to like. And third, the characters are just likeable. Look at the Oscar winners for the past seven years: a group of misfits fighting shadowy government forces for love, two poor teens trying to find love in a system that destroys it, a group of journalists trying to find justice for victims of abuse, a man trying to escape from slavery to reunite with his family, a group of goodhearted agents and Hollywood writers who try to pull off a daring rescue, two plucky actors falling in love during the rise and fall of the silent film era, and a good-natured king who must battle his stutter to unite his nation. The Academy likes cheering for heroes, whether perfect or flawed, in simple stories of good vs. evil. Sure, Cleo and Sofia aren’t major cosmic forces of good, but they keep their family together through love and grace, and I believe the Academy will connect with that in a field of shadowy vice presidents, Ku Klux Klan members, reformed racists, and psychotic queens. In spite of everything, I’ve gotta say Roma is the one to beat for the Oscar this year. Oh, and it passes the Travis Test (i.e. a film must be on my Top Ten list in order to win Best Picture), so it’s got that going for it.

With that mindset, I can now start going through my ballot and making predictions. I believe that Roma will win four nominations, and play spoiler in a few others. You can easily bet on it taking Best Picture and Best Cinematography, and I would say that Best Director is your only true lock going forward. I also believe that Roma will win Best Foreign Language Film, but if it wins Best Picture, it is possible that Cold War could sneak in as a way of spreading the love. Also locked in are three of the four acting categories: it is all but assured that Rami Malek, Mahershala Ali, and a first-time Glenn Close will win Oscars for their performances in Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, and The Wife, respectively. The only performer on that list in danger is Close, who faces stiff competition from Lady Gaga and Olivia Colman, but I doubt even they have the united power to stop Close’s momentum. As for the men, both mark a unique opportunity for the Academy to honor some highly controversial films without stirring up any trouble – both actors are easily the best parts of their films, and are well-liked enough in the industry for people to reward without retribution. I will literally eat a shoe, Werner Herzog style, if these three actors lose their respective categories. Which brings us to Best Supporting Actress, and the hardest race to predict of all. You see, in theory, Regina King should be your frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress – and technically, she still is. She won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice, she swept the critics circles throughout November, and she stands as the biggest nomination for pretty universally beloved film. However, King was conspicuously absent from both the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA nominations – the only two voting blocs that overlap with the Academy. It’s entirely possible that neither branch watched If Beale Street Could Talk before voting (although it did appear elsewhere on the BAFTA nominee list), but that’s pretty difficult to ignore. Her campaign would be torpedoed if the two awards went to the same actress, someone who was nominated at all three shows…and that’s where things get interesting. The BAFTAs went for Rachel Weisz, which makes sense – she’s a Brit in a well-loved British film, and she’s great. However, the SAG award went not to Weisz, not to Stone, and not to Amy Adams, but instead to Emily Blunt, who is not nominated for the Oscar. So this entire category is a clusterf*ck with no frontrunner in sight. The entire scenario reminds me of the 2015 Best Supporting Actor race, when only three actors remained consistent throughout the primary season and split the awards up to the actual show. Without a clear consensus, Sylvester Stallone rode his redemption narrative to both a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice Award for Creed, but found himself snubbed by both the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA. The SAG award went to Idris Elba, who was not nominated at the Oscars, and the BAFTA went to Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies. In the end, Rylance pulled off the upset, and Stallone went home empty handed. Today, the smart money is on Regina King. I should pick Regina King. It’s just…I can’t help thinking that 2015 will repeat itself this year for Rachel Weisz. Maybe I’m biased because Weisz is my favorite performer from any film this year. Maybe I’m just being stupid and trusting a gut that has failed me several times as of late. But I can’t shake this feeling that Weisz is about to win her second Oscar, and that’s the risk I’m going to take.

As we move into the writing categories, things tend to become a bit simpler. Both categories are essentially two-film binaries battling it out. Best Original Screenplay includes the battle between The Favourite’s dialogue-heavy wordplay and comedy and Green Book’s simple, folksy throwback. Meanwhile, Best Adapted Screenplay will go to an African-American screenwriter for only the fourth time in history (all since 2009): Barry Jenkins’ spiritual James Baldwin adaptation will go head-to-head with Spike Lee’s scathing Blaxploitation satire. In the case of the former, unless Green Book is about to win Best Picture (a major possibility), I would expect The Favourite to win Best Original Screenplay. Not only is it the best script of the year (and the decade, and the century), but this is the best chance to reward the film in a major non-acting category. By winning here, it will allow the Academy to say “We really liked this film. If only you hadn’t made it so weird, Yorgos Lanthimos.” As for Adapted Screenplay, things are both simpler and trickier. With Jenkins’ film snubbed in most other categories, this could stand as the best chance to honor his newest masterwork. However, there is one detail that basically throws this entire category out the window: Spike Lee has never won an Oscar. I know that stat shocks you, but it’s true. Lee, one of the best directors of the modern era, has never won an Oscar for writing, acting, directing, or otherwise. And with Klansman risking the possibility of going home empty-handed, a Screenplay win is the best chance to honor the legend of the craft (I’m sure his speech will be light and pleasant and not-at-all controversial). This simplicity carries over into Best Original Song – but, sadly, not Best Original Score. It is entirely possible that “Shallow” loses Best Original Song. Gaga has been nominated and lost to a less-deserving song before, and as we learned last year with The Greatest Showman, the most popular song doesn’t always win. But…come on. It’s “Shallow.” It got nominated for a f*cking Grammy, a first for an original movie song since “Lose Yourself” in 2004. It launched a $400 million movie. It’s going to win Best Original Song. However, when we move into Best Original Score, things become trickier. You see, it was pretty much universally agreed that the best score of the year, and the eventual winner (see: Globes and Critics Choice), was going to be First Man. And then it wasn’t nominated. I don’t know why the Academy got this so wrong, they just did. So now, we have five good scores by great composers, and none of them feel like winners. I suppose we can eliminate Isle of Dogs, because it’s the most forgettable of the lot. And I think we can eliminate Mary Poppins Returns – it doesn’t have the juice the others have. So we’re left with three African-American dominated films with vastly different styles of orchestration. Will it be Ludwig Göransson’s Afro-futurist Black Panther, Terrance Blanchard’s Blaxploitation-homage BlacKkKlansman, or Nicholas Britell’s beautiful, soulful, classical Beale Street? At this point it’s almost a coin flip, but I’ve gotta give the edge to Britell on this one – that Beale Street score is just so beautiful, I can’t deny it.

Up next, we’re taking a look at Sound categories. Things become a little more difficult here, as the two categories go hand-in-hand. Right now, the smart money is on First Man, which has the best sound design of the lot. However, Damien Chazelle’s space opera has been shunned in most categories thus far, clearly indicating that the Academy just did not like the film. I don’t know, maybe it was too smart for them. Meanwhile, most other festivals with a similar category, as well as a history of matching with the Oscar, have awarded Bohemian Rhapsody, making it an enemy on equal footing. And I haven’t even mentioned Roma, with its highly underrated sound design and blend of realistic, human musicalities. I’m honestly not sure where to go with these categories, as these films, on paper, stand equal chance of winning. So I’m going to break the Cardinal Rule of Prognosticating and split the vote (the only time the sound categories ever split is when the two films aren’t nominated in their respective counterpart). I predict that Bohemian Rhapsody will win Best Sound Mixing, which is fair, while First Man takes Best Sound Editing, which is deserved. And First Man will be fairly compensated by pulling off an Ex Machina style upset in Visual Effects over the highly overrated Avengers: Infinity War and the highly underrated Christopher Robin. After that, things become a bit easier to break down, in all but one category. Just pick between The Favourite and Black Panther in all the tech categories. I’m going with The Favourite in both, although Ruth E. Carter winning her first Oscar for Panther may be too good a deal for anyone to pass up. And Best Makeup is going to Vice, without question – just look at what they did to Christian Bale to make him look like Cheney. That is undeniably impressive. That brings us to the clusterf*ck that is Editing. None of these films really feel like they belong (outside of Klansman, which is underrated in its editing), as they all exist in a world of overly flashy or not clear enough. Bohemian Rhapsody has some gorgeous concert sequences, but also cuts more rapidly than Bill the Butcher. Vice is overly showy in its editing, but that tends to work to its advantage in most instances. Green Book and The Favourite are both fine films, but neither really have any clear moments of editing, or overly impressive editing, that make them standouts. So who is going to win? Well, that’s where things get tricky. The BAFTAs and the ACE split the category three ways, leaving us without a frontrunner – BAFTA awarded Vice, while ACE went to Rhapsody and The Favourite. So who is going to win here? Does The Favourite edge out the field due to its popularity? Does Rhapsody win because they edited the film without a director? Does Vice win because it has the Most Editing? Who’s to say? However, I’m nothing if not a risk taker, so I’m going to propose a different scenario. I believe that BlacKkKlansman will win Best Editing, not only because it has the best editing of the lot (and honestly, of the year), but because it will allow the Academy to reward the film technically, as well as benefit from the split vote – with three lesser films battling it out, look for a consistently well-liked film to rise to the top of the ranks. I predict BlacKkKlansman will pull off the upset here.

And finally, we have the Features and Shorts. These are pretty easy to break down, so let’s not dwell on them too long. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will win Best Animated Film, not only because it is one of the best films of the year (that’s right, not just animated: best films of the year), but because it will allow the Academy to pull off the mea culpa for The LEGO Movie. Best Documentary Feature is up in the air without Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, but despite support for both RBG and Minding the Gap, it remains clear that voters have rallied behind the visually striking (albeit narratively boring) Free Solo, and that will be your Documentary winner. And as for the shorts? Well, I’ve only seen the Animated shorts and one doc so far, but I will say that Bao is far and away your frontrunner in the category, while A Night At The Garden stands a good chance of winning Best Documentary Short. I’ll make a guess on Live Action after I see them; until then, I’ll just say Skin. So that’s where we are in the Oscar race, with one more week to go. Our only locks are Cuarón, Ali, Malek, and Close; make of that as you will. I will probably throw up one more article with predictions in the near future, and until then, you can see the nominees with my predictions below (predictions marked in Bold), and you can break down each category right here. The 91st Academy Awards will be held on February 24th, and will be presented without a host and in a butchered, incomplete form.

Best Picture

  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Black Panther
  • BlacKkKlansman
  • The Favourite
  • Green Book
  • Roma 
  • A Star Is Born
  • Vice

Best Director

  • Alfonso Cuarón-Roma
  • Yorgos Lanthimos-The Favourite
  • Spike Lee-BlacKkKlansman
  • Adam McKay-Vice
  • Pawel Pawlikowski-Cold War

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Christian Bale-Vice
  • Bradley Cooper-A Star Is Born
  • Willem Dafoe-At Eternity’s Gate
  • Rami Malek-Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Viggo Mortensen-Green Book

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Yalitza Aparicio-Roma
  • Glenn Close-The Wife
  • Olivia Colman-The Favourite
  • Lady Gaga-A Star Is Born
  • Melissa McCarthy-Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Mahershala Ali-Green Book
  • Adam Driver-BlacKkKlansman
  • Sam Elliott-A Star Is Born
  • Richard E. Grant-Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • Sam Rockwell-Vice

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Amy Adams-Vice
  • Marina de Tavira-Roma
  • Regina King-If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Emma Stone-The Favourite
  • Rachel Weisz-The Favourite

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Favourite
  • First Reformed
  • Green Book
  • Roma
  • Vice

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • A Star Is Born

Best Animated Film

  • The Incredibles 2
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Mirai
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Documentary Feature

  • Free Solo
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • Minding the Gap
  • Of Fathers and Sons
  • RBG

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Capernaum
  • Cold War
  • Never Look Away
  • Roma
  • Shoplifters

Best Documentary Short

  • Black Sheep
  • End Game
  • Lifeboat
  • A Night At The Garden
  • End of Sentence.

Best Live Action Short

  • Detainment
  • Fauve
  • Marguerite
  • Mother
  • Skin

Best Animated Short

  • Animal Behaviour
  • Bao
  • Late Afternoon
  • One Small Step
  • Weekends

Best Original Score

  • Black Panther
  • BlacKkKlansman
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Mary Poppins Returns

Best Original Song

  • “All The Stars” – Black Panther
  • “I’ll Fight” – RBG
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Mary Poppins Returns
  • “Shallow” – A Star Is Born
  • “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Sound Mixing

  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • Roma
  • A Star Is Born

Best Sound Editing

  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • A Quiet Place
  • Roma

Best Production Design

  • Black Panther
  • The Favourite
  • First Man
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Roma

Best Cinematography

  • Cold War
  • The Favourite
  • Never Look Away
  • Roma
  • A Star Is Born

Best Costume Design

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • Black Panther
  • The Favourite
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Mary Queen of Scots

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Border
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • Vice

Best Film Editing

  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • The Favourite
  • Green Book
  • Vice

 Best Visual Effects

  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Christopher Robin
  • First Man
  • Ready Player One
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story

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