We’ve finally put last year’s Oscars in the rear-view mirror, which means now is the perfect time to kick off our early predictions for the 90th Academy Awards! Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re still detoxing from last year, and I’m sure you want to wait until, you know, we actually have an understanding of what’s coming out. And that makes sense. I mean, I didn’t even know what Moonlight was until August of last year. However, I promised you Oscar updates when I have them, and my God do I have them. I’m always ready for the Oscars months in advance, and while I have yet to pick the eventual winner this far forward, I’ve come close. Dammit, La La Land. Anyway, let’s flash forward to January 2018, and see if we can predict what will be nominated for Best Picture.
Before we begin, I must remind you of the disadvantages of predicting this far in advance. Last year, I declared Silence, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and Birth of a Nation as the only locks for Best Picture. One was a box office bomb, one was a critical bomb, and one was both as well as a scandal-ridden nightmare, leaving all three out of the race. Hell, all three put together only got one Oscar nomination. Of the nominations I posted in June of 2016, a total of two remained at the end of the year: my champion La La Land and Fences. It’s a frequent threat that looms over you every year when you try predicting, and I have yet to do better than five correct nominees. However, I have a good feeling about this year, and as I always note there are certain films you can predict with about 80% certainty, so let’s get down to it.
Let’s start by listing the Oscar buzz films. These are the films based on famous novels or stories, often with buzzy casts and directors, that just seem like no-brainers. Mainly, this consists of biopics and historical dramas. This year, there are several contenders, including Marshall, the Thurgood Marshall biopic, an adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, a big showy musical about P.T. Barnum titled The Greatest Showman, and a star-studded satire of the treatment of veterans titled Thank You For Your Service. These are the types of films that the Academy loves. However, I’m going to pick four of this type as early contenders for a nomination. One is a Sundance drama, two are biopics, and one is a historical drama. Starting with Sundance, and the only known quantity on this list, we have Mudbound. Based on a recent novel that deals with themes of race and poverty post-World War II. The film received massive acclaim, especially for its writer and director Dee Rees and cast members Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige. The film faces the major, major roadblock of being released on Netflix, but while that was the deathblow to Beasts of No Nation, we live in a world post-Amazon. Perhaps Netflix can get their big film into the conversation. I’m hoping so. Meanwhile, both biopics I’m predicting will depend on the strength of their lead actors, as we have Joe Wright and Gary Oldman depicting greatness in power with their Churchill film Darkest Hour, and acclaimed indie director David Gordon Green’s Boston Marathon bombing film Stronger. Patriots Day implies that the Academy may think a Boston Marathon film may be too soon, but considering this one focuses less on the chase and more on Jeff Bauman (played by Oscar-hunter Jake Gyllenhaal) and his quest to run again after losing both legs tells me this film has a clear shot.
And finally, we have The Post. The Post may be the film most likely to set itself up for failure, like last year’s Billy Lynn. It’s got a great director in Steven Spielberg, it’s got a great cast in Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and it’s got a timely story in the importance of journalists and their quest to hold truth to power. Really, what could go wrong? Well, a lot. Films that lean heavy into the metaphors of a specific time period are tricky to get right, and the last time Spielberg made a film that is supposed to be “important,” we got Munich, which wasn’t terrible but features the most egregiously stupid ending of all time (and I agree with its message). So the jury’s out on how the tone of this project will land. However, I can’t ignore that talent, and with an Oscar friendly release date of December 22nd, I can’t ignore this film completely.
After you look at the “sure-fires,” you have to start looking at the auteurs. While the auteurs never win for their best projects (usually), they are usually the ones who get nominated and win Best Picture, after years of toiling. Potential auteurs include Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River and Destin Daniel Cretton’s The Glass Castle, as well as hot-streaker Todd Haynes for Wonderstruck. George Clooney hasn’t made a good film since The Ides of March, or a great one since Good Night, And Good Luck, but thanks to a stellar cast and the writing of other auteurs Ethan and Joel Coen, it could be a real contender. And above all else, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled looks absolutely phenomenal. However, something about these projects strikes me as just…off. At least off in terms of what the Academy wants. So I’ll be looking to three different auteurs to be in the race for the top prize. The first is the king of dark and brooding, Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky broke out hard with the Academy after Black Swan, although he lost some ground on the odd but underrated Noah. This year, he has mother!, a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque thriller of his own invention, with a cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Domhnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Ed Harris, and comeback-kid Michelle Pfeiffer. This could be one to watch going forward. Speaking of something to watch, Downsizing. The talk of the recent CinemaCon was Alexander Payne, America’s greatest dark-comedy director, and his social satire Downsizing, which has been described as a combination of Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols, and Woody Allen (three directors the Academy loves). With a brilliant script and a casting including Kristen Wiig, Laura Dern, Christoph Waltz, and Matt Damon, this film could be a major contender, maybe even the first sci-fi winner. However, while those are the films we know something about, the real threat lays at the feet of the film we know nothing about. And that’s the film by the King of the Auteurs, Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson’s made no less than three films in conversation for the greatest in history, and his masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, is arguably the best of the 21st century. And he’s reteaming with the star of that classic, Daniel Day-Lewis, for a 1950s drama set in the fashion world. No amount of money is too much for me to go see this, and I’m positive the Academy will be all over this one.
And finally, you have what I like to call the can’t-miss. These are the films that have the right director, the right topic, the right cast, the right everything. To start, let’s address the war film. War films are to the Academy what catnip is to cats. I mean, the past six years have given us Hacksaw Ridge, American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, and War Horse, and that’s not to mention famous nominees and winners The Hurt Locker, Saving Private Ryan, Letters from Iwo Jima, Master and Commander, and Forrest Gump, and I’m only looking at the past twenty years. You’ll notice the particular choice of the Academy is World War II (probably because most voters either fought in it or remember it), and that lends heavily to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Nolan has never been nominated for Best Director, but that doesn’t stop the Academy from nominating his films everywhere else. His early films received at least one nomination each, and once he broke out with The Dark Knight, he hasn’t had a film receive less than five nominations. They love his work, and now that he’s making his passion project, a war film about the dramatic rescue from Dunkirk Beach, they may finally nominate him for Best Director, and maybe even earn him Best Picture. However, I don’t think this is the case, because America’s Queen of Art is throwing her hat back into the ring. That’s right, Kathryn Bigelow, who finally broke out of the camp-action field in 2009 to establish her the best in the business, has a new film, and it looks like a doozy. Once again, she’s exploring complex themes through real American events, with Detroit, a crime epic set during the 1967 Detroit Riots. With a wide cast of talented actors, a renowned cinematographer and editor, and her Academy Award-winning writer/collaborator Mark Boal in tow, this is my pick for Best Picture, hands down. Could it go the same way as Zero Dark Thirty, lose momentum, and miss a Best Director nomination? Sure, but I prefer being positive, especially when it comes to my favorite directors.
There are still tons of potential nominees that could prove me wrong. After all, I had Moonlight sitting at #13 at this point last year, Lion and Manchester by the Sea way down, Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge near the bottom, and Hidden Figures and Hell or High Water didn’t even make my list. This means that there are lots of films poised to take over should my films prove…less than perfect. I’m looking at previously mentioned auteur pieces The Beguiled and Suburbicon, timely satirical drama Thank You For Your Service, and old-timey musical The Greatest Showman. I’m also looking at the critically acclaimed films from Sundance Call Me By Your Name and Crown Heights. And don’t sleep on the genre-bending The Big Sick, because these kinds of rom-coms used to have a huge following, with nominations for Four Weddings and a Funeral and the not-quite-a-rom-com-but-same-style The Full Monty. No matter what, we have eight months before we know the result, so patience is key. You can see my Top 9 (which seems to be the average, despite the floating number) below, and you can see the full list of Contenders in the Oscar Predictions section by clicking here. Predict well, dear readers.
- Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film
- The Post
- Darkest Hour