Why the Best Picture Front-runner Is Now Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

On a regular basis between now and March 4, 2018, when the winners of the Academy Awards will be announced, Vulture will consult its crystal ball to determine the changing fortunes in this year’s Oscars race. In our Oscar Futures column, we’ll let you in on insider gossip, parse brand-new developments, and track industry buzz to figure out who’s up, who’s down, and who’s currently leading the race for a coveted Oscar nomination.

Best Picture

Up

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Has this seemingly wide-open awards season finally narrowed down to one front-runner? It certainly appears that way after Three Billboards won the most Golden Globes this past weekend and also made a mighty showing in the just-released BAFTA nominations, overperforming in categories like Best Supporting Actor (with two nods, for Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson) and even worming its way into Best Cinematography over far flashier competition. The BAFTAs are the British version of the Oscars, and the Academy shares many across-the-board members with that organization, but truth be told, Three Billboards has been exceeding expectations with just about every significant awards body so far. In a year where two of the most notable Best Picture contenders are a film about race directed by a black man and a film about female characters directed by a woman, I think the still-evolving Academy will find their version of compromise with Three Billboards, a movie that tackles gender and racial issues from the perspective of a straight white man, writer-director Martin McDonagh.

Down

The Post

The Post is getting brutally rebuffed this awards season, losing every Golden Globe it was nominated for and now earning no BAFTA nominations at all. That’s right, zero. The film was a late-season entrant, which cost it the chance to make an impression with the SAG voters who also totally snubbed it last month, but at this point it’s clear that the film just hasn’t caught fire like it was expected to. I would never bet against Meryl Streep’s ability to crack a Best Actress lineup, but I think Steven Spielberg will be a Best Director also-ran and the film’s on-the-bubble Best Picture chances will come down to the amount of nominees we get this year.

Best Director

Up

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Of the “five all-male nominees” at the Globes, it was del Toro who prevailed, and The Shape of Water scored the most nominations at BAFTA, lifting its fortunes ever higher. There are still little things that, to me, keep the film from being a Best Picture front-runner: It had no reason to miss the SAG nomination for its ensemble cast — one of the biggest Best Picture bellwethers — and while BAFTA clearly liked the movie, co-star Richard Jenkins was left out of the Best Supporting Actor category after showing up in most precursors so far. Still, del Toro will provide a strong option for Academy members who vote Three Billboards in Best Picture but want a more technically audacious film to prevail in Best Director.

Down

Jordan Peele, Get Out

BAFTA voters have an eyebrow-raising tendency to overlook African-American talent, consistently snubbing Denzel Washington for even a single nomination until last year and, in the Best Director category, failing to recognize eventual Oscar nominees like Precious helmer Lee Daniels and Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. With that track record in mind, then, perhaps it’s not surprising that BAFTA left Peele off its Best Director shortlist, but after the Globes snubbed him there and failed to hand Get Out any hardware this past weekend, his momentum has taken a hit.

Current Predix

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water; Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird; Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk; Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Actor

Up

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Oldman has been considered the Best Actor front-runner for most of the season, but many pundits thought he still might lose the Golden Globe, thanks to his prior comments bashing the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. That Oldman still prevailed means that his Oscar fate is likely sealed.

Down

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

The Golden Globes offered Chalamet his best chance to shake up the race and if he had won, it’s all anyone would have been talking about the next morning. He will still be Oldman’s chief competitor going forward, but it doesn’t feel like a close race anymore.

Current Predix

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name; Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread; James Franco, The Disaster Artist; Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out; Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Best Actress

Up

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is the acting race to watch. Can the 60-year-old McDormand win her second Academy Award for a film that could sweep several of its categories on Oscar night, or will she lose to 23-year-old Saoirse Ronan? Both actresses won in their respective drama and comedy categories at the Globes, but they’ll go head to head soon at SAG, and that victor is the one to put your chips on. Right now, I’d give McDormand the edge since her character seems hardwired into our current cultural moment and the veteran actress, who can sometimes be publicity-shy, was a game winner and speech-maker at the Globes.

Up

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Still, Ronan has a strong shot at this one, since plenty of voters are passionate about Lady Bird and will seek a major category to reward it. She is young and has been Oscar-nominated twice already, and the third time may be the charm since the Academy loves an ingenue. It helps that she is up against an actress who can already boast an Oscar.

Current Predix

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water; Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Margot Robbie, I, Tonya; Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird; Meryl Streep, The Post

Best Supporting Actor

Up

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Though The Florida Project’s Willem Dafoe scored several critics’-group wins earlier in the season, I think Rockwell’s Golden Globe victory is the first step in a streak that begins now and will take him through wins at SAG and the Oscars. The film’s treatment of his racist-cop character is certainly a hot topic online, but older Academy members pay little attention to such things: They’ll be more enamored of the emotional arc that Rockwell throws himself into, by far the widest-ranging journey in this category.

Up

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Plummer really could have made some noise if his last-minute substitution for Kevin Spacey had actually won him the Golden Globe, but he should be heartened that he just scored a BAFTA nomination, strengthening his position to make Oscar’s final five.

Current Predix

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project; Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water; Christopher Plummer, All the Money In the World; Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress

Up

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

This category is a battle royale between two overbearing screen moms, and Janney’s far flashier performance is in the lead. Her Golden Globe win, which came in the middle of the period where Academy members vote on the Oscar nominations, will remind those voters just how much they like Janney and how delicious it can be to watch her make a speech.

Down

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Metcalf’s performance as the mom to Saoirse Ronan is more human-scaled than Janney’s cleverly modulated comic turn, but that’s why it’s destined to be this season’s runner-up. A Globe win would have offered Metcalf the necessary jolt her campaign needed, but let’s just celebrate the fact that both of these wonderful actresses are having a great awards-season moment and one that will hopefully lead to more big-screen opportunities for Metcalf, who’s worked almost exclusively in television for the past decade.

Current Predix

Hong Chau, Downsizing; Holly Hunter, The Big Sick; Allison Janney, I, Tonya; Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird; Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Why Three Billboards Is Now the Best Picture Front-runner