In trying times, Oscar pundits like to cite a comforting litany of statistics to help the world make sense. A movie rarely wins Best Picture without a Best Cast nomination at the SAGs. The movie whose director triumphs at the DGAs almost always takes home Best Picture. So, too, does the movie that wins the PGAs. And if you want to nab the top prize on Oscar night, you’ve first got to get nominated for director, screenplay, and editing.
According to those guidelines, the most confident prediction we can make about this year’s Best Picture race is that the Oscar will ultimately go to no one. But while it may have seemed for a time like Sunday night’s Super Bowl would finish without a winner, I don’t think that the Academy will follow suit, even considering its recent missteps. Now that most of the main precursors have handed over their prizes, who’s on top in this year’s unpredictable Best Picture race?
Though it picked up plenty of Best Picture prizes from critics’ group, Roma hasn’t quite been powering through the precursors: Sunday night’s win for Alfonso Cuarón at the DGAs was its first big trophy of the season. (An asterisk: As a foreign-language film, Roma was ineligible for either of the Best Picture prizes at the Golden Globes.) The movie still has some notable misses — it got blanked at the SAGs, and despite co-leading the Oscar nominations, it got conspicuously shut out of the Best Editing lineup — but its two surprise nods for Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira hint at strong support from the acting branch, the Academy’s largest contingent. And the film’s run a clean, controversy-free campaign, helped along by Netflix’s mountains of cash.
2. Green Book
The Producers Guild Awards are considered a key Oscars bellwether, since they use the same kind of preferential ballot that Best Picture does. That system rewards consensus picks, which makes it all the more remarkable that Green Book took home top honors at the PGAs last month: On the internet, Peter Farrelly’s film is among the most polarizing Oscar contenders, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting its awards chances. More concerning for Team Green Book are the film’s notable snubs. It also didn’t crack the Best Cast field at the SAGs, and even worse, Farrelly was denied a Best Director nomination. On their own, each is survivable; just look at Shape of Water or Argo. Put them together, though, and it might be tough.
By the numbers, Spike Lee’s film has everything going for it: The film has all the nominations you could ask for, a strong “he’s overdue” narrative for Lee, and a powerful closing sequence that gives it the most contemporary political resonance of any of the nominees. But if it’s such a strong contender, shouldn’t it have won something by now? In the past, Oscar has gone for movies everyone else ignored, but those tend to be late-breaking curveballs; this August release doesn’t quite fit that mold.
4. Black Panther
When it comes to Best Picture, winning Best Cast at the SAGs is less important than securing a nomination in the first place, but I think Panther still got a boost from its win last weekend. For a film that’s been out for nearly a year, it helps to be reminded of the movie’s incredibly likable ensemble, and its strong campaign message — a win for a superhero movie with a predominantly black cast would be its own kind of history. It would be incredibly rare for a film to take home the top Oscar without any other major nominations, but Panther does have the advantage of being the only contender with progressive bona fides and mass commercial appeal.
5. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos’s film tied Roma for the most Oscar nominations, but there’s a nonzero chance it goes home empty-handed on Oscar night. (Its strongest categories are Original Screenplay, where it’s competing with Green Book and Vice, and Costume, where it’s up against Black Panther.) A strong haul at the BAFTAs this weekend might put some wind back in its sails, but right now The Favourite just feels like a movie that wins Screenplay and little else.
Everything I wrote about BlacKkKlansman applies to Vice as well, with the exception of no Best Cast nod at the SAGs. As a late-December release, there’s hope that Vice may pick up more momentum, but it would have to pitch a nearly perfect game in Phase Two to do so.
7. Bohemian Rhapsody
Despite much criticism of the movie’s hyperactive cutting, the Freddie Mercury biopic not only cracked the Oscars’ Editing lineup, but also pulled out a win at the ACE Eddie Awards this weekend. The campaign seems to have successfully inoculated the movie from the Bryan Singer controversy, but the top prize is still probably a long shot. Considering its rocky road, BoRhap will probably be happy with a strong showing in Best Actor and the Sound categories.
8. A Star Is Born
We’ll be debating for a long time what happened to this onetime Oscar front-runner, but after Bradley Cooper got double snubbed at the DGAs, Star’s odds of taking home Best Picture seem longer than Jackson Maine’s chances of being invited back to the Grammys. With nearly every precursor avoiding the movie, and no directing or editing nominations to its name, Hollywood seems to have decided that being a handsome, successful movie star is all the reward that Cooper deserves.