You can’t place bets on Best Picture

Why is predicting this year's Best Picture winner so difficult?

Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


What’s unusual about predicting this year’s Best Picture winner at the 90th Academy Awards is it’s impossible to confidently guess who’s going to win. Never before has so many of the nominees been so close to winning.

Most years there are only a few frontrunners by the final weeks leading up to the ceremony. Sometimes those leaders are obvious even earlier in the admittedly confusing Oscars calendar.

But this year is special.

Likely and possible winners have changed weekly since the Awards circuit shifted into high gear last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. Filmmakers, journalists, critics, and even recognized Academy voters have changed their minds with every public appearance they make.

This doesn’t just make predicting a winner more complicated. The entire conversation surrounding it gets more complex too.

According to some popular tracking companies (like Gold Derby), online betting odds haven’t shifted much since the fall. Maybe the Golden Globe, SAG and PGA award winners can provide insight into who the winners will be. Maybe the popular favourites reveal a clue. How can this year be the worst? Haven’t the last five years been more challenging?

No. Eight of the last ten years all had their mathematically expected winners take home the Academy’s top prize. What makes 2017 notably difficult is there are no clear favourites. All nine of the nominees have a nearly equal chance of winning and a nearly equal number of producers and supporters jockeying for votes.

A24’s Moonlight, last year’s surprise Best Picture winner. They were announced the winners after La La Land was incorrectly awarded the top prize.(Photo: A24)

It’s true that few people guessed eventual winner Moonlight would beat La La Land at the show’s end, and everyone was surprised by the now infamous envelope mistake. Surprising, however, doesn’t mean hard. And it’s much easier choosing between two confident choices than nine.

And the other awards so far that have been presented regarding last year’s films haven’t had many common winners. Less than half of the top acting, writing, and film prizes have been shared between the other three top ceremonies.

So with so few leads to go on, who is going to win Best Picture this year?

The first film largely expected to do well was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which came out last summer. Technically stunning and uniquely fast-paced, audiences and critics clamored over it for weeks.

Dunkirk was this year’s first likely contender. At nearly $200 million domestic, it’s the highest grossing nominee. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

The trouble is it’s been years since an early 20th-century history movie or war movie of any kind has won the top prize. And Dunkirk is competing against two others in the same genre: Darkest Hour and The Post. (The latter has an added problem of major similarities to Spotlight, which won just two years ago.)

They also have to compete against the surprise ninth nominee Phantom Thread, also in the historical genre. Many writers guessed if there were nine titles on the list the last would be The Florida Project, but a too-early release date in October likely squandered its chances.

Even Phantom Thread isn’t totally unique. Call Me By Your Name is also a European romance history drama, albeit one with a much brighter, epic and less traditional romance story. (There’s a third romance, yes, but more on that later.)

Early 2017 release Get Out is the best reviewed and second highest grossing of the nominees. (Photo: Universal)

While all five history nominees are fine films, only Dunkirk has a strong chance at actually winning, and that’s only due to its immense popularity. Remember, popularity helped La La Land win six Oscars last year, but missed the top prize.

The other two commercially successful nominees were also big audience hits in their release, and both have been gaining enormous public buzz and support since early January. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Get Out are both black comedies (both of them literally, but in very different ways) gaining high momentum.

Three Billboards surprisingly won the crucial People’s Choice Award at TIFF in September, and Get Out was released theatrically almost a year ago on Oscars weekend 2017. It’s rare that a movie from the first ten weeks of the year does well at the next year’s Academy Awards.

Both have great public interest and some really intense subject matter. If comedy is the style that ultimately takes the trophy, Lady Bird is certainly the most appealing to the widest audience. It’s also got one of the highest RottenTomatoes averages and aggregated scores in the website’s 19-year history.

The Shape of Water led all films last week with 13 nominations, the most of any movie this year. No other nominee received more than nine.  (Photo: Fox Searchlight)

But if unconventional is the way of the wind, The Shape of Water is by far the most outrageous. Even though it’s one of three romances, it’s also the only fantasy and science fiction movie. It also got by far the most nominations of any film this year with 13 in all.

With five possible frontrunners and nine equally deserving and possible titles in the Oscars top race this year, it’s anybody’s guess. Predictions and public racetrack odds change daily, and likely will right up until the day of the ceremony on March 4.

Since the new rules allowing up to ten nominees in the top category in 2010, the math and the conversations about the winner have certainly become more interesting. But this year’s discussion prior to the 90th Academy Awards is the most mind-boggling and impossible of all.

So aside from who takes home the statuette, only one other question remains…will the presentation this year be just as unexpected and entertaining?

The envelope, please.


Tyler Collins
About Tyler Collins 11 Articles
Tyler Collins is a current Journalism student at Sheridan College in Oakville. He is also the film and theatre critic and reporter for OakvilleNews.Org. You can follow him on Twitter @MrTyCollins.

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