Could there be a Best Picture surprise on Oscar night?
Theoretically, I should know the answer when people ask, ‘What movie is going to win at the Oscars this year?’ Even before I took officially took over as The Awardist columnist for Entertainment Weekly (and even before I started working here in 2010), I’ve been paying close attention to the minutia of all things Academy Awards like it was my job.
But this year it is — literally — my job! And for the first time in recent memory I’m completely flummoxed about how all of this might go down on March 4. In EW’s most recent issue (a must read for Oscar-lovers) I had to buckle down and commit to my picks. I hemmed and hawed. My deadlines loomed. I bounced back and forth between Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water —the two films that have been dividing up most of the predicative awards so far. (For those who care: Billboards has taken home the big prize at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, and, this past weekend, the BAFTAs. The Shape of Water, meanwhile, started its run by winning the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion, the PGA Awards, the DGA Awards, and director Guillermo del Toro took home best director at the BAFTAs.)
I closed my eyes and committed to The Shape of Water as my official pick. And immediately started second guessing it and wondering if I should have picked Three Billboards. (And bothering editors and copy editors and printers and etc. till they shooed me out the door.)
Then, the next morning I suddenly was gripped with a panic: wait, is Dunkirk actually going to win Best Picture? As it turns out I wasn’t alone in my thinking:
For the record, I love Dunkirk. I have seen it three times on a large screen (in multiple formats!) and am consistently left in awe at the mastery Christopher Nolan executes in this film. I basically couldn’t agree more with EW’s critic Chris Nashawaty — who gave the film an A — when he writes: “It’s a towering achievement, not just of the sort of drum-tight storytelling we’ve come to expect from the director of Memento, The Dark Knight, and Inception, but also of old-school, handmade filmmaking.” Yes.
It’s hard to imagine that a film such as this — serious, historic, wartime, never surrender-y — isn’t a slam dunk for the Oscars which tends to eat this sort of stuff right up. Yet for whatever reason, it hasn’t dominated the conversation — even sitting pretty at 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But considering the movie is heading into the night with eight nominations (in addition to Best Picture and Director, it is up for Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score — tick tick tick — and Production Design), there is a path to it walking away a big winner. (Or, perhaps, a path for Nolan to win Best Director. But that might be a post for another time.)
But that’s not the only scenario. Another movie I love, Get Out — which arrived in theaters almost exactly a year ago — has never stopped being part of the conversation. Not many writer/directors have made the kind of debut that Jordan Peele has with his debut film. The film is relentlessly sharp, witty, and white knuckle-y tense with impeccable acting. Its momentum has never really stopped — it’s got a mind-boggling 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and on Feb. 11 it won the top prize at the WGA. This is no small feat considering that our last two Best Pictures, Moonlight and Spotlight also won the same award before pulling off surprise wins on Oscar night.
So where does that leave us? If we continue down this path, I also feel perfectly ready to make very strong arguments for Lady Bird (another outstanding writer/director debut from Greta Gerwig) and Call Me By Your Name and and and….this could just keep going. I guess we should leave it that no one really knows for sure this year who is going to walk away the big winner. And that 2017 — for all the garbage that was had, and boy there sure was a lot of flaming, smelly garbage to wade through—was a really, really great year for movies. That’s got to count for something, right?