Last call for this year’s 90th Annual Academy Awards. Ballots from the 7,258 Oscar voters are due today at 5 PM PT.
Casual conversations suggest that many have waited until the last couple of days to vote, particularly those planning to weigh in with choices in the shorts, documentary and foreign film races as well. You can’t blame the Academy if turnout is low, though. One exasperated member who had not yet voted emailed me yesterday, “OMG – AMPAS is spamming me with emails and texts reminding me to vote. Next will be phone calls from them!” Whether any voters get personal calls from John Bailey or Dawn Hudson, it’s clear they are trying to drive a high turnout, with most ballots now done online, allowing for the last-minute procrastination. So, stragglers, this is your last chance and you could be making history.
There are 24 categories, and every member is eligible to vote in each one of them — unlike nominations, which are done by peer groups. All but one of those categories are decided by a straight popular vote, but Best Picture has been treated differently in the past few years, with a preferential ballot in which you must list your choices in order of preference from first to ninth (as is the case this year). Supposedly it determines a consensus pick, but in four of the past five years it has resulted in a split between the winner of Best Picture and Best Director, categories that often had agreed on the same film. Smaller movies like last year’s upset winner Moonlight, Spotlight and 12 Years a Slave have benefitted from this system. None of those movies won more than three Oscars, but one of those in each case was Best Picture. As the final ballots roll in, are we going to see a repeat of that this year?
Based on precursor awards, it seems pretty evident that Guillermo del Toro will win Best Director for The Shape of Water, which leads all films with a whopping 13 nominations. However this year’s Best Picture race remains wide open, with the distinct possibility that another film could sneak in and take Best Picture. The most likely culprit appears to be BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, despite having its director Martin McDonagh snubbed by the Academy’s director’s branch. For it to win it would have to pull off a feat accomplished by only four Best Picture winners in Oscar history that did it without having their director even nominated: Wings (1927-28), Grand Hotel (1931-32), Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and most recently Argo (2012). Hope is still being held out for Universal’s Get Out, Warner Bros.’ Dunkirk and Focus Features’ Phantom Thread (with surprising strength among many Academy voters I talk to) or even A24’s Lady Bird to pull off a palace coup and sideswipe PGA, DGA and Critics’ Choice winner The Shape of Water’s march to Best Picture. Darkest Hour, The Post and Call Me by Your Name are widely considered to be less of a threat.
I never thought I would be writing this but right now, but thanks to the Academy’s preferential system, which can put as much weight on your No. 2 or 3 choices, the increasingly popular Get Out could be the most improbable winner in decades, and not just because it was released a year ago. That usually is reason enough for elimination in this contest, which favors fall releases, but Universal’s massive campaign has made certain no one has forgotten it. Is there a possibility that the film — which is up for four Oscars including Picture, Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Original Screenplay and Director (both for Jordan Peele) — could pull off a Best Picture victory by only winning in that category alone? Hmmm.
There seems no way Kaluuya could beat Darkest Hour’s Gary Oldman, and del Toro is about as much a lock for Director as you can get. That leaves Original Screenplay, for which Peele recently won the WGA Award, but he did it there without having to face front-runner Three Billboards, which was ineligible due to arcane WGA rules and which went on to defeat Get Out in the same category a week later at the BAFTAs. Still, Get Out could win here and go on to Best Picture, pulling off what 2015’s Spotlight did by winning in just those two categories (the first time since The Greatest Show on Earth did it in 1952). For the Oscar it is a straight up-and-down vote for Screenplay and that might equally favor Three Billboards. But as we’ve said, the preferential ballot makes Best Picture a different proposition entirely, even if the odds are long that a movie could pull it off with just that one win.
However, over at our sister Gold Derby’s betting site, three “expert” pundits are predicting a Get Out single win for Best Pic. It has happened three times but not since 1935, when Mutiny on the Bounty pulled off the feat and there were only 17 categories. Grand Hotel did it in 1931-32, when there were only 12 categories, and The Broadway Melody in 1928-29, when there were a measly seven. So for the first time in 82 years, could Get Out — which might be a solid No. 2 or No. 3 choice on ballots where it isn’t the first pick — be holding the winning hand while losing all the way up to the opening of the Best Picture envelope?
It’s not impossible, folks. Not anymore. That makes the question of what will be in this year’s Best Picture envelope perhaps almost as crazy as what happened last year. We are about to find out.