Editors note: This story originally ran February 28.
It is crunch time as now I am forced to put up or shut up. What follows — beginning with the last award of the night, Best Picture — are my predictions for all 24 categories at Sunday’s 9oth Oscars. Some are solid take-it-to-the-bank and stick-a-fork-in-it calls, while others, particularly in some crafts and shorts categories, are a bit more wobbly.
From the print version of this list written three weeks ago (and which appeared last week in our special AwardsLine magazine) to this update, I have only changed two categories: Cinematography and Original Screenplay. For the former, I finally succumbed to the idea that Roger Deakins is going to get a career award for Blade Runner 2049 on his 14th nomination. As for Original Screenplay, I am completely torn and now predicting Jordan Peele’s Get Out in a squeaker over my initial prediction Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But I wouldn’t be surprised if my first inclination was the correct one.
As I always say: If you choose to use this list as a guide to filling out your Oscar pool ballots, please proceed with caution. I do not accept responsibility for any monetary losses you may incur.
So here we go with the big one, and ironically perhaps the one category that is most in doubt.
Once one of the more predictable categories to call, in recent years the Best Picture race has turned into a real point of suspense on Oscar night, and that is largely thanks to the Academy’s preferential voting system which, unlike the 23 other categories, asks members to list their choices numerically in order of preference starting with No. 1. This means those No. 2 or No. 3 movies can be just as key as No. 1 in an effort to get “consensus” on the year’s Best Picture.
In four of the past five years, Oscar voters have turned their back on tradition and separated the Best Director winner from the Best Picture winner, favoring smaller underdog titles like 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight and last year’s upset champ Moonlight over heavier favorites who racked up far more wins on the night. Will that trend continue, and could we be in for another massive surprise on Sunday? The tea leaves may not tell the whole story, but here’s my breakdown of the nine nominees’ chances.
Call Me By Your Name
Without directing, cinematography or editing nominations, this one would seem a long shot to take the big prize. That’s despite near unanimous praise and goodwill towards this gay summertime romance between a 17-year-old boy and a twentysomething academic visiting Italy. Its best shot for a win is 89-year-old James Ivory’s adapted screenplay, but there’s a Hail Mary pass that it sneaks in at the end of the night for Best Picture, a two-win scenario pulled off in recent years only by Spotlight. Don’t count on it, though.
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Producers: Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Marco Morabito
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song
This British take on Winston Churchill’s strong leadership is a slam dunk for star Gary Oldman in Best Actor as well as his makeup team, but a much longer shot for Picture as it doesn’t have directing, writing or editing noms. The fact that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is also in the race will take votes away, but the British contingent could try to put this one over the top, although that didn’t happen at BAFTA so why now? But “never surrender,” as Churchill said.
Director: Joe Wright
Producers: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas Urbanksi
Studio: Focus Features
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling
When it opened in July there were predictions that this epic look at the rescue of 300,000 British soldiers at Dunkirk in 1940 would be the one to beat and finally bring Christopher Nolan his much-deserved Oscar. Perhaps the early release date stalled its momentum, as well as the comparisons to the aforementioned Darkest Hour, but it has yet to cash in on any significant precursor wins with the exception of the ACE editing prize and some sound awards. A huge push by Warner Bros has upped its chances for an upset win despite no acting or writing noms among the eight it did receive, but it may have to settle for several crafts wins as a consolation prize from the Academy in an age where being bigger is becoming a drawback in this race.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producers: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan
Studio: Warner Bros.
Oscar Nominations: Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score
This is the big aberration in this year’s race as its February 2017 release date, plus its origins as a horror film, work against common wisdom on how to win Best Picture. But this smash low-budget hit, a first-time directorial achievement from an actor best known for sketch comedy, definitely hit a nerve and has defied the odds for a solid year just to get here. Don’t count it out, but it’s likely the nomination is the win this time around. Still, with the unpredictable preferential system for this category only, it’s not inconceivable Get Out could pull off a win here and nowhere else. That hasn’t happened in 82 years, since Mutiny on the Bounty did it in 1935!
Director: Jordan Peele
Producers: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr., Jordan Peele
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay
Another nominee from a member of the actor’s branch-turned-director delighted the Academy enough to land five major nominations. Greta Gerwig’s achievement is prodigious, but some think it is just too “light” to prevail against heavier competition in the category. A key to a surprise win though is the fact it’s hard to find anyone who didn’t have nice things to say, which means it could be the big beneficiary of the preferential ballot.
Director: Greta Gerwig
Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neill
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay
If I had to pick one movie for a shot at a major Oscar upset for the ages, it might be this one. Academy favorite Paul Thomas Anderson again proves he has the Midas touch with Oscar voters, because even its distributor didn’t forecast a Picture and Director nomination. But I can’t count the number of Academy members who have told me this is their favorite, and that was before its surprise Best Picture nod. The lack of a writing or editing nod holds it back, but beware—this one could come closer than you think.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Producers: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi
Studio: Focus Features
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score
With a pedigree of Oscar juggernauts like Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, plus timely and important subject matter, The Post had Best Picture written all over it, especially since it took that prize and top acting honors right off the bat from the National Board of Review. But the love—and momentum—stopped there, and it has gotten blanked at SAG, WGA, DGA, BAFTA and elsewhere for some inexplicable reason. It seems it is admired, but not passionately loved. With only this and a nod for Streep, its chances of a victory sadly are nil.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producers: Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Mackosko Krieger
Studio: 2oth Century Fox
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress
With 13 nominations—one of the largest totals in Oscar history—plus PGA, Critics’ Choice and DGA wins, Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy would seem on paper to be the one to beat here, without question. After his recent BAFTA directorial victory added to the totals, del Toro’s near-certain directing win only increases the chances for Shape to take it all. But as I said, the Academy has recently warmed to the idea of spreading the love and giving Best Picture to something other than what they deem the best directed. Still, the numbers and history are on the side of this one, and it is the one film of the whole bunch that truly has passion for what movies once were and still can be. You were either blown away by it or not, but if this is the same Academy that awarded Best Picture to The Artist, this will be the winner.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Producers: Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
If anything would seem to have a real shot of upsetting The Shape of Water, it would appear to be this well-liked dark dramedy from Martin McDonagh, but the shocking lack of a directing nomination lowered the chances of a march to victory. Only Wings, Grand Hotel, Driving Miss Daisy and Argo have done it without at least a directing nomination, so the odds aren’t with it. The film has also been divisive in some quarters, which might mean a preferential ballot is also not in its favor, but it has also hit the zeitgeist in terms of the current #TimesUp movement. Look for it to score strongly in other categories, plus its Globe, SAG and BAFTA victories, to help it pull off a win.
Director: Martin McDonagh
Producers: Graham Broadbent, Pete Chernin, Martin McDonagh
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score
The Winner: The Shape of Water
Tradition would have it that the winner of Best Director would also be the same movie that won Best Picture. If that’s the case, then we are looking at an easy victory for Guillermo del Toro and The Shape of Water. His DGA triumph pretty much cements a win in this category. Only seven times has the DGA and Academy differed on Director in 69 years, and the statistics behind that fact are actually even more daunting than it appears. But there’s a lot of variety in this category this year: an Oscar stalwart in Phantom Thread‘s Paul Thomas Anderson; an auteur so far overlooked by the Academy in Dunkirk‘s Christopher Nolan; and two fresh-faced Oscar (and directing) newcomers in Get Out‘s Jordan Peele and Lady Bird‘s Greta Gerwig. And that’s to say nothing of the hugely varied movies themselves. Here’s how I think things will shake out.
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Until now, Nolan was perhaps Oscar’s most consistently overlooked director. Despite nominations in the past for writing and as a producer, he had been routinely snubbed by his fellow helmers, and that was despite having three DGA nominations. This year the wrong was made right when Nolan made a film, Dunkirk, that was just too hard to ignore. That would seem enough to make him the frontrunner, except he has failed to win any of the key precursors and lost the DGA Award, usually a tell-tale sign of a winner, to Guillermo del Toro. Now it is an uphill climb, as challenging as getting all those soldiers out of Dunkirk.
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Peele, best known for sketch comedy in his Emmy-winning series Key & Peele, has really only ever wanted to direct, and he finally got his chance with Get Out, a hard film to categorize but with one foot firmly planted in the horror genre. Despite being released a year ago, it stayed in people’s minds and has become an awards juggernaut, most recently winning Peele the first-time director prize at the DGA. His screenplay also won at WGA. The film’s social relevance could help him, but Oscar voters probably will figure he will get another shot. It is rare to win first time out, but not impossible.
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Like Peele, Gerwig came out of acting to hit a home run in her first solo directing outing. As only the fifth woman ever nominated here, it is an achievement on its own, but she delivered the goods with a movie that had the likes of Steven Spielberg at a loss for words of praise. Considering the fact only one woman has ever won the prize in 90 years, it is a long shot, but she, like Peele, will have plenty of other shots if the pundits have called this one correctly.
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
With eight nominations over the years, Anderson has become an Oscar favorite. But his inclusion here over the favored Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards) was a head-turner and proof positive of Anderson’s unique appeal. After There Will Be Blood, this remains only Anderson’s second directorial nomination, and the fact that he got this far at all means you can’t count him out. The film was released late and voters catching up with it liked what they saw. If there’s an upset, it could happen with Anderson.
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Starting the season with the top prize at Venice and going on to win such predictive precursors as the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA and—most importantly—the DGA Award, this race is del Toro’s to lose, and I would bet a lot of money that he won’t. Apart from being this year’s most likable presence on the awards circuit, he has delivered a movie that is a director’s dream and one with wide appeal. It can’t be compared to any other nominee, and it puts del Toro on the precipice of being the fourth Mexican-born director in five years to take this Oscar. Don’t bet against it.
The Winner: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
In what is considered one of the least competitive races in recent history, this year’s Best Actor contest has become a battle of past multiple Oscar winners (Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington) versus a pair of newcomers (Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya)—for second place. There is no way this Oscar is going to anyone but Gary Oldman for his fierce, scene-blasting turn as Winston Churchill, and even without wins already at SAG, Globes, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA, you can take this one to the bank.
The Winner: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Unlike the Best Actor race, this year has produced one of the most exciting and crowded Best Actress lineups ever. When you have a category that overlooks the likes of Judi Dench, Jessica Chastain, Annette Bening and others you know it’s brutal. I could give you a scenario for each of the nominees that include a 21st nod for Meryl Streep and exceptional work from Sally Hawkins, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, but it is hard to imagine at this point that anyone gets to the podium other than Three Billboards’ raging mother Frances McDormand, who has dominated the pre-Oscar season racking up one win after another. A second Oscar is hers.
The Winner: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Supporting Actor
With 24 critics group wins, it looked like the third time would be the charm for The Florida Project‘s Willem Dafoe; that is, until Three Billboards’ Sam Rockwell started stunning him with wins at SAG, the Globes, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA. Now Rockwell has emerged as the strong favorite with the added advantage of being in a more widely seen film. His co-star Woody Harrelson probably doesn’t cancel him out either. 2012 winner Christopher Plummer could be a spoiler for coming in and saving All the Money in the World at the last minute, while another veteran, Richard Jenkins, could be an upset not only for Best Picture favorite The Shape of Water, but also for a long and admired career.
The Winner: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Supporting Actress
All along, this race has boiled down to a battle between a couple of formidable (to say the least) mothers, in the form of I, Tonya’s terrifying Allison Janney and Lady Bird’s tough but loving Laurie Metcalf. In terms of precursors, Metcalf scored with lots of critics groups, but Janney has emerged with the bigger wins at SAG, Globes, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA. She’s the one to beat now, but it’s not a slam dunk. This is the category where upsets have often emerged so don’t discount another one, possibly from across the pond in Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread. Hers was a surprise nomination, but the kind Oscar loves. Past winner Octavia Spencer and Mary J. Blige, great as they were, may well have to settle for just coming to the party.
The Winner: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Best Adapted Screenplay
It may say something about Hollywood these days that a category once dominated by major book and play adaptations is so sparse that it was hard to come up with five nominees. The Disaster Artist, based on the making of one of the worst films ever made, and Logan, based on a Marvel comic book franchise, would appear to have little chance to win. The well-liked Mudbound could gain traction for Dee Rees as the first black woman ever in this category, while past winner Aaron Sorkin’s dazzling use of language could put him over the top with Molly’s Game. However, when in doubt give the advantage to the only Best Picture nominee in the bunch, Call Me by Your Name, given added gravitas by its writer, the beloved James Ivory, who is long overdue for Oscar recognition and recently picked up WGA and BAFTA wins.
The Winner: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name
Best Original Screenplay
In contrast to the Adapted category, this one, usually much more sparse, is way overbooked, a barn-burner of a contest with no clear winner in sight. Four of the nominees are Best Picture contenders, so that probably eliminates The Big Sick, the one for which writing is its sole nod. The winner of the WGA Award also might not matter here as a frontrunner — Three Billboards by Martin McDonagh was ineligible there. Best Picture frontrunner The Shape of Water is more likely to win elsewhere on the big night, leaving the field more open to honor actors-turned-writer/directors Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird or WGA winner Jordan Peele for Get Out. Or not. BAFTA and Globe winner McDonagh remains a force. Toss a coin — that’s what I did.
The Winner: Jordan Peele, Get Out
Best Foreign Language Film
On the surface, the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner The Square with strong international appeal would be the odds-on favorite for a victory here, but actually not too many Palme d’Or winners have repeated at the Oscars; the last was Amour. Hungary’s On Body and Soul and Russia’s Loveless have their boosters, but joining The Square the race may come down to first-timer Lebanon for the accessible and provocative The Insult, and Chile’s ever-so-timely transgender story A Fantastic Woman. I am torn, but I have a hunch.
The Winner: The Insult (Lebanon)
Best Animated Feature Film
As usual this category is chock-full of great contenders in a field that pits a couple of extraordinary indie successes versus big studio ’toons. On the indie side, there is Loving Vincent, a hand-drawn hit done completely in the style of a van Gogh painting, and the moving and rich The Breadwinner, which reps the annual Gkids nod here.
For all its cleverness, I think we can knock out the frenetic The Boss Baby, and also probably Fox’s wonderful Ferdinand in favor of—drum roll please—Disney/Pixar. You expected anyone else? And the Academy gets some diversity points along the way.
The Winner: Coco
So Roger Deakins now has 14 nominations and no wins for Cinematography and is hoping Blade Runner 2049 will do the trick. It could well happen, but the names of the people don’t appear on the ballot, only the film. That could mean good things for the other nominees like Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water or Dunkirk, each with a Best Picture nomination. Then there is the wild card of Mudbound, which brought Rachel Morrison the first-ever nomination for a woman in the history of this category — and Netflix has made a point of not letting anyone forget that. I could see her riding to victory, but again the name isn’t on the ballot. Recent ASC and BAFTA wins for Deakins help his cause, so maybe in this case it’s time to stop ignoring the great one.
The Winner: Blade Runner 2049
Best Costume Design
The period designs of nominees Beauty and the Beast, Darkest Hour and Victoria & Abdul are always contenders in a category that tends to reward older looks. The presence of The Shape of Water only reinforces its widespread appeal across every branch in the Academy, but this one is clearly past winner Mark Bridges’ (for The Artist) to lose, with the exquisite creations of his love letter to fashion designers in Phantom Thread. How can a movie with “thread” in its title possibly lose here?
The Winner: Phantom Thread
Best Production Design
Each of the nominees here is imposing, and it could be a toss-up in many ways between Beauty and the Beast, Blade Runner 2049, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk and The Shape of Water. But because there is no obvious frontrunner, I think this is where we go with the more beloved movie, and the one that is likeliest to win Best Picture. That eliminated Beauty and Blade Runner. The 1940s looks of Darkest Hour and Dunkirk may also split the vote. Leave it to del Toro’s fantastical romance.
The Winner: The Shape of Water
Best Film Editing
This is an important category since it often signals a Best Picture winner. You are hard-pressed to win as a rule if you don’t have an editing nomination. On the other hand, voters sometimes look differently at editing and go another way, which they could do with either BAFTA winner Baby Driver’s wild ride of cuts, or I, Tonya’s flawless twists and turns on the ice. The latter beat the former in the ACE Eddies comedy category. Three Billboards seems like a minor player here compared to the achievement of The Shape of Water, and especially ACE Eddie drama winner Dunkirk. I would go with that one.
The Winner: Dunkirk
Best Makeup And Hairstyling
Since there are only three nominees allowed here you might think your chances of picking a winner are increased. So why do I always go the wrong way? This year’s winner, though, seems obvious. Despite the wonders of the makeup job on Jacob Tremblay in Wonder, and the royal work in Victoria & Abdul that perfectly aged an eightysomething Judi Dench, I think it has to go to the flawless melding of Winston Churchill and Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour.
The Winner: Darkest Hour
Best Original Score
John Williams landed his 51st nomination for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but it is Star Wars. He won for the first one 40 years ago and they don’t need to give it to him again. Hans Zimmer did some subtle and brilliantly understated work in Dunkirk, Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread is sublime, and Carter Burwell had just the right constantly changing tones in Three Billboards. But it is once again the sweeping, old-fashioned and romantic sounds Alexandre Desplat managed for The Shape of Water that will take this one.
The Winner: The Shape of Water
Best Original Song
Another really tough category. Mary J. Blige became the first person to be nominated for acting and music in the same year for Mudbound, and her “Mighty River” is memorable. Call Me by Your Name’s “Mystery of Love” is lilting but won’t win. The race, I think, could come down to past winners Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s sweet “Remember Me” from Coco and last year’s La La Land champs Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s anthem of independence “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman. The latter Globe winner was also used heavily in NBC’s Olympics coverage, which could help. Should those two cancel themselves out, look for another stirring anthem, “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, to sneak in for nine-time nominee Diane Warren and “Glory” winner Common. Another toss-up.
The Winner: “Remember Me,” Coco
Best Sound Editing
The Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories often are duplicates of the same five nominees and, more often than not, deliver the same winner. It’s not inconceivable that Baby Driver could prevail in one or both since sound and music so perfectly collide in that film, but voters might also see it as a feature length MTV-style video in some ways. Blade Runner 2049 feels like an also-ran here, as does Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a case of been there/done that for both. That leaves The Shape of Water and Dunkirk. The latter was the more difficult to pull off and war movies often win here.
The Winner: Dunkirk
Best Sound Mixing
The same logic applies here as above.
The Winner: Dunkirk
Best Visual Effects
The usual suspects populate this category with behemoth movies like Kong: Skull Island, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi making the list. They all are descendants of other movies, as are the two likeliest winners Blade Runner 2049 which took the BAFTA and War for the Planet of the Apes which took a VES Award. But the latter’s work is clearly the pick of this litter with brilliant effects effortlessly merged with an epic, almost David Lean-like style that makes this film a cut above everything else. It actually should have been a Best Picture nominee. This is a way to honor it.
The Winner: War for the Planet of the Apes
Best Documentary Feature
Considering such brilliant and unforgettable documentaries as Jane, City of Ghosts and Kedi didn’t even make the cut, we are dealing with a list of contenders that is definitely beneath what it should have been. This is not to say these are mediocre films, they just don’t reach the bar of some of those passed over. Netflix’s Icarus splendidly uncovered the Russian doping scandals and might benefit from voting coming right after the Olympics. If not, the Academy probably will fall for the charms, however slight, of Agnès Varda’s and JR’s Faces Places, although that film flies in the face of the kind of heavier material competing against it including Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Strong Island and Last Men In Aleppo, the latter drawing last-minute controversy over its producer being denied a visa to attend the ceremony.
The Winner: Icarus
Best Documentary Short Subject
A fine group of films with the standouts being Heroin(e), Traffic Stop and Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, which could win just on the basis of its title. Edith + Eddie and Knife Skills bring up the rear. Traffic Stop has real timeliness in the era of Trayvon Martin, and Heroin(e) is a moving account of the fight against addiction in a small town and the heroic women at the center of that fight. That may be the winner, but there’s a race going on here.
The Winner: Heroin(e)
Best Live Action Short Film
The nominees are DeKalb Elementary, The Silent Child, My Nephew Emmett, Wate Wote/All of Us, and The Eleven O’Clock. My guess is they finish in just that order, but what do I know? This is a category where you win your office pool, so proceed with caution and your own best guess. DeKalb Elementary deals with a planned school shooting, and the voting happened just as the Parkland school massacre was in the news, so it may benefit from being very timely.
The Winner: DeKalb Elementary
Best Animated Short Film
At the Oscar nominees lunch the loudest applause went to Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who was clearly the star of that room full of stars. His ode to himself, Dear Basketball, is lovingly done and has veterans like animator Glen Keane and John Williams behind it. Can it be beat? Could Kobe ever be beat? Well nothing is ever a slam dunk in this category, and if it can be defeated then Pixar’s LOU is a distinct possibility, or the lovely five-minute short about packing called Negative Space just might be the one to do it. Revolting Rhymes and Garden Party are the other nominees. I am going for an upset because this category often supplies them.
The Winner: Negative Space
Click on the photo at the top of the page to launch a gallery of our predicted winners. Good luck on all those Oscar pools, but if you lose don’t sue me.