Getting into the weeds of full-blown “Oscar predictions” four months before the nominations are announced increasingly feels like a waste of time. The Academy demographic is changing rapidly and finding the pulse with any real authority is, more and more, a fool’s errand. But with the early festivals behind us and a handful more on the horizon, most of this year’s crop has already been seen. The best picture race has taken shape and it promises to be an exciting one, with no frontrunner in sight. Here are, at least in one observer’s estimation, the 10 strongest contenders for recognition in this year’s contest.
“Call Me By Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino; Sony Pictures Classics)
PROS: It’s an important film and a landmark in queer cinema. As the Academy’s collective taste leans more international (and cinephile), movies like this will only benefit.
CONS: Thrifty Sony Classics always has an Oscar presence, but the distributor’s best picture tally is fewer than you might think (seven nominees in two decades). Are the resources going to be there for a challenging push?
“Darkest Hour” (Joe Wright; Focus)
PROS: Having the likely best actor winner chewing scenery front and center is helpful. And though a chamber piece driven by dialogue isn’t necessarily “traditional,” it might be the closest thing to it on offer this year.
CONS: Then again, Academy tastes are shifting away from “traditional.” Will rolling out the carpet for Gary Oldman all season suffice?
“Dunkirk” (Christopher Nolan; Warner Bros.)
PROS: It’s likely to be the box office success of the group, unless “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” manages to be a player. The “it’s time” Christopher Nolan narrative also writes itself.
CONS: The film could be too fussy for some voters. And even though Mark Rylance is right there doing God’s work, there are complaints that no one on the cast pops enough to engage the emotions.
“The Florida Project” (Sean Baker; A24)
PROS: It’s a scrappy contender right in A24’s wheelhouse coming off a banner year for the distributor, and those can make for darling campaigns. It’s also, ultimately, one of the most emotional films in the lineup.
CONS: It’s probably the “smallest” film in the lineup, too. And outside of Willem Dafoe the cast is filled with unknowns. A24 also has a plateful of contenders, none of which would be a sure thing even with all of the distributor’s focus.
“Lady Bird” (Greta Gerwig; A24)
PROS: Of this year’s female-directed players, it’s probably the strongest. Crowdpleasers are a major commodity in the race and this one also finds its way to the heartstrings. Having producer Scott Rudin advocating behind the scenes is helpful, too.
CONS: It doesn’t soar for everyone. Some feel like it’s too familiar, a story they’ve seen before, etc. There won’t be much below-the-line support, either.
“Last Flag Flying” (Richard Linklater; Amazon/Lionsgate)
PROS: On the heels of Trump laying out his Afghanistan “strategy,” and with the threat of war looming every day, the human toll represented here is sure to resonate. Also, an Oscar season comeback for Linklater seems inevitable; the goodwill is there.
CONS: It’s a talky drama that almost feels like a play. So, like “Lady Bird,” below-the-line support might be difficult to come by.
“Mudbound” (Dee Rees; Netflix)
PROS: Another one for traditionalists, it tells an unfussy, emotional story with handsome production values and an impressive ensemble performance. There’s an epic scope to it that makes it feel like a fuller experience than much of the year’s slate.
CONS: Netflix itself is the question mark: “Beasts of No Nation” seemed to suffer from the identity crisis of film vs. TV. Cannes put its foot down. Industry revolt could be simmering.
“The Post” (Steven Spielberg; Fox)
PROS: The only film on the list that hasn’t screened, it could capture the zeitgeist. Themes of press freedom protections and a woman taking charge in a male-dominated industry give it a whiff of “importance.” Oh, and let’s not forget: Spielberg! Hanks! Streep! The cast is stacked.
CONS: It may suffer somewhat in the shadow of “Spotlight.” Also, Oscar history is littered with on-paper sure-things that flamed out.
“The Shape of Water” (Guillermo del Toro; Fox Searchlight)
PROS: Those who are passionate are really passionate. It’s the auteur-driven Hollywood film, with a robust crafts element and possibly the year’s frontrunning lead actress contender (Sally Hawkins).
CONS: There’s some serious tonal whiplash on display. Del Toro’s more overt genre tendencies could make it difficult for some to love it.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh; Fox Searchlight)
PROS: The People’s Choice victory in Toronto proves it plays widely. Themes of forgiveness will resonate and — not just speaking personally, but anecdotally — it’s one of the most satisfying contenders of the year.
CONS: Dark comedy isn’t easy in an Oscar race. And Fox Searchlight has a lot to handle.