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Oscars: Best Picture Field Shifts Into Focus

Critics group superlatives and top 10 lists may have been flying around for two weeks, but now that Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” and the Hugh Jackman musical “The Greatest Showman” have finally screened, and with Disney’s epic “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” premiere out of the way, everything in the Oscar hunt has really and truly been seen. So let’s take the first real educated pulse of this year’s best picture landscape.

It has been the year without a frontrunner since the Venice/Telluride/Toronto starting gun, and the news is: It still is. Even with highly anticipated prestige players like Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” on the board, no film has stepped up and seized the burdensome status of being “the one to beat.” Ask around and you’ll probably get a half-dozen answers: “It’s ‘Dunkirk’s’ to lose.” “‘Lady Bird’ could be a consensus choice.” “‘The Post’ is the movie of the moment.” “No, ‘Get Out’ is.” The field is wide open, and that makes it one of the most exciting races in recent memory.

Early awards went to “Call Me by Your Name” (Gotham Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.), “The Post” (National Board of Review) and “Lady Bird” (New York Film Critics Circle), while “The Florida Project” and “Get Out” have pulled ahead with the most regional critics wins. “The Shape of Water,” meanwhile, asserted its dominance by leading the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations announcements. On Dec. 13, we’ll find out which films are making headway with actual industry voters when the Screen Actors Guild announces its nominees.

It really feels like we won’t have a clearer picture of the front-runner until phase two — after Oscar nominations are in. Meanwhile, most Academy voters won’t even get to the majority of the season’s contenders until the holiday break. In the meantime, screeners have been piling up. Ballots go out on Jan. 5 and are due back in record time, one week later, on Jan. 12. The Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards are poised to make something of an impact, with televised ceremonies that week, though don’t put too much stock in the influence of either. It will come down to the movies, and a drastically altered Academy membership.

So what are the 10 films most likely to secure best picture nominations? Keeping in mind that the Academy’s preferential balloting system could yield anywhere from five to 10 titles, you wouldn’t be far off base to look at the Critics’ Choice nominees as a guide.

Films like “Dunkirk,” “The Post” and “The Shape of Water” appear to have the most solid footing. They’re craft-heavy pictures that will resonate throughout the Academy’s various branches, and they each speak to our times in their own ways, with resonant themes of, respectively, defiance, equality and fear of the other.

“You wouldn’t be far off base to look at the Critics’ Choice nominees as a guide.”

A number of other contenders tap the zeitgeist as well, “Call Me by Your Name,” “Get Out” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” among them. But not every voter is looking to make a statement with his or her pick. Movies like “The Florida Project” and “Lady Bird” find their way straight to the heart, and that’s a crucial route.

The other two nominees on the Critics’ Choice list were “The Big Sick” and “Darkest Hour,” but they might be the most vulnerable at the moment. That leaves “Mubound” knocking on the door, but we’re still waiting for a verdict on the potential albatross status of the Netflix imprimatur.

You could point out the merits of various other dark horses, but at some point you have to just draw a line and say, “This is the landscape.” Well, in one pundit’s estimation anyway, this is the landscape. Let’s see how it shifts.

Best Picture Frontrunners
“Call Me by Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Dunkirk” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
“The Florida Project” (A24)
“Lady Bird” (A24)
“The Post” (20th Century Fox)
“The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

On the Bubble
“The Big Sick” (Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)
“Darkest Hour” (Focus Features)
“Get Out” (Universal Pictures)
“I, Tonya” (Neon/30WEST)
“Mudbound” (Netflix)

Dark Horses
“All the Money in the World” (Sony/TriStar Pictures)
“The Disaster Artist” (A24)
“Phantom Thread” (Focus Features)
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Walt Disney Pictures)
“Victoria & Abdul” (Focus Features)

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