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The Advantages and Challenges of the Oscar Best Picture Line-Up

When the best picture nominees were announced, there were surprises on both sides. Some are disappointed that players such as “The Big Sick” and “The Florida Project” did not make the list, while others were thrilled that bubble films including “Darkest Hour” and “The Post” did. We take a look at the final nine nominees and what many perceive to be their strengths and weaknesses going into the final stretch.

CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics
Advantages: A gay love story that transcends the central couple to become universally relatable. Timothée Chalamet gives one of the best performances of the year as Elio, a teen struggling with his sexuality and with heartbreak. It is also beautifully shot in the Italian countryside and arrives at a time when the spotlight is on LGBTQ portrayals in entertainment.
Challenges: The film has drawn comparisons to “Moonlight,” last year’s best picture winner, which may have the Academy looking to branch out from same-sex romances. And though it has scored many nominations, it’s been consistently beaten out by “Lady Bird” and “The Shape of Water” on the awards circuit.

Darkest Hour

Focus Features
Advantages: Driven by Gary Oldman’s performance for the ages as Winston Churchill, “Darkest Hour” is also a thrilling adventure story about a nail-biting moment in history when the world was about to fall to a tyrant and it took a brilliant, charismatic, courageous leader to rally the free world and save humanity.
Challenges: Do two films about the “Dunkirk Miracle,” i.e., “Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk,” split the vote? Also, in a year when long-overdue support for diversity and female empowerment is helping power many films to awards contention and triumphs, can a brilliantly crafted, rousing celebration of the “great man” theory of history still score with voters?

Dunkirk

Warner Bros.
Advantages: Nominated twice before in this category, Christopher Nolan returns with a crowd pleaser that also wowed critics. An old-fashioned epic about the British retreat from Dunkirk in the early part World War II, no one questions its visual power.
Challenges: Will U.S. voters take to a movie with few women (especially in the year of #MeToo) and minimal dialogue about an incident that took place before America entered the war?

Get Out
CREDIT: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Get Out

Universal
Advantages: In many ways, Jordan Peele’s social thriller is the movie of the year: a huge commercial and critical hit that has exceeded all expectations for a genre film that came out early in the year. Daniel Kaluuya’s acting nom in a tough category shows there’s support across the board for what might be the most-talked about and timely movie in the race.
Challenges: It’s still a genre film and many voters might feel it was too successful. The nominations might just be the win for this movie.

Lady Bird

A24
Advantages: The movie no one dislikes, and with a female lead and director, it feels timelier than ever. The support in top categories (director, screenplay, two acting noms) shows there’s a strong fanbase for Greta Gerwig’s smart, funny coming-of-age tale.
Challenges: Some might feel it lacks the “Important with a Capital I”-ness of among films that tackle war, race relations, the power of the press, etc. That would be a serious shortchanging of this beautiful, perfectly modulated film.

Phantom Thread

Focus Features
Advantages: Arguably the most accessible of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s post-“There Will Be Blood” efforts, “Phantom Thread” managed to nearly equal that film’s awards tally despite working in a more enigmatic register — as well as best picture, the film amassed nominations for director, actor, supporting actress, score and costume design, indicating broader support than expected. Its distinctly European arthouse rhythms could be attractive to the classicists in the Academy’s membership, and the subtle ways it upends the patriarchal artist-muse relationship help make it an unexpectedly relevant film for the era.
Challenges: The film’s six nominations came as something of a surprise on nominations morning, which could be an indication that it has a steeper mountain to climb. While Anderson has been a darling of festivals and critics groups for years, he’s never won an Oscar, and this is only his second nomination for directing.

The Post

20th Century Fox
Advantages: A first-class pedigree with Spielberg, Streep and Hanks, plus a timely topic and an uplifting ending. In short, it has all the makings of an Oscar movie.
Challenges: With all those makings of an Oscar movie, it might feel a bit like stacking the deck and too obvious a choice. Plus, some have complained we’ve seen similar stories before, and in more accomplished movies (see 2015’s “Spotlight”).

The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight
Advantages: Guillermo del Toro has made his name on crafting eerie and intricately beautiful films that subvert the traditional horror films he cut his teeth on, making the monster the hero here. The intricate set design, haunting music and gorgeous cinematography instantly draw its audience into the bleak world of Cold War America, while the powerful performances give viewers a reason to care. As the PGA winner, it appears to be the frontrunner.
Challenges: While it unashamedly basks in its status as a modern fairytale, that could be its undoing. A high level of suspension of disbelief is required and some might balk at the sexual relationship between the Amphibian Man and Sally Hawkins’ Elisa. And despite great performers, there isn’t a lot of moral ambiguity between good/bad characters. Also, it missed the SAG Ensemble nomination, and no film has won best picture without it since 1995’s “Braveheart.”

Three Billboards Day 04_118.dng
CREDIT: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Fox Searchlight
Advantages: A critical and commercial success, Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy landed two big precursors, the Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award and the SAG ensemble award. The film also did well across the board, with nods for three of the actors — actors make up the biggest branch of voters who love showy roles and crackling dialogue.
Challenges: In a word: Backlash. The film has come under fire for what some perceive to be the redemption of a racist cop. That snub for director Martin McDonagh doesn’t help, either, although best picture winners have overcome that in recent years (see “Argo.”)

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