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Oscars 2017 Category Breakdown: Best Picture

Every year, as we lead up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category; what the trends are, how the guilds and stuff help (or don’t), etc. I also do it as a precursor to my giant Oscar ballot. I get most of the heavy lifting out of the way here, so that way when I get to the article, I’m just kind of riffing on how I think it’ll turn out and talking myself into all the bad decisions. It’s like college. And this is the pregame.

How these articles work is — I give you all the previous winners and nominees of each of the categories, then tell you how accurate each of the respective guilds and precursors are in what they vote for versus what wins the Oscar, tell you how each of them voted this year, then give you this year’s category, along with a quick rundown of how we ended up with that category (what was a surprise, etc). After that, I rank each of this year’s nominees in terms of how I see them right now in terms of their likelihood to win. Which is nothing more than my perception (notice that underline, even though you won’t) of how the category seems at the moment based on everything I know and have seen. Which will give you a general sense of the favorites.

Only one category left. The big one. Best Picture. We save this one for last every year, and fortunately, the past couple years have brought us tight races.

Year Best Picture Winner Other Nominees
1927-1928 Wings The Racket

Seventh Heaven

1928-1929 The Broadway Melody Alibi

The Hollywood Revue of 1929

In Old Arizona

The Patriot

1929-1930 All Quiet on the Western Front The Big House

Disraeli

The Divorcee

The Love Parade

1930-1931 Cimarron East Lynne

The Front Page

Skippy

Trader Horn

1931-1932 Grand Hotel Arrowsmith

Bad Girl

The Champ

Five Star Final

One Hour with You

Shanghai Express

The Smiling Lieutenant

1932-1933 Cavalcade A Farewell to Arms

42nd Street

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Lady for a Day

Little Women

The Private Life of Henry VIII

She Done Him Wrong

Smilin’ Through

State Fair

1934 It Happened One Night The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Cleopatra

Flirtation Walk

The Gay Divorcee

Here Comes the Navy

The House of Rothschild

Imitation of Life

One Night of Love

The Thin Man

Viva Villa!

The White Parade

1935 Mutiny on the Bounty Alice Adams

Broadway Melody of 1936

Captain Blood

David Copperfield

The Informer

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Les Misérables

Naughty Marietta

Ruggles of Red Gap

1936 The Great Ziegfeld Anthony Adverse

Dodsworth

Libeled Lady

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Romeo and Juliet

San Francisco

The Story of Louis Pasteur

A Tale of Two Cities

Three Smart Girls

1937 The Life of Emile Zola The Awful Truth

Captains Courageous

Dead End

The Good Earth

In Old Chicago

Lost Horizon

One Hundred Men and a Girl

Stage Door

A Star is Born

1938 You Can’t Take It with You The Adventures of Robin Hood

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

Boys Town

The Citadel

Four Daughters

Grand Illusion

Jezebel

Pygmalion

Test Pilot

1939 Gone With the Wind Dark Victory

Goodbye Mr. Chips

Love Affair

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Ninotchka

Of Mice and Men

Stagecoach

The Wizard of Oz

Wuthering Heights

1940 Rebecca All This, and Heaven Too

Foreign Correspondent

The Grapes of Wrath

The Great Dictator

Kitty Foyle

The Letter

The Long Voyage Home

Our Town

The Philadelphia Story

1941 How Green Was My Valley Blossoms in the Dust

Citizen Kane

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Hold Back the Dawn

The Little Foxes

The Maltese Falcon

One Foot in Heaven

Sergeant York

Suspicion

1942 Mrs. Miniver 49th Parallel

Kings Row

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Pied Piper

The Pride of the Yankees

Random Harvest

The Talk of the Town

Wake Island

Yankee Doodle Dandy

1943 Casablanca For Whom the Bell Tolls

Heaven Can Wait

The Human Comedy

In Which We Serve

Madame Curie

The More the Merrier

The Ox-Bow Incident

The Song of Bernadette

Watch on the Rhine

1944 Going My Way Double Indemnity

Gaslight

Since You Went Away

Wilson

1945 The Lost Weekend Anchors Aweigh

The Bells of St. Mary’s

Mildred Pierce

Spellbound

1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Henry V It’s a Wonderful Life

The Razor’s Edge

The Yearling

1947 Gentleman’s Agreement The Bishop’s Wife

Crossfire

Great Expectations

Miracle on 34th Street

1948 Hamlet Johnny Belinda

The Red Shoe

The Snake Pit

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

1949 All the King’s Men Battleground

The Heiress

A Letter to Three Wives

Twelve O’Clock High

1950 All About Eve Born Yesterday

Father of the Bride

King Solomon’s Mines

Sunset Boulevard

1951 An American in Paris Decision Before Dawn

A Place in the Sun

Quo Vadis

A Streetcar Named Desire

1952 The Greatest Show on Earth High Noon

Ivanhoe

Moulin Rouge

The Quiet Man

1953 From Here to Eternity Julius Caesar

The Robe

Roman Holiday

Shane

1954 On the Waterfront The Caine Mutiny

The Country Girl

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Three Coins in the Fountain

1955 Marty Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

Mister Roberts

Picnic

The Rose Tattoo

1956 Around the World in 80 Days Friendly Persuasion

Giant

The King and I

The Ten Commandments

1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai Peyton Place

Sayonara

12 Angry Men

Witness for Prosecution

1958 Gigi Auntie Mame

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The Defiant Ones

Separate Tables

1959 Ben-Hur Anatomy of a Murder

The Diary of Anne Frank

The Nun’s Story

Room at the Top

1960 The Apartment The Alamo

Elmer Gantry

Sons and Lovers

The Sundowners

1961 West Side Story Fanny

The Guns of Navarone

The Hustler

Judgment at Nuremberg

1962 Lawrence of Arabia The Longest Day

The Music Man

Mutiny on the Bounty

To Kill a Mockingbird

1963 Tom Jones America America

Cleopatra

How the West Was Won

Lilies of the Field

1964 My Fair Lady Becket

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Mary Poppins

Zorba the Greek

1965 The Sound of Music Darling

Doctor Zhivago

Ship of Fools

A Thousand Clowns

1966 A Man for All Seasons Alfie

The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming

The Sand Pebbles

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1967 In the Heat of the Night Bonnie and Clyde

Doctor Dolittle

The Graduate

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

1968 Oliver! Funny Girl

The Lion in Winter

Rachel Rache

lRomeo and Juliet

1969 Midnight Cowboy Anne of the Thousand Days

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Hello Dolly!

Z

1970 Patton Airport

Five Easy Pieces

Love Story

MASH

1971 The French Connection A Clockwork Orange

Fiddler on the Roof

The Last Picture Show

Nicholas and Alexandra

1972 The Godfather Cabaret

Deliverance

The Emigrants

Sounder

1973 The Sting American Graffiti

Cries and Whispers

The Exorcist

A Touch of Class

1974 The Godfather Part II Chinatown

The Conversation

Lenny

The Towering Inferno

1975 One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest Barry Lyndon

Dog Day Afternoon

Jaws

Nashville

1976 Rocky All the President’s Men

Bound for Glory

Network

Taxi Driver

1977 Annie Hall The Goodbye Girl

Julia

Star Wars

The Turning Point

1978 The Deer Hunter Coming Home

Heaven Can Wait

Midnight Express

An Unmarried Woman

1979 Kramer vs. Kramer All That Jazz

Apocalypse Now

Breaking Away

Norma Rae

1980 Ordinary People Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Elephant Man

Raging Bull

Tess

1981 Chariots of Fire Atlantic City

On Golden Pond

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Reds

1982 Gandhi E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Missing

Tootsie

The Verdict

1983 Terms of Endearment The Big Chill

The Dresser

The Right Stuff

Tender Mercies

1984 Amadeus The Killing Fields

A Passage to India

Places in the Heart

A Soldier’s Story

1985 Out of Africa The Color Purple

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Prizzi’s Honor

Witness

1986 Platoon Children of a Lesser God

Hannah and Her Sisters

The Mission

A Room with a View

1987 The Last Emperor Broadcast News

Fatal Attraction

Hope and Glory

Moonstruck

1988 Rain Man The Accidental Tourist

Dangerous Liaisons

Mississippi Burning

Working Girl

1989 Driving Miss Daisy Born on the Fourth of July

Dead Poets Society

Field of Dreams

My Left Foot

1990 Dances with Wolves Awakenings

Ghost

The Godfather Part III

Goodfellas

1991 The Silence of the Lambs Beauty and the Beast

Bugsy

JFK

The Prince of Tides

1992 Unforgiven The Crying Game

A Few Good Men

Howards End

Scent of a Woman

1993 Schindler’s List The Fugitive

In the Name of the Father

The Piano

The Remains of the Day

1994 Forrest Gump Four Weddings and a Funeral

Pulp Fiction

Quiz Show

The Shawshank Redemption

1995 Braveheart Apollo 13

Babe

Il Postino

Sense and Sensibility

1996 The English Patient Fargo

Jerry Maguire

Secrets & Lies

Shine

1997 Titanic As Good as It Gets

The Full Monty

Good Will Hunting

L.A. Confidential

1998 Shakespeare in Love Elizabeth

Life is Beautiful

Saving Private Ryan

The Thin Red Line

1999 American Beauty The Cider House Rules

The Green Mile

The Insider

The Sixth Sense

2000 Gladiator Chocolat

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Erin Brockovich

Traffic

2001 A Beautiful Mind Gosford Park

In the Bedroom

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Moulin Rouge!

2002 Chicago Gangs of New York

The Hours

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Pianist

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Lost in Translation

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Mystic River

Seabscuit

2004 Million Dollar Baby The Aviator

Finding Neverland

Ray

Sideways

2005 Crash Brokeback Mountain

Capote

Good Night and Good Luck

Munich

2006 The Departed Babel

Letters from Iwo Jima

Little Miss Sunshine

The Queen

2007 No Country for Old Men Atonement

Juno

Michael Clayton

There Will Be Blood

2008 Slumdog Millionaire The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Frost/Nixon

Milk

The Reader

2009 The Hurt Locker Avatar

The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

Inglourious Basterds

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

A Serious Man

Up

Up in the Air

2010 The King’s Speech Black Swan

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

127 Hours

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter’s Bone

2011 The Artist The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

2012 Argo Amour

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Misérables

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

2013 12 Years a Slave American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

2014 Birdman or: (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) American Sniper

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

2015 Spotlight The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

2016 Moonlight Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

At this point, this is the category where you have the most information, so I’ll just run through everything we know so far…

The main precursor is the PGA. They used to be close to automatic, but lately they’ve been shaky.

Since 1989, when the PGA first started handing out awards, they’ve matched Best Picture all but nine times. Those times were:

  • 1992, The Crying Game wins the PGA, Unforgiven wins the Oscar.
  • 1995, Apollo 13 wins the PGA, Braveheart wins the Oscar.
  • 1998, Saving Private Ryan wins the PGA, Shakespeare in Love wins the Oscar.
  • 2001, Moulin Rouge! wins the PGA, A Beautiful Mind wins the Oscar.
  • 2004, The Aviator wins the PGA, Million Dollar Baby wins the Oscar.
  • 2005, Brokeback Mountain wins the PGA, Crash wins the Oscar.
  • 2006, Little Miss Sunshine wins the PGA, The Departed wins the Oscar.
  • 2015, The Big Short wins the PGA, Spotlight wins the Oscar.
  • 2016, La La Land wins the PGA, Moonlight wins the Oscar.

(Note: 2013 had a tie, where both Gravity and 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar, and 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture. Technically they were both right and wrong at the same time, but I’m marking that as being correct.)

Now, since this does sort of give you an idea, when the PGA has missed Best Picture, here’s how BFCA has voted:

  • They did not give out awards in 1992.
  • 1995: They went with Sense and Sensibility
  • 1998: They went with Saving Private Ryan
  • 2001: They went with A Beautiful Mind
  • 2004: They went with Sideways
  • 2005: They went with Brokeback Mountain
  • 2006: They went with The Departed
  • 2015: They went with Spotlight
  • 2016: They went with La La Land

They got three of them right. So that’s something, right?

And BAFTA tends to do their own thing and be wrong just about the same as everyone else. In those nine years:

  • 1992: They went with Howards End
  • 1995: They went with Sense and Sensibility
  • 1998: They went with Shakespeare in Love
  • 2001: They went with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • 2004: They went with The Aviator
  • 2005: They went with Brokeback Mountain
  • 2006: They went with The Queen
  • 2015: They went with The Revenant
  • 2016: They went with La La Land

They picked up just one winner, and it was Shakespeare in Love, the quintessential BAFTA movie.

If you care about the other precursors…

SAG Ensemble in those nine years:

  • They did not hand out awards in 1992.
  • 1995: They went with Apollo 13
  • 1998: They went with Shakespeare in Love
  • 2001: They went with Gosford Park
  • 2004: They went with Sideways
  • 2005: They went with Crash
  • 2006: They went with Little Miss Sunshine
  • 2015: They went with Spotlight
  • 2016: They went with Hidden Figures

They got three of them, but all three were acting/ensemble movies. So I’m not sure how much that really matters, but now you have it.

And the Globes, because why not:

  • 1992: Scent of a Woman won Drama over Unforgiven
  • 1995: Sense and Sensibility won Drama over Braveheart
  • 1998: Saving Private Ryan won Drama (Shakespeare in Love won Comedy/Musical)
  • 2001: A Beautiful Mind won Drama.
  • 2004: The Aviator won Drama over Million Dollar Baby
  • 2005: Brokeback Mountain won Drama. Crash wasn’t even nominated.
  • 2006: Babel won Drama over The Departed
  • 2015: The Revenant won for Drama over Spotlight
  • 2016: Moonlight won Drama (La La Land won for Comedy/Musical)

One year they gave you the winner straight up. The other two, the split category gave you the other contender along with it.

So… PGA is giving you the frontrunner, but it can be beat, and has been the past two years. You pretty much need to use the information at hand and basic logic to see where things are going.

Best Picture

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This category felt, by and large, right there for you. Going in, you knew Dunkirk, Shape of Water, Three Billboards, Get Out and Lady Bird would be nominated. Call Me By Your Name was a near-lock as well. So that’s six off the top. Then… The Post seemed likely, given Spielberg and all that, so you put that on as seven. After that… Darkest Hour made the most sense, so that was eight. Phantom Thread, with zero precursors, is a big surprise, but a welcome one. Outside of that, no other film really had the kind of precursors to feel like a real threat. The Big Sick made the PGA and was hanging around, but the support never felt all the way there. I, Tonya got PGA, but not much else. On a set list of ten, I think that might have made it. Molly’s Game — ehh. There wasn’t a whole lot to look at there. You got the eight you figured would make it, and one nice surprise that fits in nicely. Good category, overall.

As for precursors this year (which I neglected to mention above) —

  • The PGA went to The Shape of Water
  • BAFTA went to Three Billboards
  • BFCA went to The Shape of Water
  • SAG Ensemble went to Three Billboards
  • The Globe went to Three Billboards in Drama and Lady Bird in Comedy.

I don’t know about you, but doesn’t this one feel like it might be shaping up for the third consecutive PGA miss in a row? The real question for right now, though, isn’t what the favorites are — because we know that. The question is… how do we rank them?

Rankings:

9. The Post — The least amount of nominations of any of the nominees. It felt like they nominated it out of respect for Spielberg and nothing else. People like the film and respect it, but no one loves it, which means it’s not getting the number one votes to contend here. If you had to eyeball it and say which movie was the least likely to win this category, this would be the first choice. This has the exact same nominations as The Blind Side. It’s not happening, guys.

8. Darkest Hour — Six nominations is very solid, but again, if you were taking off the films you didn’t think would win, this would be off really fast. Who loves this enough to make this a top #1 or #2 choice? Not many people. No way this makes it past the first or second round of voting.

7. Phantom Thread — Six nominations, like Darkest Hour. This will, unlike the previous two films, have hardcore fans. I’d have this rated as my #2 movie. That said, that doesn’t help it, since my #1 is gonna be in contention all the way through. But it should have enough votes to be more of a factor than the first film off. It still shouldn’t hang around that long, though. (The Director nomination does mean there is support for this.)

6. Dunkirk — Because, on the eyeball test… where’s the love for this? Where are the #1 votes coming from? Everyone really liked this and respects it, but no one’s putting it at the top of their ballots. It has the second most amount of nominations, but people are responding to the technical achievements of this movie. It’s not really a factor in a race like this. Doesn’t feel like one, anyway. On nominations tally, it should be top five, given the Director and Editing nomination, but I’m just not feeling this one. I don’t see this going third on the majority of ballots. Don’t see it.

5. Call Me By Your Name — It’s the passionate love people will have for this that’ll keep it through. The first round of voting involves strictly #1 votes. After that, it’s what movies are #2 on the most ballots of eliminated films. This will be top three for a lot of people, and that’ll keep it around longer than most people realize. Without a Director or Editing nomination, there’s only so high you can rank it, but this feels like it should crack the top five. And if not, it’s sixth. Either way, not gonna win.

4. Get Out — This was a sneaky contender for the win for me for a while. Now… not totally feeling it. It’ll get a lot of 1s, and a fair amount of 2s and 3s. But I think the precursors have generally spoken, and while people love that this movie was nominated, no one really wants to vote for it for Best Picture. It’s more a ‘glad you’re here’ kind of thing. If this got nominated for Editing, I’d have felt like we had something cooking. Now — it’ll be there, but I don’t think it’ll get that far. The #1s up top are gonna loom large. There’s a small chance this doesn’t get the #1s to last past the first round or two of voting. Very small chance, but it’s there. Can’t accumulate those #2 and #3 votes if you don’t have the 1s up top.

3. Lady Bird — This’ll have the 1s. This’ll have the 2s and 3s. If anything’s the upset contender, this is the one. This feels like the one. Just like Moonlight, all it has to show for its precursors is a Globe win. That said… doubt it happens, but if I’m looking to the surprise choice that the most people like to win over the main two… this is it. Can’t put it higher than third without anything more than the one precursor, but it has everything else you’d want except the Editing nomination. I think this is your spoiler.

2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — In a way, this has the most precursors… but SAG and the Globe aren’t so meaningful. The BAFTA win is big, and I’ve felt all along that this might be the eventual winner. I still won’t put it as the frontrunner just because the PGA still matters most (and the overall number of nominations isn’t to be ignored), but I do think this is closer to a win than you might think. We’re definitely looking at a down-to-the-wire type race. This also has the Editing nomination you look for. It checks all the boxes except the PGA win. So for now, no favorite. But it doesn’t need to be the favorite to win.

1. The Shape of Water — Has the PGA, has BFCA, will win Best Director, has 13 overall nominations. That sounds like a frontrunner to me. The only major precursor it lost was BAFTA. SAG I don’t count as much, and the Globe is just a benchmark. I mean, yeah, that benchmark did alert me to Three Billboards likely being the winner, something I still feel is more than likely the case. But based on everything else, this is currently the frontrunner and has to be beaten. It could happen, and I probably think it will happen, but right now, you gotta beat this film. It’s the most broadly liked film of the bunch, given how many nominations it got, so you gotta beat it.

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3 responses

  1. Daevin

    AGAIN. SAG is MORE meaningful than you realize. EVERY BP Winner of the last 20 years has been NOMINATED for the award. Akd it’s a 50/50 for the winner (Unless it’s something with no actual chance, like Hidden Figures). Plus, The Shape Of Water WASN’T nominated, while Three Billboards won the award. People said Gravity was winning in 2014, No SAG nod = It didn’t happen (that year won 12 Years A Slave). People said The Revenant was winning in 2016 No SAG nod = it didn’t happen (Spotlight surprisingly got the award over that year’s PGA winner and favorite The Big Short)
    Last year it was La La Land but again, No SAG nod = it didn’t happen (While Figures won that year, Moonlight was nominated and went on to win the whole thing).

    Just because of SAG, it’s Three Billboards the major favorite.

    March 1, 2018 at 9:25 pm

  2. Daevin

    *One mistake.
    in 2013, American Huste won, but 12YAS was still nominated and won the whole thing

    March 1, 2018 at 9:28 pm

  3. Pingback: The B+ Oscar Ballot: Guide to the 90th Academy Awards – Site Title

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