Oscars 2019 Category Breakdown: Best Picture

Here’s how this works: every day leading up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. The goal is to both familiarize everyone with the category itself (how it works, what its history is and how you go about figuring out what’s gonna win) while also making it easier to reference when I write my giant article with picks and everything. A lot of the leg work is already here. But really, the goal is to see if there’s anything to look for leading into Oscar night that could be a shortcut to me picking the category.

What we do is — I give you all the winners of the category throughout history, go over all the recent trends if there are any, discuss the precursors and whether or not they matter, and then we talk about this year’s category and how we got to it, and then just look at where we are and rank the nominees in terms of their likelihood of winning (at the current moment in time. Of course, things can and will change going into the ceremony). It’s all pretty simple. I’ve done this every year. Everyone should know the drill.

We end, as we always do, with Best Picture.

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

2017 The Shape of Water Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

2018 Green Book Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Roma

A Star Is Born

Vice

 

We always have the most information about this one over all the others, so it’s the least surprising, typically. Very rarely do we get anything other than a 50/50 tossup. The only year I can think where it was remotely in doubt and had a couple of contenders was 2015. Otherwise, you kinda know where it’s going.

The main precursor is the PGA, whose winner has gone on to win the Oscar all but nine times:

  • 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.

(Technically they were both right and wrong in 2013, as they had a tie. But one of the tied films won, so we’ll just consider that as being right and just a quirk.)

Then there’s BAFTA, who tends to do whatever they want, and generally won’t give you a winner when the PGA falters. But they will help confirm a likely choice. They’re 12/30 over that same PGA stretch, which is only 40%. The only winner they picked up that the PGA did not have was Shakespeare in Love in 1998. Otherwise they were just as wrong.

BFFCA, meanwhile, is 14/24 all-time, and also generally are about as wrong as all the others. The only three they picked up that nobody had were A Beautiful Mind in 2001, The Departed in 2006 and Spotlight in 2015.

Next is SAG Ensemble. I generally don’t look at them as a helpful precursor, but I did look to see how much of the PGA slack they picked up. Which is the same as BFCA — three times. Shakespeare in Love, Crash and Spotlight.

And finally, the Globes. They have two Best Picture categories, which generally allows them to hedge their bets and have two top contender and two chances to get it right. They’re 18/30 in the PGA era. Which is the most solid of anyone else, though still only 60%. They picked up A Beautiful Mind in 2001 and Moonlight in 2016 (though it should be noted that La La Land also won at the Globes, which is kind of a hedged bet by them).

So really all it means is, you have a lot of information, and when the PGA cross-lists with other things, you’ve probably got a winner. Otherwise, the others are not always gonna get it right. But also, use common sense. If something has a lot of wins, it’s probably a good alternate if you’re doubting the PGA.

Best Picture

1917

Ford v Ferrari

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

Joker

Little Women

Marriage Story

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Parasite

This category was exactly the category I was expecting and probably the best possible category we could have gotten. I’ve said from the start that I wasn’t crazy about Joker or Marriage Story as nominees, but I knew they were gonna be there and so I made peace with the fact that they were gonna be. The other seven nominees are all amazing and all in my top ten favorite films of the year, so I’m thrilled they all got on. I’d have been happier seeing Knives Out as a tenth nominee, though none of the precursors really had anything other than these nine films. Really the only question was whether or not there were gonna be nine nominees or just eight. And so when we got all nine, I was very pleased with the overall list.

Precursors:

  • PGA: 1917
  • BAFTA: 1917
  • BFCA: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • SAG Ensemble: Parasite
  • Globe (Drama): 1917
  • Globe (Comedy): Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Rankings:

9. Ford v Ferrari — Okay, so if we’re trying to reason how all the ballots are gonna look, it’s probably not the least likely to win, but… it’s got 4 nominations and everything else has 6, 10 or 11. It didn’t get a Director nomination, the rest of its nominations are all technical (Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing) and it’s got no precursors. Even if you think it’ll get more votes than something, it’s not a contender to win. So just leave it at the bottom and move on.

8. Marriage Story — No Directing nomination, no Editing nomination, no precursor win. Oh, and it’s Netflix. And remember last year when people made the big deal about not counting a Netflix movie as a ‘real’ movie? Do you really expect them to backtrack on that in just a year? And if they’re gonna do that, it’s not gonna be for this one. In the end, I suspect Ford v Ferrari will get more overall #3 and #4 votes than this will, though in the end I suspect it helps neither of them get very far in the voting process.

7. Little Women — I’d love to see it higher, but I can’t tell where the votes are coming from. It showed up late, and people love it, but not enough people, and not the right people. Six nominations, but no Director or Editing. And no precursor wins. It’s kind of an empty Best Picture nominee, even though it looks respectable. I just can’t see this being higher than #5 on most ballots. You think the old white dudes are gonna have this in the spot to catch stray votes? Or are they gonna have Ford v Ferrari and The Irishman? You know? The old people know this movie. They’ve seen it three other times before. That’s not a good sign for Best Picture votes, no matter how amazing it is.

6. Joker — It’s got everything, and it’s got the most nominations… but where are the wins coming from? It’s got probably two awards in the bag, but other than that, where are they rushing to vote for this? MAYBE in Makeup? Maybe? If they can overlook Bombshell and Judy? No one’s rushing to give this statues, and the lack of precursor wins basically tells you this is destined to go home with a modest number of wins but not seriously contend for either Picture or Director. I can’t make a case for this being #2 or #3 on enough ballots. Even if people loved this movie, it’s not going that high on enough ballots. Not with those top three there and these other two hanging around. I can’t see it any higher than sixth or fifth.

5. Jojo Rabbit — Yes, probably Joker should be higher. But they both got Editing nominations, and the Director nomination is fungible to me. Doesn’t really matter. To me, the thing that matters when looking at this… especially when you’re parsing stuff that has no precursors… is what movies have fervent support? Stuff like Joker, Marriage Story… people like it, people respect it, but it’s not gonna get a shit ton of rabid support. This feels like it could. Which is why I bumped it up to fifth. People really adore this movie. Of course, some really don’t. So that’ll hurt it and clearly won’t help it in the end to seriously contend. But I think this will get some serious votes. But honestly, wanna swap it with Joker? Be my guest. Not gonna matter in the end unless something utterly shocking comes down the pike.

4. The Irishman — Doesn’t this feel like such a distant fourth? I mean, Martin Scorsese movie with 10 nominations, you’d think it’s right there in contention. And it felt like it was gonna be before this all got started. But then it just won nothing. Zero precursors and basically the film is just kind of there. That’s kind of what Wolf of Wall Street did too. This one at least could win Visual Effects and possibly Editing to salvage a potential 0-10 situation, like what happened with Gangs of New York. But there’s no urgency to vote for this whatsoever. It’ll get the requisite Marty ‘respect’ votes, but I can’t see it happening. No precursors, no real smoke for this. Very distant fourth and just highlights how small a race this one turned out to be.

3. Parasite — On pure precursors, this is the third choice. All it has is SAG Ensemble. HOWEVER… when I’m looking at the potential for how ballots are gonna go, I’m not ruling out a possible surprise win by this. I don’t think it’s likely, but I think it’s possible. And in the end, I may have this as a second choice. We’ll see. I’ve got a few days to finalize those thoughts. But this isn’t a distant third by any means, and at least there is a precursor there to be had. Though it’s worth noting that only once did something win Best Picture with SAG Ensemble as its only precursor. And that was Crash. So just keep that in mind before you pick anything. But I do think there’s a case to be made for this.

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — On paper, this is the second choice. It’s got BFCA and it’s got the Globe for Comedy. Which is the second most precursors. And A Beautiful Mind did win the Oscar with only those two same precursors. Though the only other time something had those two precursors opposite something that won the PGA and BAFTA was The Social Network. King’s Speech also had SAG, though, which 1917 doesn’t have. Still, it’s one of those… could happen, but no one thinks it probably will, situations. But it could! It’s kind of a three-horse race with one clear favorite. So you kind of have to play the odds and then hope for the best. Most people don’t do the Scorecard ballot, so for me, I’m set at the top, I just need to guess what’ll happen if #1 goes down. For most people, you’ve got a clear #1 choice and this should be an easy guess unless you really think an upset is coming through. In which case, that’s a rationalization that only you can do. Either way, this can only be second choice at best based on what we’ve seen.

1. 1917 — PGA win. BAFTA win. Globes win for Drama. Mendes won the DGA. It’s sure set up for this to win Picture and Director. Picture, Director, Cinematography and the two Sound categories. That’s 5, that’s a respectable number and that feels like a Best Picture winner when you go back and look at it. Can something beat it? Sure. But you’ve got three days to prepare your arguments for that. Until then any time something with the PGA and BAFTA, it’s the automatic favorite to win Best Picture.

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