With the Academy Award nominees announced Tuesday morning, we have all we need to release our first projections for this year’s Oscars race.
There’s no ironclad way to predict the Oscars — a couple thousand tight-lipped Hollywood insiders do not make the most easily pollable sample on the planet. Instead, what we do every year is keep track of which nominees are winning other awards, such as the Golden Globes, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and the Directors Guild of America Awards.
Historically, these have provided clues as to who and what will eventually win an Oscar. Contenders get points for winning awards based on how often in the past 25 years that award successfully predicted the Oscar winner in that category. The winner of the Golden Globe award for best supporting actor, for example, typically wins that Academy Award. (For more detail on how this works, see here.)1
Let’s get started.
This is our most exciting category, with three contenders — Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) and Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”) — all in the mix. One way to get a sense of the state of the race is to see how recent winners of the best actress award were doing at this stage in the awards process and comparing our current crop of contenders to the past 10 victors. (That’s what’s going on in the chart above.) This year, the front-runner is easy to spot: With a major win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and more cumulative points than six of the previous 10 winners (at this point in the Oscars race), 1997 best actress winner McDormand is a clear favorite.
This category is a snoozefest. Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) is far and away the leading contender. With 220 points, Oldman is right on track with what previous winners have had at this point. His closest competition, Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), is quite far behind in the points and would have needed to beat Oldman for, say, the Critics’ Choice Award or at SAG to have any historical precedent for a win. But the only major acting prize remaining is from the British Academy — the BAFTAs — and seeing as how Oldman is British and he’s nominated for playing Winston Freakin’ Churchill, we’d say the Oscar is his to lose.
This category is wild. Historically, there hasn’t been a pre-Oscar award that’s done a great job of predicting the Academy Award. Everyone is truly a contender. The case would have been strongest for “Jane,” which won a coveted Producers Guild of America prize, but the Jane Goodall documentary was snubbed by the academy. So don’t count out any film in this category, especially not “Faces Places” or “Icarus.”
It’s gonna be “Coco.” The Pixar film has by far the strongest case in our set out of any category, with wins at the Producers Guild, Critics’ Choice Awards, New York and Chicago critics groups, and the Golden Globes — making it the juggernaut of its category, and a historical one at that, on par or better than eight of the previous 10 winners. What’s more, in an overall weak year for animation, it doesn’t have that much competition, as no other film in its category has a score high enough to find a comparable recent winner. A “Coco” loss would be “Un Poco Loco.”
A recent string of wins at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild may make Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) look like a front-runner, but this category is closer than it appears. Rockwell’s precedent isn’t that strong — his score so far is higher than only two of the previous 10 supporting actor winners at this point in the process, a feat shared by primary rival Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”). This prize may come down to the wire.
This too remains a competitive race, although not as tight as supporting actor. Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) has a strong lead over her rivals and has a score as high or higher than seven of 10 previous supporting actress winners. Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) is still in the mix but realistically would need a win at the BAFTAs to remain in the hunt.
This projection means nothing until the Directors Guild of America Awards, so we wouldn’t advise you pay too much attention to the ordering here yet. The winner of the DGA award went on to win best director in 21 of the past 25 years, making the DGAs a ridiculously strong indicator. Whoever wins that is the instant and likely permanent front-runner. For now, Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) has the inside track.
Baring a late surge at the BAFTAs or the DGAs from “Lady Bird” or “Dunkirk,” we’re pretty much down to a two-picture race for best picture. “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — incidentally, both from Fox Searchlight — are the only movies that look like previous winners so far. But neither has a particularly decisive case to be called the front-runner. Each film has outscored only one or two previous best picture winners, so it’s still super premature to pick a favorite in this category. We’ll be looking to those remaining two insider awards to identify either the leading contender of the pair or the surprise spoiler from outside, but it’s looking like a Fox Searchlight vs. Fox Searchlight race.