The 9 Films Battling for That One Best Picture Envelope

Photofest
'The Shape of Water,' 'Lady Bird,' 'Three Billboards,' 'Dunkirk' and 'Get Out'

'The Shape of Water' leads the pack with a whopping 13 overall Oscar nominations as this year's best picture contenders square off in an especially tight category.

It’s the most wide-open race for best picture in years. With the nine Academy Award contenders ranging from big, sweeping blockbusters (Dunkirk) to small, independent critical darlings (Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name) and traditional heavy hitters in the Oscar race with Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, and Steven Spielberg's The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

And that’s not even accounting for the two actual favorites that have all the award-season momentum right now (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water) or the horror film that could pull off one of the biggest surprise wins in years (Get Out).

Below is a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the nine contending films, plus a critic’s take on who should win best picture as well as an Oscar expert predicting who will win.

Best Picture nominee breakdowns written by THR Film Editor Gregg Kilday.

Call Me by Your Name

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (4): Picture, lead actor Timothee Chalamet, adapted screenplay and song

STRENGTHS: A lush, idyllic summer romance, it's a feast for the senses — you can practically taste the cheese, the pasta and the wine, to say nothing of that peach. It boasts the excitement of a rising young star in Chalamet. An indie darling, it led the Spirit Award nominations with six mentions, won best feature at the Gotham Awards and was named best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

WEAKNESSES: Director Luca Guadagnino and supporting actors Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg all were left off the nominations list. Its most passionate fans fear the heartbreak of another Brokeback Mountain-like loss.

Darkest Hour

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (6): Picture, lead actor Gary Oldman, cinematography and three other crafts

STRENGTHS: It speaks with a properly stiff upper-lip to those Anglophiles wanting another Winston Churchill fix in the wake of Netflix's The Crown. And heavy Oscar favorite Oldman already has picked up Globe and SAG Awards honors.

WEAKNESSES: Joe Wright was snubbed by the directors, and it also failed to secure a film editing nom, which usually accompanies a best picture winner.

Dunkirk

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (8): Picture, directing, score, cinematography and four other crafts

STRENGTHS: Everything about this movie is rousingly big. It's the bona fide blockbuster among this year's best pic nominees and is best viewed on a ginormous Imax screen. For re-creating war in all its hellish sound and fury, Christopher Nolan got his first directing nom, which many consider overdue. And Oscar loves war movies, 16 of which have won best pic.

WEAKNESSES: None of its actors was recognized with nominations, and the film also missed out on a screenplay nomination. Sometimes war really is hell.

Get Out

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (4): Picture, lead actor Daniel Kaluuya, directing and original screenplay

STRENGTHS: By design, it's a horror-movie version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner that speaks to current racial anxieties. For addressing such fears head-on, producer Norman Lear lavished praise on writing and directing nominee Jordan Peele as he presented him with the Stanley Kramer Award at the PGA Awards. And it picked up an Audience Award at the Gothams.

WEAKNESSES: There's still that horror-film stigma to overcome, since the only horror movie that has won best picture laurels is 1991's The Silence of the Lambs.

Lady Bird

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (5): Picture, lead actress Saoirse Ronan, supporting actress Laurie Metcalf, directing and original screenplay

STRENGTHS: In actress turned auteur Greta Gerwig, who collected writing and directing noms, a multihyphenate star is born. The National Society of Film Critics blessed her semi-autobiographical tale with four prizes, including best film, while the New York Film Critics proclaimed it the year's best picture. And for playing a smart, small-town girl with dreams of life in the bright lights, big city, Ronan, at just 23, now has her third Oscar nomination.

WEAKNESSES: It's modestly small in scale, and some guys just don't get it.

Phantom Thread

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (6): Picture, lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis, supporting actress Lesley Manville, directing, score and costume design

STRENGTHS: Given that it was the last major awards contender to be unveiled this season, and that Day-Lewis — who insists that he plans to retire from acting — is famously reticent, this mysteriously introverted melodrama has to be considered a true word-of-mouth phenomenon. Paul Thomas Anderson, boosted into the directors circle for the second time, is now a genuine Oscar favorite.

WEAKNESSES: It's far from a traditional boy-meets-girl love story, even if it's all dressed up to the nines. And it has had limited box-office appeal, grossing less than $20 million domestically, one of the lowest totals for any of the nominated films.

The Post

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (2): Picture and lead actress Meryl Streep

STRENGTHS: The speed with which Steven Spielberg assembled and shot this clarion call in defense of the freedom of the press is admirable. It's been greeted as a worthy and female-driven companion piece to All the President's Men, which earned eight Oscar noms back in 1977.

WEAKNESSES: Nominations-wise, it fell short. There was no directing nom for Spielberg, and leading man Tom Hanks was left out in the cold.

The Shape of Water

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (13): Picture, lead actress Sally Hawkins, supporting actress Octavia Spencer, supporting actor Richard Jenkins, directing, original screenplay, cinematography, score and five other crafts

STRENGTHS: Sure, it's a genre movie of sorts, and genre movies usually face an uphill battle with the Academy. But not this one, an oddly compelling interspecies romantic fantasy. With the most noms of any contender, it registered in just about every category it hoped to take, except for visual effects. At the Jan. 20 PGA Awards, it won the top prize.

WEAKNESSES: True, it wasn't nominated for the SAG Awards' cast prize, but nobody's perfect.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

OSCAR NOMINATIONS (7): Picture, lead actress Frances McDormand, supporting actor Woody Harrelson, supporting actor Sam Rockwell, original screenplay, score and film editing

STRENGTHS: An unpredictable tale of small-town murder, a crusade for justice and, possibly, redemption, it's an actors' favorite — collecting three acting noms right after walking off with the SAG Awards' film ensemble trophy. It also has four Globes, including best drama, on its résumé.

WEAKNESSES: While creator Martin McDonagh got an adapted screenplay nom, he was denied a directing nom, which could be ominous.

Now, the predictions...

Who Should Win: Call Me by Your Name

It's a sign of something when the best gay-or-otherwise picture of the year, Call Me by Your Name, is perhaps seen as too “conventional” by newer Academy members, who might actually push Get Out into the winner's circle. It's also true that the DVDs supplied for home viewing of Luca Guadagnino's sublimely observed and acted film don't look so hot; the film that clearly deserves to win here (but probably won’t) is one that plays infinitely better on the big screen despite its intimate scale. — THR Chief Film Critic Todd McCarthy

Who Will Win: The Shape of Water

Even before considering the impact of the Academy’s preferential ballot system (it’s intended to produce a winner that everyone at least likes), this year’s race is especially tough.

Every top contender faces a statistic not overcome in years: Dunkirk (no acting or writing nominations), Get Out (fewer than five total nominations), Lady Bird (no craft nominations), The Shape of Water (no SAG ensemble nomination) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (no directing nomination).

All have won other awards, but The Shape of Water seems the most widely admired (among its field-leading 13 nominations are three for acting, which can be seen as negating the SAG snub) and could benefit from reverse-coattails (its director, Guillermo del Toro, is a safe bet to win best director). — THR Awards Analyst Scott Feinberg 

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