Saturday, January 20, 2018

Predicting the 2018 Oscar Nominees

Welcome back to your annual Oscar nomination predictions! This is a bit of a weird year, in that we don’t have a frontrunner. We don’t even have two or three frontrunners. We have five. And the strong support for those five films filters down through several categories, making for a lot of very difficult calls. Also fun: None of those five films has a white male lead. If only the country at large actually gave that many fucks about humans that aren’t white males.

I've only predicted the eight major races. For each one, I have all of the possible nominees ranked in order of how I perceive their likelihood to get a nomination. For best picture, you’ll have to actually read to see what number I predict the cutoff will happen at. (I know, I’m the worst.) For all other categories, the top five I have listed in my ranking are the five I’m predicting will get nominated.


Definitely Safe
  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Lady Bird
  3. Dunkirk
  4. Get Out
  5. The Shape of Water
Almost Definitely Safe
  1. Call Me By Your Name
  2. The Post
Are There Enough Steak Eaters Left?
  1. Darkest Hour
Are There Enough Indie Auteur Fans Left?
  1. The Florida Project
  2. Phantom Thread
Do Voters Take Netflix Seriously?
  1. Mudbound
Is There Enough Passion Behind These?
  1. The Big Sick
  2. I, Tonya
  3. Molly’s Game
The important thing to remember about best picture nominations is that they don’t require broad support so much as they require specific factions of unbridled passion. For a film to be nominated for best picture, it must receive at least 5% of the first-place votes. For an Academy that has somewhere around 7,000 people, that means about 350 first-place votes are required for a best picture nomination. So here’s the ultimate question we have to ask ourselves for every film on this list: Will 350 Academy members think this was the single best film of 2017?

For five films, the answer is a resounding Yes. Not only do Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards all have that level of passion among voters, they each have that passion among largely different voting factions, ensuring that none will fall victim to vote-splitting (at least not in the nominations process). Dunkirk will draw Oscar traditionalists and craft branches. Get Out will draw younger members, minority voters, and genre fans. Lady Bird will draw women, auteurs, and indie enthusiasts. The Shape of Water will draw international members, genre fans, and production designers. And Three Billboards has massive support in both the Actors Branch and from people generally pissed at the world. None of those films will have a hard time at all getting to 350 votes. The real question is how many remaining votes these five will leave for everyone else.

Call Me By Your Name is nearly as safe as the above five, just not quite impervious. Between being a great love story and a great adaptation—not to mention its sumptuous photography and setting, tender acting, and european flavor—it should have both broad enough and passionate enough support to get there.

The Post is slightly more of a mystery, because it was rejected entirely by the Directors Guild, Writers Guild, and Screen Actors Guild. The raw data of that tells us it shouldn’t get a best picture nomination. But voters don’t make their decisions based on the data, strange Oscar anomalies happen every year, and I believe the guild snubs can be explained by other factors (which I’ll write about soon as its own piece). More importantly for The Post, it’s the second best option (after Dunkirk) for more traditional Oscar voters. Of the six movies that we’ve already established as IN, Dunkirk is the only one about straight white men. That’s certainly not a problem for most of the Academy, but it will be for some. The Post is probably the film those people will flock to.

From there, the most important question is, do we even get any more nominations? I’ll be honest, I’ve been very tempted to stop things here and predict this as the first year with only seven best picture nominees. The passion behind those seven films seems so strong that I’m not sure there’s room for anything else. But there are a few more we should look at.

The Steak Eaters—the type of voter that flocks to classic Oscar fair about Great Men of yesteryear doing Great Things—have a very strong third choice in Darkest Hour. No one quite seems to know how many members of the Academy fit into this group. Last year it was certainly enough to get Hacksaw Ridge in the best picture and director races. Will there be enough this year to prop up a third film? I think yes, partially because Darkest Hour really is that good. And because Dunkirk barely even has characters, if voters feel like they need an emotional anchor in their pick, Darkest Hour could be their horse. So I think that’s our eighth.

There are two additional films that could really get enough first place votes to make the list, but there’s virtually no way they both do: The Florida Project and Phantom Thread. Substantial numbers of critics picked one of these as the best film of the year, and that kind of thing, when done en masse, can really sway voters. But we just don’t have enough spots left for both, because I really don’t think we’re getting 10 nominees. I’m picking The Florida Project to be the ninth and final best picture nominee. It’s had more time to sink into people, while Phantom Thread has had virtually no time. And because the previous two Paul Thomas Anderson films seemed to largely not work for the Academy, I think it’ll take more than this to bring voters back in.

Four other films have a very small chance of making the final ballot—Mudbound, The Big Sick, Molly’s Game, and I, Tonya—but I’m not really taking any of their candidacies that seriously. For Mudbound, I think there’s just far too much of an anti-Netflix sentiment in older members of the Academy, and for any voters determined to select either a movie about racial injustice or a movie directed by a woman, there’s already a stronger option for both. And for the other three, I think they’re all very well-liked, and maybe even loved. But they’re still a far cry from having 350 voters pick them as the single best film of the year.

So that’s how I think best picture will play out: We might only get seven nominees, but if we get an eighth or ninth, they’ll be Darkest Hour and/or The Florida Project. I’m predicting both.


Probably Safe
  1. Chistopher Nolan, Dunkirk
  2. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Hopefully These Two
  1. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  2. Jordan Peele, Get Out
The Legend
  1. Steven Spielberg, The Post
Will Voters Think There Was Enough Degree of Difficulty?
  1. Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Will Voters Be Enamored With the Degree of Difficulty?
  1. Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World
Legit Possibilities
  1. Sean Baker, The Florida Project
  2. Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
Long Shots That Are Still Conceivable
  1. Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
  2. Dee Rees, Mudbound
  3. Joe Wright, Darkest Hour
  4. Darren Aronofsky, mother!
When people generally think of the most egregious Oscar snubs from this decade, three of the biggest that likely come to mind were all in this category: Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), and Ridley Scott (The Martian). And when people generally think of the most shocking nominations from this decade, the top one that may come to mind is also from this category: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge). So, all that is to say, Best Director nominations are where weird shit happens, and no one is safe.

But we have to start somewhere, so let’s take it from the top. Nolan should be in. If a persona non grata like Gibson could get in for a war movie last year, we have to believe that Nolan is a safe bet for a war movie that was both more revered and a lot more successful. And though he’s been nominated for three previous Oscars, he’s never been nominated as a director, so he’s seen as somewhere far beyond past due. Guillermo del Toro has also never been nominated in this category, and the huge influx of foreign auteurs in the last two new member classes should help him get into the final five.

Gerwig and Peele are tricky. Undoubtedly large swaths of the Academy are rooting hard for them to make the cut, not just because they’re deserving (and they are), but because it’ll look really bad if they don’t get nominated here. Though neither feels especially safe, I ultimately think both will get in, because there’s just too much pressure this year for voters to display their wokeness.

Trying to figure out the fifth slot is perilous. The Directors Guild nominated McDonagh to go along with Nolan, del Toro, Gerwig, and Peele, but the DGA and the Oscars have had at least one different directing nominee every year this decade, and in a race with this many possibilities, there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. McDonagh is my pick for the DGA nominee that doesn’t make the Oscar ballot, partly because I think voters won’t view Three Billboards as a challenging enough directorial feat, and partially because I just can’t bring myself to predict Gerwig or Peele as the one that misses out.

Speaking of challenging directorial feats, it’s really difficult to know what to make of Ridley Scott’s chances in this race. When it was announced in November that Scott would reshoot many entire scenes of the film and still make his December release date, much of film Twitter, myself included, quipped that if Scott actually pulls it off, he deserves an Oscar. I’m guessing many directors made similar comments. Well, Scott did make his release date, and now we all have to decide whether or not we were joking. There’s probably no group of people on the planet more predisposed to being impressed with Scott’s deadline achievement than the Academy Directors Branch, and I don’t doubt that he’ll earn a decent number of votes. But he has three major things working against him: the movie just isn’t that great, it’s been a financial failure, and the Michelle Williams pay-controversy is making everyone involved look like assholes. What Scott did remains amazing, but he doesn’t feel like our fifth nominee.

That brings us to Spielberg. Though he missed out on nominations for Bridge of Spies and War Horse, he got in for Lincoln. The takeaway there seems to be that he’ll only get nominated for a true first-rate effort. Will voters see The Post that way? That’s one of the biggest questions of the nominations, one that will affect several categories. The DGA, WGA, and SAG all snubbed The Post out of their nominations entirely, but my theory there is that those three guilds have become overrun with Millennials in the last few years—new voters who may feel determined to vote against anything that smells like Oscar bait. The Producers Guild, on the other hand, probably skews older, and they did nominate The Post. The Academy, though getting younger every year, probably still has a much higher median age than the four major guilds. And I’ll say it: The Post really is first-rate Spielberg. I think he’s our fifth.


The Power Contenders
  1. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
  3. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
The Likely Other Two
  1. Meryl Streep, The Post
  2. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Spoilers With a Real Chance
  1. Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World
  2. Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
  3. Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Victims of a Great Year for Female Leads
  1. Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
  2. Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
  3. Jennifer Lawrence, mother!
Considering what a great year this has been for lead actresses, it’s a little odd that this category—at least in terms of nominations—looks like the most predictable one on the board. There should be almost no doubt that McDormand, Ronan, and Hawkins are all in. It’s the final two slots that could yield a surprise.

The safe bets are Meryl Streep (the most consistently safe bet in Oscar history) and Margot Robbie. The looming spoilers are Michelle Williams, Jessica Chastain, and Judi Dench. All five of them were nominated by the Golden Globes (where there are 10 best actress nominees), while SAG picked Dench and Robbie as the final two.

Dench should never be counted out, and, given how Oscar voters tend to think (one of these, one of those, etc.), it feels a little like she and Streep are in direct competition for the same slot. For the other slot, Robbie is up against Williams and Chastain. Williams is a particularly interesting pick here, because she’ll earn a lot of goodwill (and probably some sympathy votes) for the grace with which she’s handled the pay gap controversy between she and Mark Wahlberg. But Williams and Dench may ultimately run into the same problem—their films just aren’t that good, and in a race this loaded with best picture contenders, it’s difficult (and kind of depressing) to imagine major nominations going to either All the Money in the World or Victoria & Abdul.

I’m going chalk. Chastain’s film just hasn’t taken hold in the conversation as much as I, Tonya has (even though Molly’s Game is far better), and I learned years ago to never bet against Meryl when she’s widely predicted to get a nomination.


The Power Contenders
  1. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  2. Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis
  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
At Least One of These
  1. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
  2. Tom Hanks, The Post
How Late in the Week Did People Vote?
  1. James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Did Anyone Even Watch These?
  1. Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
  2. Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger
  3. Christian Bale, Hostiles
Tainted by the Weinstein Company
  1. Jeremy Renner, Wind River
If you’re looking for the most obvious place that #TimesUp will manifest itself in the Oscar nominations, I have a feeling best actor is your category. For weeks, this has effectively been a six-man race. Gylenhaal and Bale haven’t been able to make a dent because apparently no one ever actually watched Stronger or Hostiles, while Roman J. Israel, Esq. came and went with a whimper (something that seemed inevitable from the moment that title was revealed).

So it’s been down to Oldman, Chalamet, Franco, Day-Lewis, Kaluuya, and Hanks for a while. Oldman and Chalamet, who have combined to win virtually every precursor award, are both unquestionably in. And it seems quite unlikely that voters wouldn’t recognize Daniel Day-Lewis for what he claims is his final film role. Prior to the Globes, the conventional wisdom was that Franco was also definitely in, and the fifth slot was a toss-up between Hanks and Kaluuya.

But, as they say, life comes at you fast. James Franco won a Golden Globe on Sunday, January 7. Voting for the Oscar nominations ended on Friday, January 12. The four days between were, to say the least, not good for James Franco. For our purposes, there’s really only one important question: What percentage of the Academy votes within the first few days (voting opened on January 5), and what percentage of the Academy waits to vote until the last few days? Given how many screeners Academy members struggle to get through every year, it seems reasonably safe to assume the second percentage is the far larger one. And every day voters waited this year probably made it a little less likely that James Franco was on their ballot.

But let’s also look at this from another angle. Let’s talk about Kaluuya and Hanks, because they deserve it. Tom Hanks has, somehow, only been nominated for five Oscars (it feels like it should be double that, right?), and the most recent of those was 17 years ago. He’s widely viewed as having been egregiously snubbed for Captain Phillips four years ago, and in as much as it’s possible for a two-time winner to feel overdue for a nomination, Tom Hanks is overdue. Daniel Kaluuya, meanwhile, is responsible for what might be the single most powerful and enduring film image of the year—eyes uncomfortably wide open and tears streaming down his face when he first enters the Sunken Place. Plus—and I hate to say this because if Kaluuya gets a nomination he will absolutely deserve it—#OscarsSoWhite is still very fresh in the minds of voters, and they don’t want to go through that again. Sadly this year hasn’t provided voters any options for people of color in the lead actress or supporting actor races that legitimately have a chance to be nominated, so picking Kaluuya here is one of the only chances to help ensure we don’t get an all-white acting slate for the third time in four years. That fear alone will garner Kaluuya several extra votes.

I think Kaluuya was probably getting in the final five regardless, and Hanks would have been the odd man out. But as it got closer to the voting deadline, and Franco’s week kept getting worse, I imagine just enough voters started loudly asking themselves why the hell not just vote for Hanks instead. Because everyone loves Tom Hanks.


The Power Contenders
  1. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  2. Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Probably Three of These
  1. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
  2. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
  3. Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
  4. Hong Chau, Downsizing
The Netflix Conundrum
  1. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Never Quite Took Hold in the Conversation
  1. Melissa Leo, Novitiate
  2. Kristin Scott Thomas, Darkest Hour
  3. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
  4. Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!
  5. Tatiana Maslany, Stronger
Janney and Metcalf are the two presumptive contenders here, so they won’t have trouble at all getting nominated. After that it gets complicated, and for pretty unfair, shitty reasons. The thing is, there are four non-white actresses that are strong contenders for a nomination, but I suspect most voters will end up only picking one or two of them, under the classic “I’ve checked my diversity box” logic. If that’s actually what happens, it could mean they mostly split the vote and only one gets in. But I think and hope that the level of appeal for each of the four will be just different enough that at least two will get in.

More or less, two of these actress are in prestige movies (Mary J. Blige in Mudbound and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water), while two of them are the standout source of humor in movies that otherwise aren’t contending for any awards (Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip and Hong Chau in Downsizing). Because of this split, I think one from each side will make the final ballot, and the great Holly Hunter will easily slide into that third open spot.

I’m giving Spencer the clear edge over Blige. Spencer is widely regarded as a great scene-stealer and has stronger recognition with voters, her film gives her more to do, and she’s the one in a real best picture contender. This might be a good time to confess that I don’t really understand why we’re talking about Blige as an awards contender at all. If one actor from Mudbound is being singled out to represent that powerful cast, I think it should have been Rob Morgan, who played Blige’s husband. It’s his silent, broken expressions in the film that moved me the most. But I digress.

The other reason I’m not picking Blige is that I just don’t think enough voters will opt to support a Netflix film unless they feel they have no other viable option. That has been the big takeaway with Netflix’s attempted forays into the major Oscar categories so far, and I’m going to keep assuming it’s the case until I’m proven wrong. And I will be proven wrong, probably in the next few years. But I don’t think it’ll be this year.

That, theoretically, means either Tiffany Haddish or Hong Chau are also getting in, and Haddish has one major advantage while Chau has two major disadvantages. For Chau, first and most simply, a lot of people just think Downsizing sucks. But perhaps more importantly, there’s been a lot of debate about whether her role perpetuates racial stereotypes, and/or whether we ought to be collectively offended by the portrayal. That’s up to you, and I’m inclined to listen to Chau when she says we shouldn’t be. But regardless, in a year where much of Hollywood is becoming afraid to think anything that could be construed as insensitive, that controversy won’t help her get many votes.

And Tiffany Haddish is likely getting in anyway. One of the enduring lessons of Oscar season is that if you present yourself early in the awards cycle as someone voters want to see more of on red carpets and at podiums, that alone could help you get there. It’s hard to imagine that being more true of anyone right now than Haddish, who absolutely lit the room on fire when she accepted her best supporting actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle. The video of her speech quickly went viral, and it was probably seen by enough Oscar voters to help get her to the ceremony.


The Power Contenders
  1. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Seven Names, Three Slots
  1. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
  2. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
  3. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
  5. Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
  6. Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
  7. Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water
Never Caught On
  1. Mark Rylance, Dunkirk
  2. Ben Mendohlson, Darkest Hour
  3. Ray Romano, The Big Sick
  4. Rob Morgan, Mudbound
Beyond Willem Dafoe and Sam Rockwell, who are both sure things, it’s hard to know what to make of this category. The list of possibilities are anchored by three films, each with two contending actors: Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name, and The Shape of Water’s Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon. Meanwhile Christopher Plummer—who only even got cast in his film two months ago—remains a looming threat.

Let’s start with which actor is the stronger contender from each film, and then try to parse things out from there. For Three Billboards, we already know the answer is Rockwell. With The Shape of Water, Richard Jenkins seems to be the obvious answer—he was nominated by both SAG and the Globes, and it’s somehow been a decade since his only other nomination. He feels due, and I won’t be the only person that thinks that.

Call Me By Your Name is a tougher nut to crack. Stuhlbarg has been ignored by almost every awards institution so far, while Hammer got in with the Globes and basically nowhere else. But I don’t trust the Globes as prognosticators nearly enough to assume that means anything. For almost everyone I’ve talked to or whose thoughts on the film I’ve read, Stuhlbarg’s climactic monologue remains the moment the film goes from very good to utterly wonderful, and his big scene tends to be the one viewers keep with them. While there’s no precursor evidence to suggest he’ll get a nomination, I feel like almost single-handedly delivering one of the year’s best scenes will end up being enough.

So I think Jenkins and Stuhlbarg are taking two of the remaining three spots. The last one is a crapshoot. Though Steve Carell is great in Battle of the Sexes, I hope he doesn’t get in. The best actress category is too stacked for Emma Stone’s portrayal of Billie Jean King to get nominated, and in a film with that title, for the Oscars to ignore her and instead nominate the dude would just not be a great look. Plummer remains a strong contender, but I think the same things sinking Ridley Scott’s chances at a director nomination—movie is average, it was a financial flop, and and the Michelle Williams pay controversy makes for terrible optics—will also keep Plummer out of this category.

So if we accept that the final nomination will go to a second actor from either Three Billboards or Call Me By Your Name, I’m giving Woody better odds than Armie. I think the Academy Actors Branch overall will just be really enamored with Three Billboards, and they’ll reward it accordingly. But in general, this is the category I have the least confidence about, and it’s the only one I changed my mind on while writing my analysis. It wouldn’t really surprise me if I go two-for-five here.


The Power Contenders
  1. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
  2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
  3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)
Somehow Three of These Will Get Left Out
  1. The Post (Liz Hannah & Josh Singer)
  2. The Big Sick (Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani)
  3. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor)
  4. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  5. Darkest Hour (Anthony McCarten)
Victims of a Stacked Category
  1. I, Tonya (Steven Rogers)
  2. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
Welcome to the most relentlessly loaded category of the 2018 Oscars. Usually, best original screenplay is the category where the Academy can honor some of the more esoteric films that don’t have a chance at getting nominated in the top categories—films like The Lobster, Ex Machina, and Nightcrawler, which were all recent nominees in this category. But this year, best original screenplay has entered bizarro world: not only could this category end up with five best picture nominees, there could be another few best picture nominees disappointed they didn’t make the cut here.

Three of the five nominees are very predictable. It’s difficult to imagine any of Get Out, Lady Bird, or Three Billboards being left out here. Actually, with Three Billboards, I can *kind of* imagine it getting left out, because there are some very legitimate complaints about the way the screenplay handles racism as a device. But it at least appears safe enough that we should assume it’s in.

That leaves two spots, and hoo-boy, could they go just about anywhere. There are five contenders and two quasi-contenders for those two spots. I, Tonya and The Florida Project are, amazingly, the easiest to eliminate from contention. Though they would likely be nominated in just about any other year, they just don’t pass the level of nitpicky-ness that voters will have to devolve themselves to for this race. I, Tonya has too many tone problems, while The Florida Project will likely be seen as not providing enough memorable dialogue. Eliminating those two so quickly feels cruel. From there it gets brutal.

Paul Thomas Anderson has only written seven previous films, and he received screenplay Oscar nominations for four of them. So we can safely say the Academy Writers Branch loves him. But Phantom Thread played no festivals and still hasn’t been released in most of the country, so it might be just a little too under-the-radar in a race offering this many options. Meanwhile Darkest Hour could fall victim to two things: it might be seen as more of an acting showcase, and the voters most likely to fall for it could be prone to falling for The Post just a little bit more.

The Post was co-written by the same man who won the Oscar for writing Spotlight just two years ago, and its montage edits of typefaces being set in newspaper presses almost fetishize the power of writing. That could go a long way with the Writers’ Branch, and I think it gets in.

From there we’re left with The Big Sick or The Shape of Water for the last spot. The deciding factor could be that its screenplay is likely the best and most important element for The Big Sick, while for The Shape of Water, the screenplay may seem to play third fiddle behind the acting and visuals. The Shape of Water could also be hurt by the perception that it’s story relies too heavily on archetypes, while The Big Sick could be especially helped by the perception that it might not get nominated in any other category, so voters in the Writers Branch will feel it falls upon them to “save” the movie from being shut out of the nominations entirely. I think they’ll act accordingly.


The Lone Sure Thing
  1. Call Me By Your Name (James Ivory)
Fairly Safe
  1. The Disaster Artist (Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber)
  2. Molly’s Game (Aaron Sorkin)
The Most Interesting Will-It-or-Won’t-It of the Nominations
  1. Mudbound (Dee Rees & Virgil Williams)
Maybe One of These?
  1. Victoria & Abdul (Lee Hall)
  2. Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater & Darryl Ponicsan)
Could This Finally Be the Year?
  1. Logan (James Mangold, Scott Frank, & Michael Green)
  2. Wonder Woman (Allan Heinberg, Zach Snyder, & Jason Fuchs)
Who the Hell Knows with This Category
  1. All the Money in the World (David Scarpa)
  2. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
  3. Wonder (Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad, & Jack Thorne)
  4. Wonderstruck (Brian Selznick)
  5. First They Killed My Father (Angelina Jolie & Loung Ung)
If the theme of the best original screenplay race was “How the hell do voters choose between all of these,” the theme of this race seems to be “What the hell do voters even have to choose from?” But the lack of obvious choices are what makes this race so fascinating, as I’ve written about before.

Call Me By Your Name is the one obvious pick, and for the sake of expediency, we’ll also assume The Disaster Artist is safe. Molly’s Game certainly should be a sure thing, but there’s a pretty loud history of the Academy Writers Branch being unimpressed with Sorkin—he somehow didn’t receive nominations for A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, or Steve Jobs, and he’s actually only been nominated twice. But with the choices this slim, I don’t see how he doesn’t get in.

From there, we get to the single most consequential question of the 2018 Oscar nominations: Will Mudbound be taken seriously or ignored? No Netflix film has ever gotten an Oscar nomination outside of the documentary categories, and that’s not for lack of quality choices. But this category does have a lack of quality choices, meaning Mudbound could get in almost regardless of how voters feel about Netflix. I’ve gone back and forth on this, and as recently as last week I didn’t think Mudbound would make the cut. And the use of six narrators even makes for a vaguely cogent argument for why voters might have problems with the screenplay, independent of Netflix. But when you really start trying to figure out how to defend picking something else, you realize they’re all just far too inferior to Mudbound. It has to get in.

For the last spot, you can just about pick anything. They all seem equally implausible, but one of them’s getting in. As much as I’d like to see a superhero movie eventually get a screenplay nomination, I hope Logan—which I think is honestly the most overrated film of the decade—isn’t the one that breaks that barrier. And I just couldn’t bring myself to pick a screenplay where every third word is a loud and unnecessary Wolverine grunt-roar. Wonder Woman is another option, but it was written by three men, and it won’t look good if that’s the lone Oscar nom it gets. I have to assume at least some voters think about this stuff.

The Writers Branch has nominated Richard Linklater before, and may do so again, but Last Flag Flying seems hopelessly forgotten about. Ditto for Wonderstruck. Wonder might be too populist and overly sentimental. All the Money in the World’s screenplay is a bit of a mess, but at least it’s a film voters might be thinking about. In the end I went with Victoria & Abdul, for basically no reason other than it has British period-piece prestige, which this category often loves. But virtually anything could happen here.

And I think that’s how it’ll all shake out (at least for the eight major categories). Check out the nominations Tuesday morning to see how I did!