Building a Best Picture Winner

IndieWire‘s Anne Thompson, one of the most prominent and longest-working pundits in the biz, has often said that you build a Best Picture contender “branch by branch.” The more branches you have supporting your film (from the actors to the directors to the cinematographers to the costume designers and more), the stronger your film’s chances are at netting a Best Picture nomination – and maybe even a win. There are exceptions – including last year’s Best Picture winner CODA, which only had one acting nomination and a writing nomination to go along with its Best Picture nod – but, for the most part, a film needs critical support in several important Oscar categories to really contend for the top prize at the Academy Awards. And those categories include:

  • The Acting Categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress)
    • Only 12 films have won Best Picture without a single acting nomination: WingsAll Quiet on the Western FrontGrand HotelAn American in ParisThe Greatest Show on EarthAround the World in Eighty DaysGigiThe Last EmperorBraveheartThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingSlumdog Millionaire, and Parasite.
  • The Directing Categories (Best Director)
    • Only 6 films have won Best Picture without a directing nomination: Wings, Grand Hotel, Driving Miss DaisyArgoGreen Book, and CODA.
  • The Writing Categories (Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay)
    • Only 7 films have won Best Picture without a screenplay nomination: Wings, The Broadway Melody, Grand Hotel, CavalcadeHamletThe Sound of Music, and Titanic.
  • The Editing Categories (Best Film Editing)
    • Only 11 films have won Best Picture without an editing nomination: It Happened One NightThe Life of Emile ZolaHamletMartyTom JonesA Man for All SeasonsThe Godfather Part IIAnnie HallOrdinary People, Birdman, and CODA.
  • The Craft Categories (Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound)
    • Only 6 films have won Best Picture without any craft nominations: The Broadway Melody, Grand Hotel, It Happened One NightAnnie HallOrdinary People, and CODA.

To demonstrate how broad support – “branch by branch” – benefits a film in the Best Picture category, let’s look at the support that the Best Picture winners throughout the “expanded line-up era” have had (in terms of nominations):

  • 2009: The Hurt Locker = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2010: The King’s Speech = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2011: The Artist = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2012: Argo = acting + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2013: 12 Years a Slave = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2014: Birdmanacting + directing + writing + crafts
  • 2015: Spotlight = acting + directing + writing + editing
  • 2016: Moonlight = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2017: The Shape of Water = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2018: Green Book = acting + writing + editing
  • 2019: Parasitedirecting + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2020: Nomadland = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • 2021: CODA = acting + writing

As you can see, seven films had nominations in all five key category groups (The Hurt LockerThe King’s SpeechThe Artist12 Years a SlaveMoonlightThe Shape of Water, and Nomadland), four films had nominations in four (ArgoBirdmanSpotlight, and Parasite), one film had nominations in three (Green Book), and one film only had nominations in two (CODA). So, it’s clear that, while you don’t have to have nods from every key category group to still take home the Best Picture Oscar, it does boost your chances significantly – and the more key category groups you’re missing, the worse your chances become.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to this year’s Best Picture contenders. It’s still too early to know for sure what categories they’ll all nab noms in, but since most have already premiered at various film festivals (Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Venice, Telluride, TIFF, etc.), we have a pretty good feel for where they’re most competitive, and how broad their appeal will be in The Academy. Of course, there’s no telling for sure what the top contenders of the year are either, so we’ll use the combined odds of the predictions of experts, editors, and users on GoldDerby to inform us of the top 24 films we should be paying attention to.

Gold Derby Best Picture Predictions

Gold Derby Best Picture Predictions

Now, let’s arrange these 24 films into five “factions,” depending on how many of the key Oscar category groups they seem to be able to derive support from:

1. Five Category Groups

  • The Fabelmans = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • Women Talking = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • Babylon = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  • Top Gun: Maverick = acting + directingwriting + editing + crafts

2. Four Category Groups

  • The Banshees of Inisherin = acting + directing + writing + crafts
  • TÁR = acting + directing + writing + crafts
  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery = acting + writing + editing + crafts

3. Three Category Groups

  • The Whale = acting + writing + crafts
  • Avatar: The Way of Water = directing + editing + crafts
  • Elvis = acting + editing + crafts
  • Triangle of Sadness = actingdirecting + writing
  • All Quiet on the Western Front = directing + editing + crafts
  • Decision to Leave = directing + writing + editing

4. Two Category Groups

  • Empire of Light = acting + crafts
  • The Woman King = acting + crafts
  • She Said = acting + writing
  • Till = acting + writing
  • Armageddon Time = acting + writing

5. One Category Group

  • The Son = acting
  • BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths = crafts
  • Amsterdam = acting
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever = crafts
  • White Noise = writing

Based on this, if this were a year of five Best Picture nominees, I might predict The Fabelmans, Everything Everywhere All at OnceWomen Talking, Babylon, and Top Gun: Maverick to be our top five (though I’d also give special consideration to The Banshees of Inisherin and TÁR as well). I personally think that The Fabelmans, EEAAO, and Babylon are all going to take turns taking up the “frontrunner” mantle at various points throughout this season, while Women Talking may be a slightly more divisive title, and Top Gun may be “too populist,” but their supporters are so strong that they should still have no problem staying at the front of the pack as well (with Women Talking being the closer contender of the two to challenge my aforementioned top three).

However, since this is a year of ten Best Picture nominees, we don’t have to stop there. I’d throw in Banshees next, followed by TÁR and The Whale, both buoyed by their central powerhouse performances from our current Best Actress and Best Actor frontrunners. Glass Onion meanwhile has a higher nom ceiling than the first Knives Out (with a compelling acting contender in the form of Janelle Monáe, and celebratory citations for its editing and production design), but I think I’ll still wait before fully adding it to my line-up until I see how strongly Netflix positions it as not being solely a “mainstream movie.” That means I’ll move on to more of the films that are contending for three of these key category groups.

I’ll continue to bet big on James Cameron and add Avatar: The Way of Water to my predictions as well (I mean, for the staggering technical showmanship alone), and I’m also growing more confident in She Said by the day after rave reactions keep rolling in from recent screenings, and if it gets an acting nod and an Adapted Screenplay nom, that’s really all it needs to be a “serious contender” here. That gives me my ten predicted nominees – though pictures like the previously mentioned Glass Onion (along with the likes of Triangle of Sadness and perhaps even Elvis) are within spitting distance of breaking through – and here’s how I rank ’em (accounting for other narratives at play as well):

  1. Everything Everywhere All at Once = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  2. The Fabelmans = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  3. Babylon = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  4. Women Talking = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  5. Top Gun: Maverick = acting + directing + writing + editing + crafts
  6. The Banshees of Inisherin = acting + directing + writing + crafts
  7. TÁR = acting + directing + writing + crafts
  8. She Said = acting + writing
  9. Avatar: The Way of Water = directing + editing + crafts
  10. The Whale = acting + writing + crafts

At this present point in time, I feel most confident in my top seven picks – I’m waiting to see how The Whale plays with a general audience, and that Avatar box office better be big – but all-in-all, this seems like a really solid line-up, and when I follow what I believe the branches will go to bat for, it makes things come together in a logical manner. Still, when we get down to those lower-tier contenders – think the #8-#10 spots – it’s always possible for a film with support from only one category group to sneak in (like last year’s Nightmare Alley, which did so only with crafts nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design), so for those films I’ve neglected to discuss in-depth right now… don’t pack up just yet.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

Your Vote

0 0

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.