In Review

Oscars 2018: favourites to win Best Picture Academy Award

Will a war epic outdo a social satire, or could a black comedy take the top prize?

With this year’s Oscars ceremony less than a week away, it’s crunch time ahead of Hollywood’s biggest night of the year.

Voting for Sunday’s awards ends tomorrow and while Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy thriller The Shape of Water leads the pack with 13 nominations, it’s Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that remains the film to beat.

British interest in the Best Picture category comes in the form of two Second World War dramas, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, which also earns Gary Oldman a nomination for Best Actor. Sally Hawkins, Daniel Day-Lewis and Daniel Kaluuya also get the nod in the acting categories.

Click here for our assessment of the Best Actor and Actress Oscars, or read on for a guide to the war epics, black comedies and social satire competing for Best Picture:

Best picture contender

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Burges, Seven Psycopaths), Three Billboards stars Frances McDormand as a mother who takes matters into her own hands after her daughter is raped and killed then seemingly forgotten by the local police. Xan Brooks in The Guardian called the black comedy “a bold and showboating affair, robustly drawn and richly written; a violent carnival of small-town American life”.

It has won rave reviews from critics, a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival and plenty of Oscar buzz. However, despite recent wins at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards which had cemented it place as the film to beat, USA Today says “a growing number of observers are criticising Three Billboards’ racist cop, played by Sam Rockwell, and the casualness with which the movie treats his bigoted views and history of violence” which could ultimately harm the film's chances.

Dunkirk 

Dunkirk's director, Christopher Nolan, has been passed over before for critically acclaimed and popular films such as Inception and The Dark Knight. But Kristopher Tapley in Variety says his latest movie, a "riveting account of the defence and evacuation of British and Allied forces" from Dunkirk in the Second World War, "might well be Nolan’s masterpiece".  He adds that it's "one of the great entries in a well-worn genre that has never, ever seen anything quite like it" and the Academy seems to have agreed.

Get Out 

Joey Nolfi and Christopher Rosen in Entertainment Weekly backed Hitchcock-style thriller Get Out as an early contender that has managed to stay the course. The film "gobsmacked" Sundance critics and scored big US box-office revenues from a modest $4.5m budget. The critics say director Jordan Peele got the Academy talking, having established "a singular voice on timely issues of race" with a film that's "groundbreaking" in terms of message and style.

The Post 

Stephen Spielberg’s The Post is a serious Best Picture contender, according to Esquire writer Corey Atad. The drama starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep centres on The Washington Post defending its publication of the Pentagon Papers. “The Washington Post, given its reporting on the Trump administration, has rarely been more relevant or more popular among the liberal elite,” Atad writes. “And a story about the freedom of the press couldn’t be more timely given the current political situation.”  Hanks, Streep and Spielberg are all darlings of the Academy, which leads Atad to believe the film could take the top prize.

Call Me By Your Name

This LGBTQ romance could follow in Moonlight’s successful footsteps and win everything from Best Picture to Best Adapted Screenplay, EW’s Christopher Rosen and Joey Nolfi say. The film follows a teenage boy who forms a “passionate bond” with an older man. Rosen and Nolfi also note that 21-year-old Timothee Chalamet, the young star who shines as the film’s main character, could win for Best Lead Actor after becoming the youngest actor to receive a nomination since Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network. The movie, directed by Luca Guadagnino, is already one of the year’s most acclaimed films.

Phantom Thread 

Set in 1950s Britain, Phantom Thread follows a famous and successful fashion designer who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, seeks aesthetic perfection and love in the form of an unlikely muse, with devastating consequences. Variety describes it as a “coldly seductive fable of toxic masculinity” driven by a virtuoso performance by Daniel Day-Lewis (in supposedly his last film).

Any film from Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) creates a buzz come awards season, and while Phantom Thread remains a long shot, it could yet make a late push and claim the big prize.

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig becomes the fifth woman in Academy Awards history to be nominated for Best Director, the first in eight years. Her early noughties coming-of-age tale has won over audiences, critics, and Academy members alike to bag a Best Picture nomination and Best Actress nod for Saoirse Ronan, the third of her career.

Darkest Hour 

You wait ages for a Dunkirk evacuation-themed movie and then two come along at once. But many reviewers believe Darkest Hour is a more obvious Oscar contender than Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. Atad says a Best Picture nomination is nothing short of a guarantee as “It’s got a... giant performance from Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in his first days as Prime Minister, and a relentless pace despite its ornery parliamentary setting.”

The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy thriller about a mute cleaner who falls in love with an amphibious creature in a government laboratory has been the big surprise of this year’s awards season. While widely praised by critics, it was believed its surreal subject matter would prove too left-field for Academy members, yet it has emerged with the most nominations of any film and has a real shot at Oscar glory.

Here are the full nominations in the top six categories:

Best picture

Call Me By Your NameDarkest HourDunkirkGet OutLady BirdPhantom ThreadThe PostThe Shape of WaterThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best actor

Timothee Chalamet - Call Me By Your NameDaniel Day-Lewis - Phantom ThreadDaniel Kaluuya - Get OutGary Oldman - Darkest HourDenzel Washington - Roman J Israel, Esq

Best actress

Sally Hawkins - The Shape Of WaterFrances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriMargot Robbie - I, TonyaSaoirse Ronan - Lady BirdMeryl Streep - The PostFind out more about the best actress nominees

Best supporting actor

Willem Dafoe - The Florida ProjectWoody Harrelson - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriRichard Jenkins - The Shape Of WaterChristopher Plummer - All the Money in the WorldSam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best supporting actress

Mary J Blige - MudboundAllison Janney - I, TonyaLesley Manville - Phantom ThreadLaurie Metcalf - Lady BirdOctavia Spencer - The Shape of Water

Best director

Dunkirk - Christopher NolanGet Out - Jordan PeeleLady Bird - Greta GerwigPhantom Thread - Paul Thomas AndersonThe Shape of Water - Guillermo Del Toro

Which filns missed out?

The Florida Project 

Rosen calls The Florida Project “the little movie that could” due to its tiny budget and large aspirations. It follows a six-year-old girl living in a Florida hotel with her single mother, on the strip leading up to Disney World. The child stars “deliver incredible performances, and the film’s attention to an overlooked kind of poverty is balanced out by genuine empathy for its subjects," says Atad.

Detroit 

Kathryn Bigelow has become something of an Oscars darling, with her war-themed movie The Hurt Locker claiming six gongs, and terrorist drama Zero Dark Thirty taking another. In her new film, based on the 1967 race riots in Detroit, Bigelow has tackled the fraught subject of race relations in America, winning both praise and criticism. Steve Pond on The Wrap believes the movie is in the running for an Academy Award. The critic calls it "a fact-based work of gripping intensity that can be difficult to watch and harder to shake".

Logan 

Vox notes that superhero films have never done well at the Oscars, but nevertheless suggests that Logan might just claim one. Earlier this year, Todd VanDerWerff dubbed Logan "the best X-Men movie since 2003". The critic describes Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine as "a lonely, pre-apocalyptic western" that's "unexpectedly, resonant, bittersweet, and maybe even profound".   

Downsizing 

Even before it opened the Venice Film Festival, Alexander Payne's Downsizing was causing a buzz. But the positive reception following its gala launch has confirmed it as a contender. The sci-fi comedy, starring Matt Damon and Kirsten Wiig, won a five-star review in The Guardian from Xan Brooks, who praises Payne's "perfect" handling of this "winningly inventive tale of masculinity in crisis".

Wonder Woman 

Airing 76 years after its character was created, Wonder Woman’s fans are loyal. Viewers came in droves to see the film, causing it to cross the $820 million mark at the global box office. EW’s Nolfi describes it as a “timely status as a tale of feminine badassery - coupled with some of the best reviews of the year and the fact that it's the highest-grossing female-directed movie ever.” New Oscar voter Terry Crews had never seen anything like it, telling EW “I got choked up in the theatre because I felt like, 'This is possible now,' whereas before, it actually was not possible.” According to Nolfi the film could easily take home Best Picture and Patty Jenkins could take home Best Director.

City of Ghosts

IndieWire's Anne Thompson reckons Matthew Heineman's City of Ghosts, a documentary about Syrian activists, is another Oscars contender. Heinemen's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated look at Mexico's drug war, Cartel Land, is a "daring and timely non-fiction", says the critic. The Amazon-backed documentary uses footage from Syria taken by fearless Raqqa journalists whom the film-maker tracked through Turkey and Germany - where they learn they may not be safe anywhere. Best Documentary Feature has its own category, however, so this one wouldn't be in the running for Best Picture.

The Big Sick

A number of smaller films have punched above their weight this year, but few more so than The Big Sick. Critics at Sundance and beyond have loved Kumail Nanjiani's romantic comedy, co-starring Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Silicon Valley star Nanjiani co-wrote the story with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, based on the story of their own cross-cultural relationship and struggles with illness, religious differences and the usual marital ups and downs. Vox calls it one of the year's best comedies, and "the Best Picture nomination we need".

Who’s hosting and how can I watch it?

The 90th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday 4 March and be hosted for the second year running by US comedian Jimmy Kimmel, making him the first person to host consecutive ceremonies since Billy Crystal in 1997 and 1998.

The Oscars have been pushed back a week from their usual end of February slot to avoid clashing with the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

Because of the time difference, the ceremony does not kick off until 1am UK time, so fans might need to pull and all-nighter if they plan to watch it all live.

In the UK, Sky has launched a dedicated Cinema Oscars channel, which goes live today and runs until 11 March, where you can catch all the build up and watch the ceremony itself.

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