Oscars: which Best Picture outcome would be best for the Academy?

Let’s admit it: The Oscars are silly. As much as we fawn over them, they are, to a certain extent, really just a way for our most glamorized industry to congratulate itself. It’s a commercial spectacle, and who wins the awards is often based more on internal politics than on true merit.

And yet the Oscars still matter, because we let it matter. The cultural memory of films that win Best Picture lasts far longer than films merely nominated. Regardless or not of whether these wins are genuine indications of artistic achievement, they still have an outsized impact on which movies matter in the long run.

This year’s field of nine nominees for Best Picture is one of the most diverse in Oscars history. There are classic historical drama nominees like The Post and The Darkest Hour; Hollywood extravaganzas like Dunkirk and The Shape of Water; there are esoteric, auteurist works like Call Me By Your Name and Phantom Thread. Incredibly, there is a horror-comedy where whiteness is the villain (Get Out), and even more incredibly, it has a real shot at winning.

The diversity, and size of field, of this year’s nominees also makes this one of the most unpredictable Best Picture races in Oscars history. Six of the nine nominees have a feasible shot at winning.

With so many different possible outcomes, it makes for an exciting race. It also creates a situation that could alter the future of the Oscars in many different ways. Wins by some of these films would further propel the Oscars’ descent into irrelevance; wins by others could reinvigorate the show’s popularity. So here’s a ranking of the Best Picture nominees, from worst outcome for the Academy to best.

T-9. The Darkest Hour & The Post


A win for either of these historical dramas would be a clear step back for the relevance of the Academy Awards. They’re not bad movies, per se, but they are standard Oscars bait. Steven Spielberg is emblematic of the old guard of the film industry, and as great as Mr. Oldman is, the Academy needs to look to the future. I take comfort in the fact that The Darkest Hour and The Post are long shots to win. These hefty biopics would have been top contenders in years past, but it seems like the Academy is moving toward recognizing films that are taking risks, and represent the future of the film industry, not its past.

7. Phantom Thread


Aside from The Darkest Hour, the only other Best Picture nominee I didn’t have a chance to see. That’s probably not a good sign: a win for Phantom Thread would anoint an esoteric, strange drama about a fashion designer that has no relevance to the general public. It earns a spot above The Darkest Hour and The Post, though, because it is a Paul Thomas Anderson film, and if there were justice in this world, everyone would be flocking to see his movies.

6. The Shape of Water


The most neutral of outcomes for the Academy. I didn’t like The Shape of Water, but I didn’t really not like it, either. It has things to say, vaguely. It was a hit, mildly. A win for The Shape of Water would probably generate the least amount of discussion of any of these movies, and I’m already bored writing about it, to be honest. That’s enough of that.

5. Dunkirk


A win for Dunkirk would be a modest win for the Academy. It was a box office hit. It was both a big budget spectacle and a WWII epic, the kind of film you and your grandfather could enjoy equally. Dunkirk is a blend of nostalgia, blockbuster action, and innovative film-making.

Huh. I think I’m talking myself into this more and more. A Dunkirk win would be good!

4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


*Sigh.* This one is tough. If you buy into the ‘all press is good press’ idiom, then this is a win for the Oscars, because people would be talking about this a lot. But a majority of that conversation wouldn’t be positive. The prevailing narrative surrounding Three Billboards is that it is this year’s Crash, an out-of-touch social commentary from an overly white perspective. In the future, a win by Three Billboards could be looked upon as a sign of social regression.

The thing is, I liked Three Billboards a lot. It’s not Crash, and while there are issues with the film, I think the extent to which it’s being criticized isn’t fair, and probably wouldn’t take place outside of the vacuum of awards season. It might not look good if Three Billboards wins, but I think the film would deserve it.

3. Call Me By Your Name


Call Me By Your Name is a very good movie, and if it won, it would be a victory for the Academy. Like Moonlight’s win last year, it would encourage wider audiences to seek out an intimate film about a homosexual relationship, a film that might not have gotten traction otherwise. It would triumph a film featuring the year’s breakout star, Timothée Chalamet, who will star in Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York this year.

Unlike the tender relationship in Moonlight, however, the sexual dynamics in Call Me By Your Name are much more problematic. And as historic as Moonlight’s win was, last year was also one of the lowest rated Oscars ceremonies in recent years, perhaps in part because no one saw Moonlight. If the Academy continues to nominate films like that very few people saw, it might mean those films finally get the attention they deserve. But it would also lessen the Academy Awards’ relevance for mainstream viewers.

2. Lady Bird


This would be a huge win for the Academy. Lady Bird features rising stars Saoirse Ronan, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein in front of the camera, and Greta Gerwig behind it. The film would be just the second Best Picture winner directed by a woman (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker is the other), and given the shadow Harvey Weinstein will cast over this year’s ceremony, it would be a good look for the Academy.

I know a lot of people that love Lady Bird, and I don’t know anyone who hated it. It’s a hard movie not to like. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but on pure merit, I’m not sure how I feel about it as a Best Picture winner. It’s a very enjoyable movie-going experience. But is it a movie we will remember a decade from now? Probably, but not as any significant touchpoint in film history. Which brings me to number one...

1. Get Out


This is the best possible outcome for the Academy. Like Lady Bird, a win for Get Out would be a signifier of the film industry recognizing new talents and previously underserved perspectives. But a win by Get Out would be a much bigger deal than Lady Bird, because a win by a movie of this kind is unprecedented. It’s a film by a first-time director; it’s a horror film and a comedy, neither of which are usually rewarded in this category; it’s a film where the enemy is literally whiteness. If Get Out were to win, it would open up what kind of movies we consider to be in Oscar contention forever. Oh, and it’s also the best movie of the year.

Get Out is far more likely than any other nominee to hold cultural relevance in the future. Get Out has been out for more than a year now, and it is still a cultural touchpoint. And unlike Moonlight, another unprecedented Best Picture winner about the American black experience, people actually saw Get Out. I really think it’s possible Get Out could pull out a win, especially since the Academy expanded its voting body. Please let it be possible.