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Why *None* of the Nominees Can Win Best Picture This Year

by Abe Fried-Tanzer

For those of us who live within the world of Oscar history and statistics, every year brings with it the proclamation that certain benchmarks need to be achieved in order to merit a Best Picture win. In just the past decade, multiple insurmountable obstacles have been bypassed, with Argo triumphing without a Best Director nomination, Birdman winning without a film editing mention, and The Shape of Water managing a win even after it didn’t make the SAG list for its ensemble. All eight films nominated this year have a variable number of impediments standing in their way this year – here’s a breakdown of the top limitations for each nominee.

This incredible tale of a black cop who infiltrated the KKK has actually checked most of the boxes. It has nominations for directing, writing, and editing, and earned bids from all the relevant guilds. The problem is that it hasn’t won anything, suggesting that it doesn’t have the momentum it needs to garner first-place votes. If anything, it will be Lee who upsets to win the Best Director prize or the film’s screenplay that takes home an award. Being everyone’s third choice won’t help it win the top prize.

Black Panther
As if being the first comic book movie to contend in this race wasn’t enough, the seven-nomination haul for this Marvel blockbuster is actually pretty disappointing...

It missed out on Best Visual Effects, a category that seemed like a shoo-in (even if its effects weren’t the best of the year), and it’s also absent in the directing, writing, and editing races. The only films to pull off Best Picture wins without directing or writing bids were Wings and Grand Hotel in the first decade of the Oscars, which isn’t really relevant because of nonexistent categories in the Academy’s infancy. Sure, this ultra-popular film won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble Cast, an honor that has led ten other films to take Best Picture, but is that enough to overcome so many missing metrics?

Bohemian Rhapsody
Though it does have an editing nomination, this music biopic also has no directing or writing bids, or costume design, for that matter. The surprise winner for Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes was only the second film ever to have done so without a Best Director mention from the Hollywood Foreign Press, and, unlike Scent of a Woman, the previous film that managed that, its Oscar Best Picture bid didn’t come with a corresponding nomination for disgraced helmer Bryan Singer. Its victories and achievements thus far have already defied logic or statistics, and it’s the kind of film that feels distinctly like a nominee rather than a winner, which will earn its accolades for star Rami Malek and sound, and maybe even editing too.

The Favourite
Before nominations were announced, things weren’t looking so good for this film, with director Yorgos Lanthimos missing out on bids both at the Golden Globes and with the DGA. The film didn’t make the finalist list for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. All three actresses merited individual SAG nominations, but somehow the ensemble wasn’t recognized all together. It managed to be the co-leader in overall nominations, so obviously Oscar voters love it, giving it the much-needed trio of directing, writing, and editing bids, but it wasn’t the favo(u)rite throughout awards season, which means it might have peaked (BAFTA night?) too late.

Green Book
Despite controversy about its themes and its creative personalities’ statements, this film won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and the PGA Award. Missing out on a Best Director bid for Peter Farrelly puts it in the same boat as Moulin Rouge! in 2001, more comparable than Driving Miss Daisy and Argo, both of which were already primed for Best Picture wins despite their directors not being on board. Martin McDonagh being left off the director list just last year was the final nail in the coffin of Globe winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. A SAG nomination for Best Ensemble Cast would have helped cement its statistical chances – now it will have to depend on general enthusiasm for the film, which does seem strong.

This film has been on course to win the top prize for a while now, but it has the biggest hurdles of all. No foreign-language film has ever won Best Picture despite a handful of previous contenders, and only two black-and-white films have triumphed in the past fifty years (Schindler’s List and The Artist). It’s Netflix’s first shot at Best Picture, and its streaming origins will surely be off-putting to some. Lacking a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble Cast isn’t surprising and two acting bids at the Oscars pretty much make up for that, but a missing film editing mention doesn’t bode well for the film that could still easily make history in a number of ways.

A Star is Born
This was the assumd frontrunner for a while, and it still isn’t clear why this very well-liked film stumbled. Losing all but the Best Original Song prize at the Golden Globes was the first sign of trouble, but then it earned a far-from-guaranteed Best Ensemble Cast bid from SAG and hit all the important guilds in a way that no other film did. But then Bradley Cooper missed out in the Best Director field, in addition to the film failing to get an editing nomination. The only two recent instances of a film winning without its director nominated – Driving Miss Daisy and Argo – were already far ahead in the race, while this film just isn’t. Cooper actually stands a better chance of being rewarded for his acting in the way that Ben Affleck might have been if he was nominated for Best Actor.

This questionably-received satire was the nominations leader at the Golden Globes, taking home just one prize for star Christian Bale, who also won the Critics’ Choice Award. Its only real stumble was with SAG when it failed to receive a Best Ensemble Cast bid that even its detractors were likely expecting. When Oscar nominations were announced, it managed a bid for supporting actor Sam Rockwell in a small role as George W. Bush, along with the crucial markers of directing, writing, and editing. Like BlacKkKlansman, this film hasn’t actually won any best film prizes, and, unlike that film, it’s far from universally well-regarded, which would make its ability to pull off a win in the biggest category of the night a truly startling coup.

There are surely many other factors going against of these films, as well as a whole lot of reasons each of them could prevail, with Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Green Book appearing to  have the most passionate fans despite the unlikeliest of odds. What is certain is that some precedent will have to be overcome this year, leading us all to scratch our heads and throw up our hands when next year’s race begins.

Oscar charts | recent articles on this year's race


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Reader Comments (34)

I'm having a hard time picturing Roma getting last place votes just because of Netflix. It's too broadly admired. Some people will vote it a little further down their list than they may have normally, but I don't think it'll matter much.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

Fun and enlightening article. It's definitely one of the more wide and interesting races in years. I just wished some of the films in contention... well weren't. I think we all know which ones those are by now. Alas.

That said, ROMA for the win. I do think all the accolades that ROMA has gotten has nullified the "it's a Netflix movie" effect. And now that it IS on Netflix, the accessibility of it for a lot of people just made it easier for people to see. Granted, the foreign language part of it might be a slightly bigger hurdle, but I think its timeliness also helps overcome that a bit. I mean imagine giving BP to a Mexican film from a Mexican director in this age of T*ump?

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Roma is obviously admired, but I the foreign-language film bias can't be discounted. I think many voters could believe that since it has it's own category, rewarding the film there and in Director is enough. If Green Book or The Favourite wins, I will not be shocked.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Certain branches are probably more anti-Netflix than others. And even in director/producer circles I bet the purists are a minority. Everyone wants big money to do a Netflix thing with zero commercial expectations and tons of marketing. What’s good for Netflix is good for everybody because everybody works with them eventually. So strategically it's smarter to help Netflix.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJF

I think it's probably true that Roma will miss being #1 on a lot of ballots because they'll vote for it for foreign film, but what should keep it the frontrunner is that it won't fall far enough down most people's ballots. People may say "I'm voting Roma for foreign so I'll put Green Book at #1 and Roma at #2 or #3." They won't put it at #8. All the other films outside of The Favourite and maybe Blackkklansman should get their share of last place votes, while I think no other film will score as highly as broadly.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

You forgot the biggest obstacle against A STAR IS BORN winning - it's a remake. Technically, a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

Hmmm I think Green Book has this.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

JF -- what's good for Netflix is NOT good for everybody. They've been repeatedly trying to take down the theatrical market which is where a huge bulk of Hollywood makes their money. And Netflix won't be altruistic forever. You think they're going to keep paying these auteurs to make non-commercial cinema once they have the lion's share of the market? Nope. Netflix is being strategic to reach the top but they've already proven time and again that they're money driven so this is just the current strategy. If othre filmmakers think they're going to get Cuaron & Scorsese type deals they're in for a rude awakening.

February 15, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@Nathaniel: That's true about Netflix, but isn't all of Hollywood money-driven? Think they'll end up fitting right in.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

Did anyone else read the NYTimes piece where they talked to 20 different members of the Academy about how they would vote? One person refused to watch Black Panther because of genre bias. Some refused to vote for anything Disney. One voted through rage for Green Book. And all 20 voted for Rami Malek.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Cash - can you link that article?

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

I think you're overreacting bc I'm not defending Netflix. I just think few actors/writers/directors wouldn't jump at the chance to do "their own Roma." You also don't need a "Cuaron/Scorcese type deal" to make more money (and more guaranteed money, most importantly) at Netflix than you would shopping your indie at festivals and crossing your fingers for a distributor. Then crossing your fingers that it makes good money. Etc. It might be a false promise in the long term but at the moment it looks...promising. I don't like it but I don't like a lot of things.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJF

I still think BlacKkKlansman has a chance - a slim chance, but a chance. Being everyone's third choice actually could result in a win in a very divisive year.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Popular opinion would dictate BohemianRhapsody,Green Book or A Star is Born but if film making visionary pieces Roma and The Favourtie take it.Either way bar 3 or 4 films it's a lousy list.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

evangelina, here's the link:

Well there's something in that NYT piece to make everyone hate the Oscars.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I've seen those pieces before where they choose random Academy members that have picks that make for a salacious story. Like the time someone said there was no "art" in Selma. It's all just for a good story, who knows what's actually going on in a broad sense.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

I don’t think being in the Foreign Language race will damage Roma’s Best Picture chances. When voters have faves, they vote for them every chance they get.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDusty

I have recently wondered if moving forward filmmakers working with NETFLIX will insist on a ROMA clause to their agreements aka for them to get theatrical release, Oscar campaigns, etc. Not all will get that though, but I'm curious of the logistics of it all.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

All I know is there are at least 3 plausible outcomes for BP this year, and that's pretty unusual. I won't be surprised if Roma, Green Book, or Blackkklansman take it. The Favourite or possibly Black Panther I could see as well, though either would *seriously* surprise me. As far as I can tell, neither Vice nor A Star is Born have a chance in hell, & Bohemian Rhapsody has slightly more than their chance in hell.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

At the end of the day it will be the failiure of these films what will make Roma the unlikely winner despite its own issues. It reminds me of The Artist and The King’s Speech which, regardless of checking many boxes, will always remain, at least to me, as films that won BP because there wasn’t anything else or because everybody else had bigger issues to overcome.

The Favourite should win.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBD (the real one)

Yeah that seems like a sneering hitpiece to me. The old guy is entitled to have his opinion about superhero films without being condescended by the author. Let's be honest - he would be right with regards to half of them. This is the Academy that gave Moonlight Best Picture so I am not buying all the crap.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

I could see Green Book pulling the upset, but that's about it. Blackkklansman seems like an outside shot, it hasn't done well at all at precursors. The Favourite too, maybe one could argue it's 7 BAFTAs may give it some steam. Ultimately, I think Green Book will get too many low votes.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno


The King's Speech won because of 3 things: easier to digest, Harvey Weinstein and the anti-Social Network movement.

The Social Network was, and still is, too smart of a movie for the regular Oscar voter.
The worst Oscar call from the last decade.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJay

"First Man" should be the frontrunner.
But... well, i still don't know what happend.
So, we have "Roma" the other great movie of the year.
A foreign language film winning BP is weirdo, but everything is going to be weirdo this year..
At least, "Roma" is a great movie.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFabio Dantas Flappers

The Social Network was an extremely well made movie but let's stop acting like it's some kind of masterpiece. I'm not defending The Kings Speech at all but let's just be honest here please..

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjonathan

@jonathan - I would say it is right up there as one of the (if not THE) movies of the decade and will be looked back on years from now as a prescient masterpiece; it is this generation's Network.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

I really don't see any of these movies as Best Picture Oscar material. "Roma" is the most artsy.
"Green Book" the most satisfying. "The Favourite" lost me with that WTF ending.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Loved Roma, Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, BlackKklansman, Black Panther. Vice was rather dull, The Favourite quirky, ludicrous, with a bad ending, and A Star is Born overly familiar (done 3 times before!).

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJane

The cool thing to say is that is the worst Oscar season ever, but I'm having such a good time.

February 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I tink many pundits r grossly underestimating The Favourite now.

It did recv as many nods as Roma, showing tt thr is broad supp for it n the comparison to All About Eve is quite apt! Afterall, All About Eve did win Best Pic over ano hot contender, Sunset Blvd!! 😂

Maybe it won't get many no. 1 votes (due to the divisive ending) , but I can see The Fav getting alotsa 2nd n 3rd place votes n tt might propel it to a surprise victory!! 😁

February 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

It will either be ROMA for something like 6 or 7 wins including Best Picture, or an all-over-the-place result with no film earning more than three statuettes. If the latter is true, I'm afraid we could get GREEN BOOK for Best Picture.

February 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDan H.

Roma has to be considered far and away the favorite, with a slight upset possibility for Green Book and an even smaller chance for The Favourite. Anything else (and, frankly, either of those last 2) would be shocking.

February 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTeppo2

It's a very good article. I would totally RT it

February 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

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