2018 Oscars primer: What you need to know before nominations day

The Oscars are nigh.
The Oscars are nigh.
Image: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
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We’re in the home stretch of “awards season,” which means that the Oscars—the crown jewel of award shows—will soon be upon us. Rejoice, for there is great cinema to be enjoyed, and even more to discuss and dissect in the remaining days of what’s been an uncharacteristically hazy season.

By now, the race for best picture has usually been whittled down to one or two obvious frontrunners. At this time last year, for instance, we were pretty confident either La La Land or Moonlight would win the Oscar for best picture (Moonlight ultimately won the award after the infamous snafu in which La La Land was briefly and erroneously named the winner). Both films had done well in several Oscar precursors and were coming off major Golden Globes victories (Moonlight for best drama, La La Land for best comedy or musical—a genre distinction the Oscars doesn’t make).

But this year, pundits aren’t so sure. While five films have arguably separated themselves from the pack (more on that in a moment), no clear best picture frontrunner has emerged in the months leading up to the show. A host of other films are vying for the remaining slots. Here’s what you need to know before the big nominations announcement is made:

When are the nominations announced?

Tuesday (Jan. 23) around 5:30am Pacific time (8:30 am ET).

As they do every year, an army of Los Angeles-based entertainment journalists will wake up at an ungodly hour to cover the Oscar nominations as they’re announced in real-time by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Perhaps to capitalize on the day’s news cycle, or perhaps just to torture publicists and reporters, the Oscar nominations have long been revealed in a quick ceremony before the crack of dawn. This year is no different: They’ll be live-streamed on the Oscars web site beginning at 5:22am PT.

Awards for technical categories like cinematography, costume design, and hairstyling will be announced first, with the big awards (best director, best actor, best picture, etc.) revealed at 5:38am PT, after a brief intermission. The Academy really likes to build the suspense.

When are the actual Oscars?

Sunday, March 4 at 8pm ET on ABC. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel will host for the second year in a row.

The Oscars are a few weeks later than usual this year to avoid conflicting with the 2018 Winter Olympics (which end Feb. 25), giving you some extra time to watch all the nominated films.

What are the favorites for best picture?

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a black comedy about a grieving mother who pays for three billboards to remind her small town of her daughter’s murder. It’s viewed by some pundits as the closest thing this wide-open awards season has to an Oscars frontrunner after it dominated the Golden Globes and did well in the BAFTA nominations.

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s eccentric fantasy romance, is another strong contender, leading the field with nominations across 11 different guild awards (many of the members of these guilds, including the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America, also vote on the Oscars). Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s heartwarming and hilarious love letter to Sacramento, California, rounds out what most analysts would consider to be the top three heading into Tuesday’s announcement.

And then there’s Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s epic World War II drama, which has also done well at the guild awards and was seen as the favorite early on in the awards process. Its stock has fallen somewhat since then as more character-driven dramas like Lady Bird emerged, but it’s still firmly in the hunt, and likely to score several nominations. Get Out, Jordan Peele’s brilliant “social thriller,” is one of the top five contenders, but, unfortunately for its proponents (me included), it probably won’t win as it’s a more innovative film than the Academy typically rewards.

A bunch of films are competing for spots behind those five: Steven Spielberg’s journalism drama The Post, which was once seen as a sure-thing but hasn’t performed well at many Oscar precursors; Call Me By Your Name, the moving queer love story that should land a nomination but hasn’t been publicized much and doesn’t have a ton of momentum behind it; Darkest Hour, the Winston Churchill drama that seems teetering on the brink of relevance, could still sneak in there; and The Big Sick, a rom-com partially based on the lives of actor Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, writer Emily V. Gordon, which has strong support with some Academy members.

There’s also I, Tonya, the Tonya Harding biopic that was once an afterthought but has been killing it at some Oscar precursors; The Florida Project, a lovely film about life on the fringes that has quietly stayed in the conversation since October; Phantom Thread; Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic drama about fashion in the 1950s (starring Daniel Day-Lewis in what he says is his last role), a film likely for at least a few nominations but probably a long shot for best picture; Mudbound, the Netflix original that’s received almost zero publicity but still remains the streaming service’s best chance at a best picture nomination to date; and Wonder Woman, the superhero film that needs no introduction and in all likelihood will be left off the final ballot—but could be the most likely “outside the box” choice should Academy voters find themselves looking for one.

Reminder: the Academy will nominate at least five, but no more than 10 films for best picture. Since enacting that rule in 2009, the Academy has only nominated the full 10 films twice (it’s usually 8 or 9).

What are the odds, according to experts?

The current odds for a best picture victory, which change every day, based on Gold Derby’s slew of awards experts, are as follows:

  • 13/2: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • 13/2: Lady Bird
  • 15/2: The Shape of Water
  • 8/1: Get Out
  • 8/1: Dunkirk
  • 8/1: The Post
  • 10/1: Call Me By Your Name
  • 20/1: The Florida Project
  • 25/1: Darkest Hour
  • 28/1: The Big Sick
  • 40/1: I, Tonya
  • 40/1: Mudbound
  • 80/1: Phantom Thread
  • 100/1: Many others, including Wonder Woman, Molly’s Game, and Blade Runner 2049

What are your predictions?

Glad you asked! I am the furthest thing from an awards pundit, but if I were a betting man (I’m not), I’d throw some bills on these films getting best picture nominations:

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Lady Bird
  • The Shape of Water
  • Get Out
  • Dunkirk
  • The Post
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Darkest Hour
  • I, Tonya

If you noticed that looks a lot like Gold Derby’s odds, that’s because it does, with one minor difference—I think The Florida Project falls out of the pack, while I, Tonya surprises everyone and slips in. Feel free to check back on nominations day to see how wrong I was.

What about categories like best director and best actor and actress? For comprehensive predictions on those and more, you can check out Gold Derby. Gary Oldman looks like a good bet for best actor for his role as Churchill in Darkest Hour, while best actress is more open, between Frances McDormand in Three Billboards, Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

The favorites for best director are Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards), and Jordan Peele (Get Out). If Steven Spielberg (The Post) sneaks in there, I think it’ll come at the expense of Peele or McDonagh.