90th Academy Awards: Is Dunkirk the Mid-Year Oscar Favorite?

Image: Warner Brothers

Now that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk has finally been released to the masses in 70mm IMAX, the Oscar race has begun in earnest!

We are halfway through the cinematic season and so far it’s been pretty uneventful from an Oscar-hopeful point-of-view. Sure there have been your standard summer time popcorn flicks and some beauties like Baby Driver, The War for the Planet of the Apes, and Atomic Blonde to name a few of my faves, but no movie has stood out as a potential Best Picture-winner except maybe the horror/social satire Get Out.

There are a few sine qua nons of true Best Picture candidates. If it’s an art-house film, it has to strike a balance between boundary-pushing but not so arty as to drive away most of the public. If it’s about WWII, it just has to have a lot of death and be half-decent. If it’s a sci-fi flick, on the other hand, it has to be huge, breathtaking and smart. If any of those types of films include Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks, pencil them in for at least a nomination.

The unofficial Oscar season doesn’t really start until September. That’s when most studios start showing off their award-worthy films to the general public with things really ramping up in November and December. It’s all about making sure that the film resonates with the judges just before the end-of-year deadline (Nomination voting begins on January 5, 2018).

Some movies, like Dunkirk, aren’t hurt by a summer release, but these are rare. You need a highly-regarded director and a true quality film. And even then, studios rely on Christmas digital and Blu-Ray sales to remind everyone how great the film you saw in July really was.

The point I’m trying to make is that, at this point in time, it’s tough to predict who will win for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor/Actress, but it’s definitely fun to speculate, and there is some foundation to build from. For instance, you can get an idea of the potential nominees from film-festival chatter. You can also reason that the films which studios have targeted to sell to voters (based not only on the release-date and marketing efforts, but also the story, actors, and director) stand a better chance.

Take Steven Spielberg’s The Papers, which is currently set to be released in late December; it has that triple threat of potential Oscar goodness with a great cast, timely topic (Panama Papers scandal) and of course Mr. Spielberg behind the camera.

Is that enough to make it the mid-year Oscar favorite for Best Picture? Let’s get to the reason you’re here: the numbers. The odds below (for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor/Actress, and Best Animated Feature) are obviously subject to change between now and the 90th Academy Awards (March 4, 2017).


90TH ACADEMY AWARDS (2018): MID-YEAR ODDS

BEST PICTURE

  • Dunkirk: 1/1
  • The Papers: 4/1
  • Detroit: 9/1
  • Last Flag Flying: 19/1
  • Phantom Thread: 25/1
  • Mudbound: 25/1
  • Darkest Hour: 50/1
  • Suburbicon: 50/1
  • Downsizing: 50/1
  • THE FIELD: 70/1

This is a tough list to navigate at the bottom end. A few films that aren’t currently mentioned, like The Current War, Call Me By Your Name or even Mother!, could very well find themselves in the mix. Dunkirk has to be the early frontrunner, though. Reviews have been stellar, with some proclaiming it one of the greatest war films ever made. The buzz amongst many critics is that this is director Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. When you hear lofty acclaim like that, it’s pretty much a shoo-in to be nominated multiple times for many categories and deserves very short odds even at this early stage.

As mentioned, The Papers is also an early front-runner along with Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, which is based on the Algiers Motel incident during the 12th Street Riot in 1967. Bigelow is no stranger to the Academy Awards as her 2009 film The Hurt Locker won six Oscars. Her pedigree and the timeliness of the subject matter give her great odds in the Best Picture and Best Director categories (see below).

Don’t sleep on movies like Netflix’s Mudbound or George Clooney’s Suburbicon. Phantom Thread, directed by Academy Award-winner Paul Thomas Anderson, will also get a lot of buzz since it stars the peerless Daniel Day-Lewis in what is supposed to be his final acting performance.


BEST DIRECTOR

  • Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk): 2/1
  • Steven Spielberg (The Papers): 3/1
  • Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit): 4/1
  • Alexander Payne (Downsizing): 17/3
  • Dee Rees (Mudbound): 19/1
  • THE FIELD: 60/1

As of right now, you can pretty much pencil in the top three directors for nominations. Outside of that, it’s hard to predict who will fall into the final two spots without seeing their films first.

There was a lot of buzz in regards to Netflix’s Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees, at this year’s Sundance Festival. Netflix is an outlier as they really haven’t figured out how to roll these films out for Oscar season. If that film doesn’t get a Best Picture nod, The Academy could very well nominate Rees for Best Director as a consolation prize.

Downsizing has a few of the Oscar-sine qua nons we talked about above; like the film Get Out, it’s a timely social satire and director Alexander Payne is beloved by the Academy. Look for the final two spots on this list to change over the next six months though.


BEST ACTOR

  • Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour): 3/2
  • Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread): 2/1
  • Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here): 4/1
  • Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project): 25/1
  • Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman): 50/1
  • THE FIELD: 125/1

It’s a safe bet that both Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis get Best Actor nominations. Outside of those two acting vets, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Joaquin Phoenix has been receiving a lot of love since winning Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his role in You Were Never Really Here.

Hugh Jackman makes the list because he is starring in a musical that should highlight his versatility. Funny as it sounds, his years of playing a rather one-dimensional Logan actually boost his chances. More casual movie-goers will be stunned at how good a performer Wolverine actually is.

Two-time nominee Willem Dafoe has never won an Oscar for his work and apparently, he is terrific in The Florida Project; could this finally be his year?

When it comes to the field, don’t sleep on Tom Hanks (The Papers) who is a mainstay in this category. There is an outside chance that the Academy will finally honor a motion-capture actor like the great Andy Serkis, who was his usual brand of brilliance in The War for the Planet of the Apes. 


BEST ACTRESS

  • Meryl Streep (The Papers): 3/1
  • Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul): 4/1
  • Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game): 4/1
  • Jennifer Lawrence (Mother!): 17/3
  • Carey Mulligan (Mudbound): 9/1
  • THE FIELD: 9/1

This is one of the most difficult categories to gauge. Meryl Streep would be nominated for reading a phonebook so the odds are great she will be nominated again. But will she win? Streep is up against Jessica Chastain, who has two previous nominations and is now teaming up with the great Aaron Sorkin in a very Oscar-baity role. She could finally receive the accolades she deserves.

Once again, Judy Dench is playing the role of Queen Victoria, and the early buzz is that she is terrific in the period piece Victoria and Abdul. Playing the same role as she did in Mrs. Brown could hurt her, however.

The Academy has shown that it loves Jennifer Lawrence. It’s wise to have her in the mix at this early stage. The one iffy pick here is Carey Mulligan; she’s been nominated before and certainly has the chops, but her role in Mudbound could be pushed by Netflix as a supporting role.

As far as the field goes, Kate Winslet (The Mountain Between Us) and Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), who are both Academy Award darlings, could find their way into a nomination and possibly an Oscar in 2018.


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Coco: 9/11
  • The Breadwinner: 4/1
  • Ferdinand: 17/3
  • The LEGO Ninjago Movie: 19/1
  • The LEGO Batman Movie: 25/1
  • THE FIELD: 100/1

Could this be the year that two LEGO movies are nominated? There is a definite chance that could happen, but it’s doubtful either one will top our current favorite, Pixar’s Coco. Betting on Pixar (eight wins) is never a bad strategy: the studio has eight wins in the category; Disney, Pixar’s sister studio, is next on the list with just three.

The one animated feature that might give Pixar a run for its money is The Breadwinner from the people at Cartoon Saloon who had previous nominees in this category with The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.

If they only nominate one LEGO film that would leave room for a nominee from the field. Cars 3, another Pixar offering, could slide into that spot given how great it looked on the big screen. Despicable Me 3 is also another contender, but the average reviews may hurt it.