Oscars cliffhanger = Best Picture race: Tom O’Neil tracks the 5 frontrunners


OK, so what’s really ahead to win the Oscar for Best Picture now that we know the Golden Globe winners and nominees for DGA, PGA, SAG and BAFTA?

Almost certainly, it will be one of these five films that demonstrated strong, mostly consistent strength so far this derby season: “BlacKkKlansman,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Roma” or “A Star Is Born.” But which one?

If we consult usually trusty old tea leaves, we must believe that it’ll be one of the DGA nominees: “Green Book,” “Roma,” “BlacKkKlansman” or “A Star Is Born.” (Yeah, “Vice” was also nominated, but … come on.) For the past 28 years, every Oscar Best Picture winner was nominated at DGA. The last exception was that kooky 1989 when poor Bruce Beresford got totally overlooked by those nasty Oscars, too, even though the academy voted his “Driving Miss Daisy” Best Picture. Outrage! But let’s not dig up that mess right now.

Instead, let’s consult the tea leaves of a different guild: SAG. Over the past two decades, only one movie won Best Picture without being nominated for best ensemble by the actors’ guild: last year’s “The Shape of Water.” Only two of the DGA nominees made the SAG list this year: “A Star Is Born” and “BlacKkKlansman.” Of the three other nominees only one has a remote chance to win: “Black Panther” and those hopes just dimmed by the failure of Ryan Coogler to make the director guild’s list. The other two SAG nominees have too many bashers to be able to rise up and grab the Best Picture laurels, even though they’d both make worthy winners in my book: “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”

So all of this means that the next Oscar Best Picture will probably be either “A Star Is Born” or “BlacKkKlansman.” Do you agree? “A Star Is Born” just took a beating at the Golden Globes where it only bagged Best Song (“Shallow”). All 24 Experts at Gold Derby had predicted it would win Best Drama Picture and most chose Lady Gaga for Best Drama Actress, but we’d underestimated intel we’d heard that HFPA members were wild for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” We wisely took that into account when we (correctly) predicted that Rami Malek would beat Bradley Cooper for Best Drama Actor, but there was obviously quite enough more love for it to snag Best Drama Picture, too. As for Lady Gaga losing, that can be forgiven because Glenn Close‘s victory turned out to be the fireworks of Globes night.

Over the past few days, “Star Is Born” has rebounded nicely in the Oscar derby by becoming the only Oscar Picture contender to be nominated at all 11 of the film industry’s guild awards. That shows huge trans-Hollywood support. Currently, it’s still the frontrunner, according to the Experts polled by Gold Derby.

So far “BlacKkKlansman” has failed to garner major award wins, but that’s OK: it over-performed, and impressively so, at nominations for other big trophies, including the Globes and guilds. The fact that Spike Lee got nominated at DGA is huge news – and perhaps derby-changing.

Lee’s never been nommed by the guild and he’s never made the cut for Best Director at the Oscars either. Now his presence in the derby is very special, even cool. He’s one of filmdom’s gods and he’s having a helluva good year so it’s the perfect time for Oscar and guild voters to finally catch up with him, but academy members probably won’t do it on their own. They usually need a nudge of encouragement – Lee needs to win at DGA first and he’s got a very good chance to do so. (I’m predicting he’ll do it.) Then he can break out like Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”) and John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”) did and surge to victory in the last leg of the Oscar derby.

“Roma” was probably snubbed at SAG because its Mexican actors aren’t well known to guild voters. It wasn’t elible to be nominated for Best Drama Picture at the Globes where it won Best Foreign Film and Alfonso Cuaron beat Spike Lee in the helmers’ contest. So maybe it’s as strong as “BlacKkKlansman” and “A Star Is Born” with the academy. We definitely need to include it on our short list of possible BP winners. Plus “The Favourite” and “Green Book.”

Those films are the final five nominated for Best Picture at BAFTA, which usually does an ace job tipping us off about what will probably happen next at the Oscars. One good reason why: the two award organizations share about 500 to 600 voters. However, BAFTA might not help us out much this year since it’ll probably be biased toward that veddy British “The Favourite,” which will be jolly good with everybody because it’s certainly worthy. But will it really be Hollywood’s cup of tea?

Movies with a female point of view (and “The Favourite” has three of them) don’t usually win Best Picture, but, hey, “The Shape of Water” broke through last year. All three of “The Favourite” co-stars got individual nominations at SAG so maybe it’s really no big deal that it didn’t get an ensemble nom, too? Yorgos Lanthimos didn’t get nominated by DGA — that’s a big blow — but he’s still a strong possibility for the academy list. If he makes the cut on January 22, then his movie is really in the derby.

And so is that sneaky, aw-shucks, oft-overlooked “Green Book.” Pay attention. It just won three Golden Globes, including Best Screenplay. Nobody saw that coming. I assumed “The Favourite” would triumph there, being more literary. “Green Book” also clobbered “The Favourite” in the competitive race for Best Comedy/ Musical Picture. That’s huge.

Its third win was for Supporting Actor, which was especially good news for poor Mahershala Ali, who’s been having a tough time dealing with complaints about the historical accuracy of his role. Ali and filmmakers have apologized to the surviving family members of the real Don Shirley, who died in 2013, for any inaccuracies, but they don’t seem placated and now there’s new hubbub over Nick Vallelonga. Read Sasha Stone‘s wonderful harrumphing about it at AwardsDaily. Will it matter? “Argo” and “A Beautiful Mind” both won Best Picture despite controversy over their historic accuracy. “Green Book” performed strongly at all of the key guild awards.  There’s a lot of love for “Green Book” among filmgoers, but controversy could continue to dog it.

This Oscar derby is turning out to be a real classic Hollywood cliffhanger, eh? Our next clues about the outcome may be revealed at this Sunday’s Critics Choice Awards (where “Roma” leads our Gold Derby odds for Best Picture) or at the Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 19.  Meantime, make or update your predictions here and prove that you are smarter than our Experts. Giddyup!

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