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How 'Three Billboards,' 'Shape of Water' have suddenly become the Oscar favorites

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
(Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

In what’s so far been a refreshingly unpredictable race for Oscar’s Best Picture trophy, a pair of clear-cut favorites have emerged.

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water both had monster weeks between Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards and Thursday’s Critics’ Choice Awards (with some BAFTA and Director’s Guild Awards love in between).

Three Billboards, a Coensian crime drama peppered with heavy doses of black comedy, was the big winner at the Globes, prevailing in Best Picture — Drama, Best Actress — Drama (Frances McDormand), Best Original Screenplay (McDonagh), and Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell).

The Globes aren’t always the best predictor when it comes to the Oscars, given that they involve votes from fewer than a hundred foreign journalists and the Oscars are decided by thousands of film professionals. The Globes’ Best Picture — Drama winner has only repeated at the Academy Awards four times over the past 10 years (Moonlight, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, and Slumdog Millionaire), though on one of those years (2011), its Best Picture — Musical or Comedy winner (The Artist) later triumphed at the Oscars.

Regardless, the splashy, high-profile Globes telecast no doubt gave Three Billboards a few shots in the arm only five days before Oscar voting closed. It also boosted the chances of McDormand (who will likely go head-to-head with Lady Bird leading lady Saoirse Ronan, winner of Best Actress — Musical or Comedy) and Sam Rockwell (who pulled off a major upset over the favored star of The Florida Project, Willem Dafoe).

On Thursday, McDormand and Rockwell repeated at the Critics’ Choice Awards, voted on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, this time with McDormand winning head-to-head against Ronan, and Rockwell again topping Dafoe.

In between the two ceremonies, Three Billboards scored nine BAFTA Award nominations: Best Film, Outstanding British Film of the Year, Best Director (McDonagh), Best Leading Actress (McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell), Best Supporting Actor again (Woody Harrelson), Best Original Screenplay (McDonagh), Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.


It was also a major coup for McDonagh to land a DGA nomination on Thursday, besting the likes of Steven Spielberg (The Post), Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name), Sean Baker (The Florida Project), and Dee Rees (Mudbound) for one of the five coveted slots.

It was a slower start to the week for The Shape of Water, del Toro’s whimsical woman-meets-sea-creature sci-fi romance. The film took home only two Globes, but it included a biggie: Best Director for del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim), who has called the film the best he’s ever made. (Alexandre Desplat also won for Best Original Score.)

Then came the tidal wave.

On Tuesday, The Shape of Water led all BAFTA nominations with a whopping 12 nods, including Best Film, Best Director (del Toro), Best Leading Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Original Screenplay (del Toro and Vanessa Taylor), and Best Cinematography.

On Thursday morning, del Toro joined McDonagh in the DGA race — up against Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), and Jordan Peele (Get Out). And on Thursday night, the film came up huge at the Critics’ Choice Awards, winning not only Best Picture but also Best Director, Best Production Design, and Best Score.

So what does this all mean for the bigger Oscars picture? It certainly positions The Shape of Water and Three Billboards — both Fox Searchlight releases — to lead all comers at the Academy Awards nominations on Jan. 23, with both films boasting a mix of above-the-line and below-the-line contenders.

It also boosts both their odds for Best Picture in a year when any of a half-dozen films (also including Get Out, Lady Bird, The Post, Call Me by Your Name, and Dunkirk) had seemed to have a legitimate shot at winning.

What’s the favorite between the two? Critics have been divided about Three Billboards (particularly in its redemption of a racist cop), while they have generally embraced The Shape of Water. Del Toro is now the hands-down favorite to win Best Director, and The Shape of Water could be shaping up for a Best Picture win too.

Watch del Toro reveal how The Shape of Water was “terrible” to make:


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