2018 Oscar predictions: How ‘The Shape of Water’ could win Best Picture over more divisive frontrunners

After winning the top prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards, “The Shape of Water” could now be on its way to a surprise Best Picture victory at the 2018 Oscars. While the Best Picture talk has coalesced around Golden Globe winners “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” and critics darling “Get Out,” it’s looking like “The Shape of Water” isn’t out of the race just yet.

“The Shape of Water” won four trophies at the Critics’ Choice Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Guillermo del Toro, Best Original Score and Best Production Design, following the film’s Director and Score victories at the Golden Globes. Despite 14 nominations at Critics’ Choice, its Best Picture triumph in particular was seen as a surprise, considering the buzz seemed to be with “Three Billboards,” “Lady Bird” and “Get Out.” The film’s viability as a major Oscar contender likely shot up a bit considering the Critics’ Choice Awards aired the night before Oscar nominations voting closed.

SEE Best Director Oscar predictions by experts: Guillermo del Toro (‘The Shape of Water’) widens lead after DGA nominations

One key factor in “The Shape of Water’s” potential Best Picture win is del Toro being the frontrunner for Best Director. This category is closely associated with Best Picture, and even when there’s a split between the two, like “Moonlight”/Damien Chazelle, “Spotlight”/Alejandro G. Inarritu and “12 Years a Slave”/Alfonso Cuaron, it is suggested that “La La Land,” “The Revenant” and “Gravity” were the runners-up of their respective races in Best Picture. So why is “The Shape of Water” not being taken seriously as a Best Picture contender when del Toro is very likely winning Best Director?

While “Three Billboards,” “Lady Bird” and “Get Out” have felt the love of frontrunner status, that comes with some negativity as well. For “Three Billboards,” there is some criticism about how it treats its black characters, especially when its blatantly racist cop Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is redeemed by the film’s end.

“Lady Bird” and “Get Out” have not had such opposition, but their unbridled support from critics may leave more casual moviegoers underwhelmed, with genre bias potentially working against both of them. Meanwhile, “The Shape of Water” has largely escaped the brutality of award season unscathed. Even its unconventional love story, which may have been thought to be its biggest obstacle in getting a widespread audience on-board, has not come up as a problem in think pieces. With the preferential ballot voting system, it’s difficult to imagine voters hating or being underwhelmed by “The Shape of Water” enough to rank it that low.

SEE predictions from two dozen Oscar experts: What will win Best Picture?

“The Shape of Water” has garnered the most love of any film thus far from the industry guilds. It has shown up at 11 guilds, from DGA to WGA to PGA to the various technical crafts. That type of broad support could be enough to carry it over the top, especially with three smaller indie films that do not have the same kind of visual craftsmanship as del Toro and his team. The one big miss for “The Shape of Water,” though, is the SAG Awards. While stars Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins were nominated by the Screen Actors Guild, its lack of a cast nomination is not good for its chances, especially with such a talented ensemble behind it. No film since “Braveheart” (1995) has been snubbed for the top SAG prize and still gone on to win Best Picture. It was the one tea leaf we had last year that “La La Land” might not win Best Picture, and the stat has held in place for 22 years, suggesting that if you don’t have the support of the actors, your film is not winning Best Picture.

And yet, rules are meant to be broken. “Argo” still won Best Picture even without Ben Affleck getting nominated for Best Director. “Birdman” still won without a Best Film Editing nomination. This isn’t to say that “The Shape of Water” is in a strong position to win, or that it’s the new frontrunner. But if Oscar prognosticators are looking for a friendlier alternative to the divisive frontrunner “Three Billboards,” it might not be “Get Out” or “Lady Bird,” but the big technical achievement that has been steadily chugging along all season — “The Shape of Water.”

PREDICT the Oscar nominees now; change them until January 23

Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in this and the other top races. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories. Then take a look at the most up-to-date odds before you make make your Oscar nomination predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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