‘Dunkirk’ has an uphill Oscar battle: It’d be the first Best Picture winner without acting or writing nominations in 85 years

The story of this year’s Oscar race is rules. Which long-standing rule awards pundits rely on to make predictions will be broken? All of the top five Best Picture contenders in our predictions have something missing — “The Shape of Water” doesn’t have the SAG ensemble nomination, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” doesn’t have a director nomination, “Lady Bird” and “Get Out” don’t have editing or any craft nominations, and “Dunkirk”? “Dunkirk” would have to break one of the longest stats. Christopher Nolan’s epic doesn’t have any acting or writing nominations and only two films have won Best Picture without either of them: “Wings” (1927/28) and “Grand Hotel” (1932).

That’s right, it hasn’t happened in 85 years. Even then, you can attribute the first two instances to the early days of the Oscars, when categories, rules and voting patterns were in flux. “Wings,” of course, was the first Best Picture champ; “Grand Hotel,” the fifth, and the only one to win with Best Picture as its sole nomination.

SEE 2018 Oscars: ‘Dunkirk’ aiming to be 12th Best Picture champ without an acting nomination

That it hasn’t happened since speaks to the importance of having the support of the acting branch — the largest of the academy — and the writing branch in your Oscar campaign. But it’s usually an either/or situation. Besides “Wings” and “Grand Hotel,” only five other films — “The Broadway Melody” (1928/29), “Cavalcade” (1932/33), “Hamlet” (1948), “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “Titanic” (1997) — won Best Picture without writing nominations; all had at least one acting nomination, with Laurence Olivier winning Best Actor for “Hamlet.”

And outside of “Wings” and “Grand Hotel,” nine other films took the top award sans acting mentions: “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1929/30), “An American in Paris” (1951), “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952), “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “Gigi” (1958), “The Last Emperor” (1987), “Braveheart” (1995), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) and “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008). Interestingly, seven of them won a screenplay award (“The Greatest Show on Earth” won the now-defunct Best Story) except “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Braveheart,” which lost to “The Big House” and “The Usual Suspects,” respectively.

SEE 2018 Oscars: ‘That darn preferential ballot’ could lead to an upset by ‘Get Out’ or (gasp) even ‘Dunkirk’ [WATCH]

“Dunkirk” wasn’t expected to score acting or writing nominations. Its biggest acting hopeful, Mark Rylance in supporting, never got any traction. And though Nolan’s script isn’t dialogue-heavy, in a less competitive year for Best Original Screenplay, it probably could’ve snuck in for its triple-timeline storytelling. The Oscars have nominated Nolan before for his similarly high-concept scripts that play with time, “Memento” (2001) and “Inception” (2010).

“Dunkirk” has 50/1 odds in our latest Best Picture predictions, and as our Senior Editor Daniel Montgomery reminds us in our latest slugfest, it was the favorite for months before other contenders started trickling in. None of our Experts, Editors or Top 24 Users are picking it to win Best Picture now since it hasn’t earned a major precursor, but as an eight-time nominee of tremendous scope and scale, it’s ranked high enough in their predictions that it’s fifth behind “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards,” “Get Out” and “Lady Bird.” “Dunkirk” would have to hope for a similar situation — well, a lot more No. 2 and 3 votes — on the Oscars’ preferential ballot to pull off the win and be the exception to one abiding rule.

PREDICT the Oscar winners now; change them until March 4

Be sure to make your Oscar predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on March 4. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our movie forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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