This year, 17 of our two dozen Oscar experts from major media outlets are predicting that Christopher Nolan will win Best Director for “Dunkirk,” which details the British retreat from France during the darkest days of World War II. However, only 11 of them expect that his technically innovative epic will win Best Picture. Before the academy reintroduced the preferential ballot for Best Picture in 2009, such divides between the two top Oscars were fairly rare. Now, they are the rule rather than the exception at the Academy Awards.
Indeed, at four of the last five Oscars, there has been a split between the winners of Best Picture and Best Director. While Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“The Revenant”) and Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) all took home the Best Director Oscar, their films lost to “Argo” (2012), “12 Years a Slave” (2013), “Spotlight” (2015) and “Moonlight” (2016) respectively. However Inarritu did win for directing the 2014 Best Picture champ “Birdman.”
Unlike all the other Oscar categories, which are decided by a popular vote, the winner of the Best Picture award is determined by a weighted ballot. Voters rank their choices from first to last, and if one nominee garners more than 50% of the first place vote, it automatically wins. If, however, no nominee can meet that threshold, the film with the fewest first place votes gets eliminated, with its ballot getting reapportioned to the second place choice. This process continues until one nominee reaches 50% plus one vote. The goal, says the academy, is to award the top Oscar to a consensus choice.
While 11 of our experts expect “Dunkirk” to be the likeliest victor under this voting system, another six think that Steven Spielberg‘s political drama “The Post” will take the top prize. However, none of our experts are predicting that this two-time Best Director champ (“Schindler’s List,” 1993; “Saving Private Ryan,” 1998) will win a third for helming this true-life story about the Washington Post’s publication of the “Pentagon Papers,” a series of documents prepared for the Department of Defense about the US involvement in Vietnam after WWII.
Four favor a Best Director win by Guillermo Del Toro for his fantasy film “The Shape of Water.” It won the Golden Lion at Venice and got great reviews, especially for Sally Hawkins‘ star turn as a mute woman who communicates through sign language. Del Toro reaped his only Oscar nomination to date for the original screenplay of “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
Joe Wright‘s well-received biopic “Darkest Hour” chronicles the first days of Winston Churchill as Britain’s wartime prime minister. While Gary Oldman is the clear Best Actor frontrunner for his portrayal of this prickly politician, only one expert is predicting Wright to win as well.
Likewise for Luca Guadagnino whose gay coming-of-age story “Call Me by Your Name” was a sensation at Sundance and played well at other festivals. Timothee Chalamet could well play spoiler in the Best Actor race and become its youngest-ever winner for his breakthrough performance.
Below we break down the Oscar Best Director predictions by expert and include the most up-to-date odds for each of the top 10 contenders to win. And be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in the other top races. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories.
1. Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”: 17 experts (2/1 odds)
Thelma Adams (Gold Derby)
Erik Davis (Fandango)
Joyce Eng (TV Guide)
Tim Gray (Variety)
Matthew Jacobs (Huffington Post)
Dave Karger (IMDB)
Jack Mathews (Gold Derby)
Christopher Rosen (Entertainment Weekly)
Keith Simanton (IMDB)
Krista Smith (Vanity Fair)
Sasha Stone (Awards Daily)
Anne Thompson (Indiewire)
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)
Sara Vilkomerson (Entertainment Weekly)
Adnan Virk (ESPN)
Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood-Elsewhere)
Susan Wloszczyna (RogetEbert.com)
2. Guillermo Del Toro, “The Shape of Water”: Four experts (4/1 odds)
Tariq Khan (Fox News)
Tom O’Neil (Gold Derby)
Brian Truitt (USA Today)
Glenn Whipp (Los Angeles Times)
3. Steven Spielberg, “The Post”: (8/1 odds)
4. Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me by Your Name”: One expert (8/1 odds)
Edward Douglas (Tracking Board)
5. Joe Wright, “Darkest Hour”: (14/1 odds)
Scott Mantz (Access Hollywood)
6. Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird” (25/1 odds)
7. Dee Rees, “Mudbound”: One expert (33/1 odds)
Kevin Polowy (Yahoo)
8. Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”: (40/1 odds)
9. Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: (40/1 odds)
10. Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049” (40/1 odds)
Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.