Tom O’Neil on ‘Three Billboards’ at Oscars: Will I get to say ‘Toldja!’?

Way back on Nov. 26 — back before the National Board of Review or any other award was doled out this Oscar season — I told you that “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” would win Best Picture on March 4. It wasn’t just casual speculation. Ferociously, in this blog post, I planted my flag with loud bluster and bravado “because I want to own this thing (before) everybody’s on my ‘Billboards’ bandwagon.”

Back then the only other Expert predicting “Three Billboards” was Brian Truitt (USA Today), who later dropped it for “Shape of Water,” but, granted, picked it up again. I’m the only true believer who kept the faith all along and felt so strongly about my choice because “this year I’m hearing consistent adoration across Hollywood for one film, ‘Billboards,'” I wrote. “It’s everybody’s private discovery, one they feel personally vested in, even if they tell me that they believe ‘Dunkirk’ or ‘Shape of Water’ will win Best Picture. When I ask them, ‘So why aren’t you picking ‘Billboards’ to win?’ they shriek in horror: ‘Oh, my God, it’s too weird! Too small! Too quirky! Oscar voters will never go for that!'”

But Oscar voters have gone for many quirky Best Pictures lately – “Moonlight,” “Birdman,” “The Hurt Locker,” none of which could’ve won the top Oscar in the old days. The real problem with “Billboards” is that it’s so ferociously angry that many people get mad about it. Makes them uncomfortable to root for such a nasty woman who’ll burn down the whole world just to get what she wants: vengeance. Yeah, she’s striving for the same thing sought by the heroic #MeToo movement – justice for victims of sexual assault – but, come on! She’s irrational, violent and out of control. Heroes don’t act like that.

SEE: Predictions in all 24 categories at the 90th annual Academy Awards [PHOTOS]

Push-back against “Billboards” started around mid-January after it won Best Drama Picture at the Golden Globes and eventually resulted in a bona-fide backlash — very strange — that continued on the ground across Hollywood until “Billboards” swept BAFTA. Then it stopped and “Billboards” suddenly became cool again, just one day before the start of final Oscar voting. Where do things stand now?

According to Gold Derby’s odds, “Billboards” just pulled ahead with 13/10 odds. Out of our 30 Experts, 14 predict “Billboards” will prevail, 9 say “Shape of Water,” 6 pick “Get Out” and 1 opts for “Lady Bird.” “Billboards” has new momentum not just because it won BAFTA, but because it swept Britain’s equivalent to the Academy Award. Yes, BAFTA failed to predict the top Oscar champ for the past three years, but that’s odd. Usually, the two peer-group awards agree – probably because they share a rather significant chunk of the same voters (reputedly, 500). “Billboards” romped so thoroughly at BAFTA that it even won Best Screenplay over Oscar frontrunner “Get Out,” plus Best British Film over “Darkest Hour.” Huh? Yeah, “Billboards” sure doesn’t look very British, being set in the heartland of Donald Trump America, but the movie (produced with lots of U.K. funding) was obviously on a roll that swept up Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, too.


“Billboards” also rolled mightily through the Globes and SAG Awards, overperforming. But, hold your horses, Derbyites! Before you predict it to win on Sunday, you must remember that “Shape of Water” won Critics’ Choice and Producers’ Guild Awards, which often foretell the top Oscar champ. Heck, the PGA even uses the same, weird preferential ballot used by the motion picture academy.

“Shape of Water” has the most Oscar nominations and it’s much more beloved, emotionally speaking, than “Billboards” by Hollywooders. If Oscars are about bestowing hugs – and they often are – then “Shape” should prevail. “Moonlight” had a similar advantage last year, being a critically hailed indie about a social outcast yearning for acceptance and love. Just like “Shape”?

Correctly predicting this year’s winner all comes down to sizing up that kooky preferential ballot, which asks voters to rank their faves instead of just choosing a winner. Usually, it favors consensus picks and triggers upsets. A theory popular among pundits goes that “La La Land” lost to “Moonlight” and 2016 frontrunner “The Revenant” got usurped by “Spotlight” because they were too divisive. Voters probably ranked them number 1 or number 5. “Spotlight” and “Moonlight” presumably pulled off their victories because they snagged more number 2 and 3 votes. If that’s true, that’s bad news for “Billboards” now since it’s the most divisive top contender this year.

But is this theory of divisiveness really true? “Birdman” was hugely polarizing, but beat the more widely loved “Boyhood” three years ago.

PREDICT the Oscar winners now; change them until March 4

Beware: “Billboards” isn’t nominated for Best Director, which used to mean it can’t win Best Picture, but let’s recall that “Argo” recently triumphed without Ben Affleck in the directors’ contest.

“Shape of Water” has a huge minus, too. It wasn’t nominated for Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards, which “La La Land” missed last year. Many Oscar pundits believe the “La La” snub was an omen we should’ve taken more seriously.

So, take your pick for this year’s Oscar Picture! “Three Billboards,” “Shape of Water” or perhaps “Get Out” (chosen by 6 of our 30 pundits) or “Lady Bird” (1 expert)? Make your predictions here and try to prove our Experts – and me – so wrong! Or do you think I’ll be right about “Three Billboards”?

Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in all 24 categories. 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 combined odds before you make your Oscar winner predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on March 4.

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