2018 Oscars: ‘The Shape of Water’ would be first December release to win Best Picture in 13 years

Thirteen may be “The Shape of Water”’s lucky number. The Guillermo del Toro fantasy drama topped the field with 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. If it wins the top award, it would be the first December release to do so since “Million Dollar Baby” 13 years ago.

December used to be a sweet spot for Oscar contenders as studios and campaigners attempt to benefit from the recency effect and be fresh in voters’ minds. But since the Oscars moved up a month from March to February in the 2003-04 season, the condensed calendar — making it harder to build momentum and get seen by various awards bodies — has been a hindrance to December films outside of “Million Dollar Baby.” The boxing drama hit theaters Dec. 15, 2004, the second year of the shortened calendar, and won three other above-the-line Oscars for director Clint Eastwood and stars Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations: Full list of Academy Awards nominees in all 24 categories

Since then, October and November are the prime months for Best Picture winners, though multiple December films have had Best Picture near-misses. “Brokeback Mountain,” released Dec. 9, 2005, seemed poised to win until “Crash,” released May 6, 2005, crashed the party. Two years ago, PGA champ “The Big Short,” released Dec. 11, 2015, and Golden Globe and BAFTA champ “The Revenant,” released Dec. 25, 2015, fell to SAG ensemble champ “Spotlight,” which hit theaters Nov. 6, 2015. Last year, “La La Land,” which became a frontrunner the second it screened at fall festivals, was released Dec. 9, 2016, and ended the drought for about two minutes before “Moonlight,” released Oct. 21, 2016, took its rightful place on the Dolby Theater stage.

“The Shape of Water,” which hit the festival circuit in Venice and Toronto, was released Dec. 1. The only other December films up for Best Picture are “The Post,” released Dec. 22, and “Phantom Thread,” released on Christmas Day. “The Post,” which received only one other nomination in Best Actress for Meryl Streep, became yet another December Oscar hopeful that underperformed (see: “Silence” last year), while “Phantom Thread” was one of the few late-breakers that have surprised, nabbing six nominations total.

PGA champ “The Shape of Water” is obviously the best positioned of the three to go all the way, but it’s also locked in a tight race with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and to a lesser extent “Lady Bird” and “Get Out.” “Shape” leads our combined odds at 9/2, with “Phantom Thread” in seventh (12/1 odds) and “The Post” in ninth and last place (14/1 odds). The extended season, because of the Winter Olympics, helps everyone, but there’s also no denying that the Oscars haven’t been kind lately to December babies except “Million Dollar Baby.”

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