Tom O’Neil on Oscars: Why I was wrong about ‘3 Billboards’ winning Best Picture

I knew that my gutsy prediction that “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” would win the Oscar for Best Picture was in trouble when our managing editor Chris Beachum published the ballots of seven voters a week or so ago. None of them picked “Billboards” as the champ. “Shape of Water” had the most votes – three. “Dunkirk” had two, “Lady Bird” and “Darkest Hour” scored one each. “Billboards” was only ranked in the second or third positions on a few ballots.

But still I clung to the lingering hope that it would nonetheless prevail because “Three Billboards” had just romped at BAFTA, overperforming again like it did at the SAG Awards and Golden Globes. Sure, it was missing that crucial Oscar nomination for Best Director, but, hey, “Argo” managed to succeed without same. Meantime, “Water” was victorious at the Producers Guild of America, which uses the same voting process as the Oscars and it snagged Best Picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards, which often foreshadow academy results.

But PGA failed to predict the top Oscar for the past two years and Critics’ Choice was wrong two out of the past three years. Furthermore, “Shape of Water” didn’t have that key nomination for Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards. Last year many Oscarologists insisted that “La La Land” forfeited Best Picture because it was missing that ensemble bid.

So thus I had many excuses to stick stubbornly with my “Three Billboards” pick and, frankly, I felt that I had to do so since I had so boldly ordained it to be the winner back in late November.

Also, to be brutally and embarrassingly honest, I had fallen in love with “Three Billboards” and I made the classic Oscar pundit’s mistake of willing it to triumph. That’s the biggest boo-boo prognosticators can make when we stick out our thin, trembling necks. If we let our likes and dislikes cloud our clairvoyance, we crash.

On Oscar night I saw the collision coming midway through the ceremony when “Get Out” beat “Billboards” for Best Original Screenplay. Yes, “Get Out” had won at WGA, but “Billboards” hadn’t been eligible there. At BAFTA, “Billboards” bagged the script prize, giving me permission to pick it at the Oscars next and so, being giddily lovestruck, I couldn’t resist.

I just got this email from fellow Gold Derby pundit Thelma Adams: “An Amazing Race! So happy to be part of the fun. Just couldn’t let ‘3 Billboards’ go …. sigh!”

I know what you mean, dear Thelma. I couldn’t let “Billboards” go either. At least you and I went over the cliff together like Thelma and Louise smugly confident in the righteousness of our cause, but doomed.

Lesson learned: Never pick such a divisive film again. The preferential ballot won’t tolerate it.

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