Oscar predictions: Tom O’Neil explains why he’s picking ‘Roma’ to win Best Picture

At BAFTA last Sunday, “Roma” not only won the Best Picture race, but it surged out front in the Oscar derby. Now it’s the clear frontrunner.

Up until recently, the only Best Picture trophies that “Roma” had claimed were at critics’ awards. “Green Book” triumphed as Best Picture at the Golden Globes and, even more importantly, the Producers’ Guild. PGA uses the same kind of preferential ballot that the Oscars do, which resulted in the two awards agreeing on Best Picture 8 times in 10 years. Technically, that victory should’ve widely established “Green Book” as the new obvious Oscar frontrunner, but it’s been dogged by controversies that bloggers won’t let die. Also, there’s that sad bit about Peter Farrelly not being nominated for Best Director, but, come on, did we really believe that the academy’s snooty directors’ branch would embrace the helmer of “Dumb and Dumber”? Just look who ended up getting nominated in his place: Polish art-house darling Pawel Pawlikowski. Yes, Pawlikowski is a very worthy nominee, but most derby-trackers like me believe that he took Farrelly’s slot.

The Farrelly snub is an obstacle that can be surmounted, as Ben Affleck (“Argo”) proved, but Affleck prevailed after winning DGA and all Hollywood cheered him on at the Oscars next. Now “Green Book” has many passionate supporters, but not really the same boisterous rah-rah section for Farrelly, unfortunately. Frankly, there should be – he’s a genius filmmaker at the top of his game with “Green Book.” But most of the gushing this year has been over the rival who beat Farrelly at the Directors’ Guild of America Awards: Alfonso Cuaron.

Throughout awards season, “Roma” has been smartly pitched to Hollywood voters with two powerful narratives: it’s a Rembrandt of movies — high art realized through hi-def cameras and pioneering audio technique. And it’s told by a beloved giant of cinema who made the courageous artistic choice to share intimate impressionistic scenes of his early personal life. Oh, yeah, and it’s backed by the most expensive Oscar campaign in history ($50 million), spearheaded by super-campaigner Lisa Taback, who’s got something to prove. After decades winning Oscars for many studios, Lisa pulled a fascinating career move. She sold all of her formidable FYC talents to one studio: Netflix, which now wants to prove that it is the official face of triumphant disruptive new media and it rules Hollywood, thank you.

Beware: “Green Book” not only won Best Picture at PGA, but also at the Golden Globes and it claimed the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, too. Compare that to “Roma,” which prevailed at BAFTA, DGA and the Critics’ Choice Awards. Both “Green Book” and “Roma” look like equally formidable rivals.

I’m picking “Roma” to win at the Oscars because I think artistic heft has the most weight with voters, who’ve been trying to prove how smart they are in recent years by so frequently picking esoteric, art-house fare such as “The Shape of Water,” “Moonlight” and “Birdman.”

And then there’s the recent BAFTA victory, which tells us that “Roma” can win an industry peer-group prize with the most number-one-ranked votes. BAFTA doesn’t use a preferential ballot. “Roma” won the contest outright and it beat British hometown fave “The Favourite,” which was heavily favored to win and, indeed, claimed Best British Picture plus six more awards.

BAFTA and the Hollywood film academy share more than 500 voters – that’s about 7% of the Oscar electorate. Statistically speaking, that’s a rather large representative sample and that’s probably why we often see such strong agreement between them. Last year, for example, BAFTA correctly forecasted all four of Oscar’s acting categories.

But, ooops – wait a minute. BAFTA got Best Picture wrong last year (picking “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” over eventual Oscar champ “Shape of Water”) and the previous three years, too!

At the Oscars, it all comes down to that tricky preferential ballot. A movie doesn’t need the most number-one votes to win if it has enough second- and third-placed votes.

Hmmm … what do you think? Please make (or update) your Oscar predictions here and prove that you can beat our Experts and demonstrate that you are the smartest Oscar prognosticator on the planet!

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