Unlike the Emmys, Grammys and Tonys, the Oscars arrive at the end of a loooong season of speeches and industry self-congratulation. Various guild awards have already offered plenty of clues about how academy members might vote and, in many cases, all that's left to do is engrave the trophy with the name of the inevitable winner. (Congratulations, Team "Coco"!)
But the Oscar nominations do reset the playing field. Sure, "The Shape of Water" took the Producers Guild's top honor, and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" swept through the SAG Awards. In theory, though, all nine best picture nominees have a shot at winning the Oscar. It's the awards season's version of baseball's spring training. Hope abounds!
Of course, this is Hollywood, so, really, pessimism, paranoia and worry rule the day. But let's play along and imagine a pitch each best picture nominee could make on its way to Oscar glory. Whisper campaigns optional.
"The Shape of Water"
Current odds: 4-5 (per Gold Derby)
The pitch: This is not just a B-movie fish-man flick. This is a parable, a parable about "the other." It's about uniting against racism and sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. You got that, right? Of course you did. We laid on the allegory a little thick, just in case you were distracted by the creature (sorry about the cat) and all those swooning cues from the golden age of Hollywood.
"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Current odds: 10-3
The pitch: Lately, you may have heard some pushback against this movie from people who find its treatment of race careless and irresponsible. Believe us. This is the least racist movie you have ever watched. The African American Film Critics Assn. named "Three Billboards" the second-best film of the year and gave Frances McDormand its lead actress prize. Would a movie with prejudice in its heart earn such honors? Again: Most celebrated. Least racist.
Current odds: 14-1
The pitch: Jordan Peele's social thriller came out a year ago — and you're still watching it, parsing it and debating its content. Meanwhile, you've probably already forgotten half these other nominated films. What better way to make a case for the relevance of the Oscars than to reward the movie than owns the highest social currency, not to mention the biggest box office total?
Current odds: 14-1
The pitch: The National Society of Film Critics named Greta Gerwig's movie the year's best film, as did the New York Film Critics Circle. And in a time when gender inequity continues to make headlines, rewarding a movie written and directed by a woman and featuring a story line about a young woman asserting herself feels right and appropriate and, yes, historic. You know your mom would approve.
Current odds: 50-1
The pitch: After giving the Oscar to a micro-indie last year, it's time the academy goes big. Imax big. And just so you don't forget about us, don't be surprised if you wake up one morning and there's this guy in a trench coat outside your bedroom window, hoisting a boombox over his head with Hans Zimmer's score blaring out into the light of the new morning, the churning soundscapes beating voters' eardrums (and hearts) into submission.
"Call Me by Your Name"
Current odds: 66-1
The pitch: You've seen our Oscar-nominated lead, Timothée Chalamet out there delivering all those endearingly goofy speeches, right? Let's keep 'em coming, maybe with Oscar-nominated songwriter Sufjan Stevens delicately strumming his guitar in the background. And remind everyone that screenwriter James Ivory is about to become the oldest Oscar winner — unless documentarian Agnès Varda, eight days his senior, also wins. Is it too late for Ivory to write a tie-in cookbook, something with a good recipe for easy homemade pasta and a tasty peach cobbler?
Current odds: 80-1
The pitch: The movie is the right choice for best picture because it's the right choice. No? Maybe one day you'll change your taste. What's that? Maybe you won't? Well, then, maybe you have no taste. Don't debate me. I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations. Now get up, I need that chair for my next opponent.
Current odds: 100-1
The pitch: Let us not forget that the odds were against the British too, fighting Hitler. So … a vote for "Dunkirk" is a vote against Hitler. Too much? OK. How about reminding academy members that "Darkest Hour" has made the most money of all the indie best picture nominees. You know you loved it, you 63-year-old, average-age academy member. (But you don't look a day over 62, sweetie. Really.) Don't feel pressured to vote for one of those other, cooler movies. Trust your feelings.
Current odds: 100-1
The pitch: Will someone explain what happened? A month ago, Seth Meyers was making a joke about "The Post" being so good, so timely that it was going to win a raft of Golden Globes before the show even started. And this is the reward? Two nominations. Let that sit with you. Two nominations. And one of them was for Meryl, who gets nominated whether or not she's in capital-A Acting mode. But it's not too late, you know. This movie is lofty, urgent filmmaking. This movie is a rallying cry. What? You're going to stiff us for that B-movie fish-man flick? C'mon. You're better than that.