So, there are two things at work here:
1) The preferential ballot. This has been with us since 2009, but the effects only seem to have fully kicked in a few years later. Note: the 2011 Oscars marked my 50th year watching; in those 50 years, 42 times I saw the best director winner go on to take best picture. In the six years since, that's only happened twice. There's clearly different math afoot now.
But I think people claim to understand the effect of this preferential voting way more than they actually do. A lot of people are touting Green Book this year, on the premise that it goes down easier than anything else. But did Moonlight go down easier than La La Land? There's something more at work than simply "less complicated". And then there are all these assumptions of people voting strategically -- i.e., placing rivals that might win as far down the ballot as possible. I think we'd need a ton of study to see if that really works in such a voting format. It might just work to the advantage of another, non-strategizing candidate.
Bottom line: we're way too early in the years of preferential voting for best picture to draw full conclusions about what sort of films are helped by it and which are hurt. But we have seen enough to know it can create chaotic outcomes. In a time when the four acting awards have too often been drowsily predictable, the best picture category has offered surprises on multiple occasions.
2) This year's batch. However chaotic the preferential ballot may make things in a normal year, how much more havoc might it wreak in a year when not a single nominee feels within a mile of being a standard best picture winner? When the precursors have been all over Dodge. When even I'd have trouble settling on a winner. It's a wonder predictions aren't even more widespread than they are.
However...I'm not inclined to think all rules go out the window. Black Panther has 7 nominations, but not one of them except best picture is of any consequence. It's omitted by writers, directors, editors and actors. Yes, it has a SAG win; so did Hidden Figures. I'd be shocked were this to win.
Bohemian Rhapsody also has no directing or writing. It does have that key acting nod, and editing. But a couple of sound nominations bring it to a measly 5 nominations. That's not a winner's profile.
A Star is Born turned back into a pumpkin sometime back in January, and now it's like people forget it's even nominated. Cooper's directing omission barely registered on the Affleck scale. The film will take its Best Song door prize and go home...maybe to wonder how it all went wrong.
Vice has all the requisite nominations, but has too much hatred coming at it to have any chance. It's widely see as inferior to McKay's previous nominee, and isn't taken seriously enough to get many number one votes.
Green Book is the only no-director nominee I think has a whiff of a chance at winning, and that's primarily because of its win at PGA. Sasha Stone keeps touting that because "they use preferential, too". But she doesn't give enough attention to the composition of PGA -- it's the old-white-man-est of the Guilds by far, and I think it's clear that's the most appreciative audience Green Book has. The shocking WGA loss was a real body blow to the film's Oscar scenario -- it was literally the first step in Driving Miss Daisy's journey (NBR, Comedy Globe, director snub, PGA) it failed to match (well, that and the whole leading the field with 9 nominations thing). I'm not ruling the film out, but I'm less scared of it now. Unless it wins original screenplay.
BlackkKlansman is the movie I've been waiting all season to spring a surprise, and now the only time left for it to do that is tomorrow night. The one surprise it did pull was a negative one, falling short at WGA. Because I rate it likely to win adapted screenplay, it will remain in the hunt right up to the final envelope tear. But it's beginning to feel like the one we look back on and wonder why it didn't do better.
It's a bizarre situation I find myself in: I -- the one who's spent most of our years together saying DGA X 2 is the way to go -- am here wondering why so many people are all in on Roma. Do others find the film more Academy-friendly than I? Look, there've been films I never thought could win best picture that have gone on to do so -- MIdnight Cowboy, Annie Hall, No Country for Old Men. But these films were, in the end, only a slight stretch for voters. Roma is a reach across a chasm. Not just the black-and-white/subtitled/Netflix thing. This is a deep-art film -- a story told so indirectly it hardly seems to have a narrative at all. Not to start any debate about the relative merits of the films, but this is like The Tree of Life winning best picture -- a choice so far from the norms of the category it seems to have come from another dimension.
And I'm speaking as one who loves some things about Roma. And it does seems that the film is unexpectedly connecting for some people, in odd ways. A woman friend came to watch it on my Netflix, and told me she "hated it", because "nothing happened". Then, a few days later, she called and told me she hadn't been able to stop thinking about it. So, maybe what's great about the movie is enough to make people wade past the things that trouble them.
But I'm thinking there's an easier way out for people. There's a film that's broadly popular with the Academy (to the tune of 10 nominations), that I suspect will come bearing a best screenplay win and a few other trophies, and might just be the Chariots of Fire to slip between the Reds/On Golden Pond battle that Roma/Green Book are supposedly waging. I'm thinking The Favourite can pull it out.
Though The Favourite wasn't nominated by the DGA. It'd be the first film to win best picture without that credit since...Driving Miss Daisy. Ain't that a laugh?
Of course, I don't know any more than the rest of you of what will be in that final envelope. But that's how I break it down.