Will win/should win:


The story: A woman (Frances McDormand) gets a bracing look at America when she hits the road in a van.

In its favor: McDormand was already beloved. Writer/director/editor Chloé Zhao's graceful handling of a tricky movie — it mixes actors with people playing themselves — made her a star.

Then again: There's a mild backlash in claims that Zhao is hiding a wealthy background (she says it's untrue) but that's about it.

The rest:

The Father

The story: An intimate trip into the mind of a man with dementia.

In its favor: Florian Zeller based the film on his play, which has racked up tons of awards, but he successfully rethought it in cinematic terms. And the aging Oscar membership probably thinks about memory loss on the regular.

Then again: It's a very small film, entirely set in one apartment, and viewers are more likely to talk about the performances than the movie.

Judas and the Black Messiah

The story: The FBI enlists an informant to bring down Black Panther Fred Hampton.

In its favor: Oscar voters have been inclined to support projects from major studios. Most of those were delayed, but "Judas," from Warner Bros., is the kind of serious-minded quality film Oscar has always loved, with exciting talents in front of and behind the camera.

Then again: It came out very late in the Oscar cycle. Has it worked its way to the top of voters' to-watch lists?


The story: A screenwriter battles inner demons while churning out pages of "Citizen Kane."

In its favor: Movies about the movies often triumph at the Oscars. This one, about possibly the greatest film ever made, comes with the pedigrees of David Fincher and Gary Oldman, as well as black-and-white cinematography that sets it apart.

Then again: Do we care?


The story: Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung based the family drama on his life on a small Arkansas farm.

In its favor: It's tender and impossible not to love. There's something pleasingly old-fashioned about Chung's storytelling. The largely unknown cast is superb, including tiny Alan S. Kim as the Chung stand-in.

Then again: Microbudget movies made far outside the Hollywood system sometimes manage to get Oscar's attention but rarely win.

Promising Young Woman

The story: Troubled by events from her past, a woman seeks revenge against men who abuse women.

In its favor: The movie was in the works before #MeToo gathered steam, but its timing could not be better. It was amplified by a controversy over a review by a critic who, at best, did a bad job of describing Carey Mulligan's performance.

Then again: The darkly comic tone is risky and the ending divisive.

Sound of Metal

The story: Heavy metal drummer Ruben discovers he's going deaf.

In its favor: Along with "Chicago 7," it's the nominee that has been out the longest, so it's clear it has lingered in the minds of voters. Scoring two acting nominations — as many as any of the best picture contenders — shows it has broad support.

In its favor: As voters catch up with it, some are bound to be put off by the (deliberately) abrasive sound and lead character.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

The story: Courtroom drama in which seven men are tried for inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

In its favor: Aaron Sorkin's fast-paced dialogue is showy (performers love it!) and he has written great parts for an ensemble of fine character actors.

Then again: Sorkin's fast-paced dialogue is showy (do people really talk like that?) and quite a lot of what happens on screen did not happen in real life.