I’ve explained over and over that the three strongest knockout films of 2017 are Luca Guadgnino‘s Call Me By Your Name, Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk and Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird. In picking the most deserving recipient of the Best Picture Oscar, Academy members ought to choose between these three. They really ought to. Because Nolan’s is a brilliant, IMAX-sized work of art and a God’s-eye war film, and Guadagnino’s is a lulling, levitational love story for the ages, and Gerwig’s is a coming-of-age film with a wonderful prickly edge.

But nope, sorry, not happening. Dunkirk isn’t emotional enough, Call Me By Your Name has to stand down because older straight white guys don’t want to celebrate another gay film after Moonlight, and Lady Bird is just a flick about an anxious, creatively stifled high school girl. And so a pair of very worthy but slightly lesser films — Guillermo del Toro‘s The Shape of Water, which received 12 BAFTA noms, and Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri — are stepping into the breach.

This seems to be the meaning of this morning’s BAFTA nominations, if they can be processed as foreshadowings of the 2018 Oscar nominations (which will be announced on 1.23). The 12 noms won by The Shape of Water plus the nine noms that went to Three Billboards means they’re the tippy-toppers right now.

Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour also received nine BAFTA noms, but you have to write some of that off to the Churchill factor (i.e., genetic British nationalism).

In other words, Fox Searchlight almost certainly has the Best Picture Oscar in the bag. After 1.23 it’ll be competing with itself on behalf of Three Billboards and Shape of Water. Not tooth and nail, of course, but voters will have to choose. Hollywood Elsewhere hereby congratulates FS on a fight well won, and twice over at that.

The only problem is that I’ve seen Three Billboards and The Shape of Water twice each, and with all due respect and affection for all concerned they’re just not brilliant or audacious enough to be celebrated as the two finest films of 2017. They deserve to be in the final round of contenders, for sure. And they’re highly commendable — Billboards for the writing and acting (McDormand, Rockwell, Harrelson), Water for the erotic fairy-tale aspects and luxurious production design and cinematography, and in terms of Sally Hawkins‘ extremely affecting performance. But they’re not quite ivy league.

In Shape, Michael Shannon‘s villain is way too one-note demonic, Doug Jones‘ aquatic creature has no personality or longing other than to be loved and protected, and it’s ludicrous to presume (as the movie tells us) that Shannon wouldn’t instantly conclude that Hawkins’ apartment is the only place to look when Jones turns up missing at the lab.

And Three Billboards is suspended in a fantasy realm in which McDormand evades the consequences of drilling a dentist’s thumbnail and firebombing a police station (despite Peter Dinklage vouching for her in the latter case), and Rockwell suffers no legal prosecution or civil lawsuit after he throws Caleb Landry Jones out of a window and off a roof.

And yet The Shape of Water and Three Billboards are the two apparent finalists because (a) they supply enough emotion and aren’t chilly in a Nolan-esque sense, (b) they don’t irritate older white guys by being gayish (Richard Jenkins‘ Shape character aside) and (c) their stories and themes are bigger and broader than that of a Sacramento high-school senior looking to go to college back east. They’re soft consensus favorites, and that’s how it seems to be going right now.