Kris Tapley‘s latest award-season analysis piece (“Are You Ready for the Most Exciting Oscar Race in Years?“) appeared this morning. It’s mostly an accurate read. Especially if your definition of “accurate” is taking the pulse of your Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby go-alongers (i.e., the people who hold their moist fingers to the wind before deciding what they like or which film has the heat). How is Hollywood Elsewhere any different? I’m as aware as the next guy about which way the winds are blowing, but forecast-wise I go by insect antennae vibrations.

The four Best Picture biggies right now, Tapley is saying, are Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Two of these, Dunkirk and Three Billboards, are ballsy stand-outs that deliver something extra by setting out on their own paths. The Shape of Water is a geeky Beauty and the Beast thing attempting to slide into the Oscar fold on a current of emotion and erotic fantasy, and Darkest Hour is the most traditional or old-fashioned of the bunch, a historical drama that is both stylistically striking while walking a very familiar path, and with a lead performance that screams “I am doing almost everything that an Oscar-baity performance can possibly do to win your allegiance — clever mimicry of a famous voice, elaborate facial prosthetics, big cigar, quirky behavior, etc.”

I know what I’m about to say will irritate some people, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t also describe Tapley’s article as a very cleverly phrased takedown thing (and I’m saying this with genuine respect). It manages, almost by sleight of hand, to lower the Best Picture chances of Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name. If the 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating and Toronto Film Festival reactions are any barometer (CMBYN was the 2nd runner-up in the TIFF people-ballot vote), this is certainly one of your Best Picture slam-dunkers. But Tapley has given it the elbow.

What’s happened is that Tapley (who, don’t forget, expressed vague annoyance last July at the “overbearing Call Me By Your Name mafia”) has thrown in with Davidpunching chancePoland as well as a modest fraternity of “older, vaguely prudish industry guys” in describing this Sony Pictures Classics as a deserving but struggling second-tier contender, trying like hell to climb aboard a moving train.

Respectful denigration is an art form, and Tapley has mastered it. I do this shit myself from time to time so don’t tell me.

Tapley achieves this by tossing Call Me By Your Name into a sideshow arena occupied by other indie-brand huffers-and-puffersMudbound, The Disaster Artist (!), The Florida Project. Tapley acknowledges that these four “continue to rank among the very best-reviewed films of the year,” but this rote assessment masks what he’s really doing, which is putting CMBYN into a box of contenders who need to run like the wind and do cartwheels and somersualts and jump through hoops to prove to skeptical industry voters that they’re worthy of Best Picture consideration. They’re very good films, Tapley is saying, but they don’t have that aura of inevitability, that vibe of confidence, that curiously radiant glow that all winners possess.

Tapley does the same thing to Greta Gerwig‘s indisputably well-made and emotionally affecting Lady Bird by lumping it in with female-starring also-rans (at least in terms of Best Picture chances) like Battle of the Sexes, First They Killed My Father, I, Tonya and Molly’s Game. Lady Bird is easily four or five times better than any of these four, but the Tapley dilution has been poured, and from here on people will be looking at Lady Bird will a little more scrutiny. Don’t listen to Tapley! He’s spinning spin, selling snake oil, etc.

Best Actress-wise, Tapley is favoring Battle of the Sexes star Emma Stone (nope), I, Tonya‘s Margot Robbie (if you insist), Lady Bird‘s Saoirse Ronan (yes!), Molly Game star Jessica Chastain (unlikely), Shape of Water‘s Sally Hawkins (locked), and Three BillboardsFrances McDormand (definitely). From my perspective the other three comers are Wonder Wheel‘s Kate Winslet, Victoria and Abdul‘s Judi Dench and Glenn Close‘s recently-arrived knockout performance in The Wife (presuming that someone acquires this English-language, Swedish-produced film and releases it before 12.31.17).

HE summary for now: Ronan, Hawkins, McDormand, Winslet, Dench and Close.

The Best Actor race boils down to Darkest Hour‘s scenery-chewing Gary Oldman, possibly Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq., Jake Gyllenhaal‘s career-best performance in Stronger (just saw it last night) and Timothee Chalamet‘s lead performance in Call My By Your Name. I don’t know who the fifth guy might be but I’m presuming Tom Hanks in The Post or Daniel Day Lewis in Phantom Thread, and probably both.

HE summary for now: Hanks, Lewis, Gyllenhaal, Chalamet, Oldman.

Why, the way, are Tapley and others referring to Phantom Thread as “untitled Paul Thomas Anderson”? I’m not saying that Phantom Thread is 100% locked down but it’s a perfect sounding title — it sings, it rings. What earthly reason could the producers have for deciding against using Phantom Thread, which is possibly the coolest-sounding title of a possible Best Picture contender since Zero Dark Thirty?