PORTLAND, Ore. — When did the Oscars become too predictable?
Starting with the Golden Globes and running the gamut of the various Guild awards, the same film won top honors and the same four performers took home acting statues. That's not a bad thing, but it does make the predictions game a little less interesting.
That said, there is some room for surprises. The race for Best Director, while certainly not without a clear front-runner, is far less of a lock than some of the other categories. Same goes for both of the writing categories, neither of which have clear front-runners from where I'm standing.
So without further ado, here are my wish lists and reality checks for the 92nd Academy Awards.
- Ford v Ferrari
- The Irishman
- Jojo Rabbit
- Little Women
- Marriage Story
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
We should have seen the 1917 wave coming. Nobody loves war dramas more than the Oscars, and director Sam Mendes' one-shot epic is more than enough cinematic cap-nip for the Academy voters.
Before the Golden Globes gave the film top honors, some viewed 1917 as a technical triumph that was ultimately gimmicky and lacking in human drama. But it seems Mendes' willingness to take a bold risk and cinematographer Roger Deakins' legendary skills behind the camera may be enough to carry 1917 across the finish line. If there is a nominee most likely to shake up the race, it's Parasite. But I wouldn't put money on it. This is 1917's year.
Actor in a Leading Role
- Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
- Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood)
- Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
- Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
- Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)
Here's where things start getting predictable. Fact: Joaquin Phoenix is going to win Best Actor. Mark your Oscars ballots now. Use a pen. Use a magic marker. I'm telling you, it is going to happen.
Phoenix's performance as Arthur Fleck, aka the Joker, a mentally ill loner who develops a taste for vengeance, captivates in the classic, over-the-top way we've come to expect from the many actors who've brought this character to life over the years. Antonio Banderas, on the other hand, thrills with quieter, haunting melancholy as an aging Spanish director developing a drug addiction. Where Banderas forces the audience to plumb the depths of human emotion, Phoenix shoves his performance in your face. Both deserve Oscar statues. But Phoenix is on track to win.
Actress in a Leading Role
- Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
- Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
- Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)
- Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
- Renée Zellweger (Judy)
Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron
Renée has this in the can. Next.
Just kidding. But seriously. That has been the narrative from the moment critics first laid eyes on Judy, a biopic about the late Judy Garland in her final years. Zellweger's performance has been lauded almost universally and she's been winning awards for it all season.
Perhaps because the film's been getting lukewarm reviews, but there hasn't been as much excitement over Zellweger as there has been for, say, Saoirse Ronan, who lit the screen up in Little Women. Her turn as Jo March was joyous, infectious, and interesting. Likewise, Charlize Theron's eye-popping transformation into Fox News-era Megyn Kelly was so uncanny my jaw dropped. But they haven't been winning the awards. Zellweger has. And she will continue to do so on Oscar night.
Actor in a Supporting Role
- Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
- Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
- Al Pacino (The Irishman)
- Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
- Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood)
Brad Pitt, Joe Pesci
We need to enjoy these moments when they happen, because they rarely do: when the person who deserves to win is the same person who everybody wants to win and is also the same person who actually will win on Sunday.
This year that person is Brad Pitt.
Pitt won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA and has been charming critics on the red carpet all awards season. His turn as Cliff Booth, a Hollywood stuntman who might be a murderer, oozes with old-school-cool that serves as a vehicle for Pitt's best assets (figuratively and literally). The only sad part about his inevitable win is that Joe Pesci will lose. He may not be the lead of The Irishman, but he's the heart and soul. Any other year, he would walk away with Oscar gold. But not this year. It's Pitt all the way.
Actress in a Supporting Role
- Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
- Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
- Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
- Florence Pugh (Little Women)
- Margot Robbie (Bombshell)
As long as the Oscars are going to be predictable, they might as well go to the right person.
Laura Dern is astounding in Marriage Story, portraying a fierce divorce attorney. One moment she's as warm and comforting as a security blanket, then the next she's slashing through flesh and bone with nothing more than her words. Florence Pugh deserves a shoutout for her thoughtful performance in Little Women, and Scarlett Johansson was unexpectedly moving in Jojo Rabbit, but facts are facts: they just aren't beating Laura Dern this year.
Animated Feature Film
- How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
- I Lost My Body
- Missing Link
- Toy Story 4
I Lost My Body, Klaus
What a banner year for animated films.
First, I need to check my bias at the door: I live in Portland, Oregon, which is home-court for Laika Studios and its latest stop-motion masterpiece Missing Link. Laika has been chasing an Oscar for years but hasn't been successful yet. This year is as close as they've come so far, winning the Golden Globe for their beautiful and hilarious telling of the Sasquatch story.
Klaus was an amazing hand-drawn adventure, but not widely seen. I Lost My Body was my personal favorite of the bunch, but it may have been a little too dark and weird for the voters at large. Two of the others are sequels, which Academy voters don't like. So, by process of elimination, I'm betting that this is Laika's year and Missing Link will win.
- The Irishman; Rodrigo Prieto
- Joker; Lawrence Sher
- The Lighthouse; Jarin Blaschke
- 1917; Roger Deakins
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood; Robert Richardson
1917, The Lighthouse
Roger Deakins, the master cinematographer behind 1917, waited decades to win his first Oscar. Now it will be the biggest shock of the night if he doesn't win his second for this one-take flex.
I think The Lighthouse deserves a shoutout for the way Jarin Blaschke created a tense and unnerving atmosphere with crackly black-and-white and old-school aspect ratios. But at the end of the day, this is 1917's award to lose.
- The Irishman; Sandy Powell & Christopher Peterson
- Jojo Rabbit; Mayes C. Rubeo
- Joker; Mark Bridges
- Little Women; Jacqueline Durran
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood; Arianne Phillips
Little Women, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
Costumes are a tricky category, because sometimes the best costumes are the ones you never notice. In Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, everything makes sense: Leonardo DiCaprio's cowboy hat and boots on the set of a 1960s western. Or the extra-short shorts of a scrawny hippy who just so happens to be in a murderous cult.
But sometimes, the best costumes are centerpieces, like the clothing seen in Little Women. Everything fits (literally and figuratively) and everything is gorgeous. Nothing seems out of place and yet everything stands out in the best way possible. My money's on Little Women.
- The Irishman; Martin Scorsese
- Joker; Todd Phillips
- 1917; Sam Mendes
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood; Quentin Tarantino
- Parasite; Bong Joon Ho
Like the costumes category, there is a similar debate to be had about whether good directing is noticeable or doing invisible work up in the rafters. If it's the former, then Todd Phillips' manic choices in Joker would steamroll the competition; if the latter, than we'd all be universally lauding frontrunner Greta Gerwig. But alas, Phillips will not win and Gerwig wasn't even nominated.
Sam Mendes is going home with this award. The insane amount of work and directorial planning required to pull off the technical achievement that was 1917 cannot be denied. It could be argued that Roger Deakins' singular cinematography is doing all the work, but, at the end of the day, Mendes is the boss and he's responsibility for all of the threads successfully tying together. And they did.
- American Factory
- The Cave
- The Edge of Democracy
- For Sama
Honeyland, American Factory
A category usually stacked with social commentaries and narratives from the front-lines of war, this year's winner will be a quiet, personal story about a woman and her bees.
Honeyland has the benefit of going into Sunday nominated in both this category and International Feature (it is a North Macedonian film), so voters will be doubly aware of its presence. American Factory was exceptional but possibly too political for the voting body at large (remember that Obama/Netflix partnership?). I also believe the remaining war stories will cancel each other out, leaving Honeyland to claim the prize.
Documentary (Short Subject)
- In the Absence
- Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)
- Life Overtakes Me
- St. Louis Superman
- Walk Run Cha-Cha
-Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)*
- Ford v Ferrari; Michael McCusker & Andrew Buckland
- The Irishman; Thelma Schoonmaker
- Jojo Rabbit; Tom Eagles
- Joker; Jeff Groth
- Parasite; Yang Jinmo
Parasite, Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferrari
It takes a careful balancing act to take a machismo dad movie about racing cars and elevate it into an Oscar contender, but that's what happened with Ford v Ferrari. At the end of the day, it's a cheer-worthy film about crossing the finish line at break-neck speeds, but it's held together very carefully by some sharp editing that both sustains the adrenaline and helps the audience make sense of the high-octane action.
International Feature Film
- Corpus Christi (Poland)
- Honeyland (North Macedonia)
- Les Misèrables (France)
- Pain and Glory (Spain)
- Parasite (South Korea)
Pain and Glory, Parasite
This may be the biggest lock of the evening. There are almost no scenarios where Parasite, a high-brow foreign film that enthralled critics without alienating audiences, does not win this award.
The most likely of those highly-unlikely scenarios involves Parasite unexpectedly winning in other major categories, leaving room for Pain and Glory, or possibly Les Misèrables, to sweep in. But again, that seems like an exceedingly unlikely scenario. If you're putting money on the Oscars, this might be your safest bet.
Makeup and Hairstyling
- Bombshell; Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan & Vivian Baker
- Joker; Nicki Ledermann & Kay Georgiou
- Judy; Jeremy Woodhead
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil; Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten & David White
- 1917; Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis & Rebecca Cole
Joker, Judy, Bombshell
I mentioned Charlize Theron's uncanny transformation into ex-Fox News powerhouse Megyn Kelly earlier in the acting categories (she's up for Best Actress), but to be fully honest, the makeup and hair department tie everything together. Joker and Judy could slide in for a surprise win, but my gut says, in terms of sheer effectiveness, Bombshell has this one in the makeup bag.
Music (Original Score)
- Joker; Hildur Guðnadóttir
- Little Women; Alexandre Desplat
- Marriage Story; Randy Newman
- 1917; Thomas Newman
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; John Williams
Minutes after Joker lets you know what kind of movie it is going to be, the titular character flees from a blood-soaked subway train and into a grimy subway bathroom to hide from the inevitable authorities. He's just experienced his first brush with violent revenge. But instead of melting down, crying, desperately trying to hide a weapon, he lifts his arms, looks up to the cracked ceiling tiles, and starts dancing.
The scene, like many others in the film, wouldn't work without Hildur Guðnadóttir's pitch-perfect score roaring over the macabre display. 1917, comparatively, lays down Thomas Newman's score in a subtle-till-it-isn't way, supporting the drama until it takes center stage in the emotional climax. But in 1917, the music is wallpaper. In Joker, it's the foundation.
Music (Original Song)
- "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" from Toy Story 4; Randy Newman
- "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman; Elton John & Bernie Taupin
- "I'm Standing With You" from Breakthrough; Diane Warren
- "Into the Unknown" from Frozen II; Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez
- "Stand Up" from Harriet; Joshuah Brian Campbell & Cynthia Erivio
"Stand Up," "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away"
"(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"
What a weird category this is every year.
Does the Academy award the song it finds the most pleasing? The song that fits the film best? The one that creates the most powerful moment? Who knows!
Whatever the case, I believe the Academy will acknowledge two things: 1) the sheer star power of Sir Elton John, and 2) the tireless gumption of Taron Egerton who brought the singer to life (Egerton also campaigned very, very hard for the film through Awards season). "Stand Up" is a powerful anthem and "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" is a fun ditty, but I have a feeling "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" will win this one.
- The Irishman; Bob Shaw & Regina Graves
- Jojo Rabbit; Ra Vincent; Nora Sopková
- 1917; Dennis Gassner & Lee Sandales
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood; Barbara Ling; Nancy Haigh
- Parasite; Lee Ha Jun & Cho Won Woo
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, Parasite, 1917
Part of the reason 1917's one-shot style wasn't ultimately shrugged off as a gimmick was because there was always so much to look at on screen.
The horrors of World War I fill the picture almost constantly: bombed-out craters in green fields, crumbling farm houses, abandoned tanks and artillery, piles and piles of rotting corpses. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood and Parasite also suck audiences into a world with which they are probably unfamiliar: neon-soaked 1969 Hollywood and a South Korea delineated by clear markers between rich and poor. But the production design of 1917 was so fundamental to the film's effectiveness that it can't be ignored. And on Oscar Sunday, it won't be.
Short Film (Animated)
- Dcera (Daughter)
- Hair Love
Short Film (Live Action)
- Nefta Football Club
- The Neighbors' Window
- A Sister
The Neighbors' Window*
- Ford v Ferrari; Donald Sylvester
- Joker; Alan Robert Murray
- 1917; Oliver Tarney & Rachael Tate
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood; Wylie Stateman
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; Matthew Wood & David Acord
Ford v Ferrari, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
- Ad Astra; Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson & Mark Ulano
- Ford v Ferrari; Paul Massey, David Giammarco & Steven A. Morrow
- Joker; Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic & Tod Maitland
- 1917; Mark Taylor & Stuart Wilson
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood; Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler & Mark Ulano
Ford v Ferrari, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
**I'm combining my thoughts on both sound categories because I came to my conclusions of both for similar reasons.
I think Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood sounded the best of all of the nominated films: the nearly constant ebb and flow of radio din floating across the neon-saturated streets of LA, the tinny distortion of old film reel, the pitch-perfect music cues. Similarly, Ford v Ferrari nailed the chaotically loud reality of racing the fastest cars in the world.
All that said, 1917 will likely win both categories because Academy voters rarely grasp the nuanced differences between the two categories and traditionally give the same film both awards. And since 1917 is an obvious frontrunner for the technical awards, I'm just going to follow tradition and predict it will win these, too.
- Avengers: Endgame; Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken & Dan Sudick
- The Irishman; Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser & Stephane Grabli
- The Lion King; Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones & Elliot Newman
- 1917; Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler & Dominic Tuohy
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach & Dominic Tuohy
1917, Avengers: Endgame
The Lion King
Much ado was made of the special effects in Disney's "live-action" remake of The Lion King, and not all of it was good. Some critics felt it abandoned Simba and friends to the dreaded lands of the uncanny valley (located, presumably, near the Elephant Graveyard). That may be true, but what Disney achieved in that film was still fairly remarkable: photorealistic animals that behaved like pliable, animated creatures.
Avengers: Endgame held together admirably and none of its effects were distracting. 1917's effects, I assume, largely came from stitching together the film's many invisible cuts. Both succeeded in sustaining movie magic, but my gut tells me the Academy will reward the most obvious achievement, The Lion King.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
- The Irishman; Steven Zaillian
- Jojo Rabbit; Taika Waititi
- Joker; Todd Phillips
- Little Women; Greta Gerwig
- The Two Popes; Anthony McCarten
Little Women, The Irishman
This year's batch of writing nominees are some of the best films of the year. They're also tough to predict, especially Adapted Screenplay. Will voters treat it like a consolation prize for Greta Gerwig, snubbed for Best Director? Or will The Irishman win because the academy needs to give Martin Scorsese something?
I think Little Women will pull through. Gerwig took a 19th century story that has already been adapted multiple times and twisted it in a way that showed us something we hadn't seen before. That's really hard to do and Gerwig made it look easy.
Writing (Original Screenplay)
- Knives Out; Rian Johnson
- Marriage Story; Noah Baumbach
- 1917; Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
- Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood; Quentin Tarantino
- Parasite; Bong Joon Ho & Han Jin Won
Parasite, Knives Out
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
This category will be the evening's biggest bloodbath. On one hand, it would be a radical statement to award the byzantine originality of Rian Johnson's populist murder mystery Knives Out. But Parasite also managed to tell an original story while pushing the entire film medium into uncharted territory.
That said, I believe this will be Quentin Tarantino's moment in the Oscar spotlight again. He may never win Best Picture or Best Director, but the Academy loves rewarding his writing. And I believe it will do it again this year.
The Oscars are Sunday, February 9, at 5:00 p.m.
*I have not yet seen all of the Documentary, Animated or Live Action Short Films nominated, therefore I am not including any wish list picks. My reality check predictions are based on online buzz, research, and educated guessing.
P.S. did you know the Hollywood Theatre and Living Room Theaters show the short film collections every year before the Oscars? Now you do!
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