Updated: Feb 16
*Update (Feb. 10, 2020): We were right on the money with the four acting categories covered, but surprise wins for "Parasite" and director Bong Joon-ho left us with four out of six for the big marquee categories. Some of our smaller predictions were proven false, too. Check out each category for the results.
Hollywood’s Biggest Night is on Sunday, and it’s tradition around here to turn to our resident film nerd for Oscar Season’s biggest predictions and snubs. This year, for the sake of brevity, we’re only going to focus on a few marquee categories. Then, we’ll have a section to break down some of the overlooked films of 2019 that maybe SHOULD have been part of the 92nd Academy Awards.
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Most nominations - Joker (11)
1917 - 10
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood - 10
The Irishman - 10
Parasite - 6
Little Women - 6
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
Parasite - Winner
Ford vs Ferrari
What Will Win: 1917 (Incorrect)
Sam Mendes’ WWI epic is the frontrunner for the big prize on Sunday. The film is edited to look like one long take (much like 2015 Best Picture winner Birdman) and the effort it took the cast and crew to pull this off is getting recognition all over the awards circuit.
People can think the tactic is a gimmick to win prizes all they want, but to deny it as an impressive piece of moviemaking is unfair and uninspired. The choice isn’t just used to heighten the adrenaline ride of the film, either. Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins (who will win the prize for his work, too) allow the camera to push in on little details and linger on character moments that really connect us to the emotion of the story. Not to mention, the sheer number of details that are included in the background of shots is impressive, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a corpse caked into a mud trench before.
Is 1917 just another in a long series of war movies with nothing new to say? One could argue that. But the Best Picture category is about more than themes and newness, it’s about highlighting the best effort in filmmaking of 2019. This film is a worthy recipient.
What Should Win: Parasite (Did Win!)
This film’s director Bong Joon-ho already put South Korean cinema on the map for worldwide audiences with monster films like The Host (2006) and activist thrillers like Okja (2017). He somehow outdid himself with Parasite, which blends all of the genres he’s thrived on for decades into one masterfully crafted feature.
Parasite has not only garnered global critical acclaim, it’s been a box office smash, playing at multiplexes all over the world. It’s the first ever South Korean film to be nominated in this category and (shockingly) in Best International Feature, which it will certainly win in. But Parasite deserves a big category win, too.
It features a talented cast that’s balanced between male and female actors of all ages. It showcases gorgeous production design and cinematography that make every moment dazzle. It’s not just well-shot and entertaining -- with comedy, heist and thriller elements that all somehow feel natural -- it’s also got some important things to say about capitalism, classism, and climate change.
For a film that’s got the full package of impressive technical skill, worthwhile storytelling, AND broader cultural significance, I like Parasite for Oscar’s top prize.
Honorable Mention: Little Women (Did Not Win Best Adapted Screenplay)
For those thinking Greta Gerwig got overlooked this year, don’t worry, much like the characters in her 2019 adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel, her effort doesn’t need any approval to be full of merit.
She will most likely get a deserved Adapted Screenplay statue (that award actually went to Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit) for finding a way to tell this tired, old story a new way. She uses multiple timelines, a frame story structure, and updated themes of feminism and classism to create a movie that offers something new with these characters that six other movie adaptations (and countless television adaptations) couldn’t give.
It’s splendidly acted by a large cast -- the pest performance doesn’t even come from its biggest star, Meryl Streep -- and Gerwig’s direction allows all the work that went into the production elements speak for itself.
I don’t think her work rises to the level of Best Director, but I am right there with the people who think that more women (even Gerwig!) should be contenders in that category. But this film got six nominations on the night, across writing, acting AND production categories, so it hardly rises to the level of “snubbed.”
Martin Scorsese - “The Irishman”
Quentin Tarantino - “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”
Bong Joon-ho - “Parasite” - Winner
Sam Mendes - “1917”
Todd Phillips - “Joker”
Who Will Win: Sam Mendes (Incorrect)
The long sequences of 1917 mean that the whole production had to be one, smooth and well-oiled machine, with Mendes coordinating hundreds of moving parts. The Academy simply can’t ignore the vision and talent that goes into that.
Some outlets predict Quentin Tarantino pulling off an upset with his work in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, but I think a lot would have to go Tarantino’s way for him to get this big award and not just the Best Original Screenplay statue he’s sure to walk home with (Parasite ended up winning that award, too).
Who Should Win: Mendes
Honorable Mention: Bong Joon-ho (Did Win!)
The way I broke my vote down here on these two top categories was that Parasite should get the honor of Best Picture -- for not only showcasing brilliant filmmaking in all aspects, but for delivering a story that has something worthwhile to say in the year 2019.
Bong Joon-ho gets a much-deserved direction nod for creating a film that showcases his unique vision and style, making a foreign-language drama shine so brightly on the global stage. I still think Sam Mendes’ work in the highly-technical 1917 is the most impressive thing on the year for these contenders, though.
Best Actor - Lead Role
Joaquin Phoenix - “Joker” - Winner
Adam Driver - “Marriage Story”
Leonardo DiCaprio - “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”
Antonio Banderas - “Pain and Glory”
Jonathan Pryce - “The Two Popes”
Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix (Correct)
No matter how you felt about this comic book origin story, Phoenix’s performance was the best part of it. In a film that garnered an Oscars-leading 11 nominations (just one more than the three-way tie for second-place films with 10 nominations) Phoenix is probably the only one involved in the project who will walk away with gold on Sunday (I was forgetting about Hildur Gudnadottir's winning score here -- a deserved win). This is as it should be.
While I rather enjoyed the darkness and boldness of Joker, making a stand against the flashy action films that pervade the genre, I think this film was being pulled in too many directions.
It had to be an origin story for a very iconic villain (pressure from the nerds), it had to thread the needle of showing mental illness without glorifying violence (pressure from society), and it had to provide something new to a performance that has been done before (pressure from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s previous acclaimed performances).
The only category that this film completely satisfied me in was the last one, with Phoenix completely disappearing into the role of Arthur Fleck. The result is a relatable but tortured protagonist who somehow has all of the iconic Joker traits, delivered in completely different and nuanced ways. That choking laughter, for instance, is uncannily disturbing.
Plus, Phoenix has been nominated three times before and never won, so he’s got the “long overdue” votes locked down this year, too.
Who Should Win: Adam Driver
He was somehow the most compelling part of Noah Baumbach’s Netflix drama Marriage Story, completely stealing the show about halfway through. That’s no small feat when, after the film’s first hour, we’re all so floored by Scarlett Johansson’s performance (and the supporting cast) that we’re almost not expecting Driver to carry the rest of the plot home.
Not only does Driver show his impressive range, he also adequately sings in a long-take sequence that is unlike anything else he’s done. If he pulls off an upset, it would be deserved, but either way he’s collected Academy recognition now two years in a row (previously for Supporting Role in 2018’s BlackKklansman), and that’s impressive enough.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Pryce
As fitting as it already is for him to play Pope Francis, since the two men look alarmingly alike, Pryce showed how he could do more than match the look but actually make the performance shine.
The Two Popes was a splendid film that works best when it allows Pryce’s Cardinal Bergoglio play off of Anthony Hopkins’ Pope Benedict XVI. The movie is really written around key scenes between these two roles, in which the aging Benedict refuses to accept the retirement of the man who goes on to become Pope Francis.
Pryce’s character is the progressive, younger face of the Church and Benedict is the ancient, rigid traditionalist. The film fittingly treats this passing of the torch with the importance that it had in real life, with Francis being seen as a social reformer of the Church today.
Pryce manages to show all of Bergoglio’s reverence for the papacy without sacrificing his obvious passion for social progress. He also delivers practically the only lines in the film about the Catholic Church’s role in the sexual abuse scandal, in a way that makes the whole concept feel less glossed over, “That is our sin, too.”
His nomination is well-earned even though he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning.
Best Actress - Lead Role
Renee Zellweger - “Judy” - Winner
Charlize Theron - “Bombshell”
Scarlett Johansson - “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan - “Little Women”
Cynthia Erivo - “Harriet”
Who Will Win: Renee Zellweger (Correct)
It would be an upset for Zellweger to not win this category, as she’s gotten all the key precursor awards to signal her Oscar here. However, so did Glenn Close last year and she lost the night to Olivia Coleman in The Favourite, which shared a first-place tie of 11 total nominations with Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.
If Zellweger loses, it’s because Oscars voters feel that a more recognized film ought to win, but none of the other contenders in this category are likely to have the traction to pull off that kind of upset again. If I had to pick the likeliest runner-up, though, it would be Johansson for Marriage Story.
Who Should Win: Zellweger
She perfectly embodies the role of Judy Garland in the last months of her life. Not only does she do a noteworthy job of impersonating Garland’s voice and physicality, but Zellweger clearly adds her own attitude to the role.
Her expressive eyes especially work when the film is making larger points about what it means to be a leading lady in Hollywood. Also, she freakin’ sings ALL the songs in this film. Rami Malek didn’t even do that when he won last year for his turn as Freddy Mercury in 2018’s thoroughly underwhelming Bohemian Rhapsody.
Honorable Mention: Scarlett Johansson
Again, I can’t give enough props to the acting in Marriage Story. The film wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does if it didn’t have incredibly talented actors in these lead roles. Johansson gets a deserved nod and might have turned in the best acting performance of the year were it not for Zellweger’s singing chops in Judy.
Johansson is not only nominated for a lead role here but also picked up a Supporting Role bid for Jojo Rabbit, which she will almost certainly lose in. Since she likely won’t get any hardware for her efforts, she deserves the shout-out here.
Best Actor - Supporting Role
Brad Pitt - “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” - Winner
Al Pacino - “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci - “The Irishman”
Tom Hanks - “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins - “The Two Popes”
Who Will Win: Brad Pitt (Correct)
He’s a virtual lock for this category, having won everything from the Golden Globe to the BAFTA for this supporting role.
While I certainly thought he served the role well and was a good fit for the character, there weren’t many moments of OUATIH where I was wowed by his performance, to be honest. I actually noticed the chops of his castmates, Leonardo DiCaprio in the leading role and Margot Robbie in a supporting role as actress Sharon Tate, much more than Pitt’s.
That said, he turned in a remarkable performance in Ad Astra, showing an unflappable man succumb to the loneliness and depression of empty space. But that film’s acting performances (and technical accomplishments) were overlooked entirely on the awards circuit (Tommy Lee Jones is great in his limited screentime, too, as is Ruth Negga). In any case, everyone says it’s Brad Pitt’s year.
Who Should Win: Joe Pesci
The man came out of retirement for this role and managed to steal the show from a cast that also includes fellow nominee Al Pacino and leading man Robert De Niro.
Not that anyone gave bad performances, but Pesci’s quiet-yet-commanding character in The Irishman was probably the greatest thing in a film that had plenty to distract you from it.
However, every time you see two actors in a category for the same movie, you can pretty much bet that neither will win since one tends to draw votes away from the other.
Honorable Mention: Tom Hanks
One could be forgiven for thinking that Hanks was the leading role in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, and the years-long anticipation of this movie pretty much boiled it down to TOM HANKS IS MR. ROGERS.
But the film really revolves more around an article about the real-life public broadcaster star, particularly the interviews between Hanks’ character and a fictional stand-in for real-life journalist Tom Junod.
That said, Hanks has enough screentime to put his own stamp on the role of Fred Rogers. He nails the iconic physical moments, like the single-knot untying of the shoes and the tossing from one hand to the other. But it’s also a Hanks character, with more depth than just a straight-up recreation of the iconic Mr. Rogers.
Best Actress - Supporting Role
Laura Dern - “Marriage Story” - Winner
Margot Robbie - “Bombshell”
Florence Pugh - “Little Women”
Scarlett Johansson - “Jojo Rabbit”
Kathy Bates - “Richard Jewell”
Who Will Win: Laura Dern (Correct)
Both Supporting Role awards are seen as virtually locked in, and I have the same take on both: deserving actors for sure, but awarded for the wrong roles.
Dern is by no means bad in Marriage Story, and the little things she adds to the climactic courtroom scene really show her talents as a physical actor. But her role in Little Women might be the greatest of her entire film career. She commands every moment she’s on the screen.
I am also more than willing to admit that she does superb work in the film she ultimately got the nod for, and having two nominees from the same film would essentially guarantee neither would win, thanks to the Oscars’ preferential ballot system.
Who Should Win: Florence Pugh
Speaking of acting performances in Little Women, Pugh’s is stellar and, for my money, better than Dern’s in Marriage Story. She’s got more to do, for one, playing the role of Amy March as a young child and as a grown woman, showing us the gilded maturity that she grew into.
She also has the best acting moment in the entire film when she speaks of how marriage is a “financial proposition” for women. It’s probably the most pointed moment in the script, and Pugh delivers in spades.
Honorable Mention: Margot Robbie
While I didn't see Bombshell, her character in Tarantino’s fictional retelling of the summer of 1969 in Hollywood is the fulcrum for the entire story.
Sharon Tate’s murder is one of the most terrible real-life tragedies to come out of the City of Angels, and Robbie conveys Tate as an innocent, radiant personality who was on her way to motherhood.
With few lines in the film, she adds so much with her movements and expression. The scene (in all it’s industry-affirming glory) where she watches “herself” in The Wrecking Crew, I thought, had Oscar written all over it.
Only time will tell if my predictions come true (I’ll update this article with the results after the big night) but I can unequivocally point out some of the snubs of this year’s awards season.
Keep in mind, I can’t watch every film made in 2019, and I get distracted by my own personal tastes just like anyone else, so I can only really speak to the stuff I saw and what I know of certain films.
SNUBS OF 2019
No Women For Best Director
The case for #OscarsSoMale is mounting, and this year makes it louder than most. Not only is Greta Gerwig a perfect candidate for at least a nomination, by heading a film that got recognized in all sorts of categories, but there are even more deserving women who definitely could have taken this spot from the same-old male names we’ve seen before.
Celine Sciamma’s visionary work in Portrait of a Lady On Fire, as well as Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, are both more deserving of a place in this category than Todd Phillip’s Scorcesian mimicry in Joker.
Scorcese himself got in his own way at times with The Irishman, choosing to go with a thematic computer-generated de-aging effect that, while emblematic of the story, was incredibly distracting at times.
Even if you make the case for why it’s important to have these old stars artificially altered to appear young, I still don’t see why De Niro couldn’t have just worn blue contacts, instead of cartoonishly altering his obviously brown eyes. Despite all this moaning, I didn’t dislike The Irishman, but Scorcese’s nomination seems more out of deference to his career than due to truly great work on this film.
Where All The A24 Films At?
The studio that made waves just a few years ago, by upsetting La La Land in 2017 and winning Best Picture with Moonlight, saw only one nomination this year: a cinematography nod for Jarin Blaschke’s work in The Lighthouse. That film, and A24’s indie smash Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler (which I am still getting around to watching), were deserving of much more recognition.
The Lighthouse, a small-cast psycho thriller shot in black and white with a tight aspect ratio, was perhaps my favorite film of 2019. Blaschke’s work, with Robert Eggers’ horror vision at the helm, makes every single shot just breathtaking, with masterful use of lighting and focus.
While Deakins is sure to win the award on Sunday, I think that if you’re purely speaking on cinematography (which is camerawork, composition and shot planning) Blaschke’s work is more impressive. The shots in 1917 were made spectacular not solely because of Deakins, but because of the immediate efforts of a talented top-to-bottom cast and crew.
Plus, both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give amazing performances, the latter delivering a powerful monologue while being buried alive (yeah, really!). In general, this studio’s efforts got overlooked. But, don’t worry, with 25 Oscars nominations since just 2015, A24 will be right back in the game sooner than you think.
You would have thought, with how much marketing there was for this movie, and based on the fact that Alec Baldwin was attached during (arguably) the hottest moment in his career, that Motherless Brooklyn would have done better this awards season.
I think it largely suffered from “first film bias” since Edward Norton wrote, produced, starred AND directed in this adaptation of a novel by Jonathan Lethem. Now, I know that Norton directed a film before, Keeping The Faith (2000), but that was so long ago that most people just chalked this film up to a vanity project and moved along.
And, yes, the noir detective gimmick is ground that’s been tilled so much that even The Academy is tired of it. There’s also not much reason, on the surface, for Norton to change so much about the book he is adapting. The novel was set in 1999, and this film provides no explanation (other than its love for the aforementioned noir detective genre) for its 1950’s setting until about halfway through.
Now that we’ve covered the common grievances, let me tell you the reason why these faults are ultimately less than the sum of their parts.
The film delivers in other ways, by making the noir crime thriller into a vehicle for political and journalistic ethics, much like Chinatown (1974). The film ends up delving into the history of Brooklyn and one real estate developer’s (Baldwin) attempt to keep the minorities who live there out of Manhattan.
Baldwin’s character is a stand-in for Trump in more than just his profession, too. The guy literally describes a prior rape as “moving on her like a bitch,” a line that Baldwin himself HAD to have contributed to the film (or that Norton cast him specifically for with a mind to his SNL parody of the 45th President).
I can forgive the guilds and voting committees for not rewarding Norton’s (at times) distracting and flawed portrayal of Tourette’s Syndrome, or for not buying this neo-noir blended theme. But it strikes me as a bit strange that Baldwin didn’t get so much as a nod for his performance. Plus, this screenplay, for all its blunders, is still more daring and better-executed than Todd Phillips’ and Scott Silver’s Joker, which made it into this category despite its shoehorning of that whole Thomas Wayne love child plot into a film that didn’t need it or ask for it.
How did we do on our predictions? Let us know in the comments below or by sharing this article with the film nerds in your life. For more film reviews and commentary, follow Curbside Press on social media and check curbsidepress.org for new content every week.