Updated: Feb 16, 2020
*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,