As the crew at Letterboxd suggested during a special podcast episode dedicated to getting us ready for this years ceremony, getting mad about Oscar picks, winners and snubs and getting excited over that rare win for a film we actually love is what makes tuning in every year worthwhile. It is what the Oscars symbolize though that makes “it” worthwhile…
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WINNERS, ITS ABOUT THE CONVERSATION
This article was posted in one of the online film communities I am a part of:
https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2020/1/29/21060179/oscars-academy-awards-season?fbclid=IwAR3CtFAQW4IA4vFWH4oQ5xsrCcahsvWhaf4Zk_AQVE_dOXSIkEELseYlKDsIt’s a worthwhile read. It is all about recognizing the idea that awarding a given film a “Best Picture” is actually a bit absurd. There is no such thing as an objectively “best” film. In one of my favorite quotes the author writes,
“Art, in contrast, is the most subjective thing humans make. It changes based on who’s looking at it. Something that moved you to tears leaves me stone-cold; something I found indelible, intricate, and well-designed makes you shrug. Art is as much the creation of its audience as its creator, and that’s what makes it important: When we watch a movie or read a book or observe a painting or listen to a symphony, our inner landscapes respond in ways that are distinct and, if we’re open to it, can change us, too.”
This is why making space for conversation about film is important, and one of the best things about the Oscars is the rare opportunity to do that collectively.
And there is value, as the hosts of the Letterboxd podcast point out, to the way in which the Oscars, as a collective venture, can be a sort of time stamp that allows us to look back and remember those larger stories and context that gave shape to a given year, be it fear, struggle, joy or celebration. This is what makes the Oscars worthwhile.
With that in mind, what I would like to do now is walk through what I perceive to be the major storylines that are giving shape to the year that was 2019, and then offer my humble (read: not professional) picks for each category based on who I want to win, who I think will win, and who to watch out for.
What happened to the diversity?
It wasn’t that long ago that the Oscars came under widespread scrutiny for a serious lack of representation. The knock on the Academy (the voting body) is that it is made up of mostly older white males and that they tend to vote for older white males in the above the line categories. If you are of any other age, ethnicity, color or sex, there is a good chance you will face an uphill battle in getting your film nominated, let alone seeing it have a chance to win.
And so when the tagline #oscarssowhite started to take over social media, they were forced to step up and make some changes. Which is of course how reform works. The Academy broadened their voting body by bringing in a greater diversity of members, and fell back on recently incorporated ideas such as increasing the number of films that are able to be nominated in the Best Picture category along with bringing in what is known as the preferential ballot. These things were seen as opportunities that could help foster more inclusion and diversity down the road.
Which makes the fact that all but three of the films from 2019 nominated for Best Picture were made by older, white males that much more egregious, with Greta Gerwig’s absence in the Director category even further stealing from Little Womens opportunity to seriously contend. Of those three, Bong Joon Ho is South Korean, Taika Waititi is a New Zealander and Gerwig is the lone female representative.
Enter story #2…. The Little International Film That Could.
As happens in every Oscar season, the race might technically begin in January, but it doesn’t really begin until October. October/November is seen as that sweet spot that studios tend to covet, where they are able to release their films early enough to generate buzz and create conversation but not so early as to end up being forgotten or neglected.
What made things more interesting this year is a shortened season. With the awards happening at the beginning of February as opposed to March, it made it that much harder for studios to get their films into the hands of voters, let alone for those following awards season to be able to predict and find clear frontrunners and stories to latch on to in their prognosticating.
Which makes the sudden and seemingly unstoppable emergence of Parasite as a serious awards contender that much more surprising. If it manages to do what many once thought impossible and take home both International and Best Picture (a real possibility), it will have managed to outpaced early favorites The Irishman and Marriage Story, the later frontrunner Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and all the last minute noise of 1917.
In a year dominated by old white males, a win for Parasite would be considered by many to be a true victory for diversity and a boon for smaller studios, being the first time an International feature has won at the Oscars.
Because (Story #3), oh that money…
There has been no lack of ink spent on detailing the problem of overspending on Oscar campaigns this year. The numbers from Netflix, which has demonstrated a real interest in trying to break into and dominate the awards season fold over the last two years, were astronomical, reportedly topping their record 60 million last year by spending over 100 million this year (they dispute that number, downplaying it to 70 million, but it is worthwhile pointing out that they also disputed the 60 million last year, claiming it to be 30 million less than what it actually was).
More than just a matter of dollars, this translated into a record number of films from Netflix that were pushed into the fold, and translated into incredibly luxurious screening packages and illustrious perks meant to woo people with the excitement of a once in a lifetime trip or opportunity.
Now, it is not unheard of for studios to try and woo voters. The big studios have long been in the game of investing in their films in ways that will grab voters attention. But there is a real difference between the way this used to happen, on more equal ground, and the way things are trending now, where big money is about to outplay the smaller players.
When big dollars are at play, the ones who hurt the most are the smaller players, and they often hurt in ways that are less visible. So while Neon has managed to unearth a bonafide hit in Parasite that could very well go on to win a lot of awards on Sunday, the larger reality for studios like Neon and A24, among many others, is that the benefit of Oscar season is about more than just the winners. It is about the chance to be represented and the ability to shine a spotlight on their creatives. An unfair playing field puts a real burden on these studios in an already trying landscape.
For my money, what the Oscars really need is campaign reform, a way to ensure that all the players have a chance to be represented on equal ground. For what it’s worth, reform also needs to reach into how this voting happens, finding ways to ensure that votes are not being unfairly bought and that voters are actually watching the films they nominate and vote for.
And if you have never engaged closely with the Oscars before or have never been interested in how voting works, here is an article that explains the voting system fairly clearly:
There are of course many more storylines weaving through the above and below the line categories and through all of the different awards shows that happen throughout the season, all of which should make Sunday interesting in its own right. It has been pointed out that the crop of Best Picture nominees this year happens to hold the highest collective rating since 1976, so there are lots of great films to be excited about. But one last thing to note as I move into my personal predictions- all of these categories are interconnected, and therefore trying to string together the different stories and different reasons for my personal picks is dependent on how I see the cards falling across different categories.
A very small example: if they award one film in the Directing category, chances are greater that they will try and represent a different film in Best Picture. Below the line categories also tend to impact above the line categories, often predicting where the preference will fall in the biggest categories depending on who has momentum, who they might feel still needs to be recognized, and what is in competition.
Which is all to say, trying to predict winners is dang near impossible, because a single category can send multiple ones spiralling in opposite directions in a snowball effect.
Nevertheless, to predict is to take part in the fun, so choosing most but not all of the categories to weight in on (keeping mostly to above the line ones), here are my thoughts on the likely and hopeful winners and who to watch out for this coming Sunday 🙂
MY OSCAR PREDICTIONS
“Avengers: Endgame”“The Lion King”“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”“The Irishman”
Should Win: Avengers: Endgame
Will Win: 1917
Watch Out For: The Irishman
Popular opinion is betting on a win here for 1917, recognizing this as one of the below the line categories that can represent this well loved and popular WW1 film as a true Best Picture contender. Right now 1917 appears to be the Best Picture frontrunner, or at the very least destined to take one of Best Director or Best Picture. Honoring it with multiple awards in these below the line categories could help make the case for its frontrunner status.
However, there is good reason to watch out for The Irishman in this category as well. It appears very likely that The Irishman could away with no awards on the night, making this one the few categories where it could be represented. I have my personal feelings about the Visual Effects in The Irishman (underwhelming and distracting), but there is no denying that the deaging was a pretty big part of that film’s marketing.
If I had it my way though, I’d be handing it to Endgame for its monumental achievement in bringing the MCU to an epic finish. Of all the films, it is the one where the Visual Effects are most prominent and most integral to the film’s overall ethos.
“I’m Standing With You,” “Breakthrough”“Into the Unknown,” “Frozen II”“Stand Up,” “Harriet”“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” “Rocketman”
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” “Toy Story 4”
Should Win: (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again
Will Win: (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again
Watch out for: Into the Unknown
Allow me to quickly clarify with this caveat- the real “should” win in this category should have been Glasgow (No Place Like Home), which failed to crack the nominations list for some absurd reason.
I also feel really torn over seeing Harriet get some recognition and throwing my love in Rocketman’s direction. (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again is the better song, and given how prominent a role music plays in what is an equally exceptional film has me leaning in its direction.
And thankfully all signs seem to point to Rocketman standing a good chance of winning in this category, which would make me extremely happy. It’s a semi-musical biopic that deserved far more attention in this awards season.
However, don’t ever underestimate a Disney animated powerhouse franchise film. Chances are pretty good that most of the voting audience either saw Frozen 2 or heard their little ones singing it somewhere along the way, which does bode in its favour.
“1917,” Thomas Newman
“Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams
Should Win: Joker
Will Win: 1917
Watch out for: Joker
This really is a two horse race. There is a world where Joker, the film with the most amount of nominations on the night, is a slam dunk to win this award. I have a funny feeling though that the love for 1917 might carry it through the night, with this being one of the smaller categories it will steal. With these two soundtracks being neck and neck, my guess is Newman will prevail over my preferred choice of Guonadottir.
“The Irishman”“Jojo Rabbit”“Little Women”“The Two Popes”
Should Win: JoJo Rabbit
Will Win: Little Women
Watch out for: Jo Jo Rabbit
This is a tricky one to analyze personally speaking because this is the only chance Jo Jo Rabbit really has at being represented, a film I adored. And I do think it is both deserved and in actuality a real possibility that it could win. The film does have a bit of controversy holding it back, with not everyone responding well to the way it uses the Holocaust as a way to evoke humor. But it also has a good deal of respect among voters and critics. That and the one most likely to challenge it (Little Women) has been adapted a number of times in the past, which some voters might look down on.
The better bet though I think would be to see the award going to Little Women. Given Gerwig’s absence in the Directors category, I believe this will be where they try to rectify that as a small token of its praise. And I have no qualms with that either, as I think the screenplay is one of the films brightest points, a product of a lot of creative thinking and research that brought to fresh light a film that has been adapted numerous times.
“Marriage Story”“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”“Parasite”“Knives Out”
Should Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Watch Out For: Parasite
All signs seem to be pointing to Best Director and Best Picture being an even split between 1917 and Parasite (roll the dice on which one takes it). Which means this is where they will honor the most Oscary film in the face, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Yes, Pitt is all but a shoe in for supporting, but if my hunch is right and Hollywood also wins for best cinematography, the pairing of these two awards would recognize the best parts of one of the year’s best films, And you know all those old, white voters want to find a way to do that 🙂
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”
Should Win: Florence Pugh
Will Win: Laura Dern
Watch Out For: Margot Robbie
Dern has been cleaning up during awards seasons, and there is absolutely no reason to think she won’t repeat come Oscar night. But Florence Pugh should be the frontrunner. Her turn in Little Women transformed a beloved literary icon in the minds of a lot of people. To take something so familiar and make it your own is a challenging task, and I think she not only succeeds, but this also helps to cement her place in Hollywood as one of the great young talents. I am not holding out hope that they will surprise me by taking such a sharp right turn, but should they deviate from the established norm and go in her direction I would be more than thrilled.
As it stands, the more likely candidate to upset Dern (a verrrrrrry big long shot) is Margot Robbie. I think Bombshell is seen as the more important film on a socio-political level, and that could sway them to honor it by way of Robbie, who is also at the height of her career and one of the bright young stars.
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”Should Win: Tom Hanks
Will Win: Brad Pitt
Watch Out For: Jo PesciMy preferential vote is 100 percent biased. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was my number one film of the year, and knowing the work that went into bringing its creative vision to life, especially considering how large the character of Rogers looms in the minds of viewers, is truly inspired and humbling when I think of Hanks.
However, this is Pitts award to lose, and I will not be begrudging him at all when he takes home the statue. His turn as the stunt double ambling his way through the tricky world of Old Hollywood while building this budding friendship with DiCaprio’s Dalton is wonderful to behold, and I think Pitt is proving that he only gets better and better with age.
Speaking of age though, there is a world where Pesci finds a way to break out of retirement to woo those old voters who might see him in The Irishman as a reminder of their past. People know his name, and they could consider this as their last chance to send him off into the sunset with an award honoring his career. And you can’t underestimate how visible Netflix has made this film to voters.
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”
Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Watch Out For: Adam Driver
For me, the best part of Marriage Story is Driver, and it is not out of the question that he could sneak his way back into the fold via the popular vote.
But the general and populist view has Phoenix, the one element of Joker most voters seem to agree on, walking away with this award. And I think he is more than deserving, being one of the great all time actors of our time. His role is transformative, and I do think that voters who appreciate Joker will also see its larger and relevant social commentary as one of the reasons to award him the statue over the others in this category.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”Renée Zellweger, “Judy”Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Should Win: Cynthia Erivo
Will Win: Renee Zellweger
Watch Out For: Saoirse Ronan
Erivo has little to no chance of walking away with this award, but in my imagination I picture her shocked and humbled by the unexpected honoring of her turn as Harriet and accepting the statue with a phenomenal speech that honors the real life hero she depicts on screen. Harriet is a dynamic and important film that made a decent amount of money (relatively speaking) and yet still managed to remain largely unseen. I would just love for the film to be recognized, and what better place for that happen than through its powerhouse, leading star.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Like Dern, Zellweger has cleaned up in awards season, and if I’m being honest I don’t take issue with her winning here either. I’m a pretty big fan of Judy as a film, and I think Zellweger’s performance as Judy is inspired. The fact that it screams Oscar performance also helps her case a lot.
But just to throw this out there for your consideration, it is entirely possible that the Academy might still be looking for a way to redeem Gerwig’s absence in the Best Director category, and if that is the case, Saoirse Ronan would be an excellent chance to do that. She is one of our great, rising stars, and she puts in an excellent and memorable performance as the films lead. Her performance is deeply indebted to her relationship with Gerwig, and there is little doubt she would take the opportunity to honor her Director as well.
“1917”“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”“The Irishman”“Joker”
Should Win: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Watch Out For: 1917
It might be crazy to bet against 1917 in this category, but I just can’t imagine Once Upon a Time In Hollywood walking away with only a Best Supporting Role win. I do think that they will try and reward this monumental film in both of its most deserving categories (this and screenplay), and I am holding on to this wishfull thinking as my preferred winner as well.
But I will not be surprised if 1917 edges it out. It is expected to be the frontrunner for taking the most awards, and cinematography seems the most natural fit for a film being recognized for its editing and single take motif. I just have a feeling that they will relegate 1917 to mostly below the line categories, giving Hollywood its due here.
“American Factory”“The Edge of Democracy”“Honeyland”“For Sama”
Should Win: For Sama
Will Win: For Sama
Watch Out for: American Factory
This is one of those categories I’m rolling the dice on, because all the storylines seem to suggest that American Factory is the film to beat, and by a long shot. But I just can’t shake this feeling that For Sama, a Documentary that I’ve also heard lots of insiders suggest is the best documentary outside of Apollo 11, which somehow was left off this list (a head scratcher up there with last years Wont You Be My Neighbor).
If For Sama wins I will probably be doing a jig in my living room. It is an exceptional and important work, and beyond that a true achievement that deserves all the praise. American Factory might seem like the better fit with its political emphasis, but For Sama is by and large the most deserving.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”“Klaus”“Missing Link”“Toy Story 4”
Should Win: Missing Link
Will Win: Toy Story 4
Watch Out For: Klaus
Toy Story 4 is the safest bet here. It’s the film most voters are likely to have seen, it was critically well received, made a lot of money, and many feel like its achievement in earning its spot as an unforeseen and somewhat skeptical fourth film is due the recognition.
But while I don’t think anyone would be begrudging its win, there are two compelling storylines that could elevate both Missing Link and Klaus as the one to take it down. Both have managed to snag awards earlier in the season, and both have the benefit of peaking in the conversation at just the right time. Klaus is the one that appears most ready to surge ahead at the last minute, but there are two things that could make Missing Link a real dark horse- it’s not a Christmas film (The Academy doesn’t tend to nominate Christmas films) and second, people genuinely love and respect the animated studio that brought it to life.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
South Korea, “Parasite”Spain, “Pain and Glory”France, “Les Misérables”North Macedonia, “Honeyland”
Poland, “Corpus Christi”
Should Win: Parasite
Will Win: Parasite
Watch Out For: Parasite
Is there really any other option? I confess, the only other category (outside of the shorts) that I have seen fewer of the nominations in is Documentary. I have seen two of the Foreign Language films, the other being the very good Pain and Glory. But calling this race is about more than the quality. You could look at every stat available concerning films nominated in both Foreign Language and Best Picture, and the simple fact is they will all point you to a decisive Parasite win come Sunday.
Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite”Sam Mendes, “1917”
Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Should Win: Quentin Tarantino/Bong Joon Ho
Will Win: Sam Mendes
Watch Out For: Quentin Tarantino
When it comes down to it, this is what will ultimately decide the fate of the Best Picture winner. If Sam Mendes gets his name called here, look out for Parasite to win the big one. If Tarantino or Bong Joon Ho win here, well then things just got a whole lot more interesting, especially in retrospect.
I will say this though. My gut says this and Best Picture are in a real battle to position Bong Joon Ho or Sam Mendes head to head, giving this to one and BP to the other. With that said, I am not counting Tarantino out by any means. I do think they will reward his film in other categories, but Once Upon a Time In Hollywood was once upon a time the frontrunner, and a good campaign could just as easily turn this into an unexpected dark horse, maybe even going so far as to gain a Best Picture win.
“Ford v Ferrari”“The Irishman”“Jojo Rabbit”“Joker”“Little Women”“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”“Marriage Story”“Parasite”
“1917”Should Win: Parasite
Will Win: Parasite
Watch Out For: Once Upon A time In HollywoodYes, I know. 1917 is considered the front runner in this category. But since I pegged Sam Mendes as taking home the trophy for Director, I believe Parasite is going to be the one to cross the finish line first. There is just too much momentum right now behind Parasite to stop it, despite 1917 being a really strong challenger. It is beloved by viewers and critics, became a box office sensation, and has a strong story devoid of conflict or controversy. This is where I believe we will see the expanded voting body in play. Not that 1917 is a bad film. Far from it. If it won it would also be deserving. But I think Parasite has the chance to go down as one of the most memorable wins in Oscar history. The little film that could, and it has a lot of people in its corner. Many are longing for the headlines that feature the International Film that managed to break down barriers. The success story that united and won over audiences young and old. Technically brilliant and socially relevant.
Just to step outside of that cloud for a second though, consider this. If Parasite and 1917 end up getting caught up in the competition, especially if they start to rack up a lot of the smaller awards, the one film that I could see shaking things up by stealing some of the coveted spots, be it Director, Cinematographer or Screenplay, would be Once Upon a Time. A passionate plea for this film not to get lost in the shuffle could, and just might, make one of the great comebacks in recent history and surprise everyone in the biggest category of all. If that happens I will also be happy. I actually have Hollywood ranked above Parasite in my end of the year rankings. However, it’s hard not to want to root for the underdog here, and I am very much with all those who are hoping to see Parasite do something spectacular.