Quite a departure from years past, this year’s race towards the Academy Awards has been greatly accelerated. This has been due to a far more truncated season than normal. Usually the Oscars are given a month long window to allow for plenty of campaigning and preparation, with the actual ceremony taking place on either the last week of February or the first week of March. This itself was truncated even more than it had been before, as the Oscars would sometimes even take place almost as far into the year as Spring Break. But, this year, the Oscars are reeling in the time frame even more by giving the Oscars it’s earliest ceremony date yet; coming in only a week after the super bowl. From nominations to ceremony, the window for the studios to make their final push is at it’s most narrowest, and as a result, no real front runner has emerged; at least with the biggest award of the night. The guild awards have given us some indication about how the rest of the night might go, but the biggest award is still anyone’s guess. History has shown that the movie with the most nominations is the one that usually stands as the front runner, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years, and given that the most nominated movie this year (Joker) is also the most divisive one among critics and fans, probably tells us that the trend will not turn around any time soon. But then again, this is the same Academy that awarded the heavily derided Green Book (2018) Best Picture last year, so I guess you really can’t put anything past them. Like I have for the last several years, I will be sharing my picks for this year’s Academy Awards along with my thoughts on the top awards. These will include my choices for who I want to see win and who I believe will win. It’s an interesting year, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out this Sunday. So, without any more delay, let’s take a look at the nominees.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nominees: Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917); Rian Johnson (Knives Out); Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story); Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood); Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han (Parasite)
Out of all the nominated categories this year, this one is the most wildly diverse, as far as genre types go. You’ve got a war movie, a whodunit, a divorce drama, a showbiz flick, and a class satire. Interestingly enough, this category is entirely filled with screenplays written by the directors of each selective film. Though Sam Mendes’ inclusion here is deserved, his work is far more likely to be spotlighted in the directorial category (which I will get to later). Three of the other nominees are represented here for screenplays that clearly display their own unique style. Though not recognized elsewhere, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out screenplay is a wonderful example of breathing new life into a long dormant genre, and his nomination is also a nice vindication after his tumultuous tenure in the Star Wars franchise. Noah Baumbach’s portrayal of a family coming apart through divorce is one of the most impressive, stripped down examples of writing that I have seen in recent years, with his Marriage Story script managing to capture so much honesty in how real people manage to navigate through a break up. And then you have Quentin Tarantino delivering a screenplay in the way that only he can. It may be one of his most meandering plots, but it’s also what makes the movie so fun to watch, as it becomes a window into the past, in which Quentin is clearly wanting to have fun with. Much the opposite is Bong Joon Ho’s scathing indictment of class divisions with his film Parasite, which surprises with it’s ever changing plot twists that make it impossible to know what’s going to happen next. It’s hard to know what the Academy likes better here. Tarantino’s nostalgic script is likely to please older Academy members who lived through his recreation of Old Hollywood, but since he’s a two time past winner, his chances are slimmer this time. And though I absolutely got absorbed into Baumbach’s no frills style of writing, it might be a little too quiet a movie for the Academy to honor. That’s why I think Bong Joon Ho gets the edge here, and his win would certainly be historic for as the first ever winner from South Korea; and a rare foreign language win in a screenplay category.
Who Will Win: Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han, Parasite
Who Should Win: Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nominees: Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit); Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (Joker); Greta Gerwig (Little Women); Steve Zallian (The Irishman); Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes)
This should be one of the most interesting categories to watch on Oscar night. For one thing, it could be an indicator for how the night might play out, if either Joker or The Irishman takes this award. While both screenplays are outstanding adaptations of their source materials, I believe that the Academy might actually view them as a bit too conventional for this year. Instead, the choice may actually go to something a bit more groundbreaking. And in this case, the front runner that has emerged is one that couldn’t have delighted me more. My favorite movie from 2019 was undeniably Jojo Rabbit, which masterfully took it’s source material, the far more seriously crafted novel Caging Skies, and turned it into this delightfully goofy and satirical comedy about love overcoming hate. Taika Waititi’s script is a masterwork in balancing tone, managing to still convey the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, while at the same time managing to have silly sight gags and hilarious one-liners in the same vein as a Mel Brooks or Charlie Chaplain comedy. From top to bottom, this is one of the most delightfully eccentric screenplays in a long time, and is deserving of being honored by the Academy. the only other screenplay that could stand in it’s way is a win for Greta Gerwig’s adaptation for Little Women. Indeed, the fact that she breathed new life into a book that has been re-adapted many times is quite impressive, and in any other year that didn’t include Jojo Rabbit, I’d say that Gerwig would be the undisputed front runner here. She may indeed come away victorious, after her perceived snub in the Best Director category, with this award as a consolation. But, I think with his recent victory at the WGA awards that Taika is well on his way to winning this award, and it will be one that will leave this critic very delighted indeed.
Who Will Win: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Who Should Win: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Florence Pugh (Little Women); Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell); Laura Dern (Marriage Story); Margot Robbie (Bombshell); Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
Out of all the acting categories, this one looks to be the most open. With a SAG and a Golden Globe win already under her belt, Laura Dern has emerged as the front runner, with her celebrated turn as someone that I think members of the Academy are quite familiar with; a divorce lawyer. Dern is Hollywood royalty, and she has been a celebrated actress for many years, so she has the weight of a distinquished career as a boost to her claim for the award. Her performance in Marriage Story is a strong one, although I’d say of all the nominated performances in the movie, it’s the one that impressed me the least. Though she is the front runner, I’d say that she hasn’t locked down the award like we’ve seen in the other categories, and this is the one that could be the surprise of the show depending on how the Academy votes. So what challenge does she face. Kathy Bates and Margot Robbie are not the strongest contenders here, so it comes down to Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh. If Jojo Rabbit has a surprisingly good night, it might help boost Johansson (who’s a two time nominee at this year’s Oscars), and she would be deserving of the award. Her character in Jojo is certainly a standout, and a wonderful showcase for Johansson’s talents in both comedy and drama. But, if there was one that I think stood out even more, it would be Florence Pugh’s star making turn in Little Women. In a movie full of heavy hitters (including Laura Dern), Pugh stands out, and does a remarkable job of giving a character not well liked within the original book a much more sympathetic and richer interpretation. Also, given the year she had with leading performances in movies as diverse as Fighting With My Family and Midsommar, a win here would give Florence a solid vindication of her status as a top tier actress. So, even though Laura Dern may be headed towards her long overdue Oscar, I wouldn’t count out a possible upset by Pugh either, which itself would be deserved.
Who Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Who Should Win: Florence Pugh, Little Women
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes); Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood); Al Pacino (The Irishman); Joe Pesci (The Irishman); Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Talk about a stacked category. Every nominee here is a legendary movie star, with an enviable body of work across the board. Even still, one has emerged as a front runner in this race, and not surprisingly, it’s the one guy who has yet to win his own award. Brad Pitt has been nominated several times throughout the years, but has never managed to get the golden boy thus far. That looks to change, as Pitt has swept through all the other awards this season and collected quite a few honors. Unlike the other supporting category, I think this one is pretty much a lock for Brad. It helps that he also has been accepting the award at each show by cracking a few jokes, both at his own expense and at those of his peers; all good natured. The Academy likes honoring someone who can delight audiences, and Brad has been playing that part well, which is very much in line with the tone of his character in Tarantino’s movie. Even still, is he deserving of the Award? Though I enjoy his performance very much in the movie, and would be delighted to see him win the Award, it wasn’t the performance that impressed me the most out of this category. Honestly, I was more blown away by Tom Hanks transformation into Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is an impressive feat for an actor not known for doing imitations in his performances. And I also have to spotlight the duo from The Irishman. Al Pacino and Joe Pesci deliver two of the best performances of their legendary careers in the Scorsese epic, which is really saying something. Though Pacino is working comfortably in his wheelhouse as Jimmy Hoffa, it’s Pesci who becomes the movie’s true revelation, playing against type as a reserved, methodical mafia don. If anything, I’d like to see the Academy honor Pesci just for coming out of a lengthy retirement and delivering a new performance that strong. Though Pitt will likely win here, and be deserved, I would still like to see one last honor go to a legend of Joe Pesci’s caliber.
Who Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Who Should Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Nominees: Charlize Theron (Bombshell); Cynthia Erivo (Harriet); Renee Zellweger (Judy); Saoirse Ronan (Little Women); Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Out of all the categories, this is one of the most unexpected, with regards to who has emerged as the front runner. After a long hiatus out of the spotlight, Renee Zellweger reemerged with a near unrecognizable transformation into legendary actress Judy Garland, with a performance that included the actress performing her own singing, which is no small feat given the kind of person she’s playing. What’s surprising is not the fact that she has managed to be nominated for her performance, but the fact that she has dominated all the Awards so far. The movie itself has not exactly been embraced by the critical community, who saw it as very unremarkable and conventional by biopic standards, although every has praised her performance. Given that Zellweger has not headlined a new film in a while, it’s a shock that this kind of performance would bring her back so strongly, almost entirely unchallenged through awards season. Is it an indication of a weak year for female performances. I would say no, because her fellow nominees also delivered strong work. Cynthia Erivo’s nomination marks the only representation of a person of color in the acting categories, and though like Zellweger’s Judy her film has been described as too conventional, she is still being praised for her own performance that elevates the rest of the movie. Johansson’s performance in Marriage Story may very well be the best one, because of the emotional rawness of her acting. While most of the nominees in this category come across as better than average for their conventional stories, Johansson delivers a performance that captures the most broad spectrum of emotions; delivering a character that feels so natural and relatable that you forget about the fact that it’s an actor reading from a script. At the same time, Johansson’s performance may be too realistic for an Academy that values complete transformations like the one that Renee made into Judy. It also helps that she’s playing a icon, which the Academy also seems to love honoring, as if vicariously honoring honoring that person as well. So, even though I think that Scarlett delivered the most impressive performance out of this field, it is most likely that Renee Zellweger’s transformative turn will be the victorious one.
Who Will Win: Renee Zellweger, Judy
Who Should Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Nominees: Adam Driver (Marriage Story); Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory); Joaquin Phoenix (Joker); Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes); Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
The story of this category is less about who is nominated than it is about who wasn’t nominated. The biggest snubs of this Awards season came in this category, with big contenders like Robert DeNiro and Adam Sandler noticibly left out. The exclusion of Sandler in my opinion was the most egregious of them all, and I feel that it’s going to be one of those exclusions that the Academy is going to be kicking themselves for in the years ahead as the movie Uncut Gems will likely only grow in esteem. With those noticible exclusions, it has made the race a far more predictible one, as one performance in particular has stood out. From the moment Joker hit theaters, all anyone could talk about was how bold and groundbreaking Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as the iconic comic book villain was. Much in the same way Heath Ledger had done a decade prior, Phoenix transformed himself both in body and persona to become this dark and twisted embodiment of undistilled evil. Though the movie Joker has many detractor, you’ll find fewer people finding faults with Phoenix’s performance, which has been praised across the board. And out of all the categories at this year’s Oscars, it’s the one that I find the most consensus with. Phoenix will likely walk away with his first Oscar for his performance here, and it will be absolutely deserved. If Sandler had been nominated, I feel like the race could have been tighter, but since that performance was left out, it’s all Joaquin and no one else. I’d say the only possible challenger here would be Adam Driver for his likewise outstanding performance in Marriage Story, but he is clearly a distant second when stacked up against Phoenix. It’s interesting that out of all the comic book characters that have dominated the box office over the last decade, the only one that the Academy has seemed to respond to has been the Joker, with the late Heath Ledger and soon Joaquin Phoenix both being honored for playing the role in their own ways.
Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Who Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Nominees: Bong Joon Ho (Parasite); Martin Scorsese (The Irishman); Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood); Sam Mendes (1917); Todd Phillips (Joker)
Again, it’s another category marked by a noticible exclusion; namely the absence of a female director. Given the strong showing of women directors this past year, it is unfortunate than none were recognized in this category, with Greta Gerwig being the most notable snub. At the same time, it’s hard to argue that the five men nominated this year should be left out either. Phillips may be the odd man out here, give that his movie is more driven by the strength of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and not by his style of direction, which some have argued as being too derivitive. The inclusion of two of the most influential filmmakers of all time is hard to overlook, as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese delivered two of their most celebrated films to date. In my mind, Scorsese’s The Irishman was one of the year’s most spectacular triumphs, encapsulating all the things that have made his career so legendary into one spectacularly crafted epic. But, whether it’s the fact that he’s a past winner and that there is a lingering anti-Netflix bias within the Academy, The Irishman sadly has not gained a lot of traction beyond the nominations. So, it comes down to Bong Joon Ho and Sam Mendes. Bong certainly displays a unique style that spans across so many tonal shifts within his movie, which probably will delight many Academy members. But, if you were to look at a movie from a purely film-making standpoint, it’s hard to bet against Sam Mendes for his work on 1917. Not only is he recreating a time period and a war setting, but he’s also shooting the entire movie to look like it’s all one unbroken shot. It may not have the unpredictable-ness of Parasite, but 1917 is still a tour de force of what can be done with effective staging and unparalleled cinematography (done by the likely Oscar winner Roger Deakins), and Sam Mendes vision is film-making at it’s most grandest. Though I have a soft spot for Scorsese’s Irishman, I feel like Mendes is going to ride that Director’s Guild win all the way to another Oscar.
Who Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917
Who Should Win: Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Nominees: 1917; Ford v Ferrari; Jojo Rabbit; Joker; Little Women; Marriage Story; Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood; Parasite; The Irishman
And so we come to the big award of the year, and like many in recent years, it’s a hard one to predict. The lack of a heavy front runner to steamroll through the competition in the vein of a Titanic (1997) or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) makes this category a far harder one to handicap. Given the complicated voting system that the Academy works with, and the larger number of nominees, there is a larger chance that really any of these nominees could emerge victorious. Likely it will be down to a select few, especially the ones also nominated in the Directorial category. The spreading around of Awards for the likes of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Marriage Story and Joker makes it less likely that those will win the top award, as their acting wins will be their high points. Ford v Ferrari and Little Women most likely will pick up techincal awards and little else. Sadly, The Irishman is the one that could sadly go home empty handed out of all these movies, which is a real shame given how good it is, but it’s also another indication of the Academy’s bias towards Netflix. I for one, would love Jojo Rabbit to be the surprise sleeper and possibly spoil the race with an unexpected win, but it’s chances are slim. In the end, it will come down to SAG winner Parasite and Golden Globe winner 1917. A win for Parasite would certainly make history as the first foreign language winner for Best Picture, something which the Academy snubbed Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (2018) of that honor at last year’s Oscar. Unfortunately, it’s almost assured win in the International Film category might hurt it’s chances for Best Picture as it often has for other films. In the end, I think 1917 is going to follow Sam Mendes almost certain Best Director win to a victory of it’s own, which would not be undeserved either. Though my heart is with Jojo, I see this as a close race between Parasite and 1917, with 1917 having the slimmest of edges. Thankfully, unlike last year’s Green Book debacle, all of this years nominees are actually deserving of recognition here, and it will be a satisfying win no matter who gets it.
Who Will Win: 1917
Who Should Win: Jojo Rabbit
As for all the remaining categories, here is my quick rundown of my picks for each one:
Cinematography: 1917; Film Editing: Ford v Ferrari; Production Design: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood; Costume Design: Jojo Rabbit; Make-up and Hairstyling: Joker; Original Music Score: 1917; Original Music Song: “I’m Going to Love Me Again,” Rocketman; Sound Mixing: 1917; Sound Editing: 1917; Visual Effects: Avengers: Endgame; Documentary Feature: American Factory; Documentaty Short: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl); Animated Feature: Toy Story 4; Animated Short: Hair Love; Live Action Short: Nefta Football Club; International Feature: Parasite
So, there you have my picks for the 2020 Academy Awards. Though the Awards are still a big deal for the industry, it’s become less reliable as an indicator of a movie’s staying power. What we’ve often seen is a progression where a movie will hit at just the right moment to ride that Oscar buzz wave towards a victory and then by the time the next awards season rolls around, that past winner is most likely completely forgotten about. The only winners that endure are the ones that are so good they last far beyond the awards themselves, or are the ones that are notorious for being unpopular winners. The Awards are far more of a barometer for the state of the industry at this particular moment in time than it is about how well the movies will stay in the public consciousness afterwards. If a great movie doesn’t win the award, it’s not a death sentence. Awards are fleeting, but a great film will always find it’s audience no matter what and a little golden statue has no effect on that at all. Still, for history’s sake, I still hold a lot of interest in the award itself. Thankfully this year all of the Best Picture nominees are movies that I at the very least enjoyed. Sure, I have my favorites, but if any one of the nine ends up winning, I will be content with that choice. There will certainly be a contingent of people out there who will likely raise hell if their movie doesn’t win, but just like every year before, we air our grievances and just move on to thinking about the movies that will be up for the Award next year. In all, I hope it’s a satisfying ceremony this Sunday, and that whoever wins will hopefully receive a warm reception. It may be the same old process every year, but for those of us who love film and the historical legacy it leaves behind, this is still an event we wait all year for and hope that it works out the way we want it to. Movies don’t need these awards in the long run, but a little reward at the end of the year never hurts either.