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Oscar 2004 Winner Predictions

The screener ban didn’t last for long and didn’t seem to do much damage, and come Oscar time, indies may walk away with several big prizes.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Photo: New Line Cinema

It was a year of pleasant surprises. Jack Valenti’s screener ban didn’t last for very long and didn’t seem to do much damage, and come Oscar time, indies may walk away with several big prizes. AMPAS passed on Cold Mountain, ending Miramax’s 11-year nomination streak in the Best Picture category. With the exception of the execrable Seabiscuit, this may be one of the strongest line-ups in years. Nominated for 11 awards, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King may not win everything, but Peter Jackson fans don’t care, just as long as the big guy wins Best Director and his film takes the top prize (watch out for Seabiscuit!), which many will consider a reward for Jackson’s work on the first and second installments of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. If this sense of inevitability may make Oscar a little boring this year, things are not so cut-and-dry in some of the technical races and acting categories. Will it be Theron or Keaton? Will Penn and Robbins say “weapons of mass destruction” when they take the stage? Is Zellweger really the lock everyone thinks she is? Only time will tell. Until then, here are Slant Magazine’s biased and bitchy predictions of who will leave the Kodak Theatre with Oscar on their arm and who will be putting on a happy face for the camera. This year, though, we’re going to make you work a little, as we will unleash one prediction every day until the big night. Enjoy!

ACTOR: Imagine a montage clip of scenes from the five films represented in this category, set to Gloria Estefan’s “Bad Boys.” Some Oscar nuts will tell you that Sean Penn’s reputation will cost him a much deserved win here. Reality check: It doesn’t matter what Penn has to say about Oscar and Bush, this is the actor’s fourth nomination in less than ten years, which means there’s lots of love for him in the Academy. And surely if Penn can be nominated for I Am Sam, he can win for Mystic River. Some members think he’s overdue, and they’ll use this opportunity to retroactively award him for his performance in Dead Man Walking. Penn will also score points courtesy of 21 Grams fans, who tossed nominations to Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro in the lead actress and supporting actor categories, respectively. Penn’s main competition is Bill Murray, who’s performance in Lost in Translation was a coup for serious comedic actors everywhere (somewhere, Jim Carrey is weeping). Sofia Coppola’s film is beyond popular with the Academy, and there’s no denying the clout of Murray’s critic’s prizes and Golden Globe victory, but who can forget the man’s controversial snub for his turn in the Wes Anderson masterpiece Rushmore? You have to wonder sometimes if Academy members collectively buy into the hype perpetuated by Oscar prognosticators everywhere or if they make decisions on their own terms. Some Oscar swamis will tell you that Murray will be back in this category for his performance in Anderson’s next film, but the reality is that Oscar prefers melodrama to stand-up, and as such Penn’s primal howls trump Murray’s “lip my stocking” routine. Note to Johnny Depp: You did good this year, and it helps that everyone on the face of the earth saw Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but as good as your scene-stealing performance in the Gore Verbinski film was, there are some people in the Academy who refuse to take your fey, drunkard pirate seriously. Better luck next time! The Academy gave Cold Mountain the cold shoulder (Look Ma, I made a pun! Take that Gene Shalit!), but this much is true: Jude Law’s pelvic thrust won the hearts of every woman and gay man in the Academy. This is the second time the Brit pretty boy has been nominated for a performance in a Minghella production, but are his heaving buttocks enough to win over Cold Mountain’s detractors? Probably not. As for previous Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog is the least popular film in the category, and though the man’s critically approved performance happily panders to liberal ideologists everywhere, the Academy may have an easier time sympathizing with Shohreh Aghdashloo’s character in the film. It doesn’t help that Kingsley’s proud character in the film is a difficult man to like. In the words of Nicole Richie: “You’re mean!”

Will Win: Sean Penn (Mystic River)

Should Win: Sean Penn (Mystic River)

ACTRESS: Bravo Newmarket! When Jack Valenti’s controversial screener ban went into effect last year, the studio was lucky enough to be a non-member of the MPAA. That meant that they could send screeners out to critics and Academy members alike, and that they did: “For Your Consideration” copies of Whale Rider and Monster. Charlize Theron’s nomination was a give-in, but Keisha Castle-Hughes’s nod came as a surprise to everyone, even the would-be card-carrying members of CWR (The Cult of Whale Rider). Fox Searchlight should be similarly applauded. While most studios went on the woe-is-me defensive, Fox Searchlight quickly employed a non-screener attention-grabbing campaign that included sending out publicity goodies for their films In America and Thirteen. Evan Rachel Wood lost the tween vote to Castle-Hughes but Samantha Morton (a previous Oscar nominee for Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown) scored a well-deserved nod for her sensitive, knock-out performance as a grieving mother in Jim Sheridan’s magical mystery tour In America. Both Morton and Castle-Hughes represent the most likeable and sympathetic films in the category, but their performances may be too subtle to truly register across the board, and as such they’re just lucky to be here. Snubbed for her brilliant turn in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts received a nomination for her performance as a grieving, coked-out wife and mother in 21 Grams. Unfortunately for Kidman’s best gal pal, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s time-bending indie was seen as a disappointment after the director’s break-out hit Amores Perros and may prove entirely too nihilistic for older Academy members. Diane Keaton scored her fourth Oscar nomination in 25 years for her three-dimensional juggling of an older woman’s sexual frustrations in the one-dimensional Something’s Gotta Give. Working to Keaton’s advantage is a Golden Globe victory and a role that appeals to older members in the Academy. Finally, a movie that acknowledges that men and women over 50 still like to have sex! “Whoopdi doo!” say Monster fans—you know, the same people who like to reward ingénues (Hilary Swank, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, et al) for playing against type and coddling (not so much exploring) the body horrific. Monster isn’t exactly beloved, but the spectacle of Theron’s performance is one that will be impossible to ignore. Kidman won by a nose last year. This year, Theron will win by 25% body fat.

Will Win: Charlize Theron (Monster)

Should Win: Samantha Morton (In America)

SUPPORTNG ACTOR: There are more Baldwins than Bridges, but let’s face it: Alec doesn’t command the same kind of respect that four-time Oscar loser Jeff and his Emmy slut brother Beau do. The oldest Baldwin brother scores his first nomination for his bada-bing performance as a Machiavellian casino owner in Wayne Kramer’s The Cooler. Big ups to Lions Gate for their impressive Oscar campaign, but The Cooler may have less fans than Girl with a Pearl Earring. Kramer’s film is a far cry from Goodfellas and Baldwin’s nasty put-on may be recognized as derivative of Joe Pesci’s Oscar-winning performance in the Martin Scorsese film. Then again, the Academy loves the guy’s politics more than they do his charisma, and weirder things have happened in the past (Kim Basinger has an Oscar, right?). Actors love Benicio del Toro, and while his performance as a hard-boiled thug who’s failed by the American Dream in 21 Grams is better than his material, the actor already has an Oscar under his belt and it may be entirely too soon for a second one. Djimon Hounsou also earns a much deserved nomination for his role as a reclusive painter living with AIDS in In America. Sheridan’s film is better liked than The Cooler and 21 Grams, but Hounsou, like Morton, is just lucky to be here. Plus, what with Academy tough guys (you know, the one’s who give away their screener tapes) splitting their votes between Baldwin and del Toro, the more sensitive members of the Academy will have to choose between Hounsou and Mr. Susan Sarandon. Tim Robbins directed his wife to an Oscar back in 1995 and this year the Academy will not only get the chance to retroactively reward Penn, but also his one-time director. As a conflicted husband and victim of abuse in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, Robbins is put through a complex emotional wringer and his performance was justly applauded by the Hollywood Foreign Press and critics alike. His what-the-fuck competition? Apparently Ken Watanabe, whose completely non-descript (one could say “vanilla”) performance in Ed Zwick’s absolutely ridiculous The Last Samurai pressed everyone’s PC button (wait, you thought they were making up for some slight against Kizuna and Tampopo?). Okay, so the guy can act, and the Academy has patted itself on the back before for representing Asians in their nominee line-ups, but The Last Samurai doesn’t command the same respect as The Killing Fields.

Will Win: Tim Robbins (Mystic River)

Should Win: Tim Robbins (Mystic River)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: One of the luxuries of having your own forum and Oscar column on a non-CBS monitored webzine is that I can say “fuck” at will and go out on a limb. Anthony Minghella’s white-washed, harlequin portrait of the Civil War made oodles of money, but on Nomination Tuesday, the Academy nearly gave Harvey Weinstein a coronary when Cold Mountain failed to nab nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Some consider Renée Zellweger’s cock-busting Ruby Thewes the film’s stand-out performance, but others see the character as the stuff of late-night parody (note to MadTV: I’m still waiting for Nicole Sullivan’s button-nosed impersonation). Okay, so Zellweger lost for Bridget Jones’s Diary and Chicago, but are Academy members really that hellbent on rewarding the young actress this year, not to mention this quickly, in a supporting category with so many viable alternatives? No one wants to read a column like this without at least one risk, and though I’m likely to pencil down Zellweger’s name come Oscar Pool Sunday, I’m going to give the edge here to Shohreh Aghdashloo. But we’ll get to Sho Agh in a sec. Marcia Gay Harden rode Mystic River’s wave to her second nomination in four years. In 2000, she won for her excellent performance in Pollack after failing to secure SAG and Golden Globe nominations. This year, the actress was similarly ignored by her friends at SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press, but can she upset again this soon? Sure. Mystic River may be the best acted film of the year, and with Sean Penn and Tim Robbins poised to take home Oscars, so can Harden, who arguably gives the best performance in the group. This category is the one where we’re likely to see the most surprises come Oscar night, so if the Academy can pass on Lauren Bacall, they can certainly pass on Zellweger, whose Golden Globe acceptance speech may have been her worst performance to date. Some Academy members know what it’s like to raise a problem child, which explains Holly Hunter’s nomination for Thirteen. Certainly it’s an excellent performance, but the competition is stiff and the actress already has a Best Actress Oscar. La Hunter, then, is another one who’s just lucky to be here. The same can be said for the versatile Patricia Clarkson, who finally gets some love from the Academy for her bizarre turn as a wise-cracking mom afflicted with cancer in the uglier-than-sin Pieces of April. This year, the workaholic was a two-time SAG nominee, so consider a vote for Pieces of April a vote for The Station Agent. But who saw Pieces of April, let alone liked it? Which brings me to Aghdashloo, who plays the proud wife of an even prouder Iranian ex-general in House of Sand and Fog. Aghdashloo is a first-time nominee, and only time will tell what kind of roles she’ll get in the future, but working overwhelmingly to her advantage is her character’s supreme kindness and the American Dream’s torture mechanism that gets the better of her character. Liberal guilt nominations went to Aghdashloo and Watanabe, but only the former successfully trumps the heavy agenda of their respective film. As for that sound you hear? That’s me kicking myself the day after.

Will Win: Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog)

Should Win: Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River)

ANIMATED FEATURE: After the multi-billion dollar success of Pixar’s collaborations with Disney, DreamWorks joined forces with PDI to produce more adult-friendly cartoons like Antz. Yes, 2D animation has seen better days, but this oh-so-retro aesthetic isn’t on the way out, it’s just been compromised by our digital-era, trend-following Hollywood execs. Today, films like Lilo & Stitch and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas seem to exist only to sedate kids hungry for the next Pixar concoction and fart-happy Shrek episode. This year, the Academy had better films to choose from—after Spirited Away’s victory last year, I suppose it was naïve of me to think Millennium Actress would follow suit. The fact that Brother Bear received an Oscar nomination this year shouldn’t be seen as a triumph for 2D animation a failure of good taste. The good news: now that the money-hungry Pixar has dumped the money-hungry Disney, let’s hope the Mouse House invests in more quality control. Lilo & Stitch lost to Spirited Away last year, but can another quirky animated gem from abroad defeat another Disney goliath? Not this time. Triplets of Belleville never took off the same way Spirited Away did, and Finding Nemo is way bigger than Monsters, Inc.. We’d give Triplets of Belleville a shot here, except the film is not a Disney property and has yet to be Americanized via gratuitous dubbing.

Will Win: Finding Nemo

Should Win: Triplets of Belleville

ART DIRECTION: In 2002, The Fellowship of the Ring lost to Moulin Rouge!. One year later, The Two Towers lost to the comparatively minimalist Chicago. This year, The Return of the King’s crew goes head-to-head against Girl with a Pearl Earring (production designer Ben van Os is a previous nominee for Orlando and set decorator Cecile Heideman earns her first nomination here), The Last Samurai (art director Lilly Kilvert was previously nominated for Ed Zwick’s Legends of the Fall and set decorator Gretchen Rau makes her first trip to the Oscars), Master and Commander (art director William Sandell and set decorator Robert Gould are both first timers) and the hail-to-the-horse anthem Seabiscuit (production designer Jeannine Claudia Oppewall, a three-time nominee, and set decorator Leslie A. Pope, a first-timer). Because the voters in this category dissed Peter Jackson two years in a row in this category, we’ll give The Return of the King the edge this time. Though the film certainly earns the award, its recognition here will be for its three-film cumulative effort. Master and Commander or Girl with a Pearl Earring could pull an upset, but they’ll likely cancel each other out. Plus, Master and Commander may suffer the same fate as The Thin Red Line and Gangs of New York, embarrassed epics that went home with nothing on Oscar night.

Will Win: The Return of the King

Should Win: The Return of the King

CINEMATOGRAPHY: One of four surprise nominations for Miramax’s City of God came in this category for César Charlone’s dewy camerawork, which has been awarded at several festivals around the world but failed to register with American critics and the American Guild of Cinematographers. John Schwartzman also earns his first nomination for putting as much red, white and blue into Seabiscuit’s color palette. It’s a handsome effort, and Schawartzman has the love of the American Society of Cinematographers. John Seale makes his fourth trip to the Oscars, and though some think his cinematography for Cold Mountain was appropriately dreary, I think it was downright, well, dreary. Look at this way: Academy members wanted to fuck the color wheel Seale used for English Patient, but when they look at Cold Mountain, most of them will think of venereal diseases. In my humble opinion, Master and Commander cameraman Russell Boyd did most of the work for Peter Weir. Blue is our favorite color (can’t you tell?), so we’ve got nothing but love for Mr. Boyd’s lens, but the first-time nominee will have a difficult time besting Eduardo Serra, a past nominee for The Wings of the Dove and a nominee this year for the shallow but absolutely gorgeous Girl with a Pearl Earring. A film about painting never looked this painterly. But can it defeat Seabiscuit? When Academy members think of the Gary Ross horse epic, they’ll think that much of the film’s excitement was summoned by the cameraman and the editor.

Will Win: Seabiscuit

Should Win: Girl with a Pearl Earring

COSTUME DESIGN: Trend-spotting has gotten me into trouble before, but I couldn’t resist here. The Academy likes their outfits two ways: really, really old (Gladiator, Shakespeare in Love) or with lots of razzle-dazzle (Chicago, Moulin Rouge!). Sometimes “really, really old” and “lots of razzle-dazzle” overlap, but that’s not the case this year. It’s a muted list of candidates this time: first-timers Wendy Stites (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) and Dien van Straalen (Girl with a Pearl Earring), three-time nominee Judianna Makovsky (Seabiscuit), and Ngila Dickson, whose outfits for The Return of the King and The Last Samurai compete against each other. However authentic-looking, some costumes are just plain boring. Note to Makovsky: Didn’t I see that shirt in Pleasantville? To Stites: Who gave you the key to MGM’s Mutiny on the Bounty clothes closet? Dickson lost in 2002 and the Academy didn’t bother nominating the garbs she designed for The Two Towers (more or less the same ones that appear in all three films), but this might be an excellent opportunity for the costume people to reward her cumulative effort. (Assuming supporters of The Last Samurai and The Return of the King stay put, she’s unlikely to suffer from a vote-split.) The elegant costumes for Girl with a Pearl Earring may be Dickson’s fiercest competition, but van Straalen enters the Oscar race without the support of the Costume Designers Guild, so a win here will be considered a major upset.

Will Win: The Return of the King

Should Win: The Return of the King

DIRECTOR: Welcome to the odd-man-out club Fernando Meirelles! Please take a seat next to Pedro Almodóvar and David Lynch. A surprise nominee in this category, Meirelles is a great guy (click here for my interview with the Brazilian director), and a bright future in Hollywood is now within his reach, but a win for City of God here seems as unlikely as Cold Mountain winning Best Picture. Note to Harvey Weinstein: next year, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. (Yes, that was also a coded attack against the Minghella film.) Clint Eastwood goes for a second Oscar this year, but Old Reliable’s Mystic River may strike some in the director’s branch as more of an actor’s film more than a director’s one. Peter Weir is here for the fourth time, and he may be Peter Jackson’s fiercest competitor, but Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is entirely too mannered and may scream “director’s film” a little too much. Maybe next time Pete. The near-universal love for Lost in Translation will obviously work toward Sofia Coppola’s advantage, and while Frances and the handful of women in the director’s branch may vote for their fellow sister (don’t expect ex-beau Spike’s approval though), her prim-and-proper direction is a relative dry-hump compared to what DGA winner Peter Jackson does to The Return of the King. Some will say: “Congratulations Mr. Jackson on a job well done.” Hell, even the film’s naysayers will toss votes his way: “Here, take it already, now please go away!”

Will Win: Peter Jackson (The Return of the King)

Should Win: Peter Jackson (The Return of the King)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Possibly the most difficult category to predict because every nominee is a heavyweight in some capacity. Nathanial Kahn’s My Architect: A Son’s Journey opened to overwhelmingly positive reviews last November and recently won an award from the DGA. In an attempt to learn more about his deceased father, Kahn visited the architectural structures the man left behind and in the process comes to grips with the memory of an elusive paternal figure. Equally well-received was The Weather Underground, Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s analysis of the 60s terrorist radical group The Weather Underground. Though the film may be more topical than My Architect, it’s also nowhere near as introspective. Plus, The Weather Underground stands absolutely no chance against The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. After being snubbed in this category for many years, Errol Morris gets to make his first trip to the Academy Awards. Morris’s frightening conversation with former Secretary of Defense McNamara suffers occasionally from the director’s signature aesthetic flourishes, but The Fog of War remains one of the most frightening indictments of unexamined military aggression and is distinguished by its surprising humanity. Just as popular is this year’s shock-jock entry, Capturing the Friedmans, Andrew Jarecki’s exploitational documentary about ex-schoolteacher Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse, who were accused of sexually abusing dozens of children in their Long Island home in the late 80s. The highest grossing film in the category, Capturing the Friedmans is certainly popular but it’s not exactly beloved by everyone and may be entirely too confrontational and difficult for older members voting in this category to suffer through. That leaves Carlos Bosch and Loris Omedes’s Balseros, a devastating, unusually cinematic chronicle of Cuban rafters trying to navigate the rigors of the American Dream while attempting to reconnect with the families they left behind on their island prison. The film could very well play on a double-bill alongside The Fog of War, and though both films are equally worthy, the blistering Balseros has the distinction of being both smart and emotionally devastating. Some members may buy into the ugly hype of Capturing the Friedmans, but a vote against Balseros is a vote for human rights. Call this one wishful thinking.

Will Win: Balseros

Should Win: Balseros

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Winner of an honorable mention prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Sandy McLeod’s Asylum documents a woman’s attempts to seek political asylum in the United States after fleeing her native Ghana’s rituals of genital mutilation. Katja Esson’s Ferry Tales will likely remind people of the recent disaster at the Staten Island Ferry, but it’s also nowhere near as powerful. The documentary will be distributed by HBO Films and follows a group of female commuters who transform into businesswomen and mingle with each other inside the women’s room of the Ferry that connects Staten Island to lower Manhattan. Activist filmmaker Maryann DeLeo’s Chernobyl Heart is another HBO production and chronicles the effects of Chernobyl’s radiation leak on a group of children from Belarus. Ferry Tales is arguably the most solid, but Asylum is the short mostly likely to pull on everyone’s human right’s heartstrings.

Will Win: Asylum

FILM EDITING: Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch receives his ninth nomination for his work on Cold Mountain, but because this is the only film in the category not nominated for either Best Picture or Best Director, there are some members in the editing branch who might think the 155-minute Minghella harlequin romance could have been cut by at least, I don’t know, 155 minutes? Next to go is first-time nominee Lee Smith, whose assemblage of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is certainly elegant but there are more svelte monsters in the category that should more easily engage voters. City of God’s Daniel Rezende is nominated here for his very first editing job, and as such is very easy to write off as a non-competitor, but not only is the popularity of the groovy Fernando Meirelles film in part his doing, City of God’s editing did win a BAFTA award last year against four future Best Picture heavyweights. The Fellowship of the Ring lost to Black Hawk Down in 2002 and The Two Towers lost to Chicago last year. This year, voters can throw the Lord of the Rings trilogy a cumulative bone by rewarding the exceptionally edited but extremely long Return of the King, or they can just give the award to Seabiscuit…because horses are pretty and they run fast. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but this race will end in a photo finish.

Will Win: Seabiscuit

Should Win: The Return of the King

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Notable snubs in this category: Golden Globe winner Osama, macho endurance test The Return, and the crowd-pleasing Good Bye, Lenin!. Evil, the story of a troubled teen sent to an private academy where a reign of terror is commanded by the school’s Abercrombie & Fitch upperclassmen, may skew entirely too young. Though this is the 13th nomination for Sweden, the country has only won for Ingmar Bergman productions (The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, and Fanny & Alexander). A major hit in its native Japan, and now poised for U.S. distribution (hopefully not by Miramax), Yoji Yamada’s Shakespearean-samurai action extravaganza The Twilight Samurai may have a difficult time winning over voters who previously passed on Zhang Yimou’s Hero. The powerhouse in the category is Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions, the story of a middle-aged braggart who spends his last days on the planet injecting heroin, calling Mother Theresa a “slimy Albanian,” and talking about his rock hard cock. Charming stuff, and though this is Arcand’s third nomination in the Foreign Language Film category, the strange individuals who vote in this category will have no problem passing over the Miramax machine in favor of Twin Sisters or Želary. The former, from the Netherlands, concerns the separation of twin sisters in the 1920s and their struggle to reconnect in the future. The latter tells the story of a student involved in the Resistance during WWII and the time he spends hiding from the Gestapo in a remote mountain village. The Oscars love Nazi perseverance dramas and Želary (recently picked up by Sony Pictures Classics) screams The Pianist Part Deux or Still Nowhere in Africa.

Will Win: The Barbarian Invasions

Should Win: None.

MAKEUP: Last year, The Hours and The Two Towers didn’t make the cut, and Frida defeated The Time Machine. This year’s nominees all scream Big Spectacle, except for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, that is—for the life of me, I’m trying to remember anyone wearing makeup in the film. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is surely a worthy candidate, but the film’s Moonlight Serenade sequence may be recognized as a triumph of CGI rather than makeup. Peter King and Richard, who won two Oscars in 2002 for The Fellowship of the Ring, should have no problem racking up another win for The Return of the King here.

Will Win: The Return of the King

Should Win: The Return of the King

SCORE: Poor Danny Elfman. His best scores have never been nominated, and his previous nominations in this category were for Men in Black and Good Will Hunting. This year, his sugary score for Big Fish represents the only nomination for the Tim Burton film. He’s a long-shot here, as is James Horner’s dreary orchestrations for House of Sand and Fog. This is Horner’s ninth nomination, and while there’s lots of love for him to go around, his score for the DreamWorks picture can only be described as “music to slit your wrists to” (thank you Brittany Murphy for the quote!). Next to go is six-time nominee Thomas Newman for Finding Nemo, which could feasibly benefit from a vote-split but the film will probably content itself with a win in the Animated Feature Film category. Gabriel Yared scores his third Academy Award nomination for an Anthony Minghella film. For me, this is the best score in the category (or, at the very least, the most recognizable), and certainly it’s the best thing about Cold Mountain. Also, Yared currently has another excellent score, for Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cesar-nominated Bon Voyage, working through some people’s consciousness. Though Howard Shore’s score for The Return of the King was rewarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press, AMPAS didn’t recognize his work for The Two Towers, and some members in this category might see his win for The Fellowship of the Ring as a victory for all three. Assuming Renée Zellweger goes home very upset on Oscar night, this may be Cold Mountain’s consolation prize.

Will Win: Cold Mountain

Should Win: The Return of the King

SONG: AMPAS had the good sense to nominate “Belleville Rendezvous” from the brilliant Triplets of Belleville, but the song is too quirky and the film is the Little Engine That Could of the category. Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole’s “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” from A Mighty Wind, is the category’s other surprise nominee. Fans of the Christopher Guest mockumentary celebrated the nomination, but some think the wrong song made the cut. T Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello are nominated for “Scarlet Tide” and Sting for “You Will Be My Ain True Love,” both songs from the Cold Mountain soundtrack. Sting’s contribution is the only other song in the category besides “Into the West,” from The Return of the King, to carry over from the Golden Globe line-up, but many of its votes may be siphoned by the inferior “Scarlet Tide.” In fact, if “Scarlet Tide” wasn’t here, I would have given the edge to “You Will Be My Ain True Love.” I’m looking forward to Annie Lennox’s live interpretation of “Into the West.” It’s no “Here Comes the Rain Again,” but Lennox can out-diva Alison Krauss and Sting any day. Of course, what’s to be made of the fact that Lennox’s live performance was cut from the Grammys but Alison Krauss was allowed to go on?

Will Win: The Return of the King

Should Win: The Return of the King

ANIMATED SHORT: Even if you don’t think Destino is the best film to receive a nomination this year, it’s certainly the most important. I had the pleasure of seeing the film last year at the New York Film Festival, where it preceded The Barbarian Invasions. Introduced by director Dominique Monfrey, Destino began as a collaboration between surrealist painter Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney in 1946, but was abandoned after Dali barely produced 15 seconds of footage. Many years later, Roy Disney and Monfrey reunited to approximate Dali’s original vision. This frank, delirious short follows a ballerina through a Daliesque dreamland as she grapples with the sexual implications of the objects around her (think Belle from Beauty in the Beast walking into “The Persistence of Memory”). This short is so good it propelled someone at the screening I attended to say, “I would hate to be the film that follows this.” (Hmmmm, maybe that’s why I hated Denys Arcand’s film so much.) Bud Luckey’s adorable Pixar short Boundin’ and Adam Elliot’s cynical claymation Harvie Krumpet could feasibly upset. The former tells the story of a toe-tapping lamb that loses his pride along with his wool and how a mythical Jackalope teaches him to get his groove back. Harvie Krumpet is the story of a man dogged by bad luck, and though it has several high-profile festival prizes under its belt, can it honestly defeat Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí? Harvie Krumpet is the longest film in the category, and as such may stand out from the pack, but Elliot’s story of a down-trodden Polish loser who moves to Australia during the Holocaust and suffers one physical embarrassment after another is as snide as it is frequently touching and funny. Ice Age fans have seen Carlos Saldanha’s Gone Nutty, which stars the scene-stealing squirrel Scrat and offers a nutty explanation for Continental Drift. (Note: On the 2-disc Ice Age DVD, Gone Nutty went by the name Scrat’s Missing Adventure.) Audiences at this year’s Academy screenings went crazy for both the pomo Gone Nutty and the rhythmic Boundin’, but their respective cuteness is unlikely to linger on everyone’s mind with Destino and Harvie Krumpet on the ballot. Last but not least is Christopher Hinton’s amusingly composed Nibbles, which chronicles the delirious and grotesque trip a father and his three sons make to a fishing pond. Because the short is so rough around the edges, consider it the night’s biggest long shot.

Will Win: Destino

Should Win: Destino

LIVE ACTION SHORT: Remember: Even if the winners in this category aren’t always fair, this is one of those equal-opportunity categories where all members of the Academy are required to see all the nominees. Florian Baxmeyer’s The Red Jacket already won a student Academy Award but has to compete on Oscar night with another entry from Sarajevo and another film where a little boy bites the bullet. In Baxmeyer’s short, an unfortunate accident results in the titular jacket being sent to Sarajevo, where a little boy picks it up on the day of his family’s slaughter. This trite, ham-fisted fable about replaceable children may be the worst film Krzysztof Kieślowski never made, but since a child gets shot in the film and is later saved by UN officers and a grieving German man, it will have no problem tugging everyone’s heartstrings. Also from Sarajevo is Stefan Arsenijevic’s deceptively simple (A)Torzija, the allegorical story of an amateur choir group about to leave their besieged village, but not before they sing in unison for the salvation of a pregnant cow and her baby calf. The whistle of a young boy becomes indistinguishable from the sounds of falling bombs, and Arsenijevic milks this confusion for absurdist gravitas. Academy members will have an easier time remembering The Red Jacket, but the two films from Sarajevo may just cancel each other out. Another festival favorite is Lionel Bailliu’s twisted Squash, the story of an intense psychological feud between a maniacal boss and his employee. Bailliu brilliantly situates Charles’s abuse of Alexandre as a primitive torture mechanism; by film’s end, though, an empowered Alexandre turns the racquetball game into something not unlike a house of cards. Because of its ultra-tight screenplay and excellent performances, Squash will stand out, but may be deemed “too French” for those looking for more emotional, squishier returns. At 40 minutes, Two Soldiers is the longest film in the category and has the distinction of being the only nominee in Made in the U.S.A. (and proud of it!). It’s also the last short that Academy members will see before penciling down a winner. Adapted from a William Faulkner story, this remarkably photographed short is the tale of a young southern boy who wants to join the army after his brother is drafted and sent to Memphis. Director Aaron Schneider, who did the cinematography for Kiss the Girls and Simon Birch, put a lot of money into this production (Ron Perlman stars, Alan Silvestri scored the thing) and he’s more than happy to show off the expensive period detail. However beautiful, the film lacks considerable brio. I expected a mini Pearl Harbor, so it’s impressive then that Schneider downplays the jingoism, even if he doesn’t fully allow the separation of two brothers to reflect a larger American loss. Still, Academy members will be endeared by the film’s knife-wielding, button-nosed protagonist and the lengths he goes to in order to reconnect with his dear brother. But Bobby Garabedian may have the edge by virtue of being American but telling a more universal story and shooting it abroad. Most is the story of a Czechoslovakian father and the fateful day he brings his 8-year-old son to the rail bridge he works at. Arguably the best film in the category, Most evokes a fleeting moment in time when a father must sacrifice a young life after he gauges his son’s existential connect to the world. Dreamily and elliptically composed, Most is like watching lives trapped in amber. It’s at times disturbing (Academy members jumped out of their seats during a crucial moment), but it’s also very funny and touching, and it’s this sentimentality that may just give the film the edge.

Will Win: Most (The Bridge)

Should Win: (A)Torzija

SOUND: I’m sorry, but it you are not a sound guy (or girl), and you’re not voting in this category yourself, it’s impossible to figure out what kind of sonic logic the voters in this category use to pick a winner. My ears tell me that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is loud and nowhere near as elegant, or deadly, as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Seabiscuit can trot and The Last Samurai can swing a sword, but there were more horses and blades in The Return of the King. Though the Lord of the Rings trilogy has yet to win in this category, one of the four dudes representing the film, Christopher Boyes, is also nominated for Pirates of the Caribbean. It should be noted that, unlike The Return of the King, Master and Commander and Pirates of the Caribbean are also nominated in the Sound Effects Editing category. Assuming, then, that Boyens’s friends are completely split down the middle and that the love for The Return of the King among sound guys (and girls) is not universal, I’ll hesitatingly give Master and Commander its only victory of the evening in this category.

Will Win: Master and Commander

Should Win: The Return of the King

SOUND EDITING: Here’s hoping that Billy Crystal does not incorporate the Big Theme of the evening (water!) into a funny montage sketch. (I swear to God, I will never watch the Oscars again if the comedian makes a crude Balseros joke.) Because the film is not nominated in the Sound category, forget Finding Nemo. Peter Weir’s sea-faring Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World may eek out a victory for its regal sound design, but Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl has enough whiz-bang to earn Christopher Boyes and George Watters the prize. Boyes has friends here, having won in the past for his work on water-logged epics Titanic and Pearl Harbor. Plus, with a name like George Watters on the nomination list, how can the Academy resist? Go Pirates!

Will Win: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Should Win: Master and Commander

VISUAL EFFECTS: I don’t know how many people will consider Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World a triumph of visual effects, and as such this will be a smackdown between Best Picture favorite The Return of the King and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Nominated two times for the visual effects he designed for George Lucas’s The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, John Knoll lost in 2000 to The Matrix and in 2002 to The Fellowship of the Ring. Pirates of the Caribbean is better than anything George Lucas has ever created in his entire life (well, maybe not American Graffiti), but Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook and Alex Funke’s effects for The Return of the King make Pirates of the Caribbean look like Tron by comparison.

Will Win: The Return of the King

Should Win: The Return of the King

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: For a third year in a row, Philipa Boyens, Peter Jackson and wife Frances Walsh are nominated in this category. Any Tolkien fan will more than happily give this award to the trio, and though the last two Lord of the Rings films have not won this award, I don’t know if this is a category where the Academy will necessarily want to reward the group for the cumulative effort. Only a maniac would put Dennis Lehane and Laura Hillenbrand in the same league as Tolkien, but the Academy’s so-called bias against Jackson’s fantasy extravaganza may be felt here; many voting for The Return of the King in the Best Picture category consider it a “director’s film,” and as such is empowered more by its images than by Tolkien’s adapted text. Brian Helgeland, a previous winner for L.A. Confidential, certainly deserves to win over Gary Ross, but the fact remains that Lehane’s novel Mystic River didn’t move as many copies as Hillenbrand’s unbelievably popular Seabiscuit: The Saga of a Great Champion. Poor Ross wasn’t nominated for Best Director, so some members may want to reward his efforts here. The source material for Bráulio Mantovani’s City of God is entirely too obscure, and though Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s screenplay for American Splendor won a WGA award (something Ghost World didn’t do), some members in the Academy may be confused by the nature of the comic-book adaptation.

Will Win: Seabiscuit

Should Win: The Return of the King

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: The quirkiest productions are most likely to be rewarded here, and by virtue of being the only Best Picture nominee in the category, Lost in Translation is the one to beat. Dirty Pretty Things did surprisingly well at the box office, more so than The Barbarian Invasions, but some voters may recognize Steven Knight’s material as subordinate to Stephen Frears’s visuals. The Barbarian Invasions, on the other hand, has zero visual acumen, but Denys Arcand’s nasty, hot-to-trot dialogue is inexplicably beloved. Finding Nemo gets the what-the-fuck vote, and with the Miramax entries likely to cancel each other out, this may be between Coppola and the Sheridan clan. Like Dirty Pretty Things and Lost in Translation, In America enters the race with a WGA nod under its belt and it has the luxury of being the most emotional and tender film in the category. But Oscar has a history of rewarding young filmmakers in the writing categories as a consolation prize for losses elsewhere. Sofia Coppola, please take a seat next to Quentin Tarantino and Jane Campion.

Will Win: Lost in Translation

Should Win: In America

PICTURE: First, drown out anyone who’s been telling you that a “fantasy” film has never won in this category. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings is, first and foremost, an action extravaganza, the kind of wide-eyed epic Oscar loves to reward. When The Return of the King won the Golden Globe and Jackson took the DGA prize, the film became something of a sure-thing. Critics seemed to embrace the third part of Jackson’s trilogy as much as audiences did, and the film has its fans within the Academy. But are there more AMPAS members who want to reward Jackson’s cumulative effort than there are hipsters and Seabiscuit fans? Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is just kind of there, coasting along on its competence but so non-descript people will forget it’s even nominated. Lost in Translation will appeal to younger members, and because Mystic River more or less has the universal respect of the acting branches, Eastwood’s film shouldn’t be dismissed as a possible upset. And then there is Seabiscuit, the stupidest, sappiest film in the category. If you think the film can’t win, then you have never seen an Oscar show in your entire life. This wholesome piece of American agitprop had audiences in tears last year, and it probably had the same effect on older members of the Academy. Luckily for fans of The Return of the King, there are also enough cynics in AMPAS that would rather wait to coronate a real symbol of American restoration come November (yes, I’m talking about John Kerry).

Will Win: The Return of the King

Should Win: Mystic River

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Awards

Oscar 2020: Complete Winners List

Parasite earned four awards, edging out 1917 for best picture.

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Parasite
Photo: Neon

Across the last month, we contemplated various pendulum swings, drew links between the Oscar voting process and the Iowa caucuses, and generally mulled over the academy’s ongoing existential crisis, only to come the conclusion that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or that’s what we thought prior to the Academy Awards ceremony. In a welcome surprise, Parasite took the top prize, becoming the first international title to do so in the history of the awards show, while Bong Joon-ho became the first director since Roman Polanski to win the directing Oscar after failing to win the DGA prize. (Parasite is also the first Palme d’Or winner since Marty way back in 1955 to claim best picture.)

In the era of the preferential ballot, one stat or another has been thrown out the window each year, but after last night, it feels like every last one was shattered to bits, and that the triumph of Bong film’s could signal a shift in the industry when it comes to not just what sorts of stories can be told. Indeed, Parasite’s victory is redolent of Moonlight’s no less historic one a few years ago, giving us hope that the very definition of an “Oscar movie” has been forever rewritten. Predicting the Oscars has become a little bit harder now.

Here’s the full list of winners.

Picture
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Parasite (WINNER)

Director
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Bong Joon-ho, Parasite (WINNER)

Actor
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker (WINNER)
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Actress
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy (WINNER)

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 (WINNER)

Actress in a Supporting Role
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story (WINNER)
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Adapted Screenplay
The Irishman, Steven Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi (WINNER)
Joker, Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
Little Women, Greta Gerwig
The Two Popes, Anthony McCarten

Original Screenplay
Knives Out, Rian Johnson
Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach
1917, Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino
Parasite, Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won (WINNER)

International Feature Film
Corpus Christi (Poland)
Honeyland (North Macedonia)
Les Misérables (France)
Pain and Glory (Spain)
Parasite (South Korea) (WINNER)

Documentary Feature
American Factory, Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, and Jeff Reichert
The Cave, Feras Fayyad, Kirstine Barfod, and Sigrid Dyekjær
The Edge of Democracy, Petra Costa, Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris, and Tiago Pavan
For Sama, Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts
Honeyland, Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, and Atanas Georgiev

Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis, and Bonnie Arnold
I Lost My Body, Jérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice
Klaus, Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh, and Marisa Román
Missing Link, Chris Butler, Arianne Sutner, and Travis Knight
Toy Story 4, Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen, and Jonas Rivera (WINNER)

Film Editing
Ford v Ferrari, Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland (WINNER)
The Irishman, Thelma Schoonmaker
Jojo Rabbit, Tom Eagles
Joker, Jeff Groth
Parasite, Yang Jinmo

Cinematography
The Irishman, Rodrigo Prieto
Joker, Lawrence Sher
The Lighthouse, Jarin Blaschke
1917, Roger Deakins (WINNER)
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Robert Richardson

Production Design
The Irishman, Bob Shaw and Regina Graves
Jojo Rabbit, Ra Vincent and Nora Sopková
1917, Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh (WINNER)
Parasite, Lee Ha-jun and Cho Won-woo

Costume Design
The Irishman, Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson
Jojo Rabbit, Mayes C. Rubeo
Joker, Mark Bridges
Little Women, Jacqueline Durran (WINNER)
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Arianne Phillip

Visual Effects
Avengers: Endgame, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken, and Dan Sudick
The Irishman, Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser, and Stephane Grabli
The Lion King, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Elliot Newman
1917, Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy (WINNER)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, and Dominic Tuohy

Original Score
Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir (WINNER)
Little Women, Alexandre Desplat
Marriage Story, Randy Newman
1917, Thomas Newman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams

Sound Mixing
Ad Astra, Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, and Mark Ulano
Ford v Ferrari, Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Steven A. Morrow
Joker, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, and Tod Maitland
1917, Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson (WINNER)
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler, and Mark Ulano

Sound Editing
Ford v Ferrari, Donald Sylvester (WINNER)
Joker, Alan Robert Murray
1917, Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Wylie Stateman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Matthew Wood and David Acord

Makeup and Hairstyling
Bombshell, Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan, and Vivian Baker (WINNER)
Joker, Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou
Judy, Jeremy Woodhead
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten, and David White
1917, Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis, and Rebecca Cole

Original Song
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4, Randy Newman
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman, Elton John and Bernie Taupin
“I’m Standing with You,” Breakthrough, Diane Warren
“Into the Unknown,” Frozen 2, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“Stand Up,” Harriet, Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

Live-Action Short
Brotherhood, Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon
Nefta Footfall Club, Yves Piat and Damien Megherbi
The Neighbor’s Window, Marshall Curry (WINNER)
Saria, Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre
A Sister, Delphine Girard

Documentary Short Subject
In the Absence, Yi Seung-jun and Gary Byung-seok Kam
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva
Life Overtakes Me, John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson
St. Louis Superman, Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan
Walk, Run, Chacha, Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt

Animated Short
Daughter, Daria Kashcheeva
Hair Love, Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver (WINNER)
Kitbull, Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson
Memorable, Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre
Sister, Siqi Song

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Picture

How could the essentially non-political 1917 not arrive as sweet solace in our cultural moment?

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1917
Photo: Universal Pictures

We now have roughly a decade’s worth of data to postulate how ranked-choice ballots have altered the outcome of the top Oscar prize, and we’ve come to understand what the notion of a “most broadly liked” contender actually entails. And in the wake of wins for The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight, The Shape of Water, and most especially Green Book last year, we’re left with the impression that the biggest change in what defines a best picture is no change whatsoever. In fact, what appears to have happened is that it’s acted as a bulwark, preserving the AMPAS’s “tradition of quality” in the top prize during a decade in which the concept of a run-the-table Oscar juggernaut has shifted from the postcard pictorials of Out of Africa to immersive epics like Gravity and Mad Max: Fury Road, both of which won two to three times as many awards as the films they lost out to for the top prize.

We’re far from the only ones who’ve noticed that—Moonlight eternally excepted—the contours of best picture winners seem to be drifting in the opposite direction of where Academy representatives have indicated they want to go. Wesley Morris recently concluded that, despite his fondness, if not downright love, for the majority of this year’s top contenders, the slate still just doesn’t jibe with a purportedly forward-thinking, brand-spanking-new academy: “Couldn’t these nine movies just be evidence of taste? Good taste? They certainly could. They are. And yet … the assembly of these movies feels like a body’s allergic reaction to its own efforts at rehabilitation.” Melissa Villaseñor’s jovial refrain of “white male rage” two weeks ago knowingly reduced this awards cycle down to absurdly black-or-white terms, but if the YouTube comments on that SNL bit are any indication, raging white males aren’t in the mood to have a sense of humor about themselves, much less welcome serious introspection.

Neither is that demographic alone in its disgruntlement. What was yesteryear’s “brutally honest Oscar voter” has become today’s “blithely, incuriously sexist, racist, and xenophobic Oscar voter.” As the saying goes, this is what democracy looks like, and given sentiments like “I don’t think foreign films should be nominated with the regular films” and “they should have gotten an American actress to play Harriet,” it looks a lot like the second coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age gorgons of gossip, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

It might be a stretch but we can imagine that, to many voters, the presumptive frontrunner, Sam Mendes’s 1917, comes off a lot less like a first-person video game mission and a lot more representative of what it feels like to navigate our landmine-strewn cultural landscape as your average politically neoliberal, artistically reactionary academy member circa 2020. Especially one forced to make snap decisions in the midst of an accelerated Oscar calendar. And even if that is, rhetorically speaking, a bridge too far, there’s no denying the backdrop of representational fatigue and socio-political retreat liberal America is living through.

How could the stiff-lipped, single-minded, technically flawless, quietly heroic, and, most importantly, essentially non-political 1917 not arrive as sweet solace in this moment? It’s the same reason why we suspect, despite ranked-choice ballots pushing Bong Joon-ho’s insanely and broadly liked Parasite in major contention for the prize, it’s actually Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit we most strongly fear pulling off an upset. After all, how many Oscar voters are still more concerned about Nazis than they are global income inequality? Or, if you’d rather, how many of their homes look more like the Parks’ than like the Kims’?

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Jojo Rabbit

Might Win: Parasite

Should Win: The Irishman, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, or Parasite

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Director

Given the academy’s long history and resurgent embrace of technical triumphs, we’re not holding our breath for an upset here.

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Sam Mendes
Photo: Universal Pictures

Last week, when Eric brought to my attention the New York Times article that exposed the myth of Hollywood being in the tank for movies about the industry, I used the piece as a jumping-off point for why Quentin Tarantino was vulnerable in the original screenplay category. At the time, I thought I was stepping on Eric’s toes by referencing his intel, believing him to be charged with giving our readers the lowdown in this category. Turns out he was tasked with whipping up our take on the film editing contest, meaning that I had stepped on my own toes. Which is to say, almost everything I already said about why QT was likely to come up short in original screenplay applies here, and then some.

Indeed, just as math tells us that the academy’s adulation for navel-gazing portraitures of Hollywood has been exaggerated by the media, it also tells us that this award is Sam Mendes’s to lose after the 1917 director won the DGA award, the most accurate of all Oscar precursors, having predicted the winner here 64 times in 71 years. A win for the pin-prick precision of Bong Joon-ho’s direction of Parasite would be a welcome jaw-dropper, as it would throw several stats out the window and, in turn, get us a little more excited about predicting the Oscars next year. But given the academy’s long history and resurgent embrace of technical triumphs—trust us, the math checks out—we’re not holding our breath.

Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Could Win: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Should Win: Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Film Editing

The only thing louder than the vroom-vroom of James Mangold’s dad epic is the deafening chorus of “Best. Movie. Ever.”

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Parasite
Photo: Neon

This past Monday, while the nation waited hour after embarrassing hour for the Iowa caucus results to start rolling in, Film Twitter puzzled over an AMPAS tweet that seemed to leak this year’s Oscar winners—before the voting window had even closed. It didn’t help matters that the slate of “predictions” tweeted by the academy seemed plausible enough to be real, right down to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite for best picture.

As it turned out, the academy’s problems weren’t so unlike the DNC app gumming up the works in, as the New York Post shadily dubbed it, “Duh Moines.” And sure enough, AMPAS fessed up to a quality-control gremlin (sorry, “issue”) that resulted in someone’s personal predictions going out on the main account. As Iowa’s snafu reaffirmed that Occam’s razor isn’t just something you need to keep out of Arthur Fleck’s hands, we’re 100% certain that the intern who posted that ballot on the academy’s account meant to post it on their personal one.

Speaking of Joker, if you would’ve asked us even just a few days ago whether we thought Ford v Ferrari was any more likely than Todd Phillips’s dank meme to take the Oscar in the category that has frequently been characterized as the strongest bellwether for a film’s overall best picture chances, we’d have probably collapsed in a fit of incontrollable giggles. And yet, with a BAFTA film editing win in Ford v Ferrari’s favor, we’re not the only ones wondering if the least-nominated best picture nominee actually has more in its tank than meets the eye.

The only thing louder than the vroom-vroom of James Mangold’s dad epic, however, is the deafening chorus of “Best. Movie. Ever.” being sung on Parasite’s behalf, and indeed, it was selected as the academy’s unofficial, accidental prediction in this category. As Ed noted yesterday, momentum is in its favor like no other film this year. Well, maybe one other, and it was mere providence that the one-shot gestalt kept Sam Mendes’s 1917 off the ballot here, or else one of the tougher calls of the night could’ve been that much tougher.

Will Win: Parasite

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Parasite

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

One of the realities of the Oscar race is that you never want to peak too early.

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Parasite
Photo: Neon

So much has happened across the home stretch of this perversely shortened awards season that it’s almost difficult to process it all. Believe it or not, at the start of our rolling Oscar prediction coverage, just after the Golden Globes and a few days before the Producers Guild of America Awards announced its top prize, I was still confident in my belief that we were heading toward another picture/director split, with Jojo Rabbit taking the former and Quentin Tarantino the latter. But flash forward two weeks and we’re now looking at an Oscar ceremony that will be in lockstep with the final wave of guilds and awards groups, leaving frontrunners in various categories up to this point in the dust.

Case in point: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood in original screenplay. Even after a recent New York Times article used old-fashioned math to expose the myth being propagated by awards pundits—even us!—that Hollywood is in love with seeing its image reflected back at itself, we figured that the film, even if it isn’t our stealth best picture frontrunner, and even if it isn’t Tarantino’s swan song, couldn’t lose here. After all, the category is practically synonymous with QT, who only needs one more win to tie Woody Allen for most Oscars here.

And then—tell us if you’ve heard this one before—Parasite happened. Here’s a category in which Oscar voters aren’t reluctant to award genre fare, or re-imaginations of that fare. That’s Tarantino’s stock in trade…as well as Bong Joon-hoo’s. Parasite’s screenplay, co-written by Bong and Han Jin-won, found favor with the WGA last weekend, and while we weren’t ready to call this race for the film at that time—Tarantino isn’t a WGA member, and as such can’t be nominated for the guild’s awards—we’re doing so in the wake of the South Korean satire winning the BAFTA against Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. That victory proves, among other things, that one of the realities of the Oscar race is that you never want to peak too early.

Will Win: Parasite

Could Win: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Should Win: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Oscar has a long-standing history of using the screenplay awards for token gestures, especially toward writer-directors.

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Jojo Rabbit

As soon as the Oscar nominations were announced and the headlines were dominated by the academy’s cold shoulder toward female directors, it sure felt like the balance of this race was tipped in Greta Gerwig’s favor. After all, Oscar has a long-standing history of using the screenplay awards for token gestures, especially toward writer-directors; they’re where filmmakers like Spike Lee, Sofia Coppola, Pedro Almodóvar, Jordan Peele, Spike Jonze, and, to date, Quentin Tarantino have won their only Oscars.

Gerwig’s status as the most conspicuous best director castaway in this category might not in itself have been enough to push her through, but virtually all the press on her exceptionally good Little Women has focused specifically on how successfully she remixed the novel vis-a-vis jaunting back and forth between different periods in the chronology. Her framing device allows the novel and its modern fans to have their cake and eat it too, to be told a story overly familiar to them in a way that makes the emotional arcs feel fresh and new, to be enraptured by the period details that have always fascinated them but then also come away from it feeling fully reconciled with Jo’s “marriage” to Professor Bhaer. Within the world of pop filmmaking, if that doesn’t constitute excellence in screenwriting adaption, what indeed does?

Alas, as was confirmed at this weekend’s BAFTA and WGA awards, the token gesture this year looks to be spent not on Gerwig, but the category’s other writer-director who missed out in the latter category. We’re no fans of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, and we aren’t alone, as it boasts the lowest score of any best picture nominee this year on Metacritic. Still, we admit that it must touch a nerve somewhere in the average academy voter who not only finds the Holocaust so irresistible a subject that they’re willing to back a film that this year’s crop of “honest Oscar posters” memorably dubbed Lolocaust, but who also, while continuing to feel increasingly persecuted about the online catcalls over their questionable taste, would right about now love to drop kick Film Twitter out a window like Jojo does Waititi’s positively puckish Hitler.

Will Win: Jojo Rabbit

Could Win: Little Women

Should Win: Little Women

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Production Design

Oscar voters are suckers for scale, throwbacks, ostentation, and, above all, a sense of prestige.

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Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Oscar voters are suckers for scale, throwbacks, ostentation, and, above all, a sense of prestige. No film nominated in this category checks off all those boxes, but two come close: The Irishman and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. While the former never caught fire the way it needed to in order to vie for even the major prizes, the latter has been cruising toward more than just a win in this category from the second people laid eyes on it out of Cannes last year. Regardless of what you think of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, it’s difficult to imagine the scope of Quentin Tarantino’s sense of regard for a bygone Hollywood being possible without Barbara Ling’s production design and Nancy Haigh’s set decoration.

Still, this one is going to be a squeaker. First, there’s the matter of 1917’s late-in-the-game surge and whether or not the film can run the table in the technical categories, even in this particular one where war films almost never prevail. And then there’s Parasite. Near the start of our rolling Oscar coverage, I mentioned how almost every day is bringing us some article praising the perfectly lit and designed architectural purgatory that is that film’s main setting. Now there’s a black-and-white version of the film making the rounds that will certainly allow people to think anew on the dimensions of the film’s thematic and aesthetic surfaces. Because winning in most of Oscar’s tech categories isn’t about restraint, but “more is more,” Parasite’s concentrated sense of texture is more likely the spoiler to the vividly haunted past-ness that clings to every surface across Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’s plethora of settings.

Will Win: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Could Win: Parasite

Should Win: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

The tea leaves are reading that it will be another win for middlebrow respectability.

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1917
Photo: Universal Pictures

Typically, it’s the short film categories that are most likely to trip up Oscar pool participants hoping to run the table, and not just among those who haven’t bothered to watch the nominees. A check on our own record reveals a number of years in which we failed to correctly guess at least one of them. It’s far more rare for the visual effects category to be one of any given year’s toughest calls. A quick glance at recent category history shows that Oscar voters clearly prefer what the industry refers to as “supporting” effects in a respectable movie for adults, like Life of Pi, Inception, and last year’s winner, First Man. Heck, voters are so counterintuitively serious-minded about this category that they eschewed the rollickingly impolite Mad Max: Fury Road—a juggernaut in the technical races back in 2015—instead opting for the not-just-comparatively minimalist Ex Machina.

Unfortunately, this year’s slate is almost ominously balanced between highbrow supporting effects, photorealistic animated animals in a kiddie epic, and template-oriented maximalism in support of action franchises. The result is the only slate where a bet on any given nominee would pay out more than double your investment, according to the latest Vegas oddsmakers. Still, the Visual Effects Society just handed the better chunk of their honors to The Lion King. It’s tempting to take stock of that, to consider The Jungle Book’s win three years ago, and to admit that the Disney remake is largely in a lane of its own here, and then take that as our cue to “hakuna matata” our way out of any further deliberation.

And yet, we’re not troubled by the VES awards’ preference for The Irishman over 1917 in their “serious movies” category. For one, the effects industry’s own affinity for character-oriented work is well-documented. Out in the wild, the uncanny valley of Scorsese’s age-reversing trickery has been as widely ridiculed as it has been embraced, especially that moment when Robert De Niro’s hitman roughs someone up in flashback, bearing a waxy youthful face but a very much seventysomething body. Given 1917’s 11th-hour surge, its Gravity-ish use of effects to blur cinematography, editing, and postproduction, and the fact that its grandest fabricated images never get in the way of the story, cue another win for middlebrow respectability.

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: The Lion King

Should Win: 1917

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

One of the great mysteries of this year’s awards season is the ultimate fate of Jojo Rabbit.

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Laura Dern
Photo: Netflix

One of the great mysteries of this year’s awards season that won’t be answered until the end of next week’s Oscar telecast is whether or not Jojo Rabbit will go home empty-handed. Taika Waititi’s film seemed destined for the top prize as soon as it won last year’s audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and then, well, lots of things happened since then, but nothing quite so damaging to the film’s awards ambitions than 1917, with which it likely shares more of a fan overlap than any other film in the best picture race. We don’t believe that there are enough academy members who cast votes with the intention of “spreading the wealth” to sway races in unexpected directions, but we do believe that Jojo Rabbit remains a major player in any category where it isn’t nominated against 1917.

That’s us saying that a win for Scarlett Johansson in the supporting actress race wouldn’t surprise us. And the only reason that we’re not going to call it for her is because there are other narratives that we believe in when it comes to securing an academy member’s vote, such as a nominee’s devotion to the campaign trail. The stars have lined up perfectly across the last few months for three-time Oscar nominee Laura Dern, a celebrated veteran of the industry who, for us, sealed the deal with her gracious SAG speech, which she prefaced with a touching pit stop at the Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood table in order to give her father, Bruce Dern, a hug. Also, given that Johansson is the likeliest spoiler in the best actress race, for a performance that would be difficult to imagine without her Marriage Story co-star’s collaboration, we’re also of the belief that if enough voters consider a vote for Johansson here an act of redundancy, if not betrayal, Dern’s victory is all but guaranteed.

Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Could Win: Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Costume Design

The path of least resistance and most chronological distance almost always wins here.

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Little Women
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When we shared Odie Henderson’s un-improvable joke, “Who wins the Costume Design Oscar for Joker? The Goodwill?,” we admit we hadn’t yet bothered to look up the person responsible for its downtrodden anti-chic shabbery. And seeing it was none other than Phantom Thread’s Oscar-winning Mark Bridges chastened us only long enough for us to remember that he was left off the ballot at the BAFTAs in favor of Jany Temime’s work on Judy, which, no matter what you think of the film itself, makes a lot more sense as a nominee in a category that, as Bridges well knows, often defaults to frock fervor. So while we could easily get more bent out of shape that the Costume Designers Guild this week gave its award for excellence in period film costuming to Mayes C. Rubeo for Jojo Rabbit, and while we could also ponder how this year’s slate skews not only surprisingly modern, but also far more male-centric than usual (from Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson’s baggy midcentury suits in The Irishman to Arianne Phillips’s groovy Cali duds in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood), the path of least resistance and most chronological distance almost always wins here. Jacqueline Durran’s win is both deserved and assured.

Will Win: Little Women

Could Win: Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Little Women

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