We’ll be completely honest. Predicting Oscar nominees is just no fun anymore. The ubiquity of precursors (and self-important, tubthumping, full-time awards prognosticators like that weirdo over at The Envelope website) all jockeying to be the first to have their say in the race has led to premature declarations even before years’ end (and all but ruined the chances of late-breakers like The New World), has turned each reminder of Brokeback Mountain, Good Night, and Good Luck and Crash’s frontrunner status into an annoying exercise in hegemonious monotony, and has done more to narrow Oscar’s field of vision than anything (if Oscar reporters haven’t mentioned a film in the last 48 hours, that must mean it’s tainted). Even worse, the mere concept of credibility in the world of film journalism has shifted to Oscar batting averages, and film appreciation has become synonymous with poring over columns of statistics. We mean, there are people who get more excited when a film wins an Oscar because they guessed it correctly, not because it was their favorite among the nominees. That’s sick! So long as there are still some people fighting the good fight against the total commodification of film culture, we approach the inevitable Oscar parlor game with at least one eye toward the entire enterprise’s inherent ridiculousness. While we acknowledge the ways the Academy can go right, we’re equally enthusiastic about bitching over the number of ways they intend on fucking it up.
PICTURE: When King Kong’s opening weekend cannonball failed to send the box office pool’s water lines above $50 million, this category lost its only viable blockbuster candidate. Never fear, there’s another crowd pleaser that’s been steadily gaining momentum ever since Oprah was (to hear her tell it) slapped right out of that Hermes boutique. And it makes King Kong’s questionable racial portrayals look like Killer of Sheep. Call it a losing battle against good faith, but last year’s awards for Million Dollar Baby made the prospect of Oscar-nominating something as shatteringly awful as Million Dollar Baby scripter Paul Haggis’s pet project Crash seem impossible. After all, Haggis was one of the film’s nominees that didn’t get to scale the podium that night, and we bet that if you were to ask a sample of Oscar voters for their theory as to why he was felled by the otherwise ignored Sideways, they’d bring up Hilary Swank’s mom and her Universal Studios theme park tee. Crash’s entirety is made up of scenes like that, strung up one against the other. Still, having just seen the trailer for the film on IFC (obviously part of Lions Gate’s massive awards push), we have to admit that it plays well as its own advertisement. What registers to the film’s detractors (mostly critics) as overblown, grating idiocy passing for social commentary also probably plays to mainstream moviegoers (check the film’s rating over at IMDb) as cinema’s first conglomeration of freeze-dried Oscar clips and nothing but. Just pop the movie into the microwave and, in three minutes or less, out comes a brand new outlook on racial prejudice. We still say it’s a disaster, but as we said last year, it’s just not an Oscar race without an outrage of Finding Neverland (nee Seabiscuit) proportions. It’s just that, this year, the outrage stands at nearly even odds to topple the house favorite: Brokeback Mountain. Wouldn’t it be just hilarious if anti-gay prejudice tipped the scales toward Crash’s “can’t we all just get along” whining? We’ve looked under rocks to find anybody who’s still enthusiastic over Walk the Line, but it was literally the only viable, studio-produced Oscar candidate that also packed ’em into theaters (to the tune of $100 million), so it becomes one of the most unlikely “box office hit” entries in recent memory.
ACTOR: Hilary Duff has told us to raise our voices, but it’s not a call this year’s Best Actor prospects have answered, whose gifts—or lack thereof, depending on who you ask—resonate meekly from their Adam’s apples; the sound produced by their collective larynges couldn’t exorcise Emily Rose, let alone wake a light sleeper. The gay men played by the category’s two frontrunners, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), are scarcely screaming mimis, and David Strathairn’s sluggish Edward R. Murrow from Good Night, and Good Luck, a film structured as a lung in which a political cancer hangs thick, prefers to engage the world vicariously through a television camera. Then there’s Walk the Line’s Joaquin Phoenix, who, as Johnny Cash, sings more memorably than he speaks. Who else, then, to invite to the party? A depression-era boxer who pulls no punches (Cinderella Man’s Russell Crowe), a literati who talks too much (The Squid and the Whale’s Jeff Daniels), or a downtrodden pimp who wants nothing more than, you got it, raise his voice (Hustle & Flow’s Terrence Howard)?
Will Be Nominated: Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck)
ACTRESS: There are two sure bets here: Reese Witherspoon, whose performance as June Carter in Walk the Line is the curious toast of nearly every critics circle, and Judi Dench, whose bon mot-firing viper from Mrs. Henderson Presents gave the Rex Reeds of the world something to get behind. North Country may have suffered the indignity of poor box office returns, but surely the spectacle of shit-and-semen-based abuse Niki Caro’s hateful film heaps upon Charlize Theron and her Saints of the Steel Mine Kingdom isn’t easily forgotten. With the Norma Rae spot out of the way, that leaves the AmerIndie slot for Felicity Huffman, whose strange but worthwhile performance in Transamerica is probably less threatening to your average Academy voter than Cillian Murphy’s equally brave turn in Breakfast on Pluto. Wishful thinking aside (sorry Q’orianka Kilcher), that leaves Ziyi Zhang, Joan Allen and Keira Knightley to bitchslap each other for the last spot. Allen’s unpleasant character from Upside of Anger might win in the real world, but in La La Land she appears as a less toothsome version of Dame Judi’s Mrs. Henderson. Zhang’s SAG nomination surely means something, but are Oscars going to be as forgiving by giving the actress a nomination simply for surviving the debacle that is Memoirs of a Geisha? That leaves Knightley, whose performance in the perfectly mediocre Pride & Prejudice follows in Winona Ryder’s period footsteps. The world, including Saks Fifth Avenue, is keeping its eye on her.
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Common sense would dictate that last year’s Best Actor nominee Don Cheadle would be the requisite Crash choice to compete with Matt Dillon in a head-on battle between the races, and not this year’s likely Best Actor contender Terrence Howard. SAG certainly did. However, we’re hedging our bets on Howard, because we know a lot of Oscar voters will, too. Not to mention the fact that everyone holds their lighters up before invoking the film’s title. Don’t you think they’ll feel more comfy paying tribute to Howard, who gets emasculated by cops not once but twice, over Cheadle, whose most memorable moment involves making fun of Mexicans’ car-parking habits? Especially given the category’s comic relief slot has already been filled by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Thanksgiving table tantrum, thanks. As much as Universal’s campaign to stuff Cinderella Man down the Academy’s throat has shown a few tentative signs of taking over at the Globes and SAGs, we don’t see the publicists pulling a resuscitation of this caliber off. Paul Giamatti can just count himself lucky he was snubbed last year for Sideways.
Should Be Nominated: Alesio Boni (The Best of Youth), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain), Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects), Owen Kline (The Squid and the Whale), and Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars – Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Oprah confirmed the idiocy of Paul Haggis’s notions of how racism moves through society when her “Crash moment” was exposed as shrill fantasy. Turned away from Hermes—not because she was black, but because the store was having a private party and her fame went unrecognized—Oprah played the race card with such foot-in-mouth fervor no one could notice the real motive for her anger was the privilege she felt her celebrity entitled her. Is this why no less than three Crash’s actors are vying for spots in the Best Supporting Actor race but the rich bitch played by Sandra Bullock isn’t in contention? Bullock’s character is the one that most forcibly holds a mirror to the face of your average AMPAS voting member, and as such to reward the performance with a nomination risks self-exposure. An easier to embrace contrivance is Rachel Weisz’s The Constant Gardener saint, a woman whose righteous indignation, coupled with the indignities thrust upon her person, fans a Hollywood elite’s liberal guilt while simultaneously and safely keeping their compassion at bay. Bullock’s Crash ghoul might say, “I’d love to join Green Peace but I don’t want to get raped and killed by a group of faceless Africans.” (We imagine Angelina Jolie is the only one in Hollywood to have called out the film’s bullshit.) Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain), Catherine Keener (Capote) and Maria Bello (A History of Violence) are locks to us, meaning Amy Adams (Junebug) and Frances McDormand (North Country) will duke it out for the last spot. It would give us no greater pleasure than to see Adams get it, but is there a moment in the underseen Junebug that allows the actress to yell “fuck you” at Big Brother through a tracheotomy hole in her neck?
DIRECTOR: The entire Academy gets to vote on the winners, but each individual category’s nominations are chosen by that category’s artisans. Actors nominate the actors, musicians nominate the music, and so on. Year in and year out, it’s the directors’ branch who have managed to, if not validate some of Oscar’s past blunders, at least steer voters away from even bigger blunders. So, even though they couldn’t bring themselves to deny Ron Howard his nomination (and subsequent slam dunk win by the Academy voters at large) for A Beautiful Mind, they at least managed to cut dead momentum for Seabiscuit, The Green Mile and Chocolat by refusing those films’ hack directors nominations in this category, which has (in an odd Hollywood endorsement of les politique des auteurs) come to stand as a bookend trophy for the Best Picture category. We’re counting on you, directors’ branch, to put an end to this collective insanity over Crash. Don’t let us down! Actually, it probably won’t be too hard for them to keep Haggis out of their line-up. As far as neophyte directors go, we’d put our money on bad style (Haggis) being trumped by inoffensive style (Capote’s Bennett Miller). And not only does Crash’s entire ethos scream “I’m a wri-tah first, a direc-tah second,” but there’s a sizable pool of venerated, auteur-approved heavyweights waiting to claim their rightful Lynch/Altman/Polanski slots. If only New Line hadn’t completely fucked up the unveiling of The New World, Terrence Malick would’ve been first in line. Alas, they did, and New World will be lucky to get even a cinematography nod. Woody Allen’s Oscar buzz started at Cannes last spring, where the non-competing Match Point got nearly as much love from the press as the entire jury award-winning slate combined. David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is the critics’ fave this year, which should be more than enough for the directors to finally recognize him. Though critics’ choices haven’t fared as well recently: Todd Haynes, Michel Gondry and Richard Linklater were all snubbed, and the DGA ominously left both Allen and Cronenberg off their ballot in favor of…Miller and Haggis. The DGA also nominated something called I Have Tourette’s, but Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me over in the TV categories. Just so you know.
Should Be Nominated: David Cronenberg (A History of Violence), Marco Tullio Giordana (The Best of Youth), Terrence Malick (The New World), Steven Spielberg (War of the Worlds), and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady)
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Live Action Short
It never hurts to let this academy feel as though they’re just liberal enough.
If last year’s slate in this category reflected, as Ed pointed out, children in peril as the “fetish du jour” for the academy’s shorts committee, the trend certainly didn’t carry over into this year, with only one nominated film dealing with such subject matter. That said, it’s characteristic of this particular category’s history in that it’s among the most galling, sermonizing screeds nominated for any Academy Award this year.
Unlike such previously slated diatribes as That Wasn’t Me or One Day, however, Saria is explicitly a recreation of a real-life tragedy, a 2017 fire that killed 41 girls in a Guatemalan orphanage, potentially sparked by one of the girls in an act of political protest against their gorgonesque caretakers. That the entire episode touches on just about everything wrong with the world today means it can’t be fully counted out. But it’d be a lot easier to get in the filmmakers’ corner if it didn’t so strongly feel as though they turned the slow-crawling death toll into a bizarre sort of victory lap in the final credits reel. And Oscar voters haven’t been too tacit lately about their aversion of tough messages being shoved down their throats.
Among other nominees with seemingly very little chance at winning, Delphine Girard’s A Sister gave us major déjà vu, and not only from its narrative echoes of recent short Oscar winners The Phone Call and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. A well-made exercise in escalating alarm in miniature, this Belgian thriller centers around an emergency operator (Veerle Baetens) who quickly and professionally ascertains the coded cry for help from a caller (Selma Alaoui) being held hostage in the car of a dangerously irrational man (Guillaume Duhesme). Confidently but abstractly directed, the film joins a very long line of Eurocentric thrillers about domestic violence nominated in this category, including Miracle Fish, Just Before Losing Everything, Everything Will Be Okay, and DeKalb Elementary. And if these sorts of films always seem to get nominated, they also never win.
So what does? At this point, this category has a long-ish history of rewarding candidates that are either the only English-language nominee, the most hipster-friendly ironic in nature, or both (Stutterer and Curfew, to name two examples of having those bases covered). This year that sets up a battle between Yves Piat’s Nefta Football Club and Marshall Curry’s The Neighbor’s Window. The former has all the makings of a winner for most of its running time. In it, a pair of brothers (Eltayef Dhaoui and Mohamed Ali Ayari) in Tunisia find a drug mule—an actual mule, that is—wandering around because the pink headphones his handlers (Lyès Salem and Hichem Mesbah) placed on him are playing not Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which would cue the trained animal to return home, but Cheik Hadel. One of the two boys recognizes the mule’s stash for what it is, but the other one presumes it’s laundry detergent, rubbing enough on his tongue that he really should spend the rest of the short tripping balls. The EC Comics-reminiscent twist ensures that the short is never less than glibly cavalier toward geopolitical readings but also comes off like a damp squib compared to the declarative setup.
Similarly anecdotal, The Neighbor’s Window is a schematic empathy fable in Rear Window drag about a ennui-ridden, middle-aged mother (Maria Dizzia) of three captivated by the twentysomething couple (Juliana Canfield and Bret Lada) living in the building across the way. While the short’s milieu offers every opportunity to lean right into the brand of snarky irony that this category favors—the woman’s voyeurism is kicked off when she and her husband (Greg Keller) spy on the younger couple fucking in full view of the rest of the neighborhood—the film remains almost doggedly like a “we all want what we cannot have” teleplay updated for Gen Xers. Still, in that it validates the struggles of the world’s haves, it’s very much in play.
But we’re tempting fate and picking Meryam Joobeur’s Brotherhood as the spoiler. It centers around a Tunisian patriarch (Mohamed Grayaâ) whose oldest son (Malek Mechergui) comes back after years spent in Syria, with a new wife (Salha Nasraoui) whose face-hiding niqāb all but confirms the father’s suspicion that the son has been recruited by ISIS. It’s a minor miracle that the film doesn’t come off as one big finger wag, in part because it comes at the whole “world is going to hell in a handbasket” angle by highlighting mankind’s universal failure to communicate. Equally miraculous is that its shock finale doesn’t resonate as a hectoring “gotcha,” but instead as a proper outgrowth of its reactionary main character’s failure to live up to his own, presumably, liberal identification. Post-Green Book, it never hurts to let this academy feel as though, unlike Brotherhood’s doomed father, they’re just liberal enough.
Will Win: Brotherhood
Could Win: The Neighbor’s Window
Should Win: Brotherhood
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Animated Short
Another year, another reminder to take our prediction in this category with a grain of salt.
Another year, another reminder to take our prediction in this category with a grain of salt. Since 2002, when we first started predicting the Oscar winners, we’ve guessed correctly in this category only eight times, and five of those were in the aughts, when one or more Disney shorts consistently lost to considerably more outré productions. It was a long dry spell for the studio between For the Birds taking the prize in 2002 and Paperman doing so in 2012. Disney now perseveres more times than not, which is why we’re given pause by the fact that, even though this is only the third time since 2002 that the studio doesn’t have a film in the lineup, two nominees here could be described as “Disney-adjacent.”
One of those, Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver’s charming and poignant Hair Love, had us busting out the hashtags (#OscarsSoWhite, #EverythingIsSoWhite, #WhiteWhiteWhiteIsTheColorOfOurCarpet), wondering if the guilt that AMPAS has about its diversity problems may be a victory-securing source of momentum. That Issa Rae, who saltily congratulated the men in the best director category when she announced this year’s Oscar nominees alongside John Cho, provides the voice for this short about a black father who learns to style his daughter’s hair in the absence of the girl’s mother feels as if it can only help.
At the same time, each day since the Oscar nominations were announced last week seems to bring one of those dreaded articles in which some anonymous academy member is asked about their picks ahead of deadline, and Michael Musto’s recent chat with one such voter has us convinced more than ever that guilt isn’t the average academy member’s chief motivator. Besides, Hair Love faces stiff competition from another Disney-ish, hit-‘em-in-the-feels candidate, Kitbull, which concerns the unlikely kinship that forms between a cat and a dog. It certainly tugged at our heartstrings, and in spite of the short’s bug-eyed cat at times alternately, and distractingly, reminding us of a mouse and an inkblot.
Perhaps inevitably, we found ourselves drawn to the more outré nominees. Siqi Song’s beautifully textured Sister doesn’t lack for memorable images, but my favorite is the one where the brother at the center of the short pulls on his giant baby sister’s outie-cum-Silly-String-umbilical-cord until the child shrinks down to size. This is an at once idiosyncratic and somber meditation on China’s one-child policy, but it left one of us wondering, in the wake of Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s One Child Nation being snubbed this year by the academy, if it would resonate with enough voters, and two of us certain that a sizeable portion of the academy’s more liberal members would take more than just the “I had fingerprints four weeks after conception” bit as something akin to a big pro-life billboard.
Remember this old Sesame Street bit? Eric sure did while watching Daughter, a striking rumination about the emotional distance between a father and daughter. Daria Kashcheeva’s expressionistic use of stop motion is haunting, even if the short, amid so much abstraction, doesn’t always evoke believable people. More approachable is Memorable, where the very nature of what can be believed and remembered is the governing principle. All the way until its stunning finale, Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre’s confluence of styles (there are shades here of the “psychorealism” that won Chris Landreth an Oscar in 2005 for Ryan) is in profound conversation with the idea of dementia as a destructuring agent. We’re no strangers to wrongly betting on our favorite short persevering on Oscar night, but Disney consistently loses in years where it has more than one film gunning for this award, so we’re betting that the two Disney-ish shorts will split the vote and pave the way for a Memorable victory.
Will Win: Memorable
Could Win: Hair Love
Should Win: Memorable
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
It’s not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both sound editing and sound mixing.
The movement to merge the two Oscar categories for sound into just one is finally picking up some steam after an academy subcommittee favored consolidation in December, but we regret to inform you that the exceptionally rational decision hasn’t yet been ratified, and thus won’t spare us one more year of double-feature kvetching. While the nominating members of the sound branch might know the exact difference between sound mixing and sound editing, and while compulsory Oscar blogging has forced us to know the exact difference as well, numerous academy members clearly don’t.
Case in point: Last year they awarded Bohemian Rhapsody its expected award in sound mixing, where musicals always have an advantage, but also an upset win in sound editing. Unless voters metabolized Singer’s violent blitzkrieg of a film and simply misremembered hearing explosions throughout, that’s not the vote of an informed electorate.
From our perspective as prognosticators, though, it’s not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both awards, especially in the absence of a musical. While there have been plenty of years we’ve carbon-copied our predicted winner in both categories only to see them split (even three ways, as in 2012, when Les Misérables took sound mixing, and Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty tied for sound editing), getting one prediction right is better than getting none at all, especially in a year like this where, to judge from both slates, sound equals fury.
One thing’s fairly certain: You can probably go ahead and count out Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Not only has the new trilogy failed to add any more Oscar wins to the franchise, never once has a Star Wars film won an award for its sound effects, not even the first one (that year, a special award was given to Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Episodes seven and eight lost to, respectively, a chase movie and a war movie, and this year’s top two contenders here are arguably the exact same pairing. While 1917 is still considered by many to be a frontrunner for best picture, we’re pretty sure the onslaught of vintage motors roaring for the climactic quarter-hour of Ford v. Ferrari will get voters right in the dad spot.
Will Win: Ford v. Ferrari
Could Win: 1917
Should Win: Ford v. Ferrari
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature
Completist-prone Oscar prognosticators were dealt a merciful hand last week when the Oscar nominations were announced and Frozen II didn’t show up in this category. But the winning hand belongs to Toy Story 4, which likely lost the Golden Globe to Missing Link as a result of a vote split between the two Disney properties. Sentiment to reward the American-based production studio Laika is brewing, and the fitfully droll Missing Link will, like Kubo and the Two Strings before it, probably find favor at the BAFTAs, but Laika’s latest and most expensive production to date dramatically bombed at the box office. And while no one will be weighing between the film and I Lost My Body, a singularly and actively morose and creepy film that won’t appeal to the academy at large, this category’s short history tells us that the Mouse House is only vulnerable to the biggest money makers. Also, Forky rules.
Will Win: Toy Story 4
Could Win: Missing Link
Should Win: I Lost My Body
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Pitt winning here will seem like the stars are lining up given what went down when he was first nominated in 1995.
We didn’t predict Anthony Hopkins to get nominated here, thinking that the Golden Globes’s enthusiasm for The Two Popes was a fluke. We were wrong, and he ended up becoming the elder statesman in an acting lineup that contains, on average, by far the oldest nominees. The person we predicted to get in instead, Marriage Story’s Alan Alda, is a year older than Hopkins, so we certainly weren’t betting the farm on any male ingénues.
On the other hand, it sure feels like spry 56-year-old Brad Pitt, who opened his acceptance speech at last night’s SAG Awards with a joke about having a Tinder profile, had this award in the bag the moment his Marlboro Man-ish handyman hopped atop his buddy’s roof to fix the antenna in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, whipping off his shirt to reveal a tawny, fully-abbed torso that scarcely seems to have aged in the nearly 30 years since he seduced the country in Thelma & Louise. He, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s co-lead, has a lot more to do throughout than just doff tees, but the “I’m still here” virility of that moment embodies the entire film’s love letter to old-guard masculinity in Tinseltown.
Not that anyone’s reading too deeply into it, not when there’s good old-fashioned awards numerology to fall back on. Within minutes of the nominations being announced, Oscar Twitter jumped on the fact that the best supporting actor slate this year is composed of acting winners from 1990 (Joe Pesci), 1991 (Anthony Hopkins), 1992 (Al Pacino), and 1993 and 1994 (Tom Hanks). Fewer pointed out that Pitt was also a nominee in 1995 for 12 Monkeys, losing out to the now-canceled Kevin Spacey. Which makes it seem all the more poetically like the stars are lining up when Pitt wins for a film whose finale proposes a rousing bit of alternate, corrective history in which the “good” guys obliterate the “bad” ones.
Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Could Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Should Win: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature
Every film nominated in this category grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war and shaped by technology.
Few Oscar categories are bigger snub magnets than this one. And while the failure of Apollo 11 to secure a nomination this year was indeed surprising, it was not as telling as the omission of The Biggest Little Farm, a handsomely, if conspicuously, sculpted “pop” documentary that’s very much in the academy’s wheelhouse. It was almost as if the committee responsible for selecting the nominees here was sending a message by embracing, at a time of increased global instability, five documentaries that looked only outward: not at mankind’s possibilities, but at the ways in which we’ve become our own worst enemy.
When discussing the potential winner in this category, Eric and I were pulled in two different directions. “Doc will go American Factory and, by extension, the Obamas, right?” Eric asked. “Honeyland notched an Oscar record by being the first documentary to also be nominated for international feature. That has to mean something?” I asked. Which is to say that he and I, no strangers to this Oscar-predicting process, were sacrificing ourselves to rigamarole, forgetting that, at the end of the day, academy members vote with their hearts above all else.
Every film nominated in this category grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war and shaped by technology. American Factory specifically takes the closing of a Chinese-owned factory in Ohio as a jumping-off point for a study of the wiles of global capitalism, and it’s every bit as smart as you might expect from a film produced by the Obamas. A more sobering reminder of how the global order of the world has been cataclysmically disrupted in the last four years is another Netflix documentary, The Edge of Democracy, about Brazil’s own national(ist) sickness. It’s a harrowing lament, but it offers the viewer no sense of escape.
Which isn’t to say that the The Cave and especially For Sama, both filmed in Syria and in the midst of war there, are escapist. The two most viscerally powerful documentaries in the category confront us with the chaos of imperial domination. Both films center the female experience of war, but For Sama does so more shrewdly, positing itself not just as a chronicle of war, but an act of remembrance. In a film that doesn’t lack for gut-wrenching images of the dead, one particularly stands out: of a child, after being pulled from its wounded mother’s womb via C section in the wake of a bombing, being brought back to life. Combined with the scenes depicting the citizens of war-torn Aleppo finding humor in the midst of conflict, the film attests not only to the perseverance of the Syrian people, but to the possibility that the country might still be brought back from the edge of oblivion.
Will Win: For Sama
Could Win: The Cave
Should Win: For Sama
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling
There doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of the triumph of the red, white, and blue neo-Juggalo.
We couldn’t really say it any better than Odie Henderson, who recently scoffed: “Who wins the Costume Design Oscar for Joker? The Goodwill? Who wins the Makeup Oscar for Joker? A blind Mary Kay consultant?” While we think the Academy will stop short of awarding the motley threads of Todd Phillips’s risible throwback machine in the costume category, the fact that they were nominated at all over, say, the imaginatively garish ‘70s finery that Ruth Carter created for Dolemite Is My Name indicates a level of affection for Joker that no one who doesn’t use the word “snowflake” on a daily basis seems prepared for.
While, to us, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker looks like nothing so much as Marge after sitting still for a makeup gun, as Homer put it best, “Women will like what I tell them to like.” From his lips to the Academy’s ears (and face). And given this category’s expansion didn’t add more multicolored prosthetic creations along the lines of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, but instead more invisible character augmentation along the lines of Judy and Bombshell, there doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of the triumph of the red, white, and blue neo-Juggalo.
Will Win: Joker
Could Win: Judy
Should Win: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: International Feature Film
Parasite is a pervasive presence in the news cycle, and at just the right time.
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a pervasive presence in the news cycle, and at just the right time. As I write this latest prediction for Slant’s rolling Oscar coverage, the top article on the front page of Rotten Tomatoes is a ranking, by Tomatometer, of the nine films nominated for best picture this year. Number one? Parasite. Immediately next to that article is a callout to readers to vote for their favorite film of 2019 that uses Song Kang-ho’s face from Parasite’s poster as the featured image. Regarding that poster, in simply placing black bars over the actors’ faces, it succinctly, eerily, perfectly underlines the film’s obsession with social strata. And you don’t need to look far beyond the aggregate site to land on some article praising the perfectly lit and designed architectural purgatory that is the film’s main setting.
Perfect. That’s a funny word. There are no objectively measurable criteria for perfection, but given how many times I’ve heard Bong’s film described as being “perfect” since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or, you’d think that there were. Still, the impulse to use it to describe this particular film, so balanced and attuned to the ties that both bind and separate us, evident in everything from the dimensions of Bong’s aesthetic, to his actors’ faces, to their words, makes a certain kind of sense. Quick, can you name the other four films nominated in this category? How apt if you can’t, as this is a film profoundly obsessed with the subterfuge that can be weaponized during class warfare. Or awards campaigns.
Will Win: Parasite
Could Win: Pain and Glory
Should Win: Parasite
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Original Score
John Williams is in no danger of winning, but a case could be made for any of the other four.
That one of the five films nominated for original score this year is not a best picture nominee nor had any shot at being one almost makes this category an outlier among this year’s Oscar races, which seem otherwise fixated on frontrunners. John Williams already had the record-setting strength of 51 previous nominations leading into this week’s announcement, so his nod for the third Star Wars installment, or sixth, or ninth, or…does The Mandalorian count? Anyway, suffice it to say that the only thing that could’ve been more knee-jerk than to select nominations solely from among this year’s best picture probables would be to rubber stamp Williams uploading yet more variations on intellectual property.
Williams is in no danger of winning, but a case could be made for any of the other four. Alexandre Desplat already has two wins here, both in the last six years, but Little Women is finally picking up momentum at just the right time. His richly romantic cues, which are practically wall to wall throughout the film, come on like a crushed-velvet dust jacket, binding Greta Gerwig’s shifting timeline together in a way that makes just about everyone who isn’t Sasha Stone want to clutch the entire thing to their bosoms.
Arguably, another film that’s still reaching its crest stage is 1917, and unlike Desplat, composer Thomas Newman is still waiting for his first win, and now holding the category’s longest losing streak. It can’t be said that Newman doesn’t pull out all the stops, piecing together a work that feels inspired by both Hans Zimmer’s pulsating Dunkirk score and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” most memorably used in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. And yet, we’re kind of with Bilge Ebiri, who after the nominations were announced, tweeted, “You didn’t give it to DUNKIRK, you’re not allowed to give it to 1917. Sorry, we’re very strict on this matter.”
Not to say that we expect 1917 to roll snake eyes on its 10 nominations. Only that any nominations for the film related to things that Dunkirk already did better two years ago are a tough sell, despite the draw of Newman’s increasingly amplified Oscar backstory. That’s presuming that the narrative doesn’t wind up over-shadowed by the sidebar-friendly cousin’s duel between Thomas and his cousin, Randy Newman, whose jaunty, Terms of Endearment-esque Marriage Story score appears to have as many detractors as it has fans.
Until the nominations were announced, we admit to assuming that Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Golden Globe win for Todd Phillips’s Joker was going to go down the same way as Justin Hurwitz’s did a year ago: with an Oscar snub. We reasoned that Guðnadóttir, who also perked ears up and won an Emmy last year for her work on HBO’s Chernobyl, was still too fresh a talent for the more cliquey AMPAS musicians’ branch. But now that she’s there, Globe in hand and attached to the film that, by the numbers, the academy loved best this year, she offers even conscience-wracked voters the chance to hand a feature-length 4chan fantasy a guilt-free win by also awarding one of the film’s few female nominees.
Will Win: Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker
Could Win: Thomas Newman, 1917
Should Win: Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Actress
Well hi, everybody, it’s nice to see you.
Well hi, everybody, it’s nice to see you. Loyal readers of Slant’s Oscar coverage know that we don’t like to beat around the bush, and this year we have even less reason to do so what with the accelerated awards calendar forcing us to kick-start our rolling predictions earlier than usual. So, as we busy ourselves in the next few days catching up with some remaining blindspots, and being thankful that we don’t actually ever have to see Cats, we will be bringing you our predictions in some of Oscar’s easier-to-call categories.
Which isn’t to say that we’re going to be drama-free. Case in point: the revelation that Eric Henderson, my fellow awards guru, made on Twitter this week that “Scarlett Johansson is genuinely better in Jojo Rabbit than in Marriage Story.” He also asked us to throw the tweet back in this face four or five years from now, but I say right now is as good a time as any.
No, seriously, shocking as that tweet was to this fan of Marriage Story’s entire acting ensemble, that some are already predicting the actress as a possible spoiler in supporting actress in the wake of Jojo Rabbit scoring six nominations, it’s gotten us thinking about the ostensibly evolving tastes of AMPAS’s membership at a time when it’s struggling to diversify itself. And based on how things went down at last year’s Oscars, the only conclusion we can come up with is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Immediately after Glenn Close lost the Oscar last year to Olivia Coleman, Eric sent me a text wondering why AMPAS hates the former so much, to which I offered that there’s nothing more unwavering than Hollywood’s support for actors playing real-life individuals. Well, that and its support for actors who actually want to be exalted by the industry. Even in a world where Renée Zellweger isn’t also being helped by a comeback narrative, and has yet to follow Joaquin Phoenix’s savvy lead by getting arrested at Jane Fonda’s weekly climate change protest and erasing our memory of her performance at the Golden Globes, she’s nominated for a generally well liked performance in a film that has actually performed well at the box office.
On Monday, more outcry was provoked by the Oscar nominations, again for women being shut out of the best director race, but also for the snubbing of several actors of color, most notably Jennifer Lopez and Lupita N’yongo. Some will speculate that Cynthia Erivo, the only actor of color to be nominated this year, is a potential spoiler here, but whether she stands to benefit from a core of protest votes is something that can never be known. This fine actress’s performance checks off almost as many boxes as Zellweger’s, if not, at the end of the day, the one that matters most: representing a film about the industry itself, in this case one that will allow a reliably backward-looking Hollywood to atone for sins committed against their own.
Will Win: Renée Zellweger, Judy
Could Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Should Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story