The Academy Awards will be televised later than normal this year, so that the world can pay tribute to Adam Rippon making that money and earning another check at the Olympics. Normally this delay would spark even more angst than usual about how the awards season perennially makes the Oscars yesterday’s news before they’ve even had a chance to weigh in with their nominations, but we aren’t despairing. The main reason for that is we’re still enjoying the opportunity to accurately gauge AMPAS’s overdue transition from old-guard to new-guard voters. If Moonlight’s thrilling upset victory over La La Land two minutes after the best picture prize was incorrectly called for the latter left everyone’s heads spinning, we still don’t know how sweeping the Academy’s membership truly is or how far-reaching its effects will be. Nor does anyone else. Behold the gazillion nominations it took to make the Broadcast Film Critics Association—i.e., the only professional Oscar prognosticators who’ve managed to dupe the world into believing they’re actually an awards group—feel as though they could sleep at night. Until proven otherwise, we see no reason not to be optimistic about the Grand Pooh-Bah of film prizes’ potential for further underdog surprises.
Taking a cue from the sage Mark Harris, Ed Gonzalez and I have vowed to lay off using the term “Oscar bait” as a pejorative for the remainder of this year’s prediction blog cycle, if not for the rest of our lives. Even at best, it confuses the responsibility of making aesthetic and interpretive judgments of a film with making assumptions about the intentions of not even the filmmakers—which is bad enough in terms of predicting Oscars—but instead with publicists. Beyond that, among the most salient points made by Harris is his theory that whenever people use the term, they may be unconsciously coding a form of cinematic misogyny that prizes certain IMDb-approved filmmakers over others that work in genres commonly thought of as “sissy” stuff. Hell, it’s a point I’ve made multiple times over the years, and since Harris includes in the latter category the sort of costume dramas and comparatively straightforward historical narratives that more or less dominated the upper ranks of Slant’s top 25 films of the year—namely A Quiet Passion, Phantom Thread, and The Lost City of Z—we self-servingly agree.
In listening over the course of the last few months to Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men podcast, which recently hosted Harris as a guest commentator, what seems all too clear circa 2018 is that, for those who use the term “Oscar bait,” it doesn’t even really represent the type of film Oscar voters can’t seem to help themselves from nominating out of sheer, retrograde habit. What it really refers to are the films that somehow fail to properly align themselves with the urgency of some grander cultural concern in a present-tense sense, the films whose strengths aren’t in providing ancillary support to the #MeToo movement, or covertly attacking Trump, or demonstrating unimpeachable intersectionality. As though cinema’s most important function in the marketplace of ideas is to provide the quickest temperature read, not to transport its audience via the tools of the medium away from anything that doesn’t involve a rhetorical ultimatum on what the fuck just happened today. In those terms, one might say that the Dunkirk promotional team can thank their lucky stars that Christopher Nolan’s streamlined WWII film is now being assessed in contrast to Darkest Hour, which may as well be this Oscar cycle’s The Crown, for all the good faith it’s being given from certain quarters.
Many of the films that have charged to the front of the pack in this year’s Oscar race weren’t made to exist within these limiting strictures. Does anyone think they’re actually paying Get Out a compliment when they note the perfect timing of its release weeks into the Trump era? Or that Greta Gerwig deserves a nomination for best director because Harvey Weinstein? Does anyone believe that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s makers aren’t at least cognizant of the possibility that one character’s change of heart is, to say the least, abrupt and worthy of your examination? And that maybe Martin McDonagh’s first intention wasn’t necessarily to win the Nobel Peace Prize?
This could all be true, and maybe the influx of young blood in the voting body will simply certify everything that’s happened so far in the Oscar race simply because that’s inescapably what’s in the conversation, which bodes well for Call Me by Your Name and I, Tonya, otherwise diametrically opposed political and formal propositions. Certainly, it’s the only reason we find ourselves reluctant to put our faith in a supposedly hipper Academy, even given later voting deadlines, throwing Phantom Thread a The Tree of Life-style best picture nod, even though we think they’re going to open their hearts to the humanism of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Ultimately, this battle over the identity of “Oscar bait” may end up being won or lost according to whether both The Post and The Shape of Water—woozy marriages between old-school craft and new-school wokeness—earn their expected nods.
Speaking of woke, the most expected thing AMPAS could do in the best director category is to nominate the exact same five people that the Directors Guild of America did last week. However, the DGA haven’t gone five-for-five with the Academy Awards in nearly a decade, so who gets the bounce and who gets to be this year’s Lenny Abrahamson? Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele have no rational reason to be lumped together for their efforts. But when, as of this writing, actors everywhere are crawling over each other to announce that they all refuse to work with Woody Allen going forward, it’s hard to argue on behalf of tokenism when absolutism is the only reality of the moment. So, yes, even though Lady Bird and Get Out are both among the year’s best-reviewed films, in addition to being among the most profitable and would be likely frontrunners regardless, the current “cake and eat it too” cultural moment make them both cast-iron locks.
That leaves Christopher Nolan, Martin McDonagh, and Guillermo del Toro fending off strong cases to be made for Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Sean Baker, Dee Rees, and Luca Guadagnino. Traditionally, Oscar categories that boast more viable contenders than Oscar bloggers can successfully whittle down end up skewing more conservative in taste. That favors Nolan and del Toro over McDonagh, to say nothing of the possibility for Spielberg to come roaring back into play. Nonetheless, we’re predicting both a conventional zig and a vanguard zag, and calling the fifth slot for wild card Sean Baker. No one out there’s playing the Oscar game better than A24, especially given the most important rule is to present respectable players.
How long does the average Academy voter wait to submit his or her ballot? Do they get it over with as soon as they possibly can? Do they hover over the deadline as flagrantly as yours truly, submitting his copy at the last possible second…but really another week later? Normally, that question would only serve to illustrate how momentum for platform-release strategies like that of Phantom Thread work either against or in candidates’ favors. But this year—one year after Casey Affleck won this category—is another matter entirely. James Franco’s win at the Golden Globes was something of a gimme, given The Disaster Artist’s carefully calibrated balance of cheap laughs with even cheaper sentiment. (I say that as a “fan” of both The Room and Franco’s by far most tolerable exploration of meta-whatever.) And we’re of the opinion that there probably aren’t enough buzzer-beaters out there to be influenced by the string of j’accuses that emerged in the wake of Franco’s Golden Globe win, most notably in “I’ve said too much” form from Ally Sheedy. Ergo, Franco remains maybe the third or fourth most likely person to get a nomination in this category, after critics’ darling Timothée Chalamet and Oscar pundits’ favorite Gary Oldman, but also arguably SAG nominee Daniel Kaluuya, whose simmering mix of fear and loathing in Get Out has resulted in more places and shows than actual wins but who also gets the year’s most indelible moment of betrayed trust (“Give me the keys!”) in a year that’s hardly wanting for them. The last slot is, again, a battle between early filers and Johnny-come-latelys, with the former group apt to favor Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington, and the latter group more apt to consider Jacob Tremblay, given the surprising resilience of sleeper hit Wonder, or Daniel Day-Lewis, for his ostensible swan song in Phantom Thread.
In contrast to best director, best actress has almost the narrowest or at least most top-heavy field of viable contenders among any in the top eight categories. Here we simply have four co-frontrunners and the force of nature that is Meryl Streep. It may be premature to decree Margot Robbie’s performance as Tonya Harding “frontrunner status” alongside the turns by Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, and Saoirse Ronan, who’ve all picked up far more precursor trophies up to this point. Certainly, if we wanted to play our cards closer to the chest, we might give stronger odds to SAG nominee Judi Dench for, once again, donning dated duds and delighting dotards, or to Jessica Chastain, who grapples with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s curtains of verbiage much in the same way that her character grapples with the machismo of the illicit poker tournament circuit. But, presuming every last Academy member has been placing I, Tonya at the top of their screener piles to see just how zestfully Allison Janney chews the scenery, every last drama queen will eat up the film’s final stretch in which Robbie is handed the opportunity to restage Harding’s entire life story as Black Swan: On Ice. However one feels about the entire Scorsese-pinching enterprise, it’s hard not to feel empathy for Robbie, Wolf of Wall Street survivor, as she works the equal-and-opposite angle of the Harding saga, a presumed princess getting down and dirty for her art by portraying a scrappy firecracker berated for her entire life for daring to stiff up in class.
No fewer than three films have been legitimately given consideration for their double-dipping potential here, and another half-case if you consider Christopher Plummer getting buzz for stepping into a role that until recently was earning Kevin Spacey buzz. That’s left some of those unimpressed with Willem Dafoe’s performance for his Mahershala Ali-worthy sweep in precursors thus far wondering if the abundance of him-or-him options might not be partially responsible for Dafoe standing virtually alone. (Dafoe’s loss at the Golden Globes was his first major misstep, and one that Ali also suffered.)
That would be, of course, sloppy logic, but anyone who’s read any trade-paper article revealing some unnamed Academy voter’s ballot knows that sloppy logic ain’t exactly outside the realm of plausibility; this year’s biggest gem, thus far, found one such voter shrugging off Call Me by Your Name because the Academy already did the small-gay-movie thing last year when they awarded Moonlight. Call Me by Your Name is, on paper, the most likely of the three to get two supporting actor nods. Armie Hammer dances (awkwardly, and to Psychedelic Furs) close to co-lead status but not enough to risk backlash. And Michael Stuhlbarg hovers along the periphery of the film as a source of warmth who remains vague up until the denouement, where he delivers the patient monologue every former gay child would have so wished to hear themselves that it may as well have been scored to Björk’s Utopia.
But we wouldn’t be surprised, in this cultural environment, for the Academy to steer clear of Hammer, who took some heat recently for the number of “chances” Hollywood has given him despite a string of flops, and finding comfort in Stuhlbarg’s character, who preaches restraint and resignation. For a while, the early buzz on The Shape of Water held that Michael Shannon and Richard Jenkins were top-line contenders, and as neither exactly turns in a nuanced performance, the fact that only the latter of the two is showing up virtually everywhere probably only indicates that people are tiring of Shannon pouring it on thick, and haven’t gotten there yet with Jenkins. Conversely, people had written off Woody Harrelson, presuming Sam Rockwell would get the lion’s share of their film’s attention. However, with every passing guild slate announcement, and after witnessing the genuine enthusiasm in the room at the Golden Globes for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Harrelson’s our pick.
Will Be Nominated: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project; Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water; Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name
The issue of whether the ultimate winner of the award will be critical favorite Laurie Metcalf’s good-bad mother from Lady Bird or Allison Janney’s bad-bad mother from I, Tonya is all but assured to dominate the discourse from the moment the Oscar nominations are announced. Allowing, of course, for that brief period of mourning for everyone who’s been pinning their hopes on Tiffany Haddish’s star-is-born moment in Girls Trip. Haddish, who we are decidedly not predicting to crack the eventual lineup, has had to overcome a surfeit of perceived barriers toward translating her New York Film Critics Circle win into genuine momentum. If I say “perceived,” it’s because we’ve heard the rationales in the past, right before Melissa McCarthy scored a nomination for Bridesmaids: she’s too little-known, the character is too brash, her film is just another bloated gross-out studio comedy. And it’s not her fault for trying, as anyone who attended the New York Film Critics Circle banquet could attest. There, Haddish launched into her acceptance speech with such full-throated force that she left no one in doubt that she wants that nomination, and holding nothing back to appease those in the room for whom a performance like hers seems beneath their palate.
That Mary J. Blige’s perfectly fine but muted performance in Mudbound has been getting the nods in all the right places while Haddish’s winning ebullience in a crowd-pleasing hit that additionally lets women of color know that it’s okay to put oneself first may or may not say something about the mindset of awards voters. (Our hot take of the moment: Blige feels like the archetypal candidate who bats 1.000 throughout the preseason only to somehow come up short on an Oscar nomination.) On a related note, as Hong Chau’s hotly debated role and Octavia Spencer’s less debated but still problematic one have managed to rack up precursor nominations thus far suggests that this category might just somehow exist in a parallel universe free from social justice warriors. Excepting, of course, early favorite Holly Hunter, whose good-good mother in The Big Sick dressing down racist hecklers at her future son-in-law’s standup show ought to make for a handy palate-cleansing Oscar clip against everything else here.
On the bright side, at least no one has to fret this year over whether everyone is underselling Woody Allen’s chances. Which doesn’t exactly thin out the field much, because best original screenplay is as stacked with potential as its adapted counterpart is searching under pillows and behind cabinets to find five agreeable candidates. The math is simple: Most of the best picture contenders this year center around original screenplays, leaving precious little room for films that in other years might have potential for the classic one-off writing nod, like The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Wind River, Coco, or Beatriz at Dinner. And again, three of the slots are all sewn up by writer-directors who could all potentially find themselves double nominated: Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, and Martin McDonagh.
The Post, at one time a presumed frontrunner, might wear its attempts to address the way things are now a little too overtly for a film that’s set nearly 50 years in the past. The entire project’s momentum seems to have slowed significantly since its very characteristic National Board of Review wins, but even the film’s fans don’t count its double-underlined speechifying among its strengths. Meanwhile, Paul Thomas Anderson works at a “one on, one off” rate with Oscar writing nominations, so even though he managed to wrestle his way into the category with his incredibly dense and difficult work on Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread may not be direct enough about dissecting toxic masculinity in this particular Oscar year. Especially with far cuddlier options to choose from, like the gentle observations of The Big Sick and the safe-word winking depiction of domestic violence via a series of unreliable narrators that comprises the entirety of I, Tonya.
We’ll keep this short because, well, there’s not much to talk about. More telling than the list of likely nominees for best adapted screenplay are the films popping up as “next in line” in most places. In short, when seasoned Oscar prognosticators find themselves seriously listing as runners-up not just one, but multiple franchise movies, the field starts looking mighty thin. For the record, we buy Logan being taken seriously by Oscar voters but draw the line at Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as we do on the opposite side of the spectrum with The Lost City of Z, elated though that nomination would make us. Call Me by Your Name, The Disaster Artist, and Mudbound should coast to nominations, and absent of many other alternatives, writers might not be able to plug their ears to Aaron Sorkin’s relentless dialogue in Molly’s Game. Similarly, it would be a safe bet to give Last Flag Flying’s Richard Linklater the benefit of the doubt based on name recognition alone, but in the meantime, Wonder became a genuine crowd-pleasing sleeper hit. If the writers are being asked to seriously consider superhero movies, they could easily find themselves backing a far more relatable form of human heroism.
Oscar 2020: Complete Winners List
Parasite earned four awards, edging out 1917 for best picture.
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.
Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Bong Joon-ho, Parasite (WINNER)
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
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
The Irishman, Steven Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi (WINNER)
Joker, Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
Little Women, Greta Gerwig
The Two Popes, Anthony McCarten
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)
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
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)
Ford v Ferrari, Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland (WINNER)
The Irishman, Thelma Schoonmaker
Jojo Rabbit, Tom Eagles
Joker, Jeff Groth
Parasite, Yang Jinmo
The Irishman, Rodrigo Prieto
Joker, Lawrence Sher
The Lighthouse, Jarin Blaschke
1917, Roger Deakins (WINNER)
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Robert Richardson
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
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
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
Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir (WINNER)
Little Women, Alexandre Desplat
Marriage Story, Randy Newman
1917, Thomas Newman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams
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
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
“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
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
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
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Picture
How could the essentially non-political 1917 not arrive as sweet solace in our cultural moment?
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
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.
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
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.”
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
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
One of the realities of the Oscar race is that you never want to peak too early.
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
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar has a long-standing history of using the screenplay awards for token gestures, especially toward writer-directors.
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
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Production Design
Oscar voters are suckers for scale, throwbacks, ostentation, and, above all, a sense of prestige.
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
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
The tea leaves are reading that it will be another win for middlebrow respectability.
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
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress
One of the great mysteries of this year’s awards season is the ultimate fate of Jojo Rabbit.
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
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Costume Design
The path of least resistance and most chronological distance almost always wins here.
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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