Who will win - and who should win - at the 2020 Oscars
Follow Matt Mueller on Twitter (@aManAboutFilm) on Sunday night starting at 7 p.m. as he live-tweets the Academy Awards and probably makes too many references to "The Bachelor."
The film fans have finished all of their homework and seen the nominees. The celebrities, performers and presenters have all selected their shiniest, slickest outfits. The Dolby Theatre's decked out in its Sunday best, and the host ... well, has not been invited because there's no host yet again. (Huzzah!) There's only one thing left to do: hand out some little golden statues at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday night.
OK, two things left to do: hand out Oscars AND make our predictions for who's winning what and who's leaving sadder than Arthur Fleck's standup comedy routine. So let's take a deep dive into all 24 categories to help make sense of the nominees – and help you win your Oscars betting pool.
Will win: "1917"
Should win: "Parasite"
The good news: We're guaranteed to get a better Best Picture winner this year than last. There's no "Vice" or "Green Book" in this class; just about every movie nominated this year is commendable on some level, even the ones I don't like ("Joker," "1917") as much as others. The even better news: The race is still fairly open, as opposed to past years where the Best Picture is a lock weeks in advance. (Then again, we had far fewer weeks this year of lead-up as this year's ceremony was bumped up from late February to early.)
There are still favorites and non-factors, though, so let's eliminate the latter first. "The Irishman" was an early favorite, but Martin Scorsese's gangster epic fell off hard after its Thanksgiving debut on Netflix. The monstrous three-and-a-half hour running time (as well as Scorsese's never-ending controversy with Marvel and what qualifies as cinema) became the narrative as opposed to the movie's quality, and even though the movie feels like Scorsese's final statement on mobsters, he's won recent enough that there's no rush to give him another Oscar – especially for another gangster movie that, for many viewers, was a dour echo of his greatest hits. It's not – but no matter the case, even its fans have other options they love more. It's what it is.
Its fellow Netflix contender, "Marriage Story," suffered the same fate, scoring excellent reviews and great buzz only to die off well before the nominations. I don't think there's an anti-Netflix vote as there was last year with "Roma" (with every studio now getting in the streaming game, there's no reason to be gatekeeping anymore) but I do think people watch Netflix movies differently than in a theater; they're much more easily distracted and not as captive to the film. Add in the internet turning much of the movie – including its most critical, important moments – into memes, and you end up with a front runner fading into a side note.
"Little Women" is an excellent and lovely movie, but its small, modest story and seemingly effortless craft and charm is all too easy to overlook in the name bigger, brassier competition. Meanwhile, "Jojo Rabbit" and "Joker" both have their fervent fans, but the people who hate those movies truly all-caps HATE them – and that can be killer with the Academy's preferential ballot, which favors movies that are universally liked as opposed to polarizing options. The former's too quirky ("the cute and cuddly Nazi movie" is, uh, a tough sell) while the latter's too grim and too genre. As much as "Joker" tries to present itself as something more, it's still just a comic book origin story about a killer clown.
And then there's "Ford v Ferrari" – maybe the most forgettable Best Picture nominee ever? I don't mean that as a slight toward the movie itself – Mangold's racing drama is strong meat-and-potatoes filmmaking, the kind of movie critics like to complain about not getting made anymore – but its Best Picture campaign has been remarkable for just how unremarkable its been. It's not a contender. It's not controversial. It's not a good enough selection to get people excited; it's not bad enough to get people harrumphing. It didn't fall off. It didn't build buzz. It's not even nominated in any other major category. It just ... exists. Somewhere, "An Education" is smiling.
So that leaves three actual contenders: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," "Parasite" and "1917."
Originally I was all in on Tarantino's tribute to Hollywood going all the way – it checked all the boxes: a star-studded hit nostalgic for a different era about the power of movies and entertainment – but something funny happened on the way to Best Picture. It kept ... not winning precursors. Much like "A Star is Born" last year, being the favorite can be more of a curse than a blessing; voters get bored and end up looking for newer, more exciting options. There's still a chance it pulls it off – on paper, it still looks like everything the Oscars love to reward, and Tarantino has still never won Best Picture – but at this point, it'd be the upset rather than the expected.
The two newer, more exciting options are "Parasite" and "1917." The South Korean thriller has become an indie hit thanks to its unpredictable twisty plot, impeccable craft and sharp political insight. Few people dislike the movie while its fans are loud and in love – take, for instance, the Screen Actors Guild, who gave the movie's cast a rousing standing ovation during its awards ceremony before eventually giving it the top prize, a first for a foreign language film. Meanwhile, Bong Joon-Ho is the belle of the awards season ball, nabbing delightful quotes and passing along great insights. And in a year of #OscarsSoWhite 2.0, the Academy would almost certainly love to have a foreign language film with an all-Asian cast to stand in the spotlight.
On the other hand, there's "1917," a slice of spectacle that both offers something comfortingly familiar – a bravado-filled war movie with a simple story and easy heroes – but told refreshingly different with its mesmerizing one-take approach and brutal-yet-beautiful visuals. It got hot at the right time, scoring a Golden Globe win and a boffo opening weekend at the box office in a week-long stretch, and so far it's maintained that momentum, continuing to win precursor awards.
So who's going to win? I have a hard time buying that the same Academy that picked "Green Book" for Best Picture less than 365 days ago will go for something as interesting, complex and often crazy as "Parasite" – much less a foreign language film, which many voters don't believe should win Best Picture because "they have their own category." (This is why Pixar or a documentary will never win Best Picture either – or at least while the old guard still has a say.) Then again, this race is very reminiscent of the "La La Land" versus "Moonlight" race: a classic and familiar choice against a trendy and exciting newcomer. And we all know how that worked out for the former. Here's to hoping that happens again – and that they read the right name off the right card this time.
Will win: Joaquin Phoenix, "Joker"
Should win: Adam Driver, "Marriage Story"
Unfortunately, the unpredictability ends in the acting categories, which are all pretty locked in at this point.
Leonardo DiCaprio is at peak form in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," but the awards campaign's put all of its eggs in Brad Pitt's basket, leaving DiCaprio as an also-ran. Antonio Banderas has some late momentum for his beautifully nuanced turn in "Pain and Glory," but rewarding nuance has never been the Academy's specialty – especially in a smaller foreign film – while Adam Driver started out as the favorite but his odds dropped as the hype around "Marriage Story" dove too. And Jonathan Pryce is just happy to be there. That leaves Joaquin Phoenix, who not only has the most iconic, most watched and most "difficult" performance of the bunch but also has the "he's due" storyline as a respected actor who's never won.
Combine all of that together, and you've got the second actor to win an Oscar for playing the Joker – though, in my mind, this award will be for his other turn playing a violent loner struggling with mental health in a messed-up world while taking care of his shut-in mother in last year's "You Were Never Really Here."
Will win: Renee Zellweger, "Judy"
Should win: Scarlett Johansson, "Marriage Story"
If any acting category is going to end in an upset, it'll be here. While Zellweger has the comeback storyline and a dedicated performance imitating a famous person – always a favorite with the Academy; just ask Rami Malek – no one seems all that passionate about either her or the movie, which has fallen off the radar otherwise. The vibe sure does feel like people are voting here because they feel they have to, that it's the narrative, as opposed to because they want to.
I'll still go with Zellweger because she's still the favorite, and there's no evidence to support my theory of an upset other than just a general feeling of indifference surrounding the win. But if Johansson's outstanding performance in "Marriage Story" or even Charlize Theron's Megyn Kelly impression in "Bombshell" (far more of a makeup achievement than an acting one, but when has that stopped the Academy before?) pull off an upset, I wouldn't be surprised.
Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Brad Pitt, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Should win: Al Pacino or Joe Pesci, "The Irishman"
In a quadrilogy of locks, Brad Pitt winning Best Suppporting Actor is the most secure. He's somehow never won an acting award (he won an Oscar for helping produce "12 Years a Slave" in 2014) despite an accomplished resume, and while "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" isn't maybe his best performance, it's one that nicely combines a legitimately good performance with his captivating movie star aura. Much of that movie works because you don't mind driving around Los Angeles with his character, just kind of silently hanging out.
Add in that he's been a real treat during awards season, with at least one quality zinger per acceptance speech – and add in the fact that his closest competition, Pacino and Pesci, come from the same movie and will therefore split the vote – and you've got no reason to pick against Pitt.
Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Laura Dern, "Marriage Story"
Should win: Florence Pugh, "Little Women"
Best Supporting Actress should've been one of the best categories of the bunch, with Jennifer Lopez's smart movie star turn in "Hustlers" or Zhao Shuzhen's heartbreaking performance in "The Farewell." Instead, it's Laura Dern and four forgettable roles that were also-rans as soon as they were announced last month.
Florence Pugh is the internet's favorite, but the Venn diagram of the Academy and Film Twitter is just about two separate circles – and the Oscars rarely reward young performers on their first nomination. I know the Oscars want to give Margot Robbie an Oscar one of these years – but "Bombshell" ain't it, chief, as she's stuck giving a bad performance in a bad movie as a non-character. (Remember when her voice suddenly goes into Harley Quinn mode during a big important late speech? I wish Academy voters had!) And Kathy Bates in "Richard Jewell" is here ... for some reason. (Why Paul Walter Hauser never got any attention for his star-making role there but Bates got a nomination for a fully forgettable turn his a mystery beyond even the deductive powers of Benoit Blanc.)
Johannson again is your best bet for an upset, but I have a feeling the people wanting to reward her will be split between doing it here or for her superior work in "Marriage Story." Plus, there's just not that much there in her "Jojo Rabbit" performance; it's a role that has power because of how the story hinges on her character, not because of what Johannson in particular brings to it.
So I'll go with Dern, who's beloved in Hollywood, has never won and delivers a performance that hits its big fist-pumping diatribes with enjoyable vigor. It's a worthy turn – though it's strange that, in a movie that everyone agrees Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver career-best work that elevates the film to excellent status, it's Dern's merely enjoyable performance that'll get enshrined in history. It's like when "The Help" rested solely on the shoulders of Viola Davis's weighty, name-making performance ... but Octavia Spencer got the trophy. The Oscars are weird sometimes. Or all the time.
Will win: Sam Mendes, "1917"
Should win: Bong Joon Ho, "Parasite"
Bong Joon Ho's immaculate work with the story shifts and tonal swings of "Parasite" is the best director of this bunch. But when it comes to the Oscars, though, your best bet is always on the most rather than the best – and if that's the case, your winner is almost certainly Sam Mendes, whose direction in "1917" is the star thanks to its impressive one-shot approach to its otherwise pretty barebones war story. Plus, in recent years, if you want to win Best Director, you need to go long, as one-takes have been an easy way to score victory. "Birdman," "Roma," "The Revenant" and "Gravity" (you could even fit "La La Land" in there with its long flowing musical numbers) all took home trophies for their commitment to the bit.
Best Original Screenplay
Will win: "Parasite"
Should win: "Parasite"
"Parasite" is going to win somewhere in one of the major categories on Sunday night. It's way too good, too respected and too passion-inspiring to be given simply a pat on the head with Best International Film. The only question is where.
Best Picture still feels like a bridge too far; again, there's still an old traditionalist mentality in the Academy that a foreign film shouldn't win the top prize because foreign films already have their own category. That leaves honoring director or screenplay, and while the former pits "Parasite" against the impressive technical achievement that is "1917," there's nowhere near the brutal competition in the latter. The nomination is the win for "Knives Out," while "Marriage Story" got lost in the shuffle this awards season. Tarantino's already won here twice so there's no passion to give him a third, and even though "1917" is here as well, its biggest cheerleaders wouldn't argue its script is its strong suit.
Plus, the joke is that the screenplay categories reward the movies too good and interesting to win Best Picture. It's here that "Eternal Sunshine," "Her" and "Get Out" got their victories. I think you can add "Parasite" to that list come Sunday night.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will win: "Jojo Rabbit"
Should win: "Little Women"
I see the Academy spreading the love on Sunday, which just about all of the major players receiving a nod in the big categories. But Best Adapted Screenplay serves as the last hope for several of those significant nominees – like "The Irishman," which earned ten nominations but could easily go home empty-handed. Considering how quickly many viewers cooled on the gangster movie – and how much of the credit has gone to Scorsese and the cast over the screenplay – I think that's exactly its fate, at least in this category.
Meanwhile, Gerwig's unique time-hopping adaptation would be a worthy winner as well, turning a well-trodden story into something truly refreshed and rethought – plus she could score votes off the Best Director snub outrage. But some aren't as convinced by the story's scattered structure, and those who are might still find it too effortless – as if making something seem easy actually means that it was easy. On the other hand, there's "Jojo Rabbit," a real sweaty effort of a tonal tightrope walk. It won with the writers guild – a decent barometer for success at the Oscars, with more than half of its winners going on to claim victory at the big show too – and it's a movie that has its share of detractors, but the people who like the movie truly love it. They won't let it leave Sunday night without an Oscar, and this is the most likely place to fix that.
Best Animated Film
Will win: "Toy Story 4"
Should win: "I Lost My Body"
Normally a well-reviewed Disney movie that landed as the third highest grossing film of the entire year would be the easy pick here – Disney's won seven of the last nine in this category – but instead Best Animated Film is a fairly open category (save for "How to Train Your Dragon 3," which thanks for competing!). "Klaus," "I Lost My Body" and "Missing Link" are all gorgeous and uniquely animated stories from Netflix that pulled off surprising wins during awards season, and while "Toy Story 4" is the favorite, it feels like a movie a lot of people like but maybe not love – especially compared to the other three films in the series. Plus, the lack of "Frozen II" shows maybe some resistance to Disney.
That being said, you rarely lose money betting on the Oscars to make the easy pick – and add in the fact that there's not one competitor to rally around but three splitting the anti-Disney vote, and I'll take "Toy Story 4."
Best International Film
Will win: "Parasite"
Should win: "Parasite"
Sometimes predicting who's going to win the Oscar requires research, some amateur psychology, luck and knowledge about the awards' history. And sometimes it just requires you to have a working brain and maybe the ability to count. Best International Film is the latter this year. How many of these films are nominated for Best Picture? Just "Parasite"? And which movie has more than two nominations? "Parasite" again? Yeah, don't overthink this one.
Will win: "1917"
Should win: "The Lighthouse"
It took Roger Deakins 12 nominations and several decades to win his first Oscar. Now he'll have two in three years after "1917," whose one-take approach is undoubtedly impressive – even for those who don't think it pairs well with the story. Pour one out, though, for "The Lighthouse," whose nomination is the win even though its gorgeous tar-and-saltwater cinematography was one of the most spellbinding things to appear on screen in 2019. I'm fond of ye lighting – and ye lobster.
Will win: "Ford v Ferrari"
Should win: "Parasite"
There used to be a clearer science to this award: Best Picture wins Best Editing. In the 2000s, six of the ten years, the editing nod matched the eventual big winner – with two of the off-years going to attention-grabbing action movies like "Black Hawk Down" and "The Bourne Ultimatum" whose kinetic editing was too much to ignore. Nowadays, that's not so much the case; Best Picture and Best Editing have only lined up once over the past decade – "Argo" in 2013 – and it almost certainly won't this year with "1917" missing out on a nomination entirely. Maybe it'll overlap with "Parasite," but much like everything in that film, the editing is so seamless and effortless that I have a hard time believing the Academy will take notice.
Instead, I bet editing will stick with the trend of the recent years and go with an action movie – or at least the closest thing to it – with "Ford v Ferrari," whose editing really helps make its racing sequences go vroom. The movie did get a Best Picture nomination, so people must think it was exemplary for SOMETHING.
Best Production Design
Will win: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Should win: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Welcome to quietly one of the tightest races of the night, as there's a three-way contest between "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," "1917" and "Parasite" with no clear frontrunner. The South Korean thriller has rightfully earned acclaim for building its featured house setting on a soundstage without the audience having any clue – but I think its impressively invisible work is more of hinderance than help. Again, the Oscars tend to vote most, not best. "1917" is impressive as well, having to organize fields upon fields of World War I vistas and crowds of soldiers into a seamless "single shot" edit, but straight-forward war movies don't tend to win here.
That leaves "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," which amazingly recreates 1960s Los Angeles and – most beneficial for winning big – luxuriates in its lovingly assembled minutiae and detail. Considering the Academy is exactly the audience that would most appreciate the barrage of retro Hollywood ads, signage, streets and studio lots, I bet they return the love on Sunday night.
Best Costume Design
Will win: "Little Women"
Should win: "Little Women"
What an uninspired bunch – not bad, just uninspired, like the Academy didn't want to be bothered thinking hard about this category and just plugged in some Best Picture nominees (which, honestly, is probably exactly what happened). The only two real contenders are "Joker" and "Little Women," and I have a very hard time thinking that they'll give the former the trophy basically for one noteworthy costume. Plus, Jacqueline Durran's costumes in "Little Women" are lovely – and exactly the kind of ornate period work this category tends to reward.
Will win: "Bombshell"
Should win: "Bombshell"
Reward impressive makeup in the makeup category; reward impressive performances in the performance categories. Seems pretty self-explanatory – though you'd be surprised how often the Oscars screw that logic up. (Just ask Gary Oldman in "Darkest Hour.") Thankfully, that shouldn't be the case this year as "Bombshell" is a bad movie, but there's no denying the uncanny work that turned Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly.
Will win: "Joker"
Should win: "Little Women"
Thomas Newman is the new Roger Deakins, earning 15 Oscar nominations across his career but not one win yet. "1917" could be it – though I found the score complementary at best and actively detrimental to the film at worst, adding punctuation where it was unnecessary, especially in a movie trying to put you there alongside the action. I expect he'll stay 0-for-15 while the Oscar instead goes to first-time nominee (oh, the irony) Hildur Guonadottir and her ominously cello-snapping score for "Joker," which does so much of the movie's emotional and tonal heavy lifting. The score earned this award – even if the rest of the movie didn't earn the score.
Will win: "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from "Rocketman"
Should win: "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from "Rocketman"
Can we just call this whole category off this year? I mean, maybe a nomination for "Glasgow" from "Wild Rose" could've salvaged this remarkably unremarkable bunch – but even then, I'd still say we should call a mulligan and come back next year.
Between Cynthia Erivo from "Harriet" going for the EGOT to Diane Warren potentially winning her first Oscar in 11 tries with "I'm Standing with You" from "Breakthrough," there's some interesting storylines behind the nominations – all certainly more interesting than the actual songs. Meanwhile, "Into the Unknown" isn't even the best song from "Frozen II" (that would be the reindeer '80s rock ballad "Lost in the Woods"; don't trust anyone who says otherwise) much less the best song from the entire year of movie music. And "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" from "Toy Story 4" is ... certainly a song nominated in this category!
So I'll go with "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," since it comes from a well-regarded musical – and it would let Elton John and Bernie Taupin take a nice bow on the Oscars stage, a moment too good for the Academy to pass up. But hey, maybe next year we nominate some good songs?
Best Sound Mixing
Will win: "1917"
Should win: "Ford v Ferrari"
The impeccably crafted sound design of its thrilling race sequences is pretty much how "Ford v Ferrari" landed its under-the-radar Best Picture nomination. However, "1917" is such a grand technical achievement that most voters will want to reward its craft as much as possible – including here.
Best Sound Editing
Will win: "1917"
Should win: "Ford v Ferrari"
The impeccably crafted sound design of its thrilling race sequences is pretty much how "Ford v Ferrari" landed its under-the ... hold on a second, I wrote this already. So yeah, mark me down for "1917" again – and mark me down for combining sound mixing and editing (the former is about blending the audio mix; the latter is about creating the sounds themselves) into one overall sound category from now on. Even sound designers want it!
Best Visual Effects
Will win: "1917"
Should win: "1917"
Even though it's the end of an impressive blockbuster achievement, Marvel has never won a Best Visual Effects Oscar, so scratch "Avengers: Endgame" off the list. (Don't feel too bad; it's got a hyper-balillion dollars to comfort it.) "Star Wars" also hasn't won since "Return of the Jedi," so feel free to forget about "The Rise of Skywalker." (Boy, I wish I could.) So yes, oddly I've removed the two most FX-heavy movies of the bunch right off the bat.
That leaves "The Irishman," "Lion King" and "1917." Scorsese's movie has the most noteworthy effects of the bunch, with millions upon millions spent on de-aging its stars. When it worked, it really worked – but when it didn't, it really didn't, with those first-act moments really sticking in viewers' craw, and probably voters' as well. And so there were two – and while "The Lion King" has the most effects, isn't it really animation as opposed to special effects? Chalk another technical achievement award to "1917" instead.
Will win: "American Factory"
Should win: "For Sama"
In a just world, "Apollo 11" would be nominated for multiple Oscars – from documentary to editing and maybe even Best Picture. (A boy can dream!) Unfortunately, we don't live in a just world so "Apollo 11" has as many nominations as I do. So I'll give the Best Documentary Not Named "Apollo 11" award to "American Factory," a still very good doc that has the accessibility of being a Netflix release, has the timely and rich subject matter – the overlap between Chinese and American workers in a Ohio factory owned by a Chinese billionaire – and, maybe most important of all, has the star power of Barack and Michelle Obama's production company behind it.
Best Documentary – Short Subject
Will win: "Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)"
Should win: "St. Louis Superman"
With these small categories, having a grabby title is half of the battle. (OK, most of the battle. Fine, pretty much the entire battle since most Academy members aren't putting in much effort down here.) And you don't get a much grabbier title than "Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)," which has the attention-getting concept and noteworthy execution to match.
Best Animated Short Film
Will win: "Hair Love"
Should win: "Hair Love"
The bigger you can get in these shorts categories, the better chance you have at winning. And "Hair Love" was produced from Sony's animation house, premiered with "The Angry Birds Movie 2" (sure, not a hit but still a bigger platform than most), comes from a Twitter-vocal writer-director Matthew Cherry, features the voice of Issa Rae and carries the endorsement from the likes of Ava DuVernay. That's a lot of help getting noticed – and in these small categories, getting noticed is often enough to get the win. Of course, it also helps that it's adorable, good and one of the few nominees in this category that won't make you want to walk into the nearest deep body of water afterward.
Best Live Action Short Film
Will win: "The Neighbors' Window"
Should win: "The Neighbors' Window"
Again, it's the little things that help in these oft-overlooked categories – and in the case of Best Live Action Short Film, "The Neighbors' Window" comes from Marshall Curry, a well-regarded documentarian and four-time Oscar nominee who's never won. That's name recognition AND a narrative! Getting merely one or the other would be a boon for a short film nominee – but both? That's a gold mine.
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