Critic’s Academy Award predictions
In just under a week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will crown its winners of the coveted Oscar statuette. “Joker” leads the pack this year with 11 nominations, but will the film’s popularity as a nominee propel it all the way to a Best Picture win? Or will the Academy’s over-9,000-member voting body cast their preferential ballots in favor of the technical feat “1917,” or be bold enough on Feb. 9 to crown “Parasite” as the first foreign language Best Picture winner? My predictions for eight of the 24 Oscar categories explain the odds behind the likely winners.
Should Win: “Parasite”
Could Win: “Parasite”
Will Win: “1917”
The past few years have seen Best Picture and Best Director split between two movies. This year will be the one to reunite the estranged couple, when Sam Mendes takes the stage to accept his second win in this category, which he first won for “American Beauty,” over 20 years ago. This award tends to go to the director who has made the biggest technical achievement. This decade has seen two directors win twice, with Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity” and “Roma,” and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu for “Birdman” and “The Revenant.” One glaring thread tying Mendes to their wins is that his film, like those of Cuaron and Inarritu, has drawn much of its acclaim for being composed of long, intricate tracking shots. Put simply, when it comes to Best Director, size matters, which makes perfect sense when considering the fact that it is a category unjustly dominated by men (#justiceforGretaGerwig). Despite not being composed of long takes, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is no less intricate in its configuration than “1917,” but it will have to settle for a Best International Feature win instead.
Should Win: Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
Could Win: Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
Will Win: Sam Mendes, “1917”
This may kill any faith you have in my prophetic abilities, but I must confess that for the past three years, I have gotten this category wrong and it was always because I went for the statistically-favored winner: I chose “La La Land” over “Moonlight;” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” over “The Shape of Water;” “Roma” over “Green Book.” This year, I worry that I am repeating the same mistake in choosing the late-breaking “1917” over the brilliant, “Parasite.” On the one hand, the past three years had instances in which the Academy chose originality over popularity (see “Moonlight” and “Shape”). On the other hand, the victory of “Green Book” over the more critically lauded “Roma” indicates to me that the Academy has lapsed back into its old ways. Not only that, but last year showed us that the voting body for the Oscars may not yet be ready to hand the night’s highest honor to a foreign language film, which does not bode well for the South Korean film. “Parasite,” although more commercially accessible than “Roma,” still may not overcome the barrier of its subtitles. I am going with “1917,” which has won top honors at the Golden Globes and British Academy of Film and Television Arts. It is without a doubt a tremendous cinematic achievement, but I’d gladly be wrong in this category for a fourth year in a row to see “Parasite” take its crown.
Should Win: Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Could Win: Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
To put a spin on a classic Lady Gaga zinger from yesteryear’s awards season: you could have 100 people in a room, and 99 of them will say that Joaquin Phoenix gave the best performance of the year as Arthur Fleck, and you just need one person to call the B.S. and say that the performance, while certainly the most acting, is not the best acting; that one person in the room is me. I get it: Mr. Phoenix spent a lot of time perfecting his laugh and lost 53 lbs. However, by the time the credits roll on “Joker,” his performance is so exhausting to watch that its final impression feels like nothing more than a gimmick. While Phoenix’s commitment to bring Fleck to life is evident, it pervades the film so ubiquitously to the point that he takes you out of the experience, instead of drawing you in. You are in effect watching Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, instead of just watching the Joker in action.
On the other hand, consider Adam Driver’s performance in “Marriage Story.” As Charlie, one half of the divorcing couple at the center of the film, Driver gives yet another textured performance, and even shows new sides of his capability as a performer. He disappears into the role with humor and heartbreak, never once making you question your love for Charlie, even in his darkest moments. But more than that, unlike with Phoenix’s performance, you forget you are watching Driver perform as Charlie, as his body simply becomes a vessel for the character he is playing. Not only is his performance the best in his category, but also the best performance by any actor, of any gender, this year.
As far as the odds are concerned, they are inevitably tipped in Phoenix’s favor. This year we have seen the same performers in all four acting categories practically sweep every awards show they show their face at. Phoenix is one of them. Not only that, but he gives one hell of an acceptance speech. However, last year’s Oscars offer a ray of hope in the realm of an Adam Driver upset, however. Let us not forget when Olivia Colman, who spent every ceremony before the Oscars watching Glenn Close winning Best Actress for “The Wife,” was shocked to hear her name called over Close at the Academy Awards. Driver may just be this year’s Olivia.
Should Win: Akwafina, “The Farewell” (not nominated)
Could Win: N/A
Will Win: Renée Zellweger, “Judy”
When Oscar nominations were announced on Jan. 13, I was royally bummed out to see that Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” failed to score a single nod. Or, better put, the Academy failed to recognize “The Farewell.” That ignorance led to a slew of snubs, most notably for Akwafina’s performance as Billie, an Asian American who has to cope with the impending death of her terminally ill grandmother. Her performance is astounding to behold, as she portrays Billie’s growth from the movie’s start to its perfect finish. It would have been nice to see her get recognized.
Meanwhile, there is no question that Best Actress is Renée Zellweger’s to lose. And to be honest, if I weren’t so fired up about Akwafina’s omission from this year’s list of nominees, I probably would have written up Zellweger as my “should win.” She completely disappears into her performance of Judy Garland in a way that few actors truly achieve in biopic performances: she adopts her subject’s soul without burying it underneath a cheap impression. Zellweger’s performance is something of a hybrid between her own persona and Ms. Garland’s. One need only listen to the film’s soundtrack to get a taste of the truly brilliant work that Zellweger brings to this role. In fact, Zellweger is just about the only reason “Judy” is watchable, as her acting transcends the film’s muddled plotting and melodramatic tone.
Best Supporting Actor
Should Win: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” or Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Could Win: N/A
Will Win: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
Brad Pitt’s and Joe Pesci’s performances in their respective films have one thing in common for me: they were both the only thing keeping me watching the self-indulgently directed movies in which they appeared. You got that right — I did not remotely enjoy “The Irishman” or “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” I even saw the latter at an advanced screening introduced by none other than Quentin Tarantino himself, and even the high of that couldn’t sustain me through its nearly 3-hour runtime. But even I will admit that Pitt’s performance as Cliff Booth is something to behold. They should just give him the Oscar for that shirtless scene on the roof alone. Pesci’s performance as mobster Russell Buffalino is a welcome return for the actor, who came out of retirement to play the role, and is without a doubt the strongest link in the 3.5 hour-long chain of “The Irishman.”
All five nominees in this category are Oscar winners, however, Pitt sets himself apart as the only one of the nominees who has never won for acting (he previously won for producing “12 Years a Slave”). This, combined with his unparalleled star power, gives Pitt the edge.
Best Supporting Actress
Should Win: Billie Lourd, “Booksmart” (not nominated)
Could Win: Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Will Win: Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
You might have noticed that my “should win” selection for this category is a) not even nominated, and b) has been completely absent from the awards conversation. Regardless, Billie Lourd’s performance as Gigi, the wildest character in 2019’s criminally underrated “Booksmart,” reaches instances of hilarity that measure up to beloved comedic turns by the likes of Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” and Tiffany Haddish in “Girls Trip.” When her character inexplicably enters scenes in manners that defy temporal logic, Lourd’s line deliveries elevate the script of “Booksmart” to unexpected levels of absurdity.
And in the “could/will win” categories, we have two more scene-stealers in Florence Pugh and Laura Dern. Pugh’s performance as Amy in “Little Women” was ignored by Oscar precursors such as the Golden Globes and SAG, but nevertheless made it onto Academy voter’s ballots, who fell for her fresh take on the historically-maligned March sister. Her presence on the nominees list — favored over expected nominee Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”) — is enough to make one consider her a dark horse this coming Oscar night. Nevertheless, Dern has been dominating awards season for her performance as a sharp divorce attorney in “Marriage Story,” and is likely to make her streak a clean sweep on Feb. 9.
Best Original Screenplay
Should Win: Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, “Parasite”
Could Win: Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
Will Win: Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, “Parasite”
This could have been a much stronger category with the omission of “1917”and “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” and the inclusion of stronger original screenplays like “Booksmart,” “Pain and Glory” or “Uncut Gems.” At the end of the day though, it is Saturday night’s Writer’s Guild of America winner versus Quentin Tarantino’s bloated love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood. “Parasite” would be the obvious choice after being victorious at the WGAs in this very category. However, Tarantino was not eligible, as he is not a member of the Writers Guild. As a screenwriter, Tarantino is the perennial Academy favorite, and he may handily win his third award in this category. However, after a big upset in this category at Sunday night’s BAFTA awards, whose voting body has aligned with Tarantino’s past victories at the Oscars, “Parasite” won over “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.” Further, Bong Joon Ho and his writing partner Han Jon Won have never won, and the Academy loves rewarding new blood. With all that in mind, I believe the scales are ever so slightly tipped in the former’s favor. A “Parasite” upset here could be indicative of bigger success later in the night. If Bong Joon Ho can dethrone the original screenplay king, and rob him of a triple crown, there is every possibility that he can go on to win Best Picture.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Should Win: Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”
Could Win: Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”
Will Win: Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit”
This is a tough category to call. Even after “Jojo Rabbit”’s win at the WGA awards, it faces stiff competition from “Little Women,” which offers an opportunity to the Academy to reward Greta Gerwig after failing to nominate her for Best Director. Her take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is sharp and also manages the impossible task of making the story feel new. The film is also widely embraced by audiences…but so is “Jojo Rabbit.” Like the audience of “Little Women,” people who love “Jojo Rabbit” love it. If either of these films win, it will likely be their only honor that night. I’d give the edge to “Little Women,” since last year’s winner, “BlackKklansman,” also managed to take gold after losing at the WGAs. However, keep in mind that while Greta Gerwig was snubbed by the director’s branch, so was Taika Waititi. Gerwig has been snubbed once before, when her film “Lady Bird” failed to win any trophies the year it was nominated. Not only is Gerwig more established with the Academy voters than Waititi is, but they may also feel like they owe her more at this point in her career. While this is Waititi’s first Oscar rodeo, he also won BAFTA’s Adapted Screenplay honor, so he seems to have the edge here.