“Well it’s a mess, ain’t it Sheriff.”
“If it ain’t, it’ll do til the mess gets here.”
The awards watching community is uncomfortable sitting with an “I don’t know,” but that’s exactly what’s required at the moment. While we might able to predict what the smaller groups might do, it is more difficult to predict what a much larger consensus will do. The biggest mistake people in my industry make, such as it is, is to confuse what is happening online and on Oscar sites with actual meaningful buzz. There is very much an internet bubble and feedback loop that tries to tell its own story of how the awards are going to go. But that story has no real basis in reality. It is too wrapped up in reactions to the movies by people who won’t get a ballot, the reactions of high-status tweeters, and a kind of splash-back loop that feeds itself its own confirmation bias.
In other words, there is no there there.
The competition in most categories right now could not be more fierce. Exclusive parties, star packed screenings, massive print ads taken out, even billboards — all endeavoring to push a handful of films into the race. The Broadcast Film Critics, or Critics Choice, are being courted by studios as though they were the HFPA — some members being flown out to attend premieres, replete with free swanky hotel rooms and swag up the wazoo. I happen to know a few BFCA members and they’re always asking me, “Are you going to this or that?” And I’m always saying no, I’m literally the last holdout who hasn’t joined the BFCA and probably never will. I can’t imagine belonging to a group that is part of the same industry it covers as journalists. But hey, it’s perks galore, screeners galore, close encounters with actual celebrities galore, so if you’re down for that, what could be better?
Because they are now in the influencers seat – where they presumably wanted to be when they pushed their own announcement date far earlier, to break first out the gate — and now they are being courted. Thus, they must be viewed with a fair amount of skepticism, as with the HFPA, a group that is also aggressively courted. Oscar voters themselves are cautioned and limited by very strict rules that were put in place to curb insider campaigning, but the feeder groups aren’t restricted in the same way. It’s a swagtacular free-for-all.
But despite all of that, we are still sitting with “I don’t know” for a good many of the categories. It’s a wide-open race, at least it appears to be right now, and you can’t get a straight answer anywhere you look because most people are operating from their own personal preferences at this point. I will include myself in that.
The following factors remain at play:
- The Netflix factor – How much will the four Netflix films heading into the race – The Irishman, The Two Popes, Dolemite is My Name and Marriage Story — be judged on their being “Netflix movies”? Does anyone care? If so, why and how much?
- The popular movies factor. After last year’s catastrophe with the proposal to add a Best Popular Film category, many of the voters apparent;y sought to forestall such a thing by nominating bigger (i.e., more money-making) movies. Will that be the case again this year? Does box office matter more now, like it used to a few decades ago?
- The shortened season factor — This is a tough one to parse. With PGA and DGA announcing their nominees the same day Oscar ballots are due could we see a lot of mismatches? Probably. Our Best Picture winner should be popular enough that it hits almost everywhere, but PGA and DGA at the very least. You can’t win without at least being nominated by both those groups but this year’s overall chaos might break that stat.
- The Trump factor and other political influencers like “Woke Twitter.”
What do we know about anything? Not much. But let’s go through the possibilities, shall we? These expectations are according to me and my own insight — not based on groupthink or Gold Derby or anything else like that, least of all Film Twitter.
Best Picture Frontrunners
Right now, these are the films I think have the best chance of winning a consensus vote:
1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Tarantino is overdue and the film is well-liked across the board and even loved. Big cast, strong leading actor, and it’s about the town itself. It’s nostalgic, sentimental, and entertaining.
2. 1917 – This glorious, moving, high achievement could be the late-breaker to do what no film since Million Dollar Baby has done — win win a late entry in the season. It’s been exactly 20 years since Sam Mendes won for American Beauty and that was the year I first started this website so it would be one of those kismet things should it win this year.
3. Jojo Rabbit – While it is divisive for sure, the complaints aren’t that the movie is “bad” so much as many people having trouble “laughing at Hitler.” But it won the Audience Award at Toronto and so far that’s the biggest award rewarded by the largest group. Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn’t but it’s nothing to sneeze at.
4. The Irishman – Scorsese’s film will have some complaining about the de-aging effects without a doubt. But beyond that, the film is a knockout – brilliantly written, acted, and directed. It’s a major accomplishment for Scorsese and he proves once again that he — like Ang Lee, David Fincher, Jim Cameron, and Steven Spielberg — isn’t afraid of diving in and trying new technology.
5. Parasite – It’s really funny until it isn’t. The story structure, like the structure of the house and the structure of society reveals itself in layer upon layer. When all is said and done it isn’t funny at all. It is as tragic as this life can be.
6. Ford v Ferrari – Big Studios are back and this, along with 1917, is a great example of American movie-making at its absolutely finest. If you ask people what movies they liked this year this will invariably end up on that short list because it’s a movie almost everyone loves, and it’s certainly a movie you can sit anyone down in front of.
7. Joker – Because of the likability of its star, Joaquin Phoenix, and its place in the global culture, Joker has carved a place for itself in the Best Picture race and is likely the most talked about, most disturbing, and most darkly entertaining film of the year. That says a lot — to make such a deep dent in all of the noise. Also, if Phoenix is going to win, this will definitely be IN.
8. Marriage Story – No other movie seems to have captivated the Oscar punditry world like this one. It has taken its place as favorite and is even being predicted to win Best Picture over at AwardsWatch. Best Actor is also being predicted to go to Adam Driver at many of the major predicting sites. What is not known is what people out there in the world will think of it. It is a expertly drawn picture of divorce, with a talented ensemble cast.
9. Dolemite Is My Name – This film has the misfortune of being regarded as the fourth of four Netflix movies to enter the race, which is a shame — since it is one of my favorite films of the year, an important story and an exceptionally well written, well acted, and well directed film. You may have noticed, it’s one I can’t quite let go of, even if I realize that the mostly white voters will not see this as “important” enough. None of the other movies will be hit by the Netflix factor but this one might. Still, I am hoping.
10 The Two Popes – This one is flying under the radar but with its big get at the AARP Awards for Grownups (go ahead and laugh but we’re not that far off the sensibilities of Oscar voters) and its broad appeal, this one has a shot at being a major threat in the top categories.
And the rest:
11. Little Women
12. The Farewell
14. Richard Jewell
15. Knives Out
Whether this is right or not, I have no idea. I know what the groupthink is, by the way, I just don’t agree with it. We all need more intel, which we will be getting sooner or later. Is Tuesday soon enough? Because that’s when the avalanche begins.
Best Director frontrunners
- Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Sam Mendes, 1917
- Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
- Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite
- Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
And the challengers:
- James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari
- Todd Phillips, Joker
- Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
- Greta Gerwig, Little Women
- Fernando Meirelles, The Two Popes
- Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- Lulu Wang, The Farewell
Best Actress frontrunners
- Renee Zellweger, Judy
- Charlize Theron, Bombshell
- Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
- Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
- Lupita Nyong’o, Us
- Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
- Ana De Armas, Knives Out
- Awkwafina, The Farewell
- Jodie Turner-Smith, Queen & Slim
- Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Best Actor – Frontrunners
- Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
- Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
- George MacKay, 1917
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
- Adam Driver, Marriage Story
- Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
- Robert De Niro, The Irishman
- Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell
- Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
- Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
- Matt Damon, Ford v Ferrari
Supporting Actor – Frontrunners
- Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Joe Pesci, The Irishman
- Tom Hanks, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- Wesley Snipes, Dolemite Is My Name
- Tracy Letts, Ford v Ferrari
- Al Pacino, The Irishman
- Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
- Sam Rockwell, Richard Jewell
- Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
Supporting Actress – Frontrunners
- Laura Dern, Marriage Story
- Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
- Margot Robbie, Bombshell
- Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dolemite Is My Name
- Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
- Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
- Florence Pugh, Little Women
- Anne Hathaway, Dark Waters
- Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit
- Taylor Russell, Waves
Original Screenplay – Frontrunners
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Dolemite Is My Name
- Marriage Story
- Ford v Ferrari
- The Farewell
- Queen & Slim
- The Report
Adapted Screenplay – frontrunners
- Jojo Rabbit
- The Irishman
- The Two Popes
- Little Women
- Motherless Brooklyn
- Just Mercy