My notes for this intro included “women,” “POC,” and “Joker rage,” which–yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
As many have already noted, the general theme for this Oscar season is “angry white men.” Almost all of the Best Picture nominees are about white men who are just like, really teed off about something. (This Vulture article has a great rundown of what, exactly, they’re all mad about: “The Irishman: Other, more Irish men. Joker: “Society,” man… The Lighthouse: seagulls 😆 )
Meanwhile, only one of the Best Picture nominees has any POC main characters, and none of them were nominated in the acting categories. The only POC nominated for acting was Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, because black people are only allowed to be in movies about slavery. And so many fantastic movies by and about women–often about women being mad about things! We get mad about things, too!–were ignored this year, as per usual.
So does it really matter who wins? Not really. Awards are tricky things, and more often than not serve to reinforce the status quo, rather than actually reward the movies that are helping to move the medium forward. But predictions are fun, and honestly, we all know the movies that will be remembered in ten years’ time anyway (*cough* Parasite and Little Women *cough*).
Ford v Ferrari
Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
Will win: Parasite
Should win: Parasite
Most people are betting on 1917, and I’m tempted to do the same. It’s the most obvious Oscar bait of them all–a “one-take” war movie about, say it with me, disgruntled white men–and it’s won some key precursors. But Parasite is so widely beloved, I think the preferential ballot will help it along for a historic win.
As it should! I loved Little Women, and… yeah, that’s it, none of the others really did it for me. Marriage Story had its moments, but as potentially devastating divorce dramas go, it’s no Blue Valentine. I don’t understand either the love or controversy surrounding Joker–it was a boring, self-serious character study with almost nothing to say about the character it was studying. Jojo Rabbit also had little to say beyond “Nazis were human beings” and “propaganda is bad.” 1917 and Ford v Ferrari are both well-made Oscar bait, bringing nothing new to the table outside of the technical categories. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a love letter to the “good old days” when white men ruled Hollywood, which is especially histrionic in a year when almost all of the Oscar-nominated movies are about and made by, er, white men. (Also, it’s boring, which is something I never thought I would say about a Tarantino movie. How many scenes did there need to be about Leo Dicaprio and Brad Pitt driving?) And speaking of boring, I couldn’t even get through The Irishman.
Meanwhile, Parasite is a thoroughly original sociopolitical parable, which is at turns hilarious and terrifying. Regardless of whether it wins or not, it’s the one that will be remembered and talked about for years to come.
Snubs: Midsommar, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Farewell, Hustlers, Booksmart
Martin Scorcese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Quentin Tarantino, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite
Will win: Sam Mendes, 1917
Should win: Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite
1917‘s direction is certainly showiest of all the nominees, and Mendes’ (somewhat gimmicky) choice to edit his film to look like one take actually works pretty well. But Parasite is a creative tour de force–a true auteur firing on all cylinders. I’m still mad about Greta Gerwig’s snub–great movies don’t direct themselves!–but Bong Joon-Ho is equally deserving.
Snubs: Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Ari Aster (Midsommar), Claire Denis (High Life)
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy
Will win: Renée Zellweger, Judy
Should win: Charlize Theron, Bombshell
I have a bunch of snubs for this category because, as talented as all of these actresses are, I wouldn’t necessarily have picked any of these performances. Cynthia Erivo is great, but Harriet was too conventional to give her anything interesting to do. Saoirse Ronan is an amazing, thoughtful actress, but kind of miscast as Jo March–I never really felt the “fiery temper” that everyone in the movie keeps talking about. And Scarlett Johansson does a great job with what she has, but Marriage Story completely loses track of her emotional arc in favor of Adam Driver’s.
Which leaves the two high-profile “transformations.” If there’s anything Oscar voters love, it’s physical transformation and comeback narratives, so Renée Zellweger has this in the bag. Charlize Theron uncannily embodied Megyn Kelly (those prosthetics really are crazy), and also gave a commanding performance. I’m not usually as enamored with biopics as the Academy, but, in an otherwise unremarkable movie, Theron truly owned the screen.
Snubs: Noémie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire). Florence Pugh (Midsommar), Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart), Samara Weaving (Ready or Not), Ana de Armas (Knives Out), Awkwafina (The Farewell)
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
Will win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Should win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story
I’ve often heard that when predicting who will win an Oscar, just replace “Best” with “Most.” And Joaquin Phoenix is definitely doing the “most” acting in Joker, but since the character, as written, is completely lacking an emotional core, his considerable talents are wasted. I would give it to Adam Driver, whose intensity and charisma is on full display in Marriage Story. I may not think about Marriage Story in the future as much as I think about say, Parasite, but I’ll never forget Driver’s sheer rage and viciousness during that eminently memeable fight scene. He managed to make his “angry white man” performance stand out in a season full of them.
Snubs: Song Kang-ho, (Parasite), Michael B. Jordan (Just Mercy), Robert Pattinson (High Life)
Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Will win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Should Win: Florence Pugh, Little Women
I would be happy with Laura Dern, who is delightful in Marriage Story, but Florence Pugh is a straight-up revelation. Not only did she beat out veteran co-stars like Meryl Streep and, um, Laura Dern, but her charm offensive forced everyone to admit their love for Amy March for the first time (I always loved her, not to be a hipster about it). On Christmas day, Twitter was full of literary girls apologizing to the oft-despised character–and converting in real time to the Amy/Laurie ship–and that’s entirely due to Gerwig and Pugh’s funny, sympathetic, and fleshed-out take on the character.
Snubs: Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers), Park So-dam (Parasite), Cho Yeo-jeong (Parasite), Juliette Binoche (High Life)
Best Supporting Actor
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
Will win: Brad Pitt, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
Should win: Write-in for Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy
Listen, these nominees are all beloved veterans at the top of their games. And Brad Pitt was very good in Once Upon a Time, mostly at driving. But the acting in Just Mercy was, all-around, at a different level. Just Mercy wasn’t the best movie of the year–its take on real-life hero Bryan Stevenson is reverent to the point of being a little simplistic. But the movie was still extremely affecting, and that’s entirely because of the powerful performances by Michael B. Jordan and especially Jamie Foxx. I cried when Walter McMillian was (spoiler! Although it happened in real life, so whatever) finally set free, partly because it’s an inherently tragic situation, but mostly because you could see every emotion Walter would be feeling on Foxx’s face.
Other Snubs: Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse)
The Two Popes
Will win: Jojo Rabbit
Should Win: Little Women
Little Women could win–and it should! Gerwig’s innovative structure honored the beloved novel while playing up its more mature themes, and her Inception-esque ending flourish was one of the cleverest meta-commentaries I’ve ever seen. (Plus, I loved that she had Jo open a school for girls instead of boys, because WTH Louisa May Alcott? Why?) But Jojo Rabbit is winning all of the precursors, so it looks like the Nazi comedy will take it.
Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
Will Win: Parasite
Should win: Parasite
I’m really going for broke with Parasite here! It seemed like a safe bet that the Academy throw Tarantino this one in lieu of a Best Picture or Best Director win, but the tide seems to be turning in Bong Joon-Ho’s favor. If 1917 wins this, despite having hardly any dialogue, we’ll know I picked the wrong horse for Best Picture.
Snubs: Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Farewell, Booksmart
Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
Will win: 1917
Should win: 1917
1917 is set to sweep a bunch of categories, but this is the one it really should win. Chances are, Roger Deakins is responsible for some of the most beautiful movies you’ve ever seen, like Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Prisoners, and Blade Runner 2049, the latter of which finally won him his first Oscar in 2017. And 1917, though it didn’t have much in the way of script or characters, was absolutely gorgeous, so give him another!
Snubs: Portrait of a Lady on Fire