Disregard the headline above. Or half of it, anyway. We actually don’t know what will win at the Oscars this Sunday. No one does—not even the Academy, apparently, which oddly tweeted out its own predictions a few days ago, leaving some to wonder if it hadn’t accidentally leaked the real results. Honestly, just pasting those picks into your office Oscars ballot might be a safer bet than listening to what any of the award-season pundits tell you will win. Because they don’t know any better than we do. We’re all just taking shots in the dark, drawing on knowledge of precedent and studying precursor awards (like those handed out by the guilds, many of which share membership with the Academy) and listening to our gut feelings to tell us how a group of several thousand industry professionals are going to vote. Year in and year out, bloggers spend months handicapping every race. Sometimes they’re right, but rarely are they completely right, because it’s all just creative guesswork. Is there a job with less accountability than “predicting the Oscars”? Maybe Congress.
Make no mistake, our track record is pretty spotty here at The A.V. Club, too. We have our good years and our bad ones. But that’s part of the fun of the Academy Awards, which are a very unreliable barometer of the movies that matter (you could make a very long list of the great films the Oscars ignored) but a reliably enjoyable mass-cultural event all the same—an opportunity for every viewer watching from home to play armchair soothsayer and critic. To the latter end, we always make sure to list our rooting interests for Oscar night alongside our hopelessly speculative predictions. Because though we might have no real idea what will win, we’re always stubbornly sure of what should. Oh, and you’re on your own when it comes to the shorts awards—we really don’t know what’s going to win those.
Prediction: In the entire history of the Academy Awards, no foreign-language film has ever won Best Picture. No, not even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which made more money in the United States than any non-English movie before or after it. And certainly not Roma, which a whole lot of Oscar prognosticators—yours truly included—somehow convinced themselves was the frontrunner last year, only to watch it lose to the most traditionally Academy-friendly of the nominees, Green Book.
So forgive the skepticism, but what has everyone so convinced that the Academy is suddenly going to buck nearly a century of cultural bias and hand their top prize to Parasite? Admittedly, Bong Joon Ho’s class-warfare triumph is a bona fide crowdpleaser, winning over audiences and critics alike; top awards from the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild prove that subtitles aren’t proving a barrier. But it still seems rather blindly optimistic to bet on a genre-bending, anti-capitalist parable from South Korea, especially with a showboating white-elephant prestige picture like 1917 standing in its way. Sam Mendes’ elaborately orchestrated WWI drama has already won medals of honor from the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, the Hollywood Foreign Press, and the British Academy; it seems poised to add Best Picture to that trophy case. Then again, the last time an expensive, highly decorated war movie went into Oscar night looking like the presumptive winner… well, let’s just say mission was not accomplished. So don’t count out Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, a celebration of the whole movie industry—and specifically actors, who make up the largest branch of the Academy—or Joker, a mega-hit that somehow racked up more nominations than any other film this year. And keep hope alive, Bong Hive. We need all of it we can get in 2020.
Preference: It’s hard not to root for Parasite, a genuinely terrific movie whose victory would probably mean the most, as a long-overdue acknowledgement of global cinema from an organization that typically reserves only one award for films made in other languages. But truthfully, a good half of this lineup would make for worthy winners; if this particular critic’s heart belongs most fervently to Noah Baumbach’s searing drama of separation, Marriage Story, it would sing plenty for Parasite, or The Irishman, or Little Women, or Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. Just don’t get cute and hand the prize to Jojo, okay AMPAS? Holocaust kitsch is a bridge too far.
Nominees: Bong Joon Ho, Parasite; Sam Mendes, 1917; Todd Phillips, Joker; Martin Scorsese, The Irishman; Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
Prediction: Increasingly, the Best Director Oscar goes to feats of ostentatious craftsmanship—especially ones, like Roma or The Revenant, that include painstakingly orchestrated long takes. That bodes very well for DGA winner Sam Mendes, whose 1917 is nothing but elaborate long takes; 20 years after winning this award for his debut, American Beauty, he seems likely to repeat.
Preference: Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, kindred spirits in shit-hot style and shit-talk dialogue, offered some of the most nuanced filmmaking of their careers this past year. But for the madcap speed and clarity of his montage, for managing every hairpin shift in genre and tone, for the sheer screwball suspense of that scene where the Park family returns home early… for all that and more, Parasite’s Bong Joon Ho deserves the win.
Prediction: The Oscars love it when a star plays another star. That, coupled with a slew of precursor wins (the SAG, the BAFTA, the Golden Globe), just about sews it up for Renée Zellweger’s vocally controlled, poignant turn as an aging Judy Garland. But don’t bet every dime on it. After all, Glenn Close seemed like a pretty sure thing last year before Olivia Colman’s tragicomic work in The Favourite swooped in for a very welcome upset.
Preference: Some of the year’s best performances, including Lupita Nyong’o in Us and Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell, aren’t nominated. In this perfectly solid lineup of contenders, we favor Saoirse Ronan, definitively embodying the conflicting impulses of Jo March: that internal battle between a steadfastly independent spirit and the inconvenient creep of loneliness.
Prediction: So much for that historic Academy bias against comic-book movies. Not only is Joker this year’s big nomination leader, but also Joaquin Phoenix is about to become the second actor to win an Oscar playing Batman’s most infamous heavy, the Clown Prince Of Crime.
Preference: Phoenix is pretty much always good, and Joker is no exception—he becomes Arthur Fleck inside and out, face and limbs twisted into an unconvincing pantomime of adjusted humanity. But if Phoenix’s is certainly the biggest of the nominated performances, Adam Driver goes deeper in Marriage Story, pulling us headlong into all the frustrations of divorce, even as he slowly lays bear the selfishness his character refuses to own up to. And actually, his much-memed blowup scene is as intense as anything in Joker.
Nominees: Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell; Laura Dern, Marriage Story; Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit; Florence Pugh, Little Women; Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Prediction: Expect Laura Dern to win her first Oscar for her savagely funny work as a poised, calculated, and almost superhumanly perceptive divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. She hits all the right notes playing someone who knows just how to hit all the right buttons, especially in a clip-ready monologue that may work as well on voters as it does on her client.
Preference: In Little Women, Florence Pugh nails both the touching teenage petulance of Amy March and the grace of her older, wiser incarnation, convincing us that one grew from the other. You could call it two great performances, which would bring her 2019 count to four, considering the entirely different wonders she works in Fighting With My Family and Midsommar. It was truly the year of Pugh. The Academy should take notice.
Nominees: 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
Prediction: There’s not much suspense in this category either. The stars have aligned for Brad Pitt, another Oscar bridesmaid ready to become a bride—though let’s be real, over-the-hill stuntman Cliff Booth is very much a main character in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, even if he does spend most of the movie supporting his boss and buddy, Rick Dalton.
Preference: Fans of The Irishman seem to disagree about which of its supporting performances from crime-movie veterans is the best. As satisfying as it is to see Joe Pesci cast against type as a force of calm (if still menacing) leadership, our vote goes to Al Pacino, putting all his bellowing, scenery-chewing tendencies to perfect use as larger-than-life labor boss Jimmy Hoffa. He’s hilarious and heartbreaking and as good as he’s been in decades.
Nominees: Knives Out, Rian Johnson; Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach; 1917, Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns; Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino; Parasite, Bong Joon Ho, Jin Won Han
Prediction: The WGA win probably cements it for Parasite and its fiendishly clever blend of heist movie and upstairs-downstairs class drama. Will the camera find Quentin Tarantino during Bong’s acceptance speech? Will the two-time winner and stony award-show starer grimace at his failure to tie Woody Allen’s record for most screenplay Oscars?
Preference: Tough call—no fewer than four of these nominated scripts are pretty superb. Give the ever-so-slight edge to Marriage Story, a complicated portrait of a complicated legal and emotional ordeal, told from multiple perspectives and featuring some of the year’s most witheringly quotable dialogue.
Nominees: The Irishman, Steven Zaillian; Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi; Joker, Todd Phillips, Scott Silver; Little Women, Greta Gerwig; The Two Popes, Anthony McCarten
Prediction: It’s been 13 years since a woman won an Oscar for screenwriting. Will Greta Gerwig become the first since Diablo Cody? Maybe. But this one will probably go instead to Taika Waititi, whose Jojo Rabbit puts a daftly comic (and now WGA-approved) spin on the Christine Leunens novel Caging Skies; it could be the only place the Academy ends up honoring a movie that once looked, from the vantage of a rapturous festival reception, like the one to beat.
Preference: Gerwig’s script for Little Women breathes new life into Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, scrambling the chronology to alter our relationship to the characters and story, and underscoring a moving meta dimension—all while preserving the book’s values and appeal. It’s a model of bold but faithful adaptation, the kind that should always win this award, honestly.
Prediction: For once, no true frontrunner has emerged for this category—it’s a real race this year! Will third time be the charm for the thrice-nominated How To Train Your Dragon series? Will Golden Globe winner Missing Link win an overdue Oscar for the stop-motion wizards at LAIKA? Will critical acclaim propel I Lost My Body to a rare win for adult-oriented animation? Will unexpected Annie winner Klaus overcome its low profile to take the Oscar, too? We have a hunch that name recognition may push Toy Story 4 over the line. But this is one year where Disney-Pixar is not a sure thing.
Preference: Maybe it’s so close this year because there are no great movies in contention. In a field of flawed but mostly likable big-screen cartoons, the poky charms and elbow-grease technical wonders of Missing Link get our stamp of modest approval. Consider it, too, a makeup Oscar for LAIKA’s criminally unrewarded ParaNorman.
Prediction: The Academy has a strange, regular habit of snubbing some of the year’s most popular and acclaimed documentaries. This year, for example, the nonfiction committee left out the majestic Apollo 11, a towering work of archival reconstruction timed to the anniversary of the moon landing. In its absence, one could make a case for almost all of these nominees—American Factory is Obama-approved, The Cave is from a past nominee, and Honeyland is double represented over in the foreign-language category. But For Sama, which finds a personal angle on the war in Syria, may have the proper, urgent emotional pull most winners of this particular award possess.
Preference: If For Sama doesn’t take it, the Oscar may go instead to American Factory, a gripping portrait of the attempts by a Chinese company to open a new manufacturing hub in Ohio, integrating their own workforce with the former employees of a shuttered GM plant. The culture-clash humor could appeal to voters exhausted by the grimmer visions the film is competing against.
Nominees: Corpus Christi; Honeyland; Les Misérables; Pain And Glory; Parasite
Prediction: Its Best Picture chances may be shakier than some are insisting, but there’s no way Parasite isn’t winning this newly retitled award; as Roma reinforced just last year, any movie that manages to slip into both categories will almost always demolish the competition here. Those other films just don’t stand a chance against one so beloved, it’s represented outside of the ghetto the Academy has constructed for world cinema.
Preference: Maybe if France had selected Portrait Of A Lady On Fire instead of Les Misérables, we could mount a case for something other than Parasite. But Bong’s film, whose winning streak began last May at Cannes, deserves its accolades; it’s broken through with a wider audience because it’s wildly entertaining and almost universally resonant—because it’s so good, in other words, that even the subtitle-allergic have made an exception.
Nominees: 1917, Roger Deakins; The Irishman, Rodrigo Prieto; Joker, Lawrence Sher; The Lighthouse, Jarin Blaschke; Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Robert Richardson
Prediction: As with many Oscar categories, Best Cinematography tends to be dominated by the most noticeable achievements, i.e., the the prettiest imagery or the showiest camerawork. There’s lots of the latter in 1917, which unfolds via a series of gruelingly extended shots, constantly advertising the craft and labor that went into its construction. In other words, Roger Deakins will probably have two Oscars by this time next week.
Preference: Is there such a thing as a bad-looking black-and-white movie? Okay, of course there is. But Jarin Blaschke’s gloriously atmospheric work on The Lighthouse still makes a convincing case against color cinematography; its monochromatic imagery pulls the audience deeply into the menace, mystery, and isolation of an old world, no “immersive” long takes required.
Nominees: Ford V Ferrari, Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland; The Irishman, Thelma Schoonmaker; Jojo Rabbit, Tom Eagles; Joker, Jeff Groth; Parasite, Jinmo Yang
Prediction: What were we just saying about noticeable achievements? However much skill it requires to seamlessly stitch together a bunch of takes into one or two passages of seemingly continuous action, the lack of discernible cuts probably cost 1917 a nomination here. No such roadblock stands in the way of Ford V Ferrari and its comprehensively organized racing sequences—nor, for that matter, the snappy, flowing action of Parasite, whose recent prize from the American Cinema Editors and standing as a strong Best Picture challenger probably propel it to a photo finish in this competitive category.
Preference: The punchlines, the mounting suspense, the diabolical leaps forward and backward in time as a plan comes together: So much of Parasite’s genre-straddling power rests on its editing. A very close second would be Thelma Schoonmaker’s typically propulsive and rhythmic work on The Irishman, which helps make three and a half hours of incident feel much shorter.
Nominees: 1917, Thomas Newman; Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir; Little Women, Alexandre Desplat; Marriage Story, Randy Newman; Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, John Williams
Prediction: It’s Newman versus Newman, as Randy’s jaunty Marriage Story music goes head-to-head against cousin Thomas’ prototypically stirring, mournful theme for 1917. The latter has the stronger odds, though he may lose to up-and-coming Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, whose cello-driven Joker soundtrack recently won the Golden Globe.
Preference: Lovely as Alexandre Desplat’s Little Women compositions are, this may be one Oscar that Joker actually deserves to win. Guðnadóttir’s achingly melancholic strings are instrumental, har har, to the movie’s occasional flirtation with a genuine resonance—which is to say, if this blockbuster ever gets within spitting range of the tragic power it covets, the bombastic but genuinely memorable and haunting score deserves a lot of the credit.
Prediction: No “Shallow”-sized hit in the running this year. No Gaga-grade pop-star wattage either—neither Taylor Swift nor Beyoncé made the cut for their respective contributions to experiments in feline expression. But memories of the original Lion King and its smash soundtrack may benefit an older star, Elton John, whose highly forgettable Rocketman original “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” might be the probable favorite in a very weak lineup.
Preference: Or maybe the Academy will go instead for “Into The Unknown,” a blatant attempt on Disney’s part to inflict another “Let It Go” on the world. It’s actually pretty catchy, though, and a fine showcase for Idina Menzel’s astonishingly powerful, elastic voice. Hearing her go higher and louder with each line of the chorus may be a highlight of Sunday’s broadcast.
Nominees: 1917, Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales; The Irishman, Bob Shaw, Regina Graves; Jojo Rabbit, Ra Vincent, Nora Sopkova; Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh; Parasite, Lee Ha-Jun, Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, Cho Hee
Prediction: Trenches, underground tunnels, and the ruins of bombed-out cities do count as production design, we suppose. Still, winning this award would be an early omen of Oscar-night dominance for 1917. The safer bet is Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, which could spark fond memories in some of the Academy’s older members, given how meticulously it reconstructs a bygone Los Angeles they usually only visit in their dreams.
Preference: Whatever else it is, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is truly remarkable as a guided tour of a different era, obsessively conjured through buildings, billboards, and the thorough time-capsule city planning of Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh. The film might earn this Oscar on the strength of one sequence alone: that nifty montage of neon signs flickering on.
Nominees: The Irishman, Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson; Jojo Rabbit, Mayes C. Rubeo; Joker, Mark Bridges; Little Women, Jacqueline Durran; Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Arianne Phillips
Prediction: Recent wins for the future-shock duds of Black Panther and Fury Road have loosened the dressmakers’ historic stranglehold on this category. But given the uncharacteristic dearth of flowing frills competing, there’s no danger of Little Women splitting the costume-drama vote. Another point in its favor: Some of the characters themselves obsess over their clothing—and that assuredly benefitted Phantom Thread a couple years ago.
Preference: Fashion is just another element that Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood uses to transport us back in time, to a town and movie industry on the precipice between Old and New. That it evokes its period without looking like a costume-trunk parody of the hippie heyday is a testament to Arianne Phillips’ carefully, exhaustively stocked wardrobe.
Nominees: 1917, Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis, Rebecca Cole; Bombshell, Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan, Vivian Baker; Joker, Nicki Ledermann, Kay Georgiou; Judy, Jeremy Woodhead; Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil, Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten, David White
Prediction: Last year, the team from Vice won this award for turning Christian Bale into the spitting image of Dick Cheney. There’s no reason to think that Charlize Theron’s even-more-impressive transformation into Megyn Kelly in the likeminded Bombshell won’t follow suit.
Preference: Theron really does look like Kelly, doesn’t she? Bombshell’s uncanny face transplant demands to be recognized, even if the film never matches the physical illusion with a truthful portrayal of Kelly’s career, legacy, or, you know, general awfulness.
Nominees: 1917, Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate; Ford V Ferrari, Don Sylvester; Joker, Alan Robert Murray; Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Wylie Stateman; Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Matthew Wood, David Acord
Prediction: There have been recent rumblings of the Academy combining its two sound categories, perhaps as an acknowledgement that many of its members don’t actually know the difference between them. Best Sound Editing, as a reminder, honors the creation of individual sonic elements—you know, like gunfire, which is the exact kind of sound effect that often contributes to a win in this category. 1917, of course, has lots of whizzing bullets, along with crackling flames, deafening explosions, roaring airplane engines… the whole noisy hell of the First World War. Bank on Oscar voters honoring all that, even if they don’t know exactly what or who they’re voting for.
Preference: What makes almost as much noise as war? Race cars do. Ford V Ferrari has a shot here, too, applying its own considerable foley-artist talent to everything humming under the hood of a speeding automobile. And it should win: We really feel like we’re in the car with Ken Miles, thanks in no small part to the symphony of mechanical and environmental sounds the film bombards us with during its spectacular racing sequences.
Nominees: 1917, Mark Taylor, Stuart Wilson; Ad Astra, Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Mark Ulano; Ford V Ferrari, Paul Massey, David Giammarco, Steven A. Morrow; Joker, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Tod Maitland; Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler, Mark Ulano
Prediction: Sound Mixing, on the other hand, was conceived as a way to honor the whole of a movie’s soundtrack, the way its various sonic components are mixed and how they interact. Music movies tend to do well in the category, but with Rocketman missing a nomination (and Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood’s FM radio soundtrack not quite prominent enough to designate it a full-blown audiophile epic), we have a hunch cacophony will come out on top here, too. Which is to say, 1917’s haul probably gets a little bigger.
Preference: Look, James Gray’s majestic space odyssey Ad Astra should have been up for a lot of awards; its exclusion from the visual-effects category is especially egregious. But you don’t need to angle for a consolation prize for the film to reason that it deserves this Oscar on its own merits: the expert alternation between the spooky vacuum silence of the cosmos and the intrusion of jarring action-movie stings, like the scream of a floating primate or the boom-boom of traded shots on the lunar surface. It’s a science-fiction symphony worthy of at least this one ovation.
Nominees: 1917, Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, Dominic Tuohy; Avengers: Endgame, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken, Dan Sudick; The Irishman, Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser, Stephane Grabli; The Lion King, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Elliot Newman; Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, Dominic Tuohy
Prediction: For all the slots blockbusters annually fill on this lineup, the Academy almost always gravitates toward the most respectable of the nominated films, whether or not they necessarily boast the most impressive effects. But even wide support for The Irishman probably can’t assure it an Oscar for its divisively received de-aging technique, which some find much more distracting than astonishing. That means the award probably goes to 1917’s integration of CGI planes and explosions into its one-shot set pieces.
Preference: Justice, again, for Ad Astra, which boasted last year’s most inventive and jaw-dropping effects work, but somehow failed to even make the short list. (At least Cats, which did, isn’t nominated.) Inclined to conclude that this one should go to anything but The Lion King’s counterproductively realistic animal kingdom, but will instead salute the comparatively subtle efforts of 1917, which does cleanly mesh its practical and digital warfare.