The 92nd Annual Academy Awards, honoring the best in film from 2019, take place Sunday night – and the big question is, “Does anybody care?”
We know that people will watch. That’s still a guarantee. Every year, the telecast is among the highest-rated broadcasts of any given television season. But the numbers are certainly not what they used to be, and have been steadily falling.
Except last year!
After four straight years of declines, leading to the all-time lowest-rated Oscars show in history in 2018 (still a decent 26.5 million U.S. viewers, but well off the astounding 57.2 million in 1998 when “Titanic” won), viewership actually went up last year to about 29.6 million.
Why the increase? Some might say the decision to not have a host could have had something to do with it. More realistically though, it was likely the “Black Panther” effect.
We have nearly 70 years of TV data to show that when big blockbusters are nominated, more people tune in. And “Black Panther” was one of the biggest of 2018 (grossing $1.3 billion globally) – the second highest grossing movie of that year.
This year the highest grossing nominated film is “Joker”. And while this also-comic-book-based film grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide too, its dark and dour subject material didn’t exactly engender the same sort of near-universal affection and praise as “Black Panther”.
And after a quick glance at the list of most of the rest of this year’s nominated films, one can’t exactly imagine hordes of viewers getting overly excited about perching themselves in front of a television for what always seems like a too-lengthy production – whether with or without a host.
So again, will anyone care?
Nevertheless, “Joker”, with 11 nods, received the most nominations; followed by 10 each for “The Irishman”, “1917” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”; six for “Jojo Rabbit”, “Little Women”, “Marriage Story” and “Parasite”; and four for “Ford v Ferrari”.
As has become an annual tradition, I will pick my personal favorites or what/who should win in each of the major categories, and also what/who I believe is most likely to win, taking into account the politics of the Academy and the psyche of the Academy voters. Many times, these actually all align.
I’ll start with Best Picture, and continue with the most unpredictable categories, and then the sure bets (like Lead Actor and Actress – read on to see why). And I’ve even included the writing categories this year.
Next week, we’ll see just how well I did with my picks. And you can email me your predictions at email@example.com.
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Two-and-a-half horse race
Unlike last year when one could find little fault with the stellar movies in this category, I don’t exactly agree with everything that’s been included here. Some great pictures were left off in favor of some films which were merely “okay”. “Knives Out” or even “Hustlers” seem like glaring omissions.
None of that matters now, of course, especially as this was always going to be a race between two movies, with one dark horse lurking in the background.
That potential spoiler is “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. Hollywood loves a Hollywood story. Always! (That can explain why so many there were just gaga a few years back over the not-worth-the-hype “La La Land”.)
“Once Upon a Time…” won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. And it won the Critics’ Choice for Best Picture.
Last year’s Critics’ Choice winner, “Roma”, was only the fourth winner since 2008 that didn’t go on to win the Oscar. However, “Roma” was also a foreign language film. And never before has such a picture won at the Oscars.
But could 2020 be the year this all changes?
The only thing standing in the way of the South Korean comedy/drama/thriller “Parasite” accomplishing this feat is World War I drama “1917”.
“Parasite” is only the 12th ever foreign language film nominated in the overall Best Picture category, but it has been battling it out with “1917” all awards season, with the former winning at the Screen Actors Guild and (for best Foreign Language film) at the British Academy Awards (BAFTAs).
But also, at those BAFTAs, “1917” won Best Picture, and that’s in addition to wins at the Golden Globes for Best Picture – Drama and Directors Guild.
Before I saw “Parasite”, I was all but certain “1917” would be the Oscar winner. “1917” is an astonishing picture, but “Parasite” was the most surprising film of the year.
While “Roma” was a great film, it certainly didn’t feel like the movie to break what has seemed an insurmountable hurdle. Plus, “Parasite” has topped more critics’ lists for best movie of the year than any other film, and by a wide margin. This would be a great year for history to be made.
If it were up to me, I wouldn’t know which one of these two to pick.
Thankfully it’s not!
My personal favorite: tie – “1917” and “Parasite”
What will win: “Parasite”
Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”)
Todd Phillips (“Joker”)
Sam Mendes (“1917”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”)
Oscar #2 for Mendes
In the order of show, Best Director comes before Best Picture – the final award of the night. And if (when) Sam Mendes wins here for “1917”, then it would be a safe bet that “Parasite” will be the ultimate winner of the night.
Alternatively, a win for Bong Joon Ho for “Parasite” could mean Mendes’ “1917” would win Best Picture.
But the clearest indication that this is Mendes’ award is that he won Best Director for the second time (his first was for his directorial debut, the five-time Oscar-winning “American Beauty”) at last month’s Directors Guild Awards (DGAs).
Only seven times since the DGAs were first handed out in 1938 has the Best Director winner not gone on to win the Oscar. The streak has been unbroken since 2012 when poor Ben Affleck won, but didn’t even get nominated for the Academy Awards. (To add insult to injury, Affleck’s film “Argo” won the Oscar for Best Picture.)
Like it was last year for Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) in 2016 and Alejandro G. Inarritu (“The Revenant”) in 2015, a win for Mendes would be a sort of consolation prize for his film not winning Best Picture.
Nevertheless, it would be extremely well-deserved.
My personal favorite: Sam Mendes (“1917”)
Who will win: Sam Mendes (“1917”)
Writing (Original Screenplay)
Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”)
Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”)
Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won (“Parasite”)
It’s so disheartening that Original Screenplay was the only Oscar nomination for the fantastic “Knives Out”, which was overflowing with sparkling performances, thanks to the script’s intelligent and quick-witted dialogue.
While it would be nice to see Rian Johnson receive some recognition for his work, this appears to be another two-and-a-half to three-horse race. Once again, it comes down to “1917”, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite”.
I think Quentin Tarantino will win his third Academy Award (he has much better luck winning Oscars for his screenplays than for directing – for which his record is 0 and 3).
That way, the Academy Awards will have spread the love around for the three most dominant movies this season.
My personal favorite: Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won (“Parasite”)
Who will win: Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Steven Zaillian (“The Irishman”)
Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Todd Philips & Scott Silver (“Joker”)
Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”)
Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”)
Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” is the most outrageous and exciting of these five films, and the one which most likely took the greatest liberties with the source material. It’s also the most controversial picture in this category, and possibly of all the Best Picture nominees. However, it’s one of the most unforgettable.
While the ever-politically-conscious Academy voters may seek to counter the constant criticism and bad press about the dearth of nominations and awards for women (outside of the acting categories) by rewarding Greta Gerwig for “Little Women”, this 500th adaptation of the classic novel (well, it appears there have been about six films, and perhaps a dozen television versions) can’t hold a candle to the balls-out creativity of Waititi’s work.
My personal favorite: Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Who will win: Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Actress in a Supporting Role
Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”)
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Florence Pugh (“Little Women”)
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)
History’s on Jo’s side
I’m still upset Jennifer Lopez was snubbed for “Hustlers”. Some have won in this category for performances half as good as hers.
I’m not sure why Oscar-winner Kathy Bates is nominated for “Richard Jewell”. This was not even that film’s best performance. Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde and especially Paul Walter Hauser as the title character were all far more interesting.
J-Lo – while she might not have won – at least deserved the recognition.
Anyway, one can’t argue much with the other actresses on this list, particularly Margot Robbie, who’s delightful in “Bombshell”, and Laura Dern, who steals every single scene in which she appears in “Marriage Story”.
The momentum appears to be behind Dern, who has garnered near universal praise for her role. And a win for her would not be a surprise.
However, history has already been made at these 92nd Academy Awards, even before the first statuettes are handed out.
Scarlett Johansson, affectionately known as ScarJo, this year became only the 12th actor in the history of the awards – going back to 1929 – to be nominated for two Oscars in the same year.
And here’s the most interesting thing about the 11 previous nominations; seven times now the actor nominated twice has gone on to win one of the awards.
Only four times did the nominee go home empty handed. And if we consider that one of those four times occurred in 1993, a most unusual year, when two actresses, Holly Hunter and Emma Thompson, both received two nominations, then Hunter’s Best Actress win for “The Piano”, cancelled out Thompson – proving again that almost every time, a double nominee wins.
In addition to Thompson, only Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett didn’t win anything when they were double nominees in 1988, 2002 and 2007 respectively.
Best Actor Jamie Foxx for “Ray” in 2004 was the last double nominee to win.
The odds may be in ScarJo’s favor! And it would be a well-deserved honor. Her performance in “Jojo Rabbit” is arguably stronger and more memorable than her performance in “Marriage Story”.
Don’t be too shocked if there is a Johansson “upset” over Dern, for ScarJo’s first two nominations after years of great work.
My personal favorite: Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Who will win: Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Actor in a Supporting Role
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”)
One of these men is not like the others.
Who’s the odd man
Brad Pitt is the only one who doesn’t have an Oscar. (Tom Hanks already has two!)
Pitt’s character is also the only one not based on a real person.
While Hanks is freakishly good as Mr. Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, and Anthony Hopkins seems to actually become Pope Benedict, and Joe Pesci gives what may be the performance of his career, this is possibly the best work Pitt has done as well.
And with Pitt cleaning up in this category, with wins at the British Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice Awards, this would be the biggest surprise of the night if he weren’t to win.
My personal favorite: Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Who will win: Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Actor in a Leading Role
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”)
In any other year, this might be Jonathan Pryce’s award.
But this was the year of Joaquin Phoenix, who blew everyone away with his chilling and mesmerizing “Joker”.
There’s nothing else to say!
My personal favorite: Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)
Who will win: Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)
Actress in a Leading Role
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”)
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)
Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)
With so many fantastic performances, all of these actresses are deserving of this award.
But Renée Zellweger has owned this since it was first announced she would be playing the legendary Judy Garland.
Besides it being a spellbindingly spot-on portrayal, the Academy loves when an actor plays a struggling, drugged up entertainer.
Maybe it’s quite relatable for the voters.
My personal favorite: Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)
Who will win: Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)
• Dwight Strachan is the host/ producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.