92nd Academy Awards: Predictions, Round I

Image courtesy of Neon.

As one might have expected, this year’s Oscar nominations honored a few good films – and a far larger number of mediocre and bad ones. Here are some initial predictions and comments.

PICTURE

Film TFW Rating
Ford v Ferrari * ½
The Irishman ***
Jojo Rabbit *
Joker **
Little Women ***
Marriage Story ** ½
1917 *
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ** ½
Parasite ***

Will: It’s unclear at this point. 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood both won at the Golden Globes, and the latter also won at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Neither of them, however, got a nomination in the rather crucial Best Film Editing category. (That said, this could be because neither of them is exactly distinguished by its editing. The former looks like it only consists of two long takes, while the latter is noticeably slow for a Tarantino film.)

Other possible contenders all have issues of their own. The Irishman got a lot of nominations, but as of this writing, it hasn’t exactly been winning much on the awards circuit. Given the Academy’s preference for “safe,” feel-good films (see Green Book, The Shape of Water, Spotlight, The King’s Speech, Crash…), Joker is probably too controversial to win. And Parasite, despite its large following, has the downside of not being in the English language.

My guess at this point would be 1917. But things could change.

Should: One of these nominees (Ford v Ferrari) is simply bad. Two of them (Jojo Rabbit, 1917) offer sentimentalized depictions of war that conveniently overlook uncomfortable questions of moral responsibility and guilt. A couple others have merits that are overshadowed by nauseating self-pity and narcissism (Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). And still others (Marriage Story, The Irishman) could be characterized as exemplars of “condescending feminism” – namely, films whose form and narrative structure work in opposition to their surface condemnations of self-centered masculinity.

The remaining two nominees, Parasite and Little Women, were hardly the best films of 2019. But neither makes any egregious mistakes. And the latter in particular is a refreshing example of a literary adaptation done right.

Snubbed: Unsurprisingly, a great number of worthy films were overlooked, including (in no particular order): The Chambermaid, Rojo, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Synonyms, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Ash Is Purest White, An Elephant Sitting Still, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

DIRECTOR

Director Film
Bong Joon-ho Parasite
Sam Mendes 1917
Todd Phillips Joker
Martin Scorsese The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will: Sam Mendes (1917) won at both the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, so he’s probably the favorite. However, this could certainly change – especially if the Directors Guild ends up choosing someone else.

Should: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite). I confess that I’m nowhere nearly as enthusiastic about Bong’s latest film as many people are, and the Academy’s interest in it reeks of token cosmopolitanism. (On a side note, it is instructive to compare Parasite and Burning, a Korean film that was released last year. Both deal with themes like economic inequality and spiritual deprivation. Yet only Parasite has received significant mainstream recognition – a fact that can be explained when you realize that, in comparison to Burning, Parasite adheres much more closely to the stylistic dictates of classical narrative cinema.)

As I said earlier, however, Parasite doesn’t make any egregious mistakes. And the films of Bong’s fellow nominees all have major issues of their own, like self-pity (Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), superficial nostalgia (1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and rather one-dimensional views of female characters (The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).

Snubbed: Some of the more noteworthy snubs included Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Bi Gan (Long Day’s Journey Into Night), Hu Bo (An Elephant Sitting Still), Lila Avilés (The Chambermaid), and Nadav Lapid (Synonyms).

ACTOR

Actor Film
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: Per Metacritic, many critics’ groups have opted for Adam Driver (Marriage Story). But Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) probably has the edge, given that he won at both the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Should: Driver, whose eloquent performance helps make up for Noah Baumbach’s somewhat narcissistic and sexist direction.

Snubbed: Among others: Tom Mercier (Synonyms), Brad Pitt (Ad Astra), and Franz Rogowski (Transit).

ACTRESS

Actress Film
Cynthia Erivo Harriet
Scarlett Johansson Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan Little Women
Charlize Theron Bombshell
Renée Zellweger Judy

Will: For months, critics have been calling Renée Zellweger (Judy) the front-runner in this category. Considering that she won at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, they’re probably not wrong. 

Should: Bombshell is a deeply flawed film. But Charlize Theron deserves credit for capturing what Joe Morgenstern aptly called “the zest, the swagger, the hunger, the smarts, [and] the self-delight” of Megyn Kelly.

Snubbed: Gabriela Cartol (The Chambermaid), Alfre Woodard (Clemency), Mary Kay Place (Diane), Honor Swinton Byrne (The Souvenir), Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Actor Film
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: If the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards are any guide, Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) has an advantage here. 

Should: Brad Pitt, for being the only actor in this category who didn’t take his role too seriously.

Snubbed: Tom Burke (The Souvenir), Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse).

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Actress Film
Kathy Bates Richard Jewell
Laura Dern Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh Little Women
Margot Robbie Bombshell

Will: Going by the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards…Laura Dern (Marriage Story). 

Should: Florence Pugh, whose performances (see 2017’s Lady Macbeth) deserve much more recognition than they’ve gotten.

Snubbed: Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell), Taylor Russell (Waves).