The pre-show hype suggests this could be the year that a foreign film wins the Best Picture award, with Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” — a dark comedy about a poor Korean family who wheedle themselves into the lives of the wealthy Park family with disastrous results — hotly tipped to make history (which would basically require Hollywood to accept that Hollywood might not have made the year’s best film — a big ask. And it will surely win Best International Feature Film). Its closest rival seems to be Sam Mendes’ remarkable filmmaking feat “1917” — a stunning war movie cleverly edited to play as one long tracking shot following two British soldiers in their desperate race against time to call off a planned attack that will likely result in a massacre. Elsewhere, both Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” are nominated, and while no one would be hugely upset if either won, it’s clear that neither are their makers’ best work, so it would be something of a disappointment if they picked up the gong. Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” has similar issues going against it; while it’s a masterful — arguably definitive — adaptation of a classic, it’s also a film that has now been made seven times, so lack of originality is a strong argument against a win. Noah Baumbach’s fearless look at the breakdown of a marriage and a couple’s attempts to keep their family functioning amid divorce — “Marriage Story” — is a strong contender with nine other nominations. But — and this is a big “but” — it’s also a Netflix film, which will surely lose it some Academy votes. It would be a huge surprise if “Jojo Rabbit” — Taika Waititi’s (very) dark comedy about a young German boy and Hitler Youth member who discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home — were to win. It ticks boxes for originality, certainly, but is likely too divisive for traditionally conservative Oscar voters. James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” has just four nominations in total (with only one ‘major’ category), and despite being a genuinely exciting movie with beautifully shot car races, it would be a shock win. Todd Phillips’ “Joker” has the most nominations of any film this year, with 11, and was a truly game-changing movie, taking the superhero/villain blockbuster into the kind of territory normally reserved for arthouse cinema with its examination of Arthur Fleck’s downward spiral from struggling, mentally troubled wannabe comedian into deranged murderer, the Joker. However, “Joker” is still, at heart, a comic-book adaptation, and will likely suffer from the associations that carries for older Academy judges, who may feel that any such movie cannot be of sufficient ‘weight’ to claim Best Picture.
Our prediction: “1917”
This is a tough category to call. If “1917” wins Best Picture, then it would be hard to argue against Sam Mendes picking up the prize. However, there’s a lot of buzz around Quentin Tarantino, understandably — “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is not his best movie, but it is a very, very good one and it could be that the Academy feels that now is the time to honor this undeniably great filmmaker. Particularly since his film pays heartfelt homage to the industry and town they love. Of course, Martin Scorsese can never be discounted when it comes to awards for directing. “The Irishman” may be a little over-indulgent, but it bears all the hallmarks of his beloved gangster classics. If Bong Joon-ho were to win, it would be almost as big a shock as his “Parasite” picking up Best Picture, but Alfonso Cuarón won this prize last year for a foreign-language movie (“Roma”), so there is a precedent. There are many who feel Todd Phillips deserves the win for “Joker,” but we just can’t see it happening — the Academy rarely goes that left-field.
Our prediction: Quentin Tarantino
As fading film director Salvador Mallo in Pedro Almodòvar’s “Pain And Glory,” Antonio Banderas is undeniably excellent. As is Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in “The Two Popes” (and Pryce is a Brit, who have traditionally fared pretty well in this category). But they are the outsiders in this strong field. Leonardo DiCaprio laid his Oscars jinx to rest in 2016, finally winning after five previous nominations, and while his role as Rick Dalton in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has been universally well-received, it might be that the Academy feels less pressure to recognize DiCaprio this time around. Adam Driver will surely win this award one day — it’s clear he’s one of the finest actors of his generation. But we don’t think it’s going to be for “Marriage Story,” as good as he is as tyrannical director but loving husband and father Charlie Barber. Ultimately, it’s hard to see past Joaquin Phoenix and his mesmeric performance in “Joker.” Firstly, it’s the safest way for the Academy to recognize the film in this year’s main categories. Secondly, it’s a genuinely fantastic piece of acting, with Phoenix displaying a range of physical and vocal skills that is — in the truest sense of the word — awesome.
Our prediction: Joaquin Phoenix
If only because of history — the Academy has a track record of awarding the Best Actress prize to twenty-somethings (while Best Actor often goes to veterans) — Saoirse Ronan (who plays Jo March in “Little Women”) would be a solid tip for this award. Add in the fact that she’s brilliant in Greta Gerwig’s acclaimed adaptation and she looks to have a great chance. Cynthia Erivo has the advantage of playing a real-life person (always a bonus with the Academy) for her role as slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman in “Harriet,” something that may also play in favor of 2004 winner Charlize Theron, who put in a memorable turn as Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell” — about the sexual harassment accusations that brought down CEO Roger Ailes. But they will likely all be overshadowed by another former winner, Renée Zellwegger, whose stellar show as Judy Garland in “Judy” has been universally praised, and the Academy may be unable to resist rounding off a narrative that mirrors the film (which depicts Garland’s attempts to make a comeback in her late-forties) — Zellwegger’s return from a seemingly insurmountable career dip and six-year hiatus — could be fittingly crowned with an Oscar. Her closest contender may well be Scarlett Johansson for her emotive and adept performance as Nicole Barber in “Marriage Story,” a role that earned the Marvel star her first Oscar nomination.
Our prediction: Renée Zellwegger
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Arab world’s hopes this year rest on this category alone, but — remarkably — two of the five nominees are from Arab filmmakers. “For Sama,” Waad Al-Kateab’s deeply moving personal account of her life (and those of her husband and daughter, for whom the film is named) in Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War is a stunning and unforgettable film, and would be a worthy winner, as would Feras Fayyad’s “The Cave,” a “companion piece” to his acclaimed 2017 doc, “Last Men in Aleppo” that tells the story of Amani Ballour, a doctor in Ghouta who, during the Syrian Civil War, somehow contrived to cobble together a working hospital in a literal cave. They are the most immediately powerful films in the race, but face stiff competition from equally vital movies about, variously, a high-tech Chinese company’s attempts to revive an abandoned General Motors plant in Ohio — and the resulting culture clashes with working-class America, seen as a microcosm of the risks of global capitalism (“American Factory”); Brazil’s sociopolitical crisis, and rise of nationalism (“The Edge of Democracy”); and the environmental crisis told through the life of a Macedonian beekeeper (“Honeyland” — which is also nominated for Best International Feature Film).
Our prediction: “For Sama”