The Oscars have been working hard on messaging in recent years. The big message: change.
There will be different kinds of voters, different kinds of categories, different kinds of nominees, much more diversity.
Funny story: The Oscars somehow manage to stay the same. Oh sure, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to have given up on the idea of a host, after last year’s M.C.-less ceremony came off pretty well (and without anybody reading the wrong winner for the Best Picture award, like the year before that). That’s a change.
Last year I was convinced the Oscars would make history by anointing “Roma” the first-ever foreign-language Best Picture winner. But nope: A simpler and more reassuring crowd-pleaser took the top spot, “Green Book.”
It could happen this year, with “Parasite.” The South Korean film has been snagging a lot of awards elsewhere, for sure. But is Oscar really ready for this?
Maybe there will be some bombshells this time, but the indicators aren’t pointing in that direction. As usual, the acting awards seem destined for an agreed-on group of folks who have ticked the right boxes, whether it’s movie-star appeal, overdue recognition for a long career, or hard work in re-creating a historical person.
There’s mystery at the top, as Best Picture could go a few different ways. And will there be another split between Picture and Director, as has happened a lot lately? I think it’s likely.
But we must make predictions. Write these down in pencil — well, except for Brad Pitt, that one’s a lock — and hope for some surprises. And best of luck to this year’s host — oh, never mind.
These are picks I think will win, not necessarily the ones I’d vote for. The envelope, please:
BEST PICTURE. “1917.” This seems to be the consensus pick as the kind of movie Oscar usually rewards. And it’s an ingenious film, although in a year with two maestros hitting career peaks — Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” — a “1917” win feels a little like settling for the next best thing. We’ll find out if the Academy really has changes afoot if “Parasite” wins, but I suspect most voters will be content with that film taking the foreign-film award. The sleeper here is “Jojo Rabbit,” a movie that — for reasons slightly elusive to me — people seem to absolutely love. Also-rans are “Marriage Story,” “Little Women,” “Joker” and “Ford v. Ferrari.”
BEST ACTRESS. Renee Zellweger, “Judy.” This is the across-the-board prediction by Oscar clairvoyants, and Zellweger’s impersonation of Judy Garland is exactly the kind of thing that wins awards — so why am I skeptical? An award to relative newcomer Cynthia Erivo, for playing Harriet Tubman in “Harriet,” would be a decisive way of welcoming new talent. Then again, the still-young Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”) is going to win sooner or later; Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”) and Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”) feel less likely this year.
BEST ACTOR. Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker.” A sure thing. Phoenix’s sometimes astonishing turn as the world’s worst stand-up comic is widely admired, even by people who don’t dig the movie. There’s wonderful work from the other nominees, including career-best performances by Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”) and Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”), the first nomination for the much-respected Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”), and a nod for Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”), an actor who seemed to be everywhere this year.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS. Laura Dern, “Marriage Story.” It’s not even her best work, but Dern is the favorite for a career award. Beware: This category has often been a place where exciting new actors are rewarded, and that description fits Florence Pugh, who was not only delightful in her nominated “Little Women” performance but titanic in another 2019 film, “Midsommar.” Probably out are Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”), Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”) and Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR. Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” I will just note that Pitt should be in the Best Actor category and then I’ll let that go. His relaxed stride through Tarantino’s 1969 SoCal wonderland was the epitome of what we look for in movie stars, including the appearance of effortlessness. In another year, Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”) would be a favorite here, for a performance that’s actually supporting — and Al Pacino gave his smartest performance in years in the same film. Also in the ring: Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Anthony Hopkins (who may be on screen longer in his “supporting” role in “The Two Popes” than he is for his Best Actor Oscar win in “Silence of the Lambs”).
BEST DIRECTOR. Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite.” Really just a wild guess. It could easily go to Sam Mendes for “1917,” or to Tarantino (who’s never won a directing Oscar), or to Scorsese, because he’s Scorsese. The only unlikely choice would be Todd Phillips, for “Joker.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino. He’s an Oscar favorite in this category, and the film probably won’t win Best Picture, so why not? This could be a spot for “Parasite,” however, as a consolation prize. Less likely to go to “Marriage Story,” “1917” or “Knives Out.”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY. “Little Women,” Greta Gerwig. An inventive piece of adaptation, and voters may lean toward awarding a woman in the otherwise under-represented writing categories. The spoiler is Taika Waititi’s script for “Jojo Rabbit,” a film that (as you may have heard) everybody loves. There doesn’t seem to be as much buzz around “The Irishman,” “The Two Popes” or “Joker.”
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE. “Toy Story 4.” Pixar went to the well again, and came up strong. There’s always a chance for a dark horse in this category — the French curio “I Lost My Body” has won some critics’ awards, and “Klaus” was the surprise winner at the BAFTAs. There’s also “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and “Missing Link.”
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE. “Honeyland.” Some terrific nominees in this group, but maybe this fascinating study of a beekeeper in Eastern Europe could have the edge over the more traditional style of “American Factory,” the next most likely winner. Also possible: “The Edge of Democracy,” “For Sama” and “The Cave.”
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE. “Parasite,” South Korea. The biggest foreign-language in the U. S. last year, to say nothing of its other nominations, should bring it the win. The others are “Pain and Glory” (Spain), “Honeyland” (North Macedonia), “Les Miserables” (France) and “Corpus Christi” (Poland).
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE. “Joker,” Hilda Gudnadottir. An interesting, offbeat musical score — but don’t count out the more traditional sound of “1917” (that film’s composer, Thomas Newman, has been nominated 15 times, without a win). Probably less likely are “Marriage Story,” “Little Women” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
BEST SONG. “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Elton John and Bernie Taupin, from “Rocketman.” A chance to give an Oscar to a classic songwriting team, unless those sneaks from “Frozen II” get another one. Less probable are songs from “Harriet,” “Toy Story 4” and “Breakthrough.”
92nd Academy Awards
The show begins at 5 p.m. today on ABC (Channel 4).