The last three years I’ve covered the Oscar race, we’ve had a variety of crazy races. We’ve watched an open-and-shut year completely fall apart. We’ve watched a year where four films battled it out as stat-breakers before what should have been the most obvious film waltzed to the top. And we watched a year that should have been obvious, but we talked ourselves out of it throughout. As we approach the 92nd Academy Awards, things finally appear to be rather simple…unless, of course, it’s not.
It’s hard to look at the Oscar race this year without assuming that Sam Mendes’ 1917 will win Best Picture. It has thus far won the BAFTAs in a clean sweep, the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild Award (the only other show to use the preferential ballot), and the Directors Guild Award. It also has support in the form of ten nominations, as well as wins from the Sound and Cinematographers’ guilds. It’s also an easy film to get, even if you don’t love it (and while I respect it, I admit that I don’t love it). These are the stats that won The Shape of Water an Oscar, Twelve Years a Slave an Oscar, and beyond. In fact, 1917 is in good shape, as it will absolutely win Best Director, should beat close competitor Ford v Ferrari in both Sound categories, will win Best Cinematography, could upset Joker in Best Original Score, and could even win Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects (we’ll talk about these categories more in a bit). If it pulls off the upset in any of those latter three categories, look for a sweep and consider Best Picture locked up. But here’s the thing: 1917 is also a polarizing winner. It lacks the emotional “oomph” usually needed for Best Picture. It gets mixed results on the preferential ballot, as most of its #2 picks come from powerful contenders like Joker and Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. In fact, the contender it most resembles in terms of support and wins…is La La Land, the 2016 contender that seemed ready to sweep the Oscars only to lose to Moonlight at the last second. So while the smart money is still on 1917, it wouldn’t hurt to look around in the hopes of finding a potential upset, lest Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mess up at the Oscars again.
Looking through the Prefential Ballot Simulations I’ve been running online, the most consistent #2 and #3 votes tend to go, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, to Jojo Rabbit and Parasite. Now, if we’re in a really weird year, Jojo Rabbit could end up taking it – it’s the only feel-good nominee, and it has won a lot of smaller guilds, including Costumes, Editing, and the WGA. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and should it win two of those three categories on Sunday (it already has Adapted sewn up), watch out. But honestly, the most likely scenario is that Parasite is 1917’s biggest threat. In fact, it’s more than a likely scenario – it’s a dead heat. Parasite has won almost every guild award it was eligible for. It’s the film most people like to talk about. It’s the critical darling. It won the second most coveted prize, the SAG Award for Best Ensemble (meaning actors love it, which is not the case for 1917). And in every preferential ballot simulation I’ve tallied, even when it loses, it is consistently the most frequent #2 and #3 choice. It’s a shoo-in for Best International Film, and will likely win Best Original Screenplay to boot. Oh, and it passes The Travis Test, for what it’s worth. In fact, if there’s any film that’s in a Moonlight position, it’s this one. And if it pulls off an upset in Production Design or Editing, consider this race sewn up.
Of course, Parasite also comes with a hefty amount of baggage. It has yet to beat 1917 outright in a competition. It’s message is far from the uplifting one we’ve seen in Green Book and The Shape of Water and Moonlight and Spotlight and Argo and…you get the idea. And in its biggest struggle yet, it’s a foreign language film. No foreign language film has ever won Best Picture. To paraphrase Bong in his Golden Globe win: it’s a struggle to get older Academy voters “to move past that one inch text at the bottom of the screen and experience a new world of cinema.” For that reason alone, it can end up at the bottom of ballots, and when factored into those simulations I’ve run, it ends up falling out of the race around the midway point. Because of these factors, I’m predicting 1917 to still win Best Picture with five wins (Picture, Director, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography), while Parasite will walk away with two (Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film). But make no mistake: this will be a close race, and while I’m voting with my head to avoid a Shape of Water/Green Book-esque upset, I could very much end up overlooking my heart, as I did with Spotlight and The Hurt Locker.
Thankfully, while the top prize is up in the air, the rest of the Top Eight is pretty much wrapped up. Joaquin Phoenix will waltz away with the Best Actor prize, Renée Zellweger will win her second Oscar for playing Judy Garland, Brad Pitt will charm his way to a first prize in Supporting Actor, and Laura Dern will finally win a Best Supporting Actress award. Mendes will win Best Director, while Parasite and Jojo Rabbit will win Original and Adapted Screenplay. I would also say that Original Score and Song are locks, as Joker’s Hildur Guõnadóttir should walk away as the first female winner in twenty years for a solid score that perhaps overshadowed the film, and Elton John and Bernie Taupin look to win their first major award together ever (a weird stat that should make them a lock). Oh, and the Oscars love a good fat suit, so consider Bombshell a lock for turning John Lithgow and Charlize Theron into Roger Ailes and Megyn Kelly, respectively. However, after that, things tend to range from “seems likely” to “holy sh*t this is impossible.”
Starting with the likely categories, we have Production Design and Costume Design. Both have serious competition in the form of 1917 and Jojo Rabbit. However, the Academy loves to spread the wealth between its Best Picture nominees, and considering they will win few awards elsewhere, this is their best chance to award Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood and Little Women. Hollywood was once seen as a frontrunner in both categories, and will likely still win for rebuilding classic Los Angeles in its former glory (although it faces stiff competition from frontrunners 1917 and Parasite). However, Hollywood has slowly become this year’s BlacKkKlansman – the stats frontrunner that slowly fell away as people just didn’t love it the way they needed to. While it may have Production Design close to in the bag, Costume Design will look to go another way. Jojo Rabbit won the Costumers Guild a few weeks back, but it didn’t have Little Women as a competitor at the time. Women has gone on to win at the BAFTAs, and considering it can’t win anywhere else at the Oscars, look for frills to once again win the day as it waltzes its way to Best Costume Design. But after that, things get tricky. Best Documentary seemed sewn up for the Obama-produced American Factory, but the film has time and time again seen itself upset by the beloved British documentary For Sama. The same goes for Animated Feature, which seemed locked for Toy Story 4, but consistently loses to the stop-motion Missing Link and traditionally-animated Klaus at every competition thus far. For the actual Oscars, the voting body tends to play things safe with the films they’ve for sure seen, so it would be foolhardy to bet against these two frontrunners, but watch out: if there’s an upset brewing, it’s one of these two categories.
Meanwhile, Visual Effects is something of an intuition game: Avengers: Endgame is the frontrunner, while 1917 and The Irishman are the challengers. However, while everyone looks here, I’m looking at the stats. The Academy hates Marvel – they only awarded Black Panther because it did everything the opposite of its contemporaries. And while statistically Best Picture contenders fare best here, this is only the case when the film in question is a major effects work – Hugo, Gravity, Inception, Avatar, etc. Films like The Revenant and The Martian lost to showier contenders. Therefore, I’m using the More Is Better rule (Blade Runner 2049, The Jungle Book) and predicting The Lion King to win Best Visual Effects. And then…there’s Film Editing. God, I hate this category. While past years it was easy to pick this award by picking the Most Editing (Dunkirk, Fury Road, Whiplash) or Most Popular Editing (Bohemian Rhapsody, Hacksaw Ridge, Gravity), this year’s category is a crapshoot. Three films seem to possess an equal chance of winning, and a fourth is an extreme underdog, leaving it almost impossible to predict a winner. On the one, you have the ACE Award winners Parasite and Jojo Rabbit. ACE has lined up with Best Film Editing for most of the past decade, giving these two films a strong leg up. Then you have the BAFTA winner, Ford v Ferrari, a flashy and logical leader that would give the Academy a chance to spread the wealth. But speaking of spreading the wealth, there’s also The Irishman. Edited by living legend Thelma Schoonmaker, The Irishman is a classic epic the likes of which we don’t see anymore. While epics don’t really win Best Editing anymore (if it’s over three hours, people don’t consider it editing), they used to have this category locked up. Older members of the Academy will surely miss these days and give the legend a vote for making a three-and-a-half hour saga feel like a breeze, thus keeping her in the race no matter how many awards she loses. And, in fact, it is for this reason I think Best Editing will give The Irishman its sole win of the evening. This is far and away my worst pick. It may ruin my chances of going 24-for-24. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take, and I’m going for the gold.
And finally, we have the shorts, which are, frankly, always a crapshoot. You can’t even judge based on merit, considering last year’s Live Action Short winner is one of the worst films I’ve seen. Therefore, I’m combining personal opinion, previous winners, and knowledge of the Academy together to come up with a clear frontrunner that…I guess will win? Let’s start with Animated Short. Far and away, there are only two great films in contention here, and a pretty good third film. While Memorable is a strong look at dementia, the two films most talked about are the highest profile contenders: Kitbull and Hair Love. For my money, Hair Love is the smartest, sweetest, funniest film of the bunch, and I can’t wait to watch it lose to Kitbull at the Oscars. Sorry Matthew Cherry, Pixar’s gonna spend way too much money to win an Oscar for its sweet friendship between a pitbull and a kitten. Hair Love wins in my heart. As for Live Action Short, things get a bit tougher. All five films are pretty great, and it’s hard to pick a winner. My personal favorite was the Coen-esque Nefta Football Club, which got the biggest applause of the bunch at my screening. Audiences may react to its clear-cut, funny, thrilling story. It could also go to Saria, a depressing short about Guatemalan orphans who were burned to death by an uncaring industrial complex. This is the type of depressing short that tends to win these awards. But frankly, foreign language shorts are always received poorly in this category. And considering multiple-nominee Marshall Curry is in contention with a terrific, somber short titled The Neighbor’s Window, I’m going to play the stats and pick Curry to win this category (if Saria ends up winning after I switched my prediction late in the game, I’m gonna be PISSED!). And finally, there’s Documentary Short. As of press time, I have yet to see any of these contenders, but from what I hear, it’s a two way race. On the one hand, there’s St. Louis Superman, about Missouri Congressman Bruce Franks Jr., a 34-year old who won a traditionally white district in the Missouri State Congress based on his dedication to the African-American community in the wake of Ferguson, while dealing with his own brother’s untimely death at the age of 9. Superman has the most clout, but Documentary Short tends to go to the most uplifting, positive-influence short in the category, like last year’s Period. End of Sentence. This year, that contender is Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl), a lovely doc about a group of young girls in Afghanistan who find a way to release tension and trauma through an Australian-run skateboarding park. The short has numerous fans, and should win the category with relative ease.
Well, that brings us to the end of the predictions process. This shockingly short, insane process will come to an end Sunday at 8:00 pm. With no host, we’ll have to depend on Billie Eilish, Idina Menzel, Elton John, and more to keep the show’s spirits high and lively. I’ll see you then, and until then, you can see my full predictions below, and feel free to leave your own predictions in the comments!
Best Picture: 1917
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Best Actress: Renée Zellweger – Judy
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt – Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Best Director: Sam Mendes – 1917
Best Original Screenplay: Parasite
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jojo Rabbit
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 4
Best International Feature: Parasite
Best Documentary Feature: American Factory
Best Documentary Short: Learning To Skateboard In a Warzone (If You’re A Girl)
Best Live Action Short: The Neighbors’ Window
Best Animated Short: Kitbull
Best Original Score: Joker
Best Original Song: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
Best Sound Editing: 1917
Best Sound Mixing: 1917
Best Production Design: Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
Best Cinematography: 1917
Best Costume Design: Little Women
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Bombshell
Best Film Editing: The Irishman
Best Visual Effects: The Lion King