92nd Academy Award Predictions: Best Picture

It’s been one week since Green Book broke the Internet and won Best Picture. The last thing anyone wants to do at this point is talk about the Oscars. Which means now is the perfect time to announce my Early Predictions for the 92nd Academy Awards! Wait, stop, don’t click that back button! Look, I get it, doing Oscar predictions this early is a Sisyphusian task for the truly insane. At this point last year, Roma was only a whisper, Bohemian Rhapsody was supposed to flop (how’d that turn out?), and no one had even heard of Green Book (honestly, looking at that more-innocent time, what a time to be alive). Still, there’s something innocent and joyful about making Oscar predictions a year early. It’s like wondering what Santa’s going to bring you in November – there’s still a long time to go, but it’s fun to imagine. And besides, I have yet to predict an Oscar winner twelve months early (I was right for twelve seconds in 2016, thanks to my support for La La Land), so I still have something to prove. So let’s jump ahead to 2020 and see if we can predict what will be nominated for Best Picture!

Now, as always, I must issue a disclaimer: due to the early nature of these predictions, it is entirely possible for these films to crash and burn, flop at the box office, or not come out entirely. Last year, while I guessed the right number of nominees, I only got 3/8 Best Picture nominees right. Those films were A Star Is Born, The Favourite, and Vice. That being said, I did come close on a few other films: Black Panther was my #9 choice, and I had Rhapsody and BlacKkKlansman on my shortlist. I also feel like I got close in theory, as I had If Beale Street Could Talk and First Man in my Top 8, and they were most likely in the conversation until the very end. And one of those 8 has a chance again this year. So as weak as those stats are, I feel like I was a winner in many ways. It also shows me that 2018 was a weird year for the Academy, and they are most likely trying to figure some things out spiritually. Honestly, it feels like we’re on the precipice of a 1960s era shift. The wins for Moonlight and The Shape of Water are very reminiscent of the 1967 Oscars, when In The Heat of the Night beat out Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, The Graduate, and Bonnie and Clyde for Best Picture. The Academy, still consisting of an older generation that didn’t want to let New Hollywood win, pushed back hard in 1968, keeping out films like Rosemary’s Baby, Bullitt, and 2001: A Space Odyssey in favor of The Lion In Winter, Funny Girl, Romeo and Juliet, and eventual winner Oliver! With Green Book’s win, the current generation within the Academy is attempting to dictate a simpler style of film that they’d prefer to see. Time will tell if 2019 continues this trend, but it’s important to note that in 1969, the Academy gave the Oscar to Midnight Cowboy, and New Hollywood dominated until 1981.

However, looking back at the past should never be a sign of bragging or resting on laurels; looking at the past should always be a tool to bettering yourself for the future. So what have we learned from the new era of the Oscars? We’ve learned it’s better to be generally liked than universally loved. We’ve learned that Netflix can force its way into the Oscar game, but will most likely lose out to the Spielbergian fuddy-duddies in the voting body. And most importantly, we’ve learned exactly what kind of films the Academy likes. How’s that, you ask? Well, let’s look at this logically, using only the ten years of the preferential ballot. The films that won Best Picture include The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo, 12 Years A Slave, Birdman, Spotlight, Moonlight, The Shape of Water, and Green Book. On paper, these films couldn’t be more different: they include groundbreaking fantasy, heartbreaking history, and scathing satire. However, most or all of these films share two things in common. The first is that all of these films are, at their core, very simple stories. That’s not to say any of these films are bad, or childish; it’s just that the Academy doesn’t like anything too flashy or sophisticated. If they did, we would be looking at Oscar winners Avatar, The Social Network, Hugo, Life of Pi, Gravity/Her, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Revenant/The Big Short, La La Land/Arrival, Get Out, and Roma. Instead, the films that won used classical filmmaking to tell straightforward stories: a soldier trying to survive a war, a king trying to lead in times of hardship, struggling actors, lonely people looking for love, and friendship overcoming racism. The only two films on that list that took any sort of major risks were Birdman and Moonlight, and even they only took risks in their filmmaking – the stories at their center were universal and simple. The second thing these films have in common is simple: the Academy wants stories of good triumphing over evil. They want nice people becoming friends and falling in love, racism being defeated, the reporters to overthrow a vicious system, the heroes to save a bunch of people, and the racists to get what’s coming to them. The only films that lack this narrative are The Hurt Locker and Birdman, although the latter pits an actor against the Superhero System and (supposedly) coming out on top, so the Academy may have viewed that as “Good vs. Evil.” So when it comes to deciding which films are going to win Best Picture this year, ask yourselves two questions: 1) Is that story simple enough that everyone, from your 80-year-old grandmother to your 10-year-old cousin, could understand it? And 2) Is this a story about good people battling a corrupt system/individual/world and coming out on top? If you see a film that answers “Yes” to both of these questions, then congratulations, you may have just seen your Best Picture winner.

Annette Bening as Diane Feinstein in The Report

So, with these new rules and statistics firmly in place, what has the best chance of winning Best Picture under our new system? Well, I see two films that stand to benefit from this Brave New World. One has premiered at Sundance, has a strong distributer, and opened to excellent reviews. The other is still in production, but should be wrapping up soon, and will likely be ready by festival season. Both films tackle similar concepts, and both utilize the beloved-but-shafted genre “conspiracy theory.” And both have all-star casts and are led by gifted writers and directors. I’m talking, of course, about The Report and Dry Run. The Report was recently the talk of the Sundance Film Festival, and it follows the story of Daniel Jones, an investigator for the U.S. Senate and the FBI who uncovered the vast, brutal, and ultimately useless CIA Torture Program, and his efforts with Senator Diane Feinstein to reveal the truth to the American people, despite interference from the CIA and the White House. The film is written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, a longtime writer and producer for Steven Soderbergh, and he’s a talent that has just been itching to break out. The Report seems like the perfect film to play – commercially, critically, and awards-ly. It seems destined to confuse everyone politically: on the one hand, it calls out the U.S. for torture and paints Diane Feinstein as a hero; on the other hand, it points out that George W. Bush wasn’t informed of the program until 2007 and condemns Obama and his administration for covering up the scandal and program. And it has an all-star cast, including recent nominee Adam Driver as Jones, Oscar Bridesmaid Annette Bening as Feinstein, Jon Hamm as Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Ted “Buffalo Bill Himself” Levine as John Brennan, the former Head of the CIA. In a lot of ways, this film could be the next Spotlight: it follows a group of unlikely underdogs trying to uncover a conspiracy involving the Powers That Be, it’s directed by an oft-ignored writer/director, and it balances weighty ideas and themes with a thrilling story. It’s a story about good people trying to reveal dark secrets, and it should make for a major Oscar contender. Meanwhile, Dry Run covers similar territory to The Report. Directed by Todd Haynes, the genius behind Far From Heaven and Carol, Dry Run tells the story of a corporate lawyer who discovered DuPont Chemical’s history of pollution and exposed it with a now-famous corporate lawsuit. Haynes has been a beloved director for years, and with a cast including Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, and William Jackson Harper, the only thing standing in Dry Run’s way is if it will come out this year. I don’t think editing should take very long, so it isn’t insane to believe it will come out later this year (last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? finished in a similar amount of time), but that caveat is the only reason I consider this film to be a Question Mark, and only have it listed as my #2 contender. Still, if you’re a fan of conspiracy theory thrillers, 2019 should be a good year for you.

Up next, we have the auteurs. These are the films directed by beloved legends directed that, for all intents and purposes, should get nominated based on the prestige of the director alone. I mean, when an Artist directs a “New Masterpiece,” you can’t very well ignore it, now can you? Think Spike Lee with BlacKkKlansman, Steven Spielberg with The Post/Bridge of Spies, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, and so on. I’m not saying these films have to be good (hell, at least one of those films is undeniably bad). I’m just saying it has to be Too Big To Fail. And this year, we have two directors that meet that description: Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. I specifically want to keep my eyes on Scorsese, not only because his films tend to get nominated (Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo, The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, and Goodfellas all spring to mind in the past thirty years alone), but because this film has a lot going for it. I mentioned it last year as a potential nominee (it obviously has yet to come out), but The Irishman is finally coming out this October, and Scorsese has pulled out all the stops. He’s brought back his beloved actors of the 70s Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Joe Pesci, added to the mix Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, and Jesse Plemons, brought in a script by Steven Zaillian, and aimed them at a story he’s wanted to tell for twenty years. The film tells the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a famous union leader and hitman who confessed to having a role in several infamous hits, including Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). This is a story that combines several of Scorsese’s most famous traits: mobsters, unreliable narrators and unlikeable protagonists, and classic Americana. However, what’s most interesting about the film is that Scorsese, in an effort to tell this story over the decades necessary, has hired Industrial Light & Magic to de-age his three leading men, helping them appear 30 years younger throughout multiple scenes in the film. It’s a risky move, but hey; it’s been working for Marvel. Honestly, The Irishman’s biggest stumbling block last year was the fact that Netflix had never received a Best Picture nomination before, and that has since been remedied (granted, Steven Spielberg has recently announced that he wants to make Netflix films illegal, but that has yet to be approved by the Academy). And having come so close last year without winning, Netflix will be back with something to prove. As long as The Irishman isn’t a big huge embarrassing failure like Tommy Callahan (“You’re a big huge embarrassing failure…”), then it should find itself a potential Oscar nominee come January.

As for Tarantino, I hope I don’t sound too presumptuous when I say his upcoming film, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, has the potential to be his greatest film yet. On paper, it’s not much more impressive than any of his other films – certainly not Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. However, it’s what lies beneath the surface that has me interested. The film follows a day in the life of Western TV Star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they struggle to find work in a changing Hollywood scene. Meanwhile, their pregnant neighbor, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), receives some unexpected visitors. The cast contains a massive ensemble, including Al Pacino, Damian Lewis, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Scoot McNairy, Austin Butler, Rumer Willis, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, and Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme. If the plot is just as straightforward as that description, then it is possible that the film will remain on the outskirts of the Oscars, left to chill with Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. However, I believe there’s something more to Tarantino’s screenplay. 1969 was a pinnacle time in American history: New Hollywood officially took over, Old Hollywood crumbled to pieces, Woodstock ushered in a new generation, the Silent Majority panicked at the thought of a new generation leading things and elected Richard Nixon president, Vietnam destroyed the innocence of an entire country, and ultimately, Charles Manson began a killing spree that ultimately ended all efforts made toward love and progress over a decade. I have a feeling that Tarantino is interested in exploring all of these themes, from art to politics to history, under the guise of a rollicking epic mystery. Even the name seems to promise something grandiose and reflective – the Once Upon a Time… film series was created by Sergio Leone to tell historical epics taking place over decades, involving massive tales of revenge, revolution, crime, morality, and the loss of innocence. If Tarantino’s film is truly a descendant of these massive works, and his film is truly an exploration of the death of America’s (and Hollywood’s) innocence at the hands of Nixon, Charles Manson, and an older generation who refused to shift with the times, then this could truly be the greatest film he’s ever made. And if so, it’s not crazy to assume the film will receive loads of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. I could be wrong about both of these directors – their last films, Silence and The H8ful Eight, ended up largely ignored by the Academy. However, it would be stupider to bet against them this early in the race, and I’d rather lose a few bucks on the 2 to 1 odds than bet everything on the 100 to 1. So let’s stick with the pros and move on for a bit, shall we?

Up next, we have the Crowd-Pleaser and the Indie Darling. In the recent days of the Academy Awards, the voting body has tried to include two types of films: epic crowd-pleasers and indie darlings. The crowd=pleaser in general has become an almost comical endeavor, as the Academy last year promised to introduce a Popular Oscar category, immediately walked it back, and then proceeded to nominate four major hits, as well as three modest successes. Think nominees like Green Book, A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Get Out, La La Land, Hidden Figures, The Martian, The Revenant, or (once again), American Sniper. This year, I’m making my prediction for a film that will either be a massive box office success, a major Oscar contender, both, or a massive flop. I’m talking, of course, about Yesterday. Now I know what you’re thinking: why on Earth are you predicting that silly romantic comedy about the musician who wakes up in a world where the Beatles never existed? Well, I’ll tell you. First, it is directed by Danny Boyle. When Danny Boyle makes a film, you take it seriously – even the mostly unsuccessful Steve Jobs earned two nominations (should’ve gotten more, too). Second, it is written by Richard Curtis, whose Four Weddings and a Funeral received a nomination for Best Picture. And third, with the new Academy perfectly ok with nominating popular things that make them feel good (hi, Bohemian Rhapsody), who says a nice pleasant romantic comedy starring Himesh Patel and Lily James can’t get some Oscar love? I don’t know, maybe I’m way off base here, but who knows? I thought Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t getting a nomination even after it came out and performed gangbusters. As for the critical/indie darling, I think you know exactly the type of film I mean. I’m talking about the types of films that critics heap praises on, that were made for $10 and not many people saw, but you keep seeing on Top Ten lists at the end of the year. Films like Roma, Call Me By Your Name, Hell or High Water, Lady Bird, Manchester By The Sea, Nebraska, and Winter’s Bone. Most of these films come out on a whim, and don’t appear until Toronto, so it is hard to exactly pinpoint which films will catch on. However, for a few different reasons, I’m placing my money on Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale. Back after taking the world by storm with her 2014 smash hit The Babadook, Kent has crafted a stark, brutal historical thriller about revenge, race, and masculinity. Taking place on the British penal colony of Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land), the film follows a young British woman who sets out with an Aboriginal tracker across the wilderness to find a British officer who inflicted brutal traumas on both their families. Starring Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, and Sam Clafin (somehow the only name in the cast), the film is a brutal, ugly Western, the kind of film doesn’t usually go for. So why am I predicting it to receive a nomination? Two reasons. First, this new Academy is more open to films that are more blunt, more tragic, and more austere. They’ve voted for No Country For Old Men, Precious, Winter’s Bone, and The Revenant. However, I’m more interested in #2. After last year’s #OscarsSoMale, the Academy will want to reward a female-directed film. And just like in real politics, if there’s actually a film that people can rally behind, as opposed to tearing down Lynne Ramsey, Marielle Heller, Debra Granik and more until it’s too late, then the chances are better that they will correct last year’s blunder (Ramsey was the best director of 2018, don’t @ me). If the critics and audiences can rally behind Kent, and Bron Studios can mount a proper awards campaign, I don’t see why The Nightingale can’t be the critical darling that gets an Oscar nomination next year.

Up next, we have the High-Concept Extravaganza. Science fiction has always been sort of ignored by the Academy – no film of the genre has ever won Best Picture. However, that doesn’t mean a well-made genre flick can’t receive a nomination. In fact, history shows that the Academy loves nominating films that risk it all on an absurd concept, play into it wholeheartedly, and wow every technical branch individually. And they especially go crazy if the film is directed by an auteur of sorts. You can find evidence of this in past contenders like Black Panther, Arrival, Mad Max: Fury Road, Gravity, and Avatar. This year, I believe that this nominee will be Ang Lee’s return to the big screen Gemini Man. One of my most anticipated films of the year, Gemini Man tells the story of an aging hitman, played by Will Smith, who tries to escape his career while being hunted by a new assassin that knows his every move. The twist? The assassin is a younger clone of himself, and is also played by Smith with de-aging makeup that places him back in his Independence Day youth. Now, that doesn’t sound like the most Academy-friendly plot, but then again, neither does a wuxia fantasy epic or the story of a kid in a boat with a tiger. Ang Lee has a habit of taking things otherwise deemed “unworthy” and turning them into Oscar-worthy spectacles. I believe he will be able to provide a film that is impressive enough visually and technically that each branch will end up voting for him – exactly the way Mad Max and Bohemian Rhapsody elbowed their way into the Oscar race. Now, it’s entirely possible that Gemini Man isn’t an Oscar contender – that it’s just a basic action-thriller that I am attaching awards hype to due to the director and filmmaking team. However, I can only work with what I’m given, and considering the newer Academy is more willing to accept the high-concept sci-fi film as the “Best of the Year,” I’d rather air on the side of caution then cast of something directed by a two-time Academy Award winner.

Next, let’s take a look at the literary adaptations. Unless the book is Carol, the Academy loves to nominate films that are based on books. It proves that they’re literate, and it is often seen as an impressive feat to bring someone else’s writing to life. And sure, this was a much bigger deal thirty years ago, when Americans actually read. But we still see adaptations nominated all the time: since 2009, there’s been Call Me By Your Name, Lion, The Martian, Room, The Big Short, 12 Years A Slave, Life of Pi, True Grit, and Precious (and that’s only picking the well-known books). This year, there’s a handful of films to pick from, including the Amy Adams thriller The Woman In The Window, the memoir The Last Thing He Wanted with Anne Hathaway and Willem Dafoe, the terrorism drama The Goldfinch, the Timothée Chalamet Shakespearean epic The King, and perhaps even Taika Waititi’s Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit. However, if there’s any adaptation that stands a chance at Oscar glory, why overthink things? Let’s just go with the previous nominee directing another adaptation of an already-nominated book? That’s right, I’m predicting Greta Gerwig’s Little Women will be nominated for Best Picture. Now, adaptations of Little Women are nothing new. They date all the way back to 1933, and while only the first adaptation was nominated for Best Picture, both a 1949 and a 1994 version had success with the Academy. However, considering Gerwig wants to combine the series of books into one epic film, with the older March girls reflecting back on their childhoods (except for Beth, obviously), as well as an ensemble that includes Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, and the Queen herself Meryl Streep, there’s a lot to be excited about with this new take on the classic story. And if Gerwig can make this film half as interesting as she did Lady Bird, then she should once again win over the hearts of the Academy with general ease.

Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy, and Elisabeth Moss in the non-comedy The Kitchen

And finally, we have the Wild Card. There’s always one nominee that will leave pundits saying, “Huh. I never thought they’d go for that.” I’m talking about films like District 9, The Blind Side, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Her, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Hidden Figures. It’s essentially my way of saying, “Look, I need nine nominees, and I’m not sure how to fill this slot, so here we are.” And this year, my Wild Card prediction is The Kitchen, written and directed by Andrea Berloff, the co-writer of Straight Outta Compton. The Kitchen has a similar premise to last year’s commercial bomb and Oscar crap-out, Widows, in that the wives of an Irish mob family take over Hell’s Kitchen in New York when the FBI arrest their husbands. On paper, this film doesn’t really seem like an Oscar contender – it’s a crime comedy based on a graphic novel that stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, and Margo Martindale. However, that’s exactly why this film may make an impact: because it’s such a wild card. McCarthy and Haddish are well-loved in the industry, Moss and Martindale are two of the greatest character actresses alive, Domhnall Gleeson plays a troubled hitman, Bill Camp plays an Italian mobster, and Berloff is an Oscar nominee. This type of comedic crime caper is exactly the type of film that Oscar voters can fall in love with and vote across the finish line. I’m not saying The Kitchen is a lock, or that it will even be good. I’m just saying that this is an interesting enough project that it will cause voters to turn their heads, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Of course, there are plenty of potential nominees that could sneak in as the year goes on. I mean, I didn’t even name a single biopic, which has a habit of upsetting the Oscar race by sneaking in for Best Picture every year (Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour, Hacksaw Ridge, American Sniper, Dallas Buyers Club, and so on). There are plenty of biographical dramas coming out this year that could enter the Oscar race, including Marielle Heller and Tom Hanks’ Mister Rogers biopic A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, the Bohemian Rhapsody team (sans Bry*n S*nger) and Taron Egerton’s Elton John biopic Rocketman, Kasi Lemmons and Cynthia Erivo’s Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet, Josh Trank and Tom Hardy’s Al Capone biopic Fonzo, Jay Roach and John Lithgow’s Roger Ailes/Gretchen Carlson drama Fair and Balanced, and James Mangold, Christian Bale, and Matt Damon’s Ford v. Ferrari. Hell, Anthony McCarten has written three average films about Great Men that have somehow gotten Best Picture nominations in a row (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour, Bohemian Rhapsody), and he’s back now with a Pope Francis biopic starring Jonathan Pryce. That’s going to be pretty hard to pass up. Then there are the Beautiful Catastrophes – the films that are taking a massive swing, could very well fall flat on their face, and yet still have enough momentum that they could magically end up in the race next year, including the film adaptation of Downton Abbey, Jon Favreau’s all-animated-yet-somehow-not-animated The Lion King, and especially Tom Hooper’s batsh*t adaptation of Cats, a musical that makes no sense on stage, makes less sense on the big screen, and stars Ian McKellen, Jason DeRulo, Idris Elba, and Taylor Swift. Hoo boy, that’s gonna be a fascinating film. Oh, and there are a few films that are allegedly supposed to come out this year that likely will not, including George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, Pablo Larraín’s The True American, Ryan Coogler’s teaching conspiracy thriller Wrong Answer, and the already-filmed Just Mercy. I would especially keep my eye on Just Mercy – it’s scheduled for a January release, it stars Michael B. Jordan as a lawyer defending a wrongly convicted Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson shows up at one point, and director Destin Daniel Cretton is a hot director at the moment. Expect this one to receive a limited release in December, especially if Warner Bros.’ other Oscar contenders start to fall away. But at the end of the day, who knows? This time last year I had Black Panther at #9, BlacKkKlansman in the middle of the pack, Bohemian Rhapsody at the bottom, and didn’t even have Green Book or Roma listed. No matter how fun I try to make this article, we’re still at best five months away before things start to become serious, and nine before we see any nominations. We really don’t know anything. But until we do, you can see my Top 9 below, and you can see the full list of Contenders in the Oscar Predictions section, and you can see my full predictions for all 24 categories as they’re announced by clicking here. Predict well, dear readers.

  1. The Report
  2. Dry Run
  3. Yesterday
  4. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  5. Gemini Man
  6. The Irishman
  7. Little Women
  8. The Nightingale
  9. The Kitchen

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