It’s about time for me to launch a massive overhaul of my Oscar predictions, with the festivals finally winding down and the major contenders mostly, if not completely seen. But before that happens, I need to finish off the last few categories on the horizon. And there’s no better place to start than with The Features, which is to say Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, and Best International Feature (formerly Foreign Language Film). And while we have some sure bets in the Animated category, and some obvious choices in Best International Feature, for the most part these categories are wide open for shocks and question marks. So why don’t we do our best to explore the fun, fascinating world of the categories most people use for bathroom breaks!
Best Animated Feature
Let’s just rip the band aid off nice and quick, shall we? In a mostly-slow year for animated films, Disney is going to look to capitalize on their way to victory. And while they haven’t stooped as low as to call their “live action” Lion King animated just to win Oscars, I wouldn’t put it past them down the way. So for now, let’s just say it outright: Toy Story 4 and Frozen II will both be nominees for Best Animated Feature this winter. It makes sense on paper: both films are sequels to previous victors in the category. Both are certain to break a billion dollars at the box office (Toy Story 4 already did so). Both will be heavy music contenders, a sure bet the film will earn a nomination here unless they are called The Lego Movie (more on that in a minute). And, at least in the case of Toy Story 4, both will have the benefit of being good (I’m hearing strong buzz for Frozen II going forward). Disney is going to push hard to get these films into the animated category, and right now, I think they are your safest bets for the #1 and #2 positions, with the already-seen Toy Story earning the win for its excellent capstone on a beloved saga.
But where do we go from there? For me, the biggest battle for a slot comes to the Animated Sequels: How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. Both films are locked in what seems to be a challenging battle – they both premiered rather early, both had mild-to-decent success at the box office, and both received excellent reviews. But at the end of the day, there’s one deciding factor that separates the two: the Academy hates the Lego franchise. No Lego Movie has ever been nominated in Animated Feature – not even the box office smash/critically acclaimed first one from 2014. Meanwhile, every How To Train Your Dragon film has received a nomination, and arguably should have won in their respective years. There is no way its touching, near-perfect capstone is missing out on a nomination. Chalk up The Hidden World for the #3 slot in your animated predictions. You can also throw in Laika Studios’ Missing Link for good measure. While the film was far from their greatest work (especially after Kubo), it will still impress stop-motion fans and sneak into a relatively weak animation year. Expect Missing Link to earn a nomination this January as well.
And in the final slot, we have an annual battle that I always tend to get wrong: populist American comedy or Japanese blockbuster. Normally, the slot goes to a well-received anime hit, like The Wind Rises, The Red Turtle, or last year’s terrible Mirai (the Worst of 2018 list is coming, I promise guys). However, despite the popularity of the genre and nation in previous years…there really isn’t a major animated Japanese on the horizon. I mean, sure, there’s Okko’s Inn, but while it stands a chance, it doesn’t have the same effect as most foreign language animated contenders. Which leads me to believe the final slot will go to either The Addams Family, Farmaggedon: A Shaun The Sheep Movie, or Abominable. Abominable has the most clout at the moment, and the first Shaun The Sheep movie earned an Oscar nomination in 2015, but I’m giving the edge to Addams Family – it has the star power, the name power, and looks better than the others. Of course, none of this matters – they’re all about to lose to Disney in the long run. You can see the full list of contenders right here.
- Toy Story 4
- Frozen II
- How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
- Missing Link
- The Addams Family
Best Documentary Feature
Every year, Best Documentary becomes the hardest category to predict. Either something emerges early on to become an Oscar frontrunner, like O.J.: Made In America or Free Solo, or the perceived frontrunner gets shafted somewhere along the way, like Hoop Dreams or Won’t You Be My Neighbor? This year should, once again, prove itself a challenge, as we are already in October and we have no frontrunner. That’s right, outside of two films that won Toronto and Sundance (hardly predictive precursor awards), we don’t really have a documentary ready to leave the pack. So for this reason, I’m going to have to completely spitball.
One of the surest bets for Best Documentary Feature comes in the form of American Factory, an inside look at the cosmic shift in the workforce as a Chinese factory takes over a small Midwest factory once run by General Motors. The film was a hit at Sundance, and could have won Best Documentary on its own. And yet, it has found two guardian angels, both of whom should usher it to Oscar glory. You see, the film has found distribution in the form of Netflix and former President Barack Obama, a favorite amongst several voters (although not all – always remember that the Academy technically skews center-right, thanks to lifetime voting rights and a large undercurrent of Eisenhower Republicans) inside the Academy. Netflix has already become a major force inside the Documentary branch’s ranks, having earned nominations every year it’s been eligible in this category. Meanwhile, while he would not be connected to the nomination in any way, shape, or form, it is still something to have a former President stumping for your film with the Oscars. That’s a hell of an ace to have up your sleeve. Consider American Factory your only lock at this stage of the Oscar race.
Up next, we’re taking a look at the films that found success at different festivals thus far. Outside of Factory, only three films have won awards or received acclaim off the festival circuit: One Child Nation, The Cave, and Apollo 11. One Child Nation is the type of real-world social drama that often finds success in this category. Following two American immigrants born under the one-child policy, the film explores the effects of the infamous rule on rural villages, family planning officials, and even their own families. Meanwhile, The Cave has the added bonus of being created by a former nominee, Feras Fayyad (Last Men In Aleppo). Fayyad has been a prominent voice in drumming up support for the people of Syria caught in a three-way battle between their oppressive government, Russian invaders, and ISIS recruiters, and his newest film, The Cave, is no exception. It follows a female doctor in Ghouta who runs a makeshift hospital out of a cave to support the rebels and innocent bystanders targeted by Assad’s regime. It recently won the TIFF People’s Choice Award, and should earn Fayyad a second nomination in three years. Which brings us to Apollo 11. Now, in theory, this film should be a slam dunk. It’s the best documentary released this year, and benefits from innovative filmmaking, editing, and sound design. But here’s the thing: the Academy hates populist choices in this category, and they really hate archival footage documentaries. Apollo 11 is both of these things. I still have it in my nominations, as it is too powerful to be ignored, but don’t be surprised if the film ends up getting snubbed come Oscar time.
Which leaves us with one final slot, and a litany of choices to select from. Could Netflix score a second nomination with Bruce Springsteen’s Rolling Thunder Revue, midterm surge story Knock Down The House, or Cambridge Analytica exposé The Great Hack? What about musical and historical biographical documentaries, like Echo In The Canyon, David Crosby: Remember My Name, Mike Wallace Is Here, Love Antosha, Inside Bill’s Brain, or Pavoratti? Could populist/political dramas make it in, like Leaving Neverland, Hail Satan?, or Where’s My Roy Cohn? All of these docs have an excellent chance of sneaking in, but for my money, I think the final slot will go to Varda By Agnès. Directed by legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda, the film provides a look back on her life and experiences, serving as both an autobiography and reflection on the cinematic experience. The film is a definitive crowd-pleaser, but two tragic, touching details should serve as icing on the cake for the film’s nomination. First, Varda has never won an Oscar in her illustrious career – her biggest chance, in 2017, was destroyed by a nefarious upset on Netflix’s part. However, even more upsetting is the fact that this is the Academy’s last chance to nominate the legendary director: Varda passed away last March. Look for this nomination to be their final tribute, and for the film to round out this year’s nominees for Best Documentary Feature. You can see the full list of contenders right here.
- American Factory
- One Child Nation
- The Cave
- Apollo 11
- Varda By Agnès
Best International Feature
And finally, we come to the recently renamed Best International Feature. International Feature can be somewhat challenging to predict – the committee who nominates the shortlist can range from super traditional (slow, sad dramas) to weirdly daring (Dogtooth). The nominees also tend to follow an unofficial rule of one per region: one European, one Latin, one Middle Eastern, one East Asian, and one wild card. I’m not saying this as a general rule or stereotype. I’m just saying the Academy enjoys spreading their wings a little bit. However, no matter how you slice it, one thing is known about this category at the moment: Parasite is winning Best International Feature. Despite the fact that Bong Joon Ho has never released an Oscar-nominated film, or that South Korea has somehow never received an Oscar nomination despite a storied cinematic legacy, Parasite is the one film people can’t stop talking about. It dominated Cannes, winning the Palme d’Or, followed by sold-out screenings at Telluride, New York, and Toronto, where it ate up the bulk of the conversation and went on to win third place for TIFF’s People’s Choice Awards. In fact, Parasite is so big it’s becoming a real contender for Best Picture, something I’ll be writing about in the weeks to come. If Parasite doesn’t receive a nomination for Best International Feature, it will go down in history as one of the greatest Oscar snubs of all time. Mark it down not just as a lock, but a lock to win.
Parasite really only faces one bit of competition for the prize, and that comes in the form of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. A tribute to Fellini’s 8 ½, Pain and Glory is Almodóvar looking back on his own life, the choices that led him to where he is today, and what regrets and triumphs he’s had in his personal and professional career. Featuring a career-best performance by Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory looks like it could be the rare film to earn a nomination outside of just the International Feature race – look for Banderas to earn his first Oscar nomination this January as well (I’ll have updates on this going forward, too). And should Banderas become a major contender, you can bet it will compete in Best International Feature as well. Now I’d like to give you all a little lesson in how the Oscars work. When it comes to the International categories, each country gets to select one film. Other films are allowed to compete in different categories, but if you aren’t selected as the one film from your country, your Oscar chances are pretty much decimated, and you cannot compete for Best International Film. This rule has caused lots of issues throughout the years, and it certainly has raised controversy when it comes to France. One of the best-reviewed films of the year arrived in the form of Celine Sciarra’s Portrait of a Lady On Fire, a queer historical Gothic drama in the vein of, say, Wuthering Heights. It could have competed with Parasite at the Oscars were it given the chance. Instead, France selected Les Misérables, a very loose retelling of the French classic set in modern day Paris. While Les Misérables was equally well received, and is perhaps quite good, this means that Portrait of a Lady On Fire, one of the year’s biggest releases, will not be nominated at the Oscars. What a shame. Thanks a lot, French bureaucrats.
With Portrait out of the running, and Chile’s Ema suffering a similar fate, what else is there to fill out the Top 5? Colombia’s Monos is finding critical and commercial suggess, while Canada’s Antigone is a major festival darling. Belgium has lots of faith in César Díaz’s Our Mothers, while support for Palestine could earn a nomination for It Must Be Heaven (although the last Palestinian nominee faced heavy backlash and ended up losing). And let’s not forget perennial favorites Brazil, Switzerland, Poland, and Japan with Invisible Life, Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey Into the Arms of a Shiksa (there’s always one nominee with a name like this), Corpus Christi, and Weathering With You, respectively. But at the end of the day, I’m playing things safe with a Cannes favorite and the Russian nominee. In the case of the former, we have the never-nominated Senegal with Atlantique. Winner of the Cannes Grand Prix, Atlantique follows a group of unpaid workers forced to build a futuristic tower who flee to the sea in search of a brighter future. The film would be a major coup for the African country, as the Oscars have a low track record for films directed by black women – I’m pretty sure this would be their first nominee in this category. Meanwhile, Russia’s Beanpole should mark yet another contender in the country’s storied history in the International Feature category. Beanpole is a historical drama following a young woman returning from World War II Leningrad in 1945 with her 3-year old child in tow. Another major Cannes contender, the film has received massive acclaim from critics, and will likely earn the final slot for Best International Feature. I think. As I said, I’m not sure of anything past Les Misérables. In the meantime, you can see the full list of contenders right here (I didn’t list all 193 because, I mean, dear god, but the most important ones are there). And I will see you all real soon with the breakdown for the music categories!
- Pain and Glory
- Les Misérables