92nd Academy Award Update: Where We Stand Heading Into The Festivals

In less than two weeks, Venice, Toronto, and Telluride will officially kick off this year’s Oscar race. I’m hoping to get my major predictions done before events kick off (they’re pretty solid for now, just not released to the public), but in the meantime, I thought I’d revisit Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress with the new information at my disposal. With a whole armada of new films making Oscar pushes, and a whole slew of contenders falling to weak box office and general bad filmmaking, I thought I’d refresh the predictions with new blood, new arrivals, and new #1s!

Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy

As should be expected, Best Picture has undergone some massive overhaul. While some contenders, like The Report, The Irishman, and Little Women, still look strong, some new films, like Ford v Ferrari, have already been added, and we know films like Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood are great, other films just haven’t made the cut. Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale has failed to excite…anyone, really. And the female mob epic The Kitchen went down in a burning flame. In their stead, I have decided to go for the two films I’ve heard the most buzz for out of New York and L.A. Those would be Just Mercy and Marriage Story. Just Mercy is the type of major contender you look for at this stage of the Oscar season. Like Green Book last year, Just Mercy is a feel-good story about racism being defeated and good conquering evil. It also comments on a corrupt justice system, race relations, and other highly topical themes to modern America. You should look for this to be a major contender this winter. Meanwhile, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is that indie player that skyrockets, whether or not it has a chance to win. Nostalgic dramas filled with semi-autobiographical notes have become major Oscar forces in recent years, including Lady Bird, Roma, Manchester By The Sea, Boyhood, Nebraska, The Descendants, and more have tackled the market for high-grossing domestic fables. And with an all-star cast and a director just waiting to break out, and a slot in all four of the major fall festivals, it would be hard to deny it a slot on my current predictions.

Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit

Now, here’s where things get tricky. I could just stick with that list of 9 and call it quits. But there’s something off with two of my current predictions. The largest elephant in the room is Dry Run: while I had it listed as my #2 prediction entering the year, Todd Haynes’ courtroom drama has yet to make an appearance…anywhere. It has no festival bids, no trailer, not even a release date. While all the statistics surrounding it still promise a Best Picture winner, it is highly unlikely it is this year’s Best Picture winner. Therefore, without any proof the film is coming in down the pipeline, I have no choice but to remove Dry Run from my list of predictions. Maybe it’ll return in the future, but for now, it will be moved to my 2020 Oscar picks. Meanwhile, the more I see for Queen & Slim, a film I added to my predictions back in May, the more I get the feeling this film’s about to get gipped…hard. While Queen & Slim deals with a harsh, honest look at race relations and police brutality in America, I also get the horrible feeling that it just won’t connect with the mostly white Academy. People may joke about a liberal bias in the Academy, and assume major pieces of political art will get nominated. But when commercial pieces of political art can’t get in, like last year’s Widows or The Hate U Give, what makes you think Universal will even try to promote a small indie as an Oscar contender – an indie they aren’t even giving a festival push? No, I’ll be dropping this film down a few slots, and wait patiently for its Oscar chances to fly or crash. This now brings our total to 7 – and while 9 is usually the safe number of predictions in any given year, I’m going to play things extra safe and predict 8 Best Picture nominees, moving up Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit for the eighth slot. Much has been made of a recent report surrounding Disney execs fanning themselves in terror over Jojo’s intense, bizarre political satire. However, there’s a few things these blowhards don’t quite take into account. First, Disney really wants a Best Picture Oscar. They technically don’t have any, considering W*instein got his own name put on the Miramax trophies instead of theirs. Now that they own Fox, this is their big moment – Endgame’s not gonna do it. And second, Jojo Rabbit has a unique, distinct vision that the Academy loves to nominate, whether it’s Dr. Strangelove, Inglourious Basterds, and so on. Expect Jojo Rabbit to round out a Top 8 of bizarre, unique Oscar contenders.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story

As for Best Picture, things break down in much of the same way. Todd Haynes is out of the Top Five, as are Danny Boyle and Jennifer Kent. Unfortunately for those championing a female-centered year for the Oscars, Kent was one of the year’s best shots. Despite being a banner year for female directors, there’s just not a lot of options for the Academy to pick from, based on their own specifications (obviously, that needs to change – don’t blame the messenger). This leaves only two of my original Top Five: Quentin Tarantino, who will absolutely win Best Director this year, and Scott Z. Burns, who is still fighting an uphill battle to earn a nomination for The Report. I’ve already filled Boyle’s spot with James Mangold, whose Ford v Ferrari is shaping up to be that Dad Contender that exists every year, like The Martian, or Bohemian Rhapsody (hopefully Ferrari will be better than either of those films. As for the other two spots, I’m going to fill them with two longtime indie directors about to break out with major Oscar contenders: Daniel Destin Cretton and Noah Baumbach. Cretton is an actors’ director, through and through, a trait that has helped David O. Russell, Kenneth Lonergan, and Lenny Abrahamson in recent years to earn nominations. With Just Mercy, he will be tackling great actors in complex roles, as well as find a way to make a courtroom drama interesting yet again. The feel-good race film usually earns a nomination, from The Shape of Water to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Green Book wasn’t, but it came close). Expect Cretton to earn his way in the easy way. As for Baumbach, he is that type of auteur the Academy has loved in recent years: language-driven, but well-directed; funny, but carefully staged. Like Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, Baumbach comes from the school of Woody Allen, but without the baggage. He should make for an easy pick by the Director’s branch of the Academy. Of course, with Best Director serving as the Fickle Fanny of recent years, don’t be surprised if a surprise (or lack thereof) is brewing. Martin Scorsese still lurks in the wings. Steven Soderbergh has a major indie contender on the horizon. Taika Waititi is a “visualistic” genius. Bong Joon-Ho’s social satire Paraiste has a lot of supporters. And maybe a female director will get in – Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is gathering support, and who knows if Lulu Wang’s The Farewell will play big with the Academy? It should make for an interesting category.

Best Actor may be the easiest of these predictions to make, as things have changed quite little since my last list premiered. Leonardo DiCaprio is still a major contender, Robert De Niro still lurks in the wings, and Tom Hanks still stands a chance of earning his first Oscar nomination in 20 (!) years. The only thing worth mention on the list of four major contenders is that while I’m sticking with Adam Driver in The Report for my #1 prediction, it is worth noting that he is also the lead in Marriage Story, meaning he could get in for either film. It really depends on which film he pushes harder for. This leaves one final contender, a slot once held by Mark Ruffalo for Dry Run. With Run banished to next year’s predictions, I’m looking for an actor to fill that slot. Maybe it’ll be Joaquin Phoenix for Joker (please no). I’d personally love to see Taron Egerton get in there for Rocketman. But at the end of the day, I suspect it will be one of three actors: Christian Bale for Ford v Ferrari (that is if he doesn’t go Supporting), Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory, and Michael B. Jordan for Just Mercy. I’m eliminating Bale for the time being – I’m just not hearing any buzz at the moment for him. And everything in my brain is telling me to predict Banderas – he’s a beloved character actor who’s been given a big break by longtime collaborator Pedro Almodóvar, and has already earned the Cannes Best Actor prize for his trouble. But at the end of the day, I just can’t. Just Mercy looks to be a major Oscar contender, anchored by Jordan (who is also producing), and will be the capstone of a decade dominated by terrific Jordan performances. He will end up getting that fifth slot, and could compete with Adam Driver for the win. However, don’t worry too much about Banderas just yet – I’ve heard buzz that Tom Hanks is considering going Supporting for A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood. Should that be the case, he will absolutely earn a nomination there, freeing up a slot for Banderas here in Best Actor. I’ll keep you posted throughout the season.

Renée Zellweger in Judy

And finally, we come to Best Actress, the category in need of the most work. I mentioned when I wrote the article last month that I wasn’t confident in Aisling Franciosi and Melissa McCarthy, and that appears to be the right sentiment, as they move out of the Top Five in less than three weeks. This means Saoirse Ronan, Jodie Turner-Smith, and Cynthia Erivo are your major frontrunners, for the time being. As for the two new contenders, I would elect not to overthink things. Renée Zellweger is already earning great buzz for her work in Judy, and the Academy loves a comeback story. Expect Zellweger to be a major force this Oscar season. And as for that #5 slot, I would expect a nomination for one of our Best Picture contenders: Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story. While Johansson has been in the news a lot this year for…unflattering reasons, it’s hard to deny she’s having A Moment. She starred in the highest grossing movie of all time, she’s engaged to be married, and she’ll be ripping through two of the meatiest roles of her career (I’ll be talking about Jojo Rabbit in the coming weeks). I think this narrative, plus her grieving portrayal of an actress mother trying to do what’s right for her kids as her marriage falls apart, will win over award voters and earn her that long-overdue first Oscar nomination. I could be off-base here. Awkwafina could earn a much-deserved nomination for The Farewell. And should Meryl Streep go lead for The Laundromat, you can bet your sweet ass she’ll be earning a nomination (although I’ve heard several reports that she’s Supporting). But for the time being, I’d say Johansson and Zellweger are your best bets at joining Ronan on the red carpet come Oscar season.

And that about wraps up where we are in this year’s Oscar race. I’ve updated each of the fields to reflect these changes, and you can see the four categories below. I’ll be back later this week (hopefully) with Best Supporting Actor. Until then, get excited, folks: Oscar season is upon us.

Best Picture

  1. The Report
  2. Just Mercy
  3. Marriage Story
  4. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  5. The Irishman
  6. Little Women
  7. Ford v Ferrari
  8. Jojo Rabbit

Best Director

  1. Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  2. James Mangold – Ford v Ferrari
  3. Destin Daniel Cretton – Just Mercy
  4. Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
  5. Scott Z. Burns – The Report

Best Actor

  1. Adam Driver – The Report
  2. Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  3. Robert De Niro – The Irishman
  4. Michael B. Jordan – Just Mercy
  5. Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood 

Best Actress

  1. Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
  2. Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
  3. Renée Zellweger – Judy
  4. Jodie Turner-Smith – Queen & Slim
  5. Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story

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