Oscars Best Picture predictions

The 92nd Academy Awards will cap the shortest Oscar season in history. Merely seven days after the winners on Super Bowl Sunday walk away with the Lombardi Trophy, the Academy for Motions Pictures will bestow a different golden prize on the year’s Best Picture. Once again without a host, but with with multiple history-making films up for awards, the Oscars promise to be an entertaining spectacle. For more riveting reviews, be sure to follow @mainlinemoviereviews on Instagram.

MINIMAL SPOILERS AHEAD

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

     The earliest theatrical release of this year’s nominations, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood had a lot of time to soak up public opinion, and the overall consensus has been markedly positive.

     Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film–and, if the rumors are true, his second to last–combines nearly every Tarantino trope. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio co-star as a faded television actor and his stunt double during the rise of New Hollywood in 1969 Los Angeles. Their stories coincide with Sharon Tate’s, a famous actress who, in the 1960s, married the now-disgraced director Roman Polanski, and who was murdered by members of the Manson Family in 1969. While the major outlines of Tate’s story are portrayed realistically in the film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ends with a trademark Tarantino twist.

The film’s almost three-hour run time allows Tarantino to fully develop both main characters.

     The film’s almost three-hour run time allows Tarantino to fully develop both main characters, the minor actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt-double sidekick Cliff Booth (Pitt).  Tarantino documents their shared history through flashbacks to their past adventures, establishing their profound and complex friendship.

     One of the key aspects of this film is the way it takes Hollywood back to the 1960s. Tarantino and his crew meticulously recreated an old-fashioned Hollywood Boulevard—the setting is as much a character as Dalton and Booth themselves–which is likely what secured the film’s Oscar nomination. 

     Tied with 1917 and The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is nominated in ten categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. The film received much hype following its release, but in the end, some recent award success from other films coupled with dwindling excitement for a film seven months old has left it on the outside track towards the night’s top prize. Tarantino has never won for Best Picture or Best Director, and unfortunately, 2020 does not seem to be his year. 

Jojo Rabbit

     Although a movie based around a boy in the Hitler Youth seems like an unlikely hit, Jojo Rabbit perfectly encapsulates the power of humor in dealing with grave historical events. 

     Director Taika Waititi, who found recent box office success in Thor: Ragnarok, was able to convert his good fortune into riskier films like Jojo Rabbit. In the movie, Jojo, played adorably by young actor Roman Griffin Davis, is a bit of an outsider amongst his peers, finding comfort in his imaginary friend Hitler, played by Waititi himself. With the introduction of Elsa, a young Jewish girl whom Jojo’s mom has hidden in their attic, the movie shifts from one of casual laughs into a tale of childhood innocence and forced maturity. The numerous supporting actors and actresses in Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, and Thomasin McKenzie give impressive and convincing performances.

Jojo Rabbit also benefits from immersive production design and an even better script.

     Like many of the films nominated for Best Picture, Jojo Rabbit also benefits from immersive production design and an even better script. Waititi takes much of what has worked in his past films and then goes further, mixing comedy, emotion, and drama to shape the world as he sees fit.

     Bringing in six Oscar nominations, ranging from Best Picture to Best Costume Design, Jojo Rabbit seems to have a good chance of winning an award but faces stiff competition in many categories. Like last year’s Best Picture winner Green Book, Jojo Rabbit also won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival, but their most probable win this year would come in Best Adapted Screenplay, where they are close behind another Best Picture nominee, Little Women.

Little Women

     Releasing her first film since the critically acclaimed Lady Bird, director Greta Gerwig has struck gold with Little Women, a film filled with wit and charm. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 book, the story revolves around the life of four sisters: Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh). Over time they each grow up and have to deal with the real world, even if it does not quite fit their dreams. The sisters’ camaraderiebrings an increased level of joy and realism to each scene. All of the acting is exceptional and elevates the already skillfully crafted script to the next level.

     The story does a wonderful job highlighting each character’s inner life and providing insight into her feelings and emotions. Gerwig also successfully makes a novel from the 1860s speak to contemporary life, avoiding the potential boredom of adapting a nineteenth-century novel in 2019.

     Where this movie struggles is in the editing room. Its non-linear timeline, which switches back and forth over a seven-year period, hinders the movie’s ability to tell a complete story. These time jumps are usually indicated by a shift in tone and color, but in specific moments these dramatic changes can take the viewer out of the film. There are also various continuity errors, but in general, they subtract little from the film’s immersive experience, which  features beautiful costumes and set pieces. 

     Although much was made over Gerwig’s lack of a directing nomination, Little Women has six Oscar nominations in categories such as Best Acting (Ronan for leading and Pugh for supporting), Best Costume Design, Best Score and Adapted Screenplay, where it appears to be the favorite. 

Ford v Ferrari

     Dubbed by many “The Dad Movie of the Year,”  Ford v Ferrari is an enjoyable film that knows exactly what it is and never strays too far from its title.

     Headlining actors such as Matt Damon and Christian Bale are usually enough to make a movie succeed. But throw in a patriotic, exciting, and suspenseful plot all based on a true story, and you have a recipe for success. The movie tells the story of American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles as they attempt to build a Ford-manufactured race car capable of beating Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an annual race held in France. Along the way, Shelby and Miles encounter a range of obstacles, from physics, corporate America, and each other, all culminating in a satisfying conclusion that ties the movie together and resolves each character’s story arc.

     From a critic’s view, the performance by Bale is highly underrated and shows the actor’s ability to commit to a role. The fast-paced race scenes feature clever camera angles that bring the viewer right into the driver’s seat. The editing throughout these races is part of why the film deserves its nomination for Best Film Editing and especially Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. This film deserves to be watched in a theater where the running of the angle can fill the room. 

     With only four nominations to its name, Ford v Ferrari ranks last in total nominations of the nine films in contention for Best Picture, and its odds of winning in any category seems slim. The film’s best chance at an Oscar lays in the sound categories, but it would need to upset 1917 to take either of those.

The Irishman

     Easily the longest of the nine Best Picture nominations, The Irishman clocks in at 3 hours and 29 minutes and makes viewers everywhere glad they can watch it in multiple sittings on Netflix.

     The all-star cast of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, along with director Martin Scorsese, gives the film a strong backbone as it tries to re-establish love for classic 90s mob movies in the 21st century. Based on the non-fiction book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, the movie follows the story of a truck driver Frank Sheeran, played by De Niro, in the mid-1950s as he begins working for the mob and develops a friendship with Jimmy Hoffa, played by Pacino, the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

One of the film’s most innovative features is the new de-aging technology.

     One of the film’s most innovative features is the new de-aging technology used to make older actors, such as De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci, look decades younger to fit their part. While this technique is used sparingly, the technology is a curious addition that will expand possibilities for actors and filmmakers in the future.  A constantly shifting narrative timeline, however, makes for some confusion about the chronology in certain scenes and disrupts the flow of the plot. For its length, The Irishman lacked much of the character development common to a Scorsese film, relying more heavily on familiar actors playing familiar roles. 

     The performances delivered do live up to their hype, earning the film two Best Supporting Actor nominations, rounding out a total of ten nominations for the night. Early buzz pushed The Irishman to the forefront for Best Picture, but recently the buzz has died down, leaving a chance that The Irishman, with its ten nominations, may walk away shut-out.

Marriage Story

     One of two Netflix films to be nominated for Best Picture, Marriage Story is about a tense and emotional divorce between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they battle for custody of their child and the location of their home.

     Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, who used his own divorce experience to influence the story, both characters feel real and grounded as they deliver some of the most memorable scenes of the year. As the story progresses, the tone shifts, presenting the divorce from the perspective of everyone involved, including the couple’s son, Henry. Lawyers’ meetings and courtroom scenes, which include performances from Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda, are surprisingly captivating, taking the viewer into this personal time in the character’s lives and exposing all the struggles that come with it.

     Baumbach methodically contrasts warm and cold color palettes based on the mood of the scene, bolstering every emotion. Along with the visuals, the terrific score by renowned composer Randy Newman supports the film’s wide spectrum of emotion, inspiring everything from sorrow and passion to sympathy and remorse.

     Although the movie might seem presented through a biased lens, there does seem to be a careful effort to present all the details and gives each member of the marriage their moment as the hero or heroine. This effort was cleverly introduced in the movie’s original trailers, which were split into two, one narrated by Charlie and the other by Nicole.

     Baumbach, who is currently dating fellow director Greta Gerwig, is tied with his partner with six nominations of his own. Three of them go towards the acting category where both Driver and Johansson pick up their second career nominations and Dern, who will most likely give the film its only award of the night, gets her third career nomination. The film is also up for Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score.

Parasite

     After shocking everyone by winning the top award at the Cannes Film Festival in May, nobody is surprised now as Parasite continues to pile up well-deserved praise during awards season.

     Described by director Bong Joon Ho, Parasite is best seen without too much preparation: the film is anything but predictable. It fools everybody who watches it, leading them into a false sense of comfort until it rips the rug out from underneath them and reveals its true intentions. Creating a film that features both comedic and tense moments and switches smoothly between them is hard to achieve, but Bong was up to the task.

The production design in the film is outstanding.

     It’s paced brilliantly, using cuts that add meaning to each shot. Even through the language barrier, as the script is largely in Korean, Bong and cinematographer Kyung-Pyo Hong are able to visualize so many of the character’s emotions that the dialogue is almost irrelevant. In the case of the acting, the movie continues to thrill, with standout performances by each member of the cast. 

     The production design in the film is outstanding, as the house in which most of the film is set looks stunning and supports the cinematagrophy’s modern angles and shot selection. The calm, peaceful, and naturistic house in which the family works is sharply contrasted to the crowded, polluted and dirty city where the family lives, highlighting class differences.  

     Film Editing, Production Design, Directing, Original Screen, and more, make up the film’s six Oscar nominations. A win at the SAG awards in mid-January has catapulted it to the top of the rankings where it currently sits, just a hair below 1917. Making history as the first South Korean film ever nominated for Best International Feature Film and Best Picture, Parasite already has lots to be proud of, but still has its eyes on the prize.

Joker

     A year after Black Panther marked the first comic book to ever receive a Best Picture nomination, Joker went from divisive debut to leading the field in total nominations.

     While Joker fans and the film’s director Todd Phillips argue that Joker provides a deep insight into class inequality and revolting against the establishment, the film is left feeling uninspired and slightly predictable. Specifically, it relies heavily upon tropes from movie classics such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, undermining its originality and spoiling much of its plot for anyone who watched either film. Overall, Joker tries too much with its story but fails to break beyond the surface, leaving the viewer wanting more.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck, the Joker’s alter ego, is transformative.

      But beyond its underwhelming storytelling, Joker is an impressive piece of cinema. The eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir will make any audience member’s hair stand up, providing the perfect amount of tension to complement the film’s impeccable acting. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck, the Joker’s alter ego, is a feat of physical and mental transformation, with Joaquin expressing his character in everything from his laugh to his walk. 

     Phillip’s unique take on the character hopefully inspires other  films that delve deeply into the inner lives of familiar comic book heroes. 

     With a total of eleven nominations, Joker is the most nominated film of the year. After winning nearly every relevant award so far, Phoenix would seem to have the Best Actor statuette on lock. It is not likely that Joker will win Best Picture, but wilder things have happened. The Academy has been much more supportive of this film than many have predicted, nominating Phillips for Best Director over the likes of Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach, and more. 

1917

     The most recent theatrical release of this year’s nominations, 1917 has covered immense ground in the awards discussion in the few short weeks it has been available to the public.

     Based on stories told to director Sam Mendes by his grandfather, 1917 follows the story of two British soldiers during World War I as they endure a tireless journey to call off a group of 1,600 British troops walking directly into a trap. Along their journey, they encounter various challenges and fellow troops, both friend and foe. The emphasis of the film is clearly on the action and outcome of the story as opposed to character development or anything beyond the basics of the plot. With that, the two main actors, Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, do their best to deliver compelling performances that relay the treacherousness of their journey.

     Notably, the film seems to unfold in one continuous take, never cutting or stopping. This feat required tremendous work by the cast and crew as they timed each scene and built their sets accordingly. While some may think the ‘one take’ a gimmick rather than a tool, 1917 uses the technique to perfection. By avoiding sudden changes of the camera’s position, Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins sustain a feeling of discomfort and tension, holding the audience as captive in this journey as are the soldiers themselves.

     Startling wins at the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild of America have placed 1917 firmly on the inside track to a Best Picture win. Along with a nearly guaranteed win for Best Cinematography, Mendes himself may win Best Director. Additional wins in the sound categories could bring 1917’s total haul for the Oscars to five awards, far and away the most of any of the movies nominated.

     With a Best Picture race that has had more back and forth than any year in recent history, there is always a chance for an upset. As we’ve seen in years prior, anything is possible, making for a suspenseful and dramatic night. Don’t forget to tune in on February 9 at 8:00 p.m. EST on ABC, hosted, once again, by nobody.

Author: Matthew Schwartz '21

Managing Editor Matthew Schwartz has written for The Index for three years. He previously served as News Editor.