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And the Oscar goes to … : Previewing the 92nd Academy Awards

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It’s Oscar time again!

This year marks the 92nd Academy Awards, with the ceremony set to take place starting at 8 p.m. on the night of February 9. Over nine decades of Hollywood’s biggest night of self-celebration and self-congratulation. Nearly a century of dazzling gowns and dapper tuxedos and impactful acceptance speeches and inane interviews on the red carpet. Generations of excitement and disappointment.

As someone who loves the movies, I love the Oscars. Yes, they’ve grown increasingly out of touch over the years, but so what? There’s something exciting about rewarding the best of the best – even if what seems like the best of the best today might not seem so great later on down the road.

This marks the 13th Oscar preview I’ve written for The Maine Edge. I’ve been doing this for a baker’s dozen years. You might think that means I know something. And maybe I do … but not that much. While I’ve gotten pretty good at determining just who is going to win, the reality is that there are always going to be some surprises. That’s the joy of it – you just never know.

Here’s a look at my predictions for the 2020 Academy Awards. I've included write-ups for the big ones and just winners for the down-ballot stuff. As always, bear in mind that my picks here are for who I think WILL win, not who I think SHOULD win; this year especially feels like one where there’s some disconnect between the two.

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Supporting Actor:

Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

As a rule, the supporting actor category tends to be stacked, but it has been a while since we saw a group that had this kind of sheer star power. Weird to think of Sir Anthony Hopkins as last on any list, but he’s running fifth in this race, despite his strong and engaging work in “The Two Popes.” Pacino and Pesci both give exceptional performances in “The Irishman,” with Pacino channeling his over-the-top energy in service to Jimmy Hoffa and Pesci making a complex and surprisingly poignant return to the big screen. Legends both, working with another legend in Scorsese. They had some early support, but they probably split the attention of voters. Part of me really thought that Hanks had this wrapped up with his exquisite portrayal of Mr. Rogers; it’s a phenomenal performance that is heartfelt and sincere in a way that we don’t often get to see. However, the relatively muted response to the film itself likely undermined his chances. And here’s the thing – Brad Pitt doesn’t have an Oscar and the Academy probably thinks it’s his turn. He’s won everything that hasn’t been nailed down this awards season for his phenomenal turn as Cliff Booth; there’s no reason to think that the train stops before reaching this final station. You want to argue that it’s a lead performance, I won’t fight you. But he’s here in this category – and he is almost certainly (and deservedly) going to win.

Winner: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Supporting Actress:

Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”

This is an interesting group as well, though it also seems to have a frontrunner who has all but sewed up the win. Bates is a wonderful actress and was great in “Richard Jewell,” but she’s definitely lowest on this particular list. Johansson’s work in “Jojo Rabbit” has been well-celebrated, but she’s splitting votes in a different way – against herself for her Lead Actress nom. Margot Robbie gives an incredible performance in “Bombshell,” finding ways to embody the contradictory nature of both the character and the story in which that character exists. She’s going to get one of these sooner or later – just not yet. Ditto Florence Pugh, whose work in “Little Women” is simply outstanding, mining the traditionally off-putting character of Amy March and discovering heretofore unconveyed complexity and depth. It’s a smart, sharp performance that stands out even in an exceptional ensemble. I’d honestly give it to either Robbie or Pugh, but all signs point to Dern taking home the hardware for her work as the hard-as-nails lawyer in “Marriage Story.” It’s a fine performance – not like a win for her would be some sort of travesty – but to my mind, it doesn’t measure up to what either Robbie or Pugh brings to the table. Still, this feels like Dern’s to lose – she’s another Hollywood lifer that the Academy will enjoy rewarding.

Winner: Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”

Lead Actor:

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

A wide range of different sorts of performances mark the Lead Actor ranks this year. We’ll start with the no-chancers – Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas. While Pryce gives a strong and sophisticated turn in “The Two Popes,” the simple truth is that the film never managed to get any traction among the voters. Of course, “The Two Popes” was a Marvel movie compared to “Pain and Glory,” an acclaimed offering from the brilliant Pedro Almodovar that few people saw. If Antonio Banderas gives an amazing performance and no one sees it, does it win an Oscar? No. Then we’ve got DiCaprio, who gives what might be the best performance of his entire career as the broken-down B-lister Rick Dalton; it’s a thoughtful and engaged performance, one that allows DiCaprio to deconstruct his own status and explore the transient nature of fame. Driver is generally recognized as one of the best of his generation – this is his second nomination in a row – and will wind up with at least one of these trophies someday. He’s great in “Marriage Story.” In a different year, he and DiCaprio both would have a shot. But this year, Lead Actor belongs to Joaquin Phoenix. No matter where you fall with regards to the polarizing “Joker,” it’s tough to argue against the sheer capital-A Acting energy that Phoenix brings to the table. It’s the sort of turn that the Academy loves to recognize, physical transformation and personality instability combining to create a big, showy performance. Not sure if Phoenix should win, but he’s going to.

Winner: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”

Lead Actress:

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Renee Zellweger, “Judy”

This might be the oddest race of the acting categories, though it’s almost as solid of a lock as the rest. We’ll start with Erivo, whose performance as Harriet Tubman is quite good, but not quite strong enough to overcome the relative meh-ness of the film in which it appeared. Johansson’s excellent work in “Marriage Story” puts her here, just the ninth woman ever to earn two acting nods in the same year. Alas, it isn’t going to be enough in this category either. Theron’s turn as Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell” is mesmerizing, cultivating an eerie resemblance to the real-life Kelly while also finding the underlying pathos and building sympathy for a character that many revile. Meanwhile, we have Ronan, whose performance as Jo March in “Little Women” is charming and powerful; despite not yet being 26 years old, this marks her fourth Oscar nomination. She’ll win one of these years, but probably not this one (although she probably should). No, the winner is likely going to be Zellweger, whose performance as the titular Judy Garland in “Judy” is very good, but kind of biopic boilerplate. And the movie itself was little-seen and just OK. I’ll admit to not understanding why this particular performance seems so locked in in terms of the win, but it’s tough to deny the portents. This might be the closest thing we have to a potential upset – and I would LOVE to see Ronan or Theron take it – but the Judy Garland love will be too much to overcome.

Winner: Renee Zellweger, “Judy”

Director:

Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Sam Mendes, “1917”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”

Honestly, the most notable thing about this list is one name that isn’t on it. It’s a legitimate shame that Greta Gerwig isn’t here for her work on “Little Women.” She absolutely warrants a spot here, more so than at least a couple of the dudes who made the cut. Todd Phillips created an undeniable phenomenon with “Joker,” though the truth is that it boils down to a Martin Scorsese pastiche that is ultimately elevated not by anything Phillips did, but by the incandescent lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix. Speaking of Scorsese – I love him. He’s a cinematic icon and a genius who managed to put together a masterful work at an age when most directors have either slumped into relative mediocrity or walked away entirely. He’s done something amazing with “The Irishman.”

I would happily replace either with Gerwig.

The three at the top, well – different story. Tarantino offers up perhaps his greatest directorial performance with his work on “OUATIH” – it’s a beautifully realized fairy tale alt-Hollywood that is incredible to look at and a joy to live in, a film packed with the stuff QT does well and largely devoid of the stuff that he does … less well. Bong Joon Ho’s work on “Parasite” is utterly transcendent, reflective of the auteur’s vision he brings to the party. To create a film that is so compelling and so challenging while also remaining intimate and relatable is a stunning accomplishment. That said, I think it’s going to go to Mendes, whose “1917” is a technical wonder that also happens to be a war movie – it’s a very Oscars combo. While I personally would likely vote for Bong or Tarantino first, I think Mendes is going to capture this one as “1917” goes on to a big night.

Winner: Sam Mendes, “1917”

Best Picture:

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“Parasite”
“Little Women”
“1917”
“The Irishman”
“Marriage Story”
“Joker”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Ford v Ferrari”

You might have noticed that the previous categories have all been ordered alphabetically. If you noticed that, you might also have noticed that I eschewed alphabetical order for this final entry. The reason for that is simple: since the Academy’s Best Picture ballot uses ranked choice voting (quite familiar to us Mainers these days), I thought I would offer up an illustration of how my own ballot might have looked.

Top to bottom, this is one of the better lists of nominees that we’ve seen since the expansion of the field. That said, there are at least a couple of movies that are just happy to be here.

Most glaring is “Ford v Ferrari,” which has failed to gain any real attraction this awards season. Despite checking a lot of bait boxes – movie star leads, name director, biopic, a big bright aesthetic – it is easily the least likely winner of the bunch. A perfectly fine movie that I quite liked whose probable fate is to become a staple for dads on planes.

Next, let’s talk about Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit.” This movie’s biggest obstacle is that it is just a little too weird for the Academy to take seriously in a year with so many more traditionally Oscar-y films. This is the epitome of a “happy to be here” movie, one that has a lot to offer but still can’t quite measure up to the opposition.

The discussion surrounding “Joker” has been a wild one for months now. It obviously has some appeal to the Academy – it scored 11 total nominations, the most of any film this year. And yet, aside from Phoenix in Lead Actor, it’s tough for me to see this one winning much on the night. I might well be wrong – there’s a lot of love for this movie coming from some unexpected corners – but there are just too many good offerings out there for this one to come out on top. I expect its polarizing nature might hurt it in the preferential balloting, but I also won’t be shocked if it wins.

Let’s hit the Netflix double dip next. “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” represent the streaming service’s most direct effort to score an Oscar to date. After the near-miss of “Roma” last year, Netflix went hard and varied. On the one hand, you have the sweeping gangster epic of “The Irishman,” a big and expensive collection of Hollywood icons (Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino) that in some ways essentially recreated the big-studio auteurist vibe of the 1970s. On the other, the small-scale intimate drama of writer/director Noah Bambach’s “Marriage Story,” a verbose and visceral family story featuring incredible performances from the likes of Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern. Two excellent movies that are extremely unlikely to win.

I’ve got “1917” fourth on my list, but again – that’s MY list. That being said, while I don’t know that the film is going to be at the top of too many ballots, I also don’t believe it will be at the bottom of many ballots. It’s the kind of technically impressive offering that, while maybe not the favorite movie of a lot of people, could well be the second or third choice for A LOT of voters. And in the world of ranked choice voting, that’s enough to push it to the forefront. Seriously – I’ve got it fourth on my ballot, but I genuinely think that it’s going to win the whole damn thing.

Next on my list is “Little Women,” which is absolutely not going to win. I loved the movie, but word is that the film wasn’t particularly well-received by certain … factions of the Academy. Do I need to spell it out? Dudes. Reports indicate that a not-insignificant percentage of male voters never bothered to see the film for reasons that you can probably work out for yourself. And it’s a shame, because Greta Gerwig has crafted an incredible film, one driven by her exceptional screenplay and direction, as well as a collection of outstanding performances from an incredibly talented young ensemble. “Little Women” deserves better than what it will almost certainly get.

In second place, I’ve got Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” It is an amazing film, a movie whose powerful performances and even more powerful cultural commentary linger with the viewer long after the credits have faded. It will be interesting to see if it can overcome some of the inherent prejudices against foreign films held by Academy voters; it would be a huge step forward for a film like “Parasite” to win here, but it’s likely going to have to settle for the Best International Feature Oscar that it will win. I’ve heard rumblings from some pundits predicting a Picture/Director split, but even if that happens, the “Parasite” victory will likely be Bong’s direction. A lot of people have named “Parasite” the best movie of the year; they’ll get no argument from me.

And yet, my number one slot goes to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” I was utterly transported by Quentin Tarantino’s stylish, stylized vision of Hollywood in the transformative period that was the late 1960s. It was shaggy and profane in the way that QT’s movies often are, anchored by next-level Movie Star performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, along with an outstanding turn from Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. It meanders from scene to scene, buoyed by an ever-present low-key cool that simply radiates from its two leads. “OUATIH” was my favorite movie of the year, but I recognize that it is an unlikely winner here (though I’d love to be wrong). I think it takes a couple of trophies – Supporting Actor and Tarantino’s third Original Screenplay win – but the big one will continue to elude Tarantino.

So yeah – while there was some early momentum for “OUATIH” and a few indicators that “Parasite” was surging, the general consensus seems to be that “1917” is peaking at the right time. That late push, plus the realities of preferential balloting, should be enough to put the World War I epic at the top of the heap come the end of the night on February 9.

Winner: “1917”

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And here are the rest of my picks. Notables include Gerwig and Tarantino for Adapted and Original Screenplay, respectively, as well as the legendary Roger Deakins for cinematography for his work on “1917.”

Adapted Screenplay:

“The Irishman,” Steven Zaillian
“Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi
“Joker,” Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
“Little Women,” Greta Gerwig
“The Two Popes,” Anthony McCarten

Winner: “Little Women,” Greta Gerwig

Original Screenplay:

“Knives Out,” Rian Johnson
“Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach
“1917,” Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino
“Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han

Winner: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino

Cinematography:

“The Irishman,” Rodrigo Prieto
“Joker,” Lawrence Sher
“The Lighthouse,” Jarin Blaschke
“1917,” Roger Deakins
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Robert Richardson

Winner: Roger Deakins, “1917”

Animated Feature:

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” Dean DeBlois
“I Lost My Body,” Jeremy Clapin
“Klaus,” Sergio Pablos
“Missing Link,” Chris Butler
“Toy Story 4,” Josh Cooley

Winner: “Toy Story 4”

Animated Short:

“Dcera,” Daria Kashcheeva
“Hair Love,” Matthew A. Cherry
“Kitbull,” Rosana Sullivan
“Memorable,” Bruno Collet
“Sister,” Siqi Song

Winner: “Hair Love,” Matthew A. Cherry

Best Documentary Feature:

“American Factory,” Julia Rieichert, Steven Bognar
“The Cave,” Feras Fayyad
“The Edge of Democracy,” Petra Costa
“For Sama,” Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
“Honeyland,” Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov

Winner: “American Factory”

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“In the Absence,” Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone,” Carol Dysinger
“Life Overtakes Me,” Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas
“St. Louis Superman,” Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan
“Walk Run Cha-Cha,” Laura Nix

Winner: “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone,” Carol Dysinger

Best Live Action Short Film:

“Brotherhood,” Meryam Joobeur
“Nefta Football Club,” Yves Piat
“The Neighbors’ Window,” Marshall Curry
“Saria,” Bryan Buckley
“A Sister,” Delphine Girard

Winner: “Brotherhood,” Meryam Joobeur

Best International Feature Film:

“Corpus Christi,” Jan Komasa
“Honeyland,” Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
“Les Miserables,” Ladj Ly
“Pain and Glory,” Pedro Almodovar
“Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho

Winner: “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho

Film Editing:

“Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland
“The Irishman,” Thelma Schoonmaker
“Jojo Rabbit,” Tom Eagles
“Joker,” Jeff Groth
“Parasite,” Jinmo Yang

Winner: “Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland

Sound Editing:

“Ford v Ferrari,” Don Sylvester
“Joker,” Alan Robert Murray
“1917,” Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Wylie Stateman
“Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker,” Matthew Wood, David Acord

Winner: “1917,” Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate

Sound Mixing:

“Ad Astra”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Joker”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Winner: “1917”

Production Design:

“The Irishman,” Bob Shaw and Regina Graves
“Jojo Rabbit,” Ra Vincent and Nora Sopkova
“1917,” Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh
“Parasite,” Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, and Cho Hee

Winner: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh

Original Score:

“Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“1917,” Thomas Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams

Winner: “Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir

Original Song:

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” “Toy Story 4”
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” “Rocketman”
“I’m Standing With You,” “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unknown,” “Frozen 2”
“Stand Up,” “Harriet”

Winner: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” “Rocketman”

Makeup and Hair:

“Bombshell”
“Joker”
“Judy”
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
“1917”

Winner: “Bombshell”

Costume Design:

“The Irishman,” Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
“Jojo Rabbit,” Mayes C. Rubeo
“Joker,” Mark Bridges
“Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Arianne Phillips

Winner: “Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran

Visual Effects:

“Avengers: Endgame”
“The Irishman”
“1917”
“The Lion King”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Winner: “Avengers: Endgame”

Last modified on Tuesday, 04 February 2020 05:48

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