Now that we’ve seen the trifecta of early film festivals end (Venice, Telluride, and Toronto), we have something of an idea of how the Oscar race is beginning to shape up. We now know a few films that are likely going to lead the race (Marriage Story) and a few that are probably done (The Goldfinch). So now is the time for me to share my early thoughts on what the top eight categories are going to look like.
Right now, I have The Report out front for Best Picture, mainly because of its high 84% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and because that first trailer was spectacular. It is very reminiscent of Spotlight, which won four years ago. Obviously it’s too early to say it has the top prize nailed down, so I’ll say it’s ahead of my second-place pick, Marriage Story, but a thin margin.
Marriage Story, in the meantime, just looks phenomenal. Coming from Noah Baumbach, who’s no stranger to Academy voters, Marriage Story has a shot at landing four acting nominations, and may run the board this year at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. It doesn’t hurt to have universal acclaim from Rotten Tomatoes, so I might bump this one up later on in the season.
Elsewhere in Best Picture, we have three films that haven’t been seen yet: Bombshell, The Irishman, and Little Women. Judging from what we know, all three look solid, and come from acclaimed directors (Scorsese for Irishman, Greta Gerwig for Little Women, and Jay Roach for Bombshell). Since they are so far away, it is also difficult to call these sure bets, so I will reposition them as we learn more about them.
Remembering that Best Picture can include up to ten selections, I have five other films, four of which have at least been screened at the festivals. They are A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Jojo Rabbit, which just won the Audience Award at TIFF (which went to Green Book last year), Ford v Ferrari, and Joker, which won the Golden Lion at Venice (future Best Picture winner The Shape of Water won two years ago at Venice).
My last pick is one that’s already seen release: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. You can never truly doubt Quentin Tarantino at the Oscars, and while I have my doubts that this’ll be the one for him, I think it can do some damage and earn a good number of nominations.
A few other films to keep an eye on for the top award are The Farewell, Parasite, Pain and Glory, 1917, Just Mercy, The Two Popes, and Harriet.
I already have a sense that this will be a competitive year for this category. I have Martin Scorsese out front for The Irishman, just as a placeholder. While he won for The Departed, a lot of film fans wouldn’t blink twice if he picked up his second win for another mob story. Again, it’s a little crazy to say he already has this one in the bag.
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are former (and future) screenwriting partners, and both seem to have a bid for this category this year. The directors branch of the Academy turns more toward auteurs and foreign directors (like last year’s nominees), so it’s a gamble to say two directors known for working together are going to be nominated for separate projects, but I’ll keep them in for now.
My last two picks are Scott Z. Burns for The Report, and Pedro Almodovar for Pain and Glory. Like I said, foreign directors have done well in recent years with both Michele Haneke (Amour) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) in the last decade, and you can throw Alfonso Cuaron for Roma into that mix as well, so Almodovar seems like a good choice. Bong Joon-ho is also contending for Parasite, so he’s also going for the same argument.
A few other potential nominees include Sam Mendes for 1917, James Mangold for Ford v Ferrari, Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit, Todd Phillips for Joker, and Marielle Heller for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
As I said, it is very early, but of the four acting races, Best Actor seems right now to be a pretty stacked field. I have Leonardo DiCaprio out front for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and of the three acting contenders for that film (Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are the other two), I’d say he has the easiest shot. His role has the most emotional range, and you could argue he’s the most popular of the three with the Academy.
As with Scorsese, I have Leo for the time being. In second place, and I also have a feeling he might usurp Leo, is Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. As the titular role, he has been seemingly the one untouchable aspect of the film for its critics. In other words, almost every review I’ve read admits that he is fantastic. Phoenix is also a three-time loser at the Oscars, so the fourth time may be the charm. And, of course, everyone remembers that this same role earned a posthumous Oscar win for Heath Ledger, so there is precedence for a Joker to win at the Oscars.
My other three picks right now are Adam Driver for Marriage Story (he also has a shot for The Report), Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory, and Michael B. Jordan for Just Mercy. A few others to keep an eye on are Robert De Niro for The Irishman, Taron Egerton for Rocketman, Christian Bale or Matt Damon for Ford v Ferrari, either Anthony Hopkins or Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes (no official word yet from Netflix who is competing where), Eddie Murphy for Dolemite is My Name, Mark Ruffalo for Dark Waters, Daniel Kaluuya for Queen and Slim, and Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Early on last year, I picked Saoirse Ronan for Mary Queen of Scots, and that totally fell apart over the course of the season. This year, I’m picking her again, but this time for Little Women. Here’s hoping she actually goes all the way this time, because like Joaquin, she’s gone 0 for 3 at the Oscars, and we’ve seen a good number of younger actresses awarded in this category this decade, and she fits that mold.
Elsewhere in the category, I see two first-time nominees in Cynthia Erivo for Harriet and Scarlett Johansson for Marriage Story. I loved Erivo last year in Bad Times at the El Royale, and despite Harriet being a mixed bag off its reception at TIFF, I feel she is a good bet at the moment. Johansson, in the meantime, feels like an actress who should already have had a couple of nominations under her belt, but acting in such a strong contender this year does nothing but help her odds even more.
My other two picks are Charlize Theron for Bombshell and Renee Zellweger for Judy. Otherwise, I’d keep an eye out for Awkwafina for The Farewell, Alfre Woodard for Clemency, Lupita Nyong’o for Us, and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith for Queen and Slim. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem too competitive just yet, but give it time.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
This seems to be the most chaotic category of the four acting races. There are so many possible options and avenues the Academy may take this year that it makes my head spin. Let me just start with the five I have picked, then we’ll go from there. Out front, I have Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy. Playing an innocent man on death row is always a good role for the Oscars, and I can see Foxx as one of those names who goes down with two Oscar wins, and maybe more in the future.
Next up is John Lithgow for Bombshell. He will be playing Roger Ailes, and while we haven’t seen him in any advertising yet, I imagine he will be in heavy makeup, which helped Gary Oldman to an Oscar win two years ago. Tom Hanks will be running in Supporting (for now at least) as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and it might be his first nomination in nearly two decades (Cast Away was his last notice).
Then I have Joe Pesci in The Irishman, and Alan Alda in Marriage Story. However, all the attention is currently on Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but I argue his Oscar-caliber scenes are later on in the film, and I think a few voters who don’t care for this film may shut it off before they see those scenes. Al Pacino will also be in play for The Irishman, so it’s not impossible for both he and Pesci to get in, but for now I’d say it’s probably one or the other.
Elsewhere in Supporting Actor, we have Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse, Sterling K. Brown in Waves, Taika Waititi in Jojo Rabbit, Tracy Letts in Ford v Ferrari, Timothee Chalamet in Little Women, and, for me, Zack Gottsagen in The Peanut Butter Falcon. Like I said, a lot of possibilities here.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
I have something of a long shot out front: Jennifer Hudson in Cats. Yeah, I know, next to nobody loved that first trailer, and there’s a shot it is ignored entirely, but look at the director of the film: Tom Hooper. What have his last three films had in common? Acting wins. First Colin Firth for The King’s Speech, then Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables, and finally Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. Hudson had an Oscar win for Dreamgirls, meaning she’s on their radar, so I do have a method to my supposed madness.
My other four nominees are Annette Bening in The Report, Laura Dern in Marriage Story, whose role may be strong enough for her to run this whole category, Shuzhen Zhou for The Farewell, and Meryl Streep for Little Women because of course. When has Streep ever not been nominated for an Oscar?
Like Best Actress, the competition seems soft, but that may change over time. I’d look out for Margot Robbie for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Bombshell. Meryl Streep also has a shot for The Laundromat, Nicole Kidman for Bombshell, and either Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, or Eliza Scanlen for Little Women (they play the other March sisters).
Also, and I never thought I’d say this, Jennifer Lopez has a shot for Hustlers. We’re not sure if she’ll run for Lead or Supporting for it, but at this time I’d say she probably has a better shot in Supporting. Scarlett Johansson may have all of her stokes in the fire for Lead Actress in Marriage Story, but her supporting role in Jojo Rabbit may also garner her some love.
Best Original Screenplay
Between the two screenplay categories, it feels like Original Screenplay will have much fiercer competition. My five right now are The Report, Marriage Story, Booksmart, Once upon a Time in Hollywood, and Bombshell. All but one of these I have in for Best Picture, which has been a common factor in recent years, like First Reformed last year, The Big Sick two years ago, and both The Lobster and 20th Century Women in 2016. So Booksmart may have an edge on some other possible Best Picture nominees.
A few other titles to look out for are Parasite, The Farewell, Waves, The Two Popes, Pain and Glory, Ford v Ferrari, Knives Out, and Queen and Slim.
Best Adapted Screenplay
My five here are The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and Just Mercy. We don’t have a similar rule like Original Screenplay where having one non-Best Picture nominee included is a good sign. Hell, two years ago Call Me by Your Name was the only Best Picture nominee in the category. For now I feel solid on these five, but look out for Joker, Dark Waters, Toy Story 4, and The Laundromat.
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