Who Will Win This Year’s Oscars?

It’s that time of year again – time for my predictions of the winners at the upcoming annual Academy Awards. While some of the likely winners are beginning to come into view, a few are still up for grabs. With that said, here are my picks for who will take home statues in the top six categories this year:

Best Actor

The Field:   Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory” (“Dolor y gloria”); Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”; Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”; Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

Who Will Likely Win:  Joaquin Phoenix. Having picked up the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards for this portrayal, and with the exclusion of his chief competitor (Taron Egerton for “Rocketman”) from the field, Phoenix probably doesn’t face any serious threats from his fellow nominees, despite the generally good quality of their performances. Given that this is Phoenix’s fourth Oscar nomination without a win, Hollywood is probably ready to honor him for what is arguably the best performance of his career.

Who Should Win (Based on the Nominees):  Adam Driver. As impressive as Phoenix is in “Joker,” there are many aspects of his performance that are rather repetitive and arguably monodimensional. In light of that, I would give the edge in this category to Driver due to the greater range of required elements. Unfortunately, Driver may not have enough backing to put him over the top this time, but it could be looked upon as a significant down payment toward a future award.

Who Should Win (Based on All Eligible Candidates):  Taron Egerton, “Rocketman.” As the winner of the Golden Globe Award for best actor in a comedy or musical, Egerton is the class of 2019’s field of eligible lead actors. His portrayal of rock icon Elton John is positively outstanding, and his snub as a nominee in this field is inexcusable. Perhaps Rami Malek’s win for his role as legendary rocker Freddie Mercury in last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” may have hurt Egerton’s chances this year, as some Academy voters may have been reluctant to recognize two consecutive portrayals of pop musicians. That’s a pretty flimsy excuse, though; superb performances are superb performances and should be recognized as such, despite whatever similar roles may have preceded them. With film biographies of other rock musicians already in the works, this could work against those seeking to play those parts, and that would be a shame if their work merits attention.

Possible Dark Horse:  Antonio Banderas. This is admittedly a very, very, very long shot at this point, but, as the winner of the best actor award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, he can’t be completely ruled out, despite the incredibly long odds.

Also-Rans:  Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonathan Pryce. Having won an Oscar for “The Revenant” just a few years ago, it’s likely too soon for DiCaprio to pick up another award, despite the fact that his performance was the only redeeming element of his film. As for Pryce, he should consider his nomination as his award, a well-earned honor for someone who has turned in a number of fine performances over the years (especially in last year’s “The Wife”) and has always been overlooked.

Who Should Have Been Left Out:  Leonardo DiCaprio and Antonio Banderas. As good as DiCaprio was, there were a number of other performances that probably could have trumped this one (see below), especially since his chances of winning are so low that this nomination is something of a throwaway. And, where Banderas is concerned, his portrayal was good but certainly not extraordinary (makes me wonder how he won at Cannes as well). Again, another candidate would have made a better choice.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered:  There were a number of other worthy performances deserving of consideration, including Adam Driver, “The Report”; Kelvin Harrison Jr., “Luce”; Taron Egerton, “Rocketman”; Roman Griffin Davis, “Jojo Rabbit”; John Lithgow, “The Tomorrow Man”; Paul Walter Hauser, “Richard Jewell”; George MacKay, “1917”; and Michael B. Jordan, “Just Mercy.”

Snubs:  Some Oscar watchers were surprised at the exclusion of Adam Sandler from the field for his rare dramatic performance in “Uncut Gems.” But, to be honest, it’s an overrated portrayal, one not all that different from the kind he often gives in many of his alleged comedic turns only in a serious context. Academy voters got this one right. What they got wrong, though, as noted above, was the exclusion of Taron Egerton for “Rocketman.” That oversight was just downright wrong.

Best Actress

The Field:  Cynthia Erivo, “Harriett”; Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”; Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”; Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”; Renée Zellweger, “Judy”

Who Will Likely Win:  Renée Zellweger. This is Zellweger’s award to lose. As the pre-awards season favorite, and with victories in the National Board of Review, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award contests, Zellweger has a virtual lock on this category.

Who Should Win (Based on the Nominees):  Renée Zellweger. Despite some other fine portrayals in this category, Zellweger is nevertheless head and shoulders above her competitors, delivering such a powerful and authentic depiction of entertainment legend Judy Garland that one would swear she was channeling the Hollywood icon. This is clearly a case of an award being given to the right performer for the right performance.

Who Should Win (Based on All Eligible Candidates):  Renée Zellweger. See above.

Possible Dark Horse:  Scarlett Johansson. This is another very long shot, but Johansson is perhaps the only actress in this category whose portrayal is strong enough to possibly challenge Zellweger. In fact, if Zellweger weren’t in the picture, Johansson would probably be the front runner here. However, given what she’s up against, it’s unlikely she’ll be able to pull off an upset.

Also-Rans:  Anyone who isn’t Renée Zellweger, but that’s especially true for Cynthia Erivo, Saoirse Ronan and Charlize Theron. This trio simply doesn’t have enough gas in the tank to mount a successful challenge, despite the strength of their performances (especially Erivo and Theron). Their nominations are their awards.

Who Should Have Been Left Out:  Saoirse Ronan. The actress’s cloying, over-the-top, ever-mugging-for-the-camera performance grows annoying quickly, and she clearly doesn’t belong in this field. Her inclusion unfortunately cheated other more deserving performers of receiving worthwhile recognition.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered:  There were a number of other worthy performances deserving of consideration, including Awkwafina, “The Farewell”; Lupita Nyong’o, “Us”; Keira Knightley, “Official Secrets”; Emma Thompson, “Late Night”; Taraji P. Henson, “The Best of Enemies”; Cate Blanchett, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”; Helen Mirren, “The Good Liar”; Tika Sumpter, “An Acceptable Loss”; Mary Kay Place, “Diane”; Blythe Danner, “The Tomorrow Man”; and Alfre Woodard, “Clemency.” Other possible contenders (who could end up being 2021 candidates) include Lesley Manville, “Ordinary Love”; Catherine Deneuve, “The Truth”; and Eliza Scanlen, “Babyteeth.”

Snubs:  While many of the foregoing candidates would have been worth including here, the snubs of Awkwafina and Lupita Nyong’o were inexcusable. They deserved to be included.

Best Supporting Actor

The Field:  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”

Who Will Likely Win:  Brad Pitt (though God knows why). He’s won virtually everything leading up to the Oscars, and that probably won’t change on awards night (but see below). Given that this is his fourth acting nomination without a win, he may finally break through that barrier this time if present conditions hold.

Who Should Win (Based on the Nominees):  Tom Hanks. The veteran actor’s portrayal of children’s TV legend Fred Rogers is spot-on, a fitting and reverent tribute to someone who impacted so many lives in so many positive ways. It’s the kind of performance that’s easy to warm up to, and Hanks makes the most of it, a depiction worthy of the big prize.

Who Should Win (Based on All Eligible Candidates):  Tom Hanks, though there are certainly many worthy contenders, both among the nominees (Al Pacino and Joe Pesci) and others (see below). They’re all about on par with one another, and any of them would make good winners.

Possible Dark Horse:  Tom Hanks. While Pitt seems to be on firm footing going into the Oscars, my gut tells me that his standing is not a lock, and that’s where Hanks comes in, for several reasons. For starters, Pitt’s character is somewhat edgy, perhaps a little more so than what suits the safe sensibilities of the Academy these days. Also, given that voters tend to support those whom they believe evoke the “right” image of their industry, this intangible can influence how the ballots are cast. Hanks fits the bill on both of these fronts: He plays a nice guy, and he is a nice guy, possessing a likability factor far stronger than the sometimes-cheeky image of Bad Boy Pitt. While voters have conceded the early rounds to Pitt, they might back off when it comes to the brass ring, and, based on his character (and his character!), that could open the door for Hanks. Admittedly, the odds for this are probably rather long, but it’s not entirely inconceivable.

Also-Rans:  Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. They should consider their nominations their awards.

Who Should Have Been Left Out:  Brad Pitt. I find it unfathomable that Pitt’s performance is seen as the best in this category. The reason: He doesn’t do anything for most of his screen time, so what’s to honor? As much as I usually enjoy the antics of his comedic performances, there’s not much to latch onto here. Truthfully, I can’t really blame him for that, because the vapid, vacuous material he’s been handed doesn’t give him much to work with. And, because “there’s no there there,” there’s really nothing to recognize, either. His exclusion would have opened up the door for a number of other more deserving contenders.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered:  There were a number of other worthy performances deserving of consideration, including Alan Alda, “Marriage Story”; Ray Liotta, “Marriage Story”; Shia LaBeouf, “Honey Boy”; Lucas Hedges, “Honey Boy”; Noah Jupe, “Honey Boy”; Chris Cooper, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”; Zack Gottsagen, “The Peanut Butter Falcon”; Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit”; Alessandro Nivola, “The Art of Self-Defense”; Sam Rockwell, “The Best of Enemies”; Sam Rockwell, “Richard Jewell”; John Lithgow, “Bombshell”; Dean-Charles Chapman, “1917”; and Jamie Foxx, “Just Mercy.” Another possible contender (who could end up being a 2021 candidate) is Ben Mendelsohn, “Babyteeth”

Snubs:  There are no obvious snubs here, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t other worthy contenders, as noted above. I believe good cases could be made for the actors from “Marriage Story” and “Honey Boy,” though they likely lacked the support to put them over the top and into the field.

Best Supporting Actress

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

Who Will Likely Win:  Laura Dern. Having taken home the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards in this category, Dern is well on her way to locking up this honor – and deservingly so.

Who Should Win (Based on the Nominees):  Laura Dern. She’s great, and, with this being her third nomination without a prior win, it’s her time.

Who Should Win (Based on All Eligible Candidates):  Laura Dern. Are we seeing a pattern here? But, with that said, there are three other excellent portrayals that would be just as deserving: Octavia Spencer for “Luce,” Shuzhen Zhao for “The Farewell” and Jamie Lee Curtis for “An Acceptable Loss,” fine performances that should have received far more attention than they did.

Possible Dark Horse:  Kathy Bates. Having won the National Board of Review award in this category, Bates is the only actress to have bested Dern this year, and that could keep her in the running. However, given the juggernaut that Dern has been building, it may be difficult for anyone to stop her from taking home the statue.

Also-Rans:  Anyone who isn’t Laura Dern, but that’s especially true for Florence Pugh and Margot Robbie, despite the strength of their performances.

Who Should Have Been Left Out:  Scarlett Johansson. As wonderful as Johansson is in “Marriage Story,” her performance here comes up a little short by comparison. With a more deserving nomination under her belt for her other role, this slot should have been left open for someone else. It should be noted, though, that there’s always the possibility (admittedly remote) that she could take home the award in this category as “the consolation prize” for losing out on the lead actress award (much the same way Jessica Lange did in her 1983 supporting actress win for “Tootsie” after losing out on the evening’s top prize for “Frances”). I don’t expect that to happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered:  There were a number of other worthy performances deserving of consideration, including Annette Bening, “The Report”; Octavia Spencer, “Luce”; Naomi Watts, “Luce”; Andrea Bang, “Luce”; Shuzhen Zhao, “The Farewell”; Jamie Lee Curtis, “An Acceptable Loss”; Jamie Lee Curtis, “Knives Out”; Toni Collette, “Knives Out”; Tilda Swinton, “The Dead Don’t Die”; Maggie Smith, “Downton Abbey”; Taylor Russell, “Waves”; Olivia Wilde, “Richard Jewell”; Nicole Kidman, “Bombshell”; and Allison Janney, “Bombshell.”

Snubs:  The most obvious snub here was the exclusion of Jennifer Lopez for “Hustlers,” though, like Adam Sandler in the best actor category, Academy voters got it right where this performance was concerned, a solid but overrated portrayal not worthy of a nomination. A lesser-known but more disappointing snub in this category was the exclusion of Shuzhen Zhao for her superb performance as the lovable grandmother in “The Farewell,” a nod that should have gone to her instead of Johansson’s secondary, throwaway nomination.

Best Director

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

Who Will Likely Win:  It’s open season, and potentially anyone could win. A valid case could be made for each nominee: Martin Scorsese is a Hollywood legend (and an adored favorite), and there are many fans of “The Irishman” among Academy voters. Todd Phillips’s film “Joker” received the most nominations of any picture, and it made a boatload of money, so a statue in this category could be seen as a reward for his efforts. Sam Mendes has directed a brilliant film, the kind that Hollywood loves to honor (often along with said picture’s creator), and he has already won Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards for it. Quentin Tarantino, a longtime Tinsel Town darling, has never picked up a director’s award, despite two screenplay wins, an “oversight” that voters may want to correct this year. And Bong Joon Ho, the true artist of the field, has demonstrated the skill deserving of this honor, having won a Critics Choice Award in this category and capturing the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival with his edgy but incisive offering.

To complicate matters, the winner of this award is very much tied to the result in the best picture category. For many years, the awards for best picture and director were solidly aligned in tandem. However, in recent years, once-rare splits have become much more commonplace, and I strongly suspect that will be the case again this year. And, given that each of the five films in this category also have strong cases in their favor for best picture, determining exactly how a split would play out is difficult considering the many possible permutations involved.

So what is the most likely scenario? Essentially, anything is possible, though I’m fairly certain that one film won’t take home both awards. Given what’s happened in this year’s awards season thus far, I believe Scorsese and Phillips are the nominees most “easily” eliminated. Of the remaining nominees, Bong Joon Ho, for all his brilliance and despite his CCA victory, may well be the candidate on the outside looking in. That leaves Tarantino and Mendes, and I suspect this is the pair that will ultimately duel it out for the statue. Given my best picture award prediction (see below), if there’s to be a split for the winners in these two categories, I’d have to give the edge to Tarantino, especially since he has never received an Oscar in this category and Mendes has (for “American Beauty” in 2000). However, with all that said, I could still be wrong.

Who Should Win (Based on the Nominees):  Bong Joon Ho. “Parasite” is my favorite film of 2019, and it would not have earned that distinction were it not for its director. He is the class of the field and truly deserves to win.

Who Should Win (Based on All Eligible Candidates):  Bong Joon Ho. Need I say more?

Possible Dark Horses:  As I see it, all of the nominees in this category are equally favorites and dark horses. However, based on what I wrote above, if Tarantino is the most likely contender to take home the prize, the dark horses who stand the best chance of an “upset” are Bong Joon Ho and Mendes (if such wins could even be accurately characterized as such).

Also-Rans:  Whoever doesn’t win!

Who Should Have Been Left Out:  Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips and Quentin Tarantino. It might sound a bit outlandish to exclude three industry heavyweights, but I have my reasons. “The Irishman,” while a good film, is not quite up to Scorsese’s usual standards, and his inclusion here somewhat undermines the quality of his past – and far better – efforts. As for “Joker,” the picture represents an ambitious step up for Phillips as a filmmaker, but the movie is not without its problems, detractions that keep it from being truly great (and worthy of a nomination in this category). But the biggest issue for me here is with Tarantino, the most overrated director in the business today and the creator of a truly awful picture, one that’s boring, pointless, needlessly gratuitous and in just plain bad taste. I’m completely at a loss to understand the fascination with his work, and I’m truly disheartened that he may well be on the brink of winning an award for which he is so ill-suited.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered:  There were a number of other worthy directorial efforts deserving of consideration this year, including Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”; Scott Z. Burns, “The Report”; Julius Onah, “Luce”; Lulu Wang, “The Farewell”; Dexter Fletcher, “Rocketman”; Kent Jones, “Diane”; Jordan Peele, “Us”; Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, “Birds of Passage” (“Pájaros de verana”); and Todd Haynes, “Dark Waters.” Other possible contenders (who could end up being 2021 candidates) are Shannon Murphy, “Babyteeth,” and Andrés Wood, “Spider” (“Araña”).

Snubs:  Many Oscar watchers were surprised by the exclusion of Greta Gerwig for “Little Women” in this category. Gerwig earned considerable, though somewhat hyped, praise for her work on “Lady Bird” (2017), and she was expected to capture another best director nomination here. But, in my opinion once again, Academy voters got this one right; “Little Women” is an underwhelming effort with a number of problems and, with the possible exception of Pugh’s supporting actress nod, is far from deserving of the six nominations it has received. A more inexcusable snub would be the exclusion of Jordan Peele for “Us,” a remarkable film that didn’t pick up any nominations but that should have received ample accolades, including in this category. One could also argue that the exclusions of Lulu Wang for “The Farewell,” Noah Baumbach for “Marriage Story” and Dexter Fletcher for “Rocketman” represent snubs, though perhaps not to the same degree as the others.

Best Picture

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

What Will Likely Win:  It’s open season here among several contenders, but, based on how matters are likely to play out in the directors’ race and on the winners selected in this season’s early competitions, I would give the edge here to “1917.” This movie has all of the elements that make for a classic best picture winner. It’s the kind of grand, sweeping epic that Hollywood likes to think it makes all the time. Also, it’s a period piece rooted in historical fact, the kind of story the industry loves to honor. Finally, it’s the sort of “safe” choice that the Academy has been leaning toward in this category more in recent years. Add to all that the fact that the picture captured the Producers Guild Award for best feature film – often a solid predictor of the eventual Oscar winner – and you’ve got an amalgamation of elements that lend themselves well to a winning combination, one that I feel confident will unfold on award night.

What Should Win (Based on the Nominees):  “Parasite.” Hands down, this is the best picture of 2019. Thankfully the Academy wisely thought it deserved to be included in the field of nominees, a rare feat for a foreign language film.

What Should Win (Based on All Eligible Candidates):  “Parasite.” Again, need I say more?

Possible Dark Horses:  “Parasite,” “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” “The Irishman” and “Joker.” See the above discussion regarding the best director award. Again, it might seem strange to consider these films “dark horses,” but much depends on how the projected split noted above plays out. If the director award moves in a different direction, the winner in this category is likely to follow suit.

Also-Rans:  “Ford v Ferrari,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Little Women” and, sadly, “Marriage Story.” These films should consider their nominations their awards.

What Should Have Been Left Out:  This is a terrible field. It’s more accurately characterized by what should have been left in, with the rest of them dumped. In my opinion, the only nominees worth keeping are “Marriage Story,” “1917” and “Parasite.” “Ford v Ferrari,” “Joker,” “Jojo Rabbit” and “The Irishman” are marginal, and “Little Women” and “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” never should have been considered, let alone included.

What Else Should Have Been Considered:  It’s truly unfortunate that the Academy has taken such a narrow (some might say “dim”) view of the available offerings, especially in light of what ended up making the cut. There were many others worthy of consideration, including “Diane,” “The Report,” “Luce,” “The Farewell,” “Rocketman,” “Us,” “Birds of Passage” (“Pájaros de verana”), “Official Secrets” and “Dark Waters.” Other possible contenders (which could end up being 2021 candidates) are “Babyteeth” and “Spider” (“Araña”).

Snubs:  The Academy’s decision to leave out “Us,” “Rocketman” and “The Farewell” was unfortunate. They all belong here instead of some of the lesser offerings that were included.

Sadly, 2019 was a rather mediocre year for movies, largely devoid of quality offerings for much of the first half and only redeeming itself somewhat in the concluding months. Here’s hoping 2020 brings viewers a better selection of choices.

In the meantime, the Oscars will be handed out in televised ceremonies on Sunday February 9. I’ll post my report card on these predictions thereafter. Enjoy the show!

(Oscar® and Academy Award® are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.)

Reviews of some of the leading contenders are available at the following links: 

“1917”

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

“Bombshell”

“Harriet”

“Jojo Rabbit”

“Joker”

“Judy”

“Marriage Story”

“Parasite”

Reviews of other films that should have been in the running are available at the following links: 

“An Acceptable Loss”

“Birds of Passage”

“Dark Waters“

“Diane”

“Honey Boy”

“Late Night”

“Luce”

“Official Secrets”

“Rocketman”

“The Art of Self-Defense”

“The Best of Enemies”

“The Farewell”

“The Peanut Butter Falcon”

“The Report”

“The Tomorrow Man”

“Us”

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”

Copyright © 2020, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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