2020 PRE-AA THOUGHTS/PREDICTIONS

THOUGHTS:  
- For the second year in a row, the 92nd Academy will be presenting as host . . . . no one.  Yup, the Hollywood snowflakes loved so much the absence of controversy last year after Kevin Hart was
unceremoniously dropped at the last minute that they decided to continue this new "tradition".  For those of you who looked forward to having someone (usually a comedian) do a 5-10 minute skew job to the acting elite seated in the first couple of rows, you'll have to be content on checking out the brilliant Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes in early January.  (Billy Crystal lamented as such on Jimmy Kimmel's show last Thursday.)  So, count on the opening to be just as boring as the rest of the snoozefest.  Maybe something totally unpredictable will happen; say, the wrong winner being announced, an uninvited streaker, etc.  

- All five nominated songs will be performed by the nominees.  And for those who missed this years Grammy Awards (judging by the final numbers, that would be most of you), for some reason, six-time 2020 Grammy winner Billie Elish will perform despite not having a song nominated.  I guess The Academy is trying to increase its ratings by pulling in the youth lobby.

-There will be an Oscar telecast first when Eimear Noone will be the first woman to conduct the orchestra.

- Announced stars to grace the podium include:  Mahershala Ali, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Tiffany Haddish, Tom Holland, Margot Robbie, Emma Stone, Steve Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sandra Oh, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Kelly Marie Tran, & Rebel Wilson.

- Here is an amazing coincidence to ponder:  Writer/Director Noah Baumbach probably drew inspiration for his Best Picture nominee Marriage Story from his own failed marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh.   He is in competition with his current flame (since 2011), and mother of his child as Greta Gerwig's Little Women is also vying for the top award.  That is an Oscar first for couple directors.  2008 was a close call in this category when Katherine Bigelow and James Cameron were nominated.  Close because their divorce happened 18 months earlier.  Interestingly, Laura Dern acts in both of Baumbach's and Gerwig's film.  And both directors are up for writing awards, albeit different categories.  Neither garnered a Best Director nom, however.

- Although comic book films have had trouble collecting the golden statuettes over the years, could this be the breakthrough year?  Joker leads the way with eleven noms this year and, although it will not probably win Best Picture, Joaquin Phoenix is the likely winner for the Best Male Actor award (see my predictions below).

- If you haven't noticed, and for those of you who care, The Academy is under fire once again for totally snubbing women in the Best Director category.  Most notable:  Greta Gerwig for Little Women which has been universally praised by audiences and critics.  Maybe also expanding the nominees in this category is the answer to quell the negative chatter.

- Did you happen to notice the relatively early telecast date of this years program?  Normally reserved for around the end of February, the organizers opted for the second Sunday in hopes of better ratings for this the official end of the awards season.  Good luck with that.

- Scarlett Johansson is the twelfth actress up for two acting awards in the same year:  Best Actress for Marriage Story and Supporting for JoJo Rabbit.  Although competent in both, I don't anticipate her winning for either (see below).  (For the record, none of the other eleven has won both awards in the year.)

- After missing out after fourteen straight nominations for Best Cinematography, the great Roger Deakins is poised to win two in a row (he won in 2018 for Blade Runner 2049).  He is a virtual lock this year for 1917 (see below).

 - If odds-on favorite Renée Zellweger wins Best Actress for Judy, it will mark sixteen straight years since the winner will not have her picture nominated for Best Picture. 

- Thirty-three-year-old Cynthia Erivo would be the youngest EGOT (Emmy Grammy Oscar Tony) winner if she accepts the Oscar for one of her two nominated categories:  Best Actress (Harriet) and co-writer of the nominated song "Stand Up".  Robert Lopez is currently the youngest who completed the foursome at age 39. 

- If newly-knighted Sir Sam Mendes wins Best Director for 1917, it would have been a record 20 years between  directing Oscars.  He won in 2000 for American Beauty.  The great Billy Wilder currently holds the record with a 15-year gap between The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Apartment (1960).

- The Best Animation category began in 2001, and only one film's sequel won:  Toy Story 3.  This years Toy Story 4 could win and, if so, would be the second animated sequel to win and in its own series to boot.

- The phenomenal Parasite is the first South Korean movie to be nominated in the Best Picture category and the sixth film to be nominated in both the Best Picture and International Feature categories.

- Trying to recall the last motor racing film to be nominated for Best Picture?  RushGrand Prix??  Days of Thunder???  Nope.  Ford v Ferrari is the first of its genre in this category.  

-  Streaming service Netflix fully touted last years Roma, which lost out to eventual Best Picture winner Green Book.  This year it went all out with films The King, Dolemite Is My Name, The Two Popes, Laundromat, The Irishman and Marriage Story.  Despite the latter two vying for the top Oscar, neither are expected to win but signals Netflix now as a major player in years to come.

- Now that Roger Deakins has shed King Kong off his shoulders with his win in 2018, it is time to cross our fingers and toes for perenial loser Dianne Warren who has entered the fray with her 11th nomination without winning for her song "I'm Standing With You" (Breakthrough).  She is currently the most nominated woman without a win.  Glenn Close will be rooting against her Sunday night.  And speaking of nominated songs, Elton John is hoping for his second, 25 years after winning for "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" (The Lion King).

- One of the biggest upsets in AA history was Judy Garland not winning in 1954 for A Star Is Born.  So sure she was of winning, Garland had a camera crew surrounding her hospital bed to record her speech as she had just given birth to Joey Luft.  The Oscar instead went to Grace Kelly (The Country Girl).  Should Zellweger win (as expected) it will have been decades after Garland's death for the Acadamy to have given an indirect recognition to her incredible talent and legacy.

My prediction record last year:  11 out of 17 correct - missing out on Lead Actress, Feature Documentary, Short Documentary, Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Costume Design.  To my credit, though, five of the six winners in these categories I had listed as "upset possibilities" while completely missing on only one:  Feature Documentary (Free Solo).  

Now, the envelope, please . . . 

PREDICTIONS FOR 19 OF THE 24 AWARDS:

BEST PICTURE
What will win:  1917
Upset Possibility:  Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Extreme Upset Possibility:  Parasite
What should win:  1917
Overall, another rather mediocre year for films.  In fact, 1917 is the only nominated movie (see below) that I would rate a four star (out of four) rating.  That said,  I would be shocked if films #4-8 in my list below win the top honor.  The front runner has to be Sam Mendes' war masterpiece which has already won numerous BP awards, including Golden Globe and BAFTA.  A true technological marvel, 1917 also has all the ingredients of a truly great film:  a simple premise expertly told that will hold ones attention throughout, great photography, memorable score, as well as excellent acting and direction.  However, I can't leave out this years amazing Cannes Palme d'Or winner, the South Korean Parasite.  Bong Joon Ho's uniquely layered social drama will almost assuredly receive the International Feature Film Award but, as pointed out above, will only be the 6th to be nominated in both categories.  Nevertheless, the powerful film would not surprise if it won the top prize.  Therefore, I listed it as an extreme upset possibility.  I couldn't leave out as an upset possibility Tarantino's homage to old Hollywood in the late 60's as The Academy voters love to vote for any film that glorifies themselves.  Although Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is worthy of winning consideration, a 30-45 minute cut, for me, could have made it more of a worthy contender for #1.  Although the disturbing but excellent Joker could claim the top spot, I can't see the voters going for the controversial comic book character taking home the golden statuette.  The voters nod, instead, will award Joaquin Phoenix's acting chops (see below).
As for the other nominees, here are my quickie reviews:
   Little Women - pretty but ultimately empty
   The Irishman - waaaaay too long
   JoJo Rabbit - peculiar satire with a kinder and gentler Hitler 
   Ford v Ferrari - VRRROOOOM VRRROOOOM VRROOOOM!!!!!!
   Marriage Story - too depressing, typical and unoriginal

FOR THE RECORD:  here are the nine nominated films I personally rated from best to least: 
(1)   1917
(2)   (tie) Parasite
               Joker
(3)   Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
(4)   Little Women
(5)   The Irishman
(6)   JoJo Rabbit
(7)   Ford v Ferrari
(8)   Marriage Story

DIRECTING
Who will win:  Sam Mendes (1917)
Upset possibility:  Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Extreme Upset Possibility:  Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
Who should win:  Sam Mendes
Anyone who has read my past AA columns knows my feelings on this:  the best picture has to be directed by the best director.  They naturally go hand in hand.  But, if you are an Academy voter, not so fast.  This year, though, the formula should hold true.  The seamless 1917 is truly a marvel and accolades should be bestowed on the top person in charge of this astonishing production.  Again, the voters might acknowledge Tarantino or even Bong Joon Ho, but my rubles are all on Mendes.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Who will win:  Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Upset possibility:  None
Who should win:  Joaquin Phoenix
One of two virtual locks of the night.  The late Heath Ledger deservedly won a Best Supporting Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight.  Joaquin's portrait is even more unforgettable.  Phoenix occupies nearly every frame of the Joker's origin story of how he became one of Gotham's most feared citizens.  More a psychological study than a Marvel comic film, Arthur Fleck will stay with you long after you exit the theater.  If Joaquin doesn't win, it would rival Judy Garland's loss at the 1955 Academy Awards (see my thoughts above).

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Who will win:  Renée Zellweger (Judy)
Upset possibility:  None
Who should win:  Renée Zellweger
The other virtual lock.  Voters love to honor depictions of Hollywood legends.  In this case, Zellweger's uncanny representation as Judy Garland is more than well deserved and should have her mounting the podium at The Dolby Theater.  I realize that last year everyone (including myself) was predicting Glenn Close was finally going to win.  Instead, Olivia Colman won and she promptly gave one of the more unforgettable speeches in Oscar history.  However, Zellweger's competition is not nearly as formidable. 

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who will win:  Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Upset possibility:  Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Who should win:  Brad Pitt
Pitt almost could have been put in the Best Actor category.  Nonetheless, his placement here almost guarantees an Oscar.  Brad gives, arguably, the best performance of his career as the hulky 60s  Hollywood stunt man who may have thwarted one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century.  But my personal favorite might be Joe Pesci who returns after a 9-year hiatus portraying a mobster in Martin Scorsese's epic crime drama surrounding the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.  Pesci's memorable low-key effective turn makes him a clear standout in the star-filled ensemble cast.


BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who will win:  Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Upset possibility:  Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Who should win:  Florence Pugh
Pugh plays the passionate Amy March in the Louisa May Alcott classic and her character possibly resonates more than her sister Jo, the central character.  Pugh's commanding presence is crucial in driving the narrative every second she is on the screen.  Although Dern's portrayal as Scarlett Johansson's lawyer is spot-on, it is Pugh who doubtless will prevail Sunday night.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
What will win:  Parasite (South Korea)
Upset possibility:  None
What should win:  Parasite
There has not been a better International film all year - and, quite possibly could include the U.S.  So, lets go out on a limb and declare Parasite the clear winner in this category as 1917 will more than likely be too strong an entry for it to receive Best Picture honors.  It is quite a tribute, though, for this first time South Korean nominee to be in the final list of nine and the voters will recognize its excellence here.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Who will win Toy Story 4
Upset possibility:  Any of the other four nominees
Who should win:  Toy Story 4
This is a tough one.  When it comes to awards, Hollywood does not like sequels.  Sure, Toy Story 3 is a prime exception.  So, can we count on the voters to reward yet another sequel in this splendid Pixar series?  I'm saying yes - but with reservations.  Some of the other films have won awards this season while ignoring TS4.  So, based on the overall franchise and track record of Pixar, it is always hard to pick against them; so I am going out on a limb predicting TS4 wins while still acknowledging that this is a wide open field.

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
What will win:  American Factory
Upset possibility:  Honeyland
What should win:   American Factory
If there is one Netflix recognition at the AAs it will probably be given to American Factory which has been raking in the doc awards this season.  The film, about a Chinese billionaire who takes over an abandoned American GM factory is the likely winner.  Yet, since this category is usually one of the toughest to forecast (this was the only category of my 17 predictions last year that I completely missed), my upset pick here is Honeyland (which has also been nominated in the International Feature Film category) about a family of beekeepers in the Balkans.  
    
CINEMATOGRAPHY
Who will win:  Roger Deakins (1917)
Upset possibility:  Robert Richardson (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Extreme upset possibility:  Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse)
Who should win: Roger Deakins
This one is easy.  One of the major "stars" in 1917 is the cinematographic genius of Roger Deakins, which is in full display as he incredibly captures the essence and horror of war.  There have been several critics of the "gimmick" of the continuous one-shot which literally puts the audience inside the cramped bunkers and battlefields of northern France.  I predict that the difficulty of his visual recreation of the horrific milieu on screen will no doubt be a subject of many future film classes.  Nevertheless, since Deakins has been ignored many times before, if there is an upset, one can't ignore Robert Richardson's beautiful recreation of old Hollywood, or Jarin Balschke's stark black-and-white photography in The Lighthouse.  Still,  it would be a real shocker if Deakins loses.

WRITING  (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
Who will win:  Greta Gerwig (Little Women)
Upset possibility:  Taika Waititi (JoJo Rabbit)
Who should win:  Greta Gerwig
Despite the many numerous iterations of Alcott's timeless story of the March sisters, Gerwig's powerful interpretation is innovative and fresh and should be acknowledged by The Academy - especially after all the clamoring that ensued when she wasn't placed on the Best Director list.  Yet, if there is surprise, I will guess it would be Taika Waititi whose Nazi satire adapted screenplay won a Writers Guide Award,  

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
Who will win:  Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won (Parasite)
Upset possibility:  Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Extreme upset possibility:  Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story)
Who should win:  Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won 
Yet another tough category to predict.   That being said, I would definitely hand it to the twisty original script by Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won which takes the viewer on an unforgettable roller coaster ride as it comments on the distinct class division existing in South Korea.  The script contains an equal mix of humor, drama and horror that makes it truly memorable.  Nevertheless, Academy voters may give this award to Tarantino (who is already a two-time winner in this category) or to Baumbach who created a biting and realistic insightful script about marriage, divorce and those lawyers.  And I really loved the ingenuisness of director Rian Johnson's script for Knives Out.  Unfortunately, I felt this film would play better and be more suited for the Broadway stage.  So in the final analysis, it is Ho and Won's script that clearly stands out.

FILM EDITING
Who will win:  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland (Ford v Ferrari)
Upset possibility:  Yank Jinmo (Parasite)
Who should win:  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland
Those incredible racing sequences gives Ford v Ferrari its visual impact and I can't see any other nominee winning.  But Yank Jinmo's skillful editing that helps propel the tension in Parasite could nudge the award his way if enough Academy voters steer away from the racing genre.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
Who will win:  "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" (from Rocketman; Music by Elton John and Lyric by             Bernie Taupin)
Who should win:  "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"
Rooting for:  "I'm Standing With You" (from Breakthrough; Music and Lyric by Dianne Warren)
Sir Elton John is the clear winner here with his and Bernie's song that was sung as a duet between Elton and lead actor Taron Egerton and which played over the end-credits.  However, I will be secretly rooting for Ms. Warren to finally get her long deserved award - even though it has virtually no chance.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Who will win:  Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker)
Upset possibility:  Thomas Newman (1917)
Who should win:  Hildur Guðnadóttir
Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir's haunting electronic score effectively emphasized the dread that follow Joaquin's character into madness.  It is one of the most impressive aspects of Joker and her score is a standout in this category which is chock full of skillful composers.  My second choice is the emotive score by the accomplished Thomas Newman (Randy's brother and who has been nominated 14 times without a win!) whose underlying symphonic composition permeates 1917 and had me linger until the final end-credit.  But, it is Guðnadóttir's effecting composition that underscores the images on the screen and made them even more indelible.

COSTUME DESIGN
Who will win:  Jacqueline Durran (Little Women
Upset possibility:  Arianne Phillips (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Who should win:   Jacqueline Durran
I'll go with the obvious choice and pick the earliest period film on the list.  Even though The Academy surprised last year with the costume design from Black Panther, and it was nostalgic looking at the 60s threads created by Arianne Phillips for Tarantino's flick, I am picking the exquisite garb created by Jacqueline Durran for Little Women.

SOUND MIXING
Who will win:  Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson (1917)
Upset possibility:  Paul Massey, David Giammarco & Steven A. Morrow (Ford v Ferrari)
Who should win:  Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson
Although the sound of racing cars is crucial to Ford v Ferrari, the myriad of sounds in 1917 was crucial in placing the audience in the center of the soundscape that the protagonists faced - whether it is footsteps, bullets, bombs, crashing airplanes, waterfalls or raging rapids. The sound mixing here was absolutely crucial in how affection the World War I drama unfolded.

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Who will win:  Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration:  Lee Sandales (1917
Upset possibility:  Lee Ha Jun; Set Decoration:  Cho Won Woo (Parasite)
Who should win:   Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration:  Lee Sandales
Each of the complex set pieces designed in 1917 were so realistic that it allowed me to explore their intricacies while never believing they were unnatural.  The contrasting set designs in Parasite is a long shot to upset.

VISUAL EFFECT
Who will win:  Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, & Dominic Tuohy (1917)
Upset possibility:  Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelso Sepulveda-Fauser & Stephane                     Grabli (The Irishman)
Who should win:   Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, & Dominic Tuohy
For the record, this has always been one of the toughest categories for me to predict.  The visual effects needed to be 100% realistic in 1917 and, to me, mission accomplished in spades!  There was much made of the groundbreaking deaging techniques used in The Irishman but there also was much debate on how successful it was in portraying the mostly senior cast as younger men.  I'm thinking this could be a big night for Sam Mendes' tour de force.

STOP BACK FOR MY POST-AA REPORT

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