Best Picture by Abby Webster
Who Will Win: 1917
Who Should Win: Parasite
For a brief moment in 2017, we lived in a world where the Academy made good decisions. Last year’s Gr**n B**k Best Picture win, and this year’s tremendously bad hot take from an anonymous Academy voter that foreign films should only be nominated in their own category and not with the “regular films” signal that this moment of taste is over. Parasite, with its fluid editing, lush production design, and some of the best screenwriting in recent memory, tops my list for several categories, including Best Picture. If there were any justice in the world, the utterly unparalleled Parasite would sweep the entire show, leaving with both International Feature and Best Picture. But there isn’t. What will most likely happen is that voters, in their unwillingness to read a damn subtitle, will settle for giving Parasite the former and call it a night.
1917, on the other hand, is exactly the type of movie that the Academy loves to celebrate: It’s perfectly good, has a solid awards season narrative with its “single take” gimmick, and is not super memorable. And, in a lesser year, I’d be completely fine with 1917 taking home the win—to be honest, I was completely won over by the film’s overwrought pathos and Deakin’s (as always) exquisite cinematography. But for me, 1917’s one true crime is that it isn’t Parasite, and that come Sunday evening, Sam Mendes is likely going to be taking the Oscar out of Bong Joon-ho’s all-too-deserving hands.
Best Director by Sarema Shorr
Who Will Win: Sam Mendes (1917)
Who Should Win: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)
After 1917’s home run at the BAFTA’s, Sam Mendes is coming into the Oscars with momentum. Giving Best Director to Sam Mendes would be a return to form for the Oscars. After winning the Director’s Guild Awards, (which has aligned with the Oscars Best Director award 63 times over the past 71 years), Sam Mendes is the obvious and safe choice for the Academy; both the film and director being entirely uncontroversial and well-loved. War films have done disproportionately well at the Oscars, as the Academy has consistently valued and appreciated stories of male friendship and comradery in the midst of death-defying situations. Much to Mendes’s credit, 1917 is an incredible film to watch; the cinematography is incomprehensibly seamless, the actors inseparable from their roles, and the rhythm of the unfolding story is both emotionally captivating and breathless. It is a technological feat as well as an innovative take on a war film. However, this story has been told time and time again. I would love to see the Academy make bold, non-traditional choices. They should align with those in the film industry who do not just lean back into nostalgia but strive forwards into the uncomfortable unknown of progress.
2019 was an amazing year for film. I laughed, cried, cried some more, and lay awake for hours wondering how these directors could create such effortlessly effective stories. “I don’t think I could do what they do. Honestly, I don’t have the balls.” Rebel Wilson’s words from the BAFTA’s really sting, as this year, like every year of cinematic history, has completely overlooked the creative voices of women in film. Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir), Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Olivia Wilde (Booksmart), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), Waad al-Kateab (For Sama), and Alma Ha’rel (Honey Boy) just to name a few (since the Academy won’t).
The one beacon of hope in this awards season is Bong Joon-ho. Parasite is a masterclass on what makes great cinema. Parasite’s script is thematically gripping, each shot is both gorgeous while being vital to the story, the sets are immaculate and play a central role in the narrative, and the editing is strikingly dynamic and flows with an elegance, all of which culminates in a film that does not let the audience look away for a moment. Writer-director Bong Joon-ho manages to pull off what seems like the impossible: a genre-bending film that morphs from moments of hilarity, to high-stakes action, and then descends into gut-wrenching horror. The fact that a foreign-language film became a runaway hit worldwide, and that it is South Korea’s first ever Oscar-nominated film yet up for six awards, indicates how good this movie really is. Alfonso Cuarón’s win for Roma last year despite Green Book’s Best Picture win is the only indication that Bong stands a chance. Bong Joon-ho crafted an intelligent, funny and unflinching tale of class, commandingly resonant for current times and thus he is truly deserving of this year’s Oscar, but despite all this, I don’t think it’ll be enough to win over the Academy.
Best Actress by Chetan Dokku
Who Will Win: Renée Zellweger (Judy)
Who Should Win: Saiorse Ronan (Little Women)
This is Saiorse Ronan’s third Oscar nomination for Best Actress and her fourth nomination overall, but once again, she will walk away from the Academy Awards empty-handed. After already winning the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the SAG awards for best actress for her eponymous role in last year’s biopic Judy, Renée Zellweger is all but guaranteed to win the Oscar as well. I found her performance as Hollywood icon Judy Garland dealing with substance abuse and financial issues in the last year of her life pretty decent, but nothing spectacular. Zellweger puts forth a passionate performance, but many times this over-the-topness just makes her acting feel completely unnatural. On one hand I’m surprised she was even nominated, but on the other, it makes complete sense that she’s poised to win when you consider how much her role in the movie feels like Oscar-bait.
Ronan’s performance in Little Women as protagonist Jo March, however, is mesmerizing. Ronan has blown all of her fellow nominees out of the water with her endearing and authentic portrayal of a literary icon. No one else truly deserves this award more. But Ronan and Little Women haven’t gotten much love this awards season, even though Little Women received six nominations at the Oscars. Hopefully, Academy voters will recognize her brilliant work this time, but I’d be surprised if they give the Oscar to anyone other than Zellweger.
Best Actor by Steven Frost
Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Who Should Win: Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
The Academy saw Joker, a stupid-ass clown movie, and decided it was worth 11 Oscar nominations so they’re definitely going to give the award to Joaquin Phoenix. Apparently getting skinny to do weird dances and imitate Travis Bickle is enough to earn you an Academy Award. To be fair, parts of Phoenix’s performance are genuinely excellent; the weird, hacking laugh punctuates the drama to unsettling effect and the physicality of the Joker goes a long way to keep the later scenes in the film entertaining. Overall, however, Phoenix is trying too hard to be edgy and Joker as a whole is just bad.
Marriage Story on the other hand is a cinematic masterpiece, and one of the best things about it is Adam Driver. Charlie, Driver’s character in the film, is largely at fault for the divorce that drive’s Marriage Story’s plot, but Driver brings enough humanity to the role that we empathize with how the divorce is hurting him, even as he has hurt and continues to hurt his wife. It’s a complex mix of emotional dynamics; love and hate, intimacy and separation, victimization and victimhood, and Driver brings every nuance of it to life. In a film built on performances, he stands out as the best of the best and he deserves Oscar recognition for it.
Best Supporting Actress: by Blythe Dujardin
Who Will Win: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Who Should Win: Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Laura Dern is very likeable and very established. Divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw was a great role for her. She does an impressive job conveying the vulnerability in her moments supporting client Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), while also giving an ice cold, scathing performance during the court proceedings. Her notable monologue in Marriage Story is both well executed and deeply resonant, and monologues like that from supporting roles tend to be pretty clear indicators for industry recognition. Having already snagged a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG award for this role, it’s pretty obvious that this award season is a fan of Laura Dern.
However, Florence Pugh’s performance in Little Women is incredible. Pugh is a stand out even in the midst of an incredibly strong cast, including Dern herself. Portraying a pubescent, hormonal pre-teen, Pugh expertly encapsulates pettiness and a youthful desperation for attention. Acting as a young adult who’s decided to play by society’s rules, she captures thoughtful refinement and reserve. In every stage of development throughout her character’s arc, I believed her. Little Women never loses its allure as Amy grows up, and I struggle to think of other aging roles throughout a film that have been acted so convincingly.
I had always found the character of Amy March in the novel insipid, but Pugh makes her a sympathetic, fleshed out human being without abandoning the novel she’s based on. Though Gerwig’s writing definitely helps underscore this characterization, there was no way this could have been pulled off without some serious acting chops. Even if this isn’t her moment to win, there is no question that Pugh will have other opportunities for recognition down the line as she continues to establish herself on the big screen.
Best Supporting Actor by Bella McGlone
Who Will Win: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Who Should Win: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Brad Pitt has been the awards season favorite for supporting actor, getting both the Golden Globe and the SAG award for his role as Cliff Booth, a smirking stunt double with a deadly set of skills, in Tarantino’s latest film. And I feel pretty confident saying that his success is well deserved. Although both Pesci and Pacino did well in The Irishman, their performances were not enough to interest me throughout the whole movie. As far as Tom Hanks goes, I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Although I’ve heard his performance was touching, I think it’s fair to say that he wasn’t given much plot-wise to enhance his performance. Anthony Hopkins is always good, but his role in The Two Popes was just not shocking enough to really be impressive.
Returning to Brad Pitt. His performance is cocky, charming, calm, and a brilliant offset to DiCaprio’s broken down Hollywood star. Of course, the supporting actor award is supposed to be given to somebody who is fantastic in their own right, which Pitt certainly is in Once Upon a Time. But an essential feature of a good supporting actor is also that their performance meshes well with those of the leading actor and other supporting actors. There is no doubt that Pitt and DiCaprio had some of the best on-screen chemistry of last year’s films. This could just be because they’re both great actors, but it also has something to do with Pitt’s ability to work well with others in his films, which brings me to the conclusion that Brad Pitt finally deserves his first Oscar for acting.