This year’s Academy Award nominations were and weren’t all that surprising.

Indeed, the nomination prognostications leading up to the 92nd annual Oscars’ big reveal felt a bit lackadaisical, if only because a lot of the major contenders had already done their claim-staking for the awards race.

We all knew films like The Irishman, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Jojo Rabbit, Parasite, Marriage Story and Joker would march into Monday’s announcement and come away feeling happy, with perhaps a Best Picture spot or two awaiting any number of beloved 2019 titles.

Indeed, that’s what we got when Issa Rae and John Cho revealed the slate, with Greta Gerwig’s Little Women and James Mangold’s Ford v. Ferrari snagging the eighth and ninth spots, never guaranteed with the preferential balloting system.

2020 Oscars

The Best Picture group is always representative of the year in cinema, and 2019’s is largely a great one, albeit with a few hiccups.

Two generational talents in Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, both perhaps nearing the end of their careers, made swan song films about their films (Marty) and the industry they came out of (QT). These two are sure to be remembered long past Oscar night. The Irishman is Scorsese’s rectification with a generation of filmgoers who misunderstood his classic gangster pics as works of adulation; …Hollywood Tarantino’s lament to a bygone era of Tinseltown amidst a swirl of change and an attempt to preserve one of the screen’s lost heroes in Sharon Tate. Both films are already etched in the medium’s history and would be strong Best Picture winners.

The Irishman

Some view Irishman as too long and meandering (a shame, considering those are some of the tastiest parts about it) and are not endeared to Scorsese’s planting-of-the-flag for cinema’s place in an IP-driven market. The film also comes through Netflix, somewhat of a hurdle for those who rally against the streaming platforms and their refusal to follow the traditional theatrical window. Will the wide industry faction who have worked on superhero films take umbrage with Marty and his sentiment that hero films aren’t “cinema?” It’s not a death knell, but something to consider.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

…Hollywood could join recent films like The Artist and Birdman, industry-specific productions with ballyhooing about movies and the acting process, to take home the gold. Tarantino isn’t as prickly in campaigning as he used to be, and he’s won one Oscar already in the last decade for his screenplay for Django Unchained, but his films haven’t hit with the editing branch as much after the passing of his longtime editor Sally Menke. …Hollywood’s Fred Raskin missed that category Monday, which isn’t as prohibitive as it used to be for a film winning Best Picture but is still not a feather you want to miss in your cap. It’s not happened since 2014 and Birdman. Its co-leads Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt also got nominations, with Pitt likely preparing his speech already in the Best Supporting Actor category. He’s the clear choice there and has won the Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Award already.

Jojo Rabbit

Outside of those two assumed titans, consider Taika Waititi’s self-dubbed “anti-hate satire” Jojo Rabbit, a Mel Brooks-ian journey into Nazi Germany through the eyes of a young member of Hitler Youth as he begins to see the horrid errors of his beliefs. The film never bites as hard into the evils of Nazi Germany as other contemporaries have, but it’s still got condemning satire galore, highlighted with Waititi doubling as a cartoonish sketch of Adolf Hitler, the young boy’s imaginary friend. The film follows in the recent steps of Green Book, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and The Big Short that have used comedy as a vessel to mirror our sociopolitical times. The effects of those films vary, but the common theme is those films either won Best Picture or got awful close. “Message movies,” if you will, tend to play well with the voting block who wish to champion sociopolitical ideas with their ballots.


Another “message movie,” though what exact message we’re unsure of, is Joker. Todd Phillips’ brazen, bleak R-rated reimagining of the Batman villain’s origin story, was a shocking box office success, grossing over a billion worldwide. Reviews were divisive, to be expected of a film that wears its anarchistic tones on its sleeve and openly copies and all at once pays homage to arguably misinterprets two classic Scorsese films in Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Few deny generational talent Joaquin Phoenix’s deep dive into the Clown Prince of Crime, which is why he’s the de-facto frontrunner for Best Actor. Phillips’ background in “bro comedy” made this film an even-more improbable success, and it led the day’s nominations with a shocking 11 total, including unexpected nominations in the sound categories and in costume design.

Joker clearly has strong support from the crafts branches, and if Phoenix indeed wins, it will boast a victory in the widespread acting branch. Phillips showing up in director, already a controversial decision for numerous reasons, only heightens the idea that this could be the first comic book film to win Best Picture. This seemed improbable at the film’s release. Joker is a real threat to take it all.

The film’s wide lunges into dissecting society’s treatment of the mentally ill, our relationship with mass media, economic inequality and our generally dour political mood could give it the fuel it needs to follow in the footsteps of fellow recent genre film The Shape of Water in winning the top award. That film, though far-better received by critics, commented on a handful of generally agreeable sociopolitical ideas and wrapped it in an ode to classic cinema. It was championed by the craftspeople of the industry on its way to top victories. Joker would also follow in Water’s footsteps of winning Best Picture without an ensemble nomination from the Screen Actor’s Guild. Joker, unlike Water, made waves with the wider culture, which can help your cause to get to the top of the screener pile with Oscar voters.


Speaking of jokers, a wild card could be Parasite, the first Korean-language film to get nominated in the Best Picture category. A stirring satire and metaphorical buffet of economics and classism, auteur Bong Joon-ho’s film, unsurprisingly, showed up in major categories at this year’s awards. Though it lacked an individual acting nomination, the film registered with SAG with an ensemble nomination. It’s the only film to get recognized with a Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Editing nomination with the Oscars, a SAG ensemble nomination and a Best Film nomination with the BAFTAs (the UK’s answer to the Oscars), a Producer’s Guild nomination and a Director’s Guild nomination for Joon-ho outside of The Irishman. It’s obvious, and unfortunate, hurdle is its status as a foreign language film. The Academy has never recognized a film not in the English language for Best Picture, a shame considering the bountiful contributions of world cinema. It’s never too late to start, though! Here’s the perfect one to start with.

1917 movie

1917, a visceral World War 1 film directed by Skyfall’s Sam Mendes, is another formidable contender, with a host of technical nominations under its belt. It’s “one-take” nature popped it out of this year’s Best Editing competition, never ideal for a film that wants its most support from the crafts branch. But Mendes has had one of his films win before with American Beauty roughly 20 years ago, and 1917 is beginning its run at the box office. Though, no outright war film has won the top Oscar prize since Platoon in 1987. Victories for the film at the Golden Globes in its drama category and for Mendes’ directing will help its visibility, as will its recent wide release. Though, the criticism that the film lacks an emotional core, though certainly not shared with all, could hurt it in the end. Best Picture winners rarely don’t tap into a widely held emotional nerve.

marriage story

Marriage Story, a film with three acting nominations for Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern and a screenplay nomination for writer/director Noah Baumbach, is a classic example of a Best Picture player, but it seems all-but-guaranteed to be shuffled out in this year’s picture race.

little women

Ditto Little Women, a lovely, updated adaptation of the classic novel from Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig. Gerwig missing a Best Director nomination was its own source of tension, a continual highlighting of the Academy’s struggle to recognize women directors (only five, including Gerwig, have ever been nominated in the award’s history, and only one woman has won, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker). Gerwig should’ve been there, make no mistake. Both of those films are some of 2019’s definitive works and will be remembered long past Oscar Sunday.

Dern was in both these films and may be the only one from either to walk away with the gold. She’s a seeming shoo-in for her work as a passioned divorce attorney in Marriage Story in the Best Supporting Actress category.

ford v ferrari

Ford v. Ferrari might just be the ninth film in that’s just happy to be recognized. Though, count us among those who with Tracy Letts had at least gotten some award somewhere for his take on Henry Ford II.

Here’s a stat for you: no film since 2004 has won Best Picture without a recognition from the BAFTAs in its Best Film category (Million Dollar Baby, a late contender that year), and it’s only happened one other time since 1995 with Braveheart. That statistic has held up more in recent years than any other, so you could argue those five nominees – 1917, Irishman, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and Parasite – are the five to choose film for Best Picture.

It feels like any one of the five above could claim the crown, as hypothetically could Jojo Rabbit. A six-horse Best Picture race seems unheard of, but that’s what we’ve got as we head toward the Feb. 9 show date.

If we’re going to name a frontrunner, let’s go with …Hollywood. The editing snub is about the only place it’s missed this awards season, and this is the most formidable movie-about-movies to come along in roughly half a decade. Tarantino is beloved in the industry and beyond, and it’d be his first film to win Best Picture in his storied career. It feels like a safe pick, but safe picks (Roma, Three Billboards, La La Land) have not served Oscar prognosticators well as of late.

Joker could legitimately win, as could The Irishman. It’d be sincere irony for Scorsese to lose to a film that’s not able to exist without his body of work, but Joker is, in and of itself, reverential to the craft of moviemaking and crosses both boxes of giving industry praise and palatable social commentary. Those films also could cancel each other out, paving way for Tarantino’s first Best Picture win. 1917 and Parasite are feasible candidates but watch for those films to get honored elsewhere. Jojo Rabbit is the shock pick, but don’t count it out.

2020 Best Directors Oscars

In directing, it’s anyone’s guess. Tarantino hasn’t won this Oscar yet, and his peers may pull a “it’s time” card to recognize him. Mendes has the technical achievement under his belt, which the directors love to honor (see Roma, The Shape of Water, La La Land, The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity, Life of Pi, The Artist), but Scorsese and Joon-ho could easily qualify for that, with films that also registered below the line. We’re going to say this is Tarantino vs. Mendes, though, with QT winning his first. Phillips is just going to be happy to be recognized.

The acting races feel largely sewn up, with Phoenix and Pitt safe bets for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively, and Dern the frontrunner in Best Supporting Actor. Renée Zellweger seems likely to take home her second Oscar for her comeback performance as Judy Garland in Judy but watch out for Charlize Theron and her dead-ringer imitation of Megyn Kelly in Bombshell or maybe even Johansson’s affecting performance in Marriage Story. Zellweger feels like the most likely of the four frontrunners to be upset. This Oscar prognosticator’s bold pick is Johansson pulling a Tilda Swinton/Michael Clayton and winning over Dern for Jojo Rabbit.

In screenplay, look for Tarantino to duke it out with Joon-ho and Han Jin-wan for Parasite in Original Screenplay, and The Irishman’s Steve Zaillain to face still competition from Waitit, the Joker team and Gerwig for that award. The two legacy titles, though, feel like winners (…Hollywood, Irishman).

Other things we’re expecting: Parasite to be the lock of the night for Best International Film, Toy Story 4 to continue Disney’s dominance in the Best Animated Feature race, Thomas Newman to win his first Oscar for Best Original Score for 1917, Roger Deakins to win his second for the same film, Sir Elton John to win another Oscar for Best Original Song and The Irishman to best the blockbusters for Best Visual Effects (the second Scorsese film to perhaps claim that this past decade along with Hugo).

Whatever happens, it’s going to be yet another Oscar night we’ll be talking about for years to come, and it’ll finally kick in the surprise we all expect around this time of year.