92nd Academy Awards: Predictions and Insight

With a shortened lead up to the Oscars, we are actually at the end of another exciting awards season sooner than usual. The 92nd Academy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, the 9th, so it’s time to go through my predictions for what to expect on Hollywood’s biggest night. As usual, there are some safe bets in certain areas, as well as some less assured areas with many possible outcomes. There’s always room for surprises as well. Setting aside any issues with the nominations, let alone the quality of the various films, I have laid out each of the categories, highlighting my predictions for who will win, with additional thoughts below each as well.

Best Picture:
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Sony)
“Parasite” (Neon)
“1917” (Universal)
“Marriage Story” (Netflix)
“The Irishman” (Netflix)
“Ford v Ferrari” (Disney/Fox)
“Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight)
“Little Women” (Sony)
“Joker” (Warner Bros.)

There are a lot of factors that still leave the top prize a bit up in the air. 1917 won the PGA and BAFTA, among other awards, putting it up top. Parasite won the SAG ensemble and has the highest praise of the year amongst filmmakers and critics. Neither has an acting nomination. A foreign film has never won Best Picture. There’s also never been a Best Picture winner with neither an editing and acting nominations. History is going to happen one way or another, unless my favorite film of the year, Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood swoops in because Hollywood does love to celebrate itself. That said, the odds are in favor of the WWI flick, though the preferential ballot system does leave room for doubt.

Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”)
Todd Phillips (“Joker”)
Sam Mendes (“1917”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”)

You can make an argument that all of the films featured are the “most directed” so that argument isn’t enough this time. Phillips is just doing knock-off Scorsese, and with Scorsese actually in the category, they’re both out. Tarantino had the juice for a while, but it really comes down to the late breakout and the snowpiercing train that is Parasite’s run from Cannes to now. That in mind, Mendes won the DGA prize, and if Parasite is the most likely film to factor in a split, it would more likely be in Best Picture, than here.

Lead Actor:
Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”)
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)
Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”)

There could be an exception, but the acting categories are all pretty dull as far as predictions go. All of the same players have continually won awards, making them all pretty sure locks. For lead actor, it would appear everyone has settled on “most” acting and is ready to award Joaquin Phoenix with the Oscar he’s been nominated for many times in the past. Hard to complain, as he’s one of the best working actors out there, and it’s not like other major stars haven’t won for the right film in the past. No real chance for an upset, but I suppose Driver is the only one who could stop the Joker, though Banderas would be perhaps the sweetest surprise win there could be.

Lead Actress:
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)
Saorise Ronan (“Little Women”)
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)
Renee Zellweger (“Judy”)

Again, everything has lined up for Zellweger to win her second Oscar. The combination of a typically strong biopic performance combined with the comeback narrative for the star spells out the natural conclusion to this particular race. That said, Johansson is a double nominee this year (so is Erivo, but only one for acing), and if anyone could possibly upset the flow of things, it’s her. But will it be here, or her other category. Also, why is Theron here for Bombshell again?

Supporting Actor:
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”)

The surest bet of the already pretty locked acting categories. Brad Pitt is going home with a trophy, while likely delivering another fun speech on Oscar night. Given his competition (older, white winners from the past), he finds himself in good company, without any real contenders vying for the prize.

Supporting Actress:
Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Florence Pugh (“Little Women”)
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)

Another category that’s basically locked up thanks to the pattern of wins that have taken place so far. That said, supporting categories have managed to surprise in the past. Given the aforementioned double nomination for Johansson, perhaps she manages to sneak a win away from Dern here. 

Adapted Screenplay:
Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Steve Zaillian (“The Irishman”)
Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”)
Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”)
Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (“Joker”)

Despite the imposing presence of Steve Zaillian, it looks as though The Irishman is going to be sitting out of the Oscars. Meanwhile, Waititi and Gerwig seem to be duking it out for the honors here. With the WGA win, however, it would appear Jojo Rabbit is going to win the war.

Original Screenplay:
Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”)
Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”)
Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won (“Parasite”)

There are a good set of original stories being acknowledged here, though I wouldn’t say the strength of 1917 was its screenplay. Regardless, while a twisty murder mystery and the dissolution of a marriage do well to emphasize the written nature of their scripts, it still comes down to a competition between friends and admirers of each other. No matter what shallow read of a photo wants to point out, Tarantino (two-time original screenplay winner) has championed Bong Joon Ho and Korean cinema, in general, for years, so I won’t be shocked to see him happy for his friend to likely collect an award for his incredible story about a Korean family taking things to new extremes.

Animated Feature:
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World””
“I Lost My Body”
“Missing Link”
“Toy Story 4”

This is the wildest race in years. Best Animated Feature usually has a clear standout, but the other awards have been all over the place. Laika earned a surprise Golden Globe for Missing Link. How to Train Your Dragon may earn sympathy votes for being the final chapter. I Lost My Body is obscure but well-liked. Toy Story 4 is the natural frontrunner as a high-grossing Pixar film, but perhaps that’s not as done a deal as one would think. Klaus managed to clean up at the Annie Awards and won the BAFTA as well. It’s not a lock, but I think there may be a victory in store for one of the most obscure entries for a change.

International Feature Film:
“Corpus Christi”
“Les Miserables”
“Pain and Glory”

Pain and Glory is up for Best Actor, Honeyland is the first documentary also to be nominated for Best International Feature. None of this matters though, as Parasite is up for five other Oscars, and is the most acclaimed film of the year. It may not win Best Picture, but it safely has this category locked down.

Documentary Feature:
“American Factory”
“The Cave”
“Edge of Democracy”
“For Sama”

While Honeyland managed to land a nomination in the International Film category, and For Sama is the latest film to tackle the Aleppo situation, it seems wise to lean on American Factory for the win. Generally, the Oscars are all politics anyway, but it’s actually pretty literal in this case, with Barack and Michelle Obama serving as producers of a film focused on the changing nature of factory work and globalization. Not hurting is the co-directing team of Steven Bognar and 4-time nominee Julia Reichart, who is currently battling cancer. 

“The Irishman”
“The Lighthouse”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Roger Deakins went from a 10+ award losing streak two what is likely two wins in under three years. While the classic look of Hollywood and The Irishman do a great service to those films, the slick focus of Joker is one of its best assets, and the attention-getting nature of The Lighthouse (A24’s only nomination this year) adds to its weird, creepy atmosphere, this is the award 1917 will easily be collecting. The effort and planning that goes into what the film accomplishes is an effective way to sway voters.

Costume Design:
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Little Women”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

When in doubt, go for the oldest period film with the most dresses. Sure it’s reductive, but it’s also accurate. Little Women is not unlike Phantom Thread in the way the characters regularly acknowledge their costuming, making it a critical factor in the story being told. That in mind, with a BAFTA in tow, a lot is working in favor of the designs seen here. Meanwhile, while Jojo Rabbit won a guild award, and going against Sandy Powell can be a dangerous play, two-time nominee Arianne Phillips’ work with Hollywood puts her in line as a possible spoiler.

Film Editing:
“Ford vs. Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”

Something to keep in mind - if Parasite wins Best Editing, it will more than likely win Best Picture. But that’s not a sure bet, as Ford vs. Ferrari will probably be rewarded here. The most action-heavy features tend to win when Best Picture doesn’t quite qualify. In this case, the presumed, action-heavy Best Picture frontrunner isn’t even nominated for editing, making the path all the clearer for the clashing car racing movie. Plus, if the sound awards are likely going to 1917, this is one place for Ford to shine.

Makeup and Hair:
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”

This could be an exciting category, given the variety of films. If Maleficent were better received, I’d say it would have a bigger chance. That in mind, Bombshell already won a couple of awards from the Makeup Guild, with the character transformations required for Theron and Lithgow, in particular, providing the most persuasive reasoning. However, in a year where there are not many likely upsets, perhaps Joker (which also won a guild award) could knock out another win here, given its many nominations, and obvious praise in certain circles.

Original Score:
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

While Deakins ended his losing streak, it would appear Thomas Newman is going to continue his. At 0-15, that’s impressive, but his terrific score for 1917 is looking to be overshadowed by the harsh string work provided for the Joker score from Icelandic composer Hildur Gudnadottir. Another one close to a lock for the night.

Original Song:
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” - “Toy Story 4”
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” - “Rocketman”
“I’m Standing With You,” - “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unknown,” - “Frozen II”
“Stand Up,” - “Harriet”

So this is a strangely weak year for the Song category (namely because all the best songs weren’t nominated). None of the songs are featured in a Best Picture nominee, but you do have two double nominees here - Randy Newman and Cynthia Erivo. Some may think the not-nominated-for-animated-feature Frozen II may have a chance with its “Let it Go” clone, but the better bet would be for Rocketman. Elton John and Bernie Taupin have never won an award together, and after a film showing how great their friendship comes along, it only seems fair. Plus, it’s the best song here, even if it’s nothing close to any of Sir Elton’s greatest hits.

Production Design:
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

I would be so happy to see Parasite come in and take this prize, given the effort went into building the homes the families occupy from scratch. That said, this category is impressively stacked with competition. Lots of impressive styles went into Jojo Rabbit’s colorful nature and the well-funded Irishman. 1917 is also doing a lot by having the whole film constantly moving from one location to the next, putting on display battlefields, trenches, and fallen villages. Still, Hollywood has homecourt advantage, and the work to recreate 1969 Los Angeles is the sort of nostalgic move to tap into the Academy’s heart.

Sound Editing:
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

Here we have Star Wars, car wars, and an actual war to contend with. All of that in mind, war films usually win out here. 1917 is a film practically destined to clean up with technical awards, and given all its praise, it’s hard to see it losing out to even its closest competitor, Ford v Ferrari.

Sound Mixing:
“Ad Astra”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

While I like knowing the difference between the sound categories, it seems not to be making much of a difference this year. Yes, Ford v Ferrari feels like making up for not nominating Rush way back in 2013, but I don’t think it matters. 1917 won the BAFTA already, and the immersive nature of the film, as the viewer is pushed through battles and other tense situations, makes the film enough of an experience on an auditory level, let alone all of the other senses. Although...Hollywood could always be an off-chance threat as well.

Visual Effects:
“Avengers: Endgame”
“The Irishman”
“The Lion King”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

It’s funny how things shifted like going up steps for this category. Avengers may have been a sure bet in April. But then Lion King came along with photoreal CG animals. Wait, though, because Scorsese got his hands on de-aging technology. However, Star Wars continues to deliver the visual goods. But all of it matters little because of 1917. The Academy tends to skew in favor of grounded visual effects, so the combination of the real-life aspects and the memorable imagery of a plane crashing in front of our heroes so seamlessly is all this film really needs to assure a win.

Documentary Short Subject:
“In the Absence”
“Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone If You’re a Girl”
“Life Overtakes Me”
“St. Louis Superman”
“Walk Run Cha-Cha”

Most of these short doc tic all the right boxes when looking at the types of films that win here. Multiple films involve various forms of grim material that will grab anyone’s attention if they actually sit down to watch the movies. That in mind, as unpredictable as these categories can be, I’m going with Learning to Skateboard. The attitude, the nature of the film, and even the self-explanatory title all suggest it’s going to earn enough points with the voting members. Or maybe Walk Run Cha-Cha has enough distance from the others to be its own winner.

Live-Action Short Film:
“Nefta Football Club”
“The Neighbor’s Window”
“A Sister”

An English-language short that’s dramatic without being too dark might be the reductive reasoning viewers pull towards The Neighbor’s Window for the win. Brotherhood seems to have a lot of pull as well for being serious and wonderfully cinematic. I’m choosing the more accessible film, though my favorite is Nefta Football Club, and I’ll probably just kick myself when that ends up winning for being the lightest of the films. Actually, you know what? I am going with Nefta!

Animated Short:
“Hair Love”

These short film categories tend to play as wildcards, but it’s hard to argue with the most accessible feature that’s also been met with a ton of support from Hollywood players. Pixar took a chance on one of their films from their SparkShorts program (on Disney+), but the lack of a wider audience takes its chances down. Meanwhile, I like the other three shorts (a blend of stop-motion animation and other techniques) more, but if Hair Love is towards the bottom, that’s not a bad position to be in for a lovingly made short film.

That’s it for predictions. We’ll see where things end up, but stay tuned for a couple upcoming Out Now with Aaron and Abe podcast episodes that will feature even more prediction thoughts, as well as a fun results show arriving pretty close to after the end of the Oscar broadcast!


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