Picking Winners at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards

The 92nd Annual Academy Awards hits airwaves Sunday, February 9th, 2020 at 8:00pm on ABC.

For those handicapping at home, here are the guesses of Buffalo film fanatics Christopher Schobert, William Altreuter, and myself.


Jared Mobarak:

Let’s face it. The Oscars have been irrelevant from a creative standpoint since … probably forever. The whole thing is a marketing ploy to boost box office numbers and give trailer makers something to put next to names of creative. That’s why theaters re-release nominees. That’s why boutique studios hold wide rollouts until foreign films have traction in the minds of casual moviegoers. It’s why the ratings seem to always get lower.

But The Academy has tried to be more relevant. With sweeping changes after #OscarsSoWhite to push out the old guard of white men and infuse new blood to transform the voting body’s demographics into something closer (a relative term) to the industry and population at-large, we’re still in the exact same boat. A South Korean film (Parasite) racking up six nominations was shutout of acting categories and the only Black actor who made the cut (Cynthia Erivo) played a slave to lend more credence to the theory that Oscars only laud POC talent in subservient roles.

What this does tell us, however, is that the problem truly does go much deeper than an awards show. It reveals the internal bias as far as what films members watch before voting and what films they don’t. It reveals the internal bias against genre work as being worthy of accolades. And it reveals how casting directors and producers have a long way to go before true parity can exist and arguments about “colorblind” voting based on “merit” can be seen as more than a Republican talking point.

I can’t say I’m able to muster as much excitement as I have in the past before that day happens, though. Why should I care about what an industry thinks is “good” when they obviously don’t know? The reality that this art form has been neutered for commercial gain has never been more transparent and it’s tough to admit. Awards aren’t being given out on that stage. Bumps in salary are.

Christopher Schobert:

This was, I believe, a great year for cinema. However, it’s only a so-so year for the Oscars — as expected. Many great films were shut out (Portrait of a Lady on Fire belongs at the top of that list), and many weak films were rewarded. However! The fact that a film as bold, as strange, and as energizing as Parasite managed to land so many nominations, including Best Picture, is cause for some cheering.

Above all else, let’s keep in mind that the Oscars are decided on by a small group of film industry professionals. So never be surprised by their decisions — and don’t get too emotionally invested in them, either.

William Altreuter:

I’m surprised that neither of you chose to discuss Martin Scorcese’s remark about what is or is not “Cinema,” because that conversation fits neatly into the points you are making. Of course the Academy Awards are silly, but they are silly in such an earnest way that I can’t help but enjoy this handicapping process and the show itself.

Are awards a legitimate indication of quality? I suppose they are for the intended audience. To take a slightly different case as an example: are the Pulitzer Prizes any more legitimate than the Oscars? Both amount to awards given by industry insiders for work done in the industry. What makes the Oscars different is that the industry in question is show business, and so the participants put on a show as well as handing out knicknacks. The quality of the show is pretty variable, and the outcomes are always going to be subject to debate, but if we keep in mind that the point is to be entertaining there’s less reason to be critical of the celebration.

This, to me, is where Scorsese’s criticism of “comic book” movies is off-track. There is really no denying, for example, that Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance as Iron Man is a wonderful bit of acting. So why pretend that The Avengers franchise is not quality filmmaking? An Andy Warhol print or a Vermeer oil painting are equally valid artistic expressions, aren’t they?

As I sat in the dark watching movies this year I found myself thinking that I have been increasingly disinterested in the story being told and more interested in the way a movie tells its story. I knew I was going to enjoy The Irishman as soon as it opened with that long tracking shot down the corridor of the nursing home to the room where the De Niro character was sitting, ending with a closeup of his ring before pulling back to show him to us. That’s using the tools of cinema to set up a story and that’s good filmmaking. The story itself? Well, for all its weird historical scope, it was really a fairly small narrative about the compromises a man made over his life and what those compromises led to. Was it a “better” movie than Avengers: Endgame? Why is that a question that even matters? I walked out of both feeling that I’d seen quality work.


Jared Mobarak:

Jennifer Lopez. There might be no omission more glaring than Jennifer Lopez for Best Supporting Actress in Hustlers. Why? Not only was she great, but Kathy Bates and Scarlett Johansson took her spot. The former was good in a small role that was mostly about crying until a single scene of real weight. The latter was good in a small role that admittedly felt deeper than was necessary, but hardly Oscar-worthy. This one hurts.

Only one of my personal Top Five even made this list and her name is Florence Pugh. Does she have a shot? No. But she has more of one than my top four of Lorraine Toussaint (Fast Color), Diana Lin (The Farewell), Lopez, and Octavia Spencer (Luce). And that’s not even mentioning everyone’s favorite dark horse Shuzhen Zhao (also from The Farewell).

I’d love to say Margot Robbie (the best part of Bombshell) is neck and neck with Laura Dern (a showy performance that pales in comparison to both a superficially similar turn in “Big Little Lies” and a much quieter turn in Little Women), but I can’t. This is Dern’s to lose and I seriously doubt she will.

Christopher Schobert:

Laura Dern is strong in Marriage Story, but I’m unsure of why that particular performance has become her “win.” Whatever — she’s consistently wonderful, and I can’t find fault with her winning. Dern is a lock, but a Florence Pugh upset would be a delight.

FWIW, I would’ve liked seeing Annette Benning on the list for her subtly impressive work in The Report—and Margot Robbie for Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood rather than Bombshell.

William Altreuter:

I agree that Dern deserves a valedictory award and that JLo deserved at least a nomination. Marriage Story is the kind of movie that the Academy likes to award: full of strong, actorly performances. (It helps to keep in mind that actors are the largest component of the electorate.) I think Ms. Pugh caught a break here. In a cast marked by a strong ensemble performance, she is the one that got the nod. And I think this award will go to her as a result.


Jared Mobarak:

I knew two of my favorites in this category had no shot because it was guaranteed that not enough voters saw their films: Sterling K. Brown in Waves and Aldis Hodge in Clemency. I thought maybe Jamie Foxx had a chance with Just Mercy, but even the former winner couldn’t breakthrough.

The category instead played out much like everyone assumed. Anthony Hopkins snuck in for the surprisingly divisive (at least in critics circles) The Two Popes and Tom Hanks checked his box to give A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood its only nomination (a crime). Their mention is their victory.

To me this comes down to the other three—and I’d probably be better to push that number to two since Al Pacino will most likely by on the outside looking in.

It’s honestly Joe Pesci’s to lose since he was great and the story surrounding his coming out of retirement for The Irishman adds some nice flavor. But does Pacino split the vote? I don’t think he does, but I have to give Brad Pitt a shot just in case. Everyone thought he’d have the best shot for double nominations (Johansson stole his glory after Ad Astra lost steam) and the buzz to “get him an Oscar” (despite him already having one as a producer) is strong. Is it enough to beat Pesci? I guess we’ll find out.

Christopher Schobert:

One of this season’s shockers, for me, is that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood made zero noise during its release. I genuinely thought it would be a major hit. I’m happy Tom Hanks made the cut, but he has no chance. Actually, all five of these nominees are strong—but I completely agree with you re: Sterling K. Brown. I’d add Willem DaFoe, as well.

I think Brad Pitt wins this easily. He’s taken this category in a number of other awards this season, and gives a performance in Hollywood that’s almost impossible not to love.

William Altreuter:

Joe Pesci. Sometimes I don’t understand what “Best Performance in a Supporting Role” is supposed to mean. It was impossible to look away from Pesci when he was on the screen. Was The Irishman about his character? No, but without Pesci’s performance the movie wouldn’t have come close to working as well as it does.

For what it is worth, although Al Pacino turned in a fine “Pacino performance,” as these things go, the way they go is this: Pacino shows up on set, shouts for a while, then goes back to his trailer.

All that said, Tom Hanks was, to me, unexpectedly wonderful as Fred Rogers. Everybody loves Tom Hanks—even I love Tom Hanks, and there aren’t many actors who have developed the kind of range he has shown over the years. He has a shelf full of Oscars, but I wouldn’t consider his winning one for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood an upset.


Jared Mobarak:

I’m shocked how this category turned out. I knew Sienna Miller (American Woman), Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale), and Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose) wouldn’t make the cut, but Cynthia Erivo? I have to believe most people were surprised to hear her name. Is it enough to say she vaulted over fellow Black contenders Lupita Nyong’o (Us) and Alfre Woodard (Clemency) because she played a slave? No. But history definitely makes it possible.

Both Nyong’o and Woodard deserved slots over Erivo and Charlize Theron. I know a lot of people who loved Charlize’s performance, but I’m not exactly sure why. That’s how I am with most roles hinged upon mimicry, though. That the film pushed her into the spotlight above her more interesting counterparts only made it more glaringly so. But I digress.

That leaves Saoirse Ronan, Scarlett Johansson, and Renée Zellweger. I think Ronan is the weakest link (although her fourth nomination proves she’s in the voters’ consciousness) and believe Johansson has a real shot with what might be the best performance of her career. But can either beat Zellweger and her “comeback” story. I don’t know. Judy wasn’t the greatest film, but that didn’t stop Marion Cotillard from winning for La vie en rose. That Renée was so mesmerizing despite its quality makes her chances at victory even higher.

Christopher Schobert:

No Nyong’o here is a major disappointment. I wonder if a more recent release date would’ve helped. Anyway, my pick here would be Saoirse Ronan, who anchors a wonderful film with yet another glorious performance. The winner, however, looks to be Renée Zellweger, who is very good in a pretty weak film.

William Altreuter:

I haven’t seen Judy. As a rule I dislike it when a performance amounts to an impersonation (although, having said that, I thought Reese Witherspoon was great to watch in Walk the Line, so I guess I’m not always consistent.)

This seems like one of those occasions when external events will tilt the award, and with Harvey Weinstein on trial as we speak, I see Charlize Theron in Bombshell as the moment during the show when the Me Too movement gets its shoutout.


Jared Mobarak:

I’ve already mentioned Pitt for Ad Astra, but notice should be made for both Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) and Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems) too. It’s fun to see all the talk about “The Sandman” getting robbed, but there was no way he was actually sneaking in. Uncut Gems getting zero love proves it.

Most will say Jonathan Pryce stole his spot, but I think he had a lot of traction since TIFF and was only thought to be a long-shot because critics groups ignored him. His inclusion is not a surprise. He also won’t win.

I’d love to see Antonio Banderas pull an upset a la Javier Bardem (and the aforementioned Cotillard) as far as winning for a non-English role (he was my favorite of the year), but I don’t see that happening either. Nor will Adam Driver be crowned despite a riveting performance as writer/director Noah Baumbach’s autobiographical stand-in.

This one comes down to Leonardo DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix. I’m putting Leo up here because The Academy loves Quentin Tarantino movies and movies about “the movies.” That he was excellent both comically and dramatically is icing on the cake. But Phoenix has a lot of pluses in his corner. He hasn’t won before. Joker was a worldwide phenomenon (whether you liked it or not). And his performance was truly and scarily magnificent. If there’s one thing you have to like about that movie, it’s him.

Christopher Schobert:

Sandler and Eddie Murphy would’ve made this category infinitely more interesting, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the five we’ve got.

Boy, it would be nice to see Antonio Banderas take this. I think he gave the finest performance of 2019. Alas, it is not to be. This is the year of Joaquin Phoenix, for better or worse. I was mixed on Joker, but certainly impressed with his work. And considering the number of great performances he’s given—including You Were Never Really Here just one year ago—I’ll allow it.

William Altreuter:

I also see this as a two horse race, but my horses are Adam Driver and Joaquin Phoenix with the nod going to Driver. Joker impressed me as the sort of movie that gets made so that the lead can do a lot of actor stuff—I really didn’t see the point of it otherwise. The same is true of Marriage Story as well, but the latter has more of a prestige feel to it. I don’t mean to disparage either performance, or the performances of the others, but Driver has been showing that he can pretty much do anything.

Leo’s performance was what we expect from him, I think. He was terrific, but what else is new?


Jared Mobarak:

Lorene Scafaria. Just like Jennifer Lopez got snubbed, so too did her writer/director. I’m a huge fan of Luce and Aniara, but they didn’t have a shot here. Hustlers did. Or, at least, it should have. If ever you needed evidence of American prudishness, see how The Academy buried this film—probably sight unseen too.

The category is otherwise pretty solid minus Joker. That was a film with a great central performance and a beautiful aesthetic undone by a very misguided script refusing to go too far in some respects while also going too far in others. And it probably has a good chance of winning regardless.

I hope not since the other four are actually worthy. Both Jojo Rabbit and The Two Popes probably won’t go farther than the nomination, though.

In a perfect world this award is therefore between The Irishman and Little Women. I’m pulling for Greta Gerwig because she adapted the hell out of the latter by shifting timelines to streamline the text and make it resonate in two hours. But at the end of the day, Steven Zaillian will most likely end up with the prize.

As long as Todd Phillips and Scott Silver don’t, I’ll be happy.

Christopher Schobert:

Now this is an interesting category. There is an argument to be made for all but Two Popes as a likely winner. While I think Steven Zaillian deserves a win, I think this comes down to Joker (seriously) or Little Women. I’m going to bet on Greta Gerwig taking the prize. And if she does, I’ll be applauding.

William Altreuter:

Gotta love what Steven Zaillian did with some of the pulpiest, trashiest material since Mario Puzo decided that he was going to write to make money. I’m not exactly sure why Joker is in this category: the story is not canon in the DC universe (which I know because I am a big ol’ comic book nerd).

There is something about Two Popes that bugs me—maybe because it’s about the strangest aspect of the Roman Catholic Church? I have a blind spot there is what I’m saying and don’t think I can make a fair assessment of the movie. I was amused, I guess, by Jojo Rabbit, but it seemed like kind of a stunt to make an otherwise unremarkable story stand out.

I think Gerwig did a remarkable job of making Little Women her own and showing why this is a story that merits repeated tellings.


Jared Mobarak:

My dark horse for this category was Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but it being shutout of everything just goes to show how voters don’t watch foreign films unless they’re also up for Best International Film. (France chose Les Misérables instead and was rewarded with a nomination.) My fringe possibility was Shia LaBeouf and his stunning autobiographical work Honey Boy.

That means Lulu Wang’s The Farewell was a lock. I didn’t see a way that it wouldn’t land here and yet 1917 and its thrill ride (Hey Marty Scorsese: talk about theme park, right?) did instead. I was blindsided by this one. Never even had an inkling Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns had a chance.

I didn’t think Rian Johnson did either, but his Knives Out earning a nomination might be my favorite positive surprise of the whole show. He isn’t going to win, though, since the other three choices have momentum. It’s gonna be a photo finish.

Marriage Story is the best work Noah Baumbach has created since his last Oscar nomination (The Squid and the Whale) and what a treat it would be if he and Gerwig make the screenplay awards a couple’s affair.

Parasite is well-liked and got enough nominations to prove it has the backing for an upset in a category outside of its almost guaranteed International Picture win. What a great surprise that would be.

My suspicion, however, is that Quentin Tarantino beats them all. Why? Because The Academy loves him. The last time I guessed all eight of these categories correctly was when I went against the grain and tabbed Django Unchained as winning original screenplay in 2013. I didn’t think it deserved it then and don’t think Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood deserves it now. But it’s an Oscar film through and through and this will probably be its sole “top eight” victory.

Christopher Schobert:

Another strong category, although I have no idea how the script for 1917—surely its weakest element—snuck in.

I’m with you Jared—I think Tarantino takes another Oscar, this time for Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. It’s a staggeringly smart, multi-layered script, a well-received hit with big movie stars, and it’s respectful of the art of moviemaking.

William Altreuter:

What a strong category!

I agree that 1917’s script is probably not why Martin Scorsese surely loves 1917.

I wonder if Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood will really be Tarantino’s penultimate movie. (I also want the record to reflect that I am well aware of how much the movie industry loves movies about the movie industry—it’s almost as much as Southern rock bands love songs about touring.) I also wonder if this is the sort of year when the Academy is inclined to give a big prize to an intimate movie like Marriage Story. I tend to think not.

To me Parasite was one of the most remarkable things I saw all year, but I’ve since been wondering if a foreign film can take this prize. That brings me to Knives Out, which I thought was wonderfully clever and great fun.


Jared Mobarak:

No women again. No Greta Gerwig. No Alma Har’el. No Céline Sciamma, Marielle Heller, Lorene Scafaria, or Melina Matsoukas. It’s pretty laughable too when Todd Phillips’ foray into “edginess” landed him a nom without any trouble. At least his Joker deserves a nomination for directing more than it does for writing. Barely.

I’ve already said screenplay will be Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’s one big-time win, so it’s a no-go for Tarantino here. It’s a no-go for Scorsese too since The Academy is notorious for voting against him (save The Departed serving as a makeup cookie decades too late). Sorry The Irishman.

That leaves Sam Mendes and Bong Joon-ho. Parasite is well liked, but Ang Lee hasn’t even been able to win this award for a film that wasn’t in English. Could this be the first time a foreign-language work wins Best Director? It’s possible. If 1917 wasn’t leaning its entire marketing campaign on how well directed it was, I might have even believed it too. But that’s been the case and voters are getting inundated with the message that 1917 is synonymous with cinematography and directing. It’s been seared onto Hollywood’s collective brain and should prove victorious as a result.

Christopher Schobert:

So, I have a theory. First, if you’d asked me in October, I would’ve said there’s no way The Irishman was not winning Director and Picture. But sadly, the film seems to have faded. I think Hollywood has a real shot at Best Picture (more on that below), but my theory is that 1917 and Parasite will split Director and Picture.

Why? Momentum. It has been wondrous to watch Parasite make an impact around the globe, and to see it win major awards. I was mixed on 1917, but the film’s release strategy seems to have been just right. It’s an impressive achievement, whether you adore the film or not.

Both seem to be peaking at the right time. I’m going to give Sam Mendes the edge for 1917 in the directing category.

William Altreuter:

1917 is as pure a feat of brilliant direction as can be. In fact, that may be most of what it is. But that’s no small thing. I don’t think it’s a Best Picture winner, but it is worth pointing out that this is a category that only directors get to vote on. The technical accomplishment may be enough to carry the day. At some point I will need to see it again—the first time I was just watching how it was done.

I’d like to see Bong Joon-ho win for Parasite but my suspicious nature tells me that it is too niche a film to take home an award which is meant to drive box office. Let’s face it: prestige is nice, but in the minds of Academy voters, the Academy determines prestige.

Joker was clearly made (or at least promoted) with a view towards winning awards. I can’t see Todd Philips winning for this, though. Is this the Quentin Tarantino movie that is going to be the capstone of his career? As between Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (ugh, what a chore to type) and The Irishman I’d say that both manage to embody the style and content of their respective auteurs. Will this come down to the fact that The Irishman was released by Netflix? Not in this category. Scorsese takes home the trophy.


Jared Mobarak:

Here’s what it won’t be: Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, Marriage Story, and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. That last one might be a bold-ish declaration considering how Oscar-y it is, but I’m going to stand by its chances being very low.

I still don’t think The Academy is ready for Netflix to win. Is Steven Spielberg telling voters not to vote for The Irishman like he did Roma, though? No. The streamer will win someday, but I don’t think it’s now. (Although I wouldn’t mind being wrong.)

Parasite is a juicy pick that’s done very well in all the Oscar precursors. I also wouldn’t be surprised if voters who don’t understand woke culture think that a vote for it will make up for the almost complete whitewash happening on the acting front. Because it’s my favorite of the nine selections, I wouldn’t even be mad if that were the case.

To me it’s down to Joker and 1917. The latter has picked up steam since its January release and you cannot deny its craft even if you question its emotional potency (like me). The former, however, is very politically charged and could become a talking point amongst long-standing voters who are looking for edginess due to its controversy.

Actually. Between 1917 being old school Oscar fodder and Joker covertly being positioned as republican Oscar fodder sympathizing with angry white men, these two just may split the vote and let Parasite win. Because that’s unlikely, though, I have to pick one of them. I’m going to err on the side of hope and say 1917.

Christopher Schobert:

Jared, your rationale for Joker makes sense. And I still think it’s very possible the well-liked, perfect-for-voters Hollywood ekes out a win. But continuing my theory from the previous category, I’m going to say the Academy makes a shockingly wise call, and rewards Parasite with Best Picture. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?

William Altreuter:

Back in the day a movie like Ford v Ferrari used to come out about once a week. Perfectly good movie, cool story, good performances, nothing not to like about it. But Best Picture? C’mon. Likewise Jojo Rabbit. Well-done, novel in its way, but hardly the best movie of 2019.

The best thing about Joker is Joaquin Phoenix, full stop. He is the reason to see it and he is the reason it got made. Although Little Women is far from anodyne, I’m not so sure this is the year for a movie like that. I’d clap with glee if Parasite won, but as I alluded in my opening remarks, I do not think that a movie like that gets the top prize from an institution like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

I think the award goes to Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. Truth to tell, Parasite would be the edgier pick, but there are too many factors working against it. Miss Congeniality? Hey, The Irishman is a damn good movie too.



Jared Mobarak

Supporting Actress:
Laura Dern
(Marriage Story)

Supporting Actor:
Joe Pesci
(The Irishman)

Lead Actress:
Renée Zellweger
(Judy)

Lead Actor:
Joaquin Phoenix
(Joker)

Adapted Screenplay:
Steven Zaillian
(The Irishman)

Original Screenplay:
Quentin Tarantino
(Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood)

Director:
Sam Mendes
(1917)

Best Picture:
1917


Christopher Schobert

Supporting Actress:
Laura Dern
(Marriage Story)

Supporting Actor:
Brad Pitt
(Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood)

Lead Actress:
Renée Zellweger
(Judy)

Lead Actor:
Joaquin Phoenix
(Joker)

Adapted Screenplay:
Greta Gerwig
(Little Women)

Original Screenplay:
Quentin Tarantino
(Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood)

Director:
Sam Mendes
(1917)

Best Picture:
Parasite


William Altreuter

Supporting Actress:
Florence Pugh
(Little Women)

Supporting Actor:
Joe Pesci
(The Irishman)

Lead Actress:
Charlize Theron
(Bombshell)

Lead Actor:
Adam Driver
(Marriage Story)

Adapted Screenplay:
Greta Gerwig
(Little Women)

Original Screenplay:
Rian Johnson
(Knives Out)

Director:
Martin Scorsese
(The Irishman)

Best Picture:
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood


photography:
92nd Oscars® nominees at the Oscar Nominee Luncheon held at the Ray Dolby Ballroom, Monday, January 27, 2020. The 92nd Oscars will air on Sunday, February 9, 2020 live on ABC. Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

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