• James Kunovski

2020 Oscars: Picks, Expectations and Thoughts

From overwhelming love for Joker to an acceptance of Parasite, here are my thoughts and picks for the 92nd Academy Awards.



Best Picture

Ford v Ferrari

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

Joker

Little Women

Marriage Story

Parasite

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: Parasite

Glaring Omission: The Farewell

If we are running by algorithm, it would be adamant that 1917 win. They won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and PGA. For anyone else to win, it would have to be a Crash situation, statically speaking of course.

I wondered if Once Upon a Time in Hollywood had a chance because of its resonance throughout the industry, but its omission from the editing category proves otherwise. For thirty-three consecutive years, the Best Picture winner has also been nominated for editing.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Academy will undo last year’s mistake, and aim for a less traditional Best Picture winner. Hopefully, they set their eyes on Parasite.


 

Best Director

Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Sam Mendes, 1917

Todd Phillips, Joker

Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Glaring Omission: Greta Gerwig, Little Women

This particular category and the industry view of 'good directing' leans in favour of those who do the *most* with their films. Those who are ambitious, daring and tone up the scale. Lost in the mix are those who craft with a more subdued angle. Instead of the scope which tackles a series of long-takes, for your consideration: Bong Joon-ho. His fixation on tone, and the way it shifts cataclysmically yet seamlessly throughout can be traced back to his meticulous flair and precision. On the subject of subdued yet present touch, Greta Gerwig’s absence is unfortunate. I think back to Jo and Laurie’s dance. It is the type of moment that flourishes on page but ignites the screen.



 

Best 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



Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Glaring Omission: Eddie Murphy, Dolemite is My Name



Joaquin Phoenix is a lock-in; the most sure winner of the night. He will win because of the physicality and method he brings to the role. His performance was almost universally praised. As high-brow as the Academy can get when it comes to acting wins (not recognising comedy) they have previously awarded the Joker with Heath Ledger and so it is not far-fetched to think they will do it again. Disappointed that they overlooked Eddie Murphy; he should replace Jonathan Pryce’s nomination.


 

Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet

Scarlett Johannson, Marriage Story

Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Charlize Theron, Bombshell

Renée Zellweger, Judy

Will Win: Renée Zellweger, Judy

Should Win: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Glaring Omission: Lupita Nyong'o, Us

Like Phoenix, Zellweger is a lock-in. She is a powerhouse in an otherwise tepid film that washes down Judy Garland’s life. I wish Judy (the film) was given more depth so I could be convinced that this was more than award-bait.


If we were to do an award to age ratio, Saoirse Ronan would pull some impressive numbers. She has always been a transcendent actress and her interpretation in Little Women brings to light a flame and charisma that shines brightly throughout.


 

Best Supporting Actor

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes

Al Pacino, The Irishman

Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Al Pacino, The Irishman

Glaring Omission: Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

Cool-guy Pitt has it in the bag. While they all give good performances, this lineup seems a bit simple. Pitt will win because he holds his presence, but it constantly felt like he was playing a character and not a person. I never really connected with Cliff; only observed him as a caricature. I favour Al Pacino. In The Irishman he plays the familiar mature Pacino archetype, but the certain flamboyance he gave to Hoffa’s personality, and the way his involvement in the story’s success was centripetal, turns this into a win for me.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Scarlett Johannson, Jojo Rabbit

Florence Pugh, Little Women

Margot Robbie, Bombshell



Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Should Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Glaring Omission: Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell



I’ve always been a fan of Laura Dern. Here, as a divorce attorney she is assertive, cunning and nurturing, but in an aloof southern Californian way, and it is totally beguiling. In the latter half of the film, she bursts into a dramatic monologue about the double standards held against motherhood and women in divorce. It itches at your skin and I am sure speaks for quite a few Academy members who will translate this itch into a vote. Academy, get on board with the Laura Dernification.


This category is sometimes known as the “best mother” group because of its tendency to be reserved for mothers or wives of lead characters. Refreshingly, this year, that stereotype takes a step back.



 

Best Original Screenplay

Knives Out

Marriage Story

Parasite

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Marriage Story

Glaring Omission: The Farewell

Tarantino will win because it is Tarantino telling a nostalgic story about Hollywood: a personal favourite of the Academy. Noah Baumbach crafts Marriage Story in his offbeat, contrived naturalism and his composition was thrilling to experience. Even though films not in the English language have had success with writing categories in the past, as much as I would like, I can’t see Parasite being one of the top contenders.


 

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

Joker

Little Women

The Two Popes

Will Win: Little Women

Should Win: Little Women

Glaring Omission: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

It’s no easy task rewriting a literary landmark for the tastes of a modern generation. Add the popularity of the novel and its countless adaptations. You are left with, a not-so-easy task… Leave it to Greta Gerwig to elevate the prose into a refreshing and contemporary sense without compromising her signature penmanship. She has truly ushered this classic into the 21st-century and introduced this allegory once again. An undeniable achievement that should be recognised.


 

Best Animated Feature Film

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

I Lost My Body

Klaus

Missing Link

Toy Story 4

Will Win: Toy Story 4

Should Win: I Lost My Body

Glaring Omission: Frozen 2

Though I wasn’t much a fan, Toy Story 4 has the studio power behind it, and three well-known predecessors to push this feature to a win. Missing Link pulled a pretty surprising upset at the Golden Globes but I don’t think it has the power to do so here. My personal favourite is the patient and surreal I Lost My Body. Extra points for being adult animation.



 

Best International Feature Film

Corpus Christi, Poland

Honeyland, North Macedonia

Les Misérables, France

Pain and Glory, Spain

Parasite, South Korea



Will Win: Parasite, South Korea

Should Win: Parasite, South Korea

Glaring Omission: Atlantics, Senegal



Need I say more. This award is going to Parasite, and rightly so.


 

Best Documentary Feature

American Factory

The Cave

The Edge of Democracy

For Sama

Honeyland



Will Win: American Factory

Should Win: Honeyland

Glaring Omission: Apollo 11

American Factory has an undeniable advantage. It is the only nominee in English and speaks to a geopolitical issue currently facing the United States. It was also produced by the Obamas. It’s not a bad film, per se, but the engrossing, fly-on-the-wall Honeyland deserves better.

 

Best Documentary Short Subject

In the Absence

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)

Life Overtakes Me

St. Louis Superman

Walk Run Cha-Cha



Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)

Should Win: Walk Run Cha-Cha

Glaring Omission: The Nightcrawlers

There’s a certain type of politics that usually pick the winners in the short film categories. It comes down to analysing previous winners and understanding the generalised taste of voters. Learning to Skateboard is a prime example of this taste. No discredit to the subject but gender politics and tales of resilience in impoverished countries clutch to awards.


 

Best Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood

Nefta Football Club

The Neighbour’s Window

Saria

A Sister

Will Win: The Neighbour’s Window

Should Win: Brotherhood

Glaring Omission: Miller & Son

I have written about my thoughts for Brotherhood in the past but I have the feeling its unrelenting mood will alienate viewers. I suspect they may resort to The Neighbour’s Window, a film so satisfying in its resolve, that the Academy will gladly welcome its sentimentality. It also tells an American story and is set in familiar New York City.


 

Best Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)

Hair Love

Kitbull

Mémorable

Sister

Will Win: Hair Love

Should Win: Sister

Glaring Omission: Hors Piste

Hair Love, a sweet tale of the relationship between father and daughter will most likely win because it deals, alongside a subtle trove of ideas, positive African-American representation (and we always need more of that). It is also a Sony production. Another short on the list, Sister, tackles the generational trauma behind China’s one-child policy. It is a difficult subject matter, and one that may seem so distant, that the Academy may not be able to completely embrace it. With that being said, the melancholic and bleak undertones that permeate this short of wondering, "what could have been", are universal and profound.


 

Best Original Score

Joker

Little Women

Marriage Story

1917

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Will Win: Joker

Should Win: Joker

Glaring Omission: The King

Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir has done quite well when it comes to awards this past year. Her haunting score for Chernobyl earned her an Emmy and a Grammy. She does not double down on her evocative style for Joker, and her bizarrely serene cello work provides a pivot for Arthur’s motives and psychology. The bathroom dance is reason alone.


 

Best 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

Will Win: (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again, Rocketman

Should Win: Stand Up, Harriet

Glaring Omission: A Glass of Soju, Parasite



Pop ballads usually shine in the presence of this category. The thing is, not all ballads are underwhelming. These picks (save one) are underwhelming. Maybe it was the shortlist but this year hardly echoes the memorable songs that have previously won. It is almost guaranteed that Elton John will win, even if it is not his best work. Regardless, I do like "Stand Up", and would love to see it upset the prize (which would clinch Cynthia Erivo the EGOT). Add my bewilderment at how the song from Breakthrough managed a nomination.


 

Best Sound Editing

Ford v Ferrari

Joker

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Glaring Omission: Avengers: Endgame

The sound branch often gravitates towards war and action films, and with good reason, as these films rely heavily on their atmospheric sound. With gunfire, explosions and even the subtle notes of boots against mud, 1917 ticks these boxes.



 

Best Sound Mixing

Ad Astra

Ford v Ferrari

Joker

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Glaring Omission: Avengers: Endgame



See Sound Editing.


 

Best Production Design

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Parasite

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Parasite

Glaring Omission: Little Women

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has the upper hand because of its Los Angeles setting. Academy voters need only step outside to bask in the transformation. “Look at how they transformed Hollywood Boulevard with its neon and colourful advertising,” they’ll say. It’s also a period piece which boosts its credibility in the design categories. I wish this branch gave more attention to contemporary design. I suppose it is easy to take for granted. It is our current world and requires a little bit more criticism to unpack. Nonetheless, Parasite, with its stunning originally designed home and concreted alleyways of sub-basement Seoul beautifully encapsulated two opposing sides of South Korea.


 

Best Cinematography

The Irishman

Joker

The Lighthouse

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Glaring Omission: Uncut Gems



Roger Deakins is a legendary cinematographer. Fortunately, he won two years back after thirteen previous losses. His effort in the faux one-take 1917 is definitive. The Academy has previously shown their fascination with long-take films (both Birdman and Gravity won cinematography Oscars.) The ability to bring the scope of camera movement seamlessly together rests heavily on Deakin’s shoulders. A tremendous showcase, nonetheless.

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell

Joker

Judy

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

1917

Will Win: Bombshell

Should Win: Bombshell

Glaring Omission: Dolemite is My Name

With a biopic, there comes the challenge of casting your actor and turning them into their real-life counterpart. There is a misconception with Bombshell that the makeup is only cosmetic design. In fact, the team, especially Kazu Hiro’s execution of prosthetics and casts, to turn lead Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly was artful and precise. Add to that John Lithgow and Nicole Kidman’s transformation.



 

Best Costume Design

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

Joker

Little Women

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood



Will Win: Little Women

Should Win: The Irishman

Glaring Omission: Rocketman

It seems that Little Women’s liberal and anachronistic take on mid-19th-century fashion will soar above. Fashion has defined each decade of the past century, and The Irishman’s restrained yet accurate compass of style helped nudge the epic storyline appropriately into each of its eras. Surprised to see Rocketman not nominated considering it was as central to the story as its (snubbed) lead.


 

Best Film Editing

Ford v Ferrari

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

Joker

Parasite



Will Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Parasite

Glaring Omission: Uncut Gems



Like last year, it is probable that the film with the 'most editing' will win. In this case that title goes to Ford v Ferrari. The editors on board had to weave opposing character dynamics and the lengthy and meticulous Le Mans sequence. I lean towards Parasite because it has the most precise and minute attention to montage that I've seen in some time. I understand that it closely aligns with Bong’s storyboard, but it is still a master stroke that should be endorsed.


 

Best Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame

The Irishman

The Lion King

1917

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Will Win: The Irishman

Should Win: The Irishman

Glaring Omission: Alita: Battle Angel

Visual effects have always been evolving. Its evolution has reached de-aging. Last year, six films accomplished the multi-million dollar task. Three are nominated. I point out The Irishman because the process (like the costume design) was a crucial axis in the time-traversing storyline. The Academy also loves to promote more 'artistic' implementation of visual effects thus ignoring mega budget action flicks.



 

Even though 2019 has been an incredible year for cinema, when the nominations were first announced, I felt a bit disappointed. There were plenty of omissions, and the Academy was gravitating towards a few select films while ignoring the rest. Though, I’ll have to admit, I have warmed up to the choices. Let’s see how this year’s (host-less) ceremony pans out.