The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for this year’s Oscars Monday morning. As always, the prognosticators did not get it 100% right. There are a few surprises, both in terms of what got nominated and what got snubbed. In particular, this year’s crop is not a great group of nominees, and while there are some exciting parts, it is hard to imagine how it could have gone worse. Here is the highly subjective, yet completely correct guide (to me, anyway) about who will win, who should in, and who should have been nominated.
Ford v. Ferrari
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Who will win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Although it was released last summer, Quentin Tarantino’s latest is still part of the conversation thanks to its affable hang-out vibe, sharp writing, and its charismatic cast. More importantly, it is always a safe bet to choose the film that effectively allows the movie industry to celebrate itself.
Who should win: Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s thriller is a global phenomenon, an international blockbuster that connected with audiences who do not always flock to art-houses. Despite all it has going for it, I suspect a Korean film about income inequality will not connect with Academy voters who sneer at international cinema. This is Hollywood’s big night, and Bong would be an interloper. Fun fact: if Parasite does win, it will be the first Palme d’Or winner to receive Best Picture since Marty won in 1955.
What should have been nominated: The Farewell. Lulu Wang’s tragicomic family drama was one of 2019’s best surprises, a rich story that is about so much more than the decision to withhold news of a sickness. It is about identity, assimilation, language, and the nature of mercy. But if you look at the above nominees, there is bias in favor of male angst, and violence as a storytelling tool. The Farewell eschews all that, and it being shut out is one of many glaring omissions among this year’s nominees.
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
Who will win: Joaquin Phoenix. He has been in the favorite ever since the film’s splashy debut in Venice last year, and the Academy loves a performance with the most acting, not the best acting. When I say “most,” I refer to Phoenix’s physical commitment to the role – both in terms of his weight loss and how he contorts his body – as well as his broad “big for the cheap seats” style. For more about why Phoenix’s performance is far from his best, I recommend Emily VanDerWerff’s twitter thread from yesterday. Speaking of Joker, the film somehow received the same number of nominations as Titanic, a fact which should lead to two different conclusions:
- The Academy has little interest in regaining the credibility it lost after giving Best Picture to Green Book.
- Comic book fans who whine that comic book movies aren’t taken seriously can now officially shut the fuck up about it forever.
Who should win: Antonio Banderas. The Academy routinely rewards actors who play historical figures or real people, and while Banderas’ character is a facsimile of writer/director Pedro Almodóvar, his performance is so much more than that. It is full of complex emotion – regret, longing, resentment, curiosity – and Banderas conveys all that through his character’s attempt at concealment. Between a bittersweet evening among two old lovers and his anger over the failings of his own body, no other nominated performance is so recognizably human/flawed.
Who should have been nominated: Eddie Murphy. Hollywood loves a good comeback story, and while Murphy would argue he never left, his performance as Rudy Ray Moore is an infectious mix of bravura and vulnerability. Dolemite Is My Name received no Oscar nominations this year, which is a shame because it is the sort of old-fashioned movie that should be celebrated: a group of ragtag misfits who get together and make good against all odds. I suspect Dolemite appearing on Netflix hurt its chances. Not just because Hollywood is unsure what to make of the streaming giant, but because this film works much better when you see it with a crowd.
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Soarsie Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renee Zellweger, Judy
Who will win: Renee Zellweger. This is the comeback story the Academy decided to recognize, in no small part because Judy is the story of a failed comeback. Before her tragic death, Garland spent her final months in exile, oscillating between addiction, booing crowds, and a bitter custody battle. Perhaps recognizing Zellweger is meant as a mea culpa from an industry that ultimately abandoned the character she plays.
Who should win: Scarlett Johansson. Marriage Story was one of the most critically lauded films out of Toronto this year, and yet is somehow fell by the wayside in the Oscars conversation. My crackpot theory is that memes killed its chances. Many on social media mocked the climatic, brutal argument between the estranged couple, and putting fake dialogue into screenshots made it easy to ignore what they actually said. Still, Johansson has never been better as Nicole, and her breathless, meandering monologue about the failed history of her marriage is the sort of great movie acting that deserves celebration.
Who should have been nominated: Lupita Nyong’o. Jordan Peele’s Us establishes the director as no one trick pony, and also that he is an intuitive, natural director of actors. Nyong’o’s dual roles are a memorable, intense unearthing of the anxiety and contradictions that are within all of us. Without revealing too much, a second viewing of Us reveals how her performance is much more layered than you might initially think.
Best 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
Who will win: Brad Pitt. Everyone loves his performance, his speeches are great, and his movie ends with him stopping The Manson Family.
Who should win: Brad Pitt. It is rare to see a performance this natural and unassuming. Without seemingly doing much at all, Pitt reminds us why he is one of the last true remaining movie stars.
Who should have been nominated: Daniel Craig. Knives Out was a box office hit and an original entertainment, and while the ensemble cast was terrific, Craig stands out in a daffy comic performance. His character’s accent is deliberately absurd, and some of his line readings nearly veer into parody. But under all that artifice and preening hides a steal trap mind, and like Christie’s Hercule Poirit, Benoit Blanc may become the sort of detective that mystery fans cherish.
Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Who will win: Laura Dern. She has been excellent for decades, finding humanity in the strangest of roles, and Marriage Story distills her appeal as an actor rather elegantly.
Who should win: Laura Dern. Her character’s big speech about the inequities in the marriage industrial complex is the sort of thing that the Academy (rightfully) eats up.
Who should have been nominated: Jennifer Lopez. From her singular introduction through her face-off against the cops, Jennifer Lopez plays the sort of anti-hero that Academy Members relish. That is, of course, as long as said anti-hero is played by a man. In his recent column, the critic Oscar historian Mark Harris said it best:
She dared to play a character who used her sexuality as a professional survival tool and didn’t regret it; she committed the unforgivable sin of being sympathetic and then not; she took her public image and spectacularly amplified and reworked it to suit a complicated character. That is not what Academy voters want from J. Lo. What they want is for her to scrub off her makeup and play a poor mother dying of something who tries to find someone to take care of her kids… That kind of self-abasement has always been something Academy voters love to see from actresses; even if we set aside the grim social implications of that kind of thinking, what remains is a disappointing limitation of vision.
Maybe Lopez will attempt such a role some day, but I hope she doesn’t out of spite.
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite
Who will win: Bong Joon-Ho. Like Roma last year, I think this award will be a consolation prize.
Who should win: Bong Joon-Ho. The year’s best film did not direct itself, and Bong’s command of tone – jumping between comedy, horror, and everything in between – is an example of a director at the height of his powers.
Who should have been nominated: The year’s best American film did not direct itself. Gerwig’s Little Women looks great, and it accomplishes the tricky thing of revising Alcott’s novel while also honoring it. Aside from the technical achievements, including gorgeous use of natural light, Gerwig establishes herself as a director who can conjure great performances. Every actor in her film has memorable scenes – Pugh and Ronan in particular – and yet the film never loses sight of the ensemble. I saw many movies I loved in 2019, but Little Women is the only one I wish was longer.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Irishman, Steven Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi
Joker, Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Little Women, Greta Gerwig
The Two Popes, Anthony McCarten
Who will win: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver. Joker received more Oscar nominations than Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, the two films Philips and Silver steal from, so it’s only fitting they get some Oscar glory for their efforts.
Who should win: Greta Gerwig. If you get the chance, I recommend that you see Little Women twice. The second time will give you an opportunity to appreciate how Gerwig’s script handles its tricky time jumps, and its narrative within a narrative. It is so much more thoughtfully constructed than you may have initially thought.
Who should have been nominated: Lulu Wang. The Farewell began as a segment on the radio show This American Life, and Wang avoids the show’s cutesy formula in order to find what is cinematic in the story she wants to tell. It rare to see a film where language – in terms of what is spoken, and what is understood – carries so much important detail and information with it.
Best Original Screenplay
Knives Out, Rian Johnson
Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach
1917, Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino
Parasite, Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han
Who will win: Quentin Tarantino. If he’s going to win Best Picture and not Best Director, he’s got to win something else. At least he does not have to compete against Forrest Gump.
Who should win: Rian Johnson. Starting with Brick and continuing through The Last Jedi, Johnson has always been a genre deconstructionist. Knives Out is no different, but you don’t need deep familiarity with Agatha Christie in order to appreciate his whodunit. It is a riot on its own, and all the more impressive since he sneaks in a message about rich deplorables.
Who should have been nominated: Scott Z. Burns, The Report. Burns’ dense political procedural is based in fact, with little back story or sub-plots. Few scripts trust the audience to follow such an exhaustive process, or provide such a sense of moral outrage. Last year’s impeachment probably hurt the film’s chances – there is only much bandwidth people can take about a corrupt administrative state – and yet that does not diminish what Burns accomplished.