Monday, January 20, 2020

Oscars 2020: Early thoughts and predictions

The Academy Award nominations were announced earlier last Monday, and the general reaction was somewhere between an exasperated sigh and a frustrated "meh" (as I will discuss throughout this post). The nominations were earlier than usual by at least a week (if not more than that), and there is an abbreviated season this year, with the Awards coming up on February 9, which means that the fact that I waited a week to publish this post makes my picks that much better, right?

That said, there has been some clarity that has come through the announcements of several Guild awards (Producers' Guild and Screen Actors' Guild), so I will incorporate those observations into this post. But first, a few general observations about this year's Oscars.

A top-heavy year

This year's nominations are unusually top-heavy, as all of the Best Picture nominees earned at least four nominations; four of the nine films were in double digits for their nominations, with another four at six nominations each and one at four. The dominance of those nine films left little room for other films in the mainline categories, as only seven other films in total received nominations in the acting or writing categories.

This particular division of nominees seems like it means that this year's awards may be concentrated on the core group of nominees, and that there may be a sentiment similar to previous years in which voters are trying to spread out the other awards among the dominant group of films, leaving little room for other movies to work their way into the conversation.

It would seem that there is more (or at least as much) of a trend of groupthink than there has been in the past, and that the Academy is mostly playing it safe this year, with just a couple of disruptions making it seem like they're being progressive.

With that in mind, it is also unlikely that there will be a dominant film at this year's Awards, and that even the most-awarded film will only win three or four Oscars. In the decade since the Academy expanded the Best Picture field to more than five nominees, there has been only once when a film has won more than six Awards (Gravity won seven) and another three times when a film won six (The Hurt Locker, Mad Max: Fury Road, and La La Land). So, basically, assume that most major nominees will get at least one award, and the most awarded film will only get three or four Oscars.

Nominations hurt by lack of diversity

The Oscars continued (or revived) a couple of unfortunately long-standing trends: mostly ignoring women and people of color. It remains one of the greatest stains on the Oscars (though there are a few), and I really hope that the changing composition of the Academy actually changes these trends in the next few years. It could easily be argued that Greta Gerwig deserved a nomination for Directing and not just a writing nomination, and that there were far more female directors and writers that deserved conversation.

The Oscars are once again #OscarsSoWhite, with only one acting nominee of color (Cynthia Erivo for Harriet), despite there being several widely well-recognized performances from that community. This really has become one of the worst continuing storylines for the Oscars, and although it's hard in some ways to find fault with the nominated performances when evaluated individually, it is very troubling that the general neglect of minorities continues as a trend.

What seemed particularly egregious this year is the way the conversation shaped over the past few months, as it seemed that this trend seemed inevitable, and that the actors of color were competing for one open spot in each acting category. There were several performances that merited nominations from other bodies - Lupita Nyong'o in Us and Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers come to mind as the foremost examples - but there are many others that could have been nominated, which makes this whitewash even more frustrating.

But it's not just the nominations that are male and white: it's the movies themselves that reflect that reality. Two-thirds of the Best Picture nominees seem to appeal primarily to that demographic, and as mentioned earlier, it seems as though the Oscars doubled down on those films rather than trying to incorporate a wider diversity of experiences.

Of course, each branch of the Academy works independently for their nominations, so it's perhaps not quite as simple as observing that the Academy is mostly male and white and so are the nominations. And there is an argument to be made that there should not be tokenism, and that the best films should be recognized, regardless of color; but to do that blindly is to also ignore the systemic patterns of privilege that continue to benefit white men (primarily).

There still is a significant system of privilege in place, and it's far easier for films that appeal to white men to succeed at the Oscars, and this year's nominations have demonstrated that there is a lot of work to be done in the Academy and in the world of film in general to rectify some of those historic imbalances of power that still proliferate.

Other emerging trends being established

There are a few other trends that seem like they may be solidifying in regard to new norms being established within the Academy. They're certainly less significant than the required changes in regard to diversity, but they're still notable shifts in the Academy's patterns (at least for now).

After emerging as a contending studio last year with Roma, Netflix continued to establish itself as a dominant studio, with a total of 24 nominations leading all studios. The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes all earned multiple nominations, and Netflix has several other films contending in other categories.

Parasite's six nominations marks the second consecutive year that a film made in another language has received significant attention from the Academy at large - although it could definitely be argued that it deserved at least one acting nomination, especially in light of the film's win for Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards

And Joker's eleven nominations seem to indicate that the superhero genre is now even less anathema than it was before last year's nominations for Black Panther. It's taken over a decade since The Dark Knight was snubbed in Best Picture, but superheroes (and villains, for that matter) may be here to stay in the serious consideration department. Also, what would the odds have been even a few months ago that Joker would have been the most nominated film? What a world we live in.

My early thoughts and predictions for the 92nd Oscars

Best Picture: This is by far my worst category to predict, and I'm still not sure exactly why. I made a couple of dumb mistakes, but mostly, I still defend my reasoning behind choices like The Revenant, La La Land, Get Out, and Roma over the films that won in the past four years. So, what I'm trying to say is, you probably shouldn't trust me in this category, especially since I have not seen any of the nominated films at the time of nomination for the first time since the Best Picture field expanded to more than five nominees in 2010.

With nine nominees becoming the standard, it's normally easy to group them into three categories based on their prominence and ability to win the big award - but this year seems different, with at least five or six movies that would seem to have a strong narrative to win Best Picture and another two or three that can make a case; that said, each of those eight movies also have a narrative against them that could develop over the next few weeks.

If I had to group them, I would say that the frontrunners are 1917 and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, as I find it hard to see a case for Joker to actually win (though it would be the most Oscarsiest thing ever for Joker winning Best Picture to be the way to finally recognize the superhero genre), and that the only nominee of the nine that seems likely to not win and not really gather much momentum in other categories is Ford v. Ferrari.

That leaves the middle group - the films that maybe could win, but will probably be awarded elsewhere (or maybe not at all) - as the largest, including: The IrishmanJojo RabbitJokerLittle Women; Marriage Story; and Parasite. In short, it feels like a mostly wide-open year, and with a shorter Oscar season, it seems as though the outcome is far from guaranteed. The Irishman could actually become the latest film to get blanked after receiving ten or more nominations, given this group of nominees.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, on the other hand, has the cachet of being a production about Hollywood with some of its biggest stars of the past quarter-century both in front of and behind the camera. There are some problematic discussions both of the content in the movie and Quentin Tarantino's career in general, but there is also a strong "he's due" case that's being made, in addition to the "this is the kind of movie that helps remind us of what movies are like" narrative that has developed since the summer.

1917 has a lot going for it, and I think it has the momentum right now with its wins at the Golden Globes and the Producers' Guild, as well as the advantage of having a sense of being political without actually having any current political stakes. OUATiH was the odds-on favourite right after the nominations, but I think there's a good chance that 1917 will keep coming on strong after its recent wins and box-office success, so I'm leaning toward 1917 to win right now. But chances are that I'll be wrong no matter who I pick.

Best Director: The biggest story here is that Greta Gerwig was omitted, leaving it as an all-male category yet again. Todd Phillips is just happy to be here for Joker, but each of the other four could win. Bong Joon Ho will probably be awarded elsewhere, but then again, Cuaron won this award and Best International Feature last year, so it's possible Ho will win for Parasite. Although there could be a move to give it to Scorsese to validate his career (in addition to his win for The Departed), I tend to think it will go to Quentin Tarantino, who has never won this award, over Sam Mendes for 1917. But it could go either way; my early pick is that they give this to QT as a way to acknowledge his work over the past three decades.

Best Actor: I don't see a way that this doesn't go to Joaquin Phoenix for Joker, but also for his entire body of work . Driver seems too young, DiCaprio won recently, and Banderas and Pryce seem mostly happy to be there. For that matter, though, the entire slate of Acting nominees is entirely uninteresting this year, with all four having highly favoured nominees.

Best Actress: Renee Zellweger seems poised to win for Judy, and that's probably a lock. But if there were an upset, I'd pick Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story over Saoirse Ronan in Little Women.

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt being nominated along with four previous winners seems like a lock for Pitt to finally get an Oscar for his role in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.

Best Supporting Actress: This category consists of one previous winner, three young actresses (well, Scarlett Johansson isn't exactly young anymore, but I think it still fits the general narrative), and the much-beloved Laura Dern, who should win for Marriage Story.

Best Original Screenplay: Will Tarantino win his third writing Oscar (tying him with Woody Allen), or will Noah Baumbach win for Marriage Story? Or maybe Bong Joon Ho for Parasite? I have a poor track record in this category, but my early hunch is that it could be Bong Joon Ho winning for a screenplay in another language.

Best Adapted Screenplay: It seems like this should go to Greta Gerwig, as she has adapted a much-beloved work, was snubbed for Directing, and didn't win for Lady Bird two years ago because she was up against Jordan Peele for Get Out. Her main competition is probably Todd Phillips for Joker, but I think we'll see Greta get an Oscar.

Best Animated Feature: I have no idea. Toy Story 4 might seem to be the frontrunner, but I have a sense that this could go weird - like I Lost My Body weird. But it's probably Toy Story 4. But maybe not.

Other Technical Categories: I'm assuming that these will mostly be divided among the Best Picture nominees, with 1917 picking up two or three awards of the eight (Cinematography; Costume Design; Film Editing; Makeup and Hairstyling; Production Design; Sound Editing; Sound Mixing; Visual Effects). I imagine that most of the main contenders will get an award here, too.

My prediction records since 2005

For the record, here are my results by category and by year since I've been publicly predicting the awards in this forum. As you can see, I have been particularly poor at predicting Best Picture most years, but I have only had two really bad years in which I have missed more than three of these nine categories; in fact, my most common result is 8/9 (five times), and I only miss one or two awards (at least 7/9 correct) 60 % of the time, so chances are I will mostly be correct in my final picks - except for Best Picture, of course.

Results by category:
Best Picture: 6/15 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
Best Director: 12/15 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 12/15 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017)
Best Actress: 12/15 (missed 2008, 2012, 2019)
Best Supporting Actor: 13/15 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 13/15 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Original Screenplay: 9/15 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2019)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12/15 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Best Animated Feature: 12/15 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)

Results by year:
2019: 6/9 (missed Picture, Actress, and Original Screenplay)
2018: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2017: 7/9 (missed Picture and Actor)
2016: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2015: 4/9 (missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature)
2014: 8/9 (missed Original Screenplay)
2013: 6/9 (missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2012: 8/9 (missed Actress)
2011: 7/9 (missed Director and Original Screenplay)
2010: 6/9 (missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay)
2009: 8/9 (missed Actor)
2008: 6/9 (missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay)
2007: 5/9 (missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2006: 7/9 (missed Picture and Supporting Actress)
2005: 7/9 (missed Picture and Original Screenplay)

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