The Road to the 92nd Oscars: Zero Hour

It seems like just yesterday I was venting about the awards successes of Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book, yet here we are, jumping into another awards season! …what’s that you say? It’s only April? *checks notes* Huh, you’re right! Well, I’ve decided to partake in the age-old tradition of making hilariously early Oscars predictions that we can laugh about in 10 months, which has the added benefit of serving as a bit of a preview of what we can expect to see on the festival circuit this year.

I know it’s more traditional to do this sort of exercise immediately in the days following the Oscars, but to be honest, I felt pretty burnt out by this Oscars season, and I know many others did as well. It’s more than a little discouraging to watch the old guard rally around somewhat offensive, poorly constructed films when there is so much quality cinema out there. What I am left with, though, other than the certainty that Green Book will go down as an even more misguided Best Picture winner than Crash, is the tiniest bit of hope that the continued diversification of the Academy will make films like Moonlight less the exception and more the rule in the coming years (as evidenced by the wins for Olivia Colman, Roma, and Black Panther this year).

So what are the tea leaves saying so far? Keeping in mind that very few of these films have been seen by anyone yet (and even fewer by me), these are my absurdly early thoughts on the major categories in the 2020 Oscars race…

The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman

The Hollywood Auteurs
There is a trio of big-budget flicks from well-known and admired Hollywood auteurs to which you should cast your eyes this year: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and James Gray’s Ad Astra. At one point it looked likely that all three would premiere at Cannes, though it now seems that only the Tarantino will be ready in time, with the other two angling for prime slots at the fall festivals in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. I think it’s likely all three of these show up in next year’s Best Picture and Best Director races, as well as Best Actor (Robert De Niro for The Irishman, Leonardo DiCaprio for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Brad Pitt for Ad Astra) and Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones and/or Donald Sutherland for Ad Astra, Al Pacino for The Irishman, and Pitt for Once Upon…. Recent awards season darling Margot Robbie seems likely to enter the Supporting Actress race for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, too.

*EXCLUSIVE* Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen get into character for "Little Women"
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women

The Year of the Woman?
I am happy to report that there are several woman-directed films in the thick of it this year. Greta Gerwig’s follow up to Lady Bird is a hotly anticipated adaptation of Little Women, and if it’s even half as good as its pedigree implies, it could end up with nominations for Picture, Director, Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep? Florence Pugh? Laura Dern? Emma Watson?), and Supporting Actor (Timothée Chalamet). Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? really should’ve gotten more love this year, and I think she will capitalize on that movie’s adoration with Mr. Rogers biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which could show up in the Picture and Director races, and almost definitely will show up in the Actor race (Tom Hanks, natch) and maybe Supporting Actor (Matthew Rhys). Kelly Reichardt has been crafting beautiful, beloved-in-the-right-circles films for years now (Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy), and I think that if her latest, First Cow, is as good as Certain Women was, she’ll finally get the recognition she deserves – possibly in Picture, Director, Actor (John Magaro), and Supporting Actor (René Auberjonois). Chloe Zhao, who ended up on a lot of year-end Best Of lists this year with The Rider, is finishing her follow-up Nomadland in record time before she takes on helming Marvel’s The Eternals. I think Nomadland has a chance at Picture, Director, Actress (Frances McDormand), and Supporting Actor (David Strathairn). Julie Taymor is going to be in the conversation for The Glorias: A Life on the Road, the long-awaited Gloria Steinem biopic. There’s an outside chance at Picture and a very overdue Director nomination for Taymor, but where things get really good is Julianne Moore in the Best Actress race and finally getting Bette Midler an Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress. Last but not least, Dee Rees is following up Mudbound with The Last Thing He Wanted, based on the book by Joan Didion about a journalist (Actress contender Anne Hathaway) who leaves the 1984 election beat to care for her ailing father (Actor contender Willem Dafoe).

The Farewell
Lulu Wang’s The Farewell

The Arthouse Distributors
The next logical place to look, I think, is to the smaller distributors that have had a lot of Oscars success in recent years: A24, Annapurna, Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, NEON, and Sony Pictures Classics. I already discussed First Cow, and most of A24’s other releases this year are genre fare that will likely prove divisive to the Academy (High Life, Midsommar, In Fabric), but there are a couple of other highlights: if the Best Actress race stays fairly weak, Julianne Moore could easily sneak in for Gloria Bell, and I think a strong case can be made for Awkwafina in Sundance hit The Farewell. The latter I would even consider an outside shot at a Picture nomination. There was also an upwelling of critical support for The Souvenir at Sundance, and if that is maintained throughout the year, I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see Picture and Director noms, as well as an Actress nom for Honor Swinton Byrne and a Supporting Actress nom for Tilda Swinton – similar to what happened with Roma this year.

Annapurna had a rough 2018, and Megan Ellison is going to be looking to get back her mojo with Richard Linklater’s latest, an adaptation of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. This one has moved around on the schedule a lot, which isn’t often a good sign. It has settled in early August for now, which is a pretty uncommon Oscar run launch slot (though BlacKkKlansman used it to great effect), but Cate Blanchett knows how to pick a project, and I think she has an outside chance at a Best Actress nom. Annapurna’s likeliest bet this year is actually an Animated Feature slot for Missing Link.

Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet

Focus Features has two big swings this year: Downton Abbey and Harriet. The former is, of course, a beloved, much-decorated British ensemble period drama created by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, while the latter is a long-overdue biopic of an iconic American figure with a cast and crew full of rising stars. If Downton Abbey is in top form, and doesn’t just feel like an unnecessary and overlong episode of the TV show, it has the potential to fill a lot of empty slots in the acting races – Joanne Froggatt, Maggie Smith, and possibly Penelope Wilton in Supporting Actress, Hugh Bonneville in Actor, Jim Carter and Brendan Coyle in Supporting Actor, maybe even Laura Carmichael or Michelle Dockery in Actress. Harriet has already been the subject of much controversy with the casting of Cynthia Erivo in the lead role, but I think if the film is good enough for a Picture nomination, she is close to a sure thing not just for a Best Actress nomination, but a win. Long coattails could carry Leslie Odom, Jr. and Joe Alwyn to Supporting Actor nominations, and Janelle Monae into the Supporting Actress race.

Fox Searchlight had a great 2018 (The Favourite, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and has an interesting 2019 ahead with Jojo Rabbit and Lucy in the Sky. New owner Disney recently shut down hitmaking sister studio Fox 2000, so Fox Searchlight has something to prove. Taika Waititi’s dark comedy about a young boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler is certainly an oddball, but Waititi has quickly become a beloved director (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) and Fox Searchlight doesn’t bet big without some justification. Possibilities include Picture, Director, Scarlett Johansson in Best Actress, and Waititi in Supporting Actor. Speaking of beloved creators, Noah Hawley has left a big impact on the TV landscape with Fargo and Legion, and his debut feature, high-concept astronaut drama Lucy in the Sky, has starpower behind it (pun probably intended). While I don’t think it has a strong shot at Picture or Director nominations, Natalie Portman has a chance at her third Best Actress nomination (and yes, I am still annoyed that Vox Lux didn’t get more love), and Jon Hamm could get into the Supporting Actor race. I don’t think Tolkien is going to make much of an impact.

NEON is still a young distributor. They shocked everyone with a strong push – and a Supporting Actress win – for I, Tonya last year, and then they pulled off multiple nominations for Border this year and got Three Identical Strangers short-listed for Documentary Feature. NEON is going to push hard for multiple Documentary Feature slots this year with Apollo 11 and The Biggest Little Farm. TIFF acquisition Wild Rose has a dark horse Best Actress candidate with rising star Jessie Buckley. NEON astutely saved this for 2019 when they decided to make an ultimately futile push for Vox Lux.

On paper, Sony Pictures Classics has a pretty weak year ahead. I really, really want to see Ralph Fiennes-directed ballet drama The White Crow, but I don’t see it having much of an impact. There’s an outside chance that Canada selects The Fall of the American Empire as its Foreign Language Film nominee, but Xavier Dolan has a movie coming out this year and it actually has good buzz, so that’s unlikely. Where SPC usually succeeds is in picking up future Foreign Language Film nominees at the fall festivals, so keep your eyes peeled for what they snatch up over the next few months.

The Report - Still 1
Scott Z. Burns’ The Report

But Wait…There’s More!
If you’re still with me, there are a few more films and actors I want to discuss. For starters, Adam Driver is looking to have an impressive 2019, with Sundance hit The Report, the as-yet-untitled new Noah Baumbach film coming from Netflix, Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die (which I am not predicting for anything at the moment), and, of course, Star Wars: Episode IX, which I think has an outside chance at a Best Picture nomination as the end to the long-running Skywalker saga. Driver is going to be in strong contention for Best Actor with both The Report and the Baumbach. Amazon paid a lot of money for Scott Z. Burns’ directorial debut The Report, and this drama about the creation of the Senate report on the CIA’s torture program has “future Best Picture nominee” written all over it. If it plays well, Annette Bening could also pull out her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Senator Diane Feinstein. Baumbach is a beloved writer-director, but hasn’t gotten a ton of that love from the Academy over the years. He has assembled a strong cast for his latest, as-yet-untitled feature, including Driver, Best Actress dark horse Scarlett Johansson, and potential Supporting Actress nominee (and, God willing, future Academy president) Laura Dern.

Netflix will be competing directly with Amazon’s The Report with the similarly-themed Panama Papers drama The Laundromat, from director Steven Soderbergh and – wait for it – writer-producer Scott Z. Burns. The awards season drama writes itself here, folks! In addition to a play for Picture and Director, the big bets here will be Best Actress Meryl freaking Streep, Best Actor Gary freaking Oldman, and Best Supporting Actor Antonio freaking Banderas. Yeah, this one has that Oscars bait stench all over it, and I can’t wait to see it.

Joe Wright’s films have gotten a lot of Oscar nominations over the years, with four nominations for Pride & Prejudice, seven nominations (including one win) for Atonement, and six nominations (including two wins) for Darkest Hour. This time around, Wright is making The Woman in the Window, a thriller with a screenplay by Tracy Letts based on the hit novel of the same name. Amy Adams is going to be angling for her seventh Oscar nomination (but only second for Best Actress!), with possible supporting noms for Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, and 2018 MVP Brian Tyree Henry.

Other films to keep an eye on: Lupita Nyong’o is most definitely going to make a run at the Best Actress race with her masterful work in Jordan Peele’s Us; The Personal History of David Copperfield, Armando Ianucci’s latest, starring Dev Patel and Tilda Swinton; Wendy, Benh Zeitlin’s long-gestating follow up to Beasts of the Southern Wild; Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, starring Jennifer Hudson, with Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, and Idris Elba in supporting roles; Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring Renee Zellweger; The Pope, starring Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI; the semi-autobiographical, Shia LaBeouf-penned Sundance hit Honey Boy, with particularly good notices for Supporting Actor Lucas Hedges; Alex Ross Perry’s latest, Her Smell, which will definitely make a Best Actress push for Elisabeth Moss; Ang Lee’s sci-fi thriller Gemini Man, which could be either a total disaster or earn Will Smith a Best Actor nomination and clean up in the technical categories; the adaptation of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman; Mindy Kaling-penned Late Night, which Amazon picked up for an ungodly amount of money at Sundance and is expecting to net Emma Thompson a Supporting Actress nom; Elton John biopic Rocketman, in which Taron Egerton will be trying to follow the path to Best Actor that Rami Malek just cut, though hopefully with much less controversy; Ira Sachs’ Frankie, which will try to put Isabelle Huppert on the Best Actress list for, shockingly, only the second time; and Fox News drama Fair and Balanced, which could upend the acting races with Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron contending for Best Actress, Margot Robbie and Allison Janney for Best Supporting Actress, and John Lithgow and Malcolm McDowell for Best Supporting Actor.

Will any of these predictions be right? Who the heck knows! These films could all be terrible! We’ll find out together this awards season.

Ad Astra
James Gray’s Ad Astra

How to Get Away with Mordor’s Hilariously Early 2020 Oscars Predictions

Best Picture
Ad Astra
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Farewell

WINNER: The Irishman
The Last Thing He Wanted
The Laundromat
Little Women
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The Report

Contenders: Cats, Downton Abbey, Fair and Balanced, First Cow, The Glorias: Life on the Road, Jojo Rabbit, Nomadland, The Souvenir, Star Wars: Episode IX, The Woman in the Window

Best Director
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
James Gray, Ad Astra
Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
WINNER: Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Contenders: Scott Z. Burns, The Report; Joanna Hogg,
The Souvenir; Kasi Lemmons, Harriet; Dee Rees, The Last Thing
He Wanted
; Kelly Reichardt, First Cow; Steven Soderbergh, The
; Julie Taymor, The Glorias: Life on the Road; Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit; Joe Wright, The Woman in the Window; Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Best Actress
Amy Adams, The Woman in the Window
Awkwafina, The Farewell
WINNER: Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Julianne Moore, Gloria Bell
Meryl Streep, The Laundromat

Contenders: Cate Blanchett, Where’d You Go Bernadette; Honor Swinton Byrne, The Souvenir; Anne Hathaway, The Last Thing He Wanted; Scarlett Johansson, Untitled Noah Baumbach project; Frances McDormand, Nomadland; Julianne Moore, The Glorias: Life on the Road; Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell; Lupita Nyong’o, Us; Natalie Portman, Lucy in the Sky; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Best Actor
Robert De Niro, The Irishman
Leonard DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
WINNER: Adam Driver, The Report
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Brad Pitt, Ad Astra

Contenders: Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey; Willem Dafoe, The Last Thing He Wanted; Adam Driver, Untitled Noah Baumbach film; Taron Egerton, Rocketman; Ansel Elgort, The Goldfinch; John Magaro, First Cow; Gary Oldman, The Laundromat; Dev Patel, The Personal History of David Copperfield; Jonathan Pryce, The Pope; Will Smith, Gemini Man

Best Supporting Actress
Annette Bening, The Report
WINNER: Bette Midler, The Glorias: Life on the Road
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

Contenders: Laura Dern, Little Women; Laura Dern, Untitled Noah Baumbach film; Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey; Nicole Kidman, The Goldfinch; Janelle Monae, Harriet; Julianne Moore, The Woman in the Window; Meryl Streep, Little Women; Tilda Swinton, The Souvenir; Emma Thompson, Late Night; Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey

Best Supporting Actor
Timothée Chalamet, Little Women
Tommy Lee Jones, Ad Astra
WINNER: Leslie Odom, Jr., Harriet
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Contenders: Joe Alwyn, Harriet; René Auberjonois, First Cow; Antonio Banderas, The Laundromat; Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey; Willem Dafoe, The Last Thing He Wanted; Adam Driver, Star Wars: Episode IX; Lucas Hedges, Honey Boy; Anthony Hopkins, The Pope; David Strathairn, Nomadland; Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Best Animated Feature
WINNER: Frozen 2
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Missing Link
Spies in Disguise
Toy Story 4

Contenders: The Addams Family, Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie, The LEGO Movie 2, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Wish Dragon

Best Documentary Feature
WINNER: Apollo 11
The Biggest Little Farm
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Knock Down the House
Varda by Agnès

Contenders: Hail Satan?, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, Leaving Neverland, Midnight Traveler, One Child Nation

Best Foreign Language Film
WINNER: By the Grace of God, Francois Ozon, France
Ema, Pablo Larrain, Chile
Pain and Glory, Pedro Almodovar, Spain
Synonyms, Nadav Lapid, Israel
So Long, My Son, Wang Xiaoshuai, China

Contenders: I Was at Home, But, Angela Schanelec, Germany; Matthias & Maxime, Xavier Dolan, Canada; One Second, Zhang Yimou, China; Queen of Hearts, May el-Toukhy, Denmark; The Truth, Hirokazu Kore-eda, France