The Road to the 92nd Oscars, Part I: Fall Festival Fever

Welcome, one and all, to Oscars Season! There’s a long road ahead of us, and it promises to be just as messy as last year. The good news is that, at least in my opinion, the overall quality of this year’s contenders is higher than last year, though that’s probably in part due to my adoration of Jojo Rabbit, which is easily one of the two most contentious films in the running.

I made some ridiculously early predictions back in April, and while many of them are clearly not panning out (I’m looking at you, The Laundromat and Harriet!), I feel pretty good about a number of my early predictions. Let’s dive in…

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I want to start with a visit to the award winners at 2019’s major film festivals: Berlin, Cannes, Venice, and TIFF. Berlin is not a festival known for producing future Oscar nominees, and I don’t expect that to change this year. No Golden Bear winner has gone on to be nominated for Best Picture since The Thin Red Line, and only two Silver Bear winners (Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel) have earned Best Pic noms in the 2010s.

Cannes has launched two recent Palme d’Or winners – Amour and The Tree of Life – to Best Picture nominations (though none to the win since Marty way back in 1955!), and I expect Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece Parasite to join this elite club, with several other Cannes competitors in contention to be beaten by it in the newly renamed Best International Feature Film category. This is as good a time as any to note that no South Korean film has ever been nominated for an Oscar, in spite of how beloved South Korean cinema has become; expect that to change big time this year. I am high on Parasite and personally am predicting it to earn nominations in Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, International Feature, Cinematography, Production Design, and Editing, with an outside shot at Supporting Actress and a very outside shot at Actor.

Venice has earned a reputation in recent years as a prime launchpad for Oscar nominees, but I must admit to not totally buying into that reputation. Yes, the last two Golden Lion winners were The Shape of Water and Roma, but before that the last Best Picture nominee to take the top prize in Venice was Brokeback Mountain back in 2005. That said, the impact of this year’s shock Golden Lion winner, Joker cannot be discounted, and while I’m not bullish on it outside of the Best Actor race, it is definitely in the conversation.

The TIFF People’s Choice Award has been probably the best early predictor of Oscar’s glory in the 2010s, with future Best Picture winners The King’s Speech, 12 Years a Slave, La La Land (just kidding!), and Green Book taking the win and Argo and Spotlight taking runner up spots in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Other recent TIFF People’s Choice winners and runners-up include Philomena; The Imitation Game; Room; Silver Linings Playbook; Lion; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Call Me By Your Name; and Roma. All that to say that this year’s winner (Jojo Rabbit) and runners-up (Marriage Story and Parasite), which were already considered in contention before TIFF, should be high up on your dance cards. I’d also be remiss not to mention Netflix’s The Irishman, which earned the opening slot – and glowing reviews – at the New York Film Festival last month.

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Now, back to the predictions I made back in April. One of the films on my predicted Best Picture slate – The Last Thing He Wanted – as well as four of the films I thought had a chance at being in the conversation – First Cow, The Glorias: Life On the Road, Nomadland, and The Woman in the Window – have been delayed until 2020, so cross them off. Harriet and The Laundromat are…not good, and while that doesn’t always deter the Academy (oh hey, Bohemian Rhapsody!), I don’t expect them to have an impact. Cynthia Erivo could still pull off a Best Actress nomination, but she is most definitely not the shoo-in she once appeared to be.

Ad Astra has seen its chances tumble after a lukewarm reception. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is going to be fully dependent on public reception, because Sony seems incapable of marketing this movie. The Farewell is staying in the conversation after a red-hot summer box office run (and this was my long-shot back in April, so I’m feeling great about it!). The Irishman seems on its way to Oscars glory, and Little Women is getting rave reviews from preview screenings. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the closest thing to a certain nominee we’ve got right now, while The Report has fallen to a “contender” position after being overshadowed by several films that have since come into the frame. Cats is looking like a joke (though I’m willing to be surprised!), Downton Abbey was warmly received but probably doesn’t have a chance, Fair and Balanced got a new name (Bombshell) and positive enough reviews out of test screenings to set it down a similar path to last year’s Vice, Jojo Rabbit seems well on the way to being this year’s nominee with the worst critical reception, The Souvenir seems to have fallen out of the conversation, and Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is a big question mark that really could get the Best Picture nomination that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi deserved. Interestingly enough, I also think Johnson’s star-studded caper Knives Out has a real chance at sneaking in after a glowing reception at TIFF.

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Marriage Story wasn’t on my original list of Best Picture nominees (though I did have Untitled Noah Baumbach project getting three acting nominations, and I am standing by those!), but right now I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win, much less get nominated for, Best Picture. I’ll admit that Joker has a shot, but it’s hard for me to imagine the Academy being unable to see through it. Telluride/TIFF hit Ford v. Ferrari is going to rise and fall with its reception at the box office in a few weeks; another Telluride/TIFF film, Fernando Mereilles’s The Two Popes, is getting strong notices and picking up awards at smaller film festivals across the country, but it’s hard for me to imagine it making a big splash. The biggest question mark in the race right now is Sam Mendes (someone the Academy loves), who’s directed 1917, a World War I epic (something the Academy loves) that was filmed in one long shot (something the Academy loves).

Still with me? Good, that makes one of us. As in previous years, I’ll wait until a later date to start predicting the shorts and technical categories, but for now let’s hop down to the comments, where we can talk through Picture, Director, Documentary Feature, Animated Feature, International Feature, and the Screenplay and Acting categories. Sort by “Newest” for the general discussion thread!