Film Feature: 2020 Oscar Predictions

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CHICAGO – Let’s make this important! The 92nd Academy Awards are on Sunday, February 9th, 2020, and film/entertainment contributors Patrick McDonald, Michael “Spike” Walters and Jon Lennon Espino are ready to add their Swami-like powers to eight major categories, plus three wild cards. Let the predicting begin.

The 92nd Oscars, Broadcast on ABC-TV on February 9th, 2020
Photo credit: ABC-TV

Nine films of 2019 – “1917,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Irishman, “ “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” “Little Women,” “Marriage Story” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” – will vie for the Best Picture Award. The team together will opine on eight categories … BEST Picture, Actor/Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress, Director, Original/Adapted Screenplay. As in previous years, the predictions are broken down into thoughts on who WILL WIN, SHOULD WIN and SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED (for one last gasp of WTF?). Separately, Patrick, Spike and Jon will comment on a WILD CARD guess for three other categories, and the latest odds on the rest of the field will be highlighted to fill out your ballot for Oscar Night. Have a great Oscar weekend…

PREDICTOR GUIDE: Patrick McDonald = (PM), Spike Walters = (SW) and Jon Espino = (JE)

NOMINEES: “1917” … “Ford v Ferrari” … “The Irishman “ … “Jojo Rabbit” … “Joker” … “Little Women” … “Marriage Story” … “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” … “Parasite”

Will Win: “1917” (PM, SW) “Joker” (JE)

Should Win: “Joker” (PM) “Parasite” (JE, SW)

Should Have Been Nominated: “Uncut Gems” (PM, SW) “The Farewell” (JE)

Photo credit: Universal Pictures

A rogue split in each category to start us out …

PM: There is a debate currently that wonders whether the Academy will evolve to the future and pick “Parasite,” or will stick to the safe waters of Golden Globe Best Drama “1917.” I’m going with the last gasp of old school and picking the amply applied World War One anti-war film. Which films don’t belong in this category? “F v F” and “Jojo,” in my opinion, all others are worthy. Why no love for “Uncut Gems”? Too close to the bone?

JE: The amount of love the Academy has given the “Joker” seems like a (bad) joke itself. If “Parasite” weren’t basically guaranteed to win for foreign language film, I would say it would win, but the odds of it winning both are tiny. I will always stand “The Farewell” and it was really overlooked overall, but especially in this category.

SW: “Parasite” is the talk of the town lately, but it’s hard to beat a war movie when it comes to Oscar. “1917” combines ingenuity and cinematic flourishes in a tale of a war we don’t often get to see at the movies. And I wish there had been someplace on the Oscar dais for the “Serious Sandler” vehicle “Uncut Gems,” which was one of the most original and tougher-to-watch films of the year.


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”

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix (SW, PM, JE)

Should Win: Phoenix (PM), Adam Driver (SW), Antonio Banderas (JE)

Should Have Been Nominated: Eddie Murphy “Dolemite is My Name” (SW), Adam Sandler “Uncut Gems” (PM, JE)

Joaquin Phoenix, Title Character of ’Joker’
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

We’ll go with Joaquin after midnight (because that’s when they give him the trophy in the Eastern Time zone, hyyyy-oooh) ...

SW: Joaquin Phoenix is one of our most dynamic and interesting actors working today … he deserves to win an Oscar. I just wish it didn’t have to be for “Joker.” That said, he was easily the best and most unsettling part of this complicated super-villain origin story. In my perspective, Adam Driver’s performance in the heartbreakingly brutal “Marriage Story” is the one that I’ve gone back to over and over again. And with so many strong performances left out in this category, it’s hard to make one choice. But it was bracingly jolting to see Eddie Murphy actually flip that old charisma switch back on in the entertaining “Dolemite is My Name.”

PM: Joaquin’s “Joker” interpretation cannot be denied, it simply was unforgettable in the context of the film, hell, it was the film. This is a damn strong category, all the other nominees turned in brilliant performances … but this year belongs to the rise of the Phoenix. AND … I’m no Adam Sandler fan by any stretch, but that guy nailed his twitchy character in “Gems.” I say again, why no love?

JE: There is nothing remarkable about “Joker” except Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, and even then he’s had much stronger performances in much better films. Antonio Banderas delivered a performance that not only bared his soul but also showed the fantastic artistic partnership he has had with filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. I never thought I would say this, but it has been great to see Adam Sandler bloom as a dramatic actor, with “Uncut Gems” showcasing a side of him we haven’t seen before.


NOMINEES: Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet” … Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story” … Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women” … Charlize Theron, “Bombshell” … Renée Zellweger, “Judy”

Will Win: Renée Zellweger (JE, SW, PM)

Should Win: Zellweger (PM), Saoirse Ronan (JE), “Anyone else!” (SW)

Should Have Been Nominated: Florence Pugh “Midsommar” (PM), Awkwafina “The Farewell” (JE, SW)

Renée Zellweger as ‘Judy’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

Spike seems perturbed …

SW: Since I’m not three sheets to the wind on a river of vodka, the Academy’s infatuation with Renee Zellweger’s Judy Garland imitation is lost on me. As an impersonation it’s great for about three minutes, and then the boozy-and-difficult Judy – who can’t stop turning her life into a never-ending dumpster fire – becomes a world class bore, much like the movie itself. I found literally any of the other actresses in this category provided more nuanced and better performances than this spectacle of superficial overacting. For example, Charlize Theron’s utter disappearance into the role of Fox News maven Megyn Kelly was something to behold. And then there’s Awkwafina, who out acted them all in a role that she not only should have been nominated for, but probably should have won too.

PM: “Judy, Judy, Judy” says Cary Grant and me. None of the other nominees come close to what Renée achieved in her portrayal of Ms. Garland, even though the story in the film didn’t rise to the same standard. Double actress nominee Scarlett and “Little Women” Saoirse did their roles proud, while Erivo/Theron were handcuffed with story issues. Florence Pugh was amazeballs in “Midsommar,” having to embrace about 1000 emotions in a criminally overlooked film. She’s once and future, as the old saying goes.

JE: The Academy always seems to favor prestige films about old celebrities, and “Judy” is essentially only that. Zellweger will likely win, though Ronan’s performance has more range and scope. But if Awkwafina were in the mix, she would deserve the win with the emotional complexity she displayed.

NOMINEES: 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

Will Win: Brad Pitt (PM, SW), Tom Hanks (JE)

Should Win: Al Pacino (PM), Pitt (JE, SW)

Should Have Been Nominated: Kelvin Harrison Jr. “Waves” or “Luce” (PM), Song Kang-ho “Parasite” (JE), Alec Baldwin “Motherless Brooklyn”

Brad Pitt in ‘Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood’
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

Brad gets love, and there is nice eclectic picks in the Shoulda Won ...

PM: For once, the hype of a sure winner doesn’t bother me in the least. Brad Pitt was right where he needed to be with the character of Cliff in “Once Upon … “ with several performance highlights in the film. Yes, Pacino was “better” in “The Irishman” but his role was more of a lead, and I say “should” only to acknowledge that achievement (and Pesci is a surprise, but deserved). Hanks doesn’t belong, he got the “Streep Reflex” nom, Sir Tony the same, although his Pope was memorable. Kelvin Harrison Jr. came out of nowhere but turned in two powerful and unique performances portraying different high school age victims. Pitt is due, bottom line.

JE: Tom Hanks is always an Academy favorite, and although he played a fine version of a historical figure, Brad Pitt did a better job playing a fictional character. Anyone who has seen “Parasite” will gladly sing its praises, chief among them is Song Kang-ho’s performance.

SW: For me, this is the category with the strongest field of contenders. Al Pacino had his best role in decades in “The Irishman,” and Joe Pesci managed to be fascinating while remaining so restrained in the same film … but this is clearly Pitt’s award. He’s the only one of these acting legends who doesn’t have an Oscar of his own, and his character in “Hollywood” that simply was fun, in a “let’s hang” way. I’ve been over “Anthony Hopkins on autopilot” for years, as he brings the same vague gravity to every performance, whether he’s doing the God of Thunder in the Thor movies, or the pontiff. Alec Baldwin delivered a clever spin on his usual swaggering captain of industry role in the otherwise under seen “Motherless Brooklyn.”

NOMINEES: Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell” … Laura Dern, “Marriage Story” … Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit” … Florence Pugh, “Little Women” … Margot Robbie, ‘Bombshell”

Will Win: Laura Dern (PM, JE, SW)

Should Win: Florence Pugh (PM, JE), Dern (SW)

Should Have Been Nominated: Julia Fox “Uncut Gems” (PM), Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers” (JE)

Laura Dern in ‘Marriage Story’
Photo credit: Netflix

Think of Laura, in this clean sweep …

SW: This is Laura Dern’s trophy to lose, because none of these performances managed to get under the skin quite like her villainous and cutthroat divorce attorney in “Marriage Story.” And yes, Margot Robbie deserved a nomination, but got it for the wrong movie … she was put much better to use in Quentin Tarantino’s Hollywood fairytale.

PM: This is a little tougher but I’m still going with Dern, an industry favorite in the midst of a major renaissance. She is memorable in “Marriage Story,” fashioning a divorce attorney whose “California Girl” appeal is part of her pragmatism. Kathy Bates was stellar in “Richard Jewell,” but again Florence Pugh is an actor of the future, and put a righteous spin on a literary character in “Little Women.” Also I say again, why no love for “Uncut Gems”? Julia Fox sneaks up as a powerhouse by the end of the film.

JE: Laura Dern is a monumental actress, and if she were being nominated for her role in HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” she would deserve to win hands down. Counter to Dern, Florence Pugh basically played two roles in “Little Women,” each perfectly nuanced. I don’t even need to explain why JLo was should have been nominated, especially since her lack of nomination is pretty criminal.

NOMINEES: Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman” …Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” … Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite” … Sam Mendes, “1917” … Todd Phillips, “Joker”

Will Win: Sam Mendes (PM, JE, SW)

Should Win: Mendes (PM, JE, SW)

Should Have Been Nominated: Lulu Wang “The Farewell” (JE), James Mangold “Ford v Ferrari” (SW), Trey Edward Shults “Waves” (PM)

Director Sam Mendes (right) On Set for ‘1917’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Director Sammy M gets all the accolades …

JE: In this rare case – since Pedro Almodóvar wasn’t even nominated – Sam Mendes will win and should win, and you’d agree if you’ve seen even ten minutes of “1917.” Of all the female directors snubbed in this category, Lulu Wang should have been nominated for her deeply personal and culturally resonant film, “The Farewell.”

SW: Sam Mendes put his time on the Bond movies to good use to create a thrilling one-shot wonder in the war drama “1917.” It’s got the kind of easily recognizable flourish that’s been winning over voters and audiences for years. The car racing in “Ford v Ferrari” is a lot tougher than it looks to make suitably thrilling to an audience, but director James Mangold put viewers in the drivers seat … even if you aren’t a gear head, you may feel the call of the track after this movie.

PM: Another tough one, a contest between traditional (Sam Mendes of “1917”) and the new (Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite”). I’m swaying toward the traditional Sam just because I admired the film so much, both in experimentation (it seemed to be one shot) and message (the waste of war). What do they say about heart bets? All the others belong in this category, with Tarantino and Scorsese treading again. Trey Edward Shults of “Waves” was criminally overlooked (as well as the entire film), as he steered two distinct stories toward a redemptive power that’s a blessing.

NOMINEES: “Marriage Story” … “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” … “Parasite” …”Knives Out” …”1917”

Will Win: “Parasite” (PM, JE), “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” (SW)

Should Win: “Parasite” (PM, JE), “Marriage Story” (SW)

Should Have Been Nominated: Joe Talbot, Jimmie Falls, Rob Richert “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (PM), Pedro Almodóvar “Pain and Glory” (JE), Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman “Booksmart” (SW)

’Parasite,’ Written and Directed by Bong Joon Ho
Photo credit: Neon

Jon and Patrick are down for “Parasite.”

JE: There are only a couple of films that should beat out “Parasite” in any given category, and while many of them didn’t even make the nomination list, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is definitely not one of them. Pedro Almodóvar poured every bit of himself into “Pain and Glory,” so to see it missing from key categories like this feels like such an insult.

PM: “Parasite” will be honored in this category, which for writing’s sake doesn’t really have that much competition (and really, how are we to know what is interpretive in the original language of “Parasite”? Regardless … ) For powerhouse writing, the lyrical, almost Shakespearian prose poetry of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” was actual stylistic screen writing. As the Bard said, “… [the] web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”

SW: No one knows his way around dialogue quite like Tarantino, and his “Once Upon A Time…” is such a love letter/wish fulfillment for Hollywood itself it’s bound to seduce just enough voters to withstand a sizable challenge from “Parasite.” For my money, Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” was chock full of subtle turns of phrase and devastating monologues of genius. And while the premise of “Booksmart” may be basically “Superbad” but with girls, it delivers heaps of laughs, deserved more attention than it got, and managed to come up with memorable characters in the process.

NOMINEES: “The Irishman” … “Jojo Rabbit” … “Little Women” … “The Two Popes” … “Joker”

Will Win: “Jojo Rabbit“ (SW), “Little Women” (PM, JE)

Should Win: “Little Women” (SW), “Jojo Rabbit” (JE), “Joker” (PM)

Should Have Been Nominated: “Hustlers” (JE), “Toy Story 4” (PM), “Motherless Brooklyn” (SW)

‘Little Women,’ adapted by Greta Gerwig
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

It’s opposite day for Jon and Spike in the Will/Should Win prognostication …

JE: My pick of Greta Gerwig is based on the magic she makes in “Little Women,” giving the adaptation some much needed updates, but this story has been done to death. “Jojo Rabbit,” on the other hand, is something that has never been done and probably will never be done again – and had relevance in today’s society. The same can be said about “Hustlers,” which combines the female empowerment of “Little Women” with social commentary.

SW: I’ll give Taiki Waititi – the writer/director of “Jojo Rabbit” – this much credit. He possesses enough talent, and just enough of an off-kilter sensibility, that he manages to make the oddball film something better than the unwatchable mess it threatened to be. Basically, it’s an off-brand “Wes Anderson Lite” Nazi comedy that’s never quite as daring as it appears to be, but it seems to have enough momentum to come home with an Oscar. Greta Gerwig is the one who should be honored for managing to infuse the oft-told tale of “Little Women” with a new energy, and made it live and breathe again. I was a fan of Edward Norton’s noir-ish detective story “Motherless Brooklyn,” but I suspect it didn’t get nominated because not many other people actually saw it.

PM: I think the literary cred of “Little Women” will win the day here, and if not I will be convinced that Greta Gerwig is not considered in Hollywood circles. “Joker” was a complex-but-choppy exploration of mental health, whose power sneaks up on us. Outside of “Jojo Rabbit” (a ridiculously overrated film), the rest of the screenplay adaptions strengthen their films. “Toy Story 4” gets my Shoulda Been by taking the fourth iteration of the concept and breathing some impressive (and even dark) life into it.

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