Oscars: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

10:59 AM 2/5/2020

by Scott Feinberg and Todd McCarthy

Brad Pitt's a lock, so is Joaquin Phoenix, but can 'Parasite' play the spoiler? The Hollywood Reporter's awards pundit and chief film critic weigh in.

'1917' (left) and 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'
'1917' (left) and 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'
François Duhamel/Universal Pictures; Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures

  • Best Picture

    François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

    WILL WIN: 1917

    The preferential ballot and Academy's internationalization would give me pause about any prediction, but World War I epic 1917 is solid filmmaking already recognized by the PGA, DGA, BAFTA, Critics' Choice and Golden Globe awards. It lacks an acting nom, but so does Parasite, which may not be helped by its international feature nom. Wild cards include Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Jojo Rabbit. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    There are few films I simply love to inhabit more than Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; it felt like an old friend from the first time I saw it, and it's one I'll want to hang out with repeatedly over the years. Its pleasures are of a particularly pure and blissful nature. — TM

  • Best Director

    Universal Pictures

    WILL WIN: Sam Mendes, 1917

    The top DGA Award has predicted this Oscar in all but seven of 71 years, so the fact that 1917's Sam Mendes won the DGA as well as Critics' Choice and Golden Globe prizes suggests an Oscar win, as it did 20 years ago with American Beauty. Voters tend to applaud formidable filmmaking, and making 1917 look like a one-shot qualifies. Parasite's Bong Joon Ho isn't far behind. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    To call Quentin Tarantino's direction of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood relaxed could be construed as criticism, but here I consider it the highest praise — this is the work of someone absolutely confident that his digressions and whimsies are just as important as his plot mechanics. — TM

  • Best Actor

    Niko Tavernise/Wanrer Bros. Entertainment

    WILL WIN: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

    Even those who didn't love Joker still admire Joaquin Phoenix's depiction of the titular antihero, which is why the actor's fourth nom will almost surely result in his first win (and the second win for someone playing the twisted comic book villain after Heath Ledger). Marriage Story's Adam Driver is probably in second place, but, like Phoenix before him, he'll have to wait his turn. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

    Antonio Banderas has worked with Pedro Almodóvar since the beginning of his career. In Pain and Glory, he brilliantly plays convulsive and intimate variations on the director's own personality, from his addictions and passions to his relationship with his mother, in this complex, sometimes deceptive emotional memoir. — TM

  • Best Actress

    Roadside Attractions/Pathé Productions

    WILL WIN: Renée Zellweger, Judy

    A win for Judy's Renée Zellweger would cap a comeback for the ages — written off and ridiculed, only to return for Oscar No. 2 (16 years after her supporting win for Cold Mountain), with a universally applauded portrayal of a Hollywood legend. Every indicator points in her direction — except her film's lack of a best pic nom, which suggests Marriage Story's Scarlett Johansson as a possible spoiler. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

    Saoirse Ronan is only 25 and played a high schooler just two years ago for Greta Gerwig in Lady Bird. Their latest collaboration in Little Women goes further and deeper, the student now having gained the confidence to present herself as an artist at a time, just over a century ago, when this was most irregular for a woman. — TM

  • Best Supporting Actor

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

    WILL WIN: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    It's been eight years since Brad Pitt was nominated for an acting Oscar (versus 29 and 27 for The Irishman's Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, respectively, 22 for The Two Popes' Anthony Hopkins and 19 for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood's Tom Hanks). But the charming Pitt is the only one who has never won, and this, his fourth acting nom, will change that. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    This is one of the strongest categories of the year, and yet it presents the easiest choice; not only have four of the nominees won at least one previous acting Oscar, but the deserved winner positively radiates here what it means to be a great film actor. Welcome to the club, Mr. Pitt. — TM

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Wilson Webb/Netflix

    WILL WIN: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

    Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) had her turn; Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit), Florence Pugh (Little Women) and Margot Robbie (Bombshell) will have theirs. But this is the year of Laura Dern. She swept the precursors for her deliciously cutthroat divorce attorney in Marriage Story, and unlike her thespian parents, Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, she'll graduate from Oscar nominee to winner. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

    Laura Dern seems to appear in about four or five films a year in addition to TV shows, but in Marriage Story she finally found a project in which she could display her turn-on-a-dime versatility to brilliantly alarming effect. From a divorce lawyer, do you need moral support or attack mode? Push a button and you've got either. — TM

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

    WILL WIN: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

    Many would like Little Women's Greta Gerwig to win an Oscar, and the USC Scripter, which predicted this category in eight of the past 10 years, chose her. But Academy members tend to reward the most original work, even in the adapted category, which is why they'll go for Taika Waititi's Holocaust satire over another take on Louisa May Alcott's novel or Steven Zaillian's The Irishman script (as happened at the BAFTAs). — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes

    In terms of sheer bliss stemming from the writing itself, nothing else this past year could compare to the wit, wisdom and sometimes archaic nonsense flowing from the mouths of the eminences at the center of The Two Popes. Very few writers could write convincingly for the two pontiffs, but Anthony McCarten pulled it off. — TM

  • Best Original Screenplay

    Courtesy of Neon

    WILL WIN: Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite

    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Quentin Tarantino, a past winner in this category, is a very real threat to win again. Momentum from other wins could help 1917, while Knives Out and Marriage Story have their fans. But if there is one word associated with Bong Joon Ho's Parasite, it is "original," which — along with its BAFTA win — is why I suspect it will become this category's sixth-ever non-English-language winner, and first in 17 years. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    This is a high-quality category with scripts written by the films' directors (two in collaboration) and featuring a great range of subject matter. But while four of the five involve at least somewhat familiar premises, the one from Tarantino flies off completely in its own, definitively original direction. — TM

  • Best Animated Feature

    Walt Disney Studios

    WILL WIN: Toy Story 4

    It's been a weird season, with the Golden Globe going to Missing Link and the Annie and and BAFTA awards going to Klaus while Frozen 2 was denied an Oscar nom. The third and final How to Train Your Dragon film can't be counted out, but the Academy's historical affection for the Toy Story franchise, plus Critics' Choice and PGA wins this season, leaves Toy Story 4 as the one to beat. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Toy Story 4

    It's hard enough to make a trilogy of films that are of equal high quality, but a quartet, made over the course of a quarter-century? Remarkably, Toy Story 4 is fully worthy of its predecessors, brimming with charm, wonder and surprises. — TM

  • Best Documentary Feature

    Courtesy of Netflix

    WILL WIN: American Factory

    Netflix's American Factory, an Obamas-backed film about American-Chinese worker relations, is the prohibitive favorite, the most widely seen and honored (top prizes from the DGA, Gotham Awards, L.A. Film Critics and Cinema Eye Honors). Co-director Julia Reichert has now received Oscar noms in four different decades, but has yet to win. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: American Factory

    In a strong field of more or less equally deserving documentaries, this one speaks directly to the interests and concerns of Americans. By gradual accretion, the film reveals certain irrevocable and indelible differences between the American and Chinese way of doing things that post a warning sign for innumerable geopolitical events to come. — TM

  • Best International Feature

    Courtesy of Neon

    WILL WIN: Parasite

    Parasite winning this award is the safest bet of the night. The first South Korean film ever nominated for the category has five other noms including picture, director and writing. Granted, Spain's Pain and Glory has an acting nom (Antonio Banderas), whereas Parasite does not. But actors loved Parasite enough to make it the first non-English-language best ensemble SAG Award winner ever. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Les Misérables

    It certainly isn't the most elegant or refined or nuanced foreign film of the year, but the one that has stuck with me for its power and as a portal to the hitherto unseen is Ladj Ly's Les Misérables, France's blistering and potent look of life in the poorest neighborhoods just east of Paris. It's dynamic and devastating on every level. — TM

  • Best Cinematography

    Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures

    WILL WIN: 1917

    The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood all look beautiful, but the safest bet of the night is that Roger Deakins, 1917's legendary lenser who waited decades before winning his first Oscar, will win his second in three years. He was responsible for making a film look like one uninterrupted shot — and his efforts already won him this year's American Society of Cinematographers Award. 1917's closest precedent: Birdman, which won this award five years ago. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: 1917

    After 13 nominations and no cigar, Roger Deakins finally broke his Oscar jinx in 2018 by winning for Blade Runner 2049, and it’s virtually certain he’ll deservedly win again for his virtuoso "one-take" performance on 1917. — TM

  • Best Costume Design

    Niko Tavernise/Wanrer Bros. Entertainment

    WILL WIN: Little Women

    It's dangerous to bet against The Irishman's Sandy Powell, a three-time Oscar winner, and Joker's Mark Bridges, a two-time Oscar winner, but two other revered vets strike me as stronger prospects this year: Arianne Phillips, who has never won before, for bringing back '60s fashion in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Anna Karenina Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran for Little Women, which already won the BAFTA Award. When in doubt, bet on large and pretty dresses. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Joker

    A good case could be made for all the contributions here, but arguably the greatest creative impact made by any wardrobe items in 2019 comes from Mark Bridges’ suit designs for Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. — TM

  • Best Film Editing

    Courtesy of Neon

    WILL WIN: Ford v Ferrari

    This category, unlike numerous others, tends not to reflect coattail votes, but instead rewards fast and/or flashy cutting — see recent winners like The Bourne Ultimatum, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Whiplash. So while, to many, The Irishman doesn't feel as long as it is thanks in large part to propulsive editing, and while the American Cinema Editors chose to honor the subtle work in Jojo Rabbit and Parasite, non-editors are likelier to notice the rapid-fire cuts in Ford v Ferrari's car races. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Parasite 

    The Irishman and Ford v Ferrari both have a few ounces of flab on them, Joker and Jojo Rabbit seem proficient but unremarkable, so by process of elimination it falls to Yang Jinmo for his utterly precise, fat-free cutting on Parasite. — TM

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    WILL WIN: Bombshell

    Best pic nominees almost never lose to non-best pic nominees in this category — it last happened 22 years ago — so 1917 and Joker can't be counted out. But in the first year in which this category has had five nominees, one wonders if those two films would've even been finalists before the category expansion. Regardless, voters love seeing actors morphed into celebs, so the smart money is still on Bombshell (its team includes Kazuhiro Tsuji, who won for Darkest Hour two years ago). — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Joker 

    Aside from 1917, the nominees in this category definitely have big and noticeable hair, so how to choose? Even though Bombshell is all about blondes, I again have to credit Joker here for the styling’s expressiveness of the title character’s nature. — TM

  • Best Original Score

    Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures

    WILL WIN: Joker

    In a category that includes music giants like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's John Williams, Marriage Story's Randy Newman, Little Women's Alexandre Desplat and 1917's Thomas Newman, it is rather remarkable that the clear frontrunner — having swept the Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and BAFTA awards — is a 37-year-old Icelandic woman who few Academy members had heard of prior to this season, and fewer still can pronounce: Joker's Hildur Gudnadóttir. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: 1917

    Little Women receives an enormous boost from Alexandre Desplat’s excellent score, but even more essential is Thomas Newman’s long, vigorous and suspense-enhancing soundtrack for 1917. — TM

  • Best Original Song

    Gavin Bond/Paramount Pictures

    WILL WIN: "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," from Rocketman

    If songwriters' names appeared on the ballot, Diane Warren, on nom No. 11, would stand a better shot for Breakthrough's "I'm Standing With You," as would Cynthia Erivo — just an O shy of an EGOT — for Harriet's end-credits tune "Stand Up." Frozen 2's "Into the Unknown" might well follow in the footsteps of Frozen's "Let It Go," by the same writers. But edge to "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman, which voters know to associate with Elton John and Bernie Taupin. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again," from Rocketman

    Hey, what happened to Beyoncé’s "Spirit" from The Lion King and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift’s "Beautiful Ghosts" from (gag) Cats, both quite creditable Golden Globe nominees? Neither made the cut here, which makes it a cakewalk for — who could resist? — Elton John and Bernie Taupin with "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman. — TM

  • Best Production Design

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

    WILL WIN: 1917

    This is a tight one. There are wild-cards like the Wes Anderson-esque stylized world of Jojo Rabbit and the contrasting family homes of Parasite. A whole chunk of 1969-era Hollywood was re-created for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which many voters found impressive and nostalgic. But if 1917 is indeed the better-liked film, then there is no reason why voters wouldn't also back its meticulously re-created World War I-era trenches and No Man's Land and bombed-out buildings. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 

    All the nominees in this category are exemplary, but Barbara Ling’s work on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood plays an indispensable role not only in perfectly representing the Los Angeles of 50 years ago but making it feel lived in. — TM

  • Best Sound Editing

    François Duhamel/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

    WILL WIN: 1917

    Fewer than 6 percent of Academy members hail from its sound branch, and not many of the other 94 percent really understand the nuances of sound or the distinction between sound editing and sound mixing. This year, in both of those categories, they have to decide between the vroom of cars (Ford v Ferrari) and the whizzing of bullets and explosions of bombs (1917). In recent years, war films have rarely lost to non-war films in either category. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: 1917

    What sonic effects got to you and most seriously boosted the experience of their films? The revving engines of Ford v Ferrari? More intergalactic whooshing and battling in the latest Star Wars? The ever-changing aural landscapes of 1917? I’ll go with the latter. — TM

  • Best Sound Mixing

    François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

    WILL WIN: 1917

    In the 13 years in which the sound editing and sound mixing categories have both had five nominees, they have chosen the same winner on eight occasions. In other words, Academy members, most of whom do not really understand the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, are reluctant to award the two prizes to different films. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: 1917

    Since I honestly couldn’t tell you whether any particular audio effect in a film should be attributed to a sound editor or a sound mixer, I feel compelled to keep the two sound awards under the same roof: 1917 it is. — TM

  • Best Visual Effects

    Courtesy of Universal

    WILL WIN: 1917

    Few know how to evaluate VFX or see all of this category's nominees, so its winner is usually a film also nominated for best picture, or, if none are, the nominee that probably came closest. This year, two best pic nominees are in contention: 1917 (made to look like a single-shot film) and The Irishman (with its polarizing reverse-aging technology). There's also Avengers: Endgame, but all nine prior Marvel pics nominated in this category, including two with Avengers in their title, lost. — SF

    SHOULD WIN: 1917

    There’s little doubt that the effects in the Avengers, Star Wars and Lion King films are far more complex, and everyone has their opinions about the de-aging process so important to The Irishman, but I’ll go with the wizardry involved in making 1917 look convincingly like something actually done in one shot. — TM

  • Best Animated Short

    Sony Pictures Animation

    WILL WIN: Hair Love

  • Best Documentary Short

    A&E

    WILL WIN: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)

  • Best Live-Action Short

    Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

    WILL WIN: The Neighbors' Window

    [Note: This was initially posted on Feb. 5 as Brotherhood, but was corrected that same day.]