Oscars: Breaking Down the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Best Picture Nominee

3:45 PM 1/14/2020

by Rebecca Ford

Sure, there's a war movie, a classic biopic and a literary adaptation, but this crop of nominees also includes the unexpected, from a $1 billion comic book megahit to a Nazi satire and a history-making Korean-language thriller.

Oscars - Motion Picture - 9 split- Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy Photos

  • '1917'

    DISTRIBUTOR Universal

    RELEASE DATE Dec. 25

    BUDGET $90M

    BOX OFFICE $63.5M to date

    10 NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, original screenplay, score, six crafts

    WHY IT'LL WIN A surprise win for best drama and best director for Sam Mendes at the Golden Globes gave this World War I drama a boost during voting (and a strong $37?million box office debut). The film, which plays as if it's created from one shot, earned a slew of crafts noms, including cinematography (for Roger Deakins), makeup and hair and visual effects.

    WHY IT WON'T It had the latest release of any contender. And while its supporting cast has some known names (Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott), the two leads (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are relative newcomers, neither of whom earned a nom. Twelve war movies have won best picture, but it's been 11 years since the last one (The Hurt Locker).  

  • 'Ford v Ferrari'

    DISTRIBUTOR Fox/Disney

    RELEASE DATE Nov. 15

    BUDGET $97M

    BOX OFFICE $210.9M

    FOUR NOMINATIONS Picture, editing, sound editing and sound mixing

    WHY IT'LL WIN The film about Ford Motor Co.'s rush to build a race car has all the fixings of an awards contender, from two headlining?movie stars (Matt Damon and Christian?Bale) to a classically told true story.

    WHY IT WON'T Neither of the movie star leads earned an acting nomination (Bale did nab SAG Awards and Globe noms), and the film was left off the other big categories, including directing and screenplay.

  • 'The Irishman'


    RELEASE DATE Nov. 27

    BUDGET $159M


    10 NOMINATIONS Picture, adapted screenplay, directing, two supporting actor, five crafts

    WHY IT'LL WIN Hollywood loves Martin Scorsese, who is now the most nominated living director with this ninth nod. Plus, this three-and-a-half-hour epic has support both above the line (with acting noms for both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci) and below with a slew of crafts nominations.

    WHY IT WON'T As seen last year with Roma, Netflix is still trying to crack a win in the best picture category. There remain some in the Academy who won’t vote for a Netflix movie, no matter the names behind it.

  • 'Jojo Rabbit'

    DISTRIBUTOR Fox Searchlight

    RELEASE DATE Oct. 18

    BUDGET $14M

    BOX OFFICE $31.8M

    SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, adapted screenplay, supporting actress, three crafts

    WHY IT'LL WIN After a strong start winning the Toronto Film Festival's audience award, the Hitler satire did well with the guilds, earning WGA and PGA nominations and, somewhat surprisingly, a DGA nom for Taika Waititi.

    WHY IT WON'T Its mix of comedy and drama remains somewhat polarizing, which may not help it on the preferential ballot. And it was snubbed for best picture at the BAFTAs.

  • 'Joker'

    DISTRIBUTOR Warner Bros.


    BUDGET $60M

    BOX OFFICE $1.1B

    11 NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, lead actor, adapted screenplay, seven crafts

    WHY IT'LL WIN There’s no dismissing this as just a comic book movie. Todd Phillips' dark drama is not only a box office smash, but it has earned accolades at every turn, winning Venice’s Golden Lion, the top prize at Camerimage, the most BAFTA nominations and two Globes wins. It landed the most Oscar noms, and star Joaquin Phoenix has been picking up awards all over town.

    WHY IT WON'T The film is polarizing — since its premiere in the fall, it's been plagued by criticisms of its violence. And no movie based on a comic book has ever won this category. The genre has only been taken seriously enough to earn its first nomination (Marvel's Black Panther) in 2018, and that was a barrier-breaking cultural milestone.

  • 'Little Women'


    RELEASE DATE Dec. 25

    BUDGET $40M

    BOX OFFICE $107.4M to date

    SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, adapted screenplay, lead actress, supporting actress, two crafts

    WHY IT'LL WIN The controversy about women directors once again being left off these nomination lists could work in Greta Gerwig's favor (she was considered the most egregious snub in the directing category, though she earned an adapted screenplay nom). And a surprise nomination for supporting actress Florence Pugh is a nice boost.

    WHY IT WON'T It was shut out of the SAG Awards nominations and missed a DGA nomination (though it picked up PGA and WGA noms). And of the seven film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's novel, only one other (the 1933 version) earned a best picture nomination, and it didn’t win.

  • 'Marriage Story'



    BUDGET $18M


    SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, lead actor, lead actress, supporting actress, original screenplay, score

    WHY IT'LL WIN Three acting nominations (for Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern) is the most earned by any contender. And the film has been consistently picking up accolades all season, from sweeping the Gotham Awards to a Globe for Dern.

    WHY IT WON'T Noah Baumbach was left off the director list and didn’t land a DGA nomination. And the divorce drama is facing the same problem as The Irishman in that a Netflix movie has yet to win the?top prize.

  • 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'


    RELEASE DATE July 26

    BUDGET $95M

    BOX OFFICE $372M

    10 NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, screenplay, lead actor, supporting actor, five crafts

    WHY IT'LL WIN With nominations for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, plus director and screenplay, the revisionist tale has secured all the key noms to make a run at the top prize. It not only won the most Globes (three), but it won in the same categories that best picture winner Green Book did in 2019.

    WHY IT WON'T Quentin Tarantino took heat early on for the film's portrayal of Bruce Lee (whose family spoke out against it). Three of Tarantino's films have been nominated for best picture, but he's never won (though maybe voters will feel that it's time, since he's announced plans to make just one more film).

  • 'Parasite'


    RELEASE DATE Oct. 11

    BUDGET $12M

    BOX OFFICE $126.8M

    SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, international feature, directing, screenplay, two crafts

    WHY IT'LL WIN It's been a fairy-tale story for Parasite, as the industry has grown obsessed with both the film and filmmaker Bong Joon Ho. The Palme d'Or winner is beloved and made history as the first South Korean film to earn a best picture and international feature?nomination.

    WHY IT WON'T Its cast, mostly unknown to American audiences, wasn't nominated. And, as hard as Roma tried last year, a foreign-language film has yet to win best picture. Parasite is all but a lock to win international feature, but voters might consider their duty done by giving the film that prize instead.

    This story appears in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.