Oscars 2020 Predictions and Analysis

Moving beyond the Academy Award nominations and their snubs, we give our early predictions for who will (and who should) win at the Oscars.

Oscars 2020 Predictions and Analysis

It’s been only a few hours since their announcement and already the slights and snubs, surprises and triumphs, of 2020’s Oscar nominations have burned a hole into film discourse. Were you happy that Joker surprised and led the pack with 11 nominations or were you put off that one of those included Todd Phillips in Best Director—a category that found space for five men but not one slot for Greta Gerwig’s warm-hearted Little Women adaptation? Were you thrilled that Bong Joon-ho became the first South Korean filmmaker nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, or are you just debating which award, if any, Scarlett Johansson most deserves to win between her two acting nods?

There’s a lot that can and will be debated about the nominations, but even now, one can feel the urge to move the conversation along to the obvious next question: who wins? Hence below are our exceedingly early predictions for all the major categories about who WILL win and who SHOULD win. Our predictions for wins will be bolded while our personal preferences shall be italicized.

Best Picture 

Ford v Ferrari

The Irishman

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Jojo Rabbit

Joker

Little Women

Marriage Story

1917

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

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Parasite

Who Will Win: If you asked us a month ago, we would’ve said this would be Netflix’s year thanks to Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus, The Irishman. But based on its litany of snubs and slights since then, including Robert De Niro being shut out of  the Oscars’ Best Actor category, it seems the Academy still isn’t fully aboard the streaming train. Instead the race now appears to be between two old school epics from respected auteurs: Sam Mendes’ World War I thriller, 1917, and Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the death of the studio system’s golden age, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

In which case, we’re ready to put proverbial money down on Once Upon a Time. While 1917 is a dazzling achievement by Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film may be a little too intimate in scope for some Academy voters who enjoy bigger characters and bigger scenes that let actors show off. By comparison, Tarantino’s movie is richly layered with Oscar-friendly roles for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, veering from comedy to tragedy. It’s also romantic about the Academy’s favorite subject matter: Hollywood. The meticulous recreations of 1969 Tinseltown, Tarantino finally offering a life-affirming ending, and the director’s own status as having gone overlooked in the top two races should put this one over the top.

Who Should Win: Even so, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite remains the best film of the year. A masterwork that encapsulates in mythic proportion the economic woes of the 21st century, Bong’s self-described tragi-comedy is a perfectly crafted parable. With never a wasted moment or indulgent shot, Parasite follows two families in Korea, mining the cataclysmic income inequality between them for gallows humor and then something richer but darker still beneath. It’s the best movie of 2019, and among the best of the decade.

Best Director

Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

Todd Phillips, Joker

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Sam Mendes, 1917

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

Who Will Win: Martin Scorsese is having a big year. Helming what is likely to be his final gangster epic, The Irishman, he’s been in a reflective and melancholic mood about the weight of legacy and cinema. The former will make cinephiles and Oscar voters of a certain age incredibly nostalgic, and the latter will make them militant. By marking himself as a celluloid statesman who is gatekeeping superhero movies away from being considered “cinema,” many movie lovers of all stripes—in the industry, in the press, and just in life—have rallied to Scorsese’s argument, just as superhero movie fans have cried foul.

That degree of controversy circling a film that is about the Old Ways™ should make him unbeatable in the Best Director category. Sure, the heat around The Irishman cooled, and its status as a Netflix production will probably keep it from winning Best Picture, but the Academy has shown a penchant as of late for holding Best Director and Best Picture to different standards, with often the most purely auteur vision winning Director, and Marty’s own storied reputation is as epic as any four hour running time. His ability to make both feel vital in 2019 will win him his second Oscar. 

Who Should Win: Just as Bong Joon-ho should win Best Picture for Parasite, so should he win for Best Director. He built a film that always keeps you on the edge of your seat with a queasy smile, unsure of where you’re headed but eager to find out. It’s a perfect film, albeit I would also be happy if Sam Mendes pulled this one out due to his ability to rewrite the cinematic vernacular for modern war films after Saving Private Ryan.

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Best Actor

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

Who Will Win: This is finally going to be Joaquin Phoenix’s year. After being nominated three times in the past, and arguably deserving to win in 2001 for Gladiator, his physical transformation is just shocking enough to grab Academy voters’ attention in the right way. Adam Driver also has a showy performance in Marriage Story, but Phoenix shows off a dedication to “the Method” that will appeal greatly to the acting bloc of the Academy (its largest wing), and in a film that is truly elevated by a performer who isn’t afraid to look ugly, nasty, or mean. That it’s also in a studio film, as opposed to a Netflix one, might be the true decider.

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Who Should Win: All that said, I prefer Driver’s performance. It might be less over-the-top than Phoenix’s, but I appreciate that, just as I respect it isn’t standing on the shoulders of Robert De Niro in early Martin Scorsese movies—or is found wanting in comparison to Heath Ledger. Phoenix as the Joker is great, but Driver is much more heartbreaking without being placed in operatic squalor; he instead inhabits a self-involved father failing miserably to maintain his relationship with his son. He gets to explode in an instant meme-ready scene by punching a wall, but the way he sings Stephen Sondheim’s self-pitying Company song is more affectingly tragic than anything in either movie, even when he gets a somewhat happy ending.

Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet

Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Charlize Theron, Bombshell

Renée Zellweger, Judy

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Who Will Win: There is a case to be made for any of the three frontrunners. Renée Zellweger makes a comeback by playing a Hollywood legend of yore; Charlize Theron physically vanishes into her character again, this time as a well-known public figure; and Scarlett Johansson gives a career-best performance in a raw turn (and unlike the other two, she doesn’t have an Oscar). It is the lack of previous awards that makes me want to say Johansson, but her film’s continued snubs among the Directors and Screen Actors Guilds gives me pause. Is there still some apprehension about awarding Netflix films with leading performance Oscars? Theron, meanwhile, plays a former Fox News journalist whom Hollywood establishment would loathe to celebrate. For that reason, I think it may be Zellweger by default.

Who Should Win: I would personally vote for Johansson. Unlike Zellweger and Theron, she isn’t playing a famous figure and relying so heavily on makeup to sell the transition; she instead reveals new layers to her talent in a performance that in a single scene with Laura Dern can turn the parameters of her movie’s conflict on its head. Unsparingly intimate, Johansson’s performance is in some ways a high-wire act since it doesn’t rely on predetermined familiarity and imitation. Instead it’s warmly human, sometimes sweetly funny, and then ultimately devastating.

Best Supporting Actor

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes

Al Pacino, The Irishman

Joe Pesci, The Irishman

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Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Who Will Win: Brad Pitt’s transformation into Hollywood statesman is complete. Having grown into one of the best producers and tastemakers in Hollywood, he’s also aged into the next generation’s Robert Redford, giving old school charismatic Hollywood performances that would’ve been just as captivating a hundred years ago as today. He proves as much by turning Tarantino’s Cliff Booth, a washed up mid-20th century stuntman, into an iconic character of easygoing affability, even with the shadow of moral ambiguity that always hangs behind that laconic smile.

Who Should Win: Brad Pitt, of course, for all the reasons written above!

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

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Florence Pugh, Little Women

Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Who Will Win: Laura Dern is having a career renaissance as of late between her work here and in Big Little Lies, Enlightened, and The Last Jedi. This is good news for her and for us, as she is a wonderful talent, as showcased in her soon to be Oscar-winning turn in Marriage Story. Turning her warmth into a weapon, she finds the sunny side of LA divorce lawyer malevolence.

Who Should Win: Again, this is Dern’s moment, and we’re only too happy to see her have it.

Best Original Screenplay

Rian Johnson, Knives Out

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

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Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, 1917

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, Parasite

Who Will Win: Normally, I would predict this for Tarantino, who wrote his best screenplay since 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. And yet, Tarantino has two Oscars already for screenwriting (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained). For that reason, I suspect the Academy will be a little more open to looking elsewhere. I really cannot see Bong picking up Best Director for the innate cynicism (if not outright nihilism) of Parasite’s views on capitalism. Still, many Academy voters may look elsewhere to award his originality beyond Best International Film. This could be it.

Who Should Win: Even if Parasite is the best film of the year, I admittedly had more fun watching Knives Out. This is in large part due to Rian Johnson’s wickedly plotted and ingeniously structured screenplay. Turning the antiquated whodunit genre on its head, Johnson’s Knives Out uses larger-than-life characters as a springboard for deliciously barbed dialogue and unexpectedly sharp political commentary about living in America today. I’d love to see it rewarded here.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

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Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Todd Phillips and Scott Silver, Joker

Greta Gerwig, Little Women

Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes

Who Will Win: After all the media scrutiny the Academy is experiencing for ignoring Greta Gerwig in the Best Director category, they’re going to be eager to make up for it somewhere else—like in Best Adapted Screenplay. And Gerwig did find a unique interpretation on Little Women after 150 years of adaptations, making it her own and making it about today. This should be an easy layup for the Academy, but I also thought they would nominate her for Best Director, so what do I know?

Who Should Win: While I love Gerwig’s work and would be happy if she won, I was most impressed by Steve Zaillian’s work. He took a lurid and ridiculous load of true crime nonsense and turned it into a meditative and pensive exploration on age and regret—even among lowlife gangsters.

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Best Cinematography

The Irishman

Joker

The Lighthouse

1917

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Who Will Win: Roger Deakins finally won an Oscar in 2018 for his hypnotic vision of the future in Blade Runner 2049. It was still ridiculously overdue after 14 nominations. Now he should win again and soon for achieving with Sam Mendes the most stunning use of long takes and “one-shot films” ever conceived.

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Who Should Win: Filming 1917 as if it is one uninterrupted shot is automatically impressive. Making that technical exercise breathe with immediacy and terror as it chronicles two British Tommies traversing devastated landscapes is nothing short of astonishing. I also am quite taken by Jarin Blaschke’s black and white nightmare-scapes in The Lighthouse, but once again Deakins creates visceral movie magic that shouldn’t be ignored.

Best Production Design

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

1917

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Parasite

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Who Will Win: Quentin Tarantino’s production design team, led by Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh, recreated 1969 Los Angeles on more than just a few sets or street corners. Rather, entire blocks, highways, and decrepit ranches rotted by a malignant evil were all authentically and breathtakingly brought back to life. The dead did speak… in Hollywood.

Who Should Win: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, obviously.

Best Film Editing

Ford v Ferrari

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

Joker

Parasite

Who Will Win: I am predicting Joker on no more than a hunch that this a technical category where the popular comic book movie can be recognized. The Irishman is more deserving since Thelma Schoonmaker made three and a half hours feel sleek and energetic, but that running time could disqualify it simply due to indulgence.

Who Should Win: At the risk of being a broken record, Parasite really is a moviemaking wonder. And its ability to build mounting tension during the third act while weaving the stories of three colliding families makes for the best of times and the worst of times.

Best Original Score

Joker

Little Women

Marriage Story

1917

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Who Will Win: Joker’s Hildur Guðnadóttir has won every other award she’s been up for, so…

Who Should Win: Thomas Newman’s score for 1917 is magic, alternating between the minimalist to rousing bombast when the first wave goes over the trench.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell

Joker

Judy

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

1917

Who Will Win: Bombshell made Charlize Theron look like Megyn Kelly.

Who Should Win: Did we mention that Charlize Theron looked just like Megyn Kelly?!

Best Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame

The Irishman

The Lion King

1917

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Who Will Win: This will be the one place where the Academy can acknowledge Avengers: Endgame, the highest grossing movie of all time and the capstone on a decade of Marvel Studios dominance at the box office and the franchise algorithm.

Who Should Win: But I was still more impressed by how 1917 viscerally recreated war torn France from a century ago than the blue screen effects in Avengers.

David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.