92nd Academy Awards predictions

Our editors give their picks for the films that will take home the Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and more

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'Parasite' has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Foreign Language Film.
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'Marriage Story' has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.
Wilson Webb

There are still two whole weeks before we ring in the end to the 2019 awards season with the much-anticipated 92nd Academy Awards, and yet the ceremony is already mired in controversy. Although the Academy seemed to have taken a few important steps forward in recent years, highlighted by Moonlight’s 2017 Best Picture win, this year’s nominations underscored their staggering reluctance to recognize deserving and talented artists who dare to break the mold of what an Oscar-worthy narrative should look like. The Farewell and Us, two of the best films of the year whose all-star casts happened to be headlined by people of color, were entirely shut out of the race. Lulu Wang and Greta Gerwig became the latest victims of the Best Director category, one that has only honored one female artist, Kathryn Bigelow, in the ceremony’s nearly century-long history. And the acting categories once again suffered an incredible lack of representation, with notable snubs including The Farewell’s Awkwafina, Us’s Lupita Nyong’o, and Hustlers’ Jennifer Lopez.

That Joker — a polarizing, largely shallow film that seems to have tapped into deep-seated feelings of white male rage — leads the entire pack with eleven nominations is a testament to just how out of touch the Academy has become. Oscar predictions have increasingly become a game of anticipating what the jury will settle for rather than the worthwhile task of choosing the most deserving candidate within each category. Accordingly, our predictions below often reflect a tension between the films we think will win and the ones we think should win.

And yet, 2019 was also a banner year for cinema. For a second year in a row, a foreign language production is competing for Best Picture, courtesy of the refreshingly welcome success of Parasite, the first South Korean film to be nominated for any award. Yes, 2019 was the year when Martin Scorsese declared that Marvel movies weren’t cinema before releasing The Irishman on Netflix, reflecting growing anxieties about the future of filmmaking at a time when the advent of the streaming age and the success of franchises is threatening the very survival of the traditional Hollywood studio system. But the box office successes of Parasite, Little Women, The Farewell, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and more show us that audiences’ appetite for bold, creative storytelling hasn’t languished. Reflecting back on the best technical and artistic achievements of the year, it’s hard not to get excited to see where cinema takes us in 2020 and beyond. With that, here are our picks for the films that we think will take home the big prizes at the 92nd Academy Awards.

Best Picture: Parasite

Erika: Ever since its release, Parasite has been dominating the international film circuit with its poignant commentary on a topic so close to Hollywood made into a masterpiece of a film. With the amount of both critical and popular acclaim, in addition to its seemingly continuously surging popularity — surpassing that of any American-made film — if any foreign language film can win this ceremony’s most coveted award, it would be Parasite

Shreyan: The 2020 Oscars ceremony will mark the 25th anniversary of the now-controversial decision to award Best Picture to Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction. In the two-and-a-half decades since, the Academy’s top prize has remained as elusive as ever for Quentin Tarantino, despite his ability to churn out critically and popularly acclaimed masterpieces seemingly at will. Given the Academy’s proclivity for course correction (see: the decision to finally give Scorsese a Best Picture win for The Departed), I’m going to break from the consensus and give the nod to Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The Academy honoring one of Hollywood’s most iconic figures for a self-referential film about the possibility of cinema itself? It’s almost too perfect not to happen.

Liane: Parasite’s recent SAG award win and the resulting standing ovation both highlight Hollywood’s obsession for this Korean film. While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is clearly self-referential, Parasite is as well, albeit in a subtler way. Its messages on class are incredibly relevant amidst the growing inequality in America, and even more so in Hollywood, where the ultra-rich enjoy campaigning for various causes and charities. (Whether they genuinely believe in them is an entirely different question.) Recent Best Picture wins (e.g., Green Book, Moonlight, Spotlight) have reflected Hollywood’s special breed of liberalism, though unlike some other winners (Green Book), Parasite actually deserves it. Perhaps Hollywood also likes it because its violence resembles Tarantino’s style.

Lior: While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s focus on the film industry appeals directly to The Academy, in recent years, Hollywood has grown more wary about broadcasting their self-obsession (consider Moonlight’s selection over La La Land for Best Picture in 2017). Parasite’s nuanced, haunting take on class and inequality resonates with the public consciousness, and its nigh-unparalleled circulation in the United States as a foreign film is itself remarkable.

Best Director: Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Shreyan: Whether it’s glitzy, glamorous musicals like Singin’ In The Rain and La La Land, or more piercing self-commentaries like Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, there’s nothing that quite captures the imagination and enthusiasm of American filmmakers like Hollywood itself. With his take on one of the most infamous and violent chapters in the industry’s history, Tarantino adds to the mythology of Hollywood while simultaneously critiquing that very same self-mythologizing impulse. From Rick Dalton’s dreams of becoming an A-list movie star to a twist ending that imagines an alternate history, Tarantino’s honest examination of the fantasies we construct to cope with unhappy realities reflects a newfound maturity and self-awareness as a director that is fully deserving of the Oscar.

Erika: 2019 has been a remarkably great year for cinema, with many directors outputting a multitude of quality films. It is a real pity that the best director category is limited to five nominees when Best Picture is allowed up to ten films. There were many phenomenal directors who were unfortunately not nominated for their work this year, but, looking at the given pool of nominees, Tarantino emerges as the clear winner. As an established director who has yet to receive an Oscar for his directorial work, it would only be fitting for him to finally win for a film that was his “love letter to Hollywood.” 

Best Original Screenplay: Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Liane: Marriage Story is an underdog in this race, but it’s the most nuanced out of the nominees and deserves the win. It’s easy to take sides when a relationship breaks down; it’s much more difficult to show all the tiny details that make both characters flawed and, more importantly, human. Baumbach expertly conveys how their love fell apart without placing blame on either character. Johansson and Driver certainly delivered stunning performances that contributed to the film’s success, but they couldn’t have done it without Baumbach’s script (and direction).

Best Adapted Screenplay: Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

Shreyan: As much as we’d like to give this award to Little Women — Greta Gerwig’s acclaimed sophomore outing that’s already been shut out of the Best Director race by an assortment of male violence-centered narratives — recent history suggests the likelier outcome is the Academy deferring to Zaillian’s adaptation of the mobster story I Heard You Paint Stories. If it’s any consolation, an Oscar win for The Irishman would have no asterisk next to it in any other year. Structuring his Frank Sheeran biopic as a painfully drawn out, backwards-looking contemplation on a life marred by violence and ending in profound loneliness, Zaillian achieves the impossible, writing a story that runs three-and-a-half hours long and yet somehow feels perfectly paced. It’s a fitting sendoff for a genre whose violently masculine energies defined decades of American cinema.

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Lior: No other actor so single-handedly elevated their film. Phoenix looks to cap off his incredible run through awards seasons (he won both the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors’ Guild prize) by finally earning his first-ever Oscar. Side note: I think with anything outside of a superb starring performance, Joker would have gotten very little attention.

Erika: Realistically, Phoenix. Phoenix and Adam Driver gave two very different performances, and Phoenix did an excellent job revamping a character that had already been portrayed to perfection. Instead of trying to top the late Heath Ledger’s performance, Phoenix managed to create his own version of the iconic villain. However, I will still retain a sliver of hope for Driver as his performance in Marriage Story was nothing short of phenomenal. 

Best Actress: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Erika: Renée Zellweger has been sweeping the Best Actress category in the awards circuit this year for her performance as Judy Garland in Judy. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to see the film for ourselves. Going based off of the films we have seen, though, Scarlett Johansson is the obvious standout for her performance in Marriage Story. In what is one of the best performances of her career, Johansson shines as the other half of a contentious divorce battle. All the pain and frustration resonates clearly across the screen. The acting was raw and personal and made for an altogether incredibly powerful and emotive performance.

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite

Shreyan: The consensus has never been clearer: Bong Joon-ho’s perfectly scripted and brilliantly directed tale of the uneasy tensions brimming under the surface of contemporary class relations was the undisputed critical darling of 2019. With a very real shot at the ceremony’s top prize, Parasite is all set to become the first Korean film to take home any competitive Oscar. This is the only award prediction we would put real money on.

Best Documentary Feature: American Factory

Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 4

Best Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker, The Irishman 

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917

Shreyan: Roger Deakins compiled a staggering thirteen straight nominations for this award before finally taking one home for his work on Blade Runner 2049. Fortunately, he won’t have to wait nearly as long for his next win; although 1917 pretends to be a much deeper film than it actually is, Deakins’ work filming it to appear as one continuous long take was nothing short of technical wizardry. 1917 is an early betting favorite to take home the most Oscars, and this feels like one of the few it truly deserves. 

Update 2/3/20: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there have been no female Best Directors in the history of the Oscars.