By Justin Luteran

What a great crop of films this year competing for the 92nd Academy Awards.

Not only is it an exceptionally varied bunch, but it was a big year for commercial movies whereas the last few years seemed to trend toward smaller films that mainstream audiences didn’t really see, which in turn led to lower ratings for the Oscars broadcast.

Of the nine Best Picture nominees this year, 5 of them have already crossed $100 million at the domestic box office – 1917, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and Ford v Ferrari – while Parasite hit $100 million worldwide. The Irishman and Marriage Story had limited theatrical releases but stayed mostly on Netflix leaving Searchlight’s Jojo Rabbit as the only one left behind, with a still-respectable global haul of $65 million.

While there has been plenty of outcry over the lack of diversity among the acting nominees and snubbing of women in the directing category, it’s hard to argue against any of the work below, on either side of the camera.

From first-time nominees to career-long veterans, from the trenches of WW1 to the FOX newsroom, this year has felt like a breath of fresh air and injection of spirit back into the awards race that was decidedly lacking last year when Green Book and Roma were going head-to-head.

With that, here are my final predictions for which nominees should be going home with Oscar glory, and those that inevitably will.

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Best Supporting Actor

Should Win: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Al Pacino plays himself in The Irishman. Joe Pesci’s performance is great in its reservedness when his career has been built on the brash or violent. Anthony Hopkins also is deserving of recognition for his introspective and nuanced performance as Pope Benedict XVI, but Tom Hanks tapped into something truly special in his portrayal of Mister Rogers. The creative team chose not to overdo it with makeup or hair to make them look too similar, but rather let Tom’s own personality and spirit capture Fred Rogers. It was a beautiful performance in an underrated film.

Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

This one is a guarantee. Pitt has won all of the major precursor awards and has been charming and self-deprecating at every point along the way. At the Golden Globes he joked that the role of a guy who “gets high, takes his shirt off, and doesn’t get along with his wife” was a stretch to play, the joke being he has a reputation for all three. Because it does seem like he played a character similar to himself in real life, I wouldn’t have voted for him but everyone else will and he’ll be collecting his first statue for acting Sunday night.

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Best Supporting Actress

Should Win: Florence Pugh, Little Women

Pugh stole the show as Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s wide-ranging adaptation. Her character covered just about every emotion on the spectrum and somehow made an audience both hate her and love her. Though one of the more inexperienced actors on the set, she held her own against more established peers and her unpredictability in every scene was all the more engaging.

Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

This is the only one of the four acting categories that is not a 100% lock, although it is about 90%. Of her competition, Kathy Bates has already won, Florence Pugh, Scarlett Johansson, and Margot Robbie all likely will at some point. Many feel Dern has long been overlooked by Academy voters and her strong role as a confident yet maternal divorce lawyer is likely to bring her that overdue win. 

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Best Actor

Should Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach’s story about a failing marriage is both heartbreaking and relatable and it’s carried by the strong dialogue and the incredible performances of Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Jonathan Pryce also was pristine as current Pope Francis in another Netflix movie not many people saw (The Two Popes), and there is the smallest of margins for Driver of Antonio Banderas to sneak in…but probably not. 

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Another near-slam dunk as Phoenix has surprisingly taken center stage in a movie that was at first written off as being “too violent” for the Academy or just “a comic book movie”. But a billion dollars later there’s no denying how the film has resonated with audiences and voters credit Phoenix’s immersive performance and unique take on a man struggling with mental illness in a world that rejects him at every turn. As a part of the Batman canon, Joker was sort of forgettable, but as a cautionary tale and a look at one person’s descent into madness, it was hard to watch and Phoenix met (some will say exceeded) the lofty expectations the role came with. 

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Best Actress

Should Win: Renee Zellweger, Judy

Will Win: Renee Zellweger, Judy

For the last decade-and-a-half Hollywood had all but forgotten the former Oscar winner who returns triumphantly as the elder, tortured version of Judy Garland. It’s a harrowing look at an iconic figure who led a vastly troubled life, rife with depression, failed marriages, and substance abuse, not to mention all the pressures of Hollywood. Not only does Zellweger deliver on the heavy emotional themes, she also nails the performances and musical numbers and will ride the best reviews of her career to Oscar glory.

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Best Picture

Should Win: Parasite

This is one of the closest Best Picture races in recent memory and will come down to the Academy’s terrible preferential ballot voting system. The film that gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily win, but rather it’s the film that gets collectively the most 1st, 2nd, and/or 3rd place votes overall. Parasite won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but has also become the darling of Awards season. It’s is near-universally loved and its international cast and filmmakers have been a breath of fresh air on the circuit. The biggest obstacle in its way is that it’s guaranteed to win Best Foreign Film and only once before has a film won Best Foreign and Best Picture (2001, Life is Beautiful). 

Will Win: 1917

I had the great pleasure of working on this film while at DreamWorks but there’s no bias in this decision. 1917 barely made the cut in terms of being released in time. It only started shooting in April 2019 and was in theaters just 8 months later. At the time of its release there wasn’t a clear frontrunner for Best Picture and this late entry became a massive critical and commercial hit to swoop in and take the reins, trying to leg that momentum out to a first place finish. It won the Golden Globe and BAFTA, among others, and war films have a history of being rewarded at the Oscars, as do feats of technical wizardry which this film (designed to look like one continuous, real-time shot) certainly is. However its unknown lead actors and fairly simple story could leave enough room for another film to sneak in. Again, it’s all about the balloting; not necessarily what film gets the most #1 votes, but the film that appears in most voters’ overall top 3. 

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Best Director

Should Win: Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite

Nobody has received louder applause at various award shows this year than Bong Joon-Ho. His gracious demeanor and love of cinema have been infectious. Though he’s won considerable awards with critics, it still seems like Mendes is winning all of the major ones. However, it has been a common theme in recent years for Best Picture and Best Director to go to different films/filmmakers so don’t be shocked if it’s Bong/1917 or Mendes/Parasite splitting the two. Also, Parasite is more impressive as a character-driven film, with a larger cast that won the major SAG award, whereas 1917 is more about the technical achievements. 

Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Mendes surprisingly won the DGA award which has been one of the more accurate predictors of the corresponding Oscar winner and the Academy loves to recognize directors whose films’ are technical marvels (eg. recent winnersAlejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman and The Revenant, Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity, and Ang Lee for Life of Pi). Joon-Ho could play spoiler in another hotly contested race and while the South Korean feels like the fan favorite, momentum is on Mendes’ side. 

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Best Animated Feature

Should Win: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

DreamWorks Animation’s fantasy franchise seems to always get overlooked in this category, mostly due to perennial competition from Pixar and Laika, but make no mistake this is a beloved series that audiences love returning to. The third installment featured absolutely stunning visuals and had more heart than most three-quels do and at some point the Academy needs to recognize the impact it’s had.

Will Win: Klaus

It’s never a great idea to bet against a Toy Story movie but for certain reasons I’m going to. First is that Toy Story 3 won in the franchise’s last outing back in 2010. Voters may want to give it to something new. Also, the animation precursor awards have been all over the place with little consistency, but Netflix’s Klaus, a Santa Claus origin of sorts, has picked up some major awards lately including the BAFTA and ANNIE awards for Best Animated Feature. Not to mention Netflix’s deep pockets allow for hefty campaigning so this feels like a late push could make this underdog turn into a spoiler of sorts.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

Should Win: Little Women

Will Win: Little Women

I admit that it took at least half the film, but I ended up liking Little Women much more than originally expected. It was beautifully crafted and Greta Gerwig’s adaptation was just the right balance between faithfully traditional yet with a modern touch. There was a heavy outcry when she wasn’t nominated for Best Director (or any other female filmmakers for that matter) and giving her a screenplay win could be the Academy’s version of a mea culpa while also recognizing a great film not likely to get much more love outside of Costume Design. 

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Best Original Screenplay

Should Win: Parasite

Will Win: Parasite

Knives Out was a ton of fun and Rian Johnson’s nomination is well-deserved. Meanwhile Tarantino is an industry favorite (having won this award twice already), but Parasite is the most truly original film of the group and deserves recognition as such. Again, being a foreign language film makes it hard to gauge how it will fair outside of that category, but Bong Joon-Ho’s class thriller/dramedy has something for everyone; humor, surprise, violence, suspense, mystery, heartbreak. It’s incredibly tight, well-balanced, and as unique as ever a film there was. 

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Best Cinematography

Should Win: 1917

Will Win: 1917

Another guarantee as not only is Roger Deakins a legend in his own right, but the academy loves one-shot cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki won three of these in a row recently for films featuring incredibly long takes (Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant) and the biggest praise about 1917 is its camerawork. Seemingly shot all in one take, it involved massive planning, insanely detailed choreography, and new camera rigs to go from handheld, to crane, to rig, to steadicam, onto a truck, back to handheld, etc without cutting.  It’s ironic that it took Deakins decades to win his first (2017s Blade Runner 2049) and now he’ll have two in three years. 

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Best Documentary

Should Win: N/A

Will Win: American Factory

Didn’t catch the docs this year but it’s unlikely that liberal Hollywood votes against the Obamas on this one. Particularly when the subject matter is close to America’s heart; a positive message about working-class citizens at a GM factory in the Midwest.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Should Win: Parasite

Will Win: Parasite

If they’re taking bets, bet the house. Parasite has already won this category and the only question is how many other statues it will have after all envelopes have been read.

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Best Film Editing

Should Win: Ford v Ferrari

Will Win: Ford v Ferrari

This is a trickier one given Parasite won the ACE award but I’m going with my gut. An editor once told me that the hardest thing in the world to cut is a racing scene where all the cars are going in one, continuous circle. Not only does the editor have to cut it in such a way so the audience knows exactly where they are on the track at any given moment and who is in what position, but also do it in such a way that doesn’t feel repetitive, boring, or confusing. To that credit, for all of the incredible racing sequences in FvF I think this one would be well-deserved, although keep an eye out for a potential Parasite spoiler. 

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Best Sound Editing

Should Win: Ford v Ferrari or 1917

Will Win: Ford v Ferrari

Most members of the Academy don’t understand the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, let alone the average person, but the truth is that it’s pretty simple. Sound Editing is the gathering of all the sounds one hears in a movie: sound effects, foley, ADR (re-recording dialogue in post-production), music, etc. The sound editing team is responsible for recording/gathering/compiling all of those sounds a movie needs to include.

Sound Mixing on the other hand, is the process by which all of those previously recorded sounds are mixed together and layered on top of one another. Any Star Wars battle is an easy example. There are the sounds of droids, lightsabers, explosions, starships all blended together. Someone has to take the artificial droid noises and then add the blaster sound fx, and overlay the hum of a lightsaber or sound of a speeder all at the right levels so everything is heard and distinguishable, and in a way that makes sense for the scene.

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Best Sound Mixing

Should Win: Ford v Ferrari or 1917

Will Win: Ford v Ferrari

War movies and racing movies are both easy favorites in this category as sound fx typically standout more, although it’s hard to say which the Academy will lean towards. As most voters don’t understand the difference between the sound categories, they usually go to the same film. Even though 1917 is more of the overall heavyweight compared to FvF, I’m going with the racing movie. 1917 is actually much quieter than most war films, with most of the large-scale action book-ending the film, whereas FvF has constantly incredible sound throughout.

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Best Production Design

Should Win: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Will Win: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

What many considered a favorite coming into awards season has cooled off of late. People still love and respect the hell out of Tarantino’s 9th effort, but it seems like it’s getting lost in the shuffle and no singular aspect about is standing out. It could potentially upset for Best Picture, it could potentially win for Screenplay, is unlikely for Costume, but if there’s one element (besides Brad Pitt) that people are commenting on it’s the way the film re-created 1960s Hollywood. From rebuilding Spahn Ranch to closing down the real Hollywood Boulevard and re-dressing it inch-by-inch, Barbara Ling did a fantastic job. I wasn’t there in the 60s but I do live in LA now and it’s truly remarkable how much work needed to go into transforming it the way they did. 

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Best Original Score

Should Win: 1917 or Little Women

Will Win: Joker

Too much of Joker’s score was reminiscent of The Dark Knight’s for me and I didn’t like that. I’d much rather see it go to Thomas Newman or Alexandre Desplat. The music of 1917 is highly underrated but goes from sweeping orchestral movements during battle scenes to soft and rhythmic background filler so seamlessly. It captures the heart-pounding action then the somberness of death, but is overlooked for the film’s cinematography which is unfortunate as Newman has been nominated 15 times and is yet to win. And Desplat’s work in Little Women is typically beautiful, more melodic, traditional themes in the period piece. But Hildur Guðnadóttir has won just about all of the precursor awards and it looks like the relative newcomer will best the industry stalwarts on this one. 

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Best Original Song

Should Win: N/A 

Will Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman, Elton John and Bernie Taupin

Can’t say any of these stand out to me. Elton John claimed during one of the earlier awards that this song won that it was the first award he and Bernie had actually ever won together, as opposed to numerous individual accolades. Can’t say for sure if that’s true but this is also a relatively safe choice (unfortunately for Diane Warren going on a dozen nominations). The Frozen crew won recently, not enough people saw Harriet, and Randy Newman is too familiar. Rocketman was also a movie that a lot of people loved and didn’t get the recognition many wanted it to so this would be a small consolation. 

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Best Makeup and Hair

Should Win: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Will Win: Bombshell

This is the most frustrating category because for some reason the Academy always steers away from more makeup-heavy fantasy films in favor of relatively low-key ones. Consider that no Harry Potter film ever won for makeup and hair, with the last one losing to Meryl Streep’s teeth and wig from The Iron Lady. Turning Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly is not nearly as impressive to me as turning Angelina Jolie into Maleficent, or Joaquin Phoenix into Joker for that matter, but voters love when actors are transformed into other people and most of the conversation seems to be circling around this film.  

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Best Costume Design

Should Win: Little Women

Will Win: Little Women

Big fancy period dresses are always a safe bet in this category and the breadth of work that went into Little Women‘s costumes seems to be a cut above the rest. The Irishman is all suits or business casual, Joker is fairly simple on the larger scale, Jojo Rabbit has some Nazi-Germany era work that could be recognized but is familiar, and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood certainly captures the 60s with aplomb, but this is the clear and obvious choice and those who don’t vote for its screenplay will absolutely want to give LW a win somewhere.

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Best Visual Effects

Should Win: Avengers: Endgame

Will Win: 1917

Like Makeup, this is a category that tends to go away from comic book/fantasy films that are the most VFX-heavy. Sure The Irishman has VFX in almost every scene mostly to de-age its lead actors but people don’t understand the extent of that work. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has nearly 2000 VFX shots. 1917 is more subtle and about making transitions match seamlessly than it is overt image shifting. The Lion King is hard to grasp because although it was made to look photoreal and there was some phenomenal work done in virtual reality, it still comes across as largely CGI and confusing as to what exactly counts as VFX there. Avengers: Endgame includes upwards of 2500(!) VFX shots which ranks 10th all-time for a Hollywood film, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t win its first Oscar until last year with Black Panther (3 total), and despite 8 previous noms for VFX, the MCU is 0/8. The Academy traditionally doesn’t reward comic book films though so my bet here is to stick with the evening’s frontrunner.  

Best Animated Short

Abstain, didn’t see the nominees

Best Documentary Short

Abstain, didn’t see the nominees