Once upon a time in Hollywood…some 36 members of the film industry founded an organization with the goal of "advancing the arts and sciences of motion pictures." While its original focus was on resolving labor disputes, it soon created the "award of merit for distinctive achievement." At the inaugural ceremony, winners announced three months earlier accepted their statuettes at a 15-minute event.
That was more than 90 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
Today the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of approximately 9,000 film professionals from across the globe. The award, or Oscar, is considered the most prestigious prize in cinema. The Academy Awards ceremony usually runs well over three hours long, with the results unknown until the envelopes are opened.
Or until I reveal my fearless predictions. (Cue the drum roll.)
Here is how I see things going down on Hollywood’s biggest night.
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
This may the toughest race to call. On paper, the World War I epic “1917” would appear to be headed toward victory. It pulled off an upset at last month’s Golden Globes, beating out the highly touted “The Irishman.” The superbly crafted “1917” has since won both the Producers Guild of America and British Film Academy (BAFTA) awards, which often preview the Oscar winner. That being said, the Academy now uses a preferential ballot to determine best picture — and the front-runner often falters. (See “The Revenant,” “La La Land” and last year’s “Roma,” which all missed the premiere award after cleaning up the precursors.) And for every war movie that has prevailed (“Patton,” “Platoon,” “The Hurt Locker”) there’s been one that hasn’t (“Apocalypse Now,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Saving Private Ryan.”)
Meanwhile, the South Korean sensation “Parasite” has turned into the most buzzed-about picture of the year. It swept the critics’ prizes and recently stole the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Best Cast Award from hometown favorite “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” With the lack of diversity in the nominations still a major talking point, honoring an international film would make a major statement. Most importantly, the darkly comic “Parasite” is a picture that most Academy members seem to truly love. If it performs as well on the preferential ballot — as I expect it to — “Parasite” might crawl its way to the top.
Best Achievement in Directing:
Martin Scorsese for “The Irishman”
Todd Phillips for “Joker”
Sam Mendes for “1917”
Quentin Tarantino for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Bong Joon Ho for “Parasite”
Prediction: Sam Mendes for “1917”
I was expecting Quentin Tarantino to receive his first Oscar for directing. (He’s accepted twice for screenwriting.) Unfortunately, his July-released “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” seems to have cooled off since the summer. Acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho leads the odds with “Parasite” for much of the fall. His momentum seems to have similarly frozen with the winter winds. That leaves Sam Mendes on the verge of domination for “1917.” The film is viewed as an extraordinary technical achievement, like “Life of Pi,” “Gravity,” “The Revenant,” and “Roma” – all of which were recognized for directing (though not as best picture.) Mendes has already picked up the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Directors Guild of America (DGA) honors. With the DGA champion repeating at the Oscars about 90 percent of the time, his work on “1917” should carry him to conquest.
Antonio Banderas in “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Adam Driver in “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker”
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”
Prediction: Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker”
Phoenix is easily the biggest lock of the night — and that’s no joke. His portrayal of Arthur Fleck/Joker in the billion dollar-grossing smash hit was the most talked-about performance of 2019. It’s a character who could have been a caricature but was made hauntingly human in the actor’s most skillful hands. The result? The “big four” pre-Oscar awards (Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, SAG and BAFTA) have already gone his way. With an impressive 11 bids, “Joker” is this year’s most-nominated film. Even if it loses almost every other category, Phoenix’s clown gets the last laugh — and the Oscar.
Cynthia Erivo in “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson in “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan in “Little Women”
Charlize Theron in “Bombshell”
Renée Zellweger in “Judy”
Prediction: Renée Zellweger in “Judy”
Last year, Rami Malek rocked his way to Oscar glory for channeling Queen singer Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Well, you might say that Renée is this year’s Rami. She also plays a legendary entertainer (Judy Garland.) She has countless fiercely dramatic scenes and she’s physically transformed on screen. Zellweger even one-ups Malek in that she does all of her own singing – sounding remarkably like the late twentieth-century legend. Zellweger has already steamrolled through the awards season with little competition. Interestingly enough, Garland herself never received a competitive Academy Award. More than 50 years after her death, it’s as if the Oscar finally comes her way via Zellweger. Somewhere over the rainbow, “Judy” will hopefully be smiling.
Best Supporting Actor:
Tom Hanks in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins in “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino in “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci in “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Prediction: Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Pitt was declared the Oscar favorite as soon as the movie premiered. And for one simple reason: he steals the movie from Leonardo DiCaprio. While DiCaprio has top billing, the flashier role and a bit more screen time, Pitt’s delicious deadpan delivery makes him the most hilarious thing in “Hollywood.” Award shows have thus far agreed. While DiCaprio has yet to pick up a prize, Pitt has taken “the big four” just like Phoenix. Pitt received his first Oscar nomination 24 years ago, for “12 Monkeys.” After striking out with his additional bids for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Moneyball,” he’ll finally hit the Oscar jackpot with “Hollywood.”
Best Supporting Actress:
Kathy Bates in “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern in “Marriage Story”
Scarlett Johansson in “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh in “Little Women”
Margot Robbie in “Bombshell”
Prediction: Laura Dern in “Marriage Story”
This category is notorious for shockers — (Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny,” Anna Paquin in “The Piano,” Juliette Binoche in “The English Patient”) — so I would love to predict one here. Unfortunately, this is yet another case of someone sweeping the big four, making a spoiler extremely unlikely. My sense is that Dern wins not because her turn as a ruthless divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story” was the strongest female supporting performance of the year. Rather, it’s because she’s a well-respected veteran actress who has never won. Her first nomination came for 1991’s “Rambling Rose,” and she wouldn’t get an invite again until 2014’s “Wild.” 2019 was a wildly successful year for Dern, who was featured prominently in fellow best picture nominee “Little Women” as well as television’s “Big Little Lies.” Barring a big surprise, expect voters to say “I do” to Dern in “Marriage Story.”
Best Original Screenplay:
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Quentin Tarantino has been nabbed this award twice, for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” could bring him his third, especially since his directing prospects seem pretty slim. Nonetheless, I’m betting on the popular “Parasite.” It’s a masterpiece in screenwriting and possesses the type of jaw-dropping plot twist that Oscar voters go nuts for. (Think 1992’s “The Crying Game,” 1995’s “The Usual Suspects,” and 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”) Fresh off victories at the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and BAFTA ceremonies, “Parasite” should shine once again.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
“The Two Popes”
Prediction: “Jojo Rabbit”
Adaptations from acclaimed literary works have done well over the years and many pundits foresee triumph for Greta Gerwig’s take on the classic “Little Women.” The first incarnation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel won this award back in 1934 — and that may be the problem. This is now the fourth time that “Little Women” has been brought to the big screen. Will voters consider it too “little” of an achievement? If so, that puts WGA honoree “Jojo Rabbit” on track for an upset. It’s an imaginative story very much driven by the dialogue. It’s also been over-performing throughout the awards season. Of its six nominations, this is arguably its best shot to win. Unless the Academy is really big on “Little Women,” watch for “Jojo Rabbit” to hop off with the gold.
Best Animated Feature:
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
“Toy Story 4”
Prediction: “Toy Story 4”
The Academy has been reluctant to reward animated sequels, so “Toy Story 4” could be in serious trouble. The artsy “I Lost My Body” won many prestigious critics’ awards. The stop-motion “Missing Link” surprised at the Golden Globes. And the holiday-themed “Klaus” swept the Annie Awards, which honor excellence in animation. All of this benefits “Toy Story 4,” as the opposition votes will be split in three different directions. With the smash “Frozen 2” given Oscar’s cold shoulder, the warm “Toy Story 4” should enjoy another happy ending.
Best Live Action Short Film:
“Nefta Football Club”
“The Neighbors’ Window”
Prediction: “The Neighbors’ Window”
This is a special bonus category, to help you impress your neighbors and kill it in your office Oscar pool. I’ve seen all five of these shorts, and “The Neighbors Window’” stands the tallest. An entertaining combination of “Rear Window” and “Friends,” it follows the traditional short film structure. The characters are introduced. The plot is set into motion. There’s then conflict, followed by a tidy resolution. The acting and production values are strong. “The Neighbors’ Window” is also the only English-language nominee in the bunch, which gives it the home-court advantage in Hollywood. In short, “The Neighbors’ Window” will soon be the Oscar envy of its neighbor nominees.