2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture
Updated: Feb 8
Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 1917, Parasite
Will Win: 1917
Runners-up: Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker
Should Win: Parasite
Runners-up: The Irishman, Marriage Story
My Choice: [TIE] The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Parasite
My Nominees: The Irishman, Uncut Gems, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Marriage Story, The Lighthouse, A Hidden Life, Little Women, Pain and Glory
Runners-up: Jojo Rabbit, 1917, Honey Boy, The Farewell, Knives Out, Ford v Ferrari, Transit, The Souvenir, Dolemite Is My Name
It is Oscar norm for a film to win Best Picture with at least an accompanying nomination (or ideally a win) in the categories of writing, acting, and editing. Neither 1917 or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, considered frontrunners by major critics in the race for the top prize, have scored an editing nom, which hypothetically dooms their chances of glory. In the thirty years since 1990, however, there was one film that failed to secure a Best Editing nomination and went on to win Best Picture: 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The similarities between Birdman and this year’s Christmas-released WWI sensation 1917 are vast. Both are helmed by auteur directors (Alejandro González Iñárritu and Sam Mendes respectively) known for pushing cinematic norms through grand and sometimes pretentiously experimental directing styles. Most significantly, both boast a “continuous shot” cinematographic focus (not really—careful viewers will see that the cuts are still there) that seeks to depict a single day in the lives of their protagonists. For this reason, I predict 1917—a remarkably moving and visually stunning tribute to Mendes’ grandfather and the memory of WWI veterans everywhere—will be an exception to the Academy’s editing tradition and triumph on Oscar night (especially given its Best Picture win in the Producer’s Guild Awards). Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could upset this narrative by seducing the Academy elite through its star-studded Hollywood-centric themes and lingo (incestuously self-serving in my opinion), which would be a shame. The remarkably original and socially-conscious Parasite, the first South Korean film nominated in this category, is a competitive dark horse to win if the Academy sticks to its writing and editing tradition (though no international film has won before). Its chances have improved with its wins for Best Ensemble Cast in the Screen Actors Guild and Best Edited Feature-Length Film for the Eddie (American Cinema Editors) Awards, however. Even more unlikely but still possible is a win for the controversial and highly-debated Joker, which would be the ultimate joke given its clear plagiarism of Martin Scorsese classics Taxi Driver (1976) and King of Comedy (1982). There is no chance for Scorsese’s masterful The Irishman this year, unfortunately, given its lackluster performance in recent award circuits.
1917 is by no means the year’s best film (in fact its emphasis on the “one-shot” trick is rather gimmicky and over-rated when compared to similarly themed war films of past years), especially when 2019 provided many of the most remarkable cinematic experiences of the decade. The Irishman is genius in how it highlights the medium of cinema as a religious ritual in repentance, a confessional through which DeNiro’s aging gangster can divulge his sorrowful-blue-eyed remorse. Marriage Story illustrates perhaps the most accurate and heart-wrenching picture of divorce ever put to screen with stellar leading performances that leave viewers with their fists in their throats while processing the long-lasting love and loss of a dissolving marriage. Little Women dazzles viewers with clever storytelling that whimsically and nostalgically reinvigorates their love for the classic novel while instilling a sense of newness and wonder. Non-nominated films such as The Lighthouse and Uncut Gems cleverly imbue nuance and artistry through complex approaches to tension and performance, while Pain and Glory, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and A Hidden Life beautifully showcase how an individual’s aspirations, passions, and morality can ignite retrospection and change in tumultuous personal and societal circumstances.
Parasite should win Best Picture for its ability to at first masquerade as a cleverly hilarious family comedy [WARNING: SOFT SPOILER] before revealing a dark secret in the second act that shakes the audience to the core. The film delivers a masterclass in acting, editing, cinematography, production design, and above all writing to illustrate the hidden, parasitic trauma of class violence in a seemingly peaceful, ordered world. The film is rich in symbolism that defies cultural boundaries and speaks to the universal nature of human beings working toward ideal social positions. It is gripping, haunting, speckled with glee, prickled with pain, and exceedingly funny—the perfect summation of what the human experience is and should be.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a very different film than Parasite, but should be considered its equal in cinematic prowess. It is in many ways a more personally intimate film for me, and was the only picture of the year to inspire glorious, soulful tears to stream down my cheeks by its final moments. The film focuses on the bond of two determined young men living in present-day San Francisco, a setting artfully shot to resemble an apocalyptic--though visually stunning--shell of a once great city now populated with wild, often unruly, citizens seeking some sense of meaning in life. The protagonist is Jimmie Fails (the same name as the character's actor), a fittingly named tragic hero who seeks to reclaim the beautiful Victorian-inspired house that he proudly claims his grandfather built in the 1940s. At his side is his best friend Montgomery Allen (played by Jonathan Majors), a quirky aspiring playwright and artist who captures the color of the streets and its inhabitants in the sketchbook he carries with him at all times. The writing in this film captures the passion of someone who longs to preserve the past even in the face of impossible adversity, and questions the nature of truth and history in our everyday lives. The film's careful blending of fact and myth imbues the viewer with a sense of nostalgic yearning for some meaningful past that once existed, even if this past only existed in the mind. The narrative hits home for me as someone whose family has inhabited the same house for nearly a century, but the heartfelt themes of the plot are not the only shining moment for this modern-day masterpiece. The acting is seamless and feels more like real-life people experiencing everyday circumstances than characters in the imaginary circumstance of the screen. The cinematography is likewise awe-inspiring, shifting views masterfully between character perspectives and what one could only imagine are the eyes of the city of San Francisco itself floating aimlessly over sun-bathed waters of the bay, crisp rooftop canopies and vine-covered house frames preserved in time, and cracked, neglected sidewalks cloaked in mist. Finally, the musical score is heavenly in its dramatic contemplation of intersections in space and time, artfully splicing classical choir hymns with modern pop to moving dramatic effect. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a must-see highlight of 2019, and deserves my vote for Best Film of the year.