Oscars 2020 Primer and Predictions – Susan Granger reports

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For movie lovers, here’s the bad news and the good news. Last year, movie ticket sales in the United States & Canada were about $11.4 million, a 4% decrease from 2018. The good news is that the international box-office will exceed $30 billion for the first time ever.

What’s fascinating to me is that more films from streaming services are in the awards race than ever, recognizing quality, no matter how it’s delivered. And I predict – in the not too distant future – we’ll see the simultaneous release of movies at home and in theaters.

This year is unusual in that the Oscars are on Feb. 9th; last year’s was on Feb. 24th; next year’s will be on Feb.28th. That means campaigners have two fewer weeks to get their movies seen.

From the 344 eligible, features, of the nine films that the 8,469 Academy voters chose as Best Picture – with the exception of “Marriage Story” and “Parasite” – seven recall the past.

Winner of the Screen Actors’ Guild Ensemble Award, South Korea’s surreal fantasy – about a poor family insinuating themselves into the lives of a wealthy family – “Parasite” is the sixth to be nominated for both Picture and International in the same year. Each of the previous five, including last year’s “Roma,” won for Best Foreign Language, not Picture. Problem is: the conclusion is far too violent and grim.

In 1938, Jean Renoir’s W.W.I drama “The Grand Illusion” became the first foreign-language film ever nominated for Best Picture, losing to “The Life of Emile Zola.” But now that fully 20 % of Academy voters are international, it’s all about momentum and timing.

Set in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” depicts TinselTown’s heyday, re-writing history in an alternative reality. Leonardo DiCaprio is nominated as a past-his-prime Western star with Brad Pitt is his laconic stuntman.

“1917,” “Ford vs Ferrari,” “Joker” and “The Irishman” revolve around men, relegating women to supportive, symbolic but superficial wife-mother-daughter-girlfriend roles.

With two acting nominations, along with screenplay and director, Martin Scorsese’s mob drama “The Irishman” has size and scope – perhaps too much size and scope since its three-and-a-half hour running time tries even the most avid moviegoer’s patience.

Probing into divorce and how hard it is for a man and a woman to share center-stage, “Marriage Story” also has three acting nominations but none for director Noah Baumbach.

As for other nominees, I don’t think the auto racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” has the gravitas to win Best Picture, nor do “Little Woman,” “Jojo Rabbit” and “Joker.”

Since “1917” won the Producers Guild Award and Sam Mendes won the Directors Guild, it’s not only a front-runner but also top-listed for its screenplay, cinematography, visual effects, music, makeup & hairstyling, along with sound mixing & editing.

War movies often do well at the Oscars. At the very first Academy Awards in 1928, the Best Picture was the silent wartime romance “Wings.” Then came “All’s Quiet on the Western Front.” But – after that – no W.W.I picture has taken top honors. Will that change in 2020?

MY PREDICTION: “1917”

For Director, nominees are Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”), Todd Phillips (“Joker”), Sam Mendes (“1917”), Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). It’s a brutally competitive category.

There are no women on this list which disappoints me because I think Marielle Heller did a superb job with “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” as did Lulu Wang with “The Farewell.”

Only five women have ever been nominated as Best Director: Lina Wertmuller (“Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), and the only winner was Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”).

As much as Hollywood loves newbies, there’s also a tradition of honoring those who have paid their dues over the years. That’s certainly true of 77 year-old Scorsese – with nine directing nominations. He last won for “The Departed,” another Irish gangster film.

Problem is: when Scorsese told Esquire magazine he thinks Marvel Cinematic Universe films are “not cinema,” he may have antagonized many Academy members.

Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is divisive in its down-and-dirty new vision of the Batman villain. And Quentin Tarantino has never won the directing prize.

Bong Joon Ho was the unanimous winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is the first South Korean to be nominated in this category. Over the years, there have been five nominations for Asian directors – Akira Kurosawa, Hiroshi Teshigahara and three for Ang Lee, who won twice.

But it’s been 20 years since Sam Mendes won for “American Beauty,” and his one-long-shot concept gives audiences the sense that “1917” is happening in real time, as two young British soldiers face relentless danger, crossing enemy lines to deliver news about an incoming ambush.

MY PREDICTION: Sam Mendes

While there’s been criticism about lack of diversity, I side with Stephen King, who said, “For me, the diversity issue – as it applies to individual actor and directors – didn’t come up. I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. To do otherwise would be wrong.”

For Best Actor, nominees are Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”) and Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”).

Antonio Banderas won the Lead Actor prize in Cannes as the film director in Pedro Almodovar’s Spanish-language drama, heralding his first Oscar-nomination. Leonardo Di Caprio delivers an emotionally layered turn as fading star Rick Dalton. Adam Driver scores as the theater director caught off-guard when his wife files for divorce, and Jonathan Pryce dramatizes Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio/Pope Francis.

But Joaquin Phoenix delivers a haunting, disturbing portrait of mental illness. His victory would be the second for the ominous Joker character since Heath Ledger won a posthumous Supporting Oscar for his interpretation in “The Dark Knight.” Only Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro have both won for the same role: “Godfather” mob boss Vito Corleone.

MY PREDICTION: Joaquin Phoenix

For Best Actress, nominees are Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”), Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”), Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”), Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”) and Renee Zellweger (“Judy”).

While Cynthia Erivo is memorable as tormented Harriet Tubman, Charlize Theron is uncanny as embattled Fox News host Megyn Kelly, Scarlett Johansson is poignant as the unhappy actress/wife, and Saoirse Ronan lands her 4th nomination – this time as Louisa Mae Alcott’s alter-ego Jo – none of their performances holds a candle to Renee Zellweger’s breathtakingly controlled interpretation of Judy Garland. Zellweger won Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for “Cold Mountain.”

By the way, with 21 nominations, Meryl Streep still holds the record, while Katharine Hepburn the only one with four wins.

MY PREDICTION: Renee Zellweger

For Best Supporting Actor, nominees are Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”), Al Pacino (“The Irishman”), Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”) and Brad Pitt (“Once upon a Time in Hollywood”).

Tom Hanks cleverly captures the empathetic essence of children’s TV host Mr. Rogers. Anthony Hopkins embodies Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. Al Pacino and Joe Pesci essay roles that seem tailor-made for them, while Brad Pitt shines as Leonardo DiCaprio’s faithful wingman.

There’s been a great deal of controversy in this category, which is dominated by established stars, and a plea for the Academy to alter the Supporting rules, limiting the screen time an actor gets per movie. That would spotlight genuine supporting performances as opposed to stars. For me, the best REAL supporting part was Tracy Letts’ in “Ford v Ferrari.”

MY PREDICTION: Brad Pitt

For Best Supporting Actress, nominees are Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”), Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”), Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”), Florence Pugh (“Little Women”) and Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”).

Kathy Bates epitomizes the defensive mom whose son is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Scarlett Johansson risks her life to subvert the Third Reich. Florence Pugh embodies Louisa Mae Alcott’s artistic Amy, and Margot Robbie brings poignancy to her plight as an aspiring journalist who is sexually harassed by Fox News’ Roger Ailes.

Yet Laura Dern leads the pack as the emotionally astute lawyer who propels Scarlett Johansson’s divorce proceedings.

MY PREDICTION: Laura Dern

For Best Adapted Screenplay, nominees are “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” “Little Women” and “The Two Popes.”

Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” is a biting, subversive satire about anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany – and it’s a favorite because it won at the Writers Guild.

In Steve Zaillian’s “The Irishman,” organized crime takes on organized labor. “The Two Popes” chronicles a Papal friendship in the Vatican. And the gruesomely violent “Joker” shows a DC Comics villain with the psychological traits of real-life mass-shooters.

While I felt that Greta Gerwig turned “Little Women” into a structural disaster, many others disagree. The Academy likes to spread the awards around, since they were originally designed as a marketing tool for the movies. And since no woman was nominated as Best Director, this category could well go to a woman.

MY PREDICTION: “Little Women”

For Best Original Screenplay, nominees are “Knives Out,” “Marriage Story,” “1917,” “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood,” and “Parasite.”

While “Knives Out” was this year’s most ingeniously plotted whodunit, rebuking racism and classism, it was also the first Hollywood release in years to pay homage to Agatha Christie.

In “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” cleverly profiles class differences; it won the Writers Guild Award, making it the favorite

Noah Baumback’s “Marriage Story” dissects how divorce affects parenthood. Chronicling his grandfather’s wartime experiences, Sam Mendes wrote the “1917” script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns.

In “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino fixated on a fading Western star and his stunt double, culminating in the infamous Charles Manson murders. If Tarantino wins, he ties Woody Allen for three Oscars in this category. And if you’ve ever wondered why Tarantino has never won a Writers Guild Award, it’s because he refused to join the Guild.

MY PREDICTION: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

For Best Cinematography, nominees are “The Irishman,” “Joker,” “The Lighthouse,” “1917” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

For Robert Richardson, the challenge of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” was finding the right look to depict 1969 and rise of TinselTown’s counter-culture. Another year, he might have won.

But for Roger Deakins, “1917” was like choreographing a chess game, combining long takes with intricate moving camera shots. The goal was to make it look as though it’s one continuous shot.

MY PREDICTION: “1917”

For Best Editing, nominees are “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker” and “Parasite.” Favorites are “Jojo Rabbit” and “Parasite” since they won the ACE (Editors) Awards.

MY PREDICTION: “Ford v Ferrari”

For Best Production Design, nominees are “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “1917,” “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” and “Parasite.”

MY PREDICTION: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

For Best Costume Design, nominees are “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” “Littler Women,” and “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

MY PREDICTION: “Jojo Rabbit,” making Mayes C. Rubeo the first Latina ever so honored.

For Best Makeup and Hairstyling, nominees are “Bombshell,’ “Joker,” “Judy,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” and “1917.”

MY PREDICTION: “Bombshell”

For Best Visual Effects, nominees are “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Irishman,” “The Lion King,” “1917,” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

MY PREDICTION: “The Lion King,” the live-action remake, filled with astonishing effects

For Best International (Foreign) Feature, nominees are “Corpus Christi” (Poland), “Honeyland” (North Macedonia), “Les Miserables” (France), “Pain and Glory” (Spain), and “Parasite” (South Korea).

MY PREDICTION: “Parasite”

For Best Animated Feature, nominees are “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” “I Lost My Body,” “Klaus,” “Missing Link” and “Toy Story 4.”

Both “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Toy Story 4” mark the final chapters in popular franchises, while “I Lost My Body” won the Grand Prize at Cannes. Both “Klaus” and “Missing Link” failed to score at the box-office but can achieve streaming and DVD success.

MY PREDICTION: “Klaus”

For Best Documentary, nominees are “American Factory,” “The Cave,” The Edge of Democracy,” “For Sama,” and “Honeyland.”

No movie until “Honeyland” has ever scored nominations for both International Feature and Documentary. It’s Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov’s luminous portrait of a Macedonian beekeeper struggling to preserve her traditional way-of-life.

“The Edge of Democracy” revolves around Brazilian politics; “For Sama” focuses on a woman in war-torn Syria; and “The Cave” is about female physicians in Syria who treat patients in an underground hospital.

But “American Factory” – about a Chinese billionaire who reopened an Ohio automotive plant – has the backing of Barack and Michelle Obama, who have a Netflix multiyear production deal.

MY PREDICTION: “American Factory”

For Best Music, nominees for “Joker” (Hildur Guonadottir), “Little Women” (Alexandre Desplat), “Marriage Story” (Randy Newman) “1917” (Thomas Newman) and “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” (John Williams).

MY PREDICTION: “Joker”

For Best Original Song, nominees are “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” by Randy Newman (“Toy Story 4”), “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” by Elton John & Bernie Taupin (“Rocketman”), “I’m Standing With You” by Diane Warren (“Breakthrough”), “Into the Unknown” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robrt Lopez (“Frozen II”), and “Stand Up” by Joshuah Brian Campbell & Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”).

MY PREDICTION: Elton John & Bernie Taupin

For Best Sound Editing, nominees are “Ford v Ferrari,” “Joker,” “1917,” “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

MY PREDICTION: “Ford v Ferrari”

For Best Sound Mixing, nominees are “Ad Astra,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “Joker,” “1917,” and “Once Upon a Tine…in Hollywood.”

MY PREDICTION: “Ford v Ferrari”

For Best Documentary Short Subject, nominees are “In the Absence,” “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” “Life Overtakes Me,” “St. Louis Superman,” and “Walk Run Cha-Cha.”

MY PREDICTION: “Learning to Skateboard…”

For Best Animated Short Film, nominees are “Dcera (Daughter),” “Hair Love,” “Kitbull,” “Memorable,” and “Sister.”

MY PREDICTION: “Hair Love”

For Best Action Short Film, nominees are “Brotherhood,” “Nefta Football Club,” “The Neighbors’ Window,” “Saria,” and “A Sister.”

MY PREDICTION: “Brotherhood”

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