The 92nd Academy Awards are mere hours away, and the biggest news coming out of this year’s awards nominations is Netflix’s instant emergence as a heavy hitter among the major studios. Between The Irishman, Marriage Story and a handful of other prestige pics, Netflix garnered 24 nominations in their first major run at Oscar, beating all other studios (Sony came in with 20, and Disney rounded out the top three with 17). And from what I’m guessing, the Academy is going to show Netflix some big love tonight.
But enough with the numbers. Below are my picks for who will and should win at this year’s Academy Awards, as well as a few of my own awards just for the fun of it.
Best Picture (Nominees – Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, Parasite)
Who Will and Should Win: 1917
I didn’t get to see 1917 until after I compiled my list for the best and worst movies of 2019; if I had, 1917 certainly would have made the top 5, if not the top 3. If there was one film worthy of the number of awards it’s garnered thus far (142 nominations with 103 wins, for anyone who’s counting), this is that movie. With the way the film is shot to the beautiful cinematography and music, 1917 puts you directly into the action by forcing you to travel with two men hoping to reach their brothers-at-arms in time before they are all slaughtered. Unless there is a major upset by The Irishman (or maybe even possibly Parasite), 1917 is destined to walk away with the top prize.
Best Actor (Nominees – Antonio Banderas, Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver, Joaquin Phoenix, Jonathan Pryce)
Who Will and Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix
There was no other performance as striking in 2019 as Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck in Joker. I wasn’t sure about the film when I first saw the trailers, believing it would be too dry and depressing to sit through. But Phoenix’s mesmerizing performance changed that viewpoint immediately. The way Phoenix is able to put so much conviction and emotion behind each degree of laughter is a master class in delivery. I can’t say his performance is better than Heath Ledger’s from The Dark Knight, but what I can say is that Phoenix comes close to delivering the same amount of resonance, to the point I could picture Phoenix’s Joker evolving into the one manifested by Ledger. Phoenix has been the front runner this entire award season; if there’s one guarantee this year, it’s his win in this category.
Best Actress (Nominees – Cynthia Erivo, Scarlett Johansson, Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron, Renée Zellweger)
Who Will Win: Scarlett Johansson
Even though Marriage Story is the only Best Actress performance I didn’t see, my gut is telling me that Scarlett Johansson will walk away with the prize. Cynthia Erivo and Saoirse Ronan were both excellent in their respective roles, but their films are both a little too quiet in the buzz factory to pull off a win, and with Johansson vying for not one but two actress awards this season, it would be devastating if she winds up losing both. It could very well happen, but I don’t think it will.
Who Should Win: Renée Zellweger
However, if there is an upset, it will definitely be because the Academy was as taken by Renée Zellweger’s amazing channeling of Judy Garland in her final days as audiences were. From her cadence to her body language, Zellweger embodied Garland with a respect and a love that only great actors can convey. Charlize Theron did something very similar with Megyn Kelly in Bombshell to the point you couldn’t very well distinguish one from the other, but because Garland is much more beloved, and Zellweger made sure to show all sides of Garland’s personality, she should be the one to take home the prize.
Best Supporting Actor (Nominees – Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Brad Pitt)
Who Will Win: Al Pacino
I can’t see a world where one of these fine glorious veterans of cinema do not take home this award for their body of work alone. Anthony Hopkins is probably leading from behind as he is representing the most unknown film of the pack; Tom Hanks’s performance may feel a little too fluffy for the Academy; and Brad Pitt was way too laid back to feel like he was giving an actual performance. Which leaves gangster mainstays Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to battle it out for the gold. Both are battling for their second Oscar, but, because Pacino has much more clout when it comes to Oscar nominations, look for him to squeak out the win.
Who Should Win: Tom Hanks
With that said, I haven’t seen The Irishman, so I can’t honestly say that Pacino or Pesci’s performances were at the level worthy enough of an Oscar. What I can say is that Tom Hanks does a similar magic trick as Renée Zellweger, channeling Fred Rogers with an honesty that goes above and beyond the internal image we all have of the majestic children’s show host. Hanks does a terrific job of showing us all that even though Rogers fought hard to be perfect, he owned the fact that he wasn’t because it is in our flaws that ultimately make us good humans.
Best Supporting Actress (Nominees – Kathy Bates, Laura Dern, Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Margot Robbie)
Who Will Win: Laura Dern
Again, I have not seen Marriage Story, so I have no idea if Laura Dern is worthy enough to win, but my gut is telling me that she is going to go all the way in this category to share the love with her co-star — who also happens to be her competition in this very category. But, as I said above, because I believe the Academy will honor Scarlett Johansson in the Best Actress race, Dern seems to me to be the front-runner.
Who Should Win: Florence Pugh
At the same time, Florence Pugh could end up pulling it off, for the sheer fact that she delivered three potentially worthy performances this year. Don’t get me wrong, she was great in Little Woman, but so was everyone else. I don’t think she stood out enough to warrant a nomination for this film; but because of of her gut-wrenching performance in Midsommar (keep reading for more on this) and her breakout performance in Fighting With My Family, Florence Pugh deserves to stand up on that stage and deliver a much-deserved acceptance speech.
Best Director (Nominees – Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon Ho)
Who Will Win: Martin Scorsese
Like Al Pacino, I believe the Academy will award Martin Scorsese with this honor over everyone if for no other reason than the body of work he has created over the last few decades (and to help show Netflix that they are wanted, and in some ways needed, to keep the film industry healthy). At three and a half hours, Scorsese may not be the best arbiter of editing, but he does know how to pull great performances out of his actors (just look at what he was able to do with Leonardo DiCaprio). Because of that, as well as his classic visionary style, the Academy will show Scorsese the love.
Who Should Win: Sam Mendes
Then again, they may see 1917 for what it was (a visually lovely piece of cinema) and give the Oscar to the director who deserves it most, Sam Mendes. Mendes was able to accomplish a feat that is mesmerizing if not revolutionary. The practice of filming without cuts (or at the very least, without noticeable cuts) isn’t new or novel, but it is fascinating in how the style is able to pull you in when done correctly. And Mendes pulls off this feat with glorious aplomb and should be recognized for doing so.
Best Animated Feature (Nominees – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Missing Link, Toy Story 4)
Who Will Win: Missing Link
I’m not sure why, exactly, but I never did get a chance to see Missing Link in theaters. It may have come out at a time when there were more anticipated films in the marketplace and it may not have brought in the audiences it needed to last more than a few weeks. Add to the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of stop-motion animation and you’ve got a melting pot of reasons why this film slipped past me. But with its win at the Golden Globes and the love from critics and industry professionals behind it, the film should be a shoo-in to win.
Who Should Win: Toy Story 4
That being said, Missing Link has some heavy competition. I haven’t seen I Lost My Body or Klaus, so I can’t speak to them, and though How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was visually stunning and completed the trilogy quite well, the series doesn’t have the same clout as Toy Story 4, which should be recognized for the way the filmmakers made a fourth film in a series not only watchable, but once again heartbreaking. The story may not be quite as good as its predecessors, and some of the characters do get a bit shafted, but the idea, the execution and the message give this film my vote for the best animated film to come out in 2019.
Best Ensemble: Knives Out
Knives Out was a fun movie with a quick pace and an even quicker reveal, and all of it was mostly due to the stellar ensemble that director Rian Johnson pulled together. Allowing this team of veterans a little freedom to bring these characters to life, the entire cast, from Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas to Michael Shannon and Chris Evans, were running on all cylinders as they navigated the waters of this dark comedy with so much delight. With a film like this, one wrong piece and the entire thing would have crumbled. Luckily, the cast clicked beautifully, creating a strange and twisted family in a strange and twisted murder mystery.
Best Child Performance: Zachery Levi, Shazam!
It may seem odd to see an adult winning the Best Child Performance award, but let’s face it — Zachery Levi is a child at heart, and it shows in his performance of a teenager who becomes a superhero after uttering the words “Shazam!” Levi doesn’t just act brilliantly as a literal man-child, but he amplifies what his alter-ego (Asher Angel) brought to the role. However, if you’re still angry that I gave this award to an adult, here’s a consolation — Levi would have been nothing without Jack Dylan Grazer. Combined with his de-aged performance in IT: Chapter 2, Grazer is the funniest and most reliable child actor of 2019. Happy now? Shazam!
Best Duo: Christian Bale and Matt Damon, Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferrari is a fast-paced film that may not have been quite as good if it wasn’t for the excellent pairing of Matt Damon and Christian Bale. The two actors play off one another with perfect harmony. Bale settles in easily as a nuanced hick who is never happier than when he’s behind the wheel of a car or figuring out how to make it go faster, and Damon does a perfect job of juxtaposing this freewheeling style with a straight-arrow sensibility and drive that pushes things forward. Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby (respectively) were good friends, and if you didn’t know any better, you would think Bale and Damon were also lifelong friends. It’s that, on top of everything else, that makes this film a winner.
Most Poignant Comeback: Shia LaBeouf, The Peanut Butter Falcon and Honeyboy
If there was anyone who needed a strong comeback it’s Shia Labeouf. Growing up as a child actor, LaBeouf had a bright future ahead of him… until he slipped down the wrong path as so many other child stars before him. What makes Labeouf’s journey so poignant, though, are the choices he made to ignite what is hopefully a winning comeback from the depths of madness. He didn’t just get himself clean and slowly earn his way back into the spotlight; he chose to dig deep within himself to write and star in a film that is loosely based on his own experiences growing up in the industry. Pair that with a road-trip movie where he stars alongside a brilliantly talented disabled young man, and we discover that just because you may have strayed, with the right level of introspection and the right people surrounding you, anyone can find a way to rise from the ashes and live their dreams.
Most Surprising End: Ready Or Not
If the premise of Ready Or Not doesn’t stimulate your senses, the mind-boggling climax sure will. What starts out with an interesting premise — after marrying into a rich, well-to-do family, Grace (Samara Weaving) has to play a game to prove she’s welcome into the family — soon evolves into a game of cat and mouse as she becomes the hunted after pulling Hide and Seek from the box. The catch? If she survives the night, everyone in the family will die. At least, that’s the legend. We’re never quite sure throughout the film if the family is right or if they’re simply crazy, but by the end of the film, we absolutely know which one is correct… after we’re gloriously teased with the answer. The shock alone leaves you unsure and excited.
Most Uncomfortable Sequence: Midsommar
Midsommar isn’t the greatest of films, but it is sprinkled with strange, unusual and unsettling moments that raise it above your ordinary horror fare. Unlike Uncut Gems, which is continuously unsettling by how aggressively loud and uncomfortable it is, Midsommar lulls you into a sense of serenity, only to pound you with moments that make your skin crawl. None more so than when Florence Pugh’s character witnesses her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) engaged in a non-orgy orgy, which leads to her being surrounded by the young women of the cult to let their aggression, their fears and their insecurities out in a round of ear-piercing screams. It’s not so much the scene itself that’s unsettling, but how how long it lasts. By the end, you just want to scream yourself to let the built up tension out of your system.
Best Religious Feature: Brian Banks
I don’t know if I would call Brian Banks a religious film, per se, but where it steps back on the pronouncements of God and faith, it rises in providing plenty of ideas and sensibilities that a religious movie would normally adhere to. Aldis Hodge is excellent as the title character, a man who loses his football scholarship due to being falsely arrested for raping a high school girl, and Greg Kinnear shines (as always in a film of this nature) as the head of the Innocence Project that helps clear Brian’s name. If nothing else, Brian Banks is a great reminder in the #MeToo era that although we need to take women seriously when they report sexual assault, we shouldn’t believe them outright without first gathering evidence for and/or against the accused. After all, women can use the #MeToo movement as a weapon against a man just as easily as a man can use their authority and strength as a weapon against a woman.
What do you think? Who will win and should win the Oscars this year? Do you have any movies or actors you’d like to give a shout out to for their excellence in 2019? Tell me in the comments below!