The 92nd Academy Awards will be held this Sunday and for the first ever time, I will be filling out an Oscar ballot for WCBN Sports. In the past two years I have ranked every movie I saw that year in a column typically published in December. This year, however, I refrained from doing so and instead published a Best of the 2010s movie rank in December, and for films explicitly in 2019, I’m publishing this piece. In this article I will hand out awards in each of the major categories, as well as my prediction on who I think will win, and at the end have attached my top 10 movies of the year rank. With that said, let’s dive in:
My pick: Parasite
Will be: 1917
For the second straight year, the best film was a foreign one. But for the second straight year, the question is whether the Academy will, at long last, coronate a foreign-language film as Best Picture, which it is yet to do in its 92 year history. Last year, Roma was snubbed of that honor and now we wonder whether Parasite will suffer the same fate. A Korean picture from director Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite is a movie that takes you on a wild ride, zigzagging like a roller coaster in and out of genres at will. Parasite is a searing commentary about class, showing how the poor and rich conflict, how neither are truly heroes and neither are truly villains, one ignorant and the other cunning, and also the manner in which this class conflict pit two sides against themselves. It is sewed together by a great score that suits the action and mood at every turn, with stellar editing, and acting to go along with its triumphant screenplay (the funniest non-comedy of the year), culminating in a rip-roaring 132 minutes that leave it with a shot to remake American perceptions of Korean cinema. Parasite is simply a landmark achievement for the Asian film industry, and an eye-opener for the American film lexicon. It is the best movie of the year and it should win Best Picture. It also was by far the most popular Best Picture pick at awards shows across America the past few months. It goes into the Sunday as the favorite, but also knowing that the foreign-language stigma has long prevented movies like Parasite from winning. Unfortunately, I’m a cynic when it comes to the Academy and I have to see it to believe it, so I’m tabbing 1917 as the will be pick since it won at the Golden Globes, but am desperately hoping to be proven wrong.
My pick: Sam Mendes, 1917
Will be: Sam Mendes, 1917
The old theory was that Best Picture and Best Director normally aligned, and that in theory, makes sense. But in recent years, the split has actually happened more often than not, occurring 5 of the last 7 ceremonies. My ballot would prefer a split but does not see that happening. I’ve made it quite clear that I think Parasite was the best movie of the year, but in terms of raw directorial work, I prefer Mendes over Bong Joon-Ho for this award. Parasite was masterfully done no question, but 1917 was exhilaratingly shot and was a touch of genius from director Sam Mendes. A film made in the one-shot style of Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) five years earlier, 1917 is able to capitalize on its unique camera style by pairing it with the gigantic backdrop of the western front of WWI, as opposed to the narrow corridors in Birdman. As a result we get a crisp and expansive image of war, that aims to transport you to the battlefield not through visual realism a la Saving Private Ryan (although the visual realism is very good) but through combining the sights, sounds, and emotion of war, packing them together, and then exploding them onto the big screen. You see the rotting corpses and the buzzing of the flies, seemingly in your ears. You get the dark moments of silence broken by sudden gunshots that ring out in jarring fashion. And that all goes back to the direction. Think of it this way: Parasite was built on the combined strength of its acting + screenplay + score + direction, 1917 was built almost entirely on its score + direction, with Mendes seemingly flexing his muscles throughout. While Joon-Ho is the award season favorite, I see Mendes as likely to get the award at the academy because if 1917 wins Best Picture, it’s hard to believe he won’t also get Best Director. And if it doesn’t, then the increasing rate of Director/Picture splits makes it decently probable that he could take this award anyway.
My pick: Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Will be: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
I did not feel that either Best Actor or Best Actress were particularly strong fields this year and so I had a bit of trouble choosing my preferred winner. It ultimately came down to Adam Driver in Marriage Story, Banderas, and Phoenix. I was not nearly as wowed by Driver as others, and while I thought Phoenix was really good, I decided to lean towards giving the nod to Banderas for his crisp performance of an aging movie director in the Spanish film Pain and Glory. An underratedly good movie that would win best foreign language film in most years (ones in which Parasite doesn’t exist), Banderas brings a mix of regret, melancholy, optimism, and lust to his character, portraying a director looking to overcome a writer's block, as he traverses his past and longs for a more enjoyable future. However, the “will be” pick seemed pretty obvious to me, and I think they will ultimately give the award to Phoenix. The moment that Joker was nominated for 11 awards, it became hard to believe that it wouldn’t take home at least one, and with Phoenix long having been one of Hollywood’s better actors yet still not having an Oscar, it just makes sense that they will tab him. The other possibility is they give it to Driver, who is technically the pre-award favorite, but I just think it makes more sense for Phoenix to win given the circumstance.
My pick: Renée Zellwegger, Judy
Will be: Renée Zellwegger, Judy
Like Best Actor, I was pretty conflicted here. There wasn’t one performance that seemed to be an obvious winner, and this category also included the most baffling snub of all: Lupita Nyong’o in Us. Not just was Nyong’o an obvious contender for the category, she is quite literally the favorite for the award in terms of pre-award metrics (she cleaned up in this category at most smaller award shows). Yet the Academy failed to even nominate her. It’s like if Joe Burrow was not even named a Heisman finalist this year, simply incomprehensible. But with Nyong’o off the board and not an option, I decided to go with Zellwegger for her performance as Judy Garland in the biopic Judy. Zellwegger portrayed the declining but troubled superstar in her final years of life, and while Judy was nowhere near a great movie, Zellwegger’s performance stood out, acquiring the body type to play the gauntly thin Garland and was able to embody the somber emotion, the internal pain, and the wistful hope of a character whose career was much akin to captivity. It was not a perfect effort, but this was not a perfect category and I think that Zellwegger was just a hair better than Scarlett Johansen in this diluted Best Actress field, and I do ultimately think that the Academy will tab her as well.
Best Supporting Actor
My pick: Al Pacino, The Irishman
Will be: Brad Pitt, Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood
I’m throwing a curveball here. While the heavy favorite for this award is Brad Pitt (something I’m not opposed to and will discuss more in a second), and an actor from The Irishman is the likely runner up, I’m actually taking a different actor in that same movie as my pick: Al Pacino. Yes, it’s been co-star Joe Pesci who’s gotten the buzz as the most likely to win if it isn’t Pitt, I found Pacino’s portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa to be magnificent. Magnetizing, charismatic, witty, and it drew viewers in. Hoffa was the only well-known historical figure to be a main character in the movie, and so it was an inherently more difficult role than portraying the Buffalino crime boss as Pesci did. Pesci to be clear was very good too (as always), in a more gentle and reflective role than the high energy, buzzing characters that he made his mark with in the 80s and 90s in Raging Bull and Goodfellas. But for this, I liked the charisma and energy of Pacino more than the softer Pesci. If I had to rank this category, I would go 1.) Pacino, 2.) Pitt, 3.) Pesci, as Brad Pitt was impressive in Once Upon A Time, no doubt. The only difference is that it didn’t feel extraordinary. It felt like Brad Pitt doing a Brad Pitt character. That said, it works because the character that Tarantino asked Pitt to play is right in his wheelhouse, and Pitt smashed it out of the ballpark. Despite being one of the most famous and influential movie stars of his generation, Pitt still lacks an Academy Award and by all indications, that’s going to change on Sunday. I will have no issues if it does, although it’s not my first choice. Don’t think that this is simply a career achievement award for Pitt, but the reality is that him not having an Oscar already makes this all the more inevitable.
Best Supporting Actress
My pick: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Will be: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
For a movie that was soft and compassionate, it was surprisingly the electricity of Laura Dern that shone brightest in Marriage Story. Meant to be the purely cynical and uncompromising side of our marriage legal system, contrasting the gently separating couple, Dern explodes onto the scene like a keg of dynamite and blows everything up. Vicious in her attacks against Driver’s character and willing to do whatever to win Johansen’s character more custody of the couple’s child, Dern emanates out of the screen and is like every obnoxious divorce lawyer you’ve ever seen in TV advertisements. She’s so effective because of the stark contrast to the main characters, and the similarity of her portrayal to real life divorce lawyers. While Johansen and Driver are the humanity, Dern is the system devouring the characters like Pac-Man. Culminating in a wild scene where she dukes it out with Ray Liotta during the court hearing, Dern is precise and expressive, and constructs her character brilliantly. I have Dern as the easiest pick and more or less so do the critics. During the pre-Oscar run up, Dern won the most supporting actress awards, but Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers was at least within shouting distance. But then J-Lo failed to even be nominated and without that option even available, it’s not clear who even has a case (Florence Pugh in Little Women maybe?). Thus, Dern is my pick and the obvious pick to be the Academy’s choice on Sunday.
Best Original Screenplay: Parasite
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Irishman
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 4
Best International Feature: Parasite
Best Original Score: 1917
Best Cinematography: 1917
Best Costume Design: Little Women
Bonus: My Top 10 Movies of the Year
2. The Irishman
3. Marriage Story
4. Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood
5. Little Women
7. Pain and Glory
8. Jojo Rabbit
9. Toy Story 4
10. The Farewell