The shortened awards season this year has caused yet more confusion on the always-befuddling road to the Oscars. The chaos of having all of the major guilds and groups vote in such tight, overlapping timeframes has led to much debate on how they might or might not predict the Academy’s decisions with the same effect they have in previous years (and will next year, considering that the Academy is going back to a late February ceremony in 2021). But, with categories which are the usual mix of locks, slight favorites, and total free-for-alls, we still make our predictions, even with somewhat less guidance than usual.
BEST PICTURE: Parasite
Best Picture is still a toss-up between Parasite and 1917, and there are strong cases for both. But consider that even with the ranked choice ballot, passion matters: those first and second choice placements really count. And Parasite has held firm as the movie at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It commanded a standing ovation at its mere introduction at Screen Actors Guild awards, and it’s hard to discount the popularity that this movie has retained throughout the season, especially with actors, who constitute the single largest branch of the Academy.
BEST DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes – 1917
This, however, feels like a more knowable contest. 1917 features visually imposing and showy direction, and as Mendes has racked up award after award, he enters Sunday as the clear frontrunner.
BEST ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
The four acting prizes are even more concrete. It’s hard to imagine how any of them lose after sweeping every televised award thus far. Phoenix feels like the safest of them altogether.
BEST ACTRESS: Renée Zellweger – Judy
Surely, if people were expecting Zellweger to lose in the same fashion that Glenn Close did last year (as both appear in a movie with little to no support outside of this category), we’d know who this year’s answer to Olivia Colman would be by now?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Pitt’s affable and funny acceptance speeches have made him one of the most beloved figures of the awards season, and there’s no reason to believe that will change on Sunday.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Laura Dern – Marriage Story
I’ve heard rumblings that Scarlett Johansson could be the spoiler here, but no one has explained how Dern’s overwhelming support diminishes enough for that to happen.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Parasite
With wins at BAFTA and the WGA under its belt, things seem to be quickly moving in Parasite’s direction here, taking momentum from previous frontrunner Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. This is also the most dependable, mid-ceremony test to see if Parasite has the voter support to win the Oscars’ main prize: if it takes Original Screenplay, then it’s still on track to potentially make history at the end of the night. But if it doesn’t, then you can basically call Best Picture for 1917 right then and there.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Jojo Rabbit
Again, a case where unexpected developments in the precursors have cleared space for a new leader. This certainly isn’t a safe bet, with Little Women right there as another possible winner, but if it’s true that industry support for Jojo Rabbit is much stronger than its critical reception, then this is the easiest opportunity for the Academy to ensure that the film doesn’t go home empty-handed.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Klaus
What seemed like a sure thing for Toy Story 4 has changed in recent weeks, as Klaus has bested it at multiple major precursors. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the historical Disney-Pixar dominance of this category emerge victorious in the end, but right now, I feel most comfortable going with the momentum of Netflix’s Christmas hit.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: American Factory
When in doubt, predict the movie that seems the most formally conventional and/or topical (specifically, in regards to American society). Additionally, the extra publicity that the film has incurred – due to it being produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company – can’t hurt in terms of keeping it in voters’ minds.
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE: Parasite
Parasite is all but guaranteed to win at least one Oscar.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Joker
If 1917 overperforms, then we could hypothetically see early signs of it in the form of a win here, but there’s no compelling reason to believe that Joker, which has mostly led the field, will lose.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
In hindsight, we may be able to say that this contest was over when Elton John, accepting the Golden Globe for this song in January, made the surprising observation that it was the first award he and Bernie Taupin had won together.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: 1917
Roger Deakins was nominated here thirteen times before he won an Oscar. However, his first nomination after winning is all set to translate into another victory. This is one of the biggest locks of the night.
BEST EDITING: Parasite
This is a nailbiter between Parasite and Ford v Ferrari, and though I’ve been going back and forth between for weeks, my gut tells me to go with the movie that has the most momentum. However, I have no further comments here, because I genuinely don’t have a strong read on this.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Bombshell
Extensive physical transformations often stand out here, and Bombshell offers multiple examples of it.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Tough call, with 1917 offering a strong case in its extensive warzone sets, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s recreation of 1969 Los Angeles is the most immediately compelling contender.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Little Women
The many nineteenth century-era costumes on display in Little Women make it the nominee to beat.
BEST SOUND EDITING: 1917
BEST SOUND MIXING: 1917
War movies are always formidable contenders in the sound categories.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: 1917
And it’s also likely that 1917’s bravura style will net it another win here, adding to its strength in the technical fields – though Avengers: Endgame and even The Irishman are possible upsets.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: Hair Love
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: Brotherhood
The short film categories are notoriously hard to call, and the lack of prominent precursors means that there’s no single, preeminent method to figure things out. When it comes to making predictions, the easiest method, if nothing else, is often to simply monitor the buzz and go with the nominees that appear to have been seen and discussed the most widely.