Oscar voting begins the day after New Year’s, meaning academy members should be busy powering through movies and preparing their hangover remedies so they can be good to go on Jan. 2.
We’re pretty sure about the movies that will be nominated for best picture. But which film will go on to take the top prize at the Oscars? Judging from the early slates of winners and nominees for other awards, you could make a case for six movies. Each one needs things to break a certain way on Oscar nomination morning to bolster their chances in what remains a fairly fluid race.
Here are the six leading contenders, along with the nominations they hope to earn and the nominations they need to earn when the motion picture academy reveals its choices Jan. 13.
Optimal Oscar nominations morning: Eight nods (picture, director, supporting actor, original screenplay, cinematography, film editing, production design, international film)
Nomination it needs: Song Kang Ho for supporting actor.
“Parasite” earned a SAG Awards ensemble nomination, and Song has taken a couple of critics prizes, including an honor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. If Song can land a supporting nod, it would indicate support from the acting branch voters, the academy’s largest bloc, and also boost the movie’s profile in a prominent category.
A solid overall nominations count would help too, meaning that “Parasite” could use recognition for its cinematography, production design and editing. Noms in all three would be ideal; two would be welcomed. A shutout would likely mean that Bong Joon Ho’s acclaimed film won’t be the first foreign-language movie to win best picture.
Optimal Oscar nominations morning: 11 nods (picture, director, lead actor, twice in supporting actor, adapted screenplay, cinematography, costume design, film editing, production design, visual effects)
Nomination it needs: Robert De Niro for lead actor.
De Niro failed to snag a nod at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, leading to speculation that voters are latching onto Al Pacino’s showy turn as the belligerent Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci’s subtle work playing mob boss Russell Bufalino at his expense.
Lead actor is the season’s most competitive category. De Niro, playing a passive character doing others’ bidding in “The Irishman,” will have to elbow his way through competition that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver, Joaquin Phoenix, Christian Bale and Antonio Banderas. Voters who watch “The Irishman” in a single sitting will appreciate the cumulative power of De Niro’s performance and feel the impact of its abject ending. But how many people are watching this 3½-hour movie straight through? We’ll have that answer soon enough.
“ONCE UPON A TIME ... IN HOLLYWOOD”
Optimal Oscar nominations morning: Nine nods (picture, director, lead actor, supporting actor, original screenplay, cinematography, costume design, film editing, production design)
Nomination it needs: Leonardo DiCaprio for lead actor.
DiCaprio faces the same problem as De Niro — too many noteworthy performances and just five slots to contain them. And, like De Niro, he has often found himself overshadowed by a castmate. Brad Pitt’s swaggering minimalist turn, which could easily be considered as a co-lead, has found favor with critics groups, though DiCaprio did pick up noms from the SAG Awards voters and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.
“Once Upon a Time” could still prevail without DiCaprio along for the ride. But to have both its A-list leads nominated would help reestablish the credentials of a movie that premiered in the summer, i.e., a lifetime ago in terms of awards season chronology.
Optimal Oscar nominations morning: 10 (picture, director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, film editing, production design, score, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects)
Nomination it needs: Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns for original screenplay.
A movie can win the best picture Oscar without earning any acting nominations. (“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was the last one to do it.) A movie can win without a screenplay nod. (Remember when “Titanic” was king of the world?) But if it’s shut out in both areas, you can forget about writing that acceptance speech. You won’t need it.
Mendes’ immersive war movie “1917" features superb acting. But good as he is, George MacKay isn’t going to bump out De Niro or DiCaprio or any of the other actors from movies that arrived much earlier in the season. That leaves screenplay as the make-or-break category, and it’s on the bubble there as its streamlined storytelling might be a little shy on the word count for writers branch voters.
Optimal Oscar nominations morning: Eight (picture, director, lead actress, lead actor, supporting actress, original screenplay, film editing, score)
Nomination it needs: Noah Baumbach for director.
Baumbach should land a nomination for his original screenplay, but the director field will prove more challenging. Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”) and Bong are locks, leaving Baumbach and his partner, Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), competing against Mendes, Pedro Almodóvar (“Pain and Glory”), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”) and, if the “Jojo Rabbit” cult has any pull, Taika Waititi for the remaining two spots.
You don’t need to look far to find a best picture winner whose director didn’t earn a nomination. Snubbed filmmaker Peter Farrelly bounded up to the stage just 10 months ago to collect the Oscar for “Green Book.” But approval from the directors branch would allow “Marriage Story” backers to trumpet it as a cinematic achievement and not just a feat of writing and acting. In a competitive year, it’s an essential nomination.
Optimal Oscar nominations morning: Six (picture, director, supporting actress, adapted screenplay, production design, costume design)
Nomination it needs: Waititi for director.
Like “Green Book,” “Jojo Rabbit” won the People’s Choice prize at Toronto, catapulting Waititi’s sentimental satire into the best picture race. The movie has divided critics and audiences, scoring a middling 58 on review aggregator Metacritic and grossing just over $20 million at the box office in a release that saw it play at nearly 1,000 locations.
But those who love “Jojo” are all in (“a warm hug of a movie!”), likely to put it at the No. 1 spot on their best picture ballots. And Waititi has established a devoted following for directing films as diverse as “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” If he earns a nod for directing “Jojo,” the movie is back in play. And if he somehow earns an acting nod for playing Hitler, turn out the lights. The movie is going to win best picture.