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Newsletter: The path to victory for six Oscar best picture contenders

An Oscar nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio would boost the chances of “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
An Oscar nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio would boost the chances of “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
(Andrew Cooper / Columbia Pictures)

There are six movies that could win the best picture Oscar in February. Maybe seven, but it’s going to take an act of divine intervention to boost “The Two Popes.” And since God has been thanked less at the Oscars than Harvey Weinstein, that’s probably not going to happen.

Welcome to the Gold Standard, the newsletter from the Los Angeles Times that helps guide you through the ins and outs of the awards season leading up to the Oscars.

I’m Glenn Whipp, The Times’ awards columnist and your newsletter host.

The Oscar nominations the main contenders need in order to win

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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 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.

I took a look at the six favorites — “Parasite,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” “1917,” “Marriage Story” and “Jojo Rabbit” — and predicted the nominations that each film could earn and noted the nomination each needed to earn. (And yes, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the great Song Kang Ho.)

Michael B. Jordan, left, and Jamie Foxx star in “Just Mercy.”
Michael B. Jordan, left, and Jamie Foxx star in “Just Mercy.”
(Michael Nagle / For The Times)

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Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan see God’s work in their new movie

A couple of actors who are thanking God are Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, stars of the moving legal drama “Just Mercy.” I had lunch with them a looooong time ago at the Toronto Film Festival, shortly before the film’s premiere, and they shared the story of a mysterious ailment that plagued Jordan during the shoot.

The night before the first day of filming, Jordan woke up in excruciating pain. His left side was numb and throbbing. Jordan figured it was a pinched nerve. But the discomfort — which he calls the worst pain he has felt in his life — continued for a month. No one could figure out what was wrong.

Foxx called a physician friend to come to Atlanta and examine Jordan. The doctor couldn’t find the problem, telling Jordan: “Sometimes when you can’t diagnose something, that’s something God is putting on you.”

In the film, Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, an attorney dedicated to freeing people wrongly convicted. It’s grueling work and often disheartening. Jordan channeled his pain and frustration into his portrayal.

“I’m always trying to find things to add an extra layer,” Jordan says. “That was something I had to go through. What’s more important? Temporary pain or a movie that’s going to last forever?”

“Just Mercy” is playing in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York, and will expand nationwide Jan. 10.

Sam Mendes, director and co-writer of the war drama “1917.”
Sam Mendes, director and co-writer of the war drama “1917.”
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Sam Mendes on ‘1917': ‘Not a history lesson’

The intense, involving war drama “1917" opened on Christmas, and Times film writer Josh Rottenberg spoke with filmmaker Sam Mendes about its origins (it’s dedicated to his grandfather, who fought in World War I) and its immersive construction.

Made to look as if it were filmed in a single, unbroken take, “1917" tells the ticking-clock story of two British soldiers embarking on a fraught mission to deliver an urgent message.

“I’ve made this movie for as big an audience as possible, not for people who understand history,” Mendes said. “It’s not a history lesson or ‘Eat your peas and cabbage.’ You’re trying to articulate some larger truth. It’s when human beings are pushed to their absolute limit that you begin to understand a bit more about the human experience: what it is to walk hand-in-hand with death, to not know whether you’re ever going to see your family again, to have your friend die in your arms.”

“1917" is one of the six movies I mentioned earlier in this newsletter, an Oscar contender that has the potential to go all the way.

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.


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