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‘1917’ dominates our 2020 Oscar predictions, but ‘Parasite’ could surprise

George MacKay plays a British solider in Sam Mendes’ war movie “1917.”
George MacKay plays a British solider in Sam Mendes’ war movie “1917.”
(Universal Pictures)

Brad Pitt will make us laugh. Joaquin Phoenix will make us nervous. And “Little Women” will win exactly one Oscar, costume design, richly deserved, don’t get me wrong, but, wow, that’s it?

So, yes, get ready for the annual outpouring of agony and elation. Here are my final Oscar predictions for all 24 categories, including, when applicable, the places where surprises could (and, in some cases, should) happen.

BEST PICTURE

“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“1917"
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
“Parasite”

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Winner: “1917"
Could surprise: “Parasite”

You don’t have to be a #BongHive believer to see a path for “Parasite” winning best picture that goes deeper than reading the applause-meter at awards season events. (If ovations won Oscars, “Black Panther” would have taken best picture last year, not “Green Book.”)

I think “Parasite” will nab the Oscars for film editing and original screenplay, awards that are often intertwined with the eventual best picture winner. And given the love and acclaim for Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece, you’d figure it’s going to consistently land high as voters rank the nominees on the motion picture academy’s preferential ballot.

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So, yes, “Parasite” could win. But odds are it won’t. “1917" won the Golden Globe for drama and top honors from the producers and directors guilds and the British Film Academy (BAFTA). That’s a war chest full of significant precursors. It’ll rank high on voters’ ballots too. And it doesn’t have a separate category where it can honored, as “Parasite” does with the international feature film category.

I hope I’m wrong. A “Parasite” win would be thrilling, historic and a rare instance of the year’s finest movie actually winning best picture. It’d also provide an electrifying end to a ceremony that probably won’t be dripping with drama. But history leans toward “1917.”

“1917" filmmaker Sam Mendes could earn his second Oscar for director.
“1917" filmmaker Sam Mendes could earn his second Oscar for director.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

DIRECTOR

Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Sam Mendes, “1917"
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”

Winner: Mendes
Could surprise: Bong

Mendes won the Directors Guild’s prize, and since 64 of 71 of the DGA’s honorees have gone on to take the Oscar, it’s hard not to play the percentages here. But ... in the decade since the academy expanded the best picture category and re-established the preferential voting system, just six movies have won both picture and director. So, again, there’s a decent chance that “Parasite’s” popular director will take the stage at least three times during the ceremony. (As I’ve already noted, I think “Parasite” will win the Oscar for original screenplay. And Bong will accept the international feature award.)

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“Joker” lead actor Joaquin Phoenix is seeking his first Oscar.
“Joker” lead actor Joaquin Phoenix is seeking his first Oscar.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

LEAD ACTOR

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

Winner: Phoenix

Now we’re entering the locks in the acting races. No surprises. The suspense will come when Phoenix arrives at the podium, collects the Oscar and starts rubbing his unshaven face and says ... well, what will he say??? Phoenix’s unpredictable speeches, along with Brad Pitt’s stand-up routine, have been a highlight of this awards season. I think he’s saving something special for the Oscars.

Renée Zellweger portrayed Judy Garland in “Judy.”
Renée Zellweger portrayed Judy Garland in “Judy.”
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

LEAD ACTRESS

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Renée Zellweger, “Judy”

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Winner: Zellweger

Many people tell me they’re worried that Zellweger could be this year’s Glenn Close and fall victim to a stunning upset. Don’t fret. Before Olivia Colman beat Close in this category last year, she had already won a Golden Globe and the British Film Academy’s prize. Colman didn’t come out of nowhere. Zellweger, on the other hand, has won everything. And that’s not stopping now.

Brad Pitt earned an Oscar as a producer of “12 Years a Slave.” A win for “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” would be his first for acting.
Brad Pitt earned an Oscar as a producer of “12 Years a Slave.” A win for “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” would be his first for acting.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

Winner: Pitt

Dear Brad: Please do not let the importance of the Oscars stop you from delivering another perfect stand-up set. In these trying times, we need this one small thing from you. Swipe right, for the love of all things good.

Laura Dern could earn her first Oscar for her portrayal of a divorce attorney in “Marriage Story.”
Laura Dern could earn her first Oscar for her portrayal of a divorce attorney in “Marriage Story.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”

Winner: Dern

Five Golden Globes, an Emmy and ... finally ... an Oscar. It’s a richly deserved win and will make for a great cutaway shot to proud parents Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd in the audience.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“The Irishman,” Steven Zaillian
“Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi
“Joker,” Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
“Little Women,” Greta Gerwig
“The Two Popes,” Anthony McCarten

Winner: “Jojo Rabbit”
Could surprise: “Little Women”

When “Little Women” won the USC Scripter prize, I thought Gerwig had a strong chance to become the first woman in 12 years (!) to win a screenplay Oscar. Then Waititi prevailed at the Writers Guild awards and the BAFTAs for his big-swing, tear-down adaptation of Christine Leunens’ book “Caging Skies.” Gerwig’s version of “Little Women” brims with intelligence and inventive ideas ... and the only Oscar it’s probably going to win is costume design. Yeah, that’s not messed-up. Not at all.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“Knives Out,” Rian Johnson
“Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach
“1917,” Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino
“Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won

Winner: “Parasite”
Could surprise: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

Tarantino has won this Oscar twice and joked (I think he was kidding) that the award should be renamed the Tarantino. And for a long time, it was assumed this would be a lay-up win for him, perhaps on the way to a long overdue Oscar for director. But then, as was the case for “Jojo Rabbit,” “Parasite” prevailed at the Writers Guild and BAFTAs. Now it feels like the settled place to honor Bong, along with co-screenwriter Han.

ANIMATED FEATURE

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
“Klaus”
“Missing Link”
“Toy Story 4"

Winner: “Toy Story 4"
Could surprise: “Missing Link”

Netflix’s enjoyable yuletide origin story, “Klaus,” won the top prize at the BAFTAs and the Annie Awards, an industry event for animators. But Oscar voters reward the big studio movies here, meaning “Toy Story 4" probably prevails for what should be the last roundup for Woody and friends.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

“American Factory”
“The Cave”
“The Edge of Democracy”
“For Sama”
“Honeyland”

Winner: “American Factory”
Could surprise: “Honeyland”

“American Factory,” the first film released by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, is the most widely seen and taps into election year issues of job security and income inequality. “Honeyland,” though, showed up both here and in the international feature category, indicating solid support for this beautiful story of a Macedonian beekeeper.

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE

“Corpus Christi”
“Honeyland”
“Les Misérables”
“Pain and Glory”
“Parasite”

Winner: “Parasite”

Maybe you’ve heard of this movie. It’s pretty good!

CINEMATOGRAPHY

“The Irishman,” Rodrigo Prieto
“Joker,” Lawrence Sher
“The Lighthouse,” Jarin Blaschke
“1917,” Roger Deakins
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Robert Richardson

Winner: Deakins

Two times this season I watched movies and thought, “OK. That Oscar race is settled.” The first came when Dern eviscerated the disparate societal standards for mothers and fathers in “Marriage Story.” And the second arrived about two minutes into “1917,” but especially midway through the film when the action shifts to night. I remember leaning over to my friend, film critic Christy Lemire, and whispering, “OK. Deakins is just showing off now.”

FILM EDITING

“Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland
“The Irishman,” Thelma Schoonmaker
“Jojo Rabbit,” Tom Eagles
“Joker,” Jeff Groth
“Parasite,” Jinmo Yang

Winner: “Ford v Ferrari”
Could surprise: “Parasite”

This is a coin flip between two movies that expertly build tension. I’m landing on “Ford v Ferrari,” but only after changing my mind about a dozen times in the last week.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

“The Irishman,” Bob Shaw and Regina Graves
“Jojo Rabbit,” Ra Vincent and Nora Sopková
“1917,” Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh
“Parasite,” Lee Ha Jun and Cho Won Woo

Winner: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Could surprise: “1917"

This is another category that had long seemed fated to go to “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” but now seems to be on shaky ground. Those trenches and dugouts in “1917" will woo many voters, while “Parasite’s” house has been celebrated as the film set of the year. But I still think the hometown movie has the edge.

ORIGINAL SCORE

“Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“1917,” Thomas Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams

Winner: “Joker”
Could surprise: “1917"

The Icelandic Guðnadóttir’s sensitive score takes another award, the latest in a series of historic victories for the composer.

ORIGINAL SONG

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” from “Toy Story 4"; music and lyric by Randy Newman
"(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” from “Rocketman”; music by Elton John, lyric by Bernie Taupin
“I’m Standing With You,” from “Breakthrough”; music and lyric by Diane Warren
“Into the Unknown,” from “Frozen 2"; music and lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“Stand Up,” from “Harriet”; music and lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

Winner: "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”
Could surprise: “Stand Up”

It’s possible that Erivo, also nominated for lead actress, prevails, making her the youngest person to join the EGOT club. (Daytime Emmys count, right?) She’d also become the second black woman to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, following Whoopi Goldberg. Countering that impulse to make history, voters can give John another prize 25 years after “The Lion King.” Count the headlights on the highway on the drive home with your Oscar, Sir Elton.

The Academy Awards are fast approaching and Oscar pools are being organized. Let our film critics Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang help you analyze the major categories with their predictions.

COSTUME DESIGN

“The Irishman,” Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
“Jojo Rabbit,” Mayes C. Rubeo
“Joker,” Mark Bridges
“Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Arianne Phillips

Winner: “Little Women”
Could surprise: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

When in doubt, lean toward the period movie that doesn’t have [expletive] filthy hippies.

MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING

“Bombshell,” Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker
“Joker,” Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou
“Judy,” Jeremy Woodhead
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White
“1917,” Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole

Winner: “Bombshell”

Another year, another Oscar to a movie that transforms its actors into famous figures.

SOUND EDITING

“Ford v Ferrari,” Don Sylvester
“Joker,” Alan Robert Murray
“1917,” Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Wylie Stateman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Matthew Wood, David Acord

Winner: “Ford v Ferrari”
Could surprise: “1917"

The sound categories come down to the boom-boom of “1917" versus the vroom-vroom of “Ford.” Give this one to “Ford.”

SOUND MIXING

“Ad Astra,” Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano
“Ford v Ferrari,” Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow
“Joker,” Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland
“1917,” Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

Winner: “1917"
Could surprise: “Ford v Ferrari”

Boom-boom.

VISUAL EFFECTS

“Avengers: Endgame,” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick
“The Irishman,” Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli
“The Lion King,” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy
“1917,” Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy

Winner: “1917"
Could surprise: “Avengers: Endgame”

That “1917" clip of the German plane crashing into the barn has been burned into voters’ brains. I’m seeing it in my dreams too, only it isn’t a barn that the plane is obliterating ... it’s my laptop. And I didn’t save this story! (I had the guts to pick “Parasite,” right?)

ANIMATED SHORT

“Dcera (Daughter)”
“Hair Love”
“Kitbull”
“Memorable”
“Sister”

Winner: “Hair Love”
Could surprise: “Kitbull”

The charming “Hair Love,” the story of a black father doing his best to style his young daughter’s natural hair while Mom is away, is the best-known of the nominees, though Pixar’s “Kitbull” is right there too and it centers on animal abuse.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

“In the Absence”
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”
“Life Overtakes Me”
“St. Louis Superman”
“Walk Run Cha-Cha”

Winner: “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”
Could surprise: “St. Louis Superman”

The story of a Kabul school teaching girls to skateboard (and challenge the patriarchy) should win. It recently prevailed at the BAFTAs.

LIVE ACTION SHORT

“Brotherhood”
“Nefta Football Club”
“The Neighbors’ Window”
“Saria”
“A Sister”

Winner: “Brotherhood”
Could surprise: “The Neighbors’ Window”

“Brotherhood,” the beautifully photographed story of a Tunisian family dealing with ideological divisions, looks to be the favorite.


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