After months of buzz, weeks of speculation, and countless controversies, the Academy Awards is finally upon us. We’ve talked about the snubs, the campaigns, and the categories that ought to be. Now, the Overlords dig into who we’d like to see win on Oscar night.
Best Adapted Screenplay — Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit.
How I have been sleeping on Taika Waititi for so long? I know I’m meant to say something eloquent and insightful here about JoJo Rabbit and Taika Waititi’s unusual adaptation of the novel on which it is based (Caging Skies, which is evidently not comedic at all). But honestly, all I want to do is gush. It’s just. So. Good. As fun to watch as it is, Jojo Rabbit is also—sadly—deeply relevant. It’s a well-done, genuinely smart comedy that also has something important to say. The perfect, dryly quirky, almost Wes Anderson-esque tone, it just hits me in all the right spots. And take it from my husband, those are hard to find. —Heather Huntington
Best Original Screenplay — Rian Johnson, Knives Out.
Honestly, aside from my favorite movie of 2019, Parasite, a lot of my choices for Oscar winners were on this list of snubs, but I thought Rian Johnson did the near-impossible: He wrote a crowd-pleasing whodunnit that that managed to be both surprising and never attracted a backlash. Knives Out was fun, challenging, thought-provoking, and a little bit political. It would be immensely satisfying to see the writer/director of the best (and most underappreciated) Star Wars film win an Oscar and become the next Christopher Nolan: A director who can still put asses in a seat with an original idea. Johnson deserves this award for Knives Out, but he also deserves it for a lifetime of excellent screenplays. — Dustin Rowles
Best Cinematography — Roger Deakins, 1917 — If 1917 wins Best Picture and/or Best Director — and it’s a frontrunner at the moment — it won’t be because of director Sam Mendes, nor any of the fine performances in the film. It may have been Mendes’ idea to shoot 1917 to look like one long tracking shot, but it was arguably the all-time greatest cinematographer Roger Deakins who executed that vision. The cinematography is the most impressive thing about 1917, and 1917 is a very impressive film. This is Deakins’ 14th nomination, but he didn’t win until his 13th nom (2018’s Blade Runner 2049). They should give him the award again this year, and then name it after him starting in 2021. — Dustin Rowles
Best Supporting Actor — Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.
May Joe Pesci forgive me for this. But my choice here is Brad Pitt for his work as aging-into-insignificance stuntman Cliff Booth. As my friend Travis Woods noted for Bright Wall/Dark Room this week, OUATIH uses its three main characters (Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, Brad’s Booth, and Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate) to demonstrate the past, the present, and the future. And how Pitt captures a man stuck inside the present, at the mercy of time but realizing his inability to fight against its forward movement, is what makes this performance so awards-worthy. Cliff isn’t a good person—we could argue for a while about whether he kills wife on that boat—but Pitt’s magnetism and charm is what makes us like him anyway. The easy camaraderie he has with Leo’s Rick, the devotion shown to him by his pitbull Brandy, the way he takes control in that achingly tense scene on Spahn Ranch, facing off against the crowd of feral outsiders Charles Manson has amassed. Pitt smirks and wisecracks and in general acts like a hot know-it-all, and yet it’s clear that Cliff is a character who refuses introspection because he knows what he sees isn’t a uniformly good person. That Bruce Lee scene? Extremely colored by Cliff’s own refusal to realize he can be an asshole!. … And yet. I think about the end of OUATIH, and how quickly Pitt’s Booth springs into action to defend his friend and his friend’s family from Manson’s followers, and then when it’s over, when Cliff and Rick are going to say goodbye, and when Cliff invites him over to his hospital room the next day. “Bring bagels,” he asks, one of the only times he’s ever asked Rick for anything, one of the only times that need for human connection—what Cliff might have probably thought was a sort of weakness—is put out there. I’m not sure which other actor could do what Pitt does here in a performance that nods to his years in the industry, that makes plain the everyday rejections of this sort of life, and that still leaves open the space for growth and usefulness. Sure, Pitt looks very good with his shirt off. But the entire premise of Cliff Booth is that the man is capable of more than that, that someone can waste time and opportunities and experiences until they do something in their lives that verifies the worthiness of their existence, and Pitt captured that perfectly. —Roxana Hadadi
Best Supporting Actress — Florence Pugh, Little Women/ Laura Dern Marriage Story (tie).
Here’s where I wish there was some sort of all-around Oscar that recognizes performers who showed stupendous range in a given year. Pugh brought moxie to the wrestler biopic Fighting With the Family, then rattled us with her harrowed heroine in the horror movie Midsommar. Then, she made the world reconsider Amy March, giving a portrayal that was boldly bratty, yet empathetic and bittersweet. Alongside her, Dern presented a Marmee who was more than warm sage, simmering with heartache and repressed rage. In Marriage Story, Dern did a 180, representing for all the apologizing wives as a divorce attorney who has no patience for dawdling men, slut-shaming, or losing. As a Florence stan, I root for Pugh. But I do believe this is Dern’s year, and I’m not mad at it. After decades of memorable performances in marvelous movies like Wild At Heart, Jurassic Park, The Last Jedi, and Little Women, Dern has her fourth chance at Oscar glory. I think this will be her night, but in my wildest dreams I wish for a tie, where both of these incredible actresses could take to the stage and awe us once more. — Kristy Puchko
Best Actor — Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory.
The Best Actor race seems a lock. I’m certainly not mad that Joaquin Phoenix will finally have an Oscar, although I would have preferred it to be for another movie. Still, it stings his win will come at the cost of the true best performance of the year. Antonio Banderas isn’t playing director Pedro Almodovar in Pain and Glory, but his immensely moving and deftly drawn performance heavily echoes the persona of his long-time collaborator. In his eighth film with Almodovar, Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a film director whose best years are behind him thanks to retirement, a seemingly endless cycle of chronic pain, and a newly developed taste for smoking heroin. This broken man has succumbed to apathy and sees no escape from his pain. Until—all of a sudden—life presents him with one. Banderas stomps down his inherent charisma, revealing the shadow of a man who was once world-renowned but is now rejected. For too long, Hollywood has undervalued Banderas, typecasting him in “Latin lover” roles. With Almodovar, he’s always been given the opportunity to show his exceptional charm and hidden darkness, and Pain and Glory may be their greatest work yet. —Kayleigh Donaldson
Best Actress — Saoirse Ronan, Little Women.
Real talk the Academy Award for Best Actress should go to Lupita Nyong’o for Us. But Oscars so white plus Oscar so biased against horror movies means she was a long shot even as a former winner. Out of those who the Academy actually deigned to acknowledge, I’m rooting for Saoirse Ronan, the 25-year-old ingenue who is already on her fourth Oscar nomination. (Look out, Meryl!) In Little Women, she and Greta Gerwig proved perfect partners in giving this oft-told tale a fresh verve and thrilling urgency. Through sly smirks, gleeful bursts of slang, and eruptions of fury, Ronan painted a complicated young woman with nuance and radiance. She made audiences relate to Jo March and wish to be her, scorched skirts, broken hearts, and all. Aside from her merit, I’m also rooting for Ronan because Gerwig should be taking to that stage for Best Director. But Oscars so sexist. Here’s hoping Little Women can nonetheless snag some of the Oscar spotlight it so rightly deserves. —Kristy Puchko
Best Director — Bong Joon Ho, Parasite.
This award season, South Korean director Bong Joon Ho has been the toast of Hollywood, with the rich and famous singing the praises of his pitch-black comedy about the cruelty of capitalism. You might think that means he is a shoo-in for this prestigious honor. However, Bong is facing off against such Hollywood royalty as Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes, and Quentin Tarantino. (Also Todd Phillips, because darkest timeline.) Regardless, Bong has earned this honor. He’s built a career on films about familial love put under the strain of monster attacks (The Host), murder investigations (Mother), and merciless corporate overlords (Okja). He’s told fantastical genre tales with an eye to audience expectations and a drive to push into new terrain. He made Captain America eat a baby (Snowpiercer). And after all this, Parasite is his masterpiece, a film blistering in its satire, wildly entertaining in its twists, spiked with horror, yet humane at its core. Its cast is impeccable, making hairpin turns from physical comedy to vicious outbursts and heart-wrenching drama. It’s a film that’s transcended the language barrier to captivate the world, which is reconciling with the monsters of capitalism run amok. For all this Bong deserves Best Director. Yet all of this means, he really doesn’t need it to prove single thing. —Kristy Puchko
Best Picture — The Irishman.
So yeah, I’m pretty sure there is no way The Irishman wins this award. I’ve also accepted that I don’t think Martin Scorsese’s regret-soaked masterpiece is winning any OTHER Oscars, either, not in this year when the Academy went all-in on Todd Phillips’ Scorsese knockoff Joker. I still don’t quite grasp how that happened, but it’s fascinating to watch The Irishman—a movie about powerful men made irrelevant, about the omnipresence of violence and its corruptive qualities, about masculine responsibility masking amorality—be pushed aside for a film that mimics Scorsese’s prior edginess but refuses his maturity. Because there is a maturity to The Irishman that I think comes from a filmmaker looking back at his generations of work and reckoning with the impact he’s had, a process that is also experienced by all the main characters in The Irishman. Robert De Niro’s Frank, who was always treated with wary distance by his daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin, whose face during that news report is seared into my brain), and whose relationship with her shatters once it’s revealed that Frank assassinated one of his closest friends, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), for what now seems like very little reason. Joe Pesci’s Russell, whose mafia power was once immeasurable but who, throughout the majority of this film, is just a tired old man irritated by his wife’s constant smoke breaks. These men were myths and now they are barely anyone at all, and Scorsese’s film doesn’t regret their downfall so much as he wonders what we lose when we become who we decide we should be. When we become ourselves, who do we stop being? What choices define us, and who gets hurt because of them? What traditions matter, and which ones fall aside? I understand why The Irishman has been dismissed as a movie about “white male rage,” but I patently reject Melissa Villaseñor’s flattening of the film that way (and think that reading is sort of rich coming from someone with a documented history of pretty racist tweets). The Irishman is about violence and betrayal, yeah, but it’s most primarily about the tragedy of a certain kind of masculinity, how it corrupts and hurts everyone with whom it comes into contact. In a time when we demand more awareness from our established male filmmakers, the ruminating self-awareness of The Irishman resonates with me. It’s the Best Picture nominee I’ve come back to more often than any other this year, and its portrait of America has a melancholy honesty I can’t quite shake. —Roxana Hadadi
Header Image Source: Lionsgate