Tue. Oct 15th, 2019

2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions: BEST PICTURE (April)

I’m baaaaaack.

It took a while, I know. My peers have already kicked off their 2020 predictions (as I normally do, I just needed some time) but I’m ready to take on this year, which already looks stacked as hell.

At this point last year I was really high on Widows. It looked great on paper and probably should have been a bigger box office and awards contender but it just slipped through the cracks. I had Vice (then Untitled), BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther lined up with close calls for First Man, If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, all of which earned some level of Oscar success, and even some wins, earlier this year. But then, I also had Ad Astra, which wasn’t even close to ready by year’s end and even now seems in flux. It’s supposed to have a May 24th release but all we have is a single official production photo of Brad Pitt. It seemed like it could have been a Cannes opener contender but that’s not happening. It could still show up as in In Competition film.

So what from this list will ‘look good on paper’ only to fumble? It’s hard to tell. The summer and fall festivals will tell us a lot. The Cannes lineup is being announced on Thursday, April 18th and any non-Netflix American films that show up (other than the previously announced The Dead Don’t Die from Jim Jarmusch) will keep the lights on for those predictions a bit longer.

We have a bonafide hit in Jordan Peele’s Us but can it hold court all year long the way that Get Out did? I don’t think so, but it will keep Next Up status for a little while.

Director Sam Mendes, 1917 (Universal)

With Green Book, Universal had its first Best Picture win since 2001’s A Beautiful Mind and this year finds itself in a very good place with 1917 from Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty). The Oscar pedigree on this film is second to none.

  • Score: Thomas Newman (14-time nominee)
  • Cinematography: Roger Deakins (14-time nominee, Won 1)
  • Costumes: Jacqueline Durran (6-time nominee, Won 1)
  • Film Editing: Lee Smith (3-time nominee, won 1)
  • Production Design: Dennis Gassner (6-time nominee, won 1)
  • Sound Mixing: Scott Millan (9-time nominee, won 4)

It’s hard not to think that, at the very least, this is going to be a nomination behemoth, probably even the leader. There isn’t a more ‘good on paper’ contender than 1917 at the moment and I know the production is working furiously to hit its Christmas Day target. Of course, they also have Tom Hooper’s Cats opening just five days earlier…

Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Pacino in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Sony/Columbia)

Sony/Columbia has an impressive slate this year and I realize I have three of their films listed in my top 10. Unrealistic, I know. It’s tough to say which of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Little Women or Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood won’t end up making the cut – you can make an argument for any of them failing. ABDITN could be this year’s Saving Mr. Banks. OUATIH could find itself with Tarantino fatigue. Little Women is yet another remake. If it’s finished in time, the Tarantino is probably hitting Cannes. With a July 26th release date it would be the film’s only festival appearance, although it probably doesn’t need it the way that the other two films, fall and winter releases, might.

Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman in Harriet (Focus Features)

Focus Features, which had great success two years ago with Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread and Victoria and Abdul, had a rough time last year with too many releases that didn’t find their audiences until it was too late. This year, they have two major contenders and if they keep a rein on that they could find themselves swimming in nominations. I’m talking of course about Harriet, the biopic of the legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman and the feature film of the massively successful and multi Emmy-winning series Downton Abbey. Harriet looks to be the best chance for another black woman to finally earn a Best Actress win since Halle Berry broke through that door with 2001’s Monster’s Ball. It would also secure star Cynthia Erivo EGOT status in record time. Its director, Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) could become the first black woman ever nominated for Best Director. There’s a lot of history, in many ways, riding on this film and its success. Focus also has the Untitled Todd Haynes (tentatively titled Dry Run) that could be Anne Hathaway’s Erin Brockovich.

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci on the set of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (Netflix)

Netflix finally broke through many Oscar ceilings earlier this year with Roma earning the streamer’s first Best Picture nomination and a Best Director win for Alfonso Cuarón, his second. This year they have not just one but four potential heavy hitters that will try and do it again. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman feels like it has the most potential. Classic mobster backdrops are a comfort zone for Scorsese and the Academy. Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat is a super timely film about journalists exposing the taxes of political powerhouses and stars Meryl Streep (the event that spawned the Panama Papers). But then, we thought the same thing about The Post a few years ago and while that film managed a Best Picture and a Best Actress nomination for Streep, it came up short everywhere else. The Last Thing He Wanted from Dee Rees is something to keep an eye on. Her Mudbound was Netflix’s first real Oscar success, earning four nominations and two records/history in the process (Mary J. Blige became the first woman ever to be nominated for a song and a performance in the same year for the same film, Rachel Morrison became the Oscars’ first ever female cinematographer nominee). Let’s face it, Mudbound walked so that Roma could run. Depending on how Netflix shakes out its priorities, Rees could (like Lemmons above) be in the running as the first black female Best Director nominee. Then we have The Pope, from Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles (City of God). The magic touch here though is writer Anthony McCarten. His screenplays have been behind no less than three of the last five Best Actor winners: Eddie Redmayne (Theory of Everything), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) and Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody). All three films were also nominated for Best Picture with the latter two scooping up other wins as well. That makes The Pope a serious enough contender at this stage and a very good one for its lead, Jonathan Pryce.

(From L-R): Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (Writer/Director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). (Fox Searchlight – Photo by Kimberley French)

Fox Searchlight is by far the most successful studio of this decade with its three Best Picture wins (2013’s 12 Years a Slave, 2014’s Birdman and 2017’s The Shape of Water). Not only that, it’s also one of the most deft at handling multiple films and getting the most nominations out of them. Last season they had three films: The Favourite, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Isle of Dogs. Collectively they grabbed 15 nominations but only a single win (that shocking Best Actress triumph for Olivia Colman over 7-time nominee Glenn Close). This year they have Jojo Rabbit from Taika Waititi as their main push. The film is about a young boy in Hitler’s army who finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish boy in their home. Hitler is played none other than the director himself and the anticipation for this film is pretty palpable. Assuming its tone is of a darkly comic satire as his What We Do in the Shadows vampire flick and television show are, it could be a fun fall to see how it plays. The studio also has the Natalie Portman astronaut film Lucy in the Sky, Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy, his very long awaited follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild and Nomadland from Chloe Zhao and starring two-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand. One thing that this year will show us about Fox Searchlight is what the impact of Disney buying 20th Century Fox will have on the studio’s awards campaigns. Disney had a big breakthrough at the Oscars with Black Panther and that taste of gold might be one they go for again this year. But will they prioritize their myriad of Disney/Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars properties over the most successful Oscar studio of the decade?

L to R: Jiang Yongbo, Aoi Mizuhara, Chen Han, Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Li Xiang, Lu Hong, Zhao Shuzhen in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell for A24 (Courtesy of Big Beach)

A healthy batch of studios have films warming the bench for any of these movies to fail but it’s tough to know exactly what their awards pushes are going to be. A24, like last year, is stacking some of their heavy hitters in the summer including Ari Aster’s Hereditary follow-up Midsommer and Lulu Wang’s Sundance hit The Farewell with Best Actress contender Awkwafina. They have Trey Edward Shults’s Waves, which at this point has no release date and purported three-hour first cut and also Uncut Gems from the Safdie Brothers and starring Adam Sandler to keep an eye on. Warner Bros. has Just Mercy dated for January 17, 2020, which is a bit suspicious. A platform release in December seems more likely (or at least smarter) because by this time we’ll already be deep into awards season with the moved up dates. They also have Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn coming in November and could be their bigger push. Big Fox has Ad Astra, as mentioned above, but also the racing drama Ford v. Ferrari with Christian Bale and Matt Damon set for November. Amazon has The Report with Adam Driver and Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein but it could be more of an acting play. Lionsgate has the star-studded Roger Ailes film (still untitled but probably Fair and Balanced) with Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney and John Lithgow while Paramount is hoping for Bohemian Rhapsody-like numbers with its Elton John biopic Rocketman which will debut out of competition at Cannes before hitting theaters on May 31st.

Here are my unranked 2020 Oscar nomination predictions in Best Picture for April. Keep an eye out for more predictions and the return of Frontrunner Friday soon.

1917 (Universal) December 25th
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony/Columbia) November 22nd
Harriet (Focus Features) October
The Irishman (Netflix)
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) November 27th
Just Mercy (Warner Bros.) January 17, 2020
The Laundromat (Netflix)
Little Women (Sony/Columbia) December 25th
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony/Columbia) July 26th
Untitled Roger Ailes Project aka Fair and Balanced (Lionsgate) December 20th
Ad Astra (Fox) May 24th
Cats (Universal) December 20th
The Farewell (A24) July 12th
Ford v. Ferrari (Fox) November 15th
The Last Thing He Wanted (Netflix)
Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros.) November 1st
Queen & Slim (Universal)
The Personal History of David Copperfield (TBD)
The Pope (Netflix)
The Report (Amazon)
Rocketman (Paramount) May 31st
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) December 20th
Us (Universal) March 22nd
Waves (A24)

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