Sat. Dec 7th, 2019

How big of an Oscar contender will ‘The Irishman’ be?

Courtesy of Netflix

On Friday, September 27th, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman had its premiere at the New York Film Festival. The 3 and a half hour mob epic is not only notable as being Scorsese’s first movie produced by Netflix, but also the cast he assembled. A reunion between Goodfellas Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, but also marks Scorsese’s first collaboration with Al Pacino. The movie premiered to rapturous reviews, with some critics hailing it a masterpiece and others ranking next to Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and the aforementioned Goodfellas as one of Scorsese’s all-time bests. With Netflix’s backing and it’s all-star cast, critics and award prognosticators expect the film to be one of awards seasons biggest players. But how much of an impact will The Irishman in the various categories it will surely contend in?

Best Picture/Director

Despite being touted as one of, if not thee best, filmmaker of all time, Martin Scorsese himself has a rather minor history of actually being up on stage at the Kodak Theatre on Oscar night. With 8 Best Director nominations, he only has won once: in 2006 for The Departed, which also picked up Best Picture. The Departed was at the time of release, and still is to this day, considered to be a great movie, but the awards sweep was also seen as kind of a consolation prize to Scorsese. For years during his heyday of the 70’s and 80’s, Scorsese never actually won an Academy Award, despite making many all-time greatest movies during that period. When the time finally came in 2006, it felt a bit like a career achievement, with the Academy finally taking the opportunity to reward him without a clear alternative to choose. Scorsese has made many movies since then, and has returned to the Best Picture/Director races with both Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street. But as we learned last year with Glenn Close, the Academy may not be as taken with overdue narratives or feeling the need to reward legends like in Oscars past. 

Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor 

In most years, it feels like Best Actress is the category that is the most competitive, with Best Actor usually feels a little more predetermined or sometimes, just a barren category. This year the tables have turned, and Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor are actually extremely packed with potential nominees. Netflix will most likely campaign DeNiro in Actor, and while the idea of De Niro being nominated for playing an aging gangster in a Martin Scorsese epic seems like a foregone conclusion for at least a nomination, it might not be as sure as it seems. Right now, the race feels like it’s between Adam Driver for Marriage Story and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, while Jonathan Pryce in TIFF favorite The Two Popes, Leonardo Dicaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name, Taron Egerton in Rocketman, Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, and Cannes winner Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory all feel like potential nominees to round out the category. It’s certainly possible that DeNiro gets in, but it will most likely depend on the strength of the movie. If The Irishman is seen as more of a technical achievement than an acting showcase, he could easily lose out to more passion picks, also considering much of his role is rather subdued until after the three-hour mark.

Over in Supporting Actor, things are looking much better for the men of The Irishman. The tentative frontrunner in that category is Brad Pitt for Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and while he could easily run one of the most charming and true A-List campaigns Oscar has ever seen, his role is also fairly subdued, which is not usually what wins in the male acting categories. Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa has Al dialed up to 1,000, and it would not be surprising to see voters respond to his brash comedic performance. Joe Pesci, who came out of retirement for The Irishman and won his Best Supporting Actor statue for Goodfellas, is also looking pretty good for a nomination, which could be aided by not only his performance but his return from retirement, a possible last chance to celebrate a great actor. Looming over the entire category is Tom Hanks for his work as Fred Rodgers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which received strong reviews coming out of TIFF. If voters respond to Hanks performance and the tearjerky nature of his film, it would seem very possible he could run the table the whole season. But on the flipside, he hasn’t received an Oscar nomination since 2000 and has gotten many notable snubs since. Finally, Anthony Hopkins returns to potential awards glory in The Two Popes, and like many of his possible category mates, could easily work the narrative of “welcome back to this great, beloved actor.” With five men all potentially running on the same narrative (not to mention Willem Dafoe, who has come so close to winning in years past, for The Lighthouse) it will truly be a testament of what movies the Academy are really responding to by the nominees we see in this category. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Things are looking much more straightforward in this category. Barring some kind of massive shocker on nominations morning, The Irishman looks pretty set for a nomination in this category for Steve Zaillian, alongside other big contenders such as Greta Gerwig for Little Women and Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit.

Below-the-Line Categories

Like Adapted Screenplay, it feels like The Irishman is pretty safe to be find their way into the below-the-line, once again, especially if the fim is viewed as more of a technical achievement. The most obvious contender in these categories would be for the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker, who has won three editing Oscars for Scorsese movies and has a total of seven nominations, the most recent for 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Best Editing, which is often viewed as a bellwether for a film’s overall strength within the Academy, should be an easy get for The Irishman, particularly with Schoonmaker back in contention. Less likely might be the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, which is not as particularly flashy or appealing as some of Scorsese’s previous films as Raging Bull or Taxi Driver or Hugo, which picked up a Cinematography Oscar for Robert Richardson. With contenders like Roger Deakins allegedly one-take work in 1917 in the mix, it feels like Irishman is much less likely to take home any gold for Cinematography, and could even struggle for a nomination. The same goes for many other below-the-line categories, like Production Design, Costume Design, and Score. The Irishman is a viable contender in almost all of these categories, but it will really depend on the strength of the film and how it plays within the Academy.

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