This is a special Academy Awards for me. For the first time since I was 17 years old—and the first time since they expanded the field of nominees beyond five—I watched all of the films nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars telecast. I feel more educated about the nominees and in a better position to share my opinions than ever before. But my knowledge of this year’s nominees is only part of the reason why I can’t wait to celebrate this year in film.
In a lot of ways, movies got me through this past year. This was a year of health scares, work woes, and high anxiety, and in the midst of it all, I turned to the movies. I laughed through Booksmart and Jojo Rabbit, I cried through Avengers: Endgame and The Rise of Skywalker, I hung on for every twist and turn in Parasite and Knives Out, and I was inspired by brilliant performances like Adam Driver’s in Marriage Story, Charlize Theron’s in Bombshell, and Robert De Niro’s in The Irishman. I saw movies with friends and family, and I also embraced the simple pleasure of seeing a movie by myself. I read more reviews, I talked more analytically with fellow movie fans, and I once again followed the ups and downs of award season with the good folks at Collider FYC. In a year when I needed moments of calm in the chaos of life, I returned to one of my oldest and most cherished happy places: the popcorn-scented, peacefully dark, transportive movie theater. And in doing so, I found the escapism that has always helped me walk away from the rolling credits of a movie a little lighter and a little less burdened by life’s trials than I was before the title card appeared.
So when I curl up on the couch with my favorite people and my favorite food to watch my favorite awards show, I won’t just be celebrating my favorite movies this year. I’ll be celebrating the version of myself that I am when I watch movies and the million ways both big and small that these stories helped me, healed me, and gave me hope. And while I might be sad when my favorites inevitably lose or when my predictions turn out wrong and while I’ll always be bitter that Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Best Director and Jennifer Lopez was snubbed for one of the best performances of the year, Oscar Sunday is still one of the best days of the year. It’s a day to remember what movies mean to us, and this year, they meant everything to me.
Without further ado, let’s make some predictions! I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about most of the races this year, but I’ll try to keep my analysis brief—this is a big ballot to get through!
My Pick: 1917
My Thoughts: I love when the last category of the night is still up in the air in the days, hours, and even minutes before it’s announced, and that’s certainly true this year. Throughout award season, it’s never felt like this category was any single movie’s to lose, and that’s still true, even though 1917 seems like the safest best and surest thing at this point. It has all the requisite precursors and positive industry buzz, it’s a war film (The Academy loves those.), and it’s a truly impressive technical achievement. It did something groundbreaking with its single-take technique in such a large-scale film, making this tale of World War I feel immediate, visceral, and inescapable. And despite some claims that it’s all style and no substance, I found the performances of the two leads to be utterly captivating and its unflinching look at a war that’s not often the subject of major movies (Wonder Woman notwithstanding) heartbreaking at times and surprisingly hopeful at others. While I wouldn’t rule out the Parasite victory it seems so many are hoping for or the Jojo Rabbit upset that would truly thrill me, I still think they both have too much working against them to dethrone 1917. (For Parasite, it’s the fact that it’s going to win Best International Feature, and I don’t know if voters will want to give it two “Best Picture” wins in one night. For Jojo Rabbit, I don’t think some people can get past the satirical treatment of the subject matter.) I enjoyed 1917, and while I’m still hoping for a surprise, I do think it’s a worthy winner should voters choose to play it safe.
My Pick: Sam Mendes (1917)
My Thoughts: 1917 is a movie that at times feels sweeping and at others feels almost claustrophobically intimate. It’s the kind of movie only a masterful director at the top of his technical game could make, and Sam Mendes is exactly that. While Bong Joon-ho could surprise with a victory here for his highly stylized, creative, and compelling examination of class in Parasite, I still think that the narrative surrounding 1917 is all about Mendes and his skillful handling of his single-take technique, and it’s a narrative that’s just too strong for anyone else to break through. 1917 is the kind of movie where you walk away talking about its direction; it was a like a complex dance routine, and Mendes proved to be a masterful choreographer worthy of this accolade.
My Pick: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
My Thoughts: As soon as I saw Marriage Story, I was convinced this was Adam Driver’s award to lose, but then all the buzz shifted in Phoenix’s direction. After seeing Joker for myself, I can now safely say that the hype was warranted. His performance is startlingly physical and the kind of transformative work the Academy almost always awards in acting races. But even more than that, it was the way he played this part with such astounding empathy and a primal sense of dedication to this character arc that made every beat feel unnervingly believable—from the pathetic start of his journey to its terrifying end. I’ve always admired Phoenix’s work, and while I have a lot of issues with Joker as a whole, his performance was nothing short of extraordinary.
My Pick: Renee Zellweger (Judy)
My Thoughts: Judy is one of the few films nominated for a major award this year that I didn’t get a chance to see, but from the trailer alone, it felt like this was going to be a triumphant return to Oscar glory for Zellweger. I am partial to Scarlett Johansson’s quietly devastating work in Marriage Story myself, but there’s no denying that this has been Zellweger’s Oscar since the beginning of awards season. With nearly every precursor going her way and the double whammy of a playing a real person in a physically transformative way, there’s no way anyone else is sweeping in for the surprise in this category.
My Pick: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood)
My Thoughts: This is such a great category this year that it’s almost a shame that it’s all but a sure thing that Pitt is going to take this one home thanks to his domination of the awards show circuit this year. I ultimately can’t argue with this choice, though; his effortlessly cool persona made Cliff Booth an instantly iconic movie character. There was something so grounded, natural, and easy about his performance that you almost forgot he was acting, and that’s exactly what this role called for. With the hint of violence swirling around him at all times but a truly touching sense of loyalty to his best friend underneath it all, Pitt gave us just enough of a peek beneath the surface of this stuntman to keep us emotionally engaged on this rollicking ride through Hollywood in 1969.
My Pick: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
My Thoughts: In my mind, this award will always belong to Jennifer Lopez, whose work in Hustlers was probably my favorite performance of the year. However, since the Academy decided to completely ignore her brilliant work, I couldn’t pick against another one of my favorite actresses turning in one of her best cinematic performances. The love for Laura Dern in Hollywood has reached critical mass in recent years, so it was only a matter of time and finding the right role before she earned herself an Oscar. And that right role came in the form of a divorce lawyer whose subtle shifts in energy kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole movie. Was she a comforting confidant? A warrior going to battle? A manipulative mastermind? She often seemed to be all three at the same time, and she did so with a style totally her own. It also helps that she was given perhaps the monologue of the year, and I cannot wait to see what part of that they choose for her clip at the ceremony.
My Pick: Parasite
My Thoughts: “Original” is the name of the game here, and there was no movie more startlingly original this year than Parasite. Not only was it an eye-opening examination of class differences, poverty, and violence in a country many of us aren’t very familiar with, it was also a thriller with suspense seamlessly woven into its story. It was dramatic, darkly comedic, horrific, gory, touching, shocking, and unlike anything audiences had seen before. In addition, its plot was so tightly woven and intricate that I’m sure screenwriting students will be studying it soon if they’re not already. Although I would love to see Rian Johnson win this award for Knives Out because I think he’s one of the most interesting writers and directors out there right now, there’s no questions that Parasite best embodies what this category is all about.
My Pick: Jojo Rabbit
My Thoughts: I so badly want this award to go to Greta Gerwig for her masterful adaptation of Little Women, but after examining all the precursor awards and taking the buzz around the industry into account, I think this is Taika Waititi’s award to lose, and that is a choice I can certainly live with. Jojo Rabbit was one of my favorite movies of the year, and so much of my love for it came from the way its script deftly balanced satire, suspense, silliness, and sadness in a way that really felt like it was coming from the perspective of a child. It’s hard to write kids in a manner that feels authentic, but this movie did so in a way that was fresh, moving, and completely unique. In addition, I didn’t know until recently that the book this film was based on was much darker, and I think that’s the sign of a great adapted screenplay—taking the source material and making it your own in a way only you can. And while that’s certainly also true for Gerwig, I think Waititi’s handling of this adaptation is perhaps even more unique to his voice, which will give him the win.
My Pick: 1917
My Thoughts: This is perhaps the safest bet of the entire night. For as much as 1917 belongs to Mendes and his directorial decisions, it really belongs to Roger Deakins for how he made those decisions come to life. His technical prowess made this movie what it is, and this Oscar has been his since the day this movie premiered.
My Pick: Little Women
My Thoughts: In a battle that mimics the Adapted Screenplay category, I see this one coming down to two period pieces: Little Women and Jojo Rabbit, with the more romantic style of the former giving it the edge. The Academy loves big dresses, rich fabrics, and “costume drama” style in this category, and Little Women fits the bill nicely. Also, there was no way I was leaving my personal ballot devoid of any love for one of my favorite films of the year.
My Pick: American Factory
My Thoughts: I haven’t seen any of the documentary films up for the Oscar this year, but all the pundits seem to say that this is the film to beat. Also, I couldn’t resist giving the win to a project connected to the Obamas.
My Pick: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
My Thoughts: In another category that I’m woefully uneducated about, I turned to the experts, who seem to be in agreement that this movie has the buzz going into the Oscars. I (somewhat ashamedly) also turn to the titles of the movies in these kinds of categories to dictate my choices, and this title seems like something I’d want to watch and would want to see walk away with a win.
My Pick: Parasite
My Thoughts: I think this category comes down to Parasite and Ford v. Ferrari, and I could truly see it going either way. The quick cutting of Ford v. Ferrari’s racing scenes certainly lends credence to it being the film with perhaps the flashiest editing style, and I’d love to see this crowd-pleasing gem of a movie get some love from the Academy. However, I ultimately think Parasite’s use of editing to enhance its storytelling will lead to its victory here. From the way it effectively uses montages to its smart use of certain cuts to heighten suspense and reveal huge surprises, no other film this year was edited as cleanly and creatively as Parasite.
My Pick: Parasite
My Thoughts: I know I said earlier that Roger Deakins may be the surest bet of the night, but Parasite in this category might be tied for easiest lock.
Makeup and Hairstyling
My Pick: Bombshell
My Thoughts: The way the makeup in this film helped completely change Charlize Theron’s very recognizable face into another very recognizable face (that of Megyn Kelly) was astounding. In addition, the hairstyling and makeup in this film really helped create the atmosphere of a building where women were pressured to look perfect at all times.
My Pick: Joker
My Thoughts: All of the nominees in this category created memorable pieces of music, and I certainly would not mind John Williams winning for his Star Wars score (which reduced me to emotional rubble more than once during The Rise of Skywalker). However, the way Joker’s score enhanced the mood of the film with its deeply unsettling nature and slow build to operatic heights cannot be denied. It’s also a film scored by a woman, which is something I always want to see honored more in this category.
My Pick: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (Rocketman)
My Thoughts: I can’t believe I’m not picking Frozen 2, but “Into the Unknown” is probably the third (maybe even fourth?) best song in its own movie. In addition, the film’s snub in the Animated Feature category gave me pause concerning its chances here. So instead I’m going with a beloved musical icon—Elton John—for a truly powerful song in a film that I wish was getting more awards season love.
My Pick: Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood
My Thoughts: The production design of this film didn’t just recreate an era in Hollywood history down to the smallest details, it used marquees, billboards, architectural styles, and even cars to add a mythical quality to a story that needed to feel like it was created from the reserves of beloved memories. The film’s heart comes from its deep love for a specific time and place, and that heart lies in the look and feel of its production design.
Animated Short Film
My Pick: Hair Love
My Thoughts: In a year where diversity is sadly absent in many major categories, I think it’s hard to deny the representative power of “Hair Love.” It’s sweet, accessible, and truly entertaining, and it’s also the short film with the most name recognition in the bunch.
My Pick: Toy Story 4
My Thoughts: This is a surprisingly hard category to predict this year because so many precursors went to so many different films. However, the Academy loves Toy Story movies, and Toy Story 4 continued this franchise’s success at growing with its core audience. It was beautiful to look at, thematically resonant, and emotionally compelling—a trifecta that I think voters will want to reward, in addition to it being the film voters were probably most likely to have seen even before the nominations were announced.
Live Action Short Film
My Pick: The Neighbor’s Window
My Thoughts: In another prediction that comes from the “I didn’t see any nominees, so I’m trusting my favorite film critics” file, I’m going to go with the only English-language film of the bunch and the film that seems to have the most buzz around it right now.
My Pick: 1917
My Thoughts: The sound categories are often the trickiest to understand from a technical perspective, so I think the average Oscar voter tends to think of movies that are great technical achievements in general and awards them for most of the technical categories, sound included. And this year, there’s no more talked-about technical achievement than 1917, so I have a feeling it’s going to see some success in below-the-line categories like this one. I also think war movies tend to do well in the sound categories, which makes this prediction feel even more solid.
My Pick: 1917
My Thoughts: Let’s be honest—most Oscar voters probably don’t know the difference between the two sound categories, which is evidenced by the fact that previous years have seen many films walk away with wins in both categories. So although I actually think Sound Mixing should go to Ford v. Ferrari for its masterful mixing in its racing scenes, I think voters are going to have a winner-take-all mindset and give both sound wins to 1917—a worthy winner, if a bit less exciting one.
My Pick: 1917
My Thoughts: This category doesn’t often reward the flashiest, big-budget films, so I think that rules out both the Star Wars and Avengers films. Instead, I think the technical awards onslaught will continue for 1917 with a win for its effects and how well they worked to create such a seamless war film.