The Oscars will always cause controversy. There will always be snubs, surprises and films or performances we all think should have been nominated but weren’t. But in some ways, that’s what makes this awards so endearing. In a medium where anything is possible, why shouldn’t the Academy of Motion Pictures delight us, surprise us and infuriate us with their votes? The lack of diversity and seemingly political/populist slant seen in many nominations aside, the good stuff does tend to rise to the top.
The top spot this year belongs to Joker, of course. Clocking in with 11 nominations — a record for the comic book genre — this cultural phenomenon continues to laugh all the way to the bank. The film has ignited debate about its depiction of contemporary America, but that was the kinda the point. A mentally challenged Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is bullied for two hours until he retaliates with mass shootings — a grim climax feels is sadly familiar in these divisive times. What cannot be argued is that Phoenix has earned his spot at the top of the best actor leaderboard for his star turn. The film’s best costume and screenplay nominations are more questionable, and have sparked some controversy.
The other front runners are less controversial in general. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood both scored 10 nominations. Matching the two giants at 10 nominations is Sam Mendes’ 1917, which got a boost at the Golden Globes with wins for Best Director and Best Picture. Other biggies include: Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women and Marriage Story, all of which recorded six noms. Also winning this year in terms of recognition is Netflix. Having edged out their competition at Sony by five nominations, the Academy has acknowledged Netflix and the streaming era as a force to be reckoned with.
While all of that is great, the lack of female and people of color representation in this year’s noms is still an indicator that progress needs to be made. By not nominating the deserving Greta Gerwig (Little Women) for Best Director, the Academy has shockingly still only nominated five women in the history of this specific award. To put that into perspective: only five of the 455 best director nominees have been female. Five! Other female omissions include: Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) for Best Supporting Actress, Lupita Nyong’o (Us) for Best Actress, Awkwafina (The Farewell) for Best Actress and Beyoncé (The Lion King) for Best Song.
Equally competitive are the actor categories. Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy and Robert DeNiro were beat out by Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes) for the fifth spot in the Best Actor category, while both Robert Pattinson and Willam Defoe were left off the best supporting actor ballot for their spellbinding work on The Lighthouse.
Fans of Uncut Gems, The Farewell, A Hidden Life and Dolemite is My Name spent nomination day feeling sorrier than Arthur Fleck, since none of these acclaimed titles received a single nomination.
For more surprises, tune into ABC on February 9 for the ceremony, which will be held at the Dolby Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Until then, you can read the full list of nominees here. Below, our thoughts on who should win and who will win in some of the big categories.
Will Win: 1917
Should Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Why?: After a long awards season, it looks like 1917 has outflanked Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in the best picture race. Tarantino’s joyride through 1969 Los Angeles is still our favorite film of 2019. Thanks to his A-list cast, the director’s cocktail of sights, sounds and scenarios comes to life in a way that is beyond entertaining. To paraphrase the adorable Ms. Butters, this has “some of the best acting I’ve seen in my whole life.”
Will Win: Bong Joon-Ho
Should Win: Bong Joon-Ho
Why? The Academy’s Best Director branch is overflowing with overseas voters, which means foreign directors have a chance to win if their work is worthy. Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo Del Toro are recent examples, and Bong Joon-Ho will join them thanks to his Korean New Wave masterpiece.
Best International Feature Film
Will Win: Parasite
Should Win: Parasite
Why? Bong Joon-Ho’s upstairs-downstairs comedy has a few things going for it. It’s the highest grossing foreign release ever. It’s the first Korean film to be nominated. And it has things to say about the class divide in a way that is delectably sharp and piercingly witty.
Best Leading Actor
Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Why? Even in a stacked best actor race like this one, Joaquin Phoenix’s take on Arthur Fleck (the soon-to-be-Joker) stands out as something bold and bizarre. Not since the days of Marlon Brando and James Dean has an actor been so over-the-top and personable at the same time.
Best Leading Actress
Will Win: Renee Zellweger
Should Win: Renee Zellweger
Why? The Academy loves impersonations, and Zellweger’s impersonation of Judy Garland is as bright as Technicolor. She slips into the role effortlessly. It’s a performance that requires singing, crying and lots of prosthetics, which makes Zellweger a shoe-in for her first best actress win.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Laura Dern
Should Win: Laura Dern
Why? It’s been exactly 40 years since Dern burst onto the scene in 1980 with Foxes and 35 since her first critically-acclaimed role in Smooth Talk. Since then she has worked with Steven Spielberg, David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson. She gave a great turn as Laura Albert in JT Leroy last year, too. But the divorce attorney in Marriage Story is her most nuanced role to date, and the most deserving of an Oscar in her storied career.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Brad Pitt
Should Win: Brad Pitt
Why? From the Golden Globes to SAG, Pitt has swept awards season for his role as a stuntman in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Thanks to his subtle yet effervescent role in Tarantino’s mega-hit, his hot streak will likely continue on February 9.
Best Documentary Feature
Will Win: American Factory
Should Win: Honeyland
Why? Although the Obama’s American Factory will likely win best doc, it’s Honeyland that had us buzzing with excitement. This neo-realist story follows a beekeeper who lives on the edge of a cliff, at the edge of the world (rural Macedonia). She’s as lovely her surroundings, and she’s a reminder that human kindness, like bees, will never go extinct.
Best Animated Feature
Will Win: Toy Story 4
Should Win: I Lost My Body
Why? For those of you betting on the Academy Awards, bet on Toy Story 4. It’s lightyears ahead of whatever is in second place. But that doesn’t mean it should be handed the award. I Lost My Body, which tracks a teenager trying to put his life back together in the wake of his parent’s death, is as inventive, imaginative and ineffably beautiful as any animated film this side of Hayao Miyazaki.