When the 92nd Academy Awards airs on Sunday (Monday, February 10, 6:30 am IST), it will kick off Hollywood’s most prestigious celebration of its latest movie slate. This year’s awards tout one of the strongest line-ups of nominees in recent years, with long-awaited films from directors Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, new stories from critically-acclaimed filmmakers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which now has a shot at becoming the first foreign-language film to win the coveted Oscar.
Still, even with those contenders, the Oscars never fail to leave out a few well-deserving movies and performances. This year, that included the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems (starring Adam Sandler in a role tailor-made for him), Jordan Peele’s Us, and Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers.
Despite the snubs, there are nine movies to parse through this year, and TNM is breaking down the nominees and their chances at victory.
Once Upon a Time…. in Hollywood
Ardent fans of Quentin Tarantino itched for the release of Once Upon a Time…. In Hollywood, a nostalgic look at Los Angeles in the 1960s and the motley crew of characters who walked its streets. Starring Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie, Tarantino offers an alternate history of a stunning incident in American history, as the film presents a revised story for the 1969 murder of actor Sharon Tate by members of the Manson family.
The film won the Best Musical or Comedy award at the Golden Globes, and Brad Pitt has picked up almost every award possible for his role as the calm-and-collected stuntman Cliff Booth. Tarantino is also nominated for Best Director and Original Screenplay, and it wouldn’t be unexpected if he wins the latter.
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is no stranger to critical success in his work, whether it was for 2017’s Okja or 2013’s Snowpiercer, but Parasite proved to be a different beast. From a wide shot, it’s a take on class warfare, the lines that divide and the upstairs-downstairs relationship between the rich and the poor colliding in spectacular fashion. But it’s also a dark comedy, a horror movie and a family drama, with an acid-burn commentary on society, rolled into a jarring, unforgettable experience.
Bong Joon-ho has also been nominated for Best Director and Original Screenplay (along with Han Jin-won), and Parasite is almost certain to win International Film Feature. Foreign-language films like 2018’s Roma, 1998’s Life is Beautiful and 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have all been nominated, but none have won so far. If Parasite is victorious in Best Picture, it would be the first.
After the success of her (near-perfect) debut Lady Bird in 2017, filmmaker Greta Gerwig returned with her literary adaptation of the 19th century American novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Greta, who wrote and directed the film, chopped up the book’s chronological narrative, and instead intertwined the stories of the older March sisters, as they try to navigate work, marriage and money, with that of their younger, more idealistic selves.
Actors Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, who play Jo and Amy March in the film, have both been nominated for their roles, and Greta received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Yet, in true Oscar fashion, Greta was left out of the Best Director race, along with several other deserving female directors. If Little Women wins, it will signal a change in the Academy’s years of prejudice against movies made by and about women — but that doesn’t seem likely.
Up till December, the Oscars race was a pretty open race, with seeming frontrunners like Once Upon a Time…. In Hollywood, Parasite and The Irishman. Then, Sam Mendes’ World War I epic 1917 came along and the conversation changed overnight. The film, which follows two men of the British army through a harrowing ordeal as they try to deliver a message to fellow soldiers in danger, is considered the likely winner for the big award.
Filmed to look like it was taken in one shot, the film has been hailed for its technical expertise, but has also been criticised for lacking in story and seeming to pay more attention to showcasing filmmaking achievement rather than an evolution of characters. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is widely expected to take home his second Oscar after his win for Blade Runner 2049, which he won after years of nominations and no wins.
Before Todd Phillips’ Joker even hit the screens, controversy erupted over the story that depicted Arthur Fleck, a wannabe stand-up comic and clown-to-hire as he devolved into a purveyor of violence and archnemesis of Batman. Even after the initial conversation and debate died down, the reaction to the film was divisive. While some praised the depiction of mental illness and themes of social isolation as well as the rage against the status quo, both economically and politically, others thought it was self-serious and trying to be smarter than it really was.
Almost everyone largely agrees that Joaquin Phoenix’s body-twisting, sinister and fluid performance as Fleck is Oscar-worthy, and is all but guaranteed a Best Actor win. However, despite early success in the box office, it seems unlikely that Joker will take home the big prize.
Seeing the names Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in a movie together would be enough to draw cinephiles to the screen platform. Netflix’s The Irishman, based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, traces the adult life of Frank Sheeran, who falls into ties with mobster Russell Buffalino, working as a hitman, and later as the right-hand man to the powerful Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa.
Once you get past the long runtime (nearly 3.5 hours) and the slightly distracting ‘age-defying’ technical wizardry, it’s a crime-filled drama with laudable performances by all three actors. Though Pacino and Pesci are expected to lose the award to Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time…. in Hollywood, DeNiro was denied a nomination altogether. The film scored 10 nominations and in any other year, it would have likely been a big contender. Yet, somewhat stunningly for a Scorsese movie, the film is not expected to make a big impact this year.
Noah Baumbach wrote and directed this quiet drama about a couple going through a divorce while balancing their careers, child and a bi-coastal relationship. While the film was critically praised, it didn’t receive widespread adulation from audiences. And though it had been expected that Baumbach would receive a nod for best director, he did not receive that nomination (He’s been nominated for Original Screenplay).
Actors Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson have been praised for their performances, and both have received lead actor nominations for their work. Laura Dern’s portrayal of a divorce attorney, however, is a likely lock for the Best Supporting Actress award.
Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale and Matt Damon star in this James Mangold-directed sports drama about British racer Ken Miles, automotive genius Carroll Shelby, and their quest for victory with Ford Motor Company to defeat rival Ferrari at Le Mans, a prestigious French racing circuit.
Though the film has its fans, including critical praise, prognosticators place the film low in the race for Best Picture. The film also has nominations for Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, but both Damon and Bale were left out of the running for Best Actor.
Jojo Rabbit documents the height of fascism in Germany through the eyes of a 10-year-old blue-eyed Nazi enthusiast Jojo Betzler, whose ultimate aim is to fight alongside Hitler in World War II. The movie is funny and moving in parts, as Jojo and his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (played by director Taika Waititi) take us through one of the darkest times in history with a pinch of salt.
Jojo Rabbit was an early contender for the Oscar after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the top prize. (Last year’s Best Picture winner Green Book won it as well). Waititi lost out on a nomination for Best Director but did score a nod for Adapted Screenplay.