Indulge Oscars 2020 Special: Who's going to sweep the awards night? Follow our predictions
It may seem like a first-world problem — okay, it is — but getting through all the Oscar-nominated films isn’t always a piece of cake.
The Best Films category is usually the most enjoyable for obvious reasons, but with the performance and technical categories, the films, usually on account of over-indulgence sometimes, can seem quite trying.
This year though, I had more fun watching the nominations than I have in recent years.
Looking beyond the Best Films category, you get tasteful cinema in the form of films like A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (Tom Hanks nominated for Best Supporting Actor) — which shows that a kind human isn’t an impossible ideal, The Two Popes (Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor nomination for Jonathan Pryce, and Supporting Actor nomination for Anthony Hopkins) — which also talks about civility and in these tumultuous times, emphasises the all-important message that it’s possible for two people to have conflicting beliefs and yet be friends…
There’s the meditative Pain and Glory (Best Actor nomination for Antonio Banderas), which talks about the mental and physical suffering of a filmmaker who’s unable to make films anymore. Curiously, Antonio Banderas’ debut, 28 years ago, came in the film Labyrinth of Passion, by the same director.
There’s also Knives Out (Original Screenplay nomination), which reminds you how much entertainment a well-crafted whodunit can still pack.
The Best Picture nominations are an embarrassment of riches, almost. Joker leads the pack with 11 Oscar nominations in total, but it’s almost certain not to win this category for at least a couple of reasons.
It’s hard to see the Academy favour a comic-book film under this category... yet. There was Black Panther last year, and with Joker this time, the recognition has just begun to come consistently. Joker has also faced a bit of criticism regarding the perceived justification of its protagonist’s murderous descent.
This category, without doubt, is between two films really (unless the Academy throws a strange surprise like it did with Green Book last year), but it isn’t for want of joy from the other nominations.
The Irishman has been subjected to some good-natured mockery over its length at almost every award function, but someone has to make a case for how the indulgent length allows for exploratory filmmaking, and how it lends itself to an existential meditation on the life of a gangster.
The year also saw the release of a Tarantino film, and with questions on how many more films he has up his sleeve, every film of his is a landmark unto itself, it seems.
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, which also takes its time setting up the life and times of LA in the late ’60s, cathartically reinterprets the Tate-LaBianca murders, much like the director famously did Hitler’s end in Inglourious Basterds.
You know you are in the presence of a Tarantino film when you catch yourself laughing and cheering as a man incinerates a woman with a flame thrower.
While on Hitler and reinterpreting reality, let’s also not forget how fascinatingly Jojo Rabbit tries to turn darkness into light and in the process, makes light of Adolf Hitler by imagining him as a petulant caricature — no matter your stand on whether this qualifies as trivialisation of a profound tragedy.
Perhaps my most favourite reinterpretation is in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, which solves the problematic marriage climax of its source material by making the event seem more a result of the coercion of those times. It’s a smart reimagining that allows the film to stay loyal to its characters.
Special mention to the glorious racing sequences in Ford v Ferrari, and the frightfully realistic capturing of marital strife in Marriage Story, led by two inspired lead performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson.
But none of these films, it can be said with some confidence, will win the coveted Best Film Oscar. That’s surely between Sam Mendes’ sensationally immersive war epic, 1917, and Bong Joon-Ho’s wildly entertaining masterpiece on class struggle, Parasite.
You can’t speak enough about the technical achievements of 1917, of the ambition it takes to conceive of the one-shot conceit, of the ridiculous work that must have been put in to achieve it.
At a time when OTT content has become mainstream entertainment (Netflix films have a whopping 24 Oscar nominations), when people don’t seem to want to be fussed over visiting cinema theatres, films like 1917 — and Parasite — make incontrovertible cases for why some films, at least, are best enjoyed in the grand indoors of a theatre.
Watching 1917 in an IMAX screen is a reminder that there’s nothing quite like the magic of having yourself transported to another time, another place, and drowning in the sheer vastness of it all. Parasite, despite being atmospherically more contained in comparison, is better watched in a theatre too.
It’s a film that is a result of all-round excellence, both in terms of performance and technical work. Watch out specifically for that incredibly rewarding sequence where an innocent housekeeper gets framed by a poor family.
Watch as Western classical music, editing and performances combine to deliver a rousing scene that gets you almost cheering for a group of plotters.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ eye-popping work for 1917 is rightfully rewarded with an Oscar nomination and should secure a win as well.
You know when you’re in the presence of legendary work, and I’ll forever remember the gobsmacked reaction on my face towards the end of 1917, as the delirious protagonist stumbles through towering shadows and blinding brightness, reeling from the surreality of war.
While Parasite almost incredibly is able to create such wild entertainment out of something as seemingly dry as class struggle, I’ll also never forget the mind-boggling spectacle that 1917 is. It’s much credit to Sam Mendes’ film that we can now say that we almost exactly know how a war feels.
Every Oscars comes with its share of controversies and issues, and while this year, it has had nothing to do with any old tweets being dug out about the many hosts of the evening, there’s been some criticism over the nominations themselves.
During the recently held BAFTA ceremony, the hashtag, #baftasowhite was found trending on Twitter as a response to the all-white nominations, despite some deserving performances from non-white actors.
The winner of the Best Actor award, Joaquin Phoenix, even addressed this in his speech and urged everyone to be more aware of such problems.
In the Oscar acting category nominations, there’s but one non-white nominee, Cynthia Erivo for Harriet.
Lupita Nyong’o for Us, or Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers, could well be rightfully disgruntled, and so should we, especially given that the Supporting Actress category this year isn’t exactly too strong.
Let’s also not forget that for all the accolades that have come Parasite’s way, the film has been ignored in departments like cinematography, music and why, even performances.
Song Kang-Ho absolutely deserved a nomination in the Supporting Actor category, for his layered performance of an impoverished father, which ranges from slapstick comedy to murderous rage.
While such be the tragedies in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, it appears that the Best Actor and Actress categories are fairly straightforward.
Was it Joaquin Phoenix, or was it the Joker himself? Who would have thought after Heath Ledger’s tour de force in The Dark Knight that in a decade, we would have another performance to rival his?
The Actress category has a performance to rival his though: Renee Zellweger’s transformation as American actress-singer Judy Garland (Judy) is one for the ages and singularly lifts the film.
Both categories, we can say, are locked down by these two. It’s hard not to run snapshots of the other performances that are nominated in the performance categories.
You think of Antonio Banderas, who seems to channel his Almodovar in communicating physical and mental fatigue, and never seems to take the easy choice of doing it with the use of words.
Or Leonardo DiCaprio who drops a masterclass in that scene within the scene that has you believing when the young girl comments, “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”
Or Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins who spar with words so gracefully in The Two Popes. Or Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson in Marriage Story, who spar with words too, but with none of the grace or diplomacy seen in The Two Popes.
What a year it’s been for Scarlett Johannson, though. It’s fitting that she’s rewarded with a double Oscar nomination (Marriage Story, Jojo Rabbit), and I won’t be surprised at all if she manages to upset the favourite in the Supporting Actress category (Laura Dern for Marriage Story).
Scarlett is the sun of Jojo Rabbit, radiating light and kindness into its world modelled on the insanity of Adolf Hitler.
There’s a similar performance in the Supporting Actors category: Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. He too radiates light and kindness, but in a world suffering from a different sort of cruelty — of a more personal variety.
Can he spring an upset over Brad Pitt’s nomination for a performance that was at once cocky, lazily elegant, and irresistibly charismatic?
I also dearly enjoyed Florence Pugh’s humanisation of her character, Amy, in Little Women. It’s a character pitted against the protagonist, Jo, and one whose actions should ostensibly make her a
villain figure almost.
And yet, and largely due to Pugh’s performance, you process Amy not as a petty, vindictive woman, but as one who was just trying to get by in more difficult times.
The 92nd Academy Awards are almost upon us, and as always, there’s a good chance some of us will be left fuming over choices we don’t agree with. I’m still fuming over the choice of The Green Book for last year’s Best Picture Oscar.
Having said that, it’s important to remember what Parasite’s director Bong Joon-Ho said about the awards ceremony: “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They are very local.”
There will be hits and misses, there will be heartbreaks and heartening choices.
Many of the issues in this year’s nominations are quite clear: The lack of diversity, especially in performance categories; a South Korean film being snubbed in many deserving categories; Greta Gerwig not being included among the director nominees despite her film, Little Women, being nominated under six different categories.
I suppose, Fred Rogers from A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood would likely urge me to look at the positives.
Like, say, the popularity of a non-English film, Parasite, and how it’s among the favourites to win the Best Film award.
If nothing else, perhaps this recognition of Parasite will awaken people to cinema beyond their borders.
As Bong Joon-Ho succinctly put it, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Best Picture: 1917
Actor in a Leading Role: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Actress in a Leading Role: Renee Zellweger (Judy)
Actor in a Supporting Role: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Actress in a Supporting Role: Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917
Directing: Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite
Editing: Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland, Ford v Ferrari
International Feature Film: Parasite
Music (Original Score): Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker)
- Sudhir Srinivasan