The Academy will have its say on Sunday night, here's ours


Of course Joaquin Phoenix, Renée Zellweger, Brad Pitt and Laura Dern are going to win. 

That's the Oscars, baby, and like years past, the big categories are etched in stone and have been for some time.  

Once those gold statues are handed out — the show begins at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC — there's a modicum of intrigue in the Best Picture and Best Director races. For Best Picture, "1917" is the odds-on favorite, but votes could get slippery and there's a chance "Parasite" might sneak up from the basement and snatch a surprise victory from the WWI epic. Or maybe Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" rides a wave of last minute momentum to the podium? 

Similarly, "Parasite's" Bong Joon Ho is a threat in the Best Director category, but the likely winner is Sam Mendes for "1917." 

Those two categories aside, awards season and the predictive ceremonies have made it pretty clear who will walk away winners at this year's Academy Awards. 

So rather than running down a stale list of predictions, here's a list of who should really, truly win, if Oscar season politics were taken out of the equation and we were really judging the nominees on their own merits. There are always complaints that the Oscars missed the mark, here's an attempt at getting things correct right now, in the moment. 


Nominees: Antonio Banderas, "Pain and Glory"; Leonardo DiCaprio, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"; Adam Driver, "Marriage Story"; Joaquin Phoenix, "Joker"; Jonathan Pryce, "The Two Popes" 

The field: Two directors, a fading actor, a wannabe comedian and a pope walk into an awards show, stop me if you've heard this one before. The physical transformation Phoenix underwent to play the Joker was impressive, and he gives a haunting performance that's tough to shake, but the film has become such a divisive lightning rod that it might not age well. Banderas and Pryce both do fine, admirable work, but their respective films weren't widely enough seen to leave a lasting impact. Adam Driver gave his best screen performance to date in "Marriage Story," and it's his first film where all the elements that make him a unique talent truly come together. But dang it if DiCaprio isn't swinging for the fences and hitting home runs in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," as a beaten up old Western star on the back end of his career watching the world he once knew pass him by. It's the kind of performance that seems to come effortlessly to DiCaprio these days, and it's funny, raw, sad and tender. The scene where he has a come-to-Jesus moment with himself in his trailer is a stone classic. Is it possible we've gotten so used to DiCaprio being fantastic that we're now underrating him? 

Will win: Joaquin Phoenix, "Joker"

Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"


Nominees: Cynthia Erivo, "Harriet"; Scarlett Johansson, "Marriage Story"; Saoirse Ronan, "Little Women"; Charlize Theron, "Bombshell"; Renée Zellweger, "Judy" 

The field: Like the Best Actor nominees, these nominated roles are rooted in showbiz; two play actresses, one's a TV star and one's an author. Erivo was the best thing about a mediocre movie in "Harriet," but the character stands out more than her work as Harriet Tubman. Ronan — already a four-time Oscar nominee at just 25 years of age — was also the best thing about "Little Women," but this isn't the one to put her over. (Looking back, it probably should have been "Lady Bird.") Johansson is equal parts strength and vulnerability in "Marriage Story," but the movie is more of a showcase for Driver. Theron is tough as nails in "Bombshell," and her transformation into Megyn Kelly is strong, and her physical resemblance to Kelly is a feat of makeup, lighting and contouring. But when it comes down to it, Zellweger is such a knockout as Judy Garland in "Judy" that her performance transcends the hype and delivers the goods. It's an old school performance and Zellweger hits 'em with the razzle-dazzle. She deserves the win over the rainbow and back.

Will win: Renée Zellweger, "Judy" 

Should win: Zellweger


Nominees: Tom Hanks, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"; Anthony Hopkins, "The Two Popes"; Al Pacino, "The Irishman"; Joe Pesci, "The Irishman"; Brad Pitt, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" 

The field: When still photographs of Hanks as Mister Rogers first surfaced, the chatter online was all, "just give him the Oscar now!" Then people cooled on Hanks once "A Beautiful Day..." debuted, and he was revealed as a supporting character in a somewhat shaky story about a journalist and his relationship with his father. Hopkins and Pacino are two old pros, both already have Oscars, and they're outshined by others in their own films. Brad Pitt is timelessly cool in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," and his golden boy smile comes so naturally that it feels like he's hanging out, not acting, which is a skill in and of itself. But Joe Pesci gives a soulful, thoughtful, nuanced, haunted, haunting performance in "The Irishman" that is something of a career-capper for the 76-year-old, who hasn't been seen on screen in a decade. "The Irishman" is packed wall-to-wall with powerful performances, but when the paint on the house finishes drying, Pesci's is the one you remember.

Will win: Brad Pitt, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" 

Should win: Joe Pesci, "The Irishman"  


Nominees: Kathy Bates, "Richard Jewell"; Laura Dern, "Marriage Story"; Scarlett Johansson, "Jojo Rabbit"; Florence Pugh, "Little Women"; Margot Robbie, "Bombshell"

The field: Bates' nomination as the mother of unfairly targeted bombing suspect Richard Jewell already paid off, when she reconnected with Adam Sandler on Twitter and they shared a "Waterboy" moment together. Johansson has a small but meaningful role in "Jojo Rabbit," but her nomination was more about acknowledging the strength of her year and her career to date than it was the part. Pugh was an essential piece of the "Little Women" cast and the nomination elevates her profile in Hollywood but she'll have better parts and more chances to shine down the line. Margot Robbie stars in the year's most uncomfortable scene, performing a closed office peep show for a lecherous Roger Ailes (played by John Lithgow) in "Bombshell," but she was arguably better as the beating heart of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," for which she should have been nominated. That leaves Dern, long a Hollywood favorite (and a muse for David Lynch), who has a showy role in "Marriage Story" that she serves up like an ace. It's an acknowledgment of her body of work as well, but when she wins the Oscar, she'll be deserving.

Will win: Laura Dern, "Marriage Story" 

Should win: Dern


Nominees: Martin Scorsese, "The Irishman"; Todd Phillips, "Joker"; Sam Mendes, "1917"; Quentin Tarantino, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"; Bong Joon-ho, "Parasite" 

The field: Phillips is the one whom "Joker" detractors — of where there are many — say doesn't belong here, but the relentlessly downbeat tone he brought to that film was what made it such a fascinating movie, and one that's fun to argue about. Scorsese has lived his whole life so he could make "The Irishman," and it's a masterful look back at a life of crime and the toll it takes on one's family; it's the most soulful of the nominated films, and only Scorsese could have made it. Mendes used a technically impressive one-shot storytelling technique that enhanced the you-are-there reality of "1917," and Bong Joon-ho made "Parasite" work on multiple levels, just like the house in which it takes place. All in all, this is a tough category. But it's crazy that Tarantino has never won an Oscar for directing — he's been nominated twice — and with only one film left to go in his promised 10-movie career, are we really going to let him walk off into the sunset without one of these statues? Or will he win it for movie No. 10, no questions asked? That scenario can be avoided if he wins here. Yes he did the change-history-just-for-kicks thing before in "Inglorious Basterds" and yes, his masterpiece was "Pulp Fiction," but "Once Upon a Time" is a riot and it finds QT is in peak form. It would be nice to see him get the Hollywood ending he deserves.  

Will win: Sam Mendes, "1917"

Should win: Quentin Tarantino, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"   


Nominees: "Ford v Ferrari"; "The Irishman"; "Jojo Rabbit"; "Joker"; "Little Women"; "Marriage Story"; "1917"; "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"; "Parasite" 

The field: The nomination itself is the checkered flag for "Ford v Ferrari," which is just happy to be in the race. "Jojo Rabbit" is powerful, heartwarming and insightful, but it never caught on with audiences like it should have. "Little Women" is a handsomely crafted period piece but doesn't transcend its source material. "1917" uses its one-shot technique to put viewers inside World War I in a way that no war movie has before it, but it's more a feat of technical precision than it is of storytelling. "The Irishman" has more going on in its head than it's being given credit for, but sadly it will forever be defined by its 3 1/2 hour runtime. "Parasite" offers sharp commentary for our economically divided times, but goes a little off the rails once the bodies start piling up. "Marriage Story" is Noah Baumbach's best movie to date, sharp, sad, funny and gutting all at once, but it seems too small-scale for a Best Picture win. That leaves "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," which of the group will likely age the best, not just as a snapshot of southern California in 1969 but as another example of Tarantino's mastery of cinema. 

Will win: "1917"

Should win: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"


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