Oscars are always about momentum, timing, the zeitgeist — and most of all, the way 8,469 Academy members want to present Hollywood to the world. This year, the voting body’s nominees give Oscar broadcaster ABC little to worry about with five hugely popular global hits vying for multiple Oscars, including Best Picture: “Joker,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “1917” and “Parasite.”
$1 billion-grossing R-rated DC origin myth “Joker” (Warner Bros.) dominated with 11 nominations, followed by expected frontrunners “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Sony) and “The Irishman” (Netflix) with 10, and surprise overachiever “1917,” also with 10. “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight), “Little Women” (Sony), “Marriage Story” (Netflix), and the first Korean Oscar nominee “Parasite” (Neon) all landed six nods.
Netflix beat out its closest studio competitor Sony with a total 24 nominations (“The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “The Two Popes,” “American Factory,” “The Edge of Democracy”) to Sony’s 19. But the likelihood is slim that either of Netflix’s two movies will prevail in the Best Picture race: there’s too much resistance from the studios, which pushed Universal’s “Green Book” to a win over “Roma” last year.
The Best Director race reveals five strong contenders: Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which is his third directing nomination, nine-time nominee Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” (he won for “The Departed”), Oscar newcomer Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” “American Beauty” Oscar-winner Sam Mendes’ “1917,” and first-time directing nominee Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” which replaced surprise DGA nominee Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”).
That could suggest weakness for “Jojo Rabbit,” but the vote for the fifth slot by the small director’s branch was likely very close. Still, it’s rare for a movie without a director’s nomination to win Best Picture.
It is also rare for a film to win without an editing nod. Fred Raskin did not land a slot for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” (He has yet to be nominated.) Nor did “1917,” but like another one-take wonder, best Picture-winner “Birdman,” the pre-planned one-take structure of “1917” may have precluded recognition from the Academy editors for Oscar-winner Lee Smith (“Dunkirk”). Significantly, “1917” also garnered surprise VFX, Hair and Makeup, and Original Screenplay nods. The World War I drama is not only coming off key Golden Globes and Critics Choice wins, but also is surging at the box office, where war movies often overperform. They also do well at the Oscars.
Another thing to look at: movies that don’t land DGA, PGA and SAG Ensemble nods are also in the minority as Best Picture winners. That leaves “Parasite” as a strong contender for not only Best International Feature Film, Production Design and Director, but Picture as well. Still, in the long history of the Oscars, no foreign-language film has managed to win that elusive prize. “Parasite” is only the eleventh non-English language film and the sixth to be nominated for both Picture and International in the same year. Each of the previous five, including last year’s “Roma,” won for Best Foreign-Language Film, not Picture. And that could happen again, now that Academy members no longer have to prove they saw all five international features in order to vote in that category.
“Joker” is missing that crucial SAG Ensemble nod. So is “1917,” but the December release was one of the last films to be screened, and many SAG nominating committee members didn’t get to see it in time. Also, while the two leads, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, give exemplary performances, the young English actors were unlikely to unseat their more established rivals. “1917” could prove to be a SAG Ensemble exception.
“1917” has momentum that is lacking for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which debuted at Cannes and hit big over the summer; however, Brad Pitt is an inevitable winner for Supporting Actor. (He’ll beat Tom Hanks, who finally landed another nomination, his sixth, as Fred Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” his first since “Castaway” in 2001.) But war movie “1917” could take some wins away from the popular 1969 show-business fable, which is more comedy than drama.
“Joker” could take a key win as well, for long-overdue Joaquin Phoenix, who is collecting awards on the way to the big prize after four nominations. Phoenix is comparable to Daniel Day-Lewis, who won for “Lincoln” partly because he made the film as great as it was. Despite “Marriage Story” star Adam Driver’s comparative popularity and two other powerful performances this year (“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” and “The Report”), this one is Phoenix’s to lose.
Another likely win goes to musical performer Renée Zellweger for Best Actress, whose comeback narrative in “Judy” is not to be denied. Among the snubbed was British Best Actor candidate Taron Egerton, who won the Musical Golden Globe. “Rocketman” was also overlooked for Hair and Makeup as well as Costume Design, and had to settle for a Best Song nod for Elton John.
Diversity was an issue this year, as “The Farewell” failed to register, and Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) was the only actor of color to land a nomination out of 20 possible slots. (Like “Mudbound” star Mary K. Blige, she also nabbed a Best Song nomination, for “Stand Up.”) Arthouse stars Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen (“The Farewell”) and Song Kang Ho (“Parasite”) failed to register, along with more mainstream Jamie Foxx (late-breaking “Just Mercy”), Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”), and Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”). And “Black Panther” Oscar-winner Ruth E. Carter did not follow up with a nod for Netflix comedy “Dolemite Is My Name.” Even Beyoncé was denied a “Spirit” Song nomination for “The Lion King,” which is only competing in the VFX category.
As expected, Greta Gerwig did not rack up enough votes from the male-dominated Academy directors branch to land her second nomination, but “Little Women” came in with six nominations including Best Picture, Saoirse Ronan (the second-youngest four-time acting nominee under 25, after Jennifer Lawrence), and supporting breakout Florence Pugh. Gerwig could repeat her Critics Choice win for Adapted Screenplay.
If her partner Noah Baumbach were to win Original for “Marriage Story,” that would be a delicious Oscar moment. But Original is more likely to go to two-time category-winner Tarantino (who is eager to win Director or Picture as well). “Marriage Story” is guaranteed just one win, for Hollywood royalty Laura Dern as Best Supporting Actress. In another year, Scarlett Johansson would win for her tragic mother role in “Jojo Rabbit,” as she is also nominated for Best Actress for “Marriage Story.” But it’s Dern’s time.
Watch out for Netflix’s “The Two Popes,” which scored three nominations, more than expected, including British stars Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins and screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who landed a spot in the less competitive Adapted Screenplay category (he missed the WGA, which put him in Original). He could give Waititi and Gerwig some competition.
Netflix also overperformed in the animated feature category, landing two slots for “I Lost My Body” and “Klaus,” which was a surprise, costing Disney an expected nominee, sprawling sequel “Frozen II,” which had to settle for Best Song contender “Into the Unknown.”
In the documentary category, Netflix outperformed its rivals, scoring slots for two films, Chinese-American culture clash “American Factory” and Brazilian political exposé “The Edge of Democracy.” And two powerful Syrian films were included: “The Cave” (NatGeo) and “For Sama” (PBS).
A24 whiffed in its bid for nominations for Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” but landed one surprise slot for Best Cinematography for “The Lighthouse.” In that category, at least, black-and-white is an asset. Meanwhile, three-year-old distributor Neon boasted not only six nods for “Parasite” but two for the Macedonian beekeeper saga “Honeyland,” which was nominated for both Best Documentary and Best International Feature Film, an Academy Awards first.
Now that fully 20 percent of the Academy voters are international, we could see some surprises on February 9. The two films with the most perceptible momentum heading for the big night are “Parasite” and “1917.”