Best Picture 2020: My (Way Too Early) Predictions

 

Just as it’s never too early to sing Christmas songs or think about life insurance, it’s never too early to predict the nominees for Best Picture. So today, just one day after the 91st Academy Awards, I will be predicting the nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards!*

*NOTE: I have chosen the following ten films based on a complex string of educated guesses and rapid-fire word association. Most of these picks will probably end up being wrong. But for every nominee that I successfully predict, I will treat myself to a burger (AND fries) from Shake Shack. Let’s do this…

I. The “Sure Things”

The Irishman

The Irishman

The Irishman

Director: Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York, The Departed)

Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel

Release Date: Fall 2019

If you watched this year’s Oscars, you may have noticed a little teaser for something called The Irishman. Eh, no big deal… just the latest Martin Scorsese film, starring De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel. Unless this movie is TRASH, I can almost guarantee it gets a nomination next year. Scorsese’s last film, the bleak and spectacular Silence, didn’t get much love from the Academy, but that wasn’t a traditional “Oscar movie”— it was a depressing religious odyssey through feudal Japan that was 161 minutes and a box office bomb. The Irishman, while probably just as long, is more of what Scorsese is known for: big actors, a dramatic crime story, lots of carnage (I’m just guessing about the carnage). The Academy clearly didn’t think much of an emaciated Adam Driver screaming on a beach, but they’ll probably like De Niro and Pacino doing their mafia thing. The only knock against The Irishman is that it’s on Netflix. But despite all the anti-Netflix sentiment within the Academy, they successfully got a black-and-white foreign film into the Best Picture race. So if they can do that, surely they can Scorsese up there too.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained, Pulp Fiction)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, and Bruce Dern

Release Date: July 26

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has the makings of Oscar gold. It’s a period film that takes place in and around Hollywood from an auteur director working with an all-star cast. Tarantino was notably left out of the Best Picture conversation for his last feature, The Hateful 8, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood certainly seems more in line with the Academy’s taste. Even though Tarantino has already won two Oscars (both for Best Original Screenplay), none of his films have ever won Best Director or Best Picture. The Academy has a long history of being “late,” and honoring filmmakers for a later work that is usually not as groundbreaking or important as their defining work (i.e. Pulp Fiction). Years ago, Tarantino publicly announced his plan to stop directing after his tenth film, and Once Upon a Time will be his ninth (he counts Kill Bill as one film). If the Academy has any intention of honoring Tarantino with a “late” Best Picture or Director prize, this could be the year to do it.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Director: Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Diary of a Teenage Girl)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, and Chris Cooper

Release Date: November 22

If the Academy is going to nominate a female director, or a film by a female director, it’s probably going to look something like this: standard biopic of someone we all love played by someone we all love. Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers is a combination that has “Oscars” written all over it, and Marielle Heller is fresh in the Academy’s mind after the crowd-pleasing Can You Ever Forgive Me? snagged three nominations this year. But I think the biggest boost for this film is also the most unexpected: the Best Documentary snub for Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Yes, I actually think that the snubbing of the Mr. Rogers doc this year will help the Mr. Rogers biopic next year. Many Academy members feel guilty about missing an opportunity to honor Rogers on the telecast. The exclusion of the doc means that audiences and voters may feel less “Mr. Rogers-fatigue” by the time the movie comes. I mean, imagine if a big rock climbing movie were coming out this year. It would be a lot less exciting considering we just recognized the documentary achievement of Free Solo. The Oscars may be a year away, but I can already see a future where Marielle Heller, Tom Hanks, and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood snag nominations.

II. The “Good Bets”

Us

Us

Us

Director: Jordan Peele (Get Out, Reboot of The Twilight Zone)

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, and Elisabeth Moss

Release Date: March 22

He’s baaaaaaack. I’m gonna keep this short and simple. Despite having just one feature film under his belt, Jordan Peele has already emerged as an exciting and respected filmmaker. The critical, audience, and awards success of 2017’s Get Out is enough to consider any of his upcoming films for the big prize. Add in the fact that the film stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and that Peele just received a Best Picture nomination for producing BlacKkKlansman, and I think you’ve got a lock. Of course, the Academy is less inclined to nominate horror movies and early releases, but Peele has already proved that he can do it. With the help of producer Jason Blum running an aggressive awards campaign, I can definitely see Peele returning to the Best Picture race.

Plan B’s Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner

Plan B’s Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner

Ad Astra

Director: James Gray (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, and Donald Sutherland

Release Date: May 24

The last decade at the Oscars has been (relatively) kind to the sci-fi/space genre, with movies like Gravity (2013), The Martian (2015), and Arrival (2016) receiving Best Picture nominations. And while notable contenders First Man (2018) and Interstellar (2014) were “snubbed” in the Best Picture category, it should noted that both films received multiple nominations in the technical categories, with one win apiece. I think that the Brad Pitt-starring Ad Astra could be the next space epic nominated for the big prize. Pitt also produced the film along with Plan B co-presidents Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. In my mind, it’s this producing trifecta that gives Ad Astra a shot at Oscar glory. Gardner and Kleiner have received 6 Best Picture nomination in the last 8 years, and Pitt has had 4 Best Picture nominations since 2012. Plan B’s other 2019 releases consist of a Netflix Shakespeare adaptation (The King), an A24 summer drama (The Last Black Pan in San Francisco) and an untitled film from writer/director Miranda July. Taking into consideration their entire 2019 slate, it seems like Ad Astra will be their best shot at yet another Best Picture nom.

Little Woman

Little Woman

Little Women

Director: Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep

Release Date: December 25

I mean, doesn’t the information up there say it all? The only question here is if it’s good. Period movies and classic adaptations can lead to Oscar gold, or they could just fall flat (i.e. 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots, also starring Ronan). Luckily Gerwig already has a Best Director nomination for Lady Bird, making her one of only five women to be nominated in that category. This might not mean anything to the average viewer, but I think it proves that the Academy is keeping an eye on Gerwig. Whether or not she is nominated in the directing category again, I think Little Women should be on everyone’s radar for a possible Best Picture nomination.

III. The “Yeah, It’s Possibles”

Amy Adams, star of  The Woman in the Window

Amy Adams, star of The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window

Director: Joe Wright (Darkest Hour, Atonement)

Starring: Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, and Brian Tyree Henry

Release Date: October 4

Could this movie finally make Amy Adams an Oscar winner? Probably not, but it looks serviceable. There’s really nothing to go on here other than the Wikipedia facts. The cast is red hot, Joe Wright was just nominated for Darkest Hour, and the book is a hit. Could this be another Gone Girl situation? Maybe. Could it be another bland literary adaptation of a modern thriller like Girl on the Train? Also maybe. It’s hard to tell, though an awkward beginning-of-October release date probably isn’t a great sign. Still, I think there’s enough bait here to get some voters talking. And who knows, maybe it’ll slay.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Director: Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin, In the Loop)

Starring: Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Ben Wishaw, and Peter Capaldi

Release Date: Unknown, but most likely Fall 2019

Another adaptation because, well, there’s always a bunch of adaptations. But this one seems different. From the man behind indie-hit The Death of Stalin and HBO’s Veep, The Personal History of David Copperfield is a period drama that looks like it could get a little weird. Precedent for this type of film being nominated can be found in the form of The Favourite’s TEN (count ‘em) nominations this year. Though there was no Oscar love for Death of Stalin, many praised Iannucci’s blending of history, absurdism, and wit. He was nominated at many critics awards and the BAFTAs (most frequently for the screenplay) and President Barack Obama even listed it in his top fifteen movies of the year, alongside more recognizable hits like Roma and Black Panther. The Academy doesn’t always reward left-field movies, but it is possible they have taken notice of Iannucci following the success of his latest work (admittedly, he was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2009 for his film In the Loop).

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

Director: John Crowley (Brooklyn)

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman, and Sarah Paulson

Release Date: October 11

Another modern literary adaptation. Another director whose work has been rewarded with nominations in the past. Another early October release date that makes me cautious. So naturally I’m predicting it will be nominated for Best Picture. I’m really not very confident about it, but I said I’d pick ten movies so here we are. The leads (other than Elgort) seem to be relatively unknown, but some of the more seasoned supporting actors (Wright, Kidman, and Paulson) could elevate this to a higher plane of recognition. I’m not saying you can’t have a brilliant movie with no-name actors, I’m just saying that this is the Oscars we’re talking about… they gave Green Book Best Picture. It’s not like they could identify quality film if it showed up at their doorstep (which, by the way, it does— it’s called a screener). Still, The Goldfinch could be good, and even if it’s not, it could be nominated. Who the hell knows?

IV. The Longshot

Star Wars: Episode IX

Star Wars: Episode IX

Star Wars: Episode IX

Director: J. J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek)

Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Lupita Nyong’o, and Mark Hamill

Release Date: December 20

Okay, don’t freak out, it’s probably not gonna happen. But, I think it’s possible. This year, Black Panther proved that a big studio blockbuster can be both fun and awards-worthy, so if Disney thinks they can pull off a Star Wars campaign, they’re damn sure going to try. Of course, it all depends on the quality of the film, but being the last of the new trilogy, a nomination for Episode IX could be seen as a nomination for all three “new generation” Star Wars movies. Sure, the last (and only) Star Wars movie to get a Best Picture nomination was the original in 1977, but the Academy has been giving out “legacy” awards for ages— it would make sense for them to reward a franchise in its third act. It should also be noted that fans of the franchise have been praising Adam Driver’s turn as villain Kylo Ren since Force Awakens in 2015. He got his first Oscar nomination this year for BlacKkKlansman, but if the Academy has been paying attention (and if Disney decides to mount a campaign), Driver could be in the nomination pool this time next year. Just like the possible Best Picture nom, Driver’s nomination would be a symbolic one, rewarding him for five years of playing the franchise’s most recent icon. I think that there are going to be more (though not many) blockbusters considered for Best Picture going forward, and of all the possibilities in 2019, Star Wars: Episode IX has the best bet.

V. The “Well Maybe, But I Wouldn’t Count on It”

This is just the spot for a bunch of films that I was considering for this list, but that I ultimately decided against for various reasons.

Native Son

Native Son

  • Native Son (dir. Rashid Johnson) — I thought this might’ve been a good bet until HBO acquired the distribution rights. HBO is cool and all, but without a theatrical release I don’t see this narrative happening.

  • Queen & Slim (dir. Melina Matsoukas) — A romance thriller written by Lena Waithe, starring Daniel Kaluuya, directed by the woman behind Beyoncé’s Formation video? I mean, count me in, but forgive me for thinking the Green Book-lovin’ members of the Academy won’t like this one.

  • Rocketman (dir. Dexter Fletcher) — This Elton John biopic looks whimsical and fun, and Taron Egerton in particular looks (and sounds) great. There’s just one problem: Bohemian Rhapsody. Directed by the man who directed half of the incredibly popular Queen biopic, Rocketman is coming onto the scene one year too late. And it’s a darn shame. The sets, costumes, and fantastical elements position Rocketman as the rich man’s Bohemian Rhapsody— Egerton even does his own singing, unlike Academy Award winner Rami Malek. But I doubt anyone at the Academy will have the energy for this, just months after the wild success of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

  • Avengers: Endgame (dir. The Russo Brothers) — If it’s not Star Wars: Episode IX, I guess it could be Endgame, but something tells me that 26 movies of backstory is gonna be too confusing for the average Oscar voter. Sorry Tony.

  • The Last Thing He Wanted (dir. Dee Rees) — Based on the book by Joan Didion, starring Anne Hathaway, Willem Dafoe, and Ben Affleck. I could see Willem Dafoe snagging a nom here (though to be truthful, I have no idea who he plays or what the movie is about). But the main reason I didn’t pick this is that it’s being distributed by Netflix. I’m sorry, but Netflix is going to drop everything to campaign for The Irishman… and if Dee Rees’ movie gets a lil something then cool.

  • Fair and Balanced (dir. Jay Roach) — this political drama follows several female Fox News employees (played by Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron, and Nicole Kidman) and their experiences with alleged sexual abuser and Fox News founder, Roger Ailes. This could be another leftist Hollywood success like Adam McKay’s Vice, but right wing movie fans are sure to boycott and Jay Roach’s past HBO Films have only garnered him attention from the Emmys.

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4

  • Toy Story 4 (dir. Josh Cooley) — The last one got a Best Picture nomination, but it was also one of the greatest animated films of all time. Haven’t seen this one obviously, but Toy Story 3 is going to be pretty hard to top.

  • High Life (dir. Claire Denis) — A really cool looking SPACE movie from a veteran female director starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, and André 3000. The only problem is the much higher profile Ad Astra which will be released one month after this movie premieres in mid-April.

  • The Laundromat (dir. Steven Soderbergh) — Yeah, it’s Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman in a political drama from Soderbergh… but it’s another Netflix release likely to get lost in the shuffle. Plus Soderbergh had another Netflix film a couple weeks ago in the well-reviewed but quickly forgotten High Flying Bird.

Cats

Cats

  • Cats (dir. Tom Hooper) — Nominated for his screen adaptation of Les Misérables, but I don’t know… the cats in Cats freak me out and I think I’m not the only one. Maybe Best Hair & Makeup.

  • The Kitchen (dir. Andrea Berfloff) — I guess this could be the yearly comedy consideration? Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss in a crime dramedy. Sounds pretty cool, but the late September release date could be the big nail in this coffin.

  • Where’d You Go Bernadette (dir. Richard Linklater) — Cate Blanchett stars in Linklater’s latest, but its release date recently moved to August, aka the third “dump month” of the year (after January and February). It’s the fourth time the date has moved (from May 2018, to October 2018, to March 2019, now to August 2019), so that’s not a good sign. Either something is going on behind the scenes that is making the post-production process really hard, or the studio just can’t decide where in the year it will lose the least amount of money. I gave this a brief thought, but it’s almost a definite no.

VI. You’re Still Here?

Well, that’s a wrap! If you’ve made it this far, thank you! If you just scrolled down quickly to see what movies I picked, thank you too! If you’re me in eleven months shaking your head at these bonkers predictions, I’m sorry bro…

I will be sharing this article in January of 2020 to see how many of my ten predictions actually make it to Best Picture and I will be treating myself to a Shake Shack burger and fries for every correct prediction. For every incorrect prediction I will hang my head in shame. See you then!


 
 
David Merkle