The art of predicting Academy Award winners, which will be handed out starting at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, is a perilous one. Just ask me, a person who spends much of her working life watching movies and writing about movies and thinking about movies, and who last year scored an embarrassing 10 out of 24 on her Oscar ballot. (In my defense, I once scored 21 out of 24, a feat I would like noted in my obituary someday. But, to be honest, that was the easy year when the final “Lord of the Rings” movie won everything.)
This year, as often happens, the front-runner keeps switching. “Joker” had the most nominations of any film — 11 — but it seems an unlikely choice for best picture. (Then again, so did “Green Book,” and it won last year.) A Martin Scorsese film is always a safe bet, but does the very lengthy “The Irishman” have any momentum? Are there enough Tarantino fans in the academy to give the top award to “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood“? Is “Parasite” quietly sneaking up into front-runner status? Things seem to be changing daily.
Below, my best guesses — and they are indeed guesses, to be taken with a grain of salted popcorn — on who we might see at the podium Sunday evening in the major categories. As always, I’ve added what my vote would be, if I had one, and what name I wish could be added to the ballot. And a warning: if you’re using my picks in your Oscar pool, may the Force be with you.
Be sure to share your predictions, and see how your fellow movie buffs voted, in our poll below. And here’s a handy downloadable ballot, with my predictions for all the Oscar categories, to keep track of your picks for Oscar night.
The only thing I can say with absolute certainty here is that it won’t be “Ford v Ferrari.” (Which is a fun movie, but I don’t know why it’s here. Or maybe I do, but that’s another story.) The front-runner at the moment is “1917,” Sam Mendes’ masterful World War I drama, which won top awards from both the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild — but then again, “Parasite” took the ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild, often an indicator of major Oscar-night success. (Though not always; “Green Book” wasn’t even nominated in that category last year. You see how messy this gets.) Might “Jojo Rabbit” sneak in? Will “Little Women” fans, angered about Greta Gerwig’s exclusion from the director category, stage a coup? Might there be a tie? Stay tuned!
My vote: “Parasite”
Wish you were here: “The Farewell”
Theoretically, this award should go hand-in-hand with best picture, but often it doesn’t. Nonetheless, I think the front-runner is Mendes, the Directors Guild winner who won this category in 2000 (for “American Beauty”). Unless the academy wants to honor Scorsese’s 50-plus years of feature filmmaking (he’s only won this category once, for “The Departed” in 2007) or Tarantino, who’s never won this category. And something tells me not to rule out Bong Joon Ho, director of “Parasite.” Only a win for Todd Phillips, nominated for “Joker,” seems entirely unlikely.
My vote: Bong
Wish you were here: Gerwig, “Little Women”
By the time we reach this point in the season, the acting awards seem to be devoid of suspense — so let’s just cut to the chase and say yes, it looks very likely that Renée Zellweger will win her first Oscar in this category (she won best supporting actress in 2004, for “Cold Mountain”) for her uncanny turn as Judy Garland in “Judy.” (She won the SAG award, and there’s significant overlap between the SAG votership and the academy.) There’s a teeny chance Scarlett Johansson — nominated twice, in this category for “Marriage Story” and in a supporting role for “Jojo Rabbit” — could surprise, but I doubt it. It’ll be a well-deserved win. Also nominated: Saoirse Ronan for “Little Women,” Charlize Theron for “Bombshell” and Cynthia Erivo for “Harriet.”
My vote: Zellweger
Wish you were here: Lupita Nyong’o, “Us”
The academy has shown itself to like flashy performances involving physical transformation — and what could be flashier than Joaquin Phoenix’s vivid, eerie, makeup-caked performance as the unhinged title character in “Joker”? If voters surprise by turning to a more subtle performance, they might honor one of two beautiful turns by actors playing directors: Antonio Banderas as an aging filmmaker in “Pain and Glory,” or Adam Driver as a theater director facing divorce in “Marriage Story.” But it’s Phoenix’s to lose, and he probably won’t. Also nominated: past winner Leonardo DiCaprio for “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and Jonathan Pryce for “The Two Popes.”
My vote: Banderas
Wish you were here: George MacKay, “1917”
Best supporting actress
Laura Dern, who had a great year between “Marriage Story,” “Little Women” and “Big Little Lies,” is beloved in Hollywood and has never won an Oscar; consensus is that it’s her turn. (And her nominated work in “Marriage Story,” as a sleek barracuda of a lawyer, is delicious.) A possible dark horse is newcomer Florence Pugh, whose performance as Amy March deftly stole “Little Women.” Also nominated: Kathy Bates for “Richard Jewell,” Johansson for “Jojo Rabbit” and Margot Robbie for “Bombshell.”
My vote: Dern
Wish you were here: Zhao Shuzhen, “The Farewell”
Best supporting actor
Hanks, Hopkins, Pacino, Pesci, Pitt … it’s an all-star lineup, with 22 previous acting nominations between them. All have won previously, though Pitt’s never won in an acting category (his earlier Oscar is for best picture in 2014, as a producer of “12 Years a Slave”). I’m thinking that might change on Oscar night — just a hunch (and a SAG award), and that voters might reward his work as veteran stunt double Cliff Booth in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” If there’s a sentimental vote at play — hard to call in a group of veterans like this — it might go to Hanks, who hasn’t won in 27 years, and whose performance in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” was charm personified.
My vote: Hanks
Wish you were here: Daniel Craig, “Knives Out”
Elsewhere, I’m expecting the academy to toss an award to Gerwig for her “Little Women” screenplay, to reward Roger Deakins for the astonishing cinematography of “1917,” and maybe, somewhere, to hand a statuette to someone entirely unexpected. Here’s hoping for an Oscar night of happy surprises.
The 92nd Academy Awards will be televised beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, on ABC; oscar.com
Development: Lauren Flannery / The Seattle Times