By Coleman Bandy
The Academy Awards air this Sunday night. Here are the films that will take home the major Oscars – and the ones that should.
What will win: 1917
What should win: Parasite
1917 is a technical marvel, if one that isn’t altogether revelatory. The film is stitched together to make it look like it consists of a single, unbroken shot, much like similar 2015 Best Picture winner Birdman. The tracking shot technique adds an encroaching sense of anxiety to the proceedings, but can at times feel gimmicky and takes away from the movie’s message, which – well – what is the movie’s message? War is bad? Maybe the one-shot cinematography, though often breathtaking, is more of a crutch than an asset, a distraction that keeps the audience from realizing that they’ve seen all this before, and what they’re watching isn’t all that profound.
1917 may be the betting favorite to take home Best Picture, but Parasite is the best movie of 2019, and one of the best films of the decade. Its premise is both simple and genius: an impoverished family bands together to take advantage of their well-paying aristocratic counterpart. What happens after the initial setup is entirely unexpected; the drama is tragic and neo-Shakespearian, a story of two families more similar than different – other than the massive wealth disparity. In an age where income inequality is one of the most important issues across Eastern and Western cultures, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite taps into the zeitgeist and delivers the year’s most deserving Best Picture candidate.
Who will win: Sam Mendes – 1917
Who should win: Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
1917 will likely sweep this year’s major Academy Award categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. Sam Mendes, the gifted director who exploded onto the scene in 1999 with American Beauty and has since helmed a wide variety of genre films from Jarhead to the century’s best James Bond feature, Skyfall, has the resume to back up a golden statuette. But despite his likely victory, Mendes isn’t the most valuable director of the nominees.
Martin Scorsese is America’s greatest living filmmaker, and while The Irishman may not be the best film of 2019, only a director of Scorsese’s caliber could have made it. In a way, The Irishman is a culmination of Scorsese’s entire career as a master of the organized crime milieu: the three-and-a-half-hour extravaganza has the restless drive of Goodfellas, the heartbreaking scope of Raging Bull, the madcap intensity of Mean Streets. Not a shot in the movie is superfluous or out-of-place. Every directorial decision sets a somber tone, including the soundtrack, cinematography, and Thelma Schoonmaker’s brilliant editing. It’s the fastest three-and-a-half hours you’ll spend at the movies (or, in this case, on the couch).
Who will win: Renée Zellweger – Judy
Who should win: Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Renée Zellweger is no stranger to the Oscars: a three-time Best Actress nominee, she took home the statuette for Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for her performance in Cold Mountain. Zellweger has won virtually every precursor prize during this awards season, all but assuring her victory for her performance as Judy Garland in the biopic Judy. The movie itself has garnered lukewarm reviews, but Zellweger’s performance has been universally lauded. While Zellweger undoubtedly captures Garland’s essence in the film, voters love when actors step into the ruby slippers of real-life characters: just ask Rami Malek, who won last year’s Best Actor award for his over-the-top, flamboyant Freddie Mercury.
Though Zellweger’s Garland is much more understated and nuanced than Malek’s Mercury, her performance isn’t the year’s best. That honor, surprisingly, goes to Scarlett Johansson, a first time Oscar nominee (well, second – she also is nominated this year for her supporting role in JoJo Rabbit) who is turning in some of the best performances of her career. As Nicole Barber in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Johansson plays the not-so-enviable role of the more aggressive half of a divorcing couple. Johansson betrays her character’s tough exterior to show the brokenness that any deteriorating relationship causes. Is there a better-acted scene this year than when Nicole, wrapping up a mundane conversation with her soon-to-be ex husband, bursts into silent tears as soon as she rounds the corner out of his sight? I doubt it.
Who will win: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Who should win: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Let’s get this out of the way: Joker is probably the worst film nominated for Best Picture this year, an overrated dose of try-hard nonsense that attempts to be profound but settles for something far closer to mediocrity. Politics aside — though, seriously, how many more films do we really need about violent white guys? — Joker is a poorly written mess. The movie’s intentions, however noble, are abandoned by its middling craft. Here is the director of The Hangover cosplaying as Martin Scorsese directing a movie set in the Batman universe. Just typing that out makes it sound like a Mad Lib.
Whew. I feel better. But seriously, imagine how bad Joker would be if it didn’t feature an astounding performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is Joker’s sole saving grace, an incredibly giving actor who never half-asses anything – just ask costars Robert DeNiro and Zazie Beetz, who have publicly noted his tireless commitment on set. Some have called Phoenix’s inevitable Oscar (the only person who has a chance to beat him this year is Adam Driver) a “legacy award,” and while that’s understandable, Phoenix’s presence alone turns a terrible script into a watchable film, an outline of a comic book character into a fully-fledged human being. There are very few actors who can do that. Phoenix leads the pack.
Best Supporting Actress:
Who will win: Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Who should win: Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Laura Dern is an astounding actress, first catching David Lynch’s eye while trying out for Blue Velvet and then taking on diverse roles in action movies like Jurassic Park and tear-jerking dramas like October Sky. In Marriage Story – a bona fide acting clinic for each of its talented performers – Dern plays cutthroat lawyer Nora Fanshaw, an incredibly smooth (and snarky) attorney representing Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole Barber in her divorce. While Dern could have played Fanshaw in a myriad of ways, her performance captures so many different layers: distain, comfort, bemusement, anger, sympathy, condescension. Never for a moment do you doubt Dern’s commitment to character. The Academy should have awarded Dern years ago for her work on Wild at Heart. This year, she’ll finally receive her trophy.
Best Supporting Actor:
Who will win: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Who should win: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Brad Pitt is a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. Pitt is a performer whose roles exude an effortlessness most movie stars never attain. Though it seems like Pitt is barely trying, his laid-back Cliff Booth is one of the more complex roles in the actor’s oeuvre. Booth is an enigma: a badass war hero, aging stuntman, animal lover, possible wife-killer – for a lesser actor, Cliff’s revolving, sometimes contradictory character traits would never coalesce. In Hollywood, Pitt turns Cliff Booth into a believable person and even steals the spotlight from Leo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton (though that’s kind of the point – the stuntman is the one who does all the work, after all). Brad Pitt is the secret MVP of Tarantino’s latest masterpiece. His brand of star power has never shined more brightly.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Who will win: Greta Gerwig – Little Women
Who should win: Greta Gerwig – Little Women
That Greta Gerwig was shafted this year and not even nominated in the Best Director category is an unforgivable indictment on the Academy as a whole. The Oscars rarely nominate women for Best Director, for multiple reasons. Firstly: women don’t direct enough movies. Hollywood doesn’t give women a fighting chance to direct the best unmade scripts up for production. Unfortunately, more often than not, a given year’s best films often are directed by men, if only because women aren’t even given an opportunity to make movies at all.
Which is why Greta Gerwig’s absence in the category is so infuriating: a supremely talented women wrote and directed a beautiful, beautiful film – one of the top three movies of the year, in my opinion – and couldn’t make the cut. There’s obviously more than mere industry bias at work: even when a woman like Greta Gerwig makes a near-masterpiece, she is ignored. The sexism is both systemic and personal. Academy members just didn’t vote for her, and not because her movie didn’t deserve it.
Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but I believe the Academy will repent for its sins in the ‘Director’ category and award Gerwig’s Little Women the Best Adapted Screenplay award. It’s a wonderfully written script, full of nuance, colorful characters, interweaving plotlines, and nonlinear storytelling. Gerwig has taken an oft-interpreted story and made it entirely her own, even adding a feminist twist ending that’s an improvement on the original. Gerwig, like her main character Jo March, has made plenty of sacrifices in this industry. Let’s award her for them.
Best Original Screenplay:
Who will win: Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won – Parasite
Should win: Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite might be the better film, but Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the better screenplay. Told during three days in the summer of 1969 Hollywood, Tarantino’s opus is the most heartfelt film in the director’s long and fruitful career. Even his best movies, like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, feel like Tarantino is copying his favorite directors and storytellers instead of writing something entirely his own.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like the story QT was born to write. There’s a lot of QT in Rick Dalton, Leo DiCaprio’s aging cowboy actor who feels the industry passing him by. Is this how Quentin feels now that Marvel movies are dominating the box office, leaving little room for true auteur storytellers to make artistic films? It’s likely, though Tarantino would never disparage another moviemaker.
Hollywood is Tarantino’s swan song. If the director keeps his word and really does only make one more movie, I’m betting his love letter to Hollywood will go down as one of his top films, undoubtedly his most accomplished since the 90s – and maybe his best, period.
Want to support Julie? Become a Patron below!