As I’ve previously mentioned, 2019 was not a particularly great year for the motion picture industry. There were plenty of decent movies, to be sure, but only one that stood out from the rest of the crowd as a truly “great” film. That is Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” – a film that could join 1934’s “It Happened One Night,” 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest” and 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs” as the only pictures to garner each of the big three awards – Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Again, I say this could happen. Let’s take a look at the possibilities:
Best Picture and Best Director
Nine films are vying for the Best Picture honor, while just five of their directors are up for the Best Director nod. Since the Academy expanded the Best Picture nominee list to more than the traditional five, it befuddles me how just five directors can therefore be nominated for Best Director. What of the remaining Best Picture nominees? Did they simply direct themselves?
It’s becoming more common for the Best Picture and Best Director honors to be split between two different films. In fact, the director of last year’s Best Picture, Peter Farrelly of “Green Book,” wasn’t even nominated for Best Director. The same is likely to happen this year, as Noah Baumbach isn’t nominated for Best Director of “Marriage Story.”
While I believe “Marriage Story” has, by far, the best chance of winning Best Picture, the Best Director honor will probably go to Quentin Tarantino for the disappointing “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” – a meandering story of changing times in 1969 Hollywood, set against the backdrop of the Sharon Tate murders by Charles Manson’s notorious cult. The gratuitous violence at the end of this picture was so over-the-top gory, it should never have been nominated for anything. Instead, I believe the Academy will (finally) award Tarantino a Best Director statuette – something he deserved a quarter century ago for his landmark “Pulp Fiction.”
This will be one of those “consolation prize” Oscars, which I generally dislike. In my opinion, the award should be given for the work in question. Furthermore, awarding Tarantino for this bloodbath is likely to invite copycat works by other directors – leading an industry already soaking in ultra-violence to embrace it even more.
Scarlett Johansson is nominated for Best Actress for her work in “Marriage Story,” and for Best Supporting Actress in “Jojo Rabbit.” Typically, when an actor or actress is nominated twice, he or she will take home the trophy for one of those performances. Johansson was very strong in “Marriage Story.” She’s never won before. She deserves it. She’ll win.
Her only serious competition in this category is Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women.” Ronan could easily have won for “Brooklyn” (2015) or “Lady Bird” (2017), but she’s still young. She’ll win someday, but I believe this is Johansson’s year. There’s an outside chance of Renee Zellweger in “Judy,” but that simply isn’t a good enough picture to warrant her winning.
The real crime here is that Irish actress Jessie Buckley was not nominated for her fabulous role in “Wild Rose.” It’s the best performance by anyone in any film this year. Unfortunately, it went unnoticed last summer. If you have a chance to see it, do so.
In this category, Adam Driver deserves the trophy – again for “Marriage Story.” Again, he’s had a stellar career, and it’s time he wins. But he has serious competition from Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.” Usually, comic book performances don’t win – but this went deeper than standard superhero fare. And Phoenix is long overdue. He probably should have won for 2005’s “Walk the Line,” and he definitely should have won for 2012’s “The Master.” This may very well be his year. I call this category a toss-up, although I personally prefer Driver’s performance.
Best Supporting Actor
This is a weak category, designed to finally give Brad Pitt the Oscar he deserves. Unfortunately, he’ll win it for the aforementioned Tarantino bloodbath – for essentially playing himself. He was much better in the little-seen sci-fi flick “Ad Astra” this past fall.
Of the nominated choices, my personal pick wavers between two supporting performances in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” While I liked Al Pacino’s animated Jimmy Hoffa, I prefer Joe Pesci’s surprisingly toned-down mafia boss Russell Bufalino in the same film. If I had a vote, I’d go with Pesci, although I personally think he doesn’t stand a chance. This one goes to Pitt.
Best Supporting Actress
If Ronan wins Best Actress, this one goes to Johansson – although I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility. I believe Johansson has Best Actress locked up. This one is likely to go to Laura Dern – again for “Marriage Story.” Again, she’s been one of our top actresses for many years and has never won. This is likely to be her year, although she never convinced me she was a lawyer. I found her performance the weakest in the film. I thought she was better in “Little Women” – a film for which she has not been nominated.
My personal pick in this category is young British actress Florence Pugh – also for “Little Women” – and there’s a fair chance she will win. She’s young and unknown to many, but she lit up the screen every time she was on camera.
Here is where “Little Women” brings home a major award. Greta Gerwig deserves the award for adapting Louisa May Alcott’s novel, and she will win.
Original Screenplay is, again, likely to go to the now-overrated Quentin Tarantino. But my pick is for Noah Baumbach for “Marriage Story.” While he is not nominated for Best Director, his original screenplay has been deemed Oscar-worthy.
It’s great to see South Korean director Bong Joon-ho nominated in the directing and writing categories for “Parasite” – a Tarantino-esque film which is better than anything Tarantino himself has put forth during the past eight years. It should walk away with Best Foreign Language Film.
I also think it’s nice to see Sam Mendes up for Oscars for his World War I epic “1917.” I foresee it winning a bevy of technical awards.
But this should be the year for “Marriage Story.” Again, it’s the year’s best film, and I believe the Academy knows it.