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2020 Oscar Nominations Predictions – Screenplay, Director & Best Picture

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Hopefully, you read the first part of our 2020 Oscar nominations predictions, so you already know they will be announced on the morning of Monday, January 13. Cut-off for Academy members to submit ballots was yesterday, Tuesday, January 7, so we should already be in the tabulation part of the Oscar process.

But let’s get into a few of the other key categories…

As one can expect, the nominations announced by the Writers Guild (WGA), Producers Guild (PGA) and Directors Guild (DGA) over the last couple days are great precursors for the Oscars, because they have members in common with the respective Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences branches. That said, there are a few exceptions that need to be made, especially since some movies/screenplays might not be considered eligible for WGA nominations, by not being written by WGA members. For instance, Quentin Tarantino is notorious for not joining the WGA over past writing credit issues, so his movie, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is ineligible for the WGA awards.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Again, this category should be interesting, especially if a few of the screenplays that weren’t eligible for the WGA end up getting Oscar nominations. Just a reminder that these two screenplay categories are only nominated by the Academy’s writers branch, many who are also members of the WGA.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay is the most likely to get an Oscar nomination without a WGA nom, since three of his previous movies have been nominated in this category, and two of them (Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained) have managed to win, proving that the former young upstart has a lot of support from his peers. Writing a movie about Hollywood in its heyday should give him even more support among the Academy writers.

Marriage Story 

Noah Baumbach has been a respected writer for a couple decades now, and his 2006 movie The Squid and the Whale received a fairly low-key Oscar nomination for its screenplay. Baumbach’s latest movie is very much a bookend to that film, where that was about his parent’s divorce while Marriage Story is more based on his own. It’s one of the only screenplays that stands a chance to beat the multiple-winning Tarantino. With Tarantino’s movie out of the conversation for WGA, Baumbach’s has a good chance to win that award, but then there’s also…

Parasite

Easily one of the most popular movies among critics this year is Bong Joon-ho’s comedic thriller about class struggles that found the Korean filmmaker more of an audience in America than any of his previous movies. It was probably helped by the success of his previous movie Okja being on Netflix or his prior film Snowpiercer, both which integrated Western actors with Korean ones, paving the way for the first Korean-language movie to get any Oscar nomination.

The first three above seem like shoe-ins to get nominations, but there’s quite a few really strong screenplays that might also be considered.

1917

Although Sam Mendes’ WWI movie is a big epic with not a ton of dialogue, one has to realize that a screenplay is more than words uttered by actors. This screenplay, co-written with Kristy Wilson-Cairns, is as much of a nailbiter as the movie itself. That screenplay already received a WGA nomination, so we’ll have to see if the writers’ branch of the Academy feels the same way. 

The Farewell 

Lulu Wang’s screenplay for the Sundance favorite wasn’t eligible for the WGA, but it’s still a very original and personal story, the kind that the Academy usually gets behind. This category might be the movie’s best bet since director and other categories are so highly competitive.

Pain and Glory 

Pedro Almodovar is a previous Oscar winner for his screenplay for Talk to Her (2002) and the screenplay for his latest film (which is very likely to get nominated in the International Film category) may be the Spanish auteur’s best writing in years. It won’t be even remotely surprising if the Academy writers agree, even though it’s also ineligible for WGA awards.

Other Contenders:  

Again, that’s six possible screenplays mentioned above with only five slots for the category, which might make it tougher for any others to get a nomination.

Bombshell

Writer Charles Randolph has the benefit of having won an Oscar for his The Big Short screenplay in 2015, and his drama about the Fox News sex scandal is an equally strong script. The WGA didn’t think so, as Randolph’s screenplay didn’t get a nomination there despite being eligible.

Ford v Ferrari 

Another movie in a similar boat as 1917 is James Mangold’s racing drama, which does have a ton of action, though the dialogue and characterizations are just as strong. Since I’m not sure this can get into the Best Picture or Director races, the writers might also neglect to put this on their ballots.

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s comedy “who-donut” — yes, that is officially its genre now — has an amazing ensemble cast and much of that is a testament to some of his best writing and storytelling following his franchise work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s a great screenplay, but maybe it’s too outside the norm for the Academy? The WGA included it in its Original Screenplay nominations, but again, we need to remember that Once Upon a TimePain and Glory and The Farewell have been omitted from that conversation.

If the Academy Wants Cool Points:

They’ll nominate Trey Edward Shult’s screenplay for his coming-of-age drama Waves, an amazing film that shows that he is a filmmaker to keep an eye on for future projects. Other possible “cool” options would be the Safdies’ Uncut Gems screenplay, which must be pretty crazy, or the screenplay for Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart, a hilarious and original coming-of-age movie that received a WGA nomination. In other words, this year’s Original Screenplay race has a lot of options and only five possible slots.

Who Should Win:

This is the category where Tarantino has thrived in the past, and unless the Academy decides to change things up, he should win for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, as he did at the Golden Globes. He’ll want to keep an eagle’s eye out for Noah Baumbach who has the Netflix marketing team behind him.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The source material for this year’s adapted screenplays run the gamut from comic books to classic literature to lesser-known books and even magazine articles.

The Irishman Review

The Irishman 

Former Oscar winner Steven Zallian (Schindler’s List) adaptation of Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses has been turned into another amazing film by Martin Scorsese. Much of that has to do with the great writing and performances, which should make Zallian a shoe-in for another Oscar nomination.

Joker

Todd Philips’ take on the Batman villain is already in line to possibly win Joaquin Phoenix his first Oscar, and there’s no denying that Phillips’ screenplay, co-written by Scott Silver (The Fighter), is one of the stronger comic book adaptations since James Mangold’s Logan (which also received an Oscar nomination). Since this movie is likely to get a Best Picture nomination — we’ll discuss Todd Phillips’ chances as a director below — its screenplay should also get nominated.

Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s latest film is the type of original dark comedy that usually connects with Academy writers, although Christine Leumens’ book may not be as well-known as something like Little Women. Since the movie has already proved popular for everyone from the audiences at the Toronto Film Festival, where it premiered, to SAG and the Golden Globes, it’s hard to imagine this screenplay not getting nominated. 

Little Women 

Another strong adaptation is Greta Gerwig’s take on the classic Louisa May Alcott novel Little Women, which has been adapted a number of times but is given a far more youthful take thanks to Gerwig’s unique vision. Even if Gerwig doesn’t get a directing nomination in a tougher field, her screenplay is impressive.

With all four of the movies already getting WGA nominations, in theory that’s four movies down with just one slot left…

Other Contenders:

The Two Popes

Oddly, Anthony McCarten’s screenplay for this dramatic two-handed was submitted to the WGAs as an original screenplay, although it’s based on McCarten’s own stage play, but the Academy should keep it in the adapted category, and it stands a very good chance at that fifth slot. (The WGA didn’t end up nominating the movie in the original screenplay category, which as noted above was very crowded even with a few noticeable omissions.)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 

Marielle Heller’s Mr. Rogers film is based on a magazine article that was adapted by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster into a very warm and well-loved drama. Its screenplay was nominated by the WGA, although we’d have to see this movie get into the tough Best Picture race to imagine its screenplay might get nominated.

Hustlers

Based on a magazine article by Jessica Pressler, Lorene Scafaria’s screenplay for the crime-drama set in the world of New York strippers is much stronger than some might suspect, but it’s a tougher sell. It also didn’t get a WGA nomination.

If the Academy Wants Cool Points: 

It would nominate the screenplay for Avengers: Endgame in this category since writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have been laying down the tracks for what the MCU would become over the last few years. There’s no denying the success of the movie and maybe some writers will want to give the movie its due.

Who Should Win:

This should go to Scorsese’s The Irishman, because if nothing else, it is such an amazingly strong screenplay. That said, this tends to be one of the categories that sometimes delivers an Oscar night surprise.

DIRECTOR

It feels like this year’s directing race can come down to two or three vets vs. one foreign upstart, although this could be a nailbiter right up until Oscar night, even if one of the below directors wins the DGA award.

Martin Scorsese – The Irishman 

One of the most respected American filmmakers has returned to a genre in which he built a name for himself with classics like Goodfellas and Casino. He’s also reunited a few of the players from those movies, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and then added Al Pacino (from the Oscar-winning Godfather movies) for good measure. The result is an amazing 3 ½ hour crime epic based on the real story of Jimmy Hoffa (played by Pacino) that has been impressing audiences since it premiered at the New York Film Festival. Who knows how many more movies Scorsese has in him, but just because he won an Oscar for directing The Departed about 13 years ago, that doesn’t mean the Academy is ready to just forget him. 

Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Another strong American filmmaker in the generation just behind Scorsese is the once young upstart Quentin Tarantino, who broke out in the ‘90s with movies like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but has continually surprised movie-lovers with his work. Once Upon a Time is only Tarantino’s 9th feature film, but it’s an amazing look at classic Hollywood in the late ‘60s via the Sharon Tate murder, but given a distinctively Tarantino twist. Considering how much people are still talking about this movie months after it came out proves that Tarantino hasn’t lost a step, although this will only be his third nomination as a director. (He has yet to win, so maybe some will feel he’s due.) 

Bong Joon-ho – Parasite 

Like Alfonso Cuaron last year, Director Bong received a Golden Globe nomination despite his movie not being eligible in the main film categories. Like Cuaron’s Roma, it should win in the Foreign Language category with ease, but there are enough people who love this movie, including filmmakers, that the Academy’s directing branch are likely to give the Korean filmmaker his very first Oscar nomination. (Considering that no Korean film has ever received a single Oscar nomination, even in the Foreign Language category, this is going to be seen as a huge coup for Bong’s home country.)

Sam Mendes – 1917 

Sam Mendes is one of England’s most respected filmmakers due to his work on stage and screen, and he won his first Oscar 20 years ago for directing American Beauty, that year’s Best Picture. 1917 is a huge epic but also a very personal story for Mendes, and it’s his strongest movie in many years, so there’s little doubt that he’ll be honored by his fellow directors with only his second Oscar nomination. (He’s also likely to get nominated for his work as producer and co-writer of the film.)

Other Contenders:

Todd Phillips  – Joker

Phillips might be seen as a dark horse for his work directing this “comic book movie,” but there’s a good chance he’ll get a DGA nomination, possibly bumping Baumbach, which makes him the strongest contender for that fifth slot. In fact, Phillips did not get a DGA nomination, so it’s now a little bit up in the air whether he’ll get an Oscar nomination for his direction of Joker or just a screenplay nomination.

Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story

Another filmmaker who has been very popular over the last two decades but only has one Oscar nomination under his belt for writing The Squid and the Whale is this New York native who has mainly made movies in the indie world while also writing studio movies. Baumbach didn’t receive a Golden Globe nomination for directing, so it’s really up to the DGA to show if Baumbach might get support from his peers to be nominated for an Oscar for his direction. (Baumbach was NOT nominated by the DGA, although that doesn’t mean the Academy directors won’t feel differently.)

Greta Gerwig – Little Women 

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women has been receiving a lot of late attention since opening on Christmas Day, having racked up almost $60 million in just two weeks. There’s been a lot of talk lately about women filmmakers not getting the respect and accolades of their male peers, so nominating Gerwig (for what would be her second Oscar nomination as a director) will prove those naysayers wrong. The problem is that if Gerwig gets nominated, it might bump her partner Noah Baumbach out of the race. (At one point, there were some hopes that they might be in this category together, but it’s just too crowded, so that’s a pipe dream.)

James Mangold – Ford v Ferrari

Another fantastic film that’s impressive for the achievements and vision of its director is James Mangold’s action-drama about the 1966 LeMans race that helped put the Ford Corporation on the map as a sportscar manufacturer. Mangold definitely deserves to be nominated not only for this but for his amazing filmography and he has yet to get a directing nomination despite having directed Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie to Oscar wins. If Ford v Ferrari gets a Best Picture nomination, it could show more strength for the movie.

If the Academy Wants Cool Points:

Although I wasn’t a fan of Jojo Rabbit, there’s no denying that director Taika Waititi has grown hugely popular in recent years. His adapted screenplay for the movie is very likely to get nominated, but support from the directors branch of the Academy could show that Waititi is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. (In fact, the DGA did nominate Waititi over Phillips and Baumbach, which means that Jojo Rabbit has more support than Joker and Marriage Story, at least among directors.) Nominating Gerwig would also earn cool points, so it isn’t all men in the director’s race… again… but Little Women doesn’t seem like one of the top 5 or 6 movies of the year compared to others.

Who Should Win:

This is going to be one of the tougher races this year. While there’s strong support for Scorsese and Tarantino’s latest films, there’s also that younger upstart Bong Joon-ho, whose movie has impressed everyone who has seen it. I also wouldn’t bet against Sam Mendes, since 1917 is such a strong directorial achievement, as proven by the Golden Globe he just won. Who the DGA picks could be a good sign for this year’s director winner.

BEST PICTURE

I’m going to handle this category a little differently by listing the first five “sure-things” alphabetically rather than listing them by their overall strength. Quite a few of these movies have already been discussed in other categories, including a few above, but the preferential ballot used to determine the nominees gives more strength to movies that Academy members might deem their #1 or 2 movie of the year. One of the better precursors  for this category (besides previous “Best Film” awards and SAG’s Ensemble category) is the Producers Guild of America (PGA). The fact that the PGA has ten nominations per year, and the Academy now has a floating scale between five and ten Best Picture nominees means that something is always bound to be left out.

1917 Panel Announced for the New York Comic Con

1917  (Universal)

Sam Mendes’ WWI movie is one of the biggest and most impressive epics of the year, mainly due to his vision and how it came together. It’s an unforgettable cinematic achievement that will expand nationwide this Friday.

The Irishman  (Netflix) 

Martin Scorsese’s reunion with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci is also his return to the crime-drama category in which he’s earned his reputation as one of America’s greatest filmmakers. After a limited theatrical run, it’s been on Netflix, making it easier to be seen by all voters.

Marriage Story  (Netflix)

Noah Baumbach’s strongest film since the Oscar-nominated The Squid and the Whale delivers powerhouse performances in the type of drama that’s frequently received Best Picture nominations in the past. Also on Netflix to make for easier viewing. 

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood  (Sony)

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth movie is a straight-up love letter to Hollywood and what it was like in the late ‘60s, and it should have support from all branches of the Academy. It’s already done well theatrically as one of the year’s must-see movies. 

Parasite  (NEON)

Bong Joon-ho’s timely dark comedic thriller is going to be the first movie from South Korea to ever get an Oscar nomination, and it’s strong enough to be a real contender for Best Picture, although it will probably win in the International Film category instead.

Second Tier:

Also very strong movies that have enough support for potential Best Picture nominations…

Jojo Rabbit  (Fox Searchlight)

Taika Waititi’s darker WWII comedy has many fans due to its edgy humor. Although it doesn’t feel like a movie strong enough to win in this category, it certainly has its fans, including the DGA directors, as mentioned above.

Joker  (Warner Bros.) 

Like Jojo Rabbit, Todd Phillips’ movie has an equal number of fans and detractors, but it’s a technically brilliant film beyond Joaquin Phoenix’s performance.

The Other Contenders:

The above movies all have received PGA nominations, and that would make seven nominees in a category that promises anywhere between five and ten nominations. So far, there hasn’t been a single year since the Academy created this floating scale where there were ten nominations. Most years, it’s been either eight or nine nominees, which means that only one or two of the below movies will get in. Personally I wouldn’t surprised if this is the first year with ten nominees, but again, in alphabetical order… 

Bombshell  (Lionsgate)

Jay Roach’s FOX News sex scandal movie has already shown strength among the actors with its four SAG nominations, and actors do make up the largest portion of the Academy. On the other hand, the PGA wasn’t impressed enough to include it in its 10 nominees.

The Farewell (A24)

The year’s big Sundance break-out film from Lulu Wang definitely has its fans (including myself) although being a smaller indie mostly in Mandarin might not work in its favor when competing against Parasite. The movie was omitted by the PGA, which doesn’t bode well for its Oscar chances for a Best Picture nomination, but again, the PGA is literally just producers — no actors, directors, writers, etc.

Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)

James Mangold’s racing drama is definitely a bit of an underdog even though it’s a fantastic fast-paced movie with many fans, but mostly for its technical achievements. The movie did receive one of the ten PGA nominations.

Knives Out (Lionsgate)

Rian Johnson’s comedy has been doing gangbuster business and has many fans, which makes it one of the more popular choices, although it might lose votes to Jojo Rabbit in that respect. The PGA nominated Johnson’s movie as one of its ten nominees, though.

Little Women (Sony Pictures)

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic piece of literature has the benefits of being one of the last movies of the awards season, so it’ll be fresh on Academy voters’ minds. The PGA also included it among its film nominees as with some of the others above.

The Two Popes (Netflix)

This dramatic two-hander with a great script and fantastic performances might have trouble getting momentum against the stronger offerings above, although it also has an advantage by being on Netflix. It didn’t receive a PGA nomination.

If the Academy Wants Cool Points: 

Avengers: Endgame is very much like Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, being the culmination of over a decade of filmmaking, and it deserves a nomination as much as Black Panther did last year. I’m guessing that critics, especially younger ones, would be happier if they see The Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems be nominated for Best Picture, but I just don’t see that happening.

The mostly likely Best Picture nominees (in alphabetically order) will be: 

1917
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

(Alternates: The Farewell, Knives Out)

Who Should Win:

For most of this year’s awards season, it has seemed very like it was going to come down to a battle between Scorsese’s The Irishman and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,  but Sam Mendes’ 1917 seems like a popular late-season entry that could steal some votes, and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has been the critics’ choice. One of the latter two would have to win one of the guilds’ top honors (particularly PGA and DGA) to be taken as a serious threat.

That’s it for now. Let us know in the comments what you think of our predictions, and the actual nominations will be announced on the morning of Monday, January 13.

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