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Who will win the Oscar for Best Picture? EW's awards experts debate

February 06, 2020 at 09:30 AM EST

It’s the most exciting race for Best Picture in years. EW’s awards experts David Canfield and Joey Nolfi sat down to break down who they think will ultimately prevail, and why — and offer last looks at the rest of the 2020 Oscars slate. (Bolded names of actors and films represent our final predictions.) 

THE BEST PICTURE QUESTION

DAVID CANFIELD: We’ve finally reached the big night, Joey. After months of predictions and J. Lo mourning and anticipation over whatever the hell Joaquin Phoenix is going to say on the winners’ stage, we can at last put this season to rest. I think you’ll agree for the most part this feels like a pretty predictable Oscars slate — except for the big category, Best Picture. So to start, let’s just get right into it. Who do you think is winning this year, and why?

JOEY NOLFI: On top of the Jennifer Lopez snubbery of it all (I promise that will be the LAST time I mention it… today, at least) this season has fully wrecked me, because it’s the first season where I’ve come to terms with the fact that statistics (mostly) mean absolutely nothing anymore. Still, the usual foretellers (BAFTA, DGA, PGA) have swung one way (1917). The statistician in me is inclined to follow their lead (BAFTA doesn’t vote preferentially, but their membership most closely mirrors the structure of the Academy’s, as they represent multiple industry branches, not just one) as well as the PGA’s (they vote using the Academy’s preferential ballot). Still, after speaking with several Academy members for our secret ballot and seeing the enthusiasm for Parasite at the SAG Awards and Oscars Luncheon, my heart is telling me to go with Parasite. So, I’m officially switching my vote to that. It’s not about stats, it’s about feeling. Are you on the same page?

DAVID: Yes, my heart is ultimately with Parasite. I was in the room at the SAG Awards and the reaction to the cast emerging on stage merely to present — before their huge win! — was so ecstatic, you could sense how much the industry has gotten behind this movie. The fact that the film won screenplay prizes from the WGA and BAFTA back to back, too, as well as a surprise production-design guild award, speaks to how this movie is building momentum among different key branches. Put simply, it’s the fairy tale of this awards season, and the Academy’s diversifying membership may very well come through again at a key moment. Who’s to say Parasite can’t pull off a Moonlight here, anyway?

JOEY: The one thing that has me wanting to switch back to 1917 (even though I won’t) is that it’s the best collective representation of what each branch of the Academy does well. It’s a shining representative for the finest work in the industry across all branches: Acting (even though it didn’t score any nominations), directing, producing, cinematography, production design, sound — you name it, it represents each branch well. And those branches are going to vote for the movie that best represents their craft. So, it could squeeze out a victory.

DAVID: Of course, 1917 is the movie this industry certainly admires the most and if you’re going by precursors, it’s the one to beat. Part of me wonders if it just has this in the bag and we’ve got stars (peaches?) in our eyes. At the very least, Sam Mendes is cruising to his second Best Director win, right?

JOEY: Yes, from the Academy members I’ve spoken to, it sounds like even though people don’t think 1917 is the best film of the year, they respect Mendes’ directorial achievement. He choreographed these sequences for months, got down in the trenches with the actors, and mapped out one of the most intricate shoots of the year — all tied together in a sweet tribute to his grandfather. It’s a massive achievement and you can’t deny the complex qualities of its scale, regardless of how you feel about the film. But, don’t be surprised if Parasite director Bong Joon Ho marches to a victory here as well.

DAVID: Agreed all around regarding 1917, its appeal across the board is pretty undeniable. But I’m going to stop before I talk myself out of predicting Parasite, because I’ve gone back and forth enough (20?) times this week alone.

WILL ANYONE ELSE SURPRISE?

Wilson Webb/Columbia

JOEY: In terms of what’s guaranteed for Sunday, Joaquin Phoenix has this locked up, as do Brad Pitt and Laura Dern. I’m starting to wonder if Charlize Theron has enough momentum to overtake Renée Zellweger at the last minute, though, like our beloved Glenn Close fell victim to Olivia Colman‘s late surge last year.

DAVID: This has been, by all counts, the most boring awards season in terms of acting winners that I can remember. There has been absolutely no upset — not even from the Critics’ Choice Awards, which can lean a little less mainstream, or BAFTA, which favors homegrown talent — and no real challengers have emerged to Phoenix, Zellweger, Dern, or Pitt. I agree that Best Actress would ordinarily be the category to stage an upset, if only because Judy is (like The Wife, as you say) utterly absent elsewhere, but the difference this year is, I don’t think Renée has the competition. Bombshell really faded over the course of awards season, so there’s no world in which I see Charlize taking this. My very distant No. 2 would be Scarlett Johansson, if Marriage Story winds up disproportionately loved by the Academy, but that feels like a no-go to me.

There’s some intrigue in the screenplay categories, if only because I feel like both are so stacked. While they were initially looking like Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Little Women‘s to lose, the industry has gone a different way so far, repeatedly rewarding Parasite and Jojo Rabbit. Can Quentin or Greta make a comeback there?

JOEY: I know I sound cynical, but I certainly hope voters don’t bow to Twitter pressure. I’d be perfectly fine with Little Women being shut out. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to understand that the industry saw this movie and didn’t like it enough to vote for it on the precursor circuit, so it’s not a statistical “snub.” It wasn’t showing up much of anywhere. Its nominations here are purely reactionary, outside of Saoirse Ronan. Greta Gerwig does not have a “comeback” to make because she was never in a position to win anything on the circuit thus far, outside of the Academy’s Adapted category. I think the balance has tipped in favor of Jojo Rabbit in recent weeks, and while its box office has paled in comparison to Little Women‘s, I think it’s respected in the industry far more (it showed up at multiple guilds and won the WGA last week).

DAVID: Eh, I definitely don’t agree with you there regarding nominations — on the contrary, the buzz for this movie built in accordance with very strong reviews and better-than-expected box office, and so I do think the industry ultimately embraced it. (After a sluggish pre-Christmas release start, it fared well in nominations with PGA, WGA, and BAFTA; six Oscar nods shouldn’t be dismissed.) And Gerwig won the USC Scripter Award, which has predicted the Adapted Screenplay winner 8 out of the past 10 years, a better success-rate than the WGA. But I do agree on your larger prediction there, and feel like Taika Waititi, himself a real personality in this category alongside Gerwig, has the wind in his sails to win the Oscar, even if it’s pretty close.

IS JOJO RABBIT SURGING?

DAVID: In fact, we’ve been talking a lot about these small, potent shows of support for Parasite — but what of Jojo Rabbit? It’s winning key awards late in the game, and pulled off a Costume Designers Guild shocker. The industry, to your point, really loves this movie. Is it our Best Picture sleeper?

JOEY: I was stunned by its upset at the Costume Designers Guild awards. I think it held steady, even as we slept on it a bit while flashier titles rose around it. Winning the TIFF People’s Choice Award is a key indicator of how a film will play to general audiences, and we forget (as evidenced by our secret ballot) that most people voting for the Oscars are just regular people who happen to make movies for a living. Being in the Academy doesn’t automatically mean someone has more tášté than, say, my suburban Pittsburgh parents who watch movies as nothing more than a form of entertainment (they LOVED Jojo Rabbit). It’s a movie that plays, and I think it’s measurably beloved enough to stand at No. 3 behind Parasite and 1917 right now. I’m not betting on a Jojo Rabbit victory, but I won’t be surprised if it happens.

DAVID: Quite right. Once Upon a Time has gotten lost in all of this, it’s true, but the movie will pick up multiple trophies, most likely, so shouldn’t be totally discounted from the Best Picture race. But like Martin Scorsese and The Irishman, yet another movie we know the Academy at least likes, I think the industry has pretty clearly determined that this is not Quentin Tarantino‘s year.

JOEY: Consistent with how Oscars ceremonies have played out in the recent past, I also don’t know if we’ll see one film sweep across the board, with second-tier Best Picture contenders picking up one or two along the way. To determine our Best Picture winner, I think we also have to start thinking about where it could potentially pick up more than two victories across the entire broadcast, as it’s almost unheard of for a Best Picture winner to take only one statuette. And I think the films likeliest to score at least three victories are Parasite, 1917, Jojo Rabbit, and maybe Once Upon a Time. No other film stands that chance, right?

BELOW-THE-LINE LOOKS

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DAVID: To that point! We’ve gone through most of the major categories, which feel a little bit like a bore. I’m fascinated by the idea of The Irishman, which came out of the gate so strong, going 0 for 10. Gives us a chance to look at a few below the line categories before we wrap this chat up. Can Thelma Schoonmaker win editing? Sandy Powell costumes? Something? It’s such a craft film, it feels weird for it not to win anything.

JOEY: Madame Thelma, what an absolute icon! If Parasite and Jojo hadn’t taken the ACE Eddies, I’d say yes, but, I don’t think The Irishman is winning anything. Especially for Costume Design… The Irishman? To channel the late legend of shade Aretha Franklin: “Uh… great [suits], beautiful [suits].” There’s not much there. And most of the industry seems a little baffled by the film’s VFX, or at least how the actors’ performances were integrated with the VFX, so I’m not sure it has the edge in any BTL category. I actually think we could see Joker take some surprise tech wins (editing, maybe?), but the most interesting BTL race, to me, is Best Original Song. Part of me thinks Cynthia Erivo will pull a Lady Gaga and win here by garnering votes for her nominated performance on top of her songwriting, but Rocketman (you can’t deny the power of Elton John) also seems like a sturdy contender. But, for God’s sake, can we just end Diane Warren‘s misery and give it to her after 11 nominations, already?

DAVID: I feel the same way about Thomas Newman for 1917! Somehow he has not won for Best Original Score, over decades of worthy (and nominated) work and his amazingly tense work in this movie feels especially deserving to me. But I can’t really begrudge the Academy finally, actually voting for a woman here, and it feels like an appropriate place for Joker to get some recognition. (I also generally agree that Joker seems primed to win a few surprise below-the-line prizes.)

At least we have some hopes and uncertainty in those tech categories! Because really, how many times can we argue about whether Zellweger or Dern could possibly lose before they, inevitably, win again? Alas, at least we’ve got the big Best Picture question. We’re predicting with our hearts. Will the Academy vote the same way?

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