A preposterously premature prediction of next year's Oscar winners
The ink may still be drying on Parasite's Best Picture announcement card, but it's never too soon to start looking forward to next year. With new movies in the works from Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Sophia Coppola, and Paul Thomas Anderson, it's sure to be a crowded field — and anyone's game.
But based on Academy trends and what we know about the movies so far, some educated guesses can be made, even this far out. Here are your absurdly early predictions for the 2021 Oscars (and you can check out how we did on guessing the 2020 Oscar winners here).
Will go to: West Side Story
Could go to: Hillbilly Elegy, Mank
Here's a bit of Oscar trivia for you: Only once in the Academy's 91-year history has a remake won Best Picture (it was The Departed in 2006). Steven Spielberg's West Side Story has even bigger shoes to fill; the original adaptation of the Broadway musical won 10 awards, including Best Picture, back in 1961. But Spielberg's update has all the trappings to be the darling of the Academy this time next year, from its script by Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner to its big-budget song-and-dance numbers. Depending on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, too, the film's themes of racial tolerance and immigration could also be the sort of message Academy voters want to send. If voters end up wary of giving West Side Story a second coronation, however, Ron Howard's Hillbilly Elegy and David Fincher's Mank are waiting in the wings.
Will go to: David Fincher for Mank
Could go to: Martin Scorsese for Killers of the Flower Moon, Steven Spielberg for West Side Story
Will this finally be the year? David Fincher has long been a bridesmaid, but never the bride — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gone Girl, and The Social Network have all been robbed at the Dolby Theater over the years. With Mank, Fincher plans to tell the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who clashed with Orson Welles while writing Citizen Kane. The Academy tends to love movies about the film industry, as well as rewarding nominees who are seen as "overdue," all of which gives Fincher a pretty good shot. Spielberg's West Side Story, or perennial favorite Martin Scorsese with Killers of the Flower Moon, are also safe bets.
Will go to: Viola Davis in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Could go to: Kate Winslet for Ammonite
Viola Davis is a great actress, but she's masterful in her more theatrical roles: she won the 2010 Best Actress Tony for playing Rose Maxson in a revival of August Wilson's Fences, then won a supporting actress Oscar for the same part in the 2016 film adaptation. She also has an even earlier Tony for playing Tonya in King Hedley II, another Wilson script. Naturally, she's been my Best Actress frontrunner since I heard she'd been cast in an adaptation of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which is also by August Wilson. In it, Davis will play the title character, Ma Rainey, "a famed blues singer" who "makes a record in a studio in 1920s Chicago, where tensions boil over between her, her white agent and producer and the bandmates," The Hollywood Reporter writes. Kate Winslet in the queer period drama Ammonite also seems like a potential gimmie, if Davis doesn't pull it off.
Will go to: Eddie Redmayne for The Trial of the Chicago 7
Could go to: Gary Oldman for Mank, Tom Hanks for News of the World or Greyhound
If you wisely skipped The Aeronauts and haven't been keeping up with Fantastic Beasts, then it's probably been a few years since you've seen actor Eddie Redmayne around. He'll likely make a comeback at the Oscars this year thanks to The Trial of the Chicago 7, a film based on seven defendants who were charged in 1968 by the federal government with conspiracy pertaining to their counterculture protests. In Chicago 7, Redmayne will play "Tom Hayden, the co-founder of the Students for a Democratic Society, who was best known for his role as an anti-war, civil rights, and radical intellectual activist in the 1960s" writes Variety — in other words, a role with lots of opportunities to deliver an Important Speech that wins him an Oscar. Tom Hanks will be appearing in two different roles that could make him a contender as well: the World War II movie Greyhound and News of the World, a historical drama with a strategically-timed Christmas release date. Mank also sounds like it's destined to be a potential actor showcase, with Gary Oldman in the lead role.
Will go to: Janusz Kamiński for West Side Story
Could go to: Rodrigo Prieto for Killers of the Flower Moon
Janusz Kamiński has won two Academy Awards for his cinematography, and both were when he partnered with Spielberg: Schindler's List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). He's also received a number of Oscar nominations while working on Spielberg projects including Amistad, War Horse, and most recently Lincoln in 2012. West Side Story is a bit of a different approach for him — it's an enormous production, and a musical — but there will be plenty of opportunities for Kamiński to dexterously show off his stuff behind the camera to Academy voters. I could also easily see this award going to Martin Scorsese's DP, Rodrigo Prieto, for Killers of the Flower Moon, about the Osage murders, which will likely involve lots of brooding shots of Oklahoma oil fields.
Best Original Screenplay
Will go to: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Could go to: The French Dispatch
Aaron Sorkin already has an Academy Award for The Social Network, but more than that, he has a signature style: his rat-a-tat dialogue and favored razor-sharp colloquialisms are so well known that they have their own adjective, "Sorkinian," and have been endlessly parodied. The Trial of the Chicago 7 will be Sorkin's sophomore directorial work, although he's been tinkering with the script since at least 2007. Wes Anderson, who is also known for his rapid-fire, quirky writing style, will likewise have a movie out this year, The French Dispatch, which could lead to a fierce showdown in the category.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will go to: Macbeth
Could go to: News of the World
The Coen brothers are best known for their work together — so well known, in fact, that sometimes it's hard to really remember that they're two separate people. Joel Coen is breaking off from younger brother Ethan this year to work on his own screenplay, an adaptation of Macbeth. While it won't technically be a Coen brothers movie, the script will no doubt have its own hilarious twist on Shakespeare's tragedy about ambition and its consequences. Working together, the Coens are one of the most talented writing teams in Hollywood, winning original and adapted screenplay awards for Fargo and No Country for Old Men respectively; now we'll find out if Joel can pull the same off on his own. If not, News of the World, an adaptation of Paulette Jiles' 2016 novel of the same name by director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Luke Davies, also has potential.
Best Visual Effects
Will go to: Dune
Could go to: Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, Godzilla vs. Kong
Dune is probably my most anticipated movie of 2020, primarily because I want to just look at it. Set on the desert planet of Arrakis, Frank Herbert's original story involved giant killer sandworms and elaborate religions, guilds, mutants, and clones. Who better to tackle such a universe than Denis Villeneuve, whose Blade Runner 2049, despite its narrative shortcomings, was mesmerizing to explore? But as we enter the third decade of the millennium, more and more movies are able to convincingly pull off sweeping visual effects: Christopher Nolan's time-travel epic Tenet, the monster fight movie Godzilla vs. Kong, and DC's Wonder Woman 1984 are also bound to be high-budget spectacles.
Best Animated Feature
Will go to: Soul
Could go to: Onward, Raya and the Last Dragon
When it comes to animation, Pixar is an award-winning dynasty. That's why it's safe to count on Soul, the studio's forthcoming original movie about a teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who dreams of being able to perform at New York's famed jazz club, Blue Note, before an accident divides his soul from his body. There are several other good-looking, forthcoming animated movies, though, including Onward, which is also Pixar and tells the story of teenage elves who attempt to resurrect their late father for a single day. Raya and the Last Dragon, from Disney, is another animated original that could swoop in for the win.
Best International Feature
Will go to: Wicked Games
Could go to: Druk, Undine
Predicting the Best International Feature is extremely tricky this far out — countries don't always submit their consensus best films, and it's harder to keep tabs on what's coming down the pipeline outside of Hollywood. This year is particularly odd, since many of the major international auteurs (Mia Hansen-Løve; Leos Carax; Ildikó Enyedi; presumably Apichatpong Weerasethakul) are working on projects in English, which won't be eligible. Other major international releases, like Paul Verhoeven's Benedetta, about a lesbian nun, almost certainly won't be in competition. My pick, then, is Wicked Games, directed by the well-respected Austrian director Ulrich Seidl and which tells the story of two brothers who bury their mother together before returning to their lives, only to have the past catch up with them. But just as likely is Druk, by BAFTA-winner Thomas Vinterberg, and which stars Hannibal's Mads Mikkelsen returning to his native language of Danish in a movie about teachers who experiment with upping their blood-alcohol content. Likewise Undine, about a woman cursed to kill her ex-boyfriend, by the acclaimed German director Christian Petzold, could be a hit.
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