Academy Award predictions: So will Saoirse Ronan finally bag her Oscar?

The Golden Globes, wise heads will have it, is a crazy night of fun with too many award categories producing silly results skewed by small voting numbers. Only about 800 people vote in the Globes, but at least 10 times that number are eligible for Academy Award duty, meaning that on the big night relative sanity should prevail.

That, however, doesn’t always turn out to be the case. Last year Globe voters predicted the destination of quite a few Oscars, and in 2020 may do so again. The Oscar nominations dropped yesterday lunchtime, and as usual there are some odd choices and some surprising omissions.

Despite his sterling work on The Irishman, Robert De Niro has been overlooked in the Best Actor category while Leo DiCaprio, who shouted his way most un-edifyingly around the set of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, gets an exceedingly generous nod. Greta Gerwig is not on the Best Director shortlist, which is entirely comprised of middle-aged to elderly men. Not much joy either for her partner, Noah Baumbach, whose Marriage Story started out as a heavy awards contender but has since fallen from favour.

Saoirse Ronan’s Best Actress nomination is cause for celebration because many observers thought she wouldn’t make the cut. Incredibly, it’s her fourth Oscar nod but she’s never won and is highly likely to be overlooked again. Indeed she might be beginning to wonder if she’s not another Glenn Close – nominated seven times, never a winner.

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The heaviest nomination tally (11) went to Joker, Todd Phillips’ stylish, nihilistic superhero prequel, with The Irishman, 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood all securing 10. All four are in the running for Best Picture, as are Little Women, Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story, Ford vs Ferrari and, refreshingly, Bong Joon-ho’s dark Korean satire Parasite. Joker, 1917 and The Irishman are probably the favourites in this category, with Martin Scorsese’s three-hour ‘thriller’ likely to do better in a broader voting pool, and Sam Mendes’ Golden Globe-winning anti-war epic also a strong contender. Either would be very worthy winners.

The Best Director award could go to either film as well: I think it should go to Mendes for the extraordinary logistical miracles required to create his compelling film, but Scorsese, who believe it or not only has one Best Director Oscar, would be hard to argue against. The other nominees are Todd Phillips, Bong Joon-ho and Quentin Tarantino, and let’s pray to God he doesn’t win it.

In the Best Actor category, Joaquin Phoenix would now be a narrow favourite after winning at the Globes. As a consequence, we may have to endure another of his bizarre and unhinged acceptance speeches, but in fairness he was brilliant in Joker, giving an oddly graceful, tragi-comic portrayal of a marginalised man in mid-breakdown.

Up against him are Adam Driver (for Marriage Story), who is his main rival, Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes, Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory and Mr DiCaprio for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

As we mentioned earlier, Saoirse will start as a rank outsider for Best Actress, though if she did win it would be richly deserved as she’s superb as the wilful Jo in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. More likely to bask in triumph on the night are Scarlett Johansson, who gave perhaps her finest performance ever in Marriage Story, and Renee Zellweger by virtue of the fact that she won the Golden Globe for the Garland biopic Judy (she did not deserve to). Cynthia Eviro is up for her powerful turn in the slavery epic Harriet, and Charlize Theron is nominated for her impersonation of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in Bombshell. Johansson should win, Zellweger might.

Johansson has also been nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for her role as a Hitler-loving boy’s mother in Jojo Rabbit.

I would love to see Florence Pugh win for her excellent work opposite Saoirse Ronan in Little Women, but Laura Dern is surely the favourite in this category, having already won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of a chillingly slick LA divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. Margot Robbie (Bombshell) and Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) are also nominated.

And so to the Best Supporting Actor category, which has become slightly controversial. Brad Pitt has always seemed an affable fellow: he’s been through the wringer of late, and it was hard not to feel happy for him when he won in this category at the Golden Globes. He did so, however, with a fairly forgettable performance in a rather ordinary, and ultimately nasty film (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and at the expense of Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, who were both excellent in an exceedingly good film (The Irishman). All three are nominated here, alongside Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes) and the ever-popular Tom Hanks (for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). Pesci should win, and I would not complain if Pacino did, but if Brad does it again I’ll throw something at the television.

In terms of choosing one picture that will dominate, I’m not sure it’s going to be that sort of year. Joker has 11 nominations but they may not materialise into lots of Oscars, and while I expect The Irishman to fare better than it did at the Globes, one should remember that it’s a Netflix-funded film, and the streaming service is not yet beloved by the Academy members. I think Mendes’ 1917 may be the film most likely to win big in multiple categories, and if so this would be entirely appropriate: it’s a magnificent film, a genuinely cinematic experience.

While the Academy has not done quite as badly in terms of diversity among nominees as Bafta, which was lambasted the other day by award-winning director Steve McQueen for its predominately white and male roster of award-hopefuls, the 2020 Oscar nominees list will disappoint many. Greta Gerwig’s exclusion from the director’s shortlist does seem baffling, and Cynthia Eviro is the only black performer to have been nominated in any major category. But unless we start going down the road of quotas, this is bound to remain an annual controversy, and surely it’s the business of the Oscars to pick the best movies, rather than the most worthy ones.

Meanwhile, in terms of quality, this looks a pretty decent year, and all predictions (even mine!) should be taken with a grain of salt. All will be decided on Sunday, February 9.

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