Stephen Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

2020 Oscar Predictions

With the Oscars happening this evening, I thought it’d be fun to put some predictions and wishlists on the record. After all, what could be more evergreen than content that is guaranteed to go stale roughly an hour after it’s posted? I’m confident in my life choices.

As usual, I’m going to have three selections per category: Will Win, Should Win, and Should Have Been Nominated. Will Win is exactly as it sounds; my prediction (tinged only slightly by wishful thinking) of what the actual outcome will be tonight. Should Win represents my ideal outcome for the evening, and is restricted to actual nominees. Should Have Been Nominated is, in essence, a “Snub”: ignoring logistics or shortlists or general feasibility, what ought to have been nominated?

Best Picture

  • Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, Parasite
  • Will Win: Entirely up for grabs, but I’ll wager 1917 continues its long, single-take march to the finish line.
  • Should Win: My heart says Marriage Story, as it was highest on my personal list. But awards ought to recognize achievements beyond making Stephen cry, and no film has achieved more than Parasite.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: I am the bizarre outlier who likes every single film nominated this year. But, of course, I preferred many more which weren’t nominated. Every year needs at least one lighter pick, so we can keep Jojo (critics be damned). But lose Ford v Ferrari, 1917, and Joker to make room for Honey Boy, Uncut Gems, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Director

  • Nominees: Martin Scorsese, Todd Philips, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon Ho
  • Will Win: Here, I think my dreams will intersect with reality. Bong Joon Ho takes it.
  • Should Win: I want to see Tarantino get this as much as the next guy. But the best-directed film to premiere at Cannes that day belonged to Bong Joon Ho.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Lose Philips, Mendes, and (I’ll say it) Scorsese, to make room for Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Josh & Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems), and Greta Gerwig (Little Women).

Lead Actress

  • Nominees: Cynthia Erivo, Scarlett Johansson, Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron, Renée Zellweger
  • Will Win: All accounts say Renée has it in the bag, despite the fact that no one saw Judy. All accounts said Glenn Close had it in the bag too, and look where that got us. I say the Academy will surprise us and give it to Scarlett Johansson, who will then, without a hint of irony or self-awareness, make an impromptu speech about diversity in casting.
  • Should Win: If this surprise happens, the Academy will have been right. Scarlett deserves it from this lineup.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Having not seen Judy, I can’t in good conscience say to lose Renée. Charlize was outright cringey in Bombshell (playing a sort of Megyn Kelly by way of Kermit the Frog by way of Elizabeth Holmes), and while Erivo is always great, her film felt too restrained to do her justice. Saoirse would earn her spot most years, but not one as rich as 2019: Replace them with Lupita Nyong’o (Us), Elisabeth Moss (Her Smell), and Awkwafina (The Farewell) and you have a hell of a fight.

Lead Actor

  • Nominees: Antonia Banderas, Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver, Joaquin Phoenix, Jonathan Pryce
  • Will Win: Joaquin will win, and give a speech that is either socially poignant or profoundly uncomfortable. Neither we nor he will know which till it happens.
  • Should Win: This is one of the better lineups in recent memory, and Banderas was particularly brilliant this year. But I still think Joaquin deserves it; both for the way he singlehandedly carries Joker, and for the lifetime of phenomenal work that precedes it.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Jonathan Pryce is great, but not great enough. Lose him for Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems).

Supporting Actress

  • Nominees: Kathy Bates, Laura Dern, Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Margot Robbie
  • Will Win: Laura Dern has it in the bag.
  • Should Win: Dern is great, but Florence Pugh did more heavy lifting with a far more complicated character.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Despite being the best thing about an outright bad movie, Margot Robbie shouldn’t be on this list. And while I haven’t seen Richard Jewell, I can’t imagine Kathy Bates’ “upset mother” role is nearly as poignant as some others this year. Sub in Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell) and Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers).

Supporting Actor

  • Nominees: Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Brad Pitt.
  • Will Win: Brad Pitt will win, and charm the hell out of all of us.
  • Should Win: Pitt deserves it.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: To me, this is one of the weakest lineups of the bunch. Pitt and Pesci are the only ones who I feel absolutely deserve to be here. Pacino and Hopkins are both doing way too much; replace them with Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse) and Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man In San Francisco), who do “too much” far, far better. And while Hanks is moving as Fred Rogers, let’s forego sentiment and reward the man who imbued a real-life father figure with actual depth: Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy). In any just world, he would be a shoo-in for the win.

Screenplay (Adapted)

  • Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, The Two Popes
  • Will Win: I’ll go with the flow and say Jojo Rabbit wins this one as a consolation prize for not winning the bigger awards.
  • Should Win: As an act of adaptation, nothing beats Greta’s work on Little Women.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Joker has its strengths, but the screenplay is not one of them. The Two Popes also is nowhere near as probing as its subject matter should have allowed. Swap those for Lulu Wang’s The Farewell (adapted from a This American Life piece) and Christian Petzold’s Transit (which stretches the very idea of adaptation to the breaking point).

Screenplay (Original)

  • Nominees: Knives Out, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, Parasite
  • Will Win: This is where Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood gets the perennial “Sorry, Quentin” consolation prize.
  • Should Win: While Knives Out and Parasite tie for cleverness, nothing moved me quite like Marriage Story and its pitch-perfect balance of humor and melancholy. Let Baumbach and Gerwig take this year by storm.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Four out of five of these picks are, in my mind, unmovable. But one is a no-brainer: lose 1917 to make room for Shia LaBeouf’s Honey Boy, which navigates an emotional minefield more deftly than any physical one Mendes dreamt up. Honorable mention to Joanna Hogg for The Souvenir and Lena Waithe for Queen and Slim. Why can’t the Screenplay category be doubled in size?

International Feature Film

  • Nominees: Corpus Christi, Honeyland, Les Miserables, Pain and Glory, Parasite
  • Will Win: Parasite wins or I eat 10 times my weight in peaches.
  • Should Win: While I would love to see Almodovar pull off a win here, I would only love it if Bong won Best Picture. As it stands, I can’t hedge bets: Parasite deserves this, and more.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: I can’t kill Corpus Christi without seeing it. Les Miserables was great and socially resonant, but the wrong French film was nominated; give its spot to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And while I loved Honeyland, I don’t think it transcends the Documentary label (for which it’s also nominated) enough to justify such a Euro-centric list. Sub it for Mati Diop’s gorgeous Atlantics.

Documentary Feature

  • Nominees: American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Honeyland
  • Will Win: By all accounts, For Sama has this in the bag.
  • Should Win: I’ve only seen American Factory and Honeyland, so I can’t really judge. But if hype (or the number of crying people I met at Cannes) is any indication, For Sama will have deserved its win.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: With so many blindspots, I don’t know what I can reasonably kick out. But Apollo 11 was one of the most breathtaking features, period, I’ve seen all year, and 5B will quietly break your heart.

Animated Feature

  • Nominees: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Missing Link, Toy Story 4
  • Will Win: I’ll go with conventional wisdom and say Klaus takes this home.
  • Should Win: Again, I’ve only seen two of these (Dragon and Toy Story). But judging by the premise and critical acclaim, I Lost My Body sounds like the most inventive of the bunch.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: This begins a run of categories about which I’m totally unfit to judge.

Animated Short

  • Nominees: Daughter, Hair Love, Kitbull, Memorable, Sister
  • Will Win: The Academy loves animals, and it loves sentimentality; I think Kitbull has this in the bag.
  • Should Win: Sister and Hair Love were both powerful in their own ways, and Memorable was the sort of brilliant concept only an animated short could pull off. But Daughter transcends all of that. It taps into something visceral, evocative, and haunting.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Not fit to judge.

Live Action Short

  • Nominees: Brotherhood, Nefta Football Club, The Neighbors’ Window, Saria, A Sister.
  • Will Win: If the Academy likes its animated shorts on the sappy side, it seems to like its live action shorts dark and Very Obviously About Something Real. For telling a heartbreaking true story, I think Saria wins this one.
  • Should Win: Heaviness is overrated; my two favorites were generally lighter. The Neighbors’ Window nearly won me over with its music montage, but I found its “twists” just a hair too obvious. Nefta Football Club is my pick, and I won’t tell you why.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Not fit to judge.

Documentary Short

  • Nominees: In The Absence, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), Life Overtakes Me, St. Louis Superman, Walk Run Cha-Cha
  • Will Win: Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to catch any of these. I’ll go with the flow and say Learning To Skate In A War Zone.
  • Should Win: Not fit to judge
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Not fit to judge

Cinematography

  • Nominees: The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, 1917, Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood
  • Will Win: Deakins will win the only award 1917 unequivocally deserves.
  • Should Win: While I admire The Lighthouse a great deal, you heard me say “unequivocally”, right? 1917 is a stunning feat of cinematography.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: I truly don’t know what The Irishman or Joker are doing in this category. Kick them out to make room for two of the most meticulously composed films of the year: The Last Black Man In San Francisco and It Must Be Heaven.

Film Editing

  • Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite
  • Will Win: This is one instance where I have no clue of the conventional wisdom. I’ll say the Academy likes fast cuts, and nothing was faster than Ford v Ferrari.
  • Should Win: So much of Parasite’s success is due to its ensemble, and editing is what really lets those pieces work in sync. The thunderstorm alone would earn this win, to say nothing of the stairway, the peach fuzz, the living room, the birthday party…trying not to spoil things, here, but you get the point. What a perfectly orchestrated work.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: I’ll admit that my sense of editing isn’t perfect, but I see no reason why Jojo or Joker are on this list. Give it to Little Women and Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood instead, both of which are tightly edited down to the punctuation mark. And while Ford v Ferrari is indeed propulsive, it can’t hold a candle to the nonstop heart attack that is Uncut Gems.

Sound Editing

  • Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Will Win: While I know the Academy loves a good war movie, I still think the dads will rise up to nominate Ford v Ferrari.
  • Should Win: This is one of those technical awards I have very few opinions about. But the final stretch of Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood owes so much to its use of sound; to say nothing of the infectious blend of musical and visual style that courses through the film.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Joker builds plenty of dread, but I’m not convinced sound is a part of that; whereas in Her Smell, it’s absolutely vital. And while I like a good lightsaber woosh as much as anybody, Ad Astra does so much more than Star Wars to cut the silence of space.

Sound Mixing

  • Nominees: Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood
  • Will Win: Continuing the trend and saying Ford v Ferrari
  • Should Win: I proposed Ad Astra for the last sound category without realizing it was nominated here; consistency demands that I vote for it.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Again swapping out Joker for Her Smell, because in truth I don’t know the difference between mixing and editing.

Production Design

  • Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, 1917, Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, Parasite
  • Will Win: I’ll say this one goes to 1917, for its vast recreation of WWI Germany.
  • Should Win: 1917 is indeed impressive, especially given how little its long-take premise allows you to hide of its set. But the house alone makes Parasite my pick.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: I’m a fan of Jojo, but for my money, Transit does a much better job of putting us in vaguely-sort-of-WWII. And I’m not convinced The Irishman is that driven by production design. Give me Ad Astra instead.

Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Nominees: Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, 1917
  • Will Win: Bombshell will win for most makeup.
  • Should Win: Who honestly knows, with this award. I guess Bombshell does what it can with its game of dress-up?
  • Should Have Been Nominated: I sound like a broken record, but I really have no idea what Joker is or 1917 are doing in this category. Give me Us and Little Women for the creepy and the period piece aesthetics, respectively.

Costume Design

  • Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood
  • Will Win: The Academy loves a period piece. I’m giving the edge to Little Women here.
  • Should Win: Of these, Little Women seems like the right call.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Lose Joker and The Irishman for Ad Astra and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Visual Effects

  • Nominees: Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, The Lion King, 1917, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Will Win: In the battle for Disney properties, I think The Lion King will (infuriatingly) take this home.
  • Should Win: In the battle for Disney properties, I think Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker should win.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: Two of these films (The Irishman, The Lion King) were made worse by virtue of their visual effects, in my opinion. Swap them out for Ad Astra and Spider-Man: Far from Home, the latter of which at least steered into its cheesiness.

Original Score

  • Nominees: Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Will Win: Hildur has it in the bag for Joker
  • Should Win: Joker truly does deserve this particular accolade.
  • Should Have Been Nominated: 1917 and Star Wars did little for me on the score front this year. Sub in Alex Somers and Emile Mosseri, who gave us two of the most perfectly delicate scores this year in Honey Boy and The Last Black Man In San Francisco.

Original Song

  • Nominees: “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away”, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”, “I’m Standing With You”, “Into The Unknown”, “Stand Up”
  • Will Win: I’ll give the edge to “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”, if for no other reason than that the Academy wants to see Elton and Bernie on stage.
  • Should Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”, because I also want to see Elton and Bernie on stage (and all five of these songs are lackluster).
  • Should Have Been Nominated: The Randy Newman song sounds like a parody of Randy Newman songs; swap it for “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” from Wild Rose, which would be 1000x better than any of these nominees even if you didn’t know Mary Steenburgen wrote it. And if you want to feel good, you don’t need to watch schlock like Breakthrough; listen to Jackson Browne and Leslie Mendelson’s heartbreaking “A Human Touch” from 5B. While we’re at it, let’s lose the “Original” adjective so we can make room for Elisabeth Moss’ piano cover of “Heaven” and Adam Driver’s booming rendition of “Being Alive”.

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