What Will Win And What Should Win


My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is the same as it was for 2019 and 2018: instead of, y’know, personal growth, I try to watch every Oscar-nominated movie, emphasis on the word “try” as I don’t need to see Christian drama Breakthrough to know that “I’m Standing With You” isn’t going to win Best Original Song. It’s a fun challenge, and not as difficult as it used to be, as more theaters are beginning to show the often otherwise-unavailable shorts. But even someone who’s only seen Avengers: Endgame and half of Joker on an airplane could probably predict the acting categories for the 92nd Academy Awards, which air this Sunday. Those winners are practically set in stone (if Brad Pitt came up with something this good for the SAG Awards, imagine what he has in store for the Oscars), but other categories are more difficult to predict, including Best Picture.

Will Parasite make history? Of Joker‘s class-leading 11 nominations, how many times will it put a smile on Todd Phillips’ face? Can The Rise of Skywalker become the first Star Wars movie since the original trilogy (!) to win an Oscar? Based on what should win and what will win, we make our best guesses for all 24 categories below (Note: the categories are listed in the order they were presented in during last year’s ceremony, with the exception of actor/actress and supporting actor/actress, which are together.)

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama

What Should Win? Honeyland
What Will Win? American Factory

If Barack Obama can win the presidential election twice, then an Oscar should be no sweat. American Factory, the first film produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions, is the only documentary in this category that explores what it’s like to live in America in 2020. And as this anonymous ballot unfortunately reminded us, that, coupled with the Obamas’ connection, could be enough to put American Factory (is it a “regular” film?) over the top. Be sure to check out Honeyland and For Sama, though. They’re great. Depressing as hell, but great.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell, Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan, Vivian Baker
Joker, Nicki Ledermann, Kay Georgiou
Judy, Jeremy Woodhead
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten, David White
1917, Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis, Rebecca Cole

What Should Win? Bombshell, Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan, Vivian Baker
What Will Win? Bombshell, Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan, Vivian Baker

Is this Megyn Kelly or Charlize Theron?


It’s Charlize Theron, but admit it, you had to think about it. From the moment the first teaser trailer dropped, Bombshell had this category locked up. (I’m keeping this blurb short because I’m still mad at Best Makeup and Hairstyling. They know what they did.) (Turned “Suicide Squad” into “Oscar winner Suicide Squad.”) (Oh no. Does that mean the Joker is going to win again?) (Nah, Joaquin’s Joker isn’t “DAMAGED” enough.)

Costume Design

The Irishman, Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
Jojo Rabbit, Mayes C. Rubeo
Joker, Mark Bridges
Little Women, Jacqueline Durran
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Arianne Phillips

What Should Win? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Arianne Phillips
What Will Win? Little Women, Jacqueline Durran

If I could dress like any movie, it would be Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (even if one of the best scenes involves a character taking clothing off). I want all the turtlenecks, and denim, and yellow hot pants. But that’s not how this category works; otherwise, Chris Evans’ sweater from Knives Out would win for the next five years. Jacqueline Durran already has one Oscar — she’ll add another for Little Women. As Greta Gerwig put it, “Jacqueline does things without ever making it feel too heavy. It’s always within the context of life and the characters.” (Notice the way she styled Jo around her independent personality compared to her sisters.) It’s nothing short of, well, Oscar-worthy.

Production Design

The Irishman, Bob Shaw, Regina Graves
Jojo Rabbit, Ra Vincent, Nora Sopkova
1917, Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh
Parasite, Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, Cho Hee

What Should Win? Parasite, Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, Cho Hee
What Will Win? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh

Did you know the house from Parasite is a set? I didn’t until reading this IndieWire piece. I assumed it was an existing residence that a peach-fearing family was temporarily displaced from, but “in the movie, this marvel of modern architecture was designed by a fictional architect named Namgoong Hyeonja. In truth, it was the brainchild of Parasite production designer Lee Ha Jun.” Not to get all They Came Together, but the Parasite house is like another character. But because this category rarely goes to a contemporary film (Black Panther won last year, and it was The Shape of Water before that), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the still-worthy winner. Ling wanted to “capture what the city felt like at the time,” and looking at these before-and-after images, she succeeded.


The Irishman, Rodrigo Prieto
Joker, Lawrence Sher
The Lighthouse, Jarin Blaschke
1917, Roger Deakins
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Robert Richardson

What Should Win? 1917, Roger Deakins
What Will Win? 1917, Roger Deakins

This contest is over. Give that man his Oscar (only his second!).

Sound Editing

Ford v Ferrari, Donald Sylvester
Joker, Alan Robert Murray
1917, Oliver Tarney, Rachael Tate
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Wylie Stateman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Matthew Wood, David Acord

What Should Win? Ford v Ferrari, Donald Sylvester
What Will Win? 1917, Oliver Tarney, Rachael Tate

Here’s your annual reminder of the difference between sound editing and sound mixing: sound editors are in charge of collecting sounds; sound mixers add them to the movie. Or as someone involved with one of the nominated movies explained it to me: “Sound editors make sure there’s a good sound when the door closes; mixers determine how loud that door close is compared to the dialogue, music, and other FX in the scene.” It’s obviously a little more complicated than that, but let’s face it, the average Academy member doesn’t know the difference; for three out of the past four years, and eight out of the past 13, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing have gone to same the film (no wonder there’s talk of combining the categories). It’s between the vroom-vrooms of Ford v Ferrari and the kabooms of 1917. I prefer the vrooms, but think the kabooms will win.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra, Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Mark Ulano
Ford v Ferrari, Paul Massey, David Giammarco, Steven A. Morrow
Joker, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Tod Maitland
1917, Mark Taylor, Stuart Wilson
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler, Mark Ulano

What Should Win? Ford v Ferrari, Paul Massey, David Giammarco, Steven A. Morrow
What Will Win? 1917, Mark Taylor, Stuart Wilson

Same as above.

International Feature Film

Corpus Christi
Les Miserables
Pain and Glory

What Should Win? Parasite
What Will Win? Parasite

In another year, Pedro Almodóvar’s deeply personal Pain and Glory might have won; or maybe Honeyland, the first film ever to be nominated in both this category and Best Documentary Feature; or Céline Sciamma’s exquisite Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which should have been France’s submission over Les Miserables (I haven’t seen Corpus Christi). But Parasite winning Best International Feature is the safest bet of the night.

Film Editing

Ford v Ferrari, Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland
The Irishman, Thelma Schoonmaker
Jojo Rabbit, Tom Eagles
Joker, Jeff Groth
Parasite, Jinmo Yang

What Should Win? Parasite, Jinmo Yang
What Will Win? Ford v Ferrari, Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland

I was ready to give this award to 1917 before realizing, oops, it’s not nominated. That’s surprising, because this category tends to go to the flashiest movie — Bohemian Rhapsody last year, Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, and Mad Max: Fury Road before it — which puts Ford v Ferrari in the driver’s seat (pun intended?). A win for Parasite, with its meticulously perfect “60 cuts in five minute” montage, would be nice, but it’s unlikely.

Animated Feature Film

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

What Should Win? Toy Story 4
What Will Win? Toy Story 4

Missing Link won the Golden Globe, while the Annie went to Klaus, which is significant as Best Animated Feature at the Annies has aligned with Best Animated Feature at the Oscars for the past four years (Inside Out, Zootopia, Coco, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). But Toy Story 4, a critical darling that made $1 billion at the box office, is still the frontrunner over Santa, a yeti, a severed hand, and Toothless. Do it for Forky.

Animated Short Film

Hair Love

What Should Win? Memorable
What Will Win? Hair Love

Kitbull has an abused dog. It will make you cry. Daughter is about the things left unsaid between a father and daughter as he’s on his deathbed. It, too, will make you cry. Memorable? Dementia. Prepare to cry. Sister? I don’t want to give it away, but you’re going to look like that Emma Stone GIF. Hair Love will (yup) have you crying, but also smiling. The picture-book animation isn’t as stunning as the stop-motion Memorable, my personal favorite, but it’s cute and teaches an important lesson about self-acceptance.

Documentary Short Subject

In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha

What Should Win? In the Absence
What Will Win? Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

There’s no rhyme or reason to previous winners in this category, making predicting a winner difficult. In the Absence — about a ferry in South Korea that sank due to government negligence, resulting in the deaths of over 300 people — is compellingly constructed, but the lack of a feel-good ending might dissuade some voters. This is a dreary category overall with shorts about gun violence (St. Louis Superman), children slipping into a coma-like state as a result of stress and trauma (Life Overtakes Me), and, well, learning to skateboard in a warzone if you’re a girl (Learning to Skateboard, etc.). But with its focus on empowering young women in an impossibly difficult situation, it’s the one to beat over the sweet-but-slight Walk Run Cha-Cha.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame, Dan DeLeeuw, Matt Aitken, Russell Earl, Dan Sudick
The Irishman, Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Stephane Grabli
The Lion King, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Elliot Newman
1917, Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy
The Rise of Skywalker, Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, Dominic Tuohy

What Should Win? Avengers: Endgame
What Will Win? The Lion King

There’s not a dud in the bunch here, so let’s take a look at recent Best Visual Effects victors to determine a winner. Since 2015, the category has gone to Ex Machina, The Jungle Book, Blade Runner 2049, and First Man. So, space and animals (Space Chimps was ahead of its time). I can’t imagine The Rise of Skywalker winning, as it doesn’t look any better or worse than The Last Jedi or The Force Awakens, both of which lost, and no Marvel Cinematic Universe movie has ever won in this category, so there goes Avengers: Endgame. The Irishman is neither set in space or stars animals (except that dead fish), and while its digital de-aging technology is an expensive triumph in filmmaking, it’s lost momentum. That leaves 1917 and The Lion King (which took home the top honor at the Visual Effects Society Awards). 1917 will fare well in the technical categories, but not here. The Lion King will become Jon Favreau’s second Disney movie with singing animals in a row to win here. Just don’t look into Simba’s dead eyes.

Live-Action Short Film

Nefta Football Club
The Neighbor’s Window
A Sister

What Should Win? Nefta Football Club
What Will Win? The Neighbor’s Window

If you haven’t had a chance to watch the live-action short nominees, here’s what you should know: Brotherhood does that maddening thing where the conflict could be resolved if a character said one thing to another character, but they don’t; A Sister is tense, but might work better as a full-length feature; The Neighbor’s Window is about a married couple with kids living in New York City who become obsessed with their sexy neighbors; Saria is based on a real-life tragedy that feels rushed; and Nefta Football Club has a drug-carrying donkey that loves Adele and a killer punchline. Now, while I personally think the Adele-listening donkey deserves a lifetime achievement award, some Academy members might find Nefta Football Club too slight; it’s the only nominee that could be considered a comedy. The Neighbor’s Window (which is more depressing than you might assume from its voyeuristic premise; there’s even a song from the National!) will give director Marshall Curry his first Oscar win after years of nominations.

Original Screenplay

Knives Out, Rian Johnson
Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach
1917, Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino
Parasite, Bong Joon Ho, Jin Won Han

What Should Win? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino
What Will Win? Parasite, Bong Joon Ho, Jin Won Han

After Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, I was beginning to wonder if Quentin Tarantino had lost a step. But Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his not-a-love-letter to Los Angeles, blew me away; it’s probably my favorite film of his, and I find myself quoting it near daily. (“Uh, you are?” “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” “…Nah, it was dumber than that.”) Obviously, the key to a good script isn’t its quotability — otherwise, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me would have won an Oscar — but few people write more instantly memorable dialogue than Tarantino. That being said, I think this category, along with Best International Feature, is where voters will recognize Parasite, a carefully constructed, brilliantly sharp satire without a line of wasted dialogue.

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman, Steven Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi
Joker, Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Little Women, Greta Gerwig
The Two Popes, Anthony McCarten

What Should Win? Little Women, Greta Gerwig
What Will Win? Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi

If only all adaptations were as good as Little Women. As we wrote in our review, “Gerwig’s adaptation retains all the appeal of its source material while placing it in a historical context that allows us to understand not just the what, but the how and the why as well.” It’s clever and surprising, no easy task for a movie based on a 150-year-old book. JoJo Rabbit, meanwhile, is based on a lesser-known work (Christine Leunens’s Caging Skies), but the story of a young Nazi who begins questioning his hateful beliefs after finding a Jewish girl hiding in the house has resonated with voters, as the Taika Waititi-written script won the BAFTA and the Writer’s Guild awards. It has the slight edge.

Original Score

Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir
Little Women, Alexandre Desplat
Marriage Story, Randy Newman
1917, Thomas Newman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams

What Should Win? Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir
What Will Win? Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir

Guess how many times John Williams has been nominated for an Oscar. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s higher than that. Fifty-two. John Williams has been nominated for 52 (!!!) Oscars, winning five times for Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Schindler’s List. The Rise of Skywalker, the least memorable of Williams’ Star Wars scores (how fitting for the least memorable Star Wars movie), will not be number six. This category is a toss-up between Joker and 1917, but I’m guessing it will go to Hildur Guðnadóttir, whose bleakly beautiful and ominous Joker score (those cellos!) is far better than the on-the-nose Joker soundtrack (“Send in the Clowns,” he’s a clown, we get it). Also, Guðnadóttir has played with Throbbing Gistle, Animal Collective, and Sunn O))), and it’s fun to imagine these guys watching the Academy Awards.

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You,” Breakthrough
“Into the Unknown,” Frozen 2
“Stand Up,” Harriet

What Should Win? “Glasgow (No Place Like Home),” Wild Rose
What Will Win? “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman

You’ll notice the What Should Win isn’t among the nominees. But I’m including the egregiously snubbed “Glasgow (No Place Like Home),” the stirring country-ballad sung by Jessie Buckley (remember that name) and co-written by Mary Steenburgen, because man, what an uninspiring group of nominees. “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” is a throwaway compared to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”; “Into the Unknown,” while catchy, is no “Let It Go”; “I’m Standing with You” is from a faith-based drama, so, hard pass; and Cynthia Erivo deserves better than the blandly inspirational “Stand Up.” That leaves “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” performed by Elton John and Taron Egerton. The best we can hope for is John accepting the award while dressed as fellow nominee Duke Caboom.

Supporting Actor

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Who Should Win? Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Who Will Win? Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I’ll get there.

Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Who Should Win? Florence Pugh, Little Women
Who Will Win? Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Keep scrolling.


Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Who Should Win? Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Who Will Win? Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Almost there.


Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renee Zellweger, Judy

Who Should Win? Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Who Will Win? Renee Zellweger, Judy

I combined the four acting categories because, as previously mentioned, there is no drama here: Joaquin Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt, and Laura Dern are going to win. That foursome swept the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA Awards, and they’ll go five-for-five on Sunday. But as far as near locks go, it’s a good group. Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth is the coolest man alive in Hollywood (and maybe a murderer, but who among us hasn’t wanted to shoot someone with a harpoon gun?); Judy was a necessary reminder for why Zellweger was one of the most in-demand actresses of the late 1990s, early 2000s; Dern winning should make David Lynch happy; and if nothing else, Phoenix will give an interesting, unorthodox speech. I prefer Banderas’ pained, but tender performance in Pain and Glory, but the Joker winning is what society deserves.


Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Who Should Win? Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Who Will Win? Sam Mendes, 1917

This, this is why Sam Mendes will win.

1917 is an undeniable technical marvel, and — this is a compliment, I swear — the best video game movie I’ve ever seen. (Detective Pikachu is a close second.) The one-shot technique could have been gimmick, but it’s an effective tool for not allowing the viewer to escape the horrors of the battlefield; I felt the same sweaty-palmed tension while watching 1917 as I do playing Call of Duty. Bong Joon Ho has been one of the few delights of this award season, and while I would love for the genre balancing act he pulled off with Parasite to get recognized, it’s hard to argue with history: since 1950, the winner of the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film has also won Best Director at the Oscars all but seven years. Mendes won it this year.

Best Picture

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

What Should Win? Parasite
What Will Win? 1917

Let’s begin with what’s not going to win: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, and Marriage Story. This is a three-film race, with 1917 and Parasite neck and neck in the lead and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood far behind. My heart says Parasite, which we named one of the best movies of the 2010s, but the math says 1917.

Universal took a risk in releasing 1917 in December, as the last seven winners have all come out in October or November, but the strategy appears to be paying off: it won the equivalent of Best Picture at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and, most notably, Producers Guild of America awards). The war epic is peaking at the right time, and remember, ballots only recently closed, so it’s the freshest nominee in many voters’ minds. It’s also worth mentioning that no foreign-language film has ever won Best Picture; if Roma can’t beat freaking Green Book, what hope does Parasite have? It’s an uphill (uprock?) climb.

But ultimately, the reason I think 1917 will triumph over Parasite is because of what the film’s producer Pippa Harris said at the Producers Guild of America awards: “In these times of division and conflict around the world, I really hope that it’s just a reminder to never take for granted the peace that we all inherited.” Parasite is a prickly black comedy-thriller about class struggle; 1917 is a masterclass in gripping filmmaking, yes, but it’s still a war movie throwback about perseverance, duty, compassion, and other words that the Oscars love to use during “the power of movies” montage. This feels like The King’s Speech beating The Social Network all over again.


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