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How the best picture Oscar nominees stack up

Will it be a ‘1917’ blitzkrieg? Does ‘Parasite’s fairytale run have a final twist? We break down each film’s chances

Still from ‘1917’
Still from ‘1917’

It has been 10 years since the Oscars expanded the best picture category from five to nine nominations. If we put aside the inevitable cold-shouldering of indie and non-English cinema, this year’s choices come closest to justifying the expanded field (the ceremony is on 10 February). Yes, there are replacements that could have been made; even assuming the Academy exhausted its foreign film quota with Parasite, replacing Jojo Rabbit and Ford V Ferrari with Uncut Gems and The Farewell wouldn’t even have required them to look outside Hollywood. The category takes in a few veterans, a younger star director, the obligatory British production and the 2019 Venice and Cannes festival winners. We break down each nominee’s chances.

Ford v Ferrari

Other nominations: Sound mixing, sound editing, film editing.

Our take: James Mangold’s racing film is the closest thing to a studio tent pole in this year’s field—though this sort of meat-and-potatoes film-making seems worth encouraging in an era of barely distinguishable franchise efforts. The candy-coloured production design—not nominated—is worth the ticket price.

Award chances: The one film that clearly isn’t going to win best picture, though the flashy editing might triumph.

The Irishman

Other nominations: Director, supporting actor (two nods), adapted screenplay, production design, cinematography, costume design, film editing, visual effects.

Our take: Martin Scorsese’s revisiting of the gangster genre comes with all the hard-won wisdom and reflection that 50-plus years of film-making will earn you. His slow-winding film is at once intimate and expansive, the story of one flawed man set against the relentless churn of American ambition.

Award chances: The film hasn’t snagged the big pre-Oscar awards but the Academy did give Scorsese the top prize in 2007 for a far lesser film (The Departed). Netflix will be pressing hard for that statue after last year’s upset of Roma. Pacino is likely to win supporting actor; Thelma Schoonmaker might win editing in lieu of lifetime achievement.

Watch it: On Netflix.

Jojo Rabbit

Other nominations: Supporting actress, adapted screenplay, production design, costume design, film editing.

Our take: The best, rudest Nazi jokes since To Be Or Not To Be (Mel Brooks’ version) and a great comic turn by director Taika Waititi as Hitler. Any attempt at modern-day parallels falls short, though, and the film resorts to placing adorable children in front of the camera.

Award chances: Best picture seems a long shot. The narrative turns on costume design, and the film deserves that award.


Other nominations: Director, actor, adapted screenplay, score, sound editing, sound mixing, cinematography, costume design, make-up and hairstyling, editing.

Our take: Todd Phillips borrows wholesale from late-1970s Martin Scorsese for his comic book villain origin story. It’s a grim film, and an act of pop culture revisionism, transforming a popular villain into a revenge-fuelled underdog.

Award chances: Joker has the most number of nominations (11) this year. Joaquin Phoenix is the favourite to win best actor; Hildur Guðnadóttir might win original score if voters are feeling adventurous. It’s a big contender for best picture, though there are better choices on offer.

Watch it: On Google Play.

Still from ‘Little Women’.
Still from ‘Little Women’.

Little Women

Other nominations: Actress, supporting actress, adapted screenplay, score, costume design.

Our take: Warm and unironically pleasurable, Little Women is lifted above previous adaptations of the novel by its jigsaw structuring. Greta Gerwig performs loving surgery on the narrative, and Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are fierce and memorable as Jo and Amy March.

Award chances: The film deserves best adapted screenplay—this is truly an act of adaptation. Pugh could win supporting actress. It will probably win for Alexandre Desplat’s score.

Marriage Story

Other nominations: Actor, actress, supporting actress, original screenplay, score.

Our take: Noah Baumbach’s chamber piece about a couple (played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) going through a messy divorce is impeccably crafted and performed. The tight control might not work for Oscar voters, who tend to reward more obviously ambitious films.

Award chances: You could make a convincing case for Marriage Story winning every category it’s nominated in apart from best picture and supporting actress (though Laura Dern might well repeat her Golden Globe triumph).

Watch it: On Netflix.


Other nominations: Director, original screenplay, score, sound editing, sound mixing, cinematography, production design, make-up and hairstyling, visual effects.

Our take: Sam Mendes’ World War I film is presented to seem like it’s a single shot. Clearly a technical marvel, whether it’s more than that is not as evident.

Award chances: The way things are going, Mendes will probably win best director, and the film will snag a bunch of technical awards. Though 1917 is the odds-on favourite for best picture, the Oscars have gone to (relatively) small-scale winners in the last two years.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Other nominations: Director, actor, supporting actor, original screenplay, sound editing, sound mixing, cinematography, production design, costume design.

Our take: Quentin Tarantino’s film is a love letter to Los Angeles, to the movie industry on the precipice of change, and, most movingly, to Sharon Tate, granting the Manson murder victim another kind of immortality.

Award chances: Tarantino should win his second original screenplay Oscar, with outside bets on the film for production and costume design. Its best picture chances seem healthy too.

Watch it: On Amazon.


Other nominations: Director, original screenplay, international feature, production design, film editing.

Our take: Parasite is a delightfully wicked take on the home invasion genre, with a family of con artists infiltrating a plush household, only to realize they have competition. Top-notch film-making, acid social commentary.

Award chances: Bong Joon-ho’s film will take home the newly renamed international feature film award. Anything more will be a serious sign of intent from the Academy.

Several of these films are in theatres, in limited release. Check local listings.

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