2020 Oscar instant predictions: Can 'Joker' actually win Best Picture?

Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker' (Warner Bros.)
Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. (Warner Bros.)

The nominations for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards were announced Monday morning, and Todd Phillips's dark comic-book thriller Joker laughed its way to a leading 11 nominations.

Does that cement Joker as the early frontrunner heading into the Feb. 9 telecast? Not necessarily.

While the trend in Oscars past has been that the film with the most nominations translates to Best Picture success (it happened nine straight years from 1992-2000), it has only happened four times in the last 10 years: The Shape of Water (13 noms) in 2018; Birdman (which tied The Grand Budapest Hotel with nine noms) in 2015; The King's Speech (12 noms) in 2011; and The Hurt Locker (which tied Avatar with nine noms) in 2010.

Joker will face its stiffest competition from a trio of films that have dominated the awards season: 1917, The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, each of which finished right behind Joker with at 10 nods. And don't forget a certain South Korean sleeper called Parasite — the film has much support within the industry.

Here are our insta-predix in the 11 major categories:

Best Picture

After going 90 years without ever acknowleding a comic-book caper for Best Picture, the Academy has now gone two years in a row with a super-powered film in the running, with Joker following last year's Black Panther. Joker has to be taken seriously here despite the pedigree of its competition.

Martin Scorsese's decade-spanning mob drama The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino's slow-burn Manson Family murders revisionist thriller Once Upon a Time in Hollywood have been considered the two top dogs for months, but The Irishman, which is backed by Netflix, has been running out of steam after losing to Hollywood at the Critics' Choice Awards over the weekend and Sam Mendes's breathtaking WWI epic 1917 at the Golden Globe. But as noted earlier, fans and critics have been rapturous in their praise of Parasite, Bong Joon Ho's dark, captivating and shocking class satire. Could a Moonlight-esque upset be in the making? We reserve the right to change our minds between now and Feb. 9.

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

Insta-prediction: Parasite

Best Director

We'll be hearing a lot over the next month about how the Academy failed to nominate a woman in this category yet again — and while we thought Greta Gerwig's chances for Little Women would be elevated given the blowback the Golden Globes, Directors Guild and BAFTAs received for snubbing female filmmakers — the final Oscar list is not very surprising. Despite the presence of heavy hitters like Scorsese and Tarantino, the Academy tends to honor the filmmaker who executes the trickiest technical feats (see recent wins for Gravity, Birdman and La La Land), which would put Mendes at the front of the pack for his masterfully filmed 1917, which appeared to shot in a single take.

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

Insta-prediction: Sam Mendes, 1917

Best Actress

We were bummed not to see The Farewell's Awkwafina or Us's Lupita Nyong'o make the cut. (Does the Academy really hate horror?) Meanwhile, Cynthia Erivo, the only person of color in this race, could become the youngest EGOT winner ever. But truth be told, Renée Zellweger has seemingly had the Oscar sown up since her comeback vehicle as an aging Judy Garland first premiered at Telluride in August. Her biggest competition comes from another Oscar alumna who disappears into a real-life role: Charlize Theron for her uncanny transformation into Megyn Kelly in Bombshell.

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

Instant-prediction: Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Actor

The Academy failed to nominate four of our favorite performances in this race: Taron Egerton in Rocketman, Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name, Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari and Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. (How you give the Oscar to Rami Malek for lip-synching as Freddie Mercury one year then fail to even nominate Egerton for actually singing as Elton John the next is truly a head-scratcher.) But again, this race boils down to two frontrunners, Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Adam Driver (Marriage Story). Following wins at the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice Awards, it looks like Phoenix is in position to win his first Oscar in four tries, becoming the second actor to win for the supervillain role after Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight turn.

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

Insta-prediction: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Best Supporting Actress

Perhaps the biggest snub of the morning was Jennifer Lopez's shocking miss for Hustlers, a nomination which was widely expected and would have netted the multihyphenate entertainer her first nomination. J.Lo was not only considered a sure thing, but a possible winner. Her diss leaves us with an easy call here: Laura Dern has emerged as the odds-on favorite for her scene-stealing performance as a take-no-prisoners divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. It would mark Dern's first win in three nominations, having previously scored nods for Wild and Rambling Rose.

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

Insta-prediction: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Best Supporting Actor

Fun fact: Tom Hanks's nomination for playing Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the two-time Oscar winners first in 19 years — the last coming in 2000 for Cast Away. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt, who is virtually a co-lead with bromantic partner Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, seems destined to win his first acting Oscar (he won Best Picture as a producer on 12 Years a Slave).

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

Insta-prediction: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Original Screenplay

If there were 10 nominees for Best Picture, there is little doubt the Oscars would have followed the lead of the Producer's Guild and given the last slot to Knives Out, Rian Johnson's brilliantly crafted whodunit. So it's great to see the film — Yahoo Entertainment's No. 1 pick of 2019 — make the cut here. This race is likely coming down to Marriage Story and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, though, and given Tarantino was also acknowledged by the director's branch, Baumbach gets the leg up.


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

Insta-prediction: Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Best Adapted Screenplay

Taika Waititi received his first two Oscar nominations (for Screenplay and Best Picture) since 2005 (for the live-action short Two Cars, One Night) and it would not be shock to see him triumph here. With Jojo Rabbit, he adapted Christine Leunens's novel into an audacious, hilarious and poignant WWII comedy-drama. But with her high-profile snubbing in the Best Director race, look for voters to rally behind Greta Gerwig, who could join her longtime partner Noah Baumbach on the winner's block (and in a helluva photo op).

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

Insta-prediction: Greta Gerwig, Little Women

Best Animated Feature

Aside from J.Lo, the second most surprising snub of the day has to be the omission of Disney's mega-hit franchise sequel Frozen 2 in this race, with voters instead opting for artier animations like I Lost My Body, Klaus and surprise Golden Globe winner Missing Link. Don't fret, though, dear Disneyphiles. Mickey should still secure the W with Toy Story 4, the sequel we didn't know we needed so badly.

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

Insta-prediction: Toy Story 4

Best Documentary Feature

The heavy favorite in the top non-fiction category was widely considered to be Todd Douglas Miller's remarkable archival moon landing retelling Apollo 11 — and it wasn't even nominated. (So no J.Lo or Apol-Lo.) As the New York Times "Carpetbagger" Kyle Buchanan wrote on Twitter, "They love to tear down a frontrunner." The same thing happened two years ago to the widely beloved Mister Rogers doc Won't You Be My Neighbor? The snubbing of Apollo 11 opens up a big lane for the Obamas-produced Netflix doc American Factory.

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama

Insta-prediction: American Factory

Best International Film

Poland (Corpus Christi), North Macedonia (Honeyland, which is also up for Best Doc), France (Les Misérables), Spain (Pain and Glory) and South Korea (Parasite) are all represented in the newly named Best International Film, which is the easiest category to predict. Like last year with Roma, which was also in the Best Picture running, this statuette has to go to Parasite.

Corpus Christi
Les Misérables
Pain and Glory

Insta-prediction: Parasite

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