What to expect from the 2020 Oscar nominations: Storylines, predictions and potential outrage

The Irishman (Netflix), Little Women (Sony), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Sony)
The Irishman, Little Women and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Photo: Netflix, Sony).

The nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards will be announced bright and early Monday morning — some might say too early, especially those of us on the West Coast who must be alert and/or caffeinated in time for the 5:20 a.m. PST unveiling. Actors John Cho (Harold and Kumar, Star Trek) and Issa Rae (Insecure, Little) will handle emceeing duties.

With the Oscars ceremony moved up several weeks this year, from its typical late-February/early-March frame to Feb. 9, and nominations followed suit, there's more suspense than usual. Were voters able to screen everything from the annual deluge of late-December releases (which this year included contenders like 1917 and Little Women) in time? We hope so.

Expect the unexpected when it comes to Hollywood's most premier awards show. Here's our primer on major storylines to watch out for come Monday, plus our final predictions on how the major categories will shake out.

The most competitive category

Best Picture is always the most intriguing race. Not only is it the top prize, but due to quirky Academy rules, we don't know exactly how many titles will ultimately make the cut. Nominations are finalized through a complicated preferential ballot system, which means there could be between five and 10 films in the running, although in recent years it has netted out to eight or nine. For a potential preview, we should look at a normally reliable predictor: the Producer's Guild Awards. This year’s Best Picture race will likely include most of the 10 titles up for PGAs: 1917, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Knives Out, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Parasite. Others hoping to sneak in include The Farewell, The Two Popes and Bombshell.

But Best Picture is not the most competitive category. Best Actor has two sure things in the form of frontrunners Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Adam Driver (Marriage Story) and then chaos. There’s a logjam of worthy contenders, including Taron Egerton (Rocketman), Robert De Niro (The Irishman), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name), Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems), Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) and George MacKay (1917). Seven of these thespians, almost-certain nominees in lesser years, will not make the ballot.

Controversies a-brewin'

Greta Gerwig and Meryl Streep on the set of 'Little Women' (Sony)
Greta Gerwig and Meryl Streep on the set of Little Women. (Photo: Sony)

Brace yourselves for the outrage. When the Golden Globe nominations were announced back in December, controversy erupted when no women were nominated in the Best Director category for a fifth straight year. The umbrage was loud despite most pundits largely predicting the shut-out. There were four nominees considered locks: maestros Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) in top form; Bong Joon Ho for helming the year’s most buzzed-about movie among film buffs (Parasite); and Sam Mendes’s virtuoso showcase 1917, which appeared to be filmed in a single cut. That left one slot and Globes voters went with Joker helmer Todd Phillips over female filmmakers like Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Lulu Wang (The Farewell) and Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers). Phillips also edged out Globes Best Picture nominee directors Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), Fernando Meirelles (The Two Popes), Dexter Fletcher (Rocketman), Rian Johnson (Knives Out), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) and Craig Brewer (Dolemite Is My Name).

And it's very possible the same thing will happen with the Oscar nominations. Scorsese, Tarantino, Bong and Mendes (who won the Golden Globe) are expected to hear their names called, which leaves one wild-card spot. The two likeliest candidates are Gerwig and Baumbach, who coincidentally have been partners since 2011 and welcomed a son together in March. It could also go to Phillips in a Globes repeat or Waititi, who was a surprise choice when the Directors Guild nominations were announced earlier this week.

We foresee the Oscars averting the Globes's misstep and selecting Gerwig, who was the fifth woman ever nominated in the category two years ago for Lady Bird. If women are shut out this year, there's hope for the near future: 2020 will be a watershed year for female directors in both large- and small-scale projects, with women directing all four major superhero movies and 44 percent of the films premiering at Sundance.

The Academy is also looking to avoid a repeat of #OscarsSoWhite, the controversy that plagued the awards in 2015 and 2016, when not a single acting nominee was a person of color. That's exactly what just happened with this year's BAFTA Award nominations. But with the Academy diversifying its membership and a strong field that includes potential contenders like Murphy and Banderas in Best Actor, Awkwafina (The Farewell), Lupita Nyong'o (Us) and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) in Best Actress, Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy) and Sterling K. Brown (Waves) in Best Supporting Actor, and Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) and Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell) in Best Supporting Actress, we don't expect the dreaded hashtag to resurface.

What's new this year

There are some minor changes worth noting. The category formerly known as "Best Foreign-Language Film" (and soon to be known as the category Parasite wins no matter what) is now called Best International Film. The category stipulates that contenders must have the majority of their dialogue in a language other than English and there’s no restrictions on genre, meaning dramatic features can compete alongside animated and documentary films.

'Parasite' (NEON)
Parasite (Photo: NEON)

Elsewhere, Best Makeup and Hairstyling has expanded from three to five nominees — though that won't matter much for likely winner Bombshell. Just try to recognize Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.

What's not new: A year after going hostless for the first time in three decades, the 2020 telecast will follow suit.

Will the Golden Globes effect Oscar noms?

Do the Golden Globes matter? That is one of the most popular debates among awards pundits; then there’s the follow-up: Do the Golden Globes matter when it comes to predicting the Oscars? And the answer is… yes and no. The Globes are voted on by a tiny body — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and its fewer than 100 journalist members — while the Oscars are voted by more than 8,500 film professionals. The HFPA also has a reputation for being more easily schmoozed by actors and filmmakers on the campaign trail, given their size and accessibility.

But given this year's Globes took place smack dab in the Oscar voting window, and the star-studded ceremony is considered must-watch entertainment for many in the industry, it’s not difficult to imagine the Globes results had some effect. Seeing certain winners emerge on a national stage, especially those considered underdogs like Taron Egerton (who upset Leonardo DiCaprio and Eddie Murphy in Best Actor, Musical or Comedy) and 1917 (which took down The Irishman in Best Drama), could very well galvanize Oscars voters. Momentum is key in the awards race.

Our nomination predictions

Best Picture

Our predictions:
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Other contenders:
Avengers: Endgame
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Farewell
Pain and Glory
The Two Popes

Best Director

Our predictions:
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Other contenders:
Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Todd Phillips, Joker
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Best Actress

Our predictions:
Awkwafina, The Farewell
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong'o, Us
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Other contenders:
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Alfre Woodard, Clemency

Best Actor

Our predictions:
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Other contenders:
Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Robert De Niro, The Irishman
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell
George MacKay, 1917
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Supporting Actress

Our predictions:
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

Other contenders:
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Annette Bening, The Report
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Margot Robbie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actor

Our predictions:
Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Other contenders:
Sterling K. Brown, Waves
Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Song Kang Ho, Parasite
Sam Rockwell, Richard Jewell

Best Original Screenplay

Our predictions:
Lulu Wang, The Farewell
Rian Johnson, Knives Out
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han, Parasite

Other contenders:
Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns, 1917
Emily Halpern & Sarah Haskins and Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, Booksmart
Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory

Best Adapted Screenplay

Our predictions:
Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Steve Zaillian, The Irishman
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Todd Phillips & Scott Silver, Joker
Greta Gerwig, Little Women

Other contenders:
Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
Billy Ray, Richard Jewell

Best Animated Feature

Our predictions:
Frozen 2
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Toy Story 4
Weathering With You

Other contenders:
Missing Link

Best Documentary Feature

Our predictions:
American Factory
Apollo 11
The Biggest Little Farm
For Sama

Other contenders:
The Cave
One Child Nation

Best International Film

Our predictions:
Les Misérables
Pain and Glory
The Painted Bird

Other contenders:
Corpus Christi
Those Who Remained
Truth and Justice

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