Just before everything went to hell, we had the last Oscars, that feel-good win for Parasite, and me writing this piece while we were wearing jackets and heating our homes. This year, we go from the Oscars pretty much straight into the summer movie season, and I’m writing this story while running my A/C. The ceremony this Sunday will have a different vibe, with producer Steven Soderbergh saying it will feel like a movie. (Um, OK.) They’ll still be giving out the following awards that I’m handicapping. As always, if my predictions are wrong, I’ll refund you the newsstand price of our paper.
Cinematography: The best-photographed movie I saw in 2020 was Vitalina Varela, a movie about Cape Verdean immigrants in Portugal with cinematographer Leonardo Simões placing these African islanders in sharp, dramatically lit tableaux reminiscent of Caravaggio paintings. Sadly, Pedro Costa’s film was ruled ineligible for this year’s awards (other than the International Feature one), so this trophy will likely go to Erik Messerschmidt’s sumptuous black-and-white photography for Mank. Others ineligible for this award that would have made worthy nominees are Declan Quinn’s Technicolor job on Sylvie’s Love and Aaron Moorhead’s multilayered work on Synchronic. I am mystified by the omission of Christopher Blauvelt’s photography of Emma.’s eggshell colors and Karim Hussain’s lurid look for Possessor. Every year has a bad movie with great cinematography, and my pick for 2020 is Disney’s Mulan remake, photographed by Mandy Walker.
Production design: Mank may just take this award, too, as its Old Hollywood trappings are easily more impressive than any other film in the field’s. The rest are distinctly underwhelming compared to the films that were overlooked, with Erin Magill creating life-drainingly perfect interiors for Swallow, Cristina Casali giving a storybook feel to The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Kave Quinn imparting a dollhouse texture to Emma. Michael Perry’s Day-Glo colors on Promising Young Woman helped that revenge story go down easy. A couple of forgettable horror films contributed some memorable sets, too, with Jeremy Reed’s abstract, brutalist sets being the best thing about Gretel & Hansel and Ferdia Murphy’s work for The Other Lamb contrasting monumental sculptures against the wild countryside of County Wicklow, Ireland. Once again, Sylvie’s Love and Mayne Berke’s midcentury stylings are ineligible, as are Philip Murphy and the oppressive look he brought to Vivarium.
Costume design: Once again, this branch of the academy has it wrong. I mean, Alexandra Byrne well deserves her nomination for Emma., and you could argue that Mulan and Pinocchio belong here, too. I’m afraid Mank might win this, too, because of Hollywood’s love of movies about itself. We all should be up in arms that Erin Benach’s costumes for Birds of Prey were not recognized here, because Harley Quinn’s outfits contributed so much to that movie’s antic humor. Anna B. Sheppard’s deliberately outrageous clothes for Eurovision Song Contest merited a place in this field as well. These clothing designers take their jobs too seriously. I have one more left-field pick: Valley Girl wasn’t much of a movie, but Maya Lieberman’s 1980s outfits sent up the decade perfectly.
Foreign-language international film: An unusually strong field this year. The trophy will likely go to Denmark’s Another Round, which also snagged a surprise first-ever Best Director nomination for the country. Here’s hoping we see Mads Mikkelsen break out some dance moves to celebrate the win. It seems likely that Brazil didn’t submit Bacurau because of its criticism of Bolsonaro’s government, while France passed up Cuties in favor of the inferior Two of Us, which illustrates why letting the countries pick their one submission for this category sucks. I haven’t seen True Mothers (Japan) or This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Lesotho), but both won rave advance reviews while going unrecognized by the academy. La Llorona (Guatemala) and Night of the Kings (Ivory Coast) made the shortlist and would have made better nominees than Better Days (Hong Kong) and The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia). Deserving more consideration as well: Vitalina Varela (Portugal) and The Man Standing Next (South Korea).
Animated feature: For a while, it was looking like Pixar’s only entry in this field would be the relatively undistinguished Onward, but now, I see nothing standing between Soul and the studio’s 11th win in this category. Wolfwalkers looks like the only credible threat in the field, and while there’s great affection for Tomm Moore’s distinctive visual style and mining of Irish lore, I don’t find that his stories come together as potently as I’d like. You could make a case for Earwig and the Witch deserving a nod, but I’m not too upset. Not eligible for this award are some prominent Asian entries like Jiang Ziya and La Casa Lobo, which is a Chinese entry, believe it or not.
Documentary feature: I went over this in exhaustive detail when I did my piece on the year’s best documentaries last month. I picked Time as the likely winner, and I see no reason to come off that.
Original score: Soul will take this one, with Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross’ jazz both meritorious on its own and being foregrounded so much by the film it was in. I have no problem with this, nor with the nominations for Da 5 Bloods and Minari, but some of 2020’s most interesting scores went by the wayside here, like Adam Janota Bzowski’s organizing principle of a score for Saint Maud, Robert Glasper’s lush jazz music for The Photograph, and Jim Williams’ unorthodox soundtrack for Possessor. I’m not sure how Nicolas Becker and Abraham Marder’s music for Sound of Metal misses out here, either, with its heavy metal songs so integral to the film’s story. Anthony Willis’ bruising string score for Promising Young Woman (and its menacing cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic”) was ruled ineligible.
Original song: Weak stuff here. Seriously, you could take “Fight for You” out of Judas and the Black Messiah and switch it with “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami, and nobody would notice. There may be some support for the Italian-language “Io Sì” from The Life Ahead, with songwriter Diane Warren on her 12th Oscar nomination without a win. However, I’m 100 percent behind “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest, which is the best song here and the only one with a sense of humor or lyrics in Icelandic. A win for it would make songwriter Will Ferrell the first ever cast member of Saturday Night Live to receive an Oscar, which is a mind-blowing fact. Billie Eilish’s theme song from No Time to Die was ruled ineligible because the movie it’s attached to hasn’t been released yet. If the academy had nominated “Wuhan Flu” from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, it would have injected some fun into the ceremony and been worthy of standing beside “Blame Canada” as an Oscar nominee. I’m not a fan of the song, but nominating Taylor Swift’s “Only the Young” from Miss Americana would have made for a more interesting race. Enough about that. You’re upset over the omission of “Jaja Ding Dong” from Eurovision. I don’t blame you. Guess that’s something to sing at your socially distanced Oscar party.