Would a real Oscar front-runner please stand up?
With less than two weeks until the Academy Awards on Feb. 9 (ABC, 8 p.m. ET/5 PT), it has become painfully obvious who’s taking all the acting gold but not so much what’s going home with the big prize: best picture. This awards season has spread the love around, giving every major film contender a time to shine and every person in an Oscar pool a chance to chew on his or her nails.
Throwing other wrenches into the works: Best picture is voted on through a preferential ballot, where academy members rank their choices rather than just pick one winner, plus a voting body that is slowly getting younger and more diverse every year.
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While one movie hasn’t risen to rule them all quite yet, some have been left in the dust. The racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” may win some technical awards but that’s it, the best chances for coming-of-age adaptation “Little Women” and divorce drama “Marriage Story” are in the screenplay categories, and the World War II satire “Jojo Rabbit” looms as a dark horse with key guild nominations but has yet to make a splash this season.
Here are the five, though, with the right resumes to conquer the best-picture race on Oscar night:
The closest thing to a favorite is director Sam Mendes’ World War I thriller, about two British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) racing to deliver orders in time to save 1,600 fellow military men. The film has had big wins at the Directors Guild Awards and Producers Guild Awards, the latter a strong predictor for the Oscars: The PGA honoree has gone on to win best picture 21 out of 30 times, including the past two years with “The Shape of Water” and “Green Book.” Also in its favor is a Golden Globe victory for best drama and an impressive box office, scoring $104 million with only a few weeks of nationwide release. One troublesome statistic remains: “1917” doesn’t have an acting nomination, and only 11 films in Oscar history – most recently “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2009 – have won best picture without one.
The Oscars have gone 91 years without awarding the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ highest honor to a foreign-language film, so history is not exactly on the side of South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s acclaimed black comedy about class and social inequality. There is real love in the industry for “Parasite,” however, evidenced by the crowd eruption when it snagged a surprise win for outstanding ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. With actors being the largest voting bloc in the academy, the victory – plus an honor for best drama given by the American Cinema Editors – gives “Parasite” momentum going forward, though like “1917,” it also has the problem of no Oscar acting nominations.
‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’
Quentin Tarantino’s star-packed Tinseltown fable – one that intertwines the lives of a washed-up actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), his steely stuntman (Brad Pitt) and the Manson Family – has been a favorite among movie lovers ever since its summer release. “Once Upon a Time” won best comedy at the Golden Globes and best picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards, it’s a strong contender in the 10 Oscar categories where it’s nominated (Pitt’s pretty much a lock for supporting actor and Tarantino has a good shot at original screenplay), and the Academy Awards since their inception have always adored movies about Hollywood. This one has it right in the title.
Martin Scorsese’s Netflix gangster epic came into Oscars like a heavyweight, but like “A Star Is Born” last year, is starting to look like an also-ran. The film, which tracks World War II veteran and Mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) over multiple bloody decades, received widespread critical acclaim but has lost out on every major honor so far. Still, don’t count out “The Irishman” yet: Crime dramas tend to do well at the Oscars (Scorsese’s “The Departed” marked his first and only best picture in 2007), Netflix put a lot of horses behind its campaign, everyone involved is a Hollywood favorite – not only Scorsese and De Niro, but also supporting-actor nominees Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – and it could benefit from the preferential ballot if it’s the second or third choice for a majority of voters.
Of course the Oscars’ biggest wild card is the one with the iconic comic-book supervillain. Joaquin Phoenix seems destined to win best actor for his unnerving transformation from mentally unstable outcast to face-painted nihilist in Todd Phillips’ psychological thriller origin story. The film’s chances for best picture aren’t as good as in other categories – such as original score and hair/makeup – but “Joker” leads with the most Oscar nominations (11 total). Like “Irishman,” it might also be helped by the preferential ballot, plus the controversial “Joker” has made enough money ($334.6 million domestically, $1.1 billion worldwide) that it can’t be ignored.