Which movie will win Best Picture?
It’s the Oscars question people are always interested in, no matter the year, because everyone wants their favorite contender to win. And though it seems clear by now which films won’t win (sorry, Little Women fans), there’s still plenty of uncertainty about which film will take the big prize on Sunday night.
Of the nine nominees, five seem to have energy behind them going into the final hours of Hollywood’s biggest night. You can make a case for each of them, but they all have weaknesses, too. Here's why each of these five movies could win — and why they might go home empty-handed.
1) 1917 (10 total nominations)
The smartest money in the Best Picture race is on 1917, director Sam Mendes’s technical marvel of a war movie. If you need to know why it’s the Best Picture frontrunner, well, just reread the phrase “technical marvel of a war movie.” Seemingly shot in one take (okay, seemingly shot in two takes, for reasons that constitute a spoiler), the film sends viewers on a desperate mission across a France torn apart by World War I, alongside two young British men battling to deliver a vital message to a colonel.
Before it debuted on Christmas Day, many Oscar pundits thought 1917 would have little room to maneuver in such a short Oscar season. A movie released that late in the year hasn’t won Best Picture at the corresponding Oscars since Slumdog Millionaire came out on Christmas 2008. And notably, Slumdog had screened at all the major fall festivals, so people had a chance to see it well in advance; 1917 did not.
But the compressed calendar has ended up being a huge boon for 1917, which hit at exactly the right time to make a quick ascent to frontrunner, without the chance for any serious backlash to set in. After movies like The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood saw their buzz fade, 1917 arrived to present an alternative option for people who love big-budget quality entertainment, a dynamic that isn’t difficult to imagine happening on preferential Oscar ballots as well, where many voters will likely rank the film in second or third place. 1917 won the Best Drama prize at the Golden Globes, as well as the top prizes from the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild, all major Oscar bellwethers. It sure seems positioned for an easy romp to glory.
Why it might not win: 2020, more than any other year, feels like one where the Best Picture Oscar will go to the movie that comes in second place on the most voters’ ranked-choice ballots. And while 1917 has big “my second-favorite movie of the year!” energy, there’s one other contender that seems even better poised to benefit from such a sentiment: the next movie on this list. —Emily VanDerWerff
2) Parasite (6 total nominations)
There are any number of hurdles standing in Parasite’s way. It doesn’t have any acting nominations (then again, neither does 1917). With only six nominations total, it’s one of the less nominated Best Picture candidates, rarely an auspicious position. And perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is that it was made in South Korea and is told in Korean, and no movie in a language other than English has ever won Best Picture. (The aforementioned Slumdog Millionaire contains long stretches where only Hindi is spoken, but it also contains a lot of English and was financed and made by an American studio.)
Yet Parasite has a really good shot at winning. There’s a big reason this movie won top prizes from more Hollywood unions than any other film (it’s taken home five, to 1917 and Jojo Rabbit’s four each): It’s the movie in the race that most feels like it speaks to right now.
With its tale of income inequality and capitalism pitting rich against poor, Parasite’s story speaks to many of the chief issues of our time. But it’s also a rousing and fun caper about a family of con artists and some strange secrets hidden away in the house of the rich people they try to grift. And on top of all that, it’s a lovely and moving drama about the relationships in a close-knit family.
So if Parasite has substantial hurdles standing in the way of a win, it also has substantial advantages to buoy it. (It doesn’t hurt that director Bong Joon-ho has been a real delight on the campaign circuit.) Often, the hurdles are higher than the boost that any given Oscar contender gets from its advantages, but in a two-film race, as this one increasingly seems to be, the underdog often gets the benefit of the doubt. 1917 is the safe money bet, but Parasite is the movie that seems most likely to be in second place on more ballots.
Why it might not win: See above re: non-English-language films. For as much as the Academy professes to be an award for the cinema in general, it’s very obviously an American award given by a primarily American voting body. That will change some year. It’s not yet clear whether 2020 is that year. —EV
3) Joker (11 total nominations)
Joker was likely the most-talked-about movie of 2019, due both to early reviews that criticized its apparent sympathy for violence and to incensed fans who threatened violence. It was the highest earner at the box office among Best Picture nominees. And it was so popular that a sequel and other “edgy” standalone origin stories like it are likely on the way — the ultimate vote of confidence from a movie studio.
Joker was also the most celebrated of last year’s top 10 earners, if not of its fellow Oscar nominees. It debuted at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in August, where it won the coveted Golden Lion and an eight-minute standing ovation. It was programmed at other prominent fall festivals, including Toronto and New York, and earned middling-to-positive reviews from critics overall. During awards season, it pulled in 151 precursor nominations and won 57 of them. And it’s the most-nominated film at the 2020 Oscars, having also earned nods for its director, screenplay, cinematography, and star Joaquin Phoenix, among others.
So Joker is well-positioned to win Best Picture heading into the Oscars, if voters are looking for a film that best represents the movie industry in 2019. It’s also an appealing choice for those who believe it represents an original and innovative way to look at contemporary hot-button issues like inequality, masculinity, and support for mental health issues (though I disagree). Filmmakers seem to like it, too, which means the Academy — made up entirely of industry professionals — could go for it as well.
Why it might not win: It’s possible the sheer ubiquity of Joker has tired people out, not to mention that it has a strong contingent of detractors. (For all its popularity, it only earned a B+ Cinemascore in its opening weekend, which indicates that high box office earnings don’t always correlate to happy customers.) And other, more popular films deal with similar social issues (see: Parasite) or are classic Academy-pleasers (see: 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). It seems most likely that Phoenix will take home an Oscar for his performance but the film will peter out in its other races. —Alissa Wilkinson
4) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (10 nominations)
Tied with 1917 and The Irishman for the most nominations, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn’t the Best Picture frontrunner, but it still has a lot going for it. First and foremost may be its subject matter: Quentin Tarantino’s historically revisionist drama-comedy is set in the Hollywood of 50 years ago, a time that some Academy members still remember fondly. It’s about a moment of great change in the movie industry, from one kind of acting to another, and about feeling as if you’re becoming obsolete in a changing world — which could resonate with the still older, still mostly white and male Academy.
It’s also a really good film, one that’s pulled in 108 wins out of its 298 nominations during the awards season, including the Golden Globe for Best Picture — Musical or Comedy. Tarantino is a strong director, and his screenplay is limpid and clever, populated by appealing characters and driven by affection for a bygone era. It looks great, with strong performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (both nominated for acting awards), as well as Margot Robbie, who plays Sharon Tate. Plus, most Academy members have probably seen the film, since it came out all the way back in the summer. All of these things bode well for its chances.
Why it might not win: The momentum behind other films — particularly Parasite and 1917 — seems much stronger. And, as with Joker, it seems plenty likely that Brad Pitt will collect his first acting Oscar, in the Supporting Actor category (Pitt has only ever won previously for producing the 2014 Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave). Likewise, Tarantino might nab a screenplay award, especially since he’s won several times already this season. But Best Picture seems most likely to land elsewhere. —AW
5) Jojo Rabbit (6 total nominations)
Remember how Parasite has won five major union awards, compared to 1917’s four? Remember how there was another movie in that conversation? Like 1917, Jojo Rabbit has won four separate top prizes from the Hollywood guild awards, including the Writers Guild’s prize for Best Adapted Screenplay. (Disclosure: I’m a member of the Writers Guild. I didn’t vote for Jojo Rabbit. Sorry, Jojo.)
Jojo Rabbit was also made by Searchlight Pictures (formerly Fox Searchlight), a big-time Oscar player, which won Best Picture as recently as 2018 with The Shape of Water and is a company with Disney’s deep pockets behind it. (Parasite, in contrast, has less money to throw at an Oscar campaign because of its tiny distributor, Neon.)
Does any of this mean anything? Not really. But a lot of the advantages that seemed like they would make Jojo a Best Picture frontrunner early on — its People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, its World War II-era setting, its gregarious writer/director Taika Waititi — are all still present and accounted for. The movie is super divisive, with many finding its use of broad comedy borderline or even outright offensive. But it does have its fans, and its Oscar campaign (featuring the stars of the film flashing a peace sign) has been smart in that corny Oscar campaign kind of way.
Why it might not win: It’s going to take a lot for any movie to get past the 1917 and Parasite logjam, and Jojo Rabbit’s best shot was probably to become the clear underdog to one of the two, which didn’t happen. It just can’t get past both of them. —EV