Thursday, June 20, 2024

Early Oscar Predictions For 2020

By Daniel Howat 

Yet another awards season is in the books. The Oscars may have just crowned a new winner, but it’s never too early to start predicting our next Best Picture. Each year we take a way-too-early look at next season’s contenders (take a look at how we did last year). We’ve got plenty of legends, overdue contenders, and potential first-timers. Let’s break down some of the films, and I’ll make my first predictions in the top six categories.

First, a few thoughts looking over this list. This is a heavily male-dominated list, both in front of and behind the camera. While 2020 will see women directing major blockbusters like “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Mulan,” “Birds of Prey,” and “The Eternals,” the early prospects for Oscar contenders directed by women are looking slim. We’re hoping that the projects are in the works and just not on our radar yet so we can avoid another year without a female director nominated at the Oscars. Additionally, Netflix’s slate is hugely overcrowded with potential contenders. They received two Best Picture nominations this year and had three films with acting nominations, but expect them to zero in on only one or two of their films for big awards pushes.

Anytime Aaron Sorkin has a project in the pipeline, we need to expect it to contend for a screenplay nomination. His directorial debut, “Molly’s Game,” was pretty well-received, scoring an Adapted Screenplay nomination. His next directorial feature is sure to be a contender across the board. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” follows the true story of a group of men accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. An insane all-star cast could make a play at ensemble awards this year, with Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Frank Langella, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Michael Keaton, William Hurt, Thomas Middleditch, and more. This will be a historical, political, courtroom drama with plenty of prestige. The September release date is a little puzzling, but if they change course and make a festival run, this could be a big player.

Release Date: September 25, 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay

Could a remake of a Best Picture winner really be a top-tier contender for Best Picture this year? If anyone could do it, it would be Steven Spielberg. His updated “West Side Story” is adapted by his “Lincoln” scribe Tony Kushner and is reported to align more closely with the Broadway musical than the 1961 film did. This new version stars Ansel Elgort and exciting newcomer Rachel Zegler. At worst, this will be a Musical/Comedy nominee at the Golden Globes; but at best, this could be an across-the-board contender, including a nomination for Zegler.

Release Date: December 18, 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Song

Paul Greengrass has found great success with intense, handheld, natural realism in films like “United 93,” “Captain Phillips,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” but he’ll be tackling a very different sort of story with this year’s “News of the World.” Adapted from the novel of the same name, the film follows traveling newsreader Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) in the aftermath of the Civil War, tasked with bringing an orphaned girl to her living relatives across the country. It’ll be interesting to see how Greengrass’s visual sensibilities will pair with a more restrained story set in the late 1800s, but this sounds like it’s right up the Academy’s alley.

Release Date: December 25, 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” arguably came close to winning Best Picture in 2015 and tied “Birdman” for the most wins and nominations that year. His first non-animated follow-up to that film will be “The French Dispatch.” Led by Frances McDormand, the film has been described as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city.” The cast, too large to list everyone here, includes Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Benecio del Toro, Jeffrey Wright, Owen Wilson, Stephen Park, and Léa Seydoux. The Academy seems to have fully warmed up to Anderson’s very specific style, and a film about journalists should be very welcome this year.

Release Date: July 24, 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Production Design

It’s been almost six years since David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” was tragically underappreciated at the Academy Awards. His next film promises to be something very different for the dark director. “Mank,” written by the Fincher’s late father, tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz as he struggles to write “Citizen Kane.” This black and white film will premiere on Netflix and stars Gary Oldman as the title character, with Amanda Seyfriend as actress Marion Davies. Fincher is somewhat overdue for awards attention, only having two Best Director nominations and no wins. This film seems like it could be fairly understated, and Netflix is sure to have a loaded fall slate. Will it receive a big push, or get buried in their deluge of films? Hopefully the former.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography

Netflix’s highly anticipated novel adaptation, “Hillbilly Elegy,” sounds like pure Oscar bait. That’s not necessarily an insult, but it’s going to have a lot to prove. Directed by Ron Howard and written by “The Shape of Water” co-writer Vanessa Taylor, “Hillbilly Elegy” follows a man recalling his life in Appalachia, and the three generations of his family. It’s about poverty, addiction, and violence in the Midwest. Importantly, the movie stars Glenn Close and Amy Adams, to two living actors with the most Oscar nominations without a win. Adams will play the main character’s drug-addicted mother, while Close plays the foul-mouthed grandmother who raised him. After Close’s shocking loss at last year’s ceremony, is it too soon to declare her the winner in 2020? This will be a buzzy project this fall, so keep your eyes on it.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are reuniting as co-writers and co-stars in “The Last Duel,” more than 20 years after their Oscar-winning pairing on “Good Will Hunting.” This film is based on the true story of the last officially sanctioned duel in France after one man (Damon) accuses a squire (Adam Driver) of raping his wife (Jodie Comer). The project encountered some pushback online due to it being a largely male-driven production centered around rape accusations. Even so, with Ridley Scott directing, and Nicole Holofcener co-writing with Affleck and Damon, this period piece could land well.

Release Date: January 8, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Costume Design

Much like director Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve walks the line between Oscar-friendly films and straight-up blockbusters. One of the biggest titles this year is his new version of “Dune,” the epic sci-fi novel. The cast is excellent: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, and more. Villeneuve’s last two films were big hits at the Oscars, with “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” taking home awards. “Dune” could end up merely filling the Christmas sci-fi blockbuster void left by “Star Wars,” or it could score some big nominations.

Release Date: December 18, 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Actor, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Production Design, Sound

Speaking of Christopher Nolan, he’s back this year with “Tenet.” After finally scoring a Best Director nomination for “Dunkirk,” his latest movie is a return to his mysterious tentpole style. No matter what the film is about, Nolan’s films could always have a shot at awards consideration. This film stars John David Washington – who came within arms reach of an Oscar nomination for “BlacKkKlansman” – along with Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and more. If nothing else, we can reserve a few spots for “Tenet” in the craft categories, and keep an eye on how it could perform above-the-line.

Release Date: July 17, 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Screenplay, Score, Cinematography, Sound, Visual Effects, Production Design

Edgar Wright has yet to score an Oscar nomination himself, though he’s clearly deserving. The problem is that his films, though wholly original, steer clear of typical awards fare. “Baby Driver” scored three craft nominations, though nothing above-the-line. His next film, “Last Night in Soho,” certainly doesn’t sound any more Academy-friendly, but perhaps goodwill could drive consideration. “Soho” is a psychological horror film, written by Wright and “1917” co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, about a young girl passionate for fashion design who’s able to time travel to 1960s London where things aren’t always what they seem. Starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, we can be certain that Wright will deliver something surprising and unique, and maybe something that could garner awards attention.

Release Date: September 25, 2020
Oscar Potential: Screenplay, Actress, Editing, Cinematography

The last time we got a tennis biopic, “Battle of the Sexes” ended up without a single Oscar nomination. “King Richard” is aiming for a different fate. Will Smith stars as Richard Williams, the father of famed tennis champions Venus and Serena, in a film that looks at the way he coached his daughters. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green had a remarkable feature debut with “Monsters and Men” in 2018, and also has the Mark Wahlberg film “Good Joe Bell” expected this year. Smith is fresh off the surprising success of “Bad Boys For Life,” but hasn’t come close to awards consideration in almost fifteen years. Here’s hoping this role can bring him back to the Academy Awards.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Actor, Screenplay

After directing the smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians” and coming close to a Best Picture nomination, Jon M. Chu returns with an adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit musical, “In the Heights.” The trailer promises an exciting, energetic musical that should easily land a Globe nomination for Best Musical/Comedy. The writer of the original musical, Quiara Alegría Hudes, also wrote the film adaptation, which stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, and Leslie Grace. If this is as big of a hit as “Crazy Rich Asians,” it could end up with a Best Picture nomination. While “West Side Story” will be the more traditional musical contending for awards, the Academy might make room for two.

Release Date: June 26, 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Screenplay, Actor, Original Song

Typically, a feature directorial debut from someone with only one previous TV credit wouldn’t land on year-out awards predictions, but Lila Neugebauer’s upcoming film “Red, White, and Water” is stacked with potential. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Samira Wiley, Brian Tyree Henry, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, the film is about a U.S. soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home. Neugebauer’s only IMDb credit is directing a single episode of HBO’s “Room 104,” but she has extensive experience as a theatre director. Scott Rudin and A24 are behind the project, which gives some more confidence that this could be an exciting film debut for Neugebauer, and a return to awards for Jennifer Lawrence.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor

At only 25 years old, Saoirse Ronan has fast become one of our most overdue performers for winning an Oscar. This year, she’ll have another shot in a bait-y project alongside Oscar winner Kate Winslet. “Ammonite” is set in 1840s England, where an “infamous fossil hunter (Winslet) and a young woman (Ronan) sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.” By “God’s Own Country” director Francis Lee, this film could be a return to the Oscars for Winslet, but could it finally win Ronan her award? The film will be distribbuted by Neon, which just delivered a shocking Best Picture win for “Parasite.”  Will this be the small film that gets buried in awards season, much like “Disobedience” in 2017 (or Neon’s own “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” from this year)?

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Actress, Supporting Actress

Though their brand may not be quite as well regarded as it was ten years ago, of the three animated films ever nominated for Best Picture, two were from Pixar. Pete Docter, director of Best Picture nominee “Up,” brings us “Soul” this year, a film that seems to be bursting with potential for acclaim. Co-directed by Kemp Powers, the film follows a musician who has lost his passion for music and is transported out of his body and must find his way back. The trailer is very reminiscent of “Inside Out,” which won Best Animated Feature and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Of any Pixar film since then, this feels like it could make a swing for big categories. We can count on an Animated Feature win to be sure, but could this make it into Screenplay and Picture?

Release Date: June 19, 2020
Oscar Potential: Animated Feature, Original Screenplay 

“West Side Story” isn’t the only remake of a Best Picture winner coming out this year. Sixty years after Alfred Hitchcock’s version, Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of “Rebecca” is yet another film on Netflix’s crowded slate. The film will star Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas. “Rebecca” is a romantic thriller about a young woman who finds herself living in the shadow of her husband’s previous wife. Wheatley is the sort of up-and-coming director – with films such as “High-Rise” and “Free Fire” – who could easily break into the awards race with the right film and the right push.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress

The Coen Brothers have directed multiple Oscar-winning films, and any new project of theirs needs to be on our radar. This new version of “Macbeth,” however, won’t have the involvement of Ethan Coen. Joel Coen embarks on his first solo directorial feature, starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, and Brendan Gleeson. It’s still unclear why Ethan won’t be involved in this project, but outside of that, everything about this film should be right up the Academy’s alley. Few details have been announced, such as if the film will remain in the Shakespearean time period, but this will be an interesting film to look out for.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress

Though Sundance films can be hit or miss at the Academy Awards, even with critical acclaim, one of the most awards-friendly titles of this year’s festival was “Minari.” Director Lee Isaac Chung’s film follows a Korean-American family in the 1980s that moves from the West Coast to Arkansas. Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri star in this drama that received raves out of Sundance. It was produced by Plan B and subsequently picked up by A24. The indie studio has come achingly close to Oscars with Sundance purchases the past two years with “Eighth Grade” and “The Farewell.” Hopefully, they can score some nominations with “Minari” this year.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress

Another hit out of Sundance, “Ironbark” follows Cold War spy Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his Russian source, codenamed Ironbark, to try and put an end to the Cuban missile crisis. That’s already an Academy-friendly premise, and the reviews at Sundance suggest it could have the goods to get there. Reviews are calling Cumberbatch’s performance his best yet. The film also stars two young actresses primed for an Oscar nomination: Rachel Brosnahan and Jessie Buckley. The Academy rewarded another Cold War film four years ago with “Bridge of Spies,” and then again last year with “Cold War,” and could do the same with “Ironbark” this year. It was picked up by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, who may not be the studios to bring great awards success, but with the right push, this could be a contender.

Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Costume Design

​Other Potential Contenders:

“Nightmare Alley” dir. Guillermo del Toro
“Da 5 Bloods” dir. Spike Lee
“French Exit” dir. Azazel Jacobs
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” dir. George C. Wolfe 
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film (It’s unclear if it’ll be released in 2020 or 2021)
“Respect” dir. Liesl Tommy
“Mob Girl” dir. Paolo Sorrentino
“Nomadland” dir. Chloé Zhao
“The Father” dir. Florian Zeller 
“Four Good Days” dir. Rodrigo García
“The Humans” dir. Stephen Karam
“No Time to Die” dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga
“The King of Staten Island” dir. Judd Apatow
“Palm Springs” dir. Max Barbakow 
With all of that out of the way, I now present to you my first predictions for 2020! I’ll just tackle the big six categories: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress. Take these with a grain of salt, but it’s always fun to look back on these a year later to see how I did.

The predictions are listed in alphabetical order.

“The French Dispatch”
“Hillbilly Elegy”
“The Last Duel”
“News of the World”
“Red, White, and Water”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“West Side Story”

Wes Anderson, “The French Dispatch”
Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”
David Fincher, “Mank”
Paul Greengrass, “News of the World”
Lila Neugebauer, “Red, White, and Water”

Armie Hammer, “Rebecca”
Tom Hanks, “News of the World”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Steven Yeun, “Minari”

Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Jennifer Hudson, “Respect”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Red, White, and Water”
Han Ye-ri, “Minari”
Rachel Zegler, “West Side Story”

Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Adam Driver, “The Last Duel”
Brendan Gleeson, “Macbeth”
Brian Tyree-Henry, “Red, White, and Water”

Amy Adams, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Jodie Comer, “The Last Duel”
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
Helena Zengel, “News of the World”

What films are you most excited about this year? Did we miss any big potential contenders? Chime in with your own early predictions in the comments section below or let us know on our Twitter account.

You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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