Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Oscar Lineup & Predictions 2020

Feb 10 2020 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

For the fourth year in a row, I’ve managed to screen all the Oscar nominees in all 24 categories before the ceremony. Likewise, my picks and predictions are included below. I’ve posted this every year since 2012, so you can follow my track record from the past decade:

Best Motion Picture of the Year


Will Win: 1917

Dark Horse: Parasite

My Favorite: Joker (from this list) and/or Ad Astra (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra, Knives Out, For Sama, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Right off the top, the race gets interesting. In fact, Best Picture might have more real contenders than any place else on the ballot. As a first step, it’s safe to eliminate any choice that isn’t also up for Best Director. That said, all five of those films are at least in the conversation.

1917 and Parasite are considered the two front-runners. When you consider 1917 won the Producer’s Guild top prize and that a subtitled film has never won an Oscar for Best Picture, the former should be considered the most likely winner.

However, Joker has a bit of a chance and Once Upon an Time … in Hollywood is the sort of thing (Hollywood making films about itself) that has performed well in the past. With several nominations (and probably ~3 wins), it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see it take the top prize instead. Watch out for that if Ford v Ferrari takes some technical categories that might have otherwise gone to 1917.

Best Achievement in Directing


Will Win: 1917, Sam Mendes

Dark Horse: Parasite, Bong Joon Ho

My Favorite: Joker (from this list), and/or Ad Astra (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra, Knives Out, Ford v Ferrari

Similar to Best Picture, 1917 won the corresponding award from the Director’s Guild, which historically has a 90% chance of matching up with the Academy’s Best Director winner.

That said, Bong Joon Ho is probably slightly more likely to win here than for Best Picture. The Screen Actor’s Guild awarded Parasite their Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award, which can also be a strong indicator of the Academy’s Best Director since SAG has a similar voting body to the Academy.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role


Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Dark Horse: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

My Favorite: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Should Have Been Nominated: Robert De Niro, The Irishman; Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell

I don’t think the acting categories will bring any surprises this year, and my ballot will be a straight reflection of the talent that already won the respective Screen Actor’s Guild awards.

Here that’s Joaquin Phoenix. You’ll find runners-up in Adam Driver and Antonio Banderas. Like his co-star Scarlett Johansson, Driver will probably take second place, while Banderas may be largely overlooked because Pain and Glory is in Spanish and has only one other nomination – causing fewer voters to actually watch their screeners.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role


Will Win: Renée Zellweger, Judy

Dark Horse: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

My Favorite: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Renée Zellweger has lead this race since the start, and with the SAG award in hand, there shouldn’t be a surprise here either. As with her co-star Adam Driver in Best Actor, Scarlett Johansson is the likely runner-up.

Also notable here is relative newcomer Cynthia Erivo, who, after being snubbed last year for her amazing performance in Bad Times at the El Royale, picked up two nominations this year (Best Actress, Best Original Song) for Harriet, her third ever film role.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Dark Horse: unlikely

My Favorite: Al Pacino, The Irishman (from this list), Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse; Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari

There’s less competition from this year’s supporting performances. If anyone beats Brad Pitt, it would be Anthony Hopkins, but I think this is the acting category with the least chance of an upset.

The strongest competition is undoubtedly Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari or Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse. However, without those nominations on the board, that can’t come into play here.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Dark Horse: Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

My Favorite: Laura Dern, Marriage Story or Florence Pugh, Little Women

Once again, the conversation is centered around just one of the nominees in this category. Laura Dern should be the uncontested winner.

Fellow nominee Scarlett Johansson is notable in that she gained a rare pair of nominations for a leading (Marriage Story) and a supporting role (Jojo Rabbit) in the same year. Despite that feat, the expectation is that she’ll place second in both categories – just short of winning either award.

Best Writing, Original Screenplay


Will Win: Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Dark Horse: Parasite

My Favorite: Knives Out

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra

The Writers’ Guild awards can often be a decent predictor of the Best Screenplay categories, but it’s much less foolproof than the first six categories.

That comes into play for Tarantino this year. As he didn’t join the guild, he wasn’t eligible to be nominated for a WGA award. That means although Parasite won that award, it’s not a lock here.

As the only Oscar nominee that doesn’t match the WGA nominees, most are expecting Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood to sneak in with the win here, leaving Parasite a close second. However, without a fair comparison in the earlier awards races, there’s certainly an element of unpredictability in this category.

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay


Will Win: Jojo Rabbit

Dark Horse: Little Women

My Favorite: Jojo Rabbit

Should Have Been Nominated: Richard Jewell, Avengers: End Game

The Writers’ Guild awards are perhaps a bit more helpful for predicting the Best Adapted Screenplay winner this year. Jojo Rabbit and Little Women were considered the front-runners there, with Jojo Rabbit winning the award.

Jojo Rabbit is certainly a solid script, but the race is close and Greta Gerwig could certainly garner some sympathy from being passed up as a Best Director nominee.

Best Achievement in Cinematography


Will Win: 1917

Dark Horse: Well, Roger Deakins used to lose every time, right?

My Favorite: Joker

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, The Lion King

I can’t find anyone voting against the faux one shot wonder of 1917, making this an easy pick. It took Roger Deakins 14 nominations until he finally won. Now with his 15th nomination also a lock, perhaps he will never lose?

Despite the difficulty of faking the single take and a particularly marvelous sequence in the middle of the film, I slightly preferred the look of Joker to 1917. Both are strong entries though. The Lighthouse is a worthy honorable mention.

Somehow, one of the most beautiful films of the year, Ad Astra failed to make the list. Hoyte Van Hoytema achieves excellence in his highly difficult work reminiscent of his earlier snub for Interstellar.

Best Achievement in Production Design


Will Win: Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Dark Horse: 1917 or Parasite

My Favorite: Parasite (from this list), Ad Astra (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra, Knives Out

Though the best production design of the year was technically sci-fi thriller Ad Astra, this is still a pretty solid lineup. Even a powerhouse contender such as Little Woman didn’t find room to make the cut.

I find this category the most frustrating every year, but I’ll call Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood the front-runner of a fairly even pack. The Academy loves to honor self-referential period pieces – think The Artist or Argo.

Naturally, the war epic 1917 or Parasite‘s architectural masterpiece (designed and built from scratch) are also solid picks. Meanwhile, the sheer scale of The Irishman‘s period drama deserves some recognition as well.

Best Achievement in Costume Design


Will Win: Little Women

Dark Horse: Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

My Favorite: Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Should Have Been Nominated: Rocketman

Based on name recognition alone, this is a fairly typical lineup. Sandy Powell, Mark Bridges, and Jacqueline Durran all have won this award in the past, with seemingly perennial nominations each. Based on content, these nominees have nothing in common with a typical year. Whereas fancy dresses are usually a staple, Little Women is the only nominee of that sort this year – though all five are period pieces to some extent.

As the only film that resembles what voters typically pick, I think Little Women will win – especially since the Academy went with a non-typical pick in Black Panther just last year. The four other picks are notable, but expect them to split votes between each other.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood could lead these runners-up for the same reason it’s leading in Best Production Design. The scale of The Irishman should keep it in the conversation too.

Best Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling


Will Win: Bombshell

Dark Horse: Joker

My Favorite: Bombshell or 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: Little Women, Rocketman

This marks the third year in a row we have a nominee where makeup was used to make a famous actor appear as a famous historical figure. Usually, that makes for an easy pick. Unfortunately, that strategy leaves us with multiple picks this year, Bombshell and Judy.

While Judy remains in the hunt, consider Bombshell the front-runner – given the multiple character transformations of well-known figures that took place.

Joker and 1917 also displayed makeup on a wider scale than most entries. This is fairly obvious in Joker, while the war carnage makeup in 1917 is hidden in plain sight.

Best Achievement in Film Editing


Will Win: Ford v Ferrari

Dark Horse: Parasite

My Favorite: Ford v Ferrari or Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra, Apollo 11

Best Film Editing tends to go to a film that feels a little long, but with good reason. The Irishman has had lots of buzz regarding it’s length, but mostly in the negative sense. Many have also aptly pointed out that the editing would have been better if it were cut as a mini-series.

I think this means it’s safe to pull that one from contention. That leaves Ford v Ferrari as the most likely contender in traditional terms.

However, Parasite is very close on many lists. I usually don’t pay much attention to the oft proclaimed tradition that Best Picture winners also pick up Best Film Editing. However, if you see Parasite or Joker win here, be on the lookout for them to show up big again at night’s end.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing


Will Win: 1917

Dark Horse: Ford v Ferrari

My Favorite: Ford v Ferrari

There’s two real contenders in the sound categories, war epic 1917 or racing drama Ford v Ferrari. 1917 is a pretty traditional pick for this category and most critics are giving it a slight lead.

Ford v Ferrari also sounded quite insane in theaters – lending a high degree of difficulty, quality, and a touch more originality to its sound design.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing


Will Win: 1917

Dark Horse: Ford v Ferrari

My Favorite: Ad Astra

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lighthouse

Shifting gears slightly to the sound mixes, we have one nominee that’s different from editing – my favorite, Ad Astra. Unfortunately, it’s near the bottom of the pack, realistically.

1917 is as safe a pick as it it for Best Sound Editing, but if you want to hedge your bets for Ford v Ferrari, choose whichever one you didn’t choose for the category above.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects


Will Win: The Lion King

Dark Horse: Avengers: Endgame or 1917

My Favorite: The Lion King

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari

I’ve heard claims that all three front-runners in this category have a fair shot, and that’s probably not too far from the truth.

In the vein of 2017 winner (The Jungle Book), The Lion King undoubtedly should win (unless you consider it “Animated Feature” territory, which is totally fair in my book). 1917 would also be solid in most years.

It’s worth noting the Academy has gone out of their way to select the worst nominee in this category until recent years. This almost tempted me to go with Avengers: Endgame until I reviewed my picks from last year and saw that’s exactly how I got burned. In reality, the MCU has steadily been losing this category ever since their first nominee, Iron Man.

Best Achievement in Music, Original Score


Will Win: Joker

Dark Horse: 1917

My Favorite: Joker or 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: Ford v Ferrari

Is there a world where Joker doesn’t win Best Original Score? This is your winner if only because this is the track that’s been playing under every ‘For Your Consideration…’ ad in every industry publication for the past several months. As a bonus, it’s a REALLY good score, perhaps the best since The Dark Knight.

There are few doubters in this category, but first-time nominee Hildur Guðnadóttir is up against some HUGE names. All her competitors already have multiple Oscar wins, with the exception of Thomas Newman. Of course, even he has 15 nominations – and yet has somehow never won?

If the Academy decides they completely want to ignore a comic book film – even one that transcends the genre – then expect Thomas Newman to pull out the overdue upset, Roger Deakins style. His work on 1917 really drives the film and is the second best entry anyway.

Although the widely chaotic Joker score is a perfect compliment to the film, it’s a bit strange to listen to on its own. 1917‘s tracks are fabulous either way and deserve a mention among my favorites.

Best Achievement in Music, Original Song


Will Win: Harriet, “Stand Up”

Dark Horse: Rocketman, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”

My Favorite: Harriet, “Stand Up”

Many predictions give Rocketman a slight lead here, and I very nearly did the same. However, it’s a tight race, and I’m going with my heart instead.

The race pits well-known Elton John against third time film actress Cynthia Erivo. John benefits from his name recognition, though this is Rocketman‘s sole nomination. Erivo benefits from a better song, a better message, and a second nomination as Best Actress in Harriet. She’s also coming off a buzz-worthy near miss last year – her role as a recording artist in Bad Times at the El Royale. Either way, Erivo will be an eventual EGOT winner.

Frozen II stands as a possible spoiler to either film, simply because it’s a solid entry that many people will have screened.

Best Documentary Feature


Will Win: American Factory

Dark Horse: For Sama

My Favorite: For Sama

Should Have Been Nominated: Apollo 11, One Child Nation

Most predictions seem to have this category going to American Factory. This is likely in large part due to the film being financed by the Obama family. Indeed, American Factory demonstrates the best filmmaking from a technical perspective and the best documentary filmmaking in the sense that the filmmakers got the most surprising access to their subject.

However, considering this is a category that is often awarded to the biggest or most pressing issue, it somehow seems petty to give this award to a film ostensibly about people upset they’re able to hold stable manufacturing jobs instead of a film about people who’ve lost everything in war-torn Syria. For Sama and The Cave both address the latter and would perhaps have a better path to victory if they weren’t so similar.

For my tastes, For Sama tackles the bleak subject in such a moving, uplifting, and poignant way that it seems like the natural choice for me. I’d be quite overjoyed if my first prediction were wrong here.

Best International Film


Will Win: Parasite

Dark Horse: unlikely

My Favorite: Parasite

In past years, this category used to be called Best Foreign Language Film – and the slight rename for this year changes little. I used to think this was a difficult category at times, though it seems hard to think of a recent instance of this. In fact, I’m 7/8 since I’ve started posting my predictions here.

This year might be the easiest of them all – despite an exceedingly strong lineup. Usually, for all or most of these films, this is their sole nomination. Three films from this category have multiple nominations this year. The remaining two have already won major awards elsewhere. Pain and Glory is nominated for Best Actor, Honeyland is nominated for Best Documentary Feature, and Parasite is nominated in six total categories – making it your clear front-runner.

Parasite is a slight front-runner for me personally, similar in many ways to director Bong Joon Ho’s previous masterpiece Snowpiercer. For those cultured enough to understand the references, it’s Snowpiercer meets Shoplifters (nominated in this category last year) with a touch of The Handmaiden thrown in for good measure.

Best Animated Feature


Will Win: Toy Story 4

Dark Horse: Klaus (unlikely)

My Favorite: Toy Story 4

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lion King, Frozen II

Once upon a time, it was as easy as “Pixar,” but in recent years the mighty has struggled and the upstarts have risen to challenge.

However, Toy Story is typically seen as the film that created this category, and Toy Story 4 sticks the landing as the best film in the franchise to date – both in animation quality and story development. Likewise, Toy Story 4 stands above the nominees in both regards.

This should be another category without a surprise this year, but Klaus has a solid ending and unique animation style that makes it worth mentioning as the ‘what if’ contender. Also, with only one shot that isn’t completely CGI, The Lion King begs us to reconsider what is considered an “Animated Feature” in this day and age.

Best Short Film, Animated


Will Win: Hair Love

Dark Horse: Kitbull

My Favorite: Hair Love or Memorable

Should Have Been Nominated: Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days

Though the short categories can be tough, and often it seems any film could win, I think it’s quite safe to narrow it down to two here.

Hair Love and Kitbull are your front-runners in this category. Unlike the others, they have the backing of major animation studios – Sony and SparkShorts (Pixar) respectively.

Of the two, Hair Love has a slight edge in story and emotional impact. It has a wider lead when it comes to animation quality.

Best Short Film, Live Action


Will Win: The Neighbors’ Window

Dark Horse: Brotherhood

My Favorite: The Neighbors’ Window or Nefta Football Club

I find that entrants into this category usually follow one of two extremes: exceedingly lighthearted, or exceedingly dark. Typically, the lighthearted film will win, as it’s often a singular nominee outweighed by four darker ones. This year is arguably closer to a two vs. three split, which could mean a tighter race.

The Neighbors’ Window leads the lighthearted entrants, while Brotherhood leads the pack for the darker entries.

The former seems like a safe choice, as Marshall Curry is now a four time Oscar nominee. This is his first nomination outside the documentary categories, including last year’s short A Night at the Garden. However, The Neighbors’ Window is still based on a true story.

Best Documentary, Short Subject


Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Dark Horse: St. Louis Superman

My Favorite: St. Louis Superman

Wrapping up the shorts nominees, it’s worth noting that the experts actually seem to agree on all three short categories this year. A rare feat indeed!

Most predictions have Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) and St. Louis Superman listed as the front-runners. As the two strongest ‘issues’ based documentaries, this doesn’t seem too unreasonable an outcome.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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