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A nod for Scorsese and a snub for Waititi: Who will win big and who will lose at the 2020 Oscars?

Our guide to the contenders, the dark horses and those likely to go home empty handed at next year’s Academy Awards

Meryl Streep and Greta Gerwig in 'Little Women' (2019).
Meryl Streep and Greta Gerwig in 'Little Women' (2019).

Hollywood’s awards season is upon us – which means Oscars are drawing ever closer. The Academy Awards take place earlier than usual next year, on Sunday, February 9, which means studios have already gone into overdrive to ensure their films get “considered” by voters. This year looks like a straight battle between old-school gangsters (The Irishman), a divorcing couple (Marriage Story) and Batman’s old enemy (Joker) for Best Picture.

Then again, who knows? Last year, despite social media-fired mud slung in its direction, Green Book triumphed on the night to take the top prize. If a week is a long time in politics, it’s even longer in Academy Award world. But for now, here’s our guide to the contenders, the dark horses and those likely to get snubbed at next year’s Oscars.

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in The Irishman (2019)
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in 'The Irishman' (2019).

Best Picture

Favourite: The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s epic crime saga starring Robert De Niro as hitman Frank Sheeran has an end-of-an-era feel about it. Academy voters tend to get sentimental about these things, plus backers Netflix are desperate for a gong and will push it all the way.

Sure-fire nominees: Joker, Bombshell, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Little Women, Parasite, The Two Popes

After its Venice win and $1 billion box office, Joker leads the pack and will run The Irishman close. But don’t discount Noah Baumbach’s searing divorce drama Marriage Story or Jay Roach’s Fox News drama Bombshell. The others – including Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant Cannes-winning Parasite – are making up the numbers.

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in 'Jojo Rabbit' (2019)

Who will miss out: Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s Second World War-set satire, in which he plays an imaginary Hitler figure, won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto this year, but Academy voters tend to shy away from comedy – especially hit-and-miss ones like this.

Dark horse: 1917

Sam Mendes’s First World War drama, designed to appear like one continuous shot a la Birdman, is one of the last major contenders to be unveiled. But early responses are wildly enthusiastic.

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019)
Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker' (2019)

Best Actor

Favourite: Joaquin Phoenix

Surely Phoenix, already a three-time nominee, has this in the bag? His turn as Arthur Fleck, the man who becomes Batman’s nemesis the Joker, is astonishing. Oscar loves a transformation and there’s none better this year.

Sure-fire nominees: Adam Driver, Edward Norton, Robert De Niro, Antonio Banderas

Driver should feel aggrieved. On any other non-Joker year, his turn in Marriage Story would win him Best Actor. Meanwhile, Banderas won acting honours in Cannes and deserves a first Oscar nod for Pain and Glory. Norton’s Tourette syndrome-sufferer in Motherless Brooklyn and De Niro’s hitman in The Irishman will likely keep others out.

Taron Egerton in Rocketman (2019)
Taron Egerton in 'Rocketman' (2019)

Who will miss out: Taron Egerton

He gives his all as singer Elton John in biopic Rocketman, but Rami Malek’s Oscar win this year for his role as Queen’s Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody means voters will probably look elsewhere.

Dark horse: Jonathan Pryce

Never nominated for an Oscar, Pryce would be a popular choice – and this turn as the future Pope Francis in The Two Popes is up there with his best work.

Best Actress

Favourite: Renee Zellweger

Already an Oscar winner for Cold Mountain, Zellweger’s shattering turn as Hollywood legend Judy Garland has been circled for the Best Actress winner ever since the film Judy was first screened. Voters love Zellweger and they love a tragic story about one of their own.

Sure-fire nominees: Scarlett Johansson, Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Erivo, Charlize Theron

Johansson’s heart-on-sleeve Marriage Story performance would walk it, were it not for Zellweger. ­Theron already won an Oscar for transforming in Monster, so that might count against her sly work as Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in Bombshell. Saoirse Ronan (Little Women) and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) are solid outsiders.

Who will miss out: Helen Mirren

She’s great in The Good Liar, as a widower facing off against Ian McKellen’s con man, but the film’s poor reviews will count against her.

Awkwafina in The Farewell (2019)
Awkwafina in 'The Farewell' (2019)

Dark horse: Awkwafina

One of this year’s sleeper hits, The Farewell could well ensure that the star disrupts the party. Less as an uninvited guest and more an unexpected one.

Best Director

Favourite: Martin Scorsese

An eight-time Best Director nominee, Scorsese has only won once – for The Departed. Winning again for The Irishman will help further redress what has been one of the Academy’s greatest crimes.

Sure-fire nominees: Bong Joon-ho, Quentin Tarantino, Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig

If anyone should knock Scorsese off the top, it’s Baumbach – but he’s likely to win Best Original Screenplay. The rest – including Tarantino’s overly indulgent Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood and Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation – should be happy to be there.

Who will miss out: Marielle Heller

Unfairly frozen out for her wonderful Can You Ever Forgive Me? this year, there’s a strong chance the same will happen for Heller’s sweetly moving Mr Rogers tale A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.

Dark horse: Robert Eggers

Eggers’s arty, black-and-white psycho-drama The Lighthouse caused a sensation when it played in Cannes. It’s brave and original – everything that directing should be.

Brad Pitt in Ad Astra (2019)
Brad Pitt in Ad Astra (2019)

Best Supporting Actor

Favourite: Brad Pitt

His role as a laid-back stuntman in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood encapsulates all the reasons people love Pitt. Factor in an impressive turn in Ad Astra, and voters will surely see this as his time to finally nail that acting Oscar after three previous failed attempts.

Sure-fire nominees: Al Pacino, Willem Dafoe, Anthony Hopkins, Jamie Foxx

They are all worthy winners. Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa (The Irishman), Dafoe’s sea dog (The Lighthouse), Foxx’s death row inmate (Just Mercy) and Hopkins’s Pope Benedict (The Two Popes) make this a tough category.

Who will miss out: John Lithgow

In a year of strong competition, Lithgow’s brilliance as disgraced Fox News head Roger Ailes will likely be snubbed. Which is a real shame – Lithgow hasn’t been nominated since 1983’s Terms of Endearment.

Dark horse: Joe Pesci

Hollywood loves a comeback, and with Pesci’s return in The Irishman, he’s back doing what he does best: playing a mobster. Pesci won for Goodfellas and though his role as Russell Bufalino isn’t as showy, he could upset the odds.

Laura Dern in Marriage Story (2019)
Laura Dern in 'Marriage Story' (2019)

Best Supporting Actress

Favourite: Laura Dern

Dern’s had a brilliant career renaissance of late, from Twin Peaks: The Return to Big Little Lies, but her work as a shark-like lawyer in Marriage Story is the crowning glory. Already a two-time Oscar nominee, she better start working on that acceptance speech.

Sure-fire nominees: Jennifer Lopez, Annette Bening, Margot Robbie, Maggie Smith

Running Dern close will be Lopez, whose streetwise character in Hustlers is her best work since Out of Sight. Robbie’s near-silent turn as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood will have its supporters, while Bening should secure a fifth career nomination for her senator in The Report. Only the most cynical could deny Maggie Smith as Dowager in Downton Abbey a nod.

Who will miss out: Meryl Streep

She holds the record for 21 Oscar nominations but – whisper it quietly – she’ll be left out in the cold this year, despite a characteristically salty performance as Aunt March in Little Women.

Dark horse: Florence Pugh

On top of her out-there work in Midsommar, British actress Pugh is the most distinct of all the female stars in Little Women. She could make it to Oscar night yet.

Updated: November 30, 2019 04:06 PM

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