Expect ‘1917,’ Sam Mendes to take home top Oscars

Will the best picture and director Oscars align once again this year? Nine films top for the top prize in the best picture category, and “1917” looks hard to beat. Other contenders:  “Ford v. Ferrari,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite.

By most accounts in the bizarro world of Oscar prognostication, “1917” and “Parasite” are the front-runners in the picture race, and by association, Sam Mendes, the director of “1917,” and Bong Joon Ho, the director of “Parasite,” are the top picks for best director, a contest in which they compete with Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Todd Phillips (“The Joker”) and previous winner Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”).

In the best picture category, “Joker” has the most nominations at 11. “1917,” “Parasite” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” are tied with 10 apiece. “Parasite” has six nods, including rare twin nominations for picture and international feature film, which is the new foreign language category.

Can “Parasite” win in both races? Honestly, I don’t think that should be possible and would be a travesty. But such is Oscar life. No foreign language film has won in the best picture category before, although such films as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Amour” and last year’s “Roma,” a Netflix film, have been nominated.

The Netflix production “The Irishman” could come from behind to win if “1917” and “Parasite” split the votes. But “The Irishman” is hindered by the prejudice against films made for the streaming service and the industry’s aversion to looking old.

Sam Mendes arrives at the 92nd Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at the Loews Hotel on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

The film industry loves movies about itself, however, so Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is also a possibility to emerge from behind the front-runners for the picture prize. But “1917” recently took the Producer’s Guild Award for best picture as well as best picture drama at the Golden Globes, as well as the BAFTA, and I think “1917” is the film to beat, although it notably and deservedly did not fare well with critics groups in Boston, New York and Los Angeles or with the National Society of Film Critics. “1917” is a visual spectacle. But the screenplay is derivative, and the film has — hello — no acting nominations. It is the front-runner primarily because of its “trick” of appearing like it was shot in a single take, an odd reason to give even a fine picture the top award.

The directing category is another thing entirely, sort of. Mendes, who won a directing Academy Award 20 years ago for “American Beauty,” recently won the major Oscar precursor the Directors Guild Award. South Korean filmmaker Bong has a large following thanks to such films as “The Host” and “Mother” and the cult following his 2013 effort “Snowpiercer” has developed.

Five-time nominee and two-time winner for screenplay Tarantino is certainly due for a director prize. But he is more likely to win a third award for writing this year. Phillips guided the unusual and controversial superhero origin film “Joker” to a billion dollar global run. But his work as director on “Joker” arguably owes too large a debt to fellow nominee Scorsese to make him a serious threat. Scorsese, an astonishing 14-time Oscar nominee and previous winner of the directing prize for “The Departed,” seems to be the victim of obvious, widely ignored ageism.

Like the surprisingly relevant “Joker,” “Parasite” captures a moment in the zeitgeist when people grasp that they are part of a new, unequal social/economic order, that they are unhappily on the low end of the spectrum. Writer-director Bong deserves to win for directing this remarkably trenchant film, which is half dark comedy, half nightmarish film noir.

But I’m guessing Academy voters will name the more traditional war drama “1917” best picture and give the directing prize to Mendes, too. Relevance be damned.

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