Grab hold of your pearls, because Oscar season is coming, and it's going to go by in an instant.
This year, awards season will be shortened by two crucial weeks, with the Academy Awards moved up to Feb. 9. That means the race is more "mysterious" than ever, says Tom O'Neil, founder of awards prognosticating site GoldDerby.com. With voting windows closing earlier, studios have been scrambling to host as many screenings, Q&As and meet-and-greets as possible in the weeks leading up to the holidays.
With the Golden Globes rolling out the red carpet on Jan. 5, these 10 burning questions are surfacing as we get closer to the Oscars. Will "The Irishman" become the streaming service's first best picture winner (a year after Netflix's shoo-in "Roma" faltered)? Is Brad Pitt dusting off his tux? Read on!
1. Will Netflix finally claim major victory, thanks to ‘The Irishman’?
It's looking good for Martin Scorsese's Netflix film in the best picture race. "'The Irishman' seems to have the early lead for best picture because it is the big, sprawling epic that feels important and special," says O'Neil.
But it's not a lock. This year, he says, two films have the muscle to upstage it, with "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Parasite" also solid front-runners, and wildcards including recently released films like "1917" and "Little Women."
2. Will ‘Little Women’ be a late bloomer?
Released on Christmas Day, "Little Women" is one of the latest arrivals in the 2020 Oscar season, and is therefore underrepresented at several awards shows, from the Globes (star Saoirse Ronan scored a drama nod but director Greta Gerwig was left out) to the Screen Actors Guild Awards (where the film is is MIA). "The movie is cresting now," says O'Neil, and has earned $29 million since Dec. 25. He adds that voters are hailing it as "a transcendent version of an often-told tale. ... It’s been well-received and much beloved, and we would be foolish as Oscar watchers to underrate it."
3. Why are voters ignoring female directors, again?
Just five women have ever been nominated for best director (including Gerwig for “Lady Bird”), and none twice. This year, there's a plethora of deserving women in consideration, including Lulu Wang ("The Farewell"), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”). O'Neil says Gerwig has the sturdiest studio backing in the best director race, but predicts she may fall short of a nomination because "Little Women" is a remake. "It’s not about the movie," he says. "It’s about the voters who are snobs and want something new and cool."
4. Is '1917' going to surprise us?
Oscar voters are high on Sam Mendes' war drama – if they've seen it. The movie, filmed as a thriller rather than a conventional war movie, was just released on Christmas. "There's this backlog of DVD screeners and mass confusion over this being the first year where digital links can be sent to voters. Voters are just overwhelmed with contenders and options to see them," says O'Neil, who thinks "1917" will only continue to gain popularity.
5. Are we in for another #OscarsSoWhite?
It's looking like another lily-white year in the acting categories, though nominees of color could include Eddie Murphy ("Dolemite Is My Name") and Cynthia Erivo ("Harriet"). Jennifer Lopez, whose performance impressed in "Hustlers," "needs to win the Globe first and break through there, as Cher did years ago (with "Moonstruck"), and then go Oscar-bound," says O'Neil. "But in general, I think it's going to be a tragically white list of nominees at the Oscars again this year."
6. Is best actress Renee Zellweger’s to lose?
A transformation? Check. A biopic about Hollywood legend Judy Garland, who never won an Oscar herself? Check. The ability to sing an icon's songs herself? Check. These are among reasons why Zellweger currently tops most experts' lists for a best actress win. But Charlize Theron, who transforms into Megyn Kelly for "Bombshell," and Scarlett Johansson, who will potentially be double nominated for "Jojo Rabbit" and "Marriage Story," are nipping at her heels.
7. Is “Jojo Rabbit” too controversial for Oscar?
Critics underestimated director Taika Waititi's World War II satire when "Jojo Rabbit" debuted at Toronto Film Festival, where it went on to win the top audience prize (just like "Green Book," which went on to win best picture). Given the film's audacious premise and the emotional response it has evoked from many Oscar voters, "that little 'Jojo Rabbit' is a sneaky little bunny, and it could turn out to be a spoiler again," says O'Neil, adding that the film will get a big boost if it triumphs over "Once Upon a Time" in the best comedy/musical category at the Golden Globes.
8. Is Brad Pitt a lock? What about Tom Hanks?
Brad Pitt remains a front-runner for the best supporting actor category, though lacking a major onscreen transformation as stuntman Cliff Booth may ultimately hurt his chances of winning. "But the fact that a lead star has graciously ducked down to the supporting category is a big deal," says O'Neil. Tom Hanks, who's campaigning in supporting actor for playing Mister Rogers in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," could get a similar boost. Hanks plays a man who "helped raise a few generations of Oscar voters," says O'Neil, noting that he hasn't been nominated for an acting Oscar since 2000's "Cast Away."
9. OK, but who has been hustling the hardest?
Arguably, no one has been hustling harder than J.Lo. The "Hustlers" star has been everywhere in the lead-up to nominations, beginning at the stripper drama's Toronto Film Festival debut and culminating as the winning host of "Saturday Night Live." Take her very seriously as an Oscar candidate. We also tip our hat to Awkwafina, who is the beating heart of "The Farewell," and "Bombshell" star and producer Theron, who hit the ground running in support of her Fox News drama.
10. Could 'Parasite' be the first foreign film to clinch best picture?
Actually, yes. Helmed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, "Parasite" "is that little movie that people feel strongly invested in emotionally," says O'Neil. And while "The Irishman" and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" are topping many experts' best picture lists, "Parasite" could do what "Roma" couldn't in the race last year. "Legions of people in Hollywood feel this movie is different from other foreign films," says O'Neil. "It's such a powerful statement about the underdog and class division."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oscars: Our 10 burning questions as awards season kicks into high gear