The last Avengers, the last Star Wars, the last Toy Story, the second-to-last Tarantino movie, and the farewell to white alpha male protagonists? While I’m not holding my breath on any of these to actually be true, the farewell (unfortunately, not The Farewell) to cinematic giants was a big theme this Oscar season. This year brought us retrospective films from two of the most established Hollywood directors that examined both their individual careers and cultural trends at large. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and The Irishman both center around male friendships and the unsustainable weight of striving to maintain alpha male status. Certainly, other films have jumped out to be the frontrunners for this race, but there is still a small chance Hollywood could reward one of these cinematic titans for their respective twists on the star-studded, testosterone-fueled macho drama.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
What may prove to be the penultimate film from Tarantino has one key ingredient that may help it walk away with the win on Oscar Sunday: a Hollywood movie about Hollywood and the movies. Of course it certainly helps that this film also touts a stacked cast and killer visuals—some of which would certainly get my pick for “best of.” Even though it is pretty clear that Joaquin Phoenix is going to walk away with the win for Best Actor for his work in The Joker, I believe Leonardo DiCaprio put up an underrated performance as the pathetic, persistent Hollywood has-been star to Brad Pitt’s chill, optimistic stuntman. Pitt, however, is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor. It’s very possible Tarantino could take home another Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but definitely keep an eye out for Parasite to sneak in and take the prize. Finally, I would give OUATIH the win for Best Costume Design; designer Arianne Phillips created not only the world of Tarantino’s 1969 but also that of multiple movies and TV shows featured in this film.
I understand that many people cannot get past the three-plus hours runtime of this film, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for skipping a decades-long biographical look at a bunch of white guys doing a bunch of white guy things that we’ve seen on screen before. But Scorsese is one of my favorite directors, and seeing three film giants (De Niro! Pacino! Pesci!) on screen together made it almost impossible for me not to enjoy this film. I did not expect, however, to be captivated by the dull, mundane later years of a mobster, and this authentic reflection from Scorsese truly elevated the film for me. In my opinion, Joe Pesci gave the Best Supporting Actor performance of the year, but this award seems to be Brad Pitt’s to lose. It would be shocking to see this giant film go home empty-handed, but if 1917 and Parasite have anything to say about it, it’s very likely this film could lose all of its ten nominations. Much like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, if any film was going to upset the expected Best Picture frontrunners, it would likely be this one. Funny to think that we now live in a time where a Scorsese gangster film could be described as the “upset” winner for Best Picture, but welcome to 2020.
Bombshell is perhaps the most talked about Best Makeup & Hairstyling nominee in recent memory. When the first trailer dropped, it was evident how much work went into transforming these A-list actors into their real-life political characters. Best Actress nominee Charlize Theron’s physical transformation into Megyn Kelly was so accurate it was almost unnerving, and her performance in the movie only solidified and elevated this portrayal. The film on the whole was a lot funnier than I expected, with some of the comedic relief coming from Best Supporting Actress nominee Margot Robbie. And even though both Theron and Robbie put forth knockout performances, this movie’s best shot at winning Oscar gold is with the aforementioned nomination for hair and makeup.
Though Harriet excelled in its original song contribution and Cynthia Erivo’s Best Actress-nominated performance, this film on the whole felt more like a Lifetime Original Movie rather than a heavy-hitting Oscar contender—which is such a shame considering the potential of this story. I was rather disappointed that the film didn’t focus more on Harriet Tubman’s historical time in the military and instead directed a lot of unnecessary energy towards exploring her relationship with her former owner’s son. I also wish this film featured more of Erivo’s marvelous voice by adding a handful of other songs, perhaps elevating the Best Original Song nominee “Stand Up” even more.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The controversial final film of the latest Star Wars trilogy managed to nab three Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Editing. I personally prefer the practical effects of Star Wars to the special effects, so I would not put it to win in that category, though to be fair, I know nothing about that medium, so who am I to judge? What I do know is that the film shines in the way the score and sound design perfectly mesh together to make one cohesive through-line that carries the film to its conclusion. Though 1917 might have a leg up in the category, it’s hard to count out John Williams for Best Original Score. If Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker snags a win, it would be the first Oscar for the franchise in almost 40 years.
The final chapter in the franchise that changed the way superhero movies are made and consumed in American culture had the daunting task of wrapping up multiple plot lines that were set up not only by the previous Avengers movies, but by nearly every other Marvel movie before it. One of the most impressive feats achieved by Avengers: Endgame is just the sheer magnitude of the visual effects in this movie, for which it is nominated. A Marvel movie has never won in this category, as Oscar voters tend to award more high-brow films, but considering that this is the “last” Avengers movie and Disney’s looming shadow lurks over every corner of the industry, I wouldn’t be that surprised if they pull off a win for Best Visual Effects.
Toy Story 4
While everyone assumed Toy Story 3 would be the last in the franchise, Pixar decided to go all-in with another adventure starring Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the beloved gang. Toy Story 4 managed to come away with a Best Animated Feature nomination as well as a Best Original Song nomination for “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away.” The story plays on the millennial mood of “I’m trash” and explores what that means from a toy’s perspective. Forky is lovingly made by Bonnie, and yet he struggles for most of the film to understand that he is not just what he is made of—in this case, literal trash—but so much more when he starts to build deep, meaningful relationships with the rest of the toys from Bonnie’s playroom.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Another final iteration of a beloved series, HTTYD: The Hidden World beautifully wrapped up one of my favorite animated film franchises. The film focuses on the hidden world of dragons and how Toothless, the lead dragon, wrestles with the decision of where he best belongs. Like Toy Story 4, this movie centers around the struggles of following the path that makes you the most happy and leaving the comfort and love that has been your stability. The animators certainly showed off their skills through the beauty of the various dragon breeds set against an Avatar-esque backdrop. I doubt that the film will snag a win in the Best Animated Feature category, but I definitely recommend it for a stunning, heartwarming good time.
The only American documentary film in the Best Documentary Feature category is notably still about global issues; the film centers around the culture wars at play in factories that are located in Ohio but run by Chinese businessmen. The portrayal of working-class Americans struggling to keep jobs during the Recession, juxtaposed against the Chinese workers’ desire for freedom amidst culturally based strict work ethics make for an emotional viewing experience. It is a piercing reflection of what capitalism actually looks like, but it fails to give enough time to one of the most poignant threats to these workers: automation. Because of this, the film feels a moment too late, though considering it has picked up a few wins on the awards circuit already, don’t be surprised if it takes home an Oscar.
Another Oscar nomination surprise, Breakthrough beat out Disney and Beyoncé in the Best Original Song category. Breakthrough tells the story of a mom’s faith and trust in God’s ability to heal her son, while throwing in a storyline about what it means to have faith in the modern world. It is most definitely not your typical Oscar film—and predictable plot line and aggressive religious themes aside, I still wouldn’t recommend this movie. Now Diane Warren was robbed alongside Lady Gaga for “Til It Happens to You,” but don’t expect a win for her Best Original Song nomination this year with “I’m Standing With You.”