On Set with Jeff Counts: Oscar Bets Before the Big Show

The 92nd Academy Awards ceremony is just a couple days away, so I think it’s time to lay my cards on the table. I’ve seen more than 40 films in the last two months. That means…

by | Feb 7, 2020 | Culture, Film & TV

The 92nd Academy Awards ceremony is just a couple days away, so I think it’s time to lay my cards on the table. I’ve seen more than 40 films in the last two months. That means I’ve had a lot of time to consider which films and artists are Oscar-worthy. Frankly, I could do an entire show on the nomination snubs. Where is Adam Sandler from Uncut Gems? Awkwafina from The Farewell? Or anybody from Queen and Slim? And, if we had more time, I would also dive into categories that celebrate the incredible people who design costumes, write songs, wield cameras and more. 

But for now, here are my Oscar picks for six of the most prestigious categories.                    

My award for Best Male Supporting Actor is Tom Hanks for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. He had a hard job. To play a character who has been a caricature for so long is challenging enough, but to do so in a story as moving and, well, adult as A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was yet more proof of Hank’s inimitable talent.  

 

Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys in ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighboorhood.’

                

Best Female Supporting Actor goes to Margot Robbie in Bombshell. I didn’t love this film, but Robbie’s performance was spectacular. Her ambition and regret were a necessary point of personal focus in this portrait of the deeply misogynistic Fox News ecosystem. All of the women in this movie were excellent, but Robbie gave us some believable innocence to mourn.       

 

Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil in ‘Bombshell.’

     

The Best Male Actor and Best Female Actor in Leading Roles must be mentioned together. That’s because Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver’s portrayal of two people not being together might just be the best I’ve seen. They star in Marriage Story. It’s a tale of disintegration that is mannered and a little precious, but the acting is as good as it gets. 

 

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in ‘Marriage Story.’

 

Johansson and Driver are fierce and vulnerable, even when their lines are a little over-engineered, and their pain is so real you want to leave the theater and call your spouse. Add in possibly the most harrowing marital argument ever captured on camera, and their Oscar worthiness is clear.

Best Director is always the hardest choice for me. What am I looking for? Technique? Vision? Is it too much to demand both? I don’t think so. That’s why my 2020 winner, admittedly by the narrowest of margins, is Sam Mendes for 1917. There is so much craft and empathy in this film. The one-shot style is no longer revolutionary, but Mendes pulls it off brilliantly and makes a compelling case for looking at war through fewer eyes. That sharper focus allows for a constant intimacy that is equally thrilling and draining. 

 

George MacKay in ‘1917.’

 

Mendes has shaken the genre in ways that no director will be able to ignore. 

And finally, we come to the big one: Best Picture. It will perhaps come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that my choice is Parasite. Nobody saw this one coming, least of all me. But director Bong Joon-Ho has created an indisputable masterclass on status, culture and human nature. It doesn’t matter that this movie is in a language other than English. (The Academy agrees this year, which is incredibly rare.) The themes are universal. The actions and reactions of the cast are recognizable and inevitable. In short, Parasite is one of the most unpredictable stories of the year. It is also the most reflective of us. 

 

Choi Woo-shik, Song Kang-ho, Chang Hyae-jin and Park So-dam play the Kim family in ‘Parasite.’

 

If great art is meant to serve as a mirror for our souls, this is one we should have to look into. There is so much there to reckon with.  

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About Jeff Counts

Before moving to Jackson in 2019, Jeff spent five years reviewing movies as co-host of the public access television program "Big Movie Mouth-Off." When not focused on film, Jeff writes about opera and co-hosts the classical music interview podcast "Ghost Light."

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