We do this every year and every year presents new challenges. Sometimes the Sundance Film Festival doesn't produce anything Oscar-worthy. Sometimes release dates get pushed back. Every year is different, which is why picking the Oscars so far in advance is fun to do.
I've made some good picks over the years, and way more bad ones. Last year, I called four of the nine Best Picture nominees for 2018, two of the Best Actors, and none of the Best Actress noms. It's a guessing game, of course, considering nobody has seen these films yet. But that doesn't mean we can't make those guesses educated.
There are a bunch of things to look for when picking potential Oscar noms. The Academy loves past nominees most. They know them, they recognize them. They also love true stories, and films about the film industry itself, and white people! (Although, the past few years have put a dent in that complaint.) Oscar voters also tend to forget about films made during the first half of the year — most of the nominees will be released in the months of November and December. Those are just a few examples, but there's one indicator that stands out above all.
Oscar movies are usually good movies. It sounds obvious, but it's truly rare that a nominee fools the entire voting body. There have been exceptions (Crash and Avatar with its Papyrus font come to mind), but one can usually trust the Academy to champion exceptional filmmaking. That means we can trust them to nominate directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers, and Steven Spielberg. We know they'll always want to reward legends like Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep. The Oscars are very aware of their legacy and very aware of what the critics like.
So, with that in mind, let's forge ahead. Which great actors and directors are making movies this year? What did the critics love at Sundance last week? And what current stars are ready to make the leap to the next level? We'll answer those questions and more as we predict the 2019 Oscars one year in advance.
Best Picture Predictions
Backseat - Adam McKay (The Big Short) directs Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney in the story of Cheney's controversial politically corrupt, er... corporate, existence.
First Man - Musical master Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) reunites with Ryan Gosling, who will play first man on the moon Neil Armstrong in this biopic.
My Life on the Road - Another biopic, this one stars Julianne Moore as feminist icon Gloria Steinem. It's directed by Julie Taymor (Frida).
The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara - Steven Spielberg's passion project is about a Jewish boy raised Christian in 19th century Italy and the backlash it creates. It may not be released this year, however. Spielberg reunited with his Lincoln scribe, Tony Kushner, for this one.
If Beale Street Could Talk - The much-anticipated follow-up to Moonlight for writer/director Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk is based on the James Baldwin novel about a young couple torn apart by a false rape accusation in 1970s Harlem.
The Favourite - Greek genius Yorgos Lanthimos broke into the Academy's little club with a Best Original Screenplay nomination for his 2015 dark comedy The Lobster. His latest is his most ambitious film yet — a period drama set in the tumultuous court of Queen Anne.
The Women of Marwen - Robert Zemeckis directs this drama about a man who copes with a serious injury by creating his own little world of doll people. Fans of the documentary Marwencol will know how special this story is. Steve Carell stars.
Mary, Queen of Scots - Saoirse Ronan stars as Mary Stuart, the royal cousin who plotted to take the throne of England from Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) and was imprisoned for years.
You gotta go with the biopics, the Oscar voters love them. True stories are catnip for audiences because they can compare the performances to the real people for authenticity. This year, I think First Man has the most Oscar potential of any film. The Chazelle/Gosling team lost out in the most brutal fashion imaginable last year when the wrong winner was announced and La La Land came in second. Don't think the Academy doesn't want to make that right. The story of Neil Armstrong, American astronaut and hero to a generation, sounds like just the movie to come back with.
That said, there are plenty of other strong contenders on paper at this early date. Spielberg is always a threat and he'll have two movies to submit this year with Edgardo Mortara and Ready Player One. The other biopics all have strong pedigrees. My Life on the Road has Moore in the lead. Backseat marks the second collaboration between McKay and Bale, the first (The Big Short) resulted in Oscar nods for both. The Women of Marwen tells a true story that was already made into an award-winning documentary. And Mary, Queen of Scots seems like the most probable period drama to win Oscar's approval considering its cast. There always seems to be one in the Best Picture field.
Also for your consideration: The Ballad of Richard Jewell, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Enzo Ferrari, The House That Jack Built, Isle of Dogs, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Thrilla in Manila, Tully, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Widows
Predicted winner: First Man
Damien Chazelle - First Man
Barry Jenkins - If Beale Street Could Talk
Adam McKay - Backseat
Steven Spielberg - The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
Julie Taymor - My Life on the Road
We'll see what effect the #MeToo movement has on the Oscars next year. Five women in the 89-year history of the Oscars have been nominated in this category. That's bound to change, probably slowly. Greta Gerwig was nominated this year for Lady Bird, and I like Julie Taymor to score a nod for her Steinem biopic next year. Meanwhile, the category is filled out with past nominees. Chazelle would seem to have the edge considering the Oscar bait material of First Man.
Also for your consideration: Josie Rourke - Mary, Queen of Scots, Richard Linklater - Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite, Robert Zemeckis - The Women of Marwen, Mimi Leder - On the Basis of Sex
Predicted winner: Damien Chazelle - First Man
Felicity Jones - On the Basis of Sex
Keira Knightley - Colette
Julianne Moore - My Life on the Road
Saoirse Ronan - Mary, Queen of Scots
Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Laura Dern wowed critics at Sundance with her performance in The Tale, but HBO got the rights so Dern will be fighting for an Emmy instead. She would've had tough competition. My two favorites are two true life performances: five-time nominee Julianne Moore as Gloria Steinem and one-time nominee Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Their success in the category will depend on many things, but most of all, the overall quality of their films. My other favorites include Ronan as the duplicitous Mary, Queen of Scots. She'll be imprisoned for at least some of this film so expect an emotional performance. And don't sleep on former Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) either. She's got a dramatic performance coming up as a celebrity biographer who turns to deceit when sales dry up in Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
Also for your consideration: Viola Davis - Widows, Emma Stone - The Favourite, Rachel Weisz - The Favourite, Rooney Mara - Mary Magdalene, KiKi Layne - If Beale Street Could Talk
Predicted winner: Felicity Jones - On the Basis of Sex
Christian Bale - Backseat
Steve Carell - The Women of Marwen
Colin Firth - The Mercy
Ryan Gosling - First Man
Jonah Hill - The Ballad of Richard Jewell
In a category full of true-life performances, Gosling is the presumptive front-runner. He's playing Neil Armstrong for God's sake. As long as he doesn't give him a funny accent or something, he should walk into a nomination. But Christian Bale is back doing his weight gain thing (he's unrecognizable as Cheney in Backseat set photos) and should be a threat. Ditto for Jonah Hill, the two-time nominee has a very interesting turn as Richard Jewell on the docket for 2018. Jewell, as sports fans will remember, was the security guard who saved hundreds by evacuating an area at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics only to be accused of the crime by police in the chaotic aftermath.
And then there's Carell and Firth, who both have awards-ready roles coming for different reasons. Carell is playing Mark Hogancamp, a New York man who was brutally attacked and left in a coma. When he awoke, Hogancamp had no memory of his previous life and he coped with his new one by creating a model town at his home where he could interact with people without interacting with them. Similarly, Firth will tackle the role of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who had his own mental health problems. He embarked on the world's most dangerous race — single-handed around the world. Soon into his journey however, Crowhurst disappeared, leaving behind a mystery, and a question of his sanity.
Also for your consideration: Stephan James - If Beale Street Could Talk, Lucas Hedges - Boy Erased, Mark Rylance - The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, Hugh Jackman - The Front Runner, Joaquin Phoenix - You Were Never Really Here, Adam Driver - The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Predicted winner: Ryan Gosling - First Man
Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett - Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Claire Foy - First Man
Nicole Kidman - Boy Erased
Carey Mulligan - Wildlife
Margot Robbie - Mary, Queen of Scots
Blanchett (seven nods) and Kidman (four) lead the Best Supporting Actress field on the strength of their 11 collective past nominations. They're each a threat to be honored based on name recognition alone. But they have juicy maternal roles this year to help their cases. Blanchett has the title role in Where'd You Go, Bernadette, based on Maria Semple's bestselling novel. She plays a shut-in mother who hates everyone and everything. And Kidman plays the mother of a 19-year-old subjected to gay conversion therapy in Boy Erased.
Also for your consideration: Amy Adams - Backseat, Mackenzie Davis - Tully, Katherine Waterston - The Current War, Natalie Portman - The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
Predicted winner: Cate Blanchett - Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Best Supporting Actor
Kyle Chandler - First Man
Russell Crowe - Boy Erased
Guy Pearce - Mary, Queen of Scots
J.K. Simmons - The Front Runner
Dominic West - Colette
I've got to give the Crowe the edge in this one. He'll play a Baptist minister who forces his son into gay conversion therapy in Boy Erased. Expect intense self-righteousness. Crowe has always been great when let off the leash to intimidate. The other Best Supporting candidates I like include Kyle Chandler, who has the role of astronaut and test pilot Deke Slayton in First Man. Guy Pearce simply kills period performances, as well as most other roles. If he's given any kind of personality in Mary, Queen of Scots, he'll be a contender.
J.K. Simmons, Oscar winner in this category for Whiplash four years ago, has a good-looking role as disgraced senator Gary Hart's campaign manager in The Front Runner, another true story. And, lastly, reviews were solid out of Sundance for West in Colette as the title character's abusive husband. It may be his time to shine after years wowing TV audiences on shows like The Wire and The Affair. Oh, and watch out for Carell and Sam Rockwell in Backseat. Rockwell plays George W. Bush and Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld.
Also for your consideration: Corey Stoll - First Man, Steve Carell - Backseat, Sam Rockwell - Backseat, Nicholas Hoult - The Favourite, David Tennant - Mary, Queen of Scots
Predicted winner: Russell Crowe - Boy Erased
[Photos courtesy of Getty Images, EW, the Sundance Institute, Oscars.org, and IMDb]