I will be the first person to tell you it's far too early to be thinking about the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony. Not only do we have no real gauge for how good the next crop of movies is going to be, but many of the future contenders we're excited about aren't even finished yet.
So why attempt something as premature as to predict the 2020 Oscar winners before the 2019 Oscar winners have even been announced? Because the way things are looking, the 2020 Oscars are going to be a doozy — and they are definitely worth getting excited about, even 345 days early.
Will go to: The Irishman
Could go to: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
This is a close call: Martin Scorsese is returning to the world of the mafia (and New Jersey) with The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, while Quentin Tarantino is tackling a story loosely tied to the Manson murders with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Both are sure to be among the most critically-acclaimed films to come out all year. I'm giving a slight edge to Scorsese's The Irishman, however, because Tarantino can be an especially divisive director, which doesn't go over well with the new way the Academy picks its Best Picture winners. Balancing the scales, though, is the fact that The Irishman is a Netflix release; the streaming website has faced some discrimination on the awards circuit, although if Roma silences those conversations on Sunday, I wouldn't bet against it.
Best Popular Movie
Will go to: The Lion King
Could go to: Captain Marvel
The Academy might have taken "Best Popular Movie" off the table for the 2019 ceremony, but I can imagine it bouncing back in some form next year, especially since the rumor mill says members are still actively working to make it a category. It might just be that The Lion King becomes the inaugural winner. Of all of Disney's big-budget remakes coming out this year, it looks to be the most impressive of all, with voice-acting by Donald Glover (Simba), Beyoncé (Nala), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), and John Oliver (Zazu). On the other hand, "Best Popular Movie" felt like it was introduced specifically to award 2018's Black Panther, and I could imagine why some might think Captain Marvel, Marvel Studios' first major stand-alone film fronted by a woman superhero, would be the leading pick this time around.
Will go to: Greta Gerwig for Little Women
Could go to: Marielle Heller for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Martin Scorsese for The Irishman, Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
In the going-on-91 years of handing out Oscars, only one woman has ever won the award for best director, and a grand total of five have been nominated. The 2019 class of Best Director nominees was particularly shameful, because it was not only all men, but director Marielle Heller, who made one of the year's best movies with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, was snubbed. I'd love to see Greta Gerwig repeat the magic of her Lady Bird Best Picture/Best Director push with her sophomore feature film, Little Women, and I think there are plenty of people in the increasingly diverse Academy that would agree. Heller will also have a film out this year that could be a worthy contender, and I wouldn't dare leave off perennial favorites like Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, who has never won the award.
Will go to: Hoyte van Hoytema for Ad Astra
Could go to: Rodrigo Prieto for The Irishman
Director James Gray has said that he wants his Heart of Darkness-inspired science-fiction film Ad Astra to be "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie," and helping him out behind the camera is Hoyte van Hoytema, who's previously worked on Dunkirk, Interstellar, and the gorgeously-shot Swedish horror film Let the Right One In. Gray is especially picky with his cinematographers — his last two films, including the stunning Lost City of Z, were shot by Darius Khondji — and I don't doubt he went into Ad Astra with a particularly epic vision (he is said to be reviewing some 600 shots now), nor that Hoytema has helped achieve it. One of my favorite cinematographers, Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain; Silence), worked on Scorsese's The Irishman, however; he's been twice nominated for this award, and this might be his year to win.
Will go to: Cate Blanchett in Lucy & Desi
Could go to: Amy Adams in The Woman in the Window, Lupita Nyong'o in Us
Another tricky category, Best Actress could be all over the board in 2020. If Lucy & Desi ends up getting a release this year (the Lucille Ball biopic is currently being written by Aaron Sorkin), I could imagine two-time winner Cate Blanchett giving an acceptance speech next February — The Hollywood Reporter writes that she's already nailed Ball's "classic twisted face, eyes-crossed." Alternatively, Amy Adams, who earned her first nomination this year with Vice, could find herself in the spotlight for her lead performance in The Woman in the Window, and Lupita Nyong'o, who is starring in Us, is one of my favorite working actresses. There are dozens of other women I've got my eyes on for this category, though. It is truly anyone's game.
Will go to: Robert De Niro in The Irishman
Could go to: Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Robert De Niro re-teaming with Martin Scorsese for a film about the killing of Jimmy Hoffa? If that isn't a winning Best Actor formula, I can't tell you what is. Still, 2019 is looking to be a competitive year in the male acting category, with Tom Hanks fulfilling the role he was born to play as Mr. Rodgers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Plus, now that Leonardo DiCaprio has broken his Oscars curse, we could potentially see him winning for his portrayal of a washed up movie star in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Best Original Screenplay
Will go to: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Could go to: Us
Don't bet against a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, who has twice won the writing award (for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained), and was additionally nominated for Inglorious Bastards. His latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has been said to have "heart and strong commercial appeal" and "if there is a film of Tarantino's it can be best compared to, it would be Pulp Fiction," Deadline reports. An upset could potentially come in the form of a new Jordan Peele horror-satire script, Us, which looks from the trailer to be pretty brilliant; we'll have a better sense of how it'll fare after it premieres at SXSW next month.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will go to: Little Women
Could go to: The Goldfinch, The Irishman
Greta Gerwig generated Best Picture buzz in 2018 with her fantastic film Lady Bird, which she also wrote. A proven talent on the page as well as behind the camera, I trust Gerwig to shape Louisa May Alcott's story of the March sisters into a similarly sensitive and beautiful piece of writing again this year. The Cut reports that her screenplay will "center on the March sisters' lives as young adults after Meg, Jo, and Amy leave home," and jump around in time. A possible upset could be The Goldfinch, based on Donna Tartt's book of the same name and written by Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), or The Irishman, based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt with a screenplay by Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List).
Best Visual Effects
Will go to: The Lion King
Could go to: Dumbo, Star Wars: Episode IX
From the trailer alone, Disney's Lion King remake appears to be so realistic that it's erroneously being called a "live action" film. It will be hard to unseat this movie in the visual effects category, although the recent lack of success for similar animal kingdom CGI films like Mowgli and Watership Down might mean that the uncanny valley is still too much for some viewers. In that case, look to movies like Tim Burton's Dumbo remake to potentially get ahead; the newest Star Wars is also always a safe bet.
Best Animated Feature
Will go to: Toy Story 4
Could go to: Frozen 2
Toy Story 3 was such a huge hit that it became the third animated film ever to receive a nomination for Best Picture (ultimately it only won Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song). There is no sign that Toy Story 4 is going to be letting up any of the momentum, and Pixar/Disney have an incredible ability to tell stories that appeal to adults and children alike. Waiting in the wings to potentially steal the show, of course, is the sequel to the immensely popular Disney movie Frozen, although I give the edge to Toy Story due to the franchise's proven track record of making amazing sequels.
Will go to: Something in Frozen 2
Could go to: Rachel Platten's "Wonder" from Wonder Park
It is unlikely that Frozen 2 will have as big a hit as its predecessor's "Let It Go," but then again, you can always count on Disney to produce feel-good earworms. In all likelihood, this award is already a lock for Frozen 2, although I could also see Rachel Platten's song "Wonder," from the charming Nickelodeon Movies' film Wonder Park, having a chance at a nomination too.
Best Foreign Language Film
Will go to: Pain & Glory
Could go to: Ema
The legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar has reunited with his longtime muses Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz for the Spanish-language Pain & Glory, in which "a film director looks back on the choices he's made in life as his past catches up with him to upend the present," Variety reports. Almodóvar already has two Academy Awards, for All About My Mother (Best Foreign Language Film) and Talk to Her (which won Best Original Screenplay), and he looks posed to add another. An upset is perhaps brewing, though, in the form of Ema, a forthcoming Chilean film by director Pablo Larraín, who is joining up again with actor Gael García Bernal. Larraín has been circling a golden statuette for awhile now — he was nominated for No and Jackie, and he produced A Fantastic Woman, which won the foreign language honor in 2017. This could at last be the year he locks it up.