It wouldn’t be Oscar night without a little bit of drama, and while there appears to be little debate over who will win the acting honors during Sunday evening’s 92nd Academy Awards, the best-picture category — the final prize of the night — should keep the stars glued to their Hollywood seats.
Director Sam Mendes’ World War I epic “1917” goes into the night as a strong favorite, thanks largely to its earlier win at the Producers Guild Awards, which has an 80% success rate in predicting the Oscar winner over the past decade.
But there has been a groundswell of support for the South Korean psychological thriller “Parasite,” which is only the sixth movie ever nominated for both best picture and best international film — formerly known as the foreign-language film category. The other five all won in the foreign-language category, but none took home the best-picture prize.
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” also has the potential to pull an upset. Like “1917,” the film already has a Golden Globe Award, and it also won the Critics Choice Award for best picture.
The comic-book villain origin story “Joker” has a leading 11 nominations heading into the Dolby Theatre ceremony, but it appears to be a longshot for best-picture recognition. Also vying for the prize are director Martin Scorsese’s ensemble mob drama “The Irishman,” the racing thriller “Ford v Ferrari,” World War II satire “Jojo Rabbit,” Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women” and the Netflix divorce drama “Marriage Story.”
Mendes is the front-runner in the best-director category, with Directors Guild and Golden Globe awards already under his belt. Scorsese is nominated in the category for the ninth time in his career for “The Irishman,” making him the most-nominated living director. The only director to earn more nods is William Wyler, who had 12.
Bong Joon Ho, who earned a best-director tie with Mendes at the Critics Choice Awards, is nominated for the directing Oscar, along with Tarantino for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and Todd Phillips for “Joker.”
The absence of Gerwig in the category has been a source of criticism for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, thanks to the absence of any female nominees. The Academy was quick to note last month that a record 62 women earned Oscar nominations this year, representing almost one-third of the overall nominees.
The acting categories appear to be all-but-decided already, with the same slate of performers sweeping all of the major pre-Oscar prizes.
Joaquin Phoenix’s weight-dropping, cringe-inducing performance as the lead character in “Joker” has made him the prohibitive favorite in the best actor category. He was previously nominated for his leading roles in “Walk the Line” and “The Master,” and once in the supporting-actor category for “Gladiator,” but he has never won an Oscar.
Hoping to pull off an upset in the category are Adam Driver for his role as the divorcing husband in “Marriage Story,” Leonardo DiCaprio for his portrayal of a once-big-name actor in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Antonio Banderas for “Pain and Glory” and Jonathan Pryce for “The Two Popes.”
The only previous Oscar winner in the category is DiCaprio, who won best actor for “The Revenant” in 2016.
Renee Zellweger is the likely victor in the best-actress category, thanks to her acclaimed portrayal of late-career Judy Garland in “Judy.” If she prevails, it’ll be her second Oscar, having won previously for her supporting work in “Cold Mountain” in 2004. She was previously nominated for best actress for “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Chicago.”
Also nominated are Scarlett Johansson for her work opposite Driver in “Marriage Story,” Charlize Theron for her role as Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell,” Cynthia Erivo as slavery-abolitionist Harriet Tubman in “Harriet” and Saoirse Ronan for her work in “Little Women.”
Theron is a previous best-actress winner for “Monster” in 2004.
Johansson is a double-acting nominee, thanks to her supporting-actress nod for her work in “Jojo Rabbit,” but she’ll have a tough time besting category favorite Laura Dern, for her portrayal of Johansson’s divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story.” Margot Robbie is nominated for her work in “Bombshell,” along with Florence Pugh for “Little Women” and Kathy Bates for “Richard Jewell.”
The nomination for Dern is the third of her career, following a lead-actress nod for “Rambling Rose” in 1991 and a supporting-actress nomination for “Wild” in 2014. The only previous Oscar winner in the category is Bates, who won for her leading role in “Misery” in 1990.
Brad Pitt is the heavy favorite to win the supporting-actor prize for his portrayal of stuntman Cliff Booth in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” He’s never won an acting Oscar before, despite six previous nominations, but he won as a producer of 2013 best-picture winner “12 Years a Slave.” Also nominated are “The Irishman’s” powerhouse pairing of Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, Tom Hanks for his role as Mister Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and Anthony Hopkins for “The Two Popes.”
Hanks, Hopkins, Pacino and Pesci are all previous Oscar winners.
In addition to his directing nomination for “Joker,” Todd Phillips is also nominated for penning the adapted screenplay for the film, a nomination shared with Scott Silver. Also nominated are Steven Zaillian for “The Irishman,” Taika Waititi for “Jojo Rabbit,” Gerwig for “Little Women” and Anthony McCarten for “The Two Popes.”
Tarantino is nominated for best original screenplay for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” along with Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won for “Parasite,” Rian Johnson for “Knives Out,” Noah Baumbach for “Marriage Story” and Sam Mendes and Kyrsty Wilson-Cairns for “1917.”
For the second year in a row, the Oscar ceremony will be held without a host, relying instead on a laundry list of big-name presenters and performers to hold the audience.
Last year’s Oscar-winning actors — Rami Malek, Olivia Colman, Regina King and Mahershala Ali — will return to present the prizes to this year’s top performers, continuing an Oscar tradition.
The show will again feature performances of the Oscar-nominated original songs.
Elton John will perform “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” co-written with Bernie Taupin, from the film about John’s life, “Rocketman.” Cynthia Erivo will perform “Harriet’s” Oscar-nominated song “Stand Up,” co-written by Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell.
Randy Newman will perform his song “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4.”
Idina Menzel and AURORA will perform “Into the Unknown” from “Frozen II,” a song written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Joining them will be the performers who lend their voices to the character of Elsa in Denmark, Germany, Japan, Latin America, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain and Thailand.
Chrissy Metz will perform “I’m Standing With You,” the nominated song from “Breakthrough” written by Diane Warren.
According to the Academy, Questlove will also perform during the ceremony, along with newly minted Grammy winner Billie Eilish and Janelle Monae. The show will also feature a “guest-conducted segment” by Eimear Noone, the first woman to conduct during an Oscar telecast.