With apologies to Andy Serkis — the Charlie Chaplain of motion capture performance — Thanos is the greatest CGI character ever put to film. Played by Josh Brolin, Thanos is a villain of terrifying power and single-mindedness. Yet there’s a calculation to his cruelty, a logic that underpins all of his actions, which makes him all the more fearsome. Few things are more terrible than someone utterly convinced they’re the only one with the right answer.
There are plenty of reasons to give Avengers: Endgame the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects: The epic final battle featuring every single one of Marvel’s impressive roster of heroes, the trippy details of a journey through the quantum realm, Professor Hulk. But after snubbing Avengers: Infinity War in this category (among others) last year, the academy owes it to the filmmakers to acknowledge this unprecedented accomplishment. It’s not often you can find complex human emotion in a purple, genocidal alien. –Mark Schiff
In Harriet, Cynthia Erivo delivers a powerful performance as the titular abolitionist and Underground Railroad leader. She stands quite a tough fight against Renee Zellweger (nominated for Judy), but let’s never say never. Erivo’s performance was raw and emotional, bringing life to one of America’s most famed women. The film didn’t quite achieve the blockbuster status it desired, but there’s no denying Erivo is the shining light. This year’s field for Best Actress is as strong as ever, but if there’s anyone who could possibly take down Zellweger, it’s Erivo. – Peyton Lombardo
For the first time ever, a documentary, Honeyland, was nominated for International Feature Film. While I don’t think it’ll manage the upset against Parasite in the International category, it’s got a serious chance to win the documentary Oscar. Macedonia’s second film to ever be nominated for an Oscar, it’s a captivating look at life in a remote mountain village. Hatidze Muratova is one of the few remaining beekeepers, and we get to see how her daily life plays out, especially after a new family’s arrival in the quiet village causes a ruckus. Honeyland is like nothing I’ve seen before — a refreshing take on a simple but challenging lifestyle. It should be rewarded for its originality. – PL
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Renee Zellweger will win her second Oscar Sunday for playing Judy Garland at one of the legendary entertainer’s lowest points – a series of concerts in the UK six months before her death at 47. After sweeping all the other contests – Golden Globes, SAG Awards, the BAFTAS – not choosing the 50-year-old actress in your office Oscar pool would be akin to discarding a water bottle before hiking through the desert. It’s just not done! Going beyond mere mimicry, Zellweger embodies the soul of the troubled triple threat (take that, Rami Malek!). Garland’s distinct mannerisms, vocal inflection and pitch – even her physical stance – show up in Judy’s central performance. Zellweger’s live rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in front of an audience nails the essence of Garland’s world-weary and drugged air. She brings down the house and brings out the tears; if that’s not Oscar-worthy, what is? – Janine Schaults
Despite mixed reviews, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil managed to squeak out an Oscar nod for Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones. It’s hard to bring an animated Mouse House classic to life, especially one with a villain (and actress) so utterly recognizable. Every day of shooting , Jolie spent 2.5 hours in the makeup chair transforming into the powerful fairy, and this time around she’s joined by a gaggle of Maleficent’s winged species, led by a regal-looking Chiwetel Ejiofor. With five films nominated in this category – an unusual move away from the traditional three – Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White compete for the industry’s biggest prize against a deranged clown, Dorothy herself, casualties of war and three platinum Fox News anchors. Horns down, Bombshell goes home with the gold while Maleficent takes solace in a worldwide box office total of $491.7 million. – JS
Too long have we taken Brad Pitt’s greatness for granted. Since his breakout role in Thelma & Louise nearly 30 years ago, Pitt has rarely been short of riveting in any role. He’s also appeared in at least a handful of classic films, from the prescient themes of Fight Club to the poetic beauty of The Tree of Life.
Whether or not Once Upon a Time in Hollywood reaches those heights is subjective, but as the amiable stuntman Cliff Booth, Pitt is finally in position to claim his first Academy Award as an actor (this is his fourth nomination; he earned an Oscar for producing Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave). A victory over heavyweights like Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and Al Pacino would be fitting confirmation of what many have long suspected: Pitt is much more than just a pretty face. – MS
I don’t think I can say enough good things about Parasite, so clearly I’m favoring it to win Best Picture. Already a lock for International Feature, this might be the best chance yet for a foreign film to take home the biggest prize of the night. Parasite has done what Roma aspired to do last year; it built a cult following in which word-of-mouth marketing has helped it more than any official promotional materials. Previously just an underdog favored by a niche audience, positive buzz has built to the point that it’s now a serious contender to take home Best Picture. 1917 is a technical masterpiece, and Once Upon a Time is, well, about Hollywood, but Parasite is special. Its impact and themes feel the most relevant to 2020, and that’s why it deserves to win big on Sunday. – PL