Predicting the Oscars with an Awards Season Pro

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The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg shares why ‘Parasite’ has the Academy buzzing and other insights on this year’s Oscar contenders.

Scott Feinberg, awards expert. Photo courtesy of THR.

If there’s someone you don’t want to go up against in your Oscars pool it’s Scott Feinberg.

For over a dozen years, the journalist has been covering the awards first for the Los Angeles Times and now at The Hollywood Reporter where he has been working for eight years.

He studies the history, the trends and closely tracks these fine films from the festivals to their final foray at the Dolby Theatre.

So this week, while he was at his busiest, we asked him about his Oscar predictions, which were published in his column Who Will Win, Who Should Win that he contributes to along with their chief film critic Todd McCarthy.

The conversation began — as all conversations should — with J-Lo.

Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer and Constance Wu in “Hustlers.” Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

In the wake of the incredible performance by Jennifer Lopez in the Super Bowl halftime show, some are calling it her vindication for “Hustlers” not being nominated for very much during awards season. Only the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes gave J-Lo a supporting actress nomination. Are we wrong to assume that “Hustlers” wasn’t really an Oscars type of a movie?

You are probably thinking along the lines of the academy voters. It’s not the kind of film they typically look at on the surface and say, “This is an Oscar season kind of movie.” Even though it was very well done, I think you’ll find that most Academy members, especially as the Academy tries to go younger and bring in younger members who are still active in their careers — those people don’t have as much time to watch as many movies. And so they’re going to vote having only seen 12-15 movies. So “Hustlers” was never going to be the top priority of those folks.

Now, people who got around to it often liked it. But I had a sense, as nominations approached, that that number was not as high as it needed to be.

“The Irishman” poster. Image courtesy of Netflix.

That’s interesting about the new blood not having time to see the films because they’re working. I hadn’t thought of that before. But on the other hand, when I see “Ford v Ferrari” and “The Irishman” receiving best picture noms, I think that must be the old guard of the Academy members. But I guess it’s almost impossible not to nominate “The Irishman,” true?

Yes, they were certainly going to see that movie just because of all of the talent involved in it, all the ease with which you could watch it.

Whatever your feelings are about Netflix, it’s convenient … Everybody was at least going to check it out. It doesn’t mean everybody loves it. There are plenty of people who think it’s too long or whatever other issues they may have. But that’s a movie that will get proper consideration.

Let’s go to one more that many felt was overlooked this year: “Uncut Gems.” What’s your take?

Adam Sandler in the “Uncut Gems” poster. Image courtesy of Elara Pictures.

I think it’s very similar to “Hustlers.” It’s not the kind of movie that they generally think of an awards-season movie. It’s hyper-kinetic, non-stop, almost like an action movie without explosions. I heard from many academy members who said it was almost like sensory overload, with just the wrong amount of non-stop yelling and cussing.

There were also plenty of people who liked it, but it was too far from what they are accustomed to go for, for a lot of voters.

On the flip side of that would be “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which seems like a fastball right over the plate for awards, yet it doesn’t seem to be hauling them in. It seems to be getting beat.

Well, your premise is correct. That is a movie that couldn’t have been more targeted at your average academy member. Many of them were in L.A. and remember that time nostalgically. [They] love movies and this was sort of a celebration of movies. I wouldn’t totally write it off yet for best picture because the preferential ballot that the academy uses to determine the best picture Oscar is a different way of choosing a winner than any other award except with what the Producers Guild uses.

I think it has a shot. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. I would not be totally shocked at all if it won best picture.

Even though it isn’t sweeping the other award shows?

Yes. Now that the best picture nominees can be five to 10 films, what they don’t want is a movie winning with a very small percentage of the academy actually supporting it. Think about it, you could have 10% plus one — take a movie like “The Tree of Life.” That movie, I think, most academy members were not enamored with, but the people who were loved it.

Without a preferential ballot, it could win with 87% of the academy not liking it at all. So what they did was they made it so you rank your best picture nominees, and your No. 2 choice, your No. 3 choice will still affect the outcome.

What they’re trying to do is find the movie that everybody likes the most. That’s how you end up with a sort of consensus choice. You’re not going to have a movie win that’s deeply, deeply divisive.

I would be totally surprised to see “Joker” win best picture because that’s a movie that is very polarizing. It got a lot of nominations, but I don’t know how many wins it’s going to get aside from Joaquin Phoenix because a lot of people have issues with it.

“Once Upon a Time … ” meanwhile, is a movie that’s going to appear in at least No. 2 or No. 3 on a lot of ballots.

“Parasite” poster. Image courtesy Barunson E&A.

Which brings us to “Parasite.” A lot of the people in your industry are saying that Bong Joon Ho’s film is the favorite. But when I talk to average people, they’ve never heard of it.

Much of America says, “Why would I see a non-English-language movie, that has nobody in it that I’ve ever heard of? You’re saying it’s sort of a comedy but it’s also a horror movie, but it’s not really?”

It’s very hard to describe to anyone. That’s where it comes in that the industry makes a point of being a little more curious about what’s out there.

There are people out there who have never liked a single subtitled movie in their life who are telling me that “Parasite” is their favorite movie of the year.

That’s going to be a really interesting one. I cannot rule out the possibility that it could win. What really hurts “Parasite” is that there’s also that best international feature award, where a lot of voters feel — and this is what might have done in “Roma” last year — that, “Hey we’re gonna give it international feature, why don’t we give something else best picture?”

So, it would really need a huge surge of people who just love “Parasite” so much that they’re still going to put it at No. 1 or No. 2 for best picture, even though they’ve already given it international feature.

That could happen. We saw it with the Screen Actors Guild Awards this year. Never before had a non-English-language film won best ensemble there, which is the closest thing they have to best picture.

It would be an unprecedented moment at the Oscars if it wins, but right now it seems like the late-breaking momentum is for “1917.”

Which, let’s face it, that is your typical Oscar-bait movie, though, right?

It is, in the sense that it is a war movie [and] it’s inspired by a true story in the sense that [director] Sam Mendes’ grandfather had a similar experience. And they do like British films.

What is not in its favor particularly, but it hasn’t been an issue so far, is nobody, prior to this year, knew the names of anyone who is in that movie — just like with “Parasite” — and they’re up against “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which has the biggest stars in Hollywood.

That part of it is interesting. Can you win best picture without an acting nomination and people you’ve never even heard of? I think that because it has done so well with all these other groups, it suggests that it can happen. Heck it happened with “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Artist” over just the past decade or so.

The thing “Parasite” has in its favor is SAG, which picks the winners of the SAG Awards, is a huge group of people who are mostly American. It’s generally a populist group; they’re not the type that award artsy movies and yet even that group still went for “Parasite.”

So it’s really looking like it’s between those three movies.

Just those three?

Some people think “Jo Jo Rabbit” can come in and be a surprise. I’m a little skeptical because I know a lot of people find that movie problematic, and with anti-Semitism on the rise, they feel that Hitler’s not a laughing matter at this particular moment in time.

But they have been given permission to vote for it, in a way, by people like Mel Brooks and others who are championing it.

OK, we’ve talked about the films, but why do the Oscars themselves matter?

I think Oscars matter because without them we would probably only have remakes and sequels and adaptations of pre-existing stuff the whole year, as we have for most of the three quarters of the year that aren’t part of the Oscar season.

Whether it is appealing to ego or people’s desire for recognition — whatever motivates these people — it does seem to inspire people to take a chance on movies that are more creatively daring and ambitious. Which are the kind of movies I, and many other people, yearn for more of.

So for that reason, I am very grateful that the Oscars exist.

Los Angeleno