By BILL BRUNS and SUE PASCOE
L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan made his annual appearance at the Pacific Palisades Optimist Club meeting on February 4 to give his seasoned predictions about this Sunday’s Academy Awards.
“One reason we like the Oscars,” Turan noted, “is that they’re unpredictable and something happens that you don’t expect.” With so many consensus predictions about who will win the major awards this year, it will be interesting to see if any upsets occur.
This summer, “The Irishman” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” were the frontrunners for Best Picture, Turan pointed out, but as new movies came out in the fall and various craft organizations announced their awards, “these films sort of faded.”
“It looks like ‘1917’ [the World War 1 movie] will win,” Turan said. “It’s a traditional film with an emotional component and everybody likes it.” Filming was a technical feat, he added, that “required an enormous amount of planning to make it look like a continuous, real-time movie with long continuous takes.”
Turan sees Sam Mendes winning Best Director honors for the film, and Roger Deakins receive the award for Cinematography.
If there’s to be a Best Picture upset, Turan said, the Korean movie “Parasite” has the best chance, “although I don’t think a foreign film has ever won Best Picture.” He believes it will win Best Foreign Film, which is now called International Feature Film.
“The people who like ‘Parasite’ are passionate about it,” Turan said. Why? “It has an unforeseeable plot, there are lots of twists and turns, and it’s very well put together.” Plus, “people really respond to its social consciousness” as it pits a lower-class family against an upper-class family.
Turan admitted that he’s not a fan of “Joker,” one of the nominated movies, but he expects Joaquin Phoenix to win the Oscar for Best Actor. “It’s a strong performance and everyone says he’ll win.”
The Best Actress award will likely to Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland in ‘Judy,’” Turan said. “The film is just okay, but it’s a real strong performance by Zellweger, who took time off from the movies and then made a professional comeback. People in the Academy like her.”
For Best Supporting Actor, “Brad Pitt plays a stuntman sidekick to Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ and it’s an effortless performance you have to admire,” Turan said. “If he doesn’t win it will be the biggest shock of the night.”
Turan believes that Laura Dern will win Best Supporting Actress for “Marriage Story.”
“The movie really isn’t about marriage, it’s about divorce and Laura gives an energetic, smart performance as a high-powered lawyer,” he said, noting that she’s also nominated in “Little Women,” which raises her profile. “She’s been in the business a while and people feel like it will be her year to win.”
The critic’s pick for Documentary Feature is “Honeyland,” which is also competing in the International Feature category. “It’s a fascinating film, set in Macedonia, where the filmmaker spent a year with a beekeeper, an old woman, who must contend with a family that moves in next door.”
“All five nominees in the documentary in the category are worthy winners,” Turan said. (The other nominees are “American Factory,” “The Cave,” “The Edge of Democracy” and “For Sama”.)
“One of my favorite documentaries was ‘Maiden,’ which wasn’t nominated,” Turan said. “It’s an exciting, involving film [about the first all-woman crew to compete in the 1989-1990 Whitbread Round the World Race] and the first thing you hear is ‘The ocean is trying to kill you every minute you’re out there.’”
“It’s hard to convince people this documentary is as good as it is,” Turan admitted. (Catch it on Netflix!)
His prediction for Original Screenplay is “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” by director Quentin Tarantino (“people in the movie business like his style of writing, looking back in time”) and “Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi for Adapted Screenplay.
About the latter, Turan said, “It’s an odd film, but it received six nominations [including Best Picture]. Sometimes a film like this, there’s one category where voters say, ‘I’ll vote for this one.’”
For Animated Feature? “Toy Story 4,” said Turan, who urged the Optimists to also see the nominated French film “I Lost My Body,” about a severed hand that looks for its owner. He found it “weird but very engaging–people fall in love with it.”
Turan, who lives in Pacific Palisades, was asked if he has seen a movie at the town’s new Bay Theater.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s great to have a theater so close, though I prefer a traditional theater with no food service.”
He admitted that his favorite film this past year was “Ford vs. Ferrari” and that Christian Bale should have been nominated for Best Actor. The film is more than about car racing; it’s about competition, friendship, the attempt to fit in and the inner demons that drive people.
Now that Netflix has become a major motion picture producer but wants to avoid showing most of its movies in a theater, Turan was asked how this relationship will work in the future.
“Netflix obviously wants people to see movies at home [to support their subscription business],” Turan said, “so making movies is a loss leader; they just want to make good movies that people want to see.
“Top directors love the theater experience and want their movies to be seen in a theater. But when Academy members ask directors, ‘How can you go to Netflix?’ the directors say, “They will bankroll my film.”
“It’s a drama being played out right now,” Turan said.
Watch the Oscars on Sunday at 5 p.m. on ABC, with live streaming on ABC and Hulu.
(Editor’s note: Kenneth Turan is also a film critic for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. A graduate of Swarthmore College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, he teaches film reviewing and non-fiction writing at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His most recent book is “Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film.”)