LOS ANGELES — We're still a couple of months away from Oscar nominations, but, outside of "Avatar: The Way of Water" and its glorious space whales, all the contenders have landed. Now it's just a matter of convincing voters to give them a look.
With academy members and critics still in the discovery stage, let's set aside formal predictions for the moment and take a few bold guesses at what might happen if the planets align and a single butterfly's wings flap in just the right way. Again, these are big swings. I'm not even saying these predictions should come to pass. But they might. Who knows? We haven't even finished the Thanksgiving leftovers yet.
Best picture: "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" will earn a nomination
"Toy Story 3" was the last animated movie to earn a best picture nomination, and that was 12 years ago. "Up," another Pixar classic, had managed the feat the year before, and "Beauty and the Beast" a couple of decades before that. But that's it. And it's not like there haven't been some worthy contenders — "Inside Out," "Coco," "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." I'd even go back and sub in "Frozen" over the genteel crowd-pleaser "Philomena," if it makes you happy. It's classic Disney that has aged well.
So why now, why "Pinocchio"? For starters, Del Toro put a wildly inventive spin on the classic folk tale, leading to some of the year's strongest reviews. And the fact that the Oscars have returned to a fixed slate of 10 nominees should work in its favor. "Up" and "Toy Story 3" earned their nominations during that two-year window when the film academy mandated a field of 10. Also: It's not a particularly deep year for best picture contenders. Why not reward greatness — even if "Pinocchio" will be also recognized in the animated feature category?
Then there's this: At the movie's AFI Fest premiere earlier this month, many in the audience could be heard crying during the film's poignant conclusion. "Lots of sniffling in that theater," one Oscar voter noted. Crying is good. Crying wins hearts. Crying wins votes.
Director: Park Chan-wook will earn a nomination, even if his movie doesn't
The academy has gone global with its membership the past few years, particularly the directors branch, which has bolstered its ranks with scores of filmmakers from around the world. The branch's nominations have reflected this change, with Pawel Pawlikowski ("Cold War"), Bong Joon-ho ("Parasite"), Thomas Vinterberg ("Another Round") and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi ("Drive My Car") earning nods the past four years, even when their movies ("Cold War" and "Another Round") haven't.
Look for Park Chan-wook to run the streak to five for his ravishing thriller "Decision to Leave." A riveting story of obsession and longing, leavened with wry humor, it's easily one of the year's finest films. And Park, recently honored at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Art + Film Gala, has a long resume that includes the iconic "Oldboy" and "The Handmaiden" and, really, too many standouts to mention. The South Korean master would seem primed for his Oscar moment.
Lead actress: Michelle Yeoh will win the Oscar