The 2020 Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday, February 9 (on ABC-TV), and for those of us who haven’t been to see a movie since “Finding Nemo” was released in 2003 (Thanks, kids!), we have enlisted the help of local movie buff Matthew Hunter to guide us through this year’s 92nd annual event with his picks in some of the biggest categories.

Best Animated Feature Film

THE NOMINEES: “Klaus,” ”How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” “I Lost My Body,” “Missing Link” & “Toy Story 4.”

THE PICK: Nine times out of ten, Disney usually reigns supreme in this category. But, not this year. I’m picking “Klaus,” a passion project from director Sergio Pablos. His  unique origin story about Santa Claus and the Christmas holiday is great. In a world of 3D animated features, Klaus stands out from the crowd by being mostly a hand-drawn animated film. Bonus: It’s on Netflix, so you can (and should) check it out.

Best Original Song

THE NOMINEES: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman” – Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Bernie Taupin; “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4” – Music & Lyrics by Randy Newman; “I’m Standing with You” from “Breakthrough” – Music & Lyrics by Diane Warren; “Into the Unknown” from “Frozen II” – Music & Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez; “Stand Up” from “Harriet” – Music & Lyrics by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo.

THE PICK: There were some pretty great films songs this year, such as the fun and jazzy “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” or the big grand ballad that was “Into the Unknown.” But I’m picking “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman.” The song manages to work perfectly as a catchy pop song in the context of the movie.

Best Supporting Actress

THE NOMINEES: Florence Pugh – “Little Women,” as Amy March; Kathy Bates – “Richard Jewell,” as Barbara “Bobi” Jewell; Laura Dern – “Marriage Story,” as Nora Fanshaw; Scarlett Johansson – “Jojo Rabbit,” as Rosie Betzler; Margot Robbie – “Bombshell,” as Kayla Pospisil.

THE PICK: My money is on Pugh, who is the best of the many brilliant performers in “Little Women.” Watching her evolution from selfish sister to her own person was terrific, and she probably brings the most emotion and bitterness to her performance of all the nominees.

Best Supporting Actor

Brad Pitt (Photo: Glenn Francis)

THE NOMINEES: Brad Pitt – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as Cliff Booth; Tom Hanks – “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” as Fred Rogers; Anthony Hopkins – “The Two Popes,” as Pope Benedict XVI; Al Pacino – “The Irishman,” as Jimmy Hoffa; Joe Pesci – “The Irishman,” as Russell Bufalino.

THE PICK: Hanks, Pacino and Pesci were all terrific, but I think Pitt picks up the award for his performance as Cliff Booth in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” What makes Pitt so great is that he is the epitome of cool, and his character is charismatic and awesome at the same time, already earning him a Screen Actors Guild award in the same category.

Best Actress

Scarlett Johansson

THE NOMINEES: Scarlett Johansson – “Marriage Story,” as Nicole Barber; Cynthia Erivo – “Harriet,” as Harriet Tubman; Saoirse Ronan – “Little Women,” as Josephine “Jo” March; Charlize Theron – “Bombshell,” as Megyn Kelly; Renée Zellweger – “Judy,” as Judy Garland.

THE PICK: While there were some great performances delivered by Ronan, Theron and Zellweger, I thought Johansson’s Nicole Barber was the best. The wife of the main character (played by Adam Driver), Johansson has the difficult task of trying to divorce him while remaining part of her son’s life. The film delves into the hardships of divorce, and Johansson puts everything into the role.

Best Actor

Joaquin Phoenix

THE NOMINEES: Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker,” as Arthur Fleck/Joker; Antonio Banderas – “Pain and Glory,” as Salvador Mallo; Leonardo DiCaprio – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as Rick Dalton; Adam Driver – “Marriage Story,” as Charlie Barber; Jonathan Pryce – The “Two Popes,” as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

THE PICK: Banderas was great, and Pryce was superb. However, this is a one-sided competition as far as I’m concerned, because Phoenix in Joker was simply just better. His performance carried the movie, eschewing the usual hammy Joker played by previous actors. Instead, Phoenix played the troubled Fleck as a real person, albeit one with very realistic mental issues — a clinically insane villain, who is creepy, dangerous, and only seeks to make other people’s lives as bitter as his. Outstanding.

Best Director

THE NOMINEES: Sam Mendes – “1917,” Martin Scorsese – “The Irishman,” Todd Phillips – “Joker,” Quentin Tarantino – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Bong Joon-ho – “Parasite.”

THE PICK: I’m picking “1917” for Best Original Score and Best Cinematography, so it’s only natural I like Mendes for Best Director. The movie is presented in one shot, though obviously it wasn’t. While you may be able to tell where there are cuts, you hardly notice them because of how good the editing is. War films are hard enough to expertly deliver, but Mendes took an already difficult and expensive production and put a unique and challenging twist onto it. That sealed the deal for me.

Best Picture

THE NOMINEES: “Parasite,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” “1917,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

THE PICK: I agree with the Screen Actors Guild — “Parasite” was the best film of 2019.. 

Many people like to overlook foreign movies. In fact, “Parasite” is only the 11th  foreign-language film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and none has ever won. I think this South Korean film makes Oscar history. The movie has a little bit of everything — the story of a poor family that ends up working for a rich family is dark, suspenseful and sometimes funny.

“Parasite” parallels the different viewpoints of economic classes without ever being too preachy. The intensity builds throughout the film, with surprises that keep you engrossed. However, it never loses its grip on realism. For being entertaining, nuanced and bold, “Parasite” absolutely deserves to be remembered as the Best Picture of 2019.

Matthew Hunter is a senior at Wharton High, a budding journalist and aspiring movie critic who has loved going to the movies since he saw “Robots” in 2005.

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