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‘Parasite’ and ‘1917’ Are Your Oscar Front-runners

There’s a lot we don’t know about the race for Best Picture, but from what we can tell, Bong Joon-ho’s and Sam Mendes’s movies are the bettor’s best picks to win the award

Universal Pictures/CJ Entertainment/Ringer illustration

I’m not what you’d call a betting savant. Once, I did win a little money at a racing track, betting on a horse solely because I liked its name. (I forget what he was called, but I believe it was a food-based pun.) Cut to 30 minutes later, and my friends were slapping me on the shoulder saying, Dude you just won fifty bucks, and I was like, Damn I missed Bisquick’s run but sweet let’s get some Popeyes, my treat. It was a good day—still, my only day—at the tracks. So, if you’re seeking out some good gambling tips, please consider the odds with Cousin Sal, the Socrates of Italian meats and six-way parlays. I’m not your guy.

Multiple viewings of Uncut Gems haven’t helped me figure out what the hell a six-way parlay even is, and thus I feel comfortable steering clear of making bold predictions for this year’s Best Picture race at the Oscars—and I suggest you do the same. A truncated schedule—the Oscars are happening at the start of February, rather than at the end of it—combined with the relatively late release of several acclaimed films that typically fall on the Academy’s radar has made this one of the most peculiar and unpredictable Oscar races in recent memory.

As of this writing, there are three films in the Best Picture race within a couple of percentage points of one another on the reliable awards predictor site GoldDerby. The movie with the highest odds is 1917 at a whopping [squints] 15.46 percent. Sam Mendes’s World War I film is followed closely by Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (14.28 percent) and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (14.03 percent). Those are the three presumptive front-runners, but you could also make compelling non-numbers-based cases for Martin Scorsese’s soulful masterpiece The Irishman or (ugh) Todd Phillips’s reminder that we all live in a society in Joker as legitimate dark-horse candidates. A true chaos agent would posit that Ford v Ferrari, well liked and highly uncontroversial, will pull off the greatest miracle since the Ford GT40 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans against Scuderia Ferrari in 1966. (That chaos agent is me.)

OK, yeah, Ford v Ferrari won’t win Best Picture. But one of the other five films—with respect to the other Best Picture nominees Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story, and Little Women—will probably take home the prize. And if there’s anything to glean from the past week of Oscars momentum, it’s starting to look like we’ll have a Best Picture showdown between 1917 and Parasite. Imagine having predicted that in October; well, you wouldn’t have. Anyway, let’s make a rational case for each of those two films, and what their win would represent (other than a collective sigh of relief that Joker didn’t win Best Picture).

The Case for 1917

A late entry to the Oscar race—it was released in select theaters over Christmas, and didn’t have a wide release until January 10—1917 has rapidly emerged as a serious Best Picture contender, thanks to wins at the Golden Globes for Mendes (Best Director) and the movie in the Best Motion Picture–Drama category. The Globes success, however, comes with some caveats: Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, another Oscar front-runner, competed in the comedy/musical category, which it unsurprisingly won. And because it was a foreign-language film, Parasite wasn’t eligible for the drama film category—per the Globes’ own rules.

In essence, then, the Globes win was mostly a confirmation that 1917 might have a little more Oscars sway than The Irishman, its closest category competitor. But it’s the Globes, where decision-making is often strange and aberrant—the result of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association being composed of fewer than 100 members. This is the same group that fucking loves The Kominsky Method, a Netflix show I’m not convinced actually exists.

But 1917 took home the Best Theatrical Motion Picture award at Saturday’s Producers Guild Awards, where it won out against every other Best Picture Oscar nominee (and also Knives Out). Historically, the PGAs are one of the awards ceremonies that most accurately reflects the decisions that are eventually made at the Oscars. In 10 of the past 12 years, the PGA winner has gone on to claim Best Picture—including last year’s winner, Green Book. What’s more, the PGAs adhere to the same preferential balloting method as the Oscars, where being the “most liked” holds more value in their system. (It’s a little complicated, but essentially preferential ballots help a film if it’s also getting a lot of second-place votes, even if it’s not everybody’s number-one boy.)

1917 has detractors: Some have rolled their eyes at the film’s continuous-take approach as a lot of style with little substance. But the film doesn’t have the controversy that follows Joker around, or the baggage The Irishman carries by virtue of being a Netflix release. (Hollywood has mixed feelings about the streamer and what it could mean for the industry’s future, which might’ve hurt Roma’s Best Picture chances in 2019.) It’s hard to think of a more sensible Best Picture pick, though, than the year’s obligatory Serious War Movie. Just because Best Picture Winner 1917 would be a little boring doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The Case for Parasite

If the PGAs are a telltale sign of where the Best Picture race is swinging, then the Screen Actors Guild Awards are a helpful reminder that performing artists have a lot of pull too. SAG members account for a substantial 16 percent of the entire Academy voting body; ergo, if you win big with them, you stand a good chance of getting widespread support come the Oscars ceremony. And that is really great news for Parasite.

On Sunday, Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, edging out the A-list ensembles of The Irishman and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. If that wasn’t enough of a sign that Hollywood holds a lot of goodwill for Bong’s film, Parasite’s ensemble received a standing ovation just for presenting their movie during the ceremony.

It’s extremely heartwarming that Bong recorded all the moments like a very proud dad.

How soul-nourishing. But despite getting beat by 1917 at the PGAs, that’s a big win for Parasite. Even if the actual SAG Award attendees make up a small amount of the guild’s 160,000 total members, there is an infectious—parasitic?—hype surrounding this film that hasn’t died down since the fall. Just because a foreign-language film has never won Best Picture doesn’t mean it can’t happen, especially when said film has an anticapitalist spirit at a time when it feels like everyone wants to eat the rich. (And not just on the big screen.)

Do 1917 and Parasite have much in common? Not really, but they’ve both unexpectedly surpassed The Irishman and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood as the Best Picture front-runners, all without recording a single acting nomination. A Best Picture winner without any acting nominations hasn’t happened since Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. But in an Oscars season as weird as this one, all bets are off. I still want a six-way parlay for Parasite, anyway.