What will win the 2020 best picture Oscar? Probably one of these

Donald Clarke predicts next year’s best picture nominees. He used to be good at this...

Wait! Come back! You are obliged to read one more bit of Oscar punditry before we retire the entrails for six months or so. Predicting the best-picture nominees at a year’s distance should be more difficult than it often proves to be.

Why, two years ago, we got close to half of the 2018 nominees correct. If Spielberg hadn't decided to rush The Post into production then…

You've spotted that I am evading an embarrassing truth here. Last year's attempt to guess the nominees was pathetic. I got just two correct: A Star Is Born and Vice (then called Backseat). We hobbled ourselves by concocting a wild fantasy in which Netflix shocked the film community by releasing Martin Scorsese's The Irishman late in awards season. That didn't happen, and the film makes a second appearance on our list.

Widows, Boy Erased and First Man were perfectly reasonable bets. But it was still a poor result.


Stuff that smells like Oscar bait may well fail, but it has a better chance at this stage than any randomly drawn wild card

For the second year running we failed to select a film that had already opened in these territories. In 2017 it was Get Out. In 2018 it was Black Panther. No even close equivalent hangs around this year, so it's hard to see what lessons can be learned.

Roma should have stood out, but the old prejudice of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences against "foreign language" films, and its new one about streaming services, seemed to count against it. Who would have guessed that a buddy-buddy movie from the director of Dumb and Dumber would actually win the thing?

Anyway, the trick here is to avoid being too much of a smart alec. Stuff that smells like “Oscar bait” may well fail, but it has a better chance at this stage than any randomly drawn wild card. So the predicted list is inevitably a bit cosier than what will actually be announced in 11 months.

Sundance has already given us some clues. This year’s nominees have clarified a few trends. We’ve listed the full 10 because we’re cowards and want the greatest leeway possible.

For entertainment purposes only…

Directed by Martin Scorsese
It's here for a second year. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel are all on board for the great Martin Scorsese's examination of the Irish-American hoodlum Frank Sheehan. Roma's passage to three Oscars confirms that the academy is now largely tolerant of Netflix. Marty has a strong record with the academy – though the boring Silence whiffed – and the film is placed for a release in awards season. Could conceivably premiere earlier if Netflix and Cannes mend fences (unlikely).

Directed by Greta Gerwig
Well, duh! (as the heroes of Louisa May Alcott's novels rarely said). An array of former nominees is on hand for Greta Gerwig's follow-up to her much-adored Lady Bird: Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern. The Oscars have never shaken their taste for well-made adaptations of literary classics. The danger, perhaps, is that the source has been filmed too often. Gerwig began shooting mere months after the BBC's recent version screened.

Directed by John Crowley
See how these projects all connect? Crowley's last picture, Brooklyn, was nominated up the wazoo, and that success helped him secure this much-contested gig on the adaptation of Donna Tartt's novel about a young boy's odd relationship with a stolen painting. Ansel Elgort is the lead. Nicole Kidman has a vital supporting role. The downside? This is one heck of a baggy novel that is going to require serious taming. Peter Straughan, who wrote the screenplay for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, may well be up to the task.

Directed by Lulu Wang
The studios went into a proper feeding frenzy at Sundance this year. Cash was being flung at projects left, right and centre. Some of the best reviews went the way of Lulu Wang's film about a Chinese-American woman who returns to the old country when her grandmother is diagnosed with a terminal disease. Awkwafina, the rapper and actor, has received raves for her performance, and the academy will be keen to honour a film directed by a woman of colour. Distributed by awards-friendly A24.

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
There were some held noses when, just as #MeToo was kicking into gear, Quentin Tarantino announced he was making a film set in the penumbra of the Sharon Tate murders. That brings Roman Polanski awkwardly into the picture. We'll wait and see how QT manoeuvres that queasy territory. A huge cast of stars is on board – Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Pacino – for this look at Hollywood's damp underbelly. Two of Tarantino's last three have scored nominations. Due in July, it seems primed for a Cannes debut.

Directed by Scott Z Burns
Could two Sundance breakouts make it to the Oscars? It does feel like that sort of year. Amazon Studios forked out for this true story of a United States Senate staffer investigating CIA torture in aftermath of 9/11. Adam Driver plays the dogged Daniel J Jones, but the role that jumps out of reviews is Annette Bening as Senator Dianne Feinstein. That's got a best-supporting nomination written all over it. Not that I've seen the film or anything.

Directed by Tom Hooper
Don't get me wrong. This sounds utterly ludicrous. Tom "Les Miz" Hooper directs Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, James Corden (ugh!), Taylor Swift (no, really) and Idris Elba in an adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that defined the 1980s in much the same way as did Chernobyl and the greenhouse effect. It could happen. Remember the smash that was The Greatest Showman. Recall that Bohemian Rhapsody won the most Oscars in 2019. On the other hand, name more than two songs from the show. Go on, go on! (Or might Rocketman take this spot?)

Directed by Armando Iannucci
You think there are endless adaptations of the Charles Dickens novel, but there hasn't been a theatrically released movie in 50 years. Armando Iannucci's version sounds fascinating, not least because he has embraced racially neutral casting. Dev Patel plays the adult David. Tilda Swinton could hardly be better positioned as the severe but fundamentally decent Betsey Trotwood. Ben Whishaw is Uriah Heep. Peter Capaldi is Mr Micawber. Just wheel it right up to my parlour door, please.

Directed by Jordan Peele
This guess could be rendered redundant in a week or so, as Jordan Peele's follow-up to Get Out premieres at the SXSW festival in early March. If almost anybody else were behind the camera we'd dismiss a satirical horror from this list, but Peele won best screenplay for his work on the earlier film. So it earns the punt. Lupita Nyong'o and Elisabeth Moss star in the story of an African-American family who run horridly into their doppelgangers. The trailer is awesome.

Directed by James Mangold
James Mangold is an erratic director. The Wolverine was awful. But he secured an unlikely Oscar nomination for writing Logan and directed Reese Witherspoon to a win in Walk the Line. Mangold's latest deals with the efforts to win the Le Mans motor race in 1966. The cast could hardly be tastier. Christian Bale and Matt Damon play two of the leading boffins. Our own Caitriona Balfe gets a rare high-profile theatrical lead. To be released in November, at the height of awards season.