This year, the Oscars are like the cocktail bars at too many of today's receptions: no-host.
One by one, some two-dozen stars will climb up and squint at the teleprompter in the Academy's effort to keep any one figure from bearing responsibility for the trainwreck. Meanwhile, millions will throw things at the TV and shout in rage at the "In Memoriam" section, when they snub someone cool like Robert Forster in favor of some slimy MCA executive.
If the Oscars were fair, each category would have two, and only two, nominees—to make the voting more agonizing. It's not enough that Parasite must win. Some lesser, but just as good movie (Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood), must fail in order to give us all a lesson in the bitterness of defeat and the madness of awards.
As always, the most fascinating category is best supporting actress. An Excel spreadsheet would probably show this was the single-most diverse category in age and artistic approach, a category in which the nominees may be suckling babies or tottering crones.
The Academy has nominated Laura Dern three times and she hasn't won, and she's Laura Dern; chemical and intelligent and witty, the savior of more bad movies than popcorn itself. Her Marriage Story performance was a glittery bit of acting, shrewd and hilarious.
Best actress: Judy, such as it was. Give her the award and get it over with.
There isn't an undeserving name on the best actor's list, although, as my nephew said, re: Joker, "It's supposed to be best acting, not most acting." If Joaquin Phoenix goes home empty-handed (never go full super villain), Antonio Banderas is one of the most consistently underrated actors of our time.
Split the best supporting actor award between Al Pacino for that weird, contrary, doomed Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman, and Brad Pitt's enigmatic stuntman in Once Upon A Time.
As for best director: Scorsese. The Irishman put people who saw it at home on the sofa to sleep. In a theater, however, it was his best work in years; it was clear the studious banality was a choice, not a flaw. Anyone lost and mystified at the state of the United States of today needs to watch this, to trace back the way to how we got here.
The Oscars airs live on Sunday, Feb. 9, on ABC.