Ranking the Oscars 2020 Best Picture Candidates

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This is historically the part where I provide a disclaimer that I haven’t seen every film nominated for Best Picture. That will not change today… however, I have seen nearly all of them. Only Ford v Ferrari is left unwatched, mostly because I think it looks boring. Apologies to those that adored it, but cars and people who like cars are not my preferred subject matter. (Don’t ever invite me to watch Fast & Furious.)

Last year was a fairly weak cast of Best Picture nominees, with three of the eight getting a 6/10 or below from me and many wondering why Vice was nominated at all. Sometimes the swell folks at “The Academy” really enjoy shoehorning in films with really blatant political messages, as well as those with a grip of popularity. This year is no different, as most within the circle of nominations are either politically poignant or tremendously popular. For me, that isn’t much of a bad thing, though the popularity aspect is more likely to irk my opinionated state.

Having seen eight of nine films nominated, this will be my longest article on this topic yet, with lots of detail never before expressed from me on a few of them (literally finished The Irishman last night). Should I have something already noted, I shall link it, but many of these will be fresh from my fingertips for the internet to digest. Let’s start by getting the “popular” vote out of the way.

8. Joker

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My Score: 6/10

Joaquin Phoenix is tremendous. His performance in this film deserves the nod for Best Performance in a Leading Role. Watching Arthur slowly deteriorate into the iconic character was entrancing, to say the least. Aside from that… yeah.

In hindsight, this isn’t really that complex of a film. What’s most complex about it, fundamentally, is the message it’s trying to convey, if anything. One could say it’s just an origin story for the creation of the Joker character, but the parallels to real life and the political climate since the rise of a certain American president have cast a large shadow over the film’s intentions. Is it promoting terrible things, or providing a spotlight for these dangerous individuals to thrive? Or is it just a movie that means nothing? The answer is probably neither, a mixture of both… at least they’ll market it that way to keep the discussion going.

The story is pretty simple, the characters are hilariously one-note, and the edgy vibes make most scenes pretty laughable when not totally immersed. This is by most accounts a dramatization of a realistic world that fuels the creation of hatred. How much one is willing to put stock into that and take it for how it is will determine how much one enjoys this, if not for Phoenix being amazing. The idea that this is somehow a classic tale of political intrigue and deep insight to the real world are… suffice it to say not agreeable with me. I’m inclined to believe this was nominated for Best Picture for the same reason Black Panther was last year: popularity.

7. 1917

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My Score: 6/10

Wow, what a really technically cool film this was! Its dedication in having (almost) everything in one sweeping shot was neat and it left a larger hold on the audience from an immersive standpoint. That is, if I didn’t spot about seven different times when it was obvious they cut the shot. And the story wasn’t pretty overdone. And the visuals were kind of dull in certain spots. And—

Many aspects I find uninteresting with 1917 will not bother others. For me, as I’ve noted too many several times on this blog, war is not a fond topic of mine. Romanticizing it or even giving so much as a gleam of enticement is not something I care for, even if only fiction. That said, war films or war-based films—whether secret missions, real stories of valor, or otherwise—are quite popular here in America… can’t imagine why. This film leans more towards war being a terrible, inhumane thing, but doesn’t develop either side as humane, rather sticking to the story of the two lads sent out on a single mission. Go do this thing, try and survive, and possibly succeed in the end. Riveting, great, never seen it before ever.

Attention to detail and some of the cinematography with this one-shot style of take is pretty cool to see in action. On that basis, this is a really solid film. From story and character aspects, though, it’s pretty ordinary. Nothing all that nuanced or gripping outside some action shots and a really sublime nighttime sequence near the last quarter of the film’s run. Decent at best, with technical achievement giving it a slight boost.

6. Jojo Rabbit

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My Score: 7/10

I went into this assuming it would be mostly comedy, and from a relative standpoint it is, though the emotional impact surprised me. To say this has a “point” would be redundant, but said point is actually far more ingrained into the plot than I would have expected going into it. In some ways, it’s pretty powerful.

That, however, came later. What soils this experience somewhat is in its first half hour or so. A lot of the comedy and writing, particularly attached to side characters and irrelevant situations, came off as artificial, and aside from Waititi as a genuinely amusing Hitler, there wasn’t much to chuckle at. Almost as if Waititi wished for this to be a “best of both worlds” type of film that could be fondly remembered as a masterclass of comedy and tragedy. It succeeds somewhat at both, except the focus on either in isolation ruins the impact overall.

I’m actually somewhat surprised Roman Griffin Davis didn’t get some sort of nomination at the Academy. Not that he would’ve won, because I don’t think he was that good, but considering this is his first film and he managed to carry the emotional weight of the story from beginning to end, I found that rather impressive. Maybe there should be a category for Best Incoming Actor or something of the sort. Johansson was great, Waititi was very good, and the Davis-McKenzie combo was really charming. An occasionally funny and occasionally moving film about Nazis.

5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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My Score: 7/10

If I were asked to guess which film would win Best Picture, this would be my pick. Acclaimed director, heavy focus on Hollywood (Hollywood loves Hollywood), depicting realistic events (loosely), and a fair amount of visual nostalgia (Humanity loves nostalgia). It’s a pretty good movie, too, which helps. Can’t say I’m too fond of it, unfortunately.

My score is a 7, though honestly, I’m not 100% sure I even have a score for it. Watching this left me with a bit of an empty slate, kind of like Joker. Wasn’t sure what it wanted to say or if anything I had watched (especially noteworthy considering this film’s runtime) was worth the cost and time of production. It was my mother, astoundingly, who shifted my attention to a certain lens of perception, along with a one-sentence review on letterboxd that finally gave me clarity. I haven’t had the motivation the chance to watch it again under this new vision, so there’s still a bit of hesitation to my genuine ranking for this. All I can really say is, “Well, I liked it better than JojoJoker, and 1917.”

4. The Irishman

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My Score: 7.5/10

Scorsese and me, we don’t go way back. The impact the man has had on the film industry with films like Taxi DriverGoodfellas, and Raging Bull (this last one I’ve seen) has given a bit of an abnormal expectation to his filmography, akin to names like Kubrick or Lynch. This being the third film I’ve seen from him, along with the aforementioned Raging Bull and the recent Silence, I might have something of a beef with him. Maybe, not quite sure yet. I’ll get back to that in the future.

Thing is, I won’t argue with the notion that Scorsese makes technically great films. The Irishman was careful, slow-building, detailed, and meticulously performed to the highest degree. I don’t think there’s a single actor here that was lower than exceptional. Despite this… it took a long while for me to really get into. The same can be said for the other two films of his I watched. It took a while, and part of me wishes it wouldn’t take that much time to get to the point. I felt every. Waking. Minute. Of that 210-minute runtime. By the end, I was satisfied by what I watched and was glad I did. An hour in, I was distracting myself with any little thing in an attempt to keep conscious.

This is almost like a better 1917, purely based on how I felt about it. Technically marvelous, with the benefit of multiple strong performances from De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci specifically. The story of Frank Sheeran is an interesting and tragic one, and yet I find myself somewhat distant from the emotional conflict he had within the film. Maybe that distance from his distance is the point in itself. I don’t know. Emotionally, I wasn’t gripped until the final third of the film’s course. As for its overall, there’s no doubt it made for quality cinema.

3. Marriage Story

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My Score: 7.5/10

I am a child of divorced parents. On that note, I have a letterboxd review of this film that I’m quite proud of, if only because I get really personal with it and I adore attention. I’ll let that do most of the talking, while the rest of this will be minor details.

This film made me realize that Johansson is a next-level actor. She’s, like, God-tier. Driver is also very good, though not on the same plane. There are times when I felt the writing was a little preachy. Otherwise, everything was about as realistic as a situation of this caliber as can be. Human psychology is a fun topic for me, and watching this gave boundless possibilities to exercise my own mental muscles. To see how I would’ve reacted, or breaking down the reasoning for various claims and accusations proved to be more invigorating than taking everything at face value. Kind of like The Irishman, the performances and careful dialogue in conjunction with tension made this really immersive. Unlike it, there was never a point where I found myself completely absorbed. More on that can be found within the letterboxd review.

2. Parasite

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My Score: 8.5/10

Since I watched this film, Parasite has become the #1 rated film in terms of average letterboxd rating. By that measure, it is super overrated, but disagreement would be saying this is the greatest film of all time. I don’t think this is the greatest film of all time.

Something worth sharing about this film, which I try to do selectively, is that it’s better to go in blind. Even its synopsis on various sites are rather vague, with the “point” it’s trying to make rather ambiguous to those just going in. What I am willing to share is that it is intriguing, twisted, captivating, and very well-acted. A rare compliment people are willing to give to films is that it’s less of a film and more of an experience, and this absolutely deserves that moniker. With no clear genre, it manages to weave in and out of established moods and expectations by simply… existing and keeping to a specific storyline. Not many can manage to do this so splendidly.

Perhaps it is the disconnect between languages, but I wasn’t as gripped by the first half of the film as I was the second, even if everything prior to the climax was necessary to make it so dramatic. Something about the tone of the beginning made it somewhat hard to take seriously, even though clear attempts were made to make the situations ironic and silly. The attention to detail makes everything pretty multifaceted, which makes for a fresh, if not intimidating viewing experience. I guess I could give up and say that I didn’t enjoy it as immensely as others, though the differentiation and storyline is one I’m likely to never forget.

1. Little Women

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My Score: 9/10

Greta Gerwig is starting to pull me into her favor. Denis Villeneuve may have competition.

Believe it or not, I had never heard of Little Women prior… to a time prior to seeing a trailer for this film. I knew of a film called Little Women, but not of its content or relevance to classic literature. All I knew is that it seemed very progressive, and seeing the cast for this iteration (along with Gerwig as director) gave me some interest in going to see it. Even my mother expressed her interest the moment the trailer ended. Curiosity and nothing more spurred the decision to see it, and going in with minimal expectations, I came out of it floored by whimsy.

If there was to be a single object for a word’s perfect describer, Little Women‘s would be “charming.” Almost immediately, the world presented was brilliantly coated in a wash of pleasantries and happiness. Such optimism may reflect my current demeanor, striving for a more positive outlook on life, which allowed me to enjoy this much more. Performances, story, moral focus, vision, writing, etc. Everything seemed so perfect to me… except for a slow beginning and a rushed ending, but I am far more willing to focus on the positives with this film than anything else. A warm, inviting embrace of a film that basically appeals to the emotions rather than through technical magic (though it does incorporate plenty of tricks).

What Should Win Over Everything: The Lighthouse

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RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have you seen any of the films nominated for Best Picture this year? If so, what did you think of them?

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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