Ranking the 2020 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees

Mike Thomas and Jerome Cusson debated the 2017 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees in the form of a podcast. In 2018, we went with a written preview (which contained a frankly amazing HELLBOY gag). We came back yet again in 2019 with no change in the system. Why take the chance? Now, we’re back at it again for 2020. After devising a secret formula to rank this year’s nominees, we have come up with a definitive order for the Oscar films, ranked worst to best…

9. 1917

Fittingly, this is the same spot Green Book occupied last year. This movie is also likely to win Best Picture in a few days. This movie is slightly less racist (not having any people of color helps) but still manages to reduce German soldiers to borderline slobbering monsters who get no dialogue or agency. People appear to be taking the gimmick of the movie being one take in combination with the old mantra “War is hell” and pushing it to the front of line ahead of more nuanced and dense films on this list.

I would have no issue if this won some down the line awards, including one for legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, but there was a specific shot toward the end of the film where I realized, “This is winning best picture, and this shot will be used in montages for years to come.” I do not want to reduce some of the critiques down to this feeling like a series of video game cut scenes ( I reserve that for Rise of Skywalker), but I don’t see this movie as anything more than a technical achievement. I firmly believe we’ll look back at this winning Best Picture with the same amount of skepticism as The Shape of Water. Again though, at least it’s not The Green Book. – Jerome

 

7. (tied) Jojo Rabbit

The moment I saw this film I knew exactly how the build to the Oscars would go with it; It is a dumb movie. It is not sophisticated satire. Compared to films satirizing and scrutinizing the German nazi behavior/government *before* the United States government even got involved in World War II, it comes up embarrassingly short in its level of bite. That being said the notion that this film is NOT “anti-nazi” is just silly. The premise is essentially that flooding the country with white supremacist propaganda would make little boys believe it is essentially correct. That is how it works. So many people are calling that premise into question that any and all discourse surrounding this film tedious at best. That being said, it’s a dumb movie and no one should feel passionately about it one way or another. No one will care about this film in a year. – Mike

 

7. (tied) Joker

Speaking of films NO ONE SHOULD FEEL PASSIONATELY ABOUT. This movie is a fine Joaquin Phoenix performance (but not even like one of his ten best roles, right?) and a fun DeNiro supporting turn and not much else. That in and of itself is fine! Not too many films these days are explicitly anti-ruling class, and this one truly is. Todd Phillips is, however, a moron. He is not a talented filmmaker or storyteller by any stretch of the imagination. No one should care, but much like Jojo the awards season has thrusted it into The Conversation, and it’s been pretty miserable ever since. No one will care about this film in two years. – Mike

 

6. Ford v Ferrari

James Mangold is the type of filmmaker who I’ve come to appreciate in recent years. I don’t know if this is one of the nine best movies of the year, but one could do a lot worse than this look at a racing rivalry that actually complicates the common sports movie trope of the underdog miscreants versus the big bad favorites. In this case, Ford turned out to the underdogs despite being a giant company. The movie digs into the psyche of the different characters. Christian Bale gets to use his real voice and excels as a complicated genius. We’ve seen these kinds of movies and television shows quite a bit, but I appreciate that Bale’s character isn’t just a monster to everyone in the name of inventing cars.

Similar to 1917, I think this is a movie that you need to experience in a theater to be able to see and hear the racing cars. It’s a very visceral experience, and there likely was some CGI. However, this feels like a more tactile movie than is typical for something of this scale. Mangold has found a tremendous lane for himself by crafting adult dramas that mainstream audiences can still enjoy. I love indie movies and blockbusters at times, but these mid-range films should not be abandoned. Even though this is number six on our list, I appreciated the craftsmanship. – Jerome

 

5. Marriage Story

[**insert image of Adam Driver dressing up like a fucking ghost while the rest of the family is The Beatles**]

This is the film that at times plays more like a theater production. Characters are always doing things while in dialogue. Given how much dialogue there is, I think having movement and mundane activities is crucial for this to not feel stale. The way that this movie is shot is really underrated. I think the movie works on just about every level, and more people than usual saw this because of a Netflix release. While I’m curious if the memeification of certain moments (including a specific scene toward the end) hurt this movie in awards consideration, there should be no doubt of the acting chops involved. Scarlett Johansson receives a lot of justified criticism for things she has said about who can play certain roles, but she can act the hell out of certain roles (she’s a double nominee, and it’s hard to argue against either nomination). Adam Driver is quickly establishing himself as one of our best actors. Hopefully, not being involved with Star Wars will allow him an even great chance to be in great films such as this.

What I appreciated in a movie about divorce is the way the first seven minutes were dedicated to the main characters talking about what they loved about each other. In many scenarios, I could see that opening get cut, but I think it grounds the film. There is a lot of subtlety and small moments which can be overlooked in a film where Driver yells a lot and sings Sondheim. I went into the fall of 2019 thinking it was a bad a year for movies. The fact that this is number five on our list and almost didn’t make my top ten for the year speaks to the quality of films that came out. – Jerome

 

4. The Irishman

This film could have been four hours of Robert DeNiro plotting out road trip directions on a map with a red marker, and it would have frankly been the clear cut choice for #1. A real missed opportunity there. But we must judge cinema by what IS there and not what is not. What is here is an instant masterpiece and a fitting final chapter in the careers of four legends. If they all stopped working today, it would be a storybook ending for the ages. It would however be off-theme for them to do so, because this brilliant film is all about the stupidity of the everyday choices we make and how meaningless everything all is. “It’s all a big nothing,” and we probably should prioritize things beyond short-term “growth” and “satisfaction.” – Mike

 

3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…

Let’s get this out of way: Quentin Tarantino is an incredibly problematic individual. I am very understanding of any person who chose not to see the film because of the way female characters are treated or Bruce Lee is portrayed. There are legitimate critiques which can be made against this film, and I am very sympathetic to these viewpoints. Tarantino is unquestionably a blindspot for me. I love the vibe. I love watching two giant movie stars hang out. I love the soundtrack and the very specific songs chosen that capture the mood of those three specific days in Los Angeles.

There’s a moment about ¾ of the way through the film where Brad Pitt goes to Charles Manson’s property that does such an incredible job of building tension, and you’re seemingly waiting for his character to potentially be killed. I cannot imagine the Tarantino of 1994 having the patience to execute a scene like this. It’s a real sign of filmmaking maturity. I wish I had a lot of profound things to say about this movie, but I just really enjoyed watching everyone hang-out. The more I watch it, the more I find pleasure in the smaller things. The concept of the movie star and this kind of director will likely go away in the next couple of decades, maybe for the best. But in the micro and macro way, this serves as an interesting throwback/farewell to a bygone era. – Jerome

 

2. Little Women 

Greta Gerwig’s latest confirms the timeless and universal themes of the classic novel, the brilliance of Saoirse Ronan as one of the top performers of the day, and the fact that Gerwig is one of the very best minds in the industry right now. In an age where countless works get “adapted” or “remade” for reasons that are not clear beyond the financial, Gerwig manages to stay true to the spirit of the characters, stories, and themes while simultaneously providing enough of a wrinkle to not make anything about the film tedious in the slightest. Gerwig’s direction along with the film’s writing and editing deceptively give the film an “effortless” quality. Gerwig is clearly a genius of our time and hopefully she continues to get studio support to pursue her passion projects. – Mike

 

1. Parasite

I am a firm believe that we will look back at this year’s Academy Awards and wonder how in the hell we didn’t make this the winner for Best Picture. The fact that an international movie could even be considered a contender (and likely a Best Original Screenplay winner in addition to Best International Feature) is really damn impressive. In a year where we saw other movies with the subtext of eating the rich, this was the strongest and most bombastic.

This was marketed as a horror movie, but it plays as almost a farce in the spirit of movies like Arsenic and Old Lace. It’s honestly impressive Bong Joon-Ho was able to take a classic form and jazz it up into something really powerful. I knew none of the actors before sitting down to watch, and I walked away being impressed by everyone. Having seen this movie more than three months ago at this point, it has become elevated by the discourse and the very real economic strife that is not just applicable to Korea, but to countries around the world.

In an ideal world, this would upset 1917 and Joker because it is the best representation of 2019 in bringing up issues of class and showing the real life separation that exists between people who live in the same city. This is an amazing movie, one that will only continue to permeate cultures around the world in years to come. – Jerome

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