2020 Best Picture Race: Who Will Win, and Who Should Win?
By: Drew Huddleston
Celebrities! Red Carpets! Political Speeches! It’s that time of year again, when we gather around the TV to hear a bunch of names read for three hours. 2019 was an incredible year, and the oscars nominated a plethora of phenomenal films, but only one can go home with the gold. Who will it be, or more importantly, who should it be? Here are my thoughts on the best eight picture nominees I saw (Ford V. Ferrari was the only one I missed), as well as who will and should win the best picture award.
To me, the best films are able to immerse us in a series of images projected from a room above our heads. They make us forget we’re sitting in a dark auditorium surrounded by people, with a world hustling and bustling just outside the theater walls. 1917 is one of those films. The WWI epic follows two soldiers tasked with delivering a message preventing British soldiers from walking into a German trap. The film’s minimalist story and dialogue are exploded to mammoth proportions by the masterful filmmaking. Sets and costumes are evocative of the bygone era. Lighting is atmospheric and haunting. But the film’s crown jewel is none other than the one-shot cinematography style. As a result, the film’s narrative is incredibly fluent, as characters advance from one set-piece to another. Often creating a nail-biting moment of pure tension, and other times dwarfing the scale of its fellow nominees, 1917’s ingenuity and craftsmanship has to lead to one of the most immersive experiences in a war movie.
The Irishman harkens back to the crime epics that made a name for Scorcese. Clocking in at a whopping three-and-a-half-hours, the film feels like a revitalization of a dying genre. The kills and set-pieces are bigger and better, making the film more approachable to modern audiences. Even with this massive scale, The Irishman still manages to slow things down, allowing for quite genuine moments that give the bigger ones even more impact. The richly realized characters are brought to life with effortless skill by stars Robert De Niro, Al Pachino, and Joe Pesci. The Irishman serves as a reminder that filmmakers like Scorcese will always be around with their uniquely stylized films to divert us from the barrage of sequels and remakes. They’ll always be here, and they’ll always be the best.
Jojo Rabbit is a little movie whose zany unconventionalism one would never expect to see anywhere near the Oscars. Yet, here it is, nominated for best picture. Director Taika Waititi’s fantasy world pops with vibrancy and life as the seemingly drab reality of WWII is overshadowed by gleeful innocence. Oozing with charm, the film’s unique writing and style make it nothing short of a stand-out. Yet, the biggest detriment to Jojo Rabbit is that it feels like two different movies, juxtaposing a serious drama with a quirky satire. While each is relatively successful, the two don’t feel cohesive together. The more serious moments of Jojo Rabbit feel extremely dour and solemn when compared to the bubbly energy of the rest of the film. All in all, it’s a fine film no doubt, and certainly a surprise on the ballot, but maybe a surprise for the wrong reasons.
Joker is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. The movie was so revered by audiences it would’ve been suicide for the Oscars not to nominated it. But does it really deserve the nomination? Well, no. Don’t get me wrong, Joker is a good movie--maybe even a great one. Joaquin Pheonix is magnetic, carrying the entire film on his shoulder gracefully. Todd Phillips’ masterful direction makes him look like a seasoned pro, utilizing shard lighting and cinematography to bring Gotham’s grimy underbelly to life. Finally, the film’s approach to relevant social topics such as mental health, class division, and disunity are chillingly brought to light. Even amongst this, the film has a number of glaring flaws that bring the experience down. Arthur Fleck’s descent into madness often feels adhesive and choppy. The film’s attempt at taking the perspective of an unreliable narrator murky the narrative, making crucial events feel unclear. It’s a flawed film, but nevertheless, a perfectly fine one. Maybe not fine enough to deserve a nomination though.
I was not looking forward to seeing this movie, fearing forced feminist messages. Yet, Little Women was an utter shocker. To put it simply, the film radiates with the charm and effort of classic films: bright colors, detailed costume and production design, on-location shooting, and a simple story jam-packed with clever writing, well-rounded characters, and emotional performances. The biggest (and only) problem with the film is its sloppy editing, which constantly hopping back and forth between the past and present. The tactic only manages to muddy up the narrative and lessen the impact of emotionally important characters. Nevertheless, Little Women is a warm and fuzzy memory of classic filmmaking that never distracts from its own well-crafted story.
Deceptively simple, yet masterfully crafted, Marriage Story is an incredibly intimate and detailed look into the death of a couple’s marriage, and the birth of their new lives. Fueled by powerhouse performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanson, the film often feels more driven by the characters rather than the story. The main plot of the movie is overshadowed by the simple moments of love, anger, frustration, and fear, resulting in an experience that resembles character and dialogue-oriented films of the French New Wave. The result is one of the most emotionally engrossing experiences in the best picture race. Whether teaching lessons to future couples or reflecting the struggles of those that already exist, Marriage Story offers a little something for everyone.
Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood
Quinten Tarantino is one of the last true auteurs of film. With each, he films his signature blend of ultra-violence, razor-sharp dialogue, and homages to the films that he grew up on. No studio or focus group can stop him from making movies, or people from seeing them. Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood often feels like a departure from Tarantino’s signature styles. Fast witty dialogue and loud, bloody action have been replaced by a slower, more intimate experience. Despite being the least “Tarantino” Tarantino, it can’t help but feel like his most personal. Following an actor (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his stuntman (Brad Pitt) as they fight the impending end to their careers. Set in 1969, the film punctuates the end of two eras in Hollywood. The one in Hollywood’s transformation following the Sharon Tate murders. The other is our own, as Hollywood’s biggest stars become the titles of franchises, rather than the actors and directors that make them possible. Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood is a nostalgic love letter to the bookend of Hollywood’s golden age and a topical evaluation of Hollywood’s future, all brought to life through exceptional production design, cinematography, and a myriad of stars.
Parasite is the best movie of the year that you haven’t heard of. A South Korean film from director Bong Joon Ho, the movie famously received an eight-minute standing ovation following its premiere at the Cannes film festival. Every second of that ovation was genuinely deserved. The film naturally is able to morph into a cleverly written comedy into something much sinister and unnerving. The cinematography is both lush and haunting. The editing is hypnotic. The narrative is expertly written, creating moments of genuine, relentless suspense. Even at its most nail-biting moments, the film still manages to crawl under the viewer’s skin. It’s deeply layered themes of class struggle and ignorance hauntingly reflect the reality of our own society, making the film’s most disturbing points even more weightful.
Who Will Win: Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood
1917 might be this year’s favorite for the best picture win, but I don’t think it takes home the gold. In recent years, war films have often been nominated, but never win (Dunkirk, American Sniper, The Hurt Lock, War Horse, Saving Private Ryan to name a few). The genre has thematic limitations, and few films are able to expand the medium much farther beyond the horrors of war and sacrifice. And while I feel that 1917 does not fall to these limitations, rather expanding them, the genre’s failure in previous years points to nothing else but a loss. Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood likewise, it has its own setbacks. It’s incredibly long, clocking in at around 2 hours and 45 minutes, and its director has had a history of the bad-mouthed, bloody movie, qualities voters have never really been fans of. However, Tarantino has been nominated in the past (Django: Unchained, Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction) for films much more excessive films. Yet, Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood’s relevant reflection of the industry’s future will be just too tantalizing for voters to avoid. It’s a somber love letter to an era that many voters were raised in with a story of peaked and declining stardom that most actors have faced in their own careers. Its originality, relatability, and nostalgia are huge appeals that will win Tarantino his much deserved first best picture win.
Who Should Win: Parasite
I should preface this by saying that Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood, should it win, it is incredibly deserving, and I’d be more than happy to see it win. That said, it ultimately came down to two movies that left me absolutely floored: 1917 and Parasite. I adored 1917 and will be cheering for it to win up until the best picture is announced, yet Parasite irrefutably the better movie. It’s an intricately crafted labyrinth you just can’t peel your eyes away from. Its social commentary is woven flawlessly into the narrative of the film, making for one of the year’s most thought-provoking films of the year. One minute you’re chuckling at its lighthearted dialogue, the next you’re clenching the seat in terror. Parasite is a rare gem that restores my faith in the film, making it undoubtedly the best picture of the year.