Oscars 2020: Review of the Best Picture Nominees

Are you wondering what you missed from this year’s Oscars? Here’s my review of the 2020 Best Picture Nominees and which films are worth the watch.

1917

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

1917 takes place during World War I, following two British soldiers, Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman)and Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay)on a race against time to deliver a crucial message. They must warn another company to call off an attack after they learn that it’s a trap and could result in the death of 1,600 men.

1917, much like many other war films, is extremely intense. The story is very well-paced, keeping you on the edge of your seat right up until the end. However, the story felt too much like another typical war movie. It’s very well-done, but it didn’t feel unique enough to be set apart from other films of its genre.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The film is edited to look like a one-shot. This was cleverly executed while the story progressed, with edits that were so well-done it’s nearly impossible to the untrained eye to spot where scenes could have been spliced together. The cinematography in 1917 is so beautiful and breathtaking in certain shots. Specifically, the night scenes in the film with the ruins illuminated by flares were some of the most beautiful I’ve seen onscreen.

The two leading actors, Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are relatively unknown but truly gave incredible performances. They gave the film heart, paired with impressive technical aspects such as the cinematography, editing, and score. It’s no wonder that the film did so well during awards season with so many solid pieces working together.

Ford v Ferrari

Courtesy of 20th Century

Ford v Ferrari tells the historic rivalry of the car manufacturing giants, Ford and Ferrari, at the 1966 Le Mans 24 hour race. Ford enlists the help of Carol Shelby (Matt Damon) to design a racecar. Shelby seeks out the help of the sometimes petulant racecar driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to help win Ford the race.

The true standout of Ford v Ferrari is the chemistry between Damon and Bale. You fall in love with their genuine and humorous friendship throughout the film. They make it difficult to not get invested in the fast-paced, intense story. While they were standouts, the entire cast is also extremely solid.

Courtesy of 20th Century

This film is the classic Best Picture nominee. It’s the perfect formula of drama, action, humor, and it’s a true story. Although it’s been jokingly declared as “The Dad Movie” of the Oscars, this is a movie that can appeal to anyone.

While Ford v Ferarri is an extremely entertaining film featuring two beloved actors who don’t disappoint in their roles, it’s not groundbreaking enough to win the Best Picture award. It’s the safe formula that we see time and time again that historical movies based on a true story tend to follow. But the charisma of the main protagonists and the fast-paced plot could win over any audience.

The Irishman

The Irishman is told through the perspective of Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), who worked as a hitman alongside the infamous Jimmy Hoffa. The story spans over 50 years as we learn more about Frank’s life and his career in “painting houses.”

Courtesy of Netflix

First and foremost, this film felt far too long. Clocking in at 3 hours and 29 minutes, The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s longest film and the longest mainstream film to be released in over 20 years. If a movie is going to be this long, it just has to be more interesting throughout the entire story. But it feels like running a marathon. I don’t want to finish it, but I know I have to put in the time and focus to make it to the end.

The visual effects in The Irishman are truly impressive and realistic. With the story being told over such a long period of time, the film uses technology to de-age the actors, rather than casting younger look-alikes. Working with legends such as Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, this paid off extremely well for the movie.

Courtesy of Netflix

Not only did the technology have to make the actors look younger, but they had to move around like they were decades younger than their actual age. Everything about their performances felt so natural and the visual effects go pretty unnoticed.

Despite The Irishman being a technical feat and boasting an impressive cast, it doesn’t feel like enough to pull through as a Best Picture winner. With a long running time like this, it feels nearly impossible to not have some slow, dragging points. The film has too many of those slow moments for my taste and makes it feel like a chore to finish it.

Jojo Rabbit

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Jojo Rabbit is about a young boy, Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffen Davis), who’s an aspiring Nazi and has an imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Through the eyes of Jojo, we see Germany towards the end of World War II and watch his story unfold after he finds an unexpected guest in his home.

This film was such an effective satire, portraying the Nazis and Hitler himself as bumbling and kind of clueless, while still showing how blindly hateful they were. Taika Waititi’s clever writing is so prominent, it’s hard not to fall in love with the dialogue. He can make you laugh and break your heart all in the same scene.

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The cast was so powerful on their own, as well as working off of each other. Roman Griffen Davis and Scarlett Johansson made such a dynamic duo as mother and son, while Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen won your heart over with their subtly comedic performances. It’s hard to call out just a few actors when others like Thomasin Mackenzie, Archie Yates, and Taika Waititi himself were standouts as well.

Jojo Rabbit is what a satire about a devastating event in history should be. It has just the right amount of humor, as well as including the emotionally poignant and realistic truths to balance it out. This film is such a testament to what a creatively clever director and writer Taika Waititi is, as well as being an extremely strong nominee in the Best Picture race.

Joker

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Joker follows one of the most well-known comic book villains of all time before he became the Joker that we know and love to hate. Arthur Fleck is an aspiring comedian who struggles with mental illness and doesn’t fit in with society. The film follows his ascent to infamy as the Clown Prince of Gotham.

This film is a unique, gritty take on the Joker. It’s the darkest and most realistic perspective that we’ve seen with the character. Joaquin Phoenix shined as Arthur Fleck, giving a performance that is on par with Heath Ledger’s take on the character. From Phoenix’s understanding and commitment to his role in the script to his subtle improvising that built out Fleck’s personality more, his performance is truly unforgettable.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Hildur Guðnadóttir breathed so much life into the movie with her distinct score. For example, the famous bathroom dance scene would not be the same without the emotionally driven music in the background. The dark and dirty production design brings Gotham City to life, making you feel the desolation that Fleck and the other unhappy victims of Gotham City must feel.

Despite its controversy, Joker has still remained a standout of awards season. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is unforgettable, enough to earn him the Best Actor award. But this was only one powerful piece of a project that proved how emotionally effective and beautiful a comic book movie can be.

Read my full review of Joker here.

Little Women

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

Little Women is another retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic novel. The story follows the four March sisters: Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh). Through their childhood to their adulthood, we see the sisters develop their distinct personalities and dreams.

Greta Gerwig puts a new spin on this timeless tale by beginning with the March sisters as adults, weaving in flashbacks of their childhood. She cleverly distinguishes the time periods by using a warm, red color filter for the past and a cold, blue color filter for the present. It may be hard to follow for those who didn’t read the book, but it works extremely well for the emotional poignancy of certain scenes. Gerwig also integrated the book’s ending with the realistic ending, a touch that all Jo March fans will appreciate.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

The characters are so well-cast and compliment each other well. Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh shine as Jo and Amy, while Laura Dern makes the perfect Marmee. The March family cast’s fantastic relationship makes you want to join their family. Alexandre Desplat’s score for this movie elegantly provides the perfect accompaniment for the story. “Dance on the Porch” and “The Book” are exceptionally beautiful songs from the soundtrack.

While it’s disappointing that Gerwig failed to receive a nomination for Best Director, Little Women deserves the credibility of being a Best Picture nominee. Everything about this film is strong with the writing, the acting, and the music. It’s a fresh take on a story that has lasted over a hundred years because of the relatability of the characters and their lives.

Marriage Story

Courtesy of Netflix

Marriage Story shows the other side of marriage: divorce. A New York stage director (Adam Driver) and his wife (Scarlett Johansson), an actress, go through a tumultuous divorce while trying to do what’s best for them and their son.

Marriage Story can feel a little slow as you’re dropped into the lives of Charlie and Nicole, watching their relationship gradually come undone. But the acting performances in this film are phenomenal. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson put you right in the middle of the action during a fight scene at the climax of the film. They portray the full spectrum of emotions felt during their divorce during this single scene and it’s magical to watch.

Courtesy of Netflix

The film takes an impartial perspective. It doesn’t encourage you to root for one side, and there is no clear protagonist or antagonist. You can understand both sides of the argument: Charlie’s longing for their old life and Nicole feeling like she’s being held back by her marriage.

The acting is what carries this film and is the foundation of what makes it such a success. The actors reel you in and create an emotional connection between you and the characters. Without these fantastic performances, it would be easy for Marriage Story to fall flat.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor whose career is threatening to fall into mediocrity. He’s supported by his best friend, stunt double, and occasional errand boy, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). He also experiences some unexpected surprises with Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as his next-door neighbor.

This film felt long, frequently having you wondering where the plot is going. Despite the story dragging in a few places, the cast does such an incredible job. Leonardo DiCaprio has the time of his life playing Rick Dalton in his various roles in film and television, and Brad Pitt is perfectly cast as the charming Cliff Booth. Margot Robbie feels a little underutilized in the film but has a few touching scenes as Sharon Tate.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

The production design and soundtrack are the true stars of the film. The universe is so expertly crafted that it feels as though the cast and crew time traveled back to the 60s. The scenes that showed off how much attention to detail went into the settings were the most fun to watch and take in.

Even with a fantastic cast, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels almost too long. In true Tarantino style, the ending is pretty unexpected and wild, but it’s not enough to make up for the dragging parts of the stories. Even if certain scenes were dull, the cast made up for it by bringing their all and giving some extremely memorable performances.

Parasite

Courtesy of CJ Entertainment & Neon

Parasite tells the story of two families: the impoverished Kims and the wealthy Parks. Their lives start to intertwine as an unforeseen secret is uncovered that could throw off the balance of their entire relationship.

First and foremost, Parasite was easily my favorite movie of 2019. The story is so exciting and unexpected. You think the film is heading in one direction as a lighthearted, witty tale of a stealthily smart family, but it becomes so much more as the layers are uncovered. The story focuses on class struggle and just what lengths people will go to because of the system.

Courtesy of CJ Entertainment & Neon

Everything about this movie is so solid and well-done. The cast works so well as an ensemble and each actor gives incredible performances with Song Kang Ho and Park So Dam standing out in particular. The production design is another highlight of the film. It’s almost impossible not to fall in love with the Parks’ home that plays as the setting for the majority of the film and practically becomes a character of its own. The story’s pacing and direction feel perfect with every scene being crucial to the story.

Parasite is magnificently unique and is hard to describe without giving away the surprising twists of the story. It’s an event of a film that’s entertaining, emotional and clever. Parasite is a Best Picture worthy piece of art that has helped expose Western culture to the beauty of foreign films, and rewards those who may venture past their comfort zones of subtitles and international films.

What do you think? What was your favorite Best Picture nominee this year? Is there a film that you think should have been nominated instead?

--

--

A cinephile with a passion for writing, ranting, and reviewing.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store