Shortly after the 2010s came to an end, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked over the many releases in 2019 and announced their nominees for the prestigious title of “Best Picture”. The previous ceremony famously proceeded without a host. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but the 2019 ceremony had notably higher ratings than those of the year before. It was therefore fitting that the 92nd ceremony would follow suit. It’s just as well; hosted ceremonies would drag on for far too long, often featuring unfunny comedy sketches when, theoretically, the main focus should be on the art.
I say “theoretically” because the eight “Best Picture” nominees for the 91st ceremony were, to put it bluntly, underwhelming. In fact, they formed the single weakest lineup of films I had seen since I started seriously paying attention to the Oscars – decidedly lacking in muscle or staying power. In the end, Green Book walked away with the prize. Considering that the previous year had the artistically daring The Shape of Water shatter the barrier preventing the high-minded from appreciating fantasy as a genre, the victory of Green Book was a clear regression. Nonetheless, it was the single best film to represent 2018, showcasing the extreme lack of ambition or imagination plaguing creators at the time.
For the 92nd Academy Awards, a total of nine films were nominated for “Best Picture”: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Parasite. On the surface, it would appear that the Academy fell into old habits. Much like Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, and Green Book, two of the “Best Picture” nominees from this year, Jojo Rabbit and Joker, received a lukewarm critical reception. It would seem counterproductive to claim to celebrate the best of the best only to promote middling efforts.
In what many critics would consider even more damning, for the second year in a row, none of A24’s films received a nomination. Unlike in 2018, this actually is kind of a shame because, despite getting off to a slow start with Gloria Bell and High Life, A24 managed to get their act together and issue one of their greatest films since Moonlight in the form of The Farewell. Supplemented by other stellar efforts such as Waves and Uncut Gems, I would actually argue this was A24’s single best year since their 2012 inception.
Regardless, I myself do not have a problem with their lack of nominations. Your mileage may vary when it comes to the quality of their features, but I don’t think it can be contested that A24 is one of the single worst distributors out there.
Part of the problem with nominating their films is that barely anybody outside of the people it’s specifically screened for gets an opportunity to see them. This is because, for whatever reason, A24 is obsessed with limited releases. We can only speculate as to why this is, but if you want your work to get through to people, ensuring it can only be seen by those who have already subscribed to the brand doesn’t cut it. The most beautiful painting world may as well not exist if only one person may look upon it, after all.
Even in the cases in which these films do receive a wider release, A24’s marketing for them is abysmal at the best of times. The only reason I even knew Waves existed is because I happened to see it on a theater marque by pure chance. For that matter, I wouldn’t even have heard of First Reformed had its director, Paul Schrader, resisted the urge to whine about its commercial failure. And this is coming from someone who checks for new releases every single week, so if it slipped beneath my radar, what chance does a causal fan have?
In the interest in fairness, I will say it can be defeating to take chances and pitch ideas only for them to not resonate with a mass audience. However, at the risk of sounding insensitive, I must also point out that one needs thick skin to grow as an artist. If A24 cannot learn from their mistakes, their fans better get used to seeing them coming back emptyhanded in the foreseeable future. I think it’s very telling that Roger Eggers’s The Lighthouse was their only effort to receive any kind of recognition – for cinematography, which is arguably the most objective award the Academy hands out. This suggests that, subjectively speaking, whatever A24 pitched in 2019 simply didn’t grab the Academy’s interest. Perhaps a wide release or two could have remedied this problem?
With all of that said, don’t be fooled by the numbers or the continued lack of A24 representation. In fact, if the creative stagnation of 2018 caused filmmakers to dole out the single weakest “Best Picture” lineup I’ve ever seen, 2019 was responsible for one of the strongest batch of nominees in years. The only other years of the 2010s capable of giving it a run for its money would either 2014 or 2015, which saw the release of the decade’s highlights: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Mad Max: Fury Road respectively. Ironically, this increase in quality actually made ranking the nine films much trickier.
This is because last year’s eight nominations ended up being distributed across five different tiers – two of which faced disqualification to end up where they did. It’s easy to rank a list when several efforts exist alone on their tier. Conversely, I can say each and every single one of the films I’m about to discuss are worth seeing. So while 2018’s nominees struggled to get a 7/10, 2019 turned the grade into what it should have been all along: the standard. Because every nominee ended up getting a passing grade, I actually had to put some thought into how I would order them. In the end, I realized I had to think of this list in terms of how I would order my top ten for the year. The easiest ones to rank were the ones in the top two positions because we’re talking about works that are so unequivocally better than their contemporaries, it’s almost unfair they’re even in this competition.
Just like last time, this list is, in no way, intended to be a prediction as to which film will win. This article’s primary purpose is for me to express how I think of these films in relation to each other. Now that we have the introduction out of the way, let’s get started.