Regardless of anything, I think we’re all glad 2020 is over, though there is one last thing from that year to wrap up…Continue reading
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 some of their greatest films since Moonlight in the form of The Farewell and Waves. As such, 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 can 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 all 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.
Amid numerous controversies that led to the Academy Awards ceremony proceeding without a host for the second time in history, eight films were nominated for “Best Picture” in January of 2019: Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice. Taking them at face value, the choices were odd. Many of them had polarized critical receptions with Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice scoring well below 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. While I do acknowledge that Rotten Tomatoes is a flawed metric, it’s very unusual when you consider how in 2017, the lowest-rated nominees, Darkest Hour and The Post, still managed to achieve a score above 80%.
Part of me suspects these strange choices are a result of the Academy’s ill-fated “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” category. The category was proposed in August of 2018 in an attempt to give films that resonated with fans rather than just critics a chance to shine. The idea was met with a universally negative reception from journalists and Academy members alike. Many of them felt it to be an attempt to pander to mainstream audiences and bolster ratings, for 2018 marked the lowest viewership for the award ceremony in the twenty-first century at the time with a mere 26.5 million people tuning in. Though it sounds like it fared well, it should be noted that 32.9 people watched 2017’s ceremony. In between years, an entire 6.4 million people turned up their noses and forewent watching the ceremony in 2018.I myself wasn’t a fan of the idea, as it seemed to tangentially push the journalists’ narrative of how their taste is far superior to that of the unwashed masses. They can talk all they want about how the average filmgoer doesn’t appreciate their masterpieces, but selling a large audience on an innovative idea is as important as coming up with it in the first place. Despite the Academy’s proposed category being thoroughly rejected, I suspect that certain choices, Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book in particular, were made in an attempt to win back those 6.4 million people. In other words, they implemented their original idea; they just used it within their traditional “Best Picture” category instead.
It’s not terribly surprising that many of these choices were derided by causal fans and cinephiles alike. There weren’t enough mainstream releases nominated for causal fans to have an invested stake in the ceremony. Meanwhile, many critical darlings were left to fall by the wayside as a direct result of these choices. In their attempts to please everyone, they pleased no one. I can imagine A24 fans in particular were incensed that neither Hereditary nor Eighth Grade received a nomination of any kind – especially given the divine worship the company receives from critics.
In fact, this is the first time since 2014 that not a single film distributed by A24 received a “Best Picture” nomination. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with that; Hereditary crashed and burned in the final act whereas Eighth Grade, much like Lady Bird, was massively overhyped and had a distinct lack of charismatic performances to carry it.
I do, however, have to say that if you wanted to showcase what an incongruous year 2018 was for the medium, these choices are perfect. It was a year in which every other critical darling, from the aforementioned A24 releases to Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, was a disappointment while many of the works journalists barely acknowledged such as Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor ended up being pleasant surprises. This polarization was only worsened by the distributors, whose increasingly cynical, lackadaisical attitudes prevented good films such as Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy and Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace from reaching a mass audience. That they had no qualms giving Death of a Nation, Peppermint, and Fifty Shades Freed a wide release only adds insult to injury. Veteran director Paul Schrader claimed in an interview that the seventies, a decade highly revered by cinephiles, didn’t have better filmmakers as much as they had better audiences. Speaking realistically, his blame is ultimately misplaced. After all, how is the audience supposed to improve themselves when distributors refuse to screen quality films?All in all, this was quite a stark contrast from 2017 – another year in which the medium had extreme highs and lows. Although I stand by what I said, 2018 was far worse in that regard. There was enough of a distinction between the best and worst 2017 had to offer that anyone who paid even the slightest bit of attention could avoid watching a failure and appreciate the highlights. Meanwhile, in 2018, I found I couldn’t rely on critics half of the time whether it was because they took to a more sensationalist writing style, raved about underwhelming works, or otherwise decided to throw their audience under the bus at the first given opportunity. With that introduction out of the way, I am now going to ready to move on to the main topic. Because I have now seen and reviewed every single one of the nominated films, I am now going to do something I’ve never attempted before. I will rank them from worst to best. Now, keep in mind that this is not intended to be a prediction as to which film will win. This list is merely intended to outline what I feel is the best film of the ones nominated. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Hope all of you are doing well in this new year so far! Now that the Oscars are around the corner, I’ve been running around attempting to see and review all of the nominations. As a result, when it comes to reviewing games, I had to make a lot of last-minute changes. I intend to complete everything I set out to do in short order, though.