Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

Ranking the 2019 Best Picture Nominees

Hollywood’s biggest night of the year is once again on the horizon, and with that comes a plethora of films competing for glory. However, only a select few will be competing for the biggest prize of the night, but only one will walk away with the trophy. This year we have a fascinating tale of conniving and romance, a deeply personal film, a celebration of one of the greatest bands of all time, some insight into US politics, and a couple of shocking true stories about racism in the USA, and for the very first time in history, a superhero film.

Looking at this year’s crop, it would be fair to say that this is not the strongest Best Picture line up when compared to the last couple of years, but there are some strong films here, and so the time has come to rank these from worst to best (per my opinion of course) starting with….

8. Vice

Full review here

Now, I don’t know about you, but every time awards season rolls around, there’s always one film that sticks out like a sore thumb, as to how it is included in the Best Picture race, Vice is that movie for me this year. Adam McKay first established himself as a film-maker with something to say with The Big Short. While that film got on my nerves with some of its stylistic choices, it’s nothing compared to his latest film, that explores how Dick Cheney became the most powerful Vice President in US political history.

McKay has some good intentions, and he gets a couple of good performances from Christian Bale and Amy Adams, it’s a pity that the film is extremely obnoxious in the way in tells its story that is likely going to piss off many people, and not just those who are of Cheney’s political persuasion. On top of that, it’s all very sloppily put together and it tries to be this witty political satire, but it’s not satirical, nor is it really that funny, it’s just vulgar, very VERY vulgar.

7. Green Book

Full review here

It is somewhat unsurprising given the events we have seen over the last few years, that a number of films that have come out recently have zeroed in on the subject of race. But sometimes, one film approaches this subject in much better/more powerful ways than others. In what is a fascinating true story, Green Book ultimately is very simplistic in how it chooses to portray the subject of racism in 1960s America, which is extremely frustrating as it could have gone into so much more detail.

The film is kept moving along by a pair of excellent performances from Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The characters they portray are very much polar opposites. Yet despite their differences they form an unlikely connection, whilst going on this journey in a very hostile part of the world, and become friends. But in the times we are living in, there was scope for such a film that is based on such a fascinating story to become so much more than what it was.

 

6. Bohemian Rhapsody

Full review here

A band as legendary as Queen deserves a biopic worthy of their status, and while I enjoyed the film, this is not that biopic. For a figure as fascinating and tragic as Freddie Mercury was, it is very by-the-numbers. It chooses to play it safe and doesn’t go into extensive amounts of detail about his life, which is something of a missed opportunity. It’s ultimately elevated by three things, the sheer quality of the music that Queen made, a masterful performance by Rami Malek in which he transforms into Freddie Mercury, and a mesmerising last twenty minutes or so that brings to life Queen’s famous Live Aid performance.

Given the problems this film experienced in production, with Bryan Singer, the original director, being fired and Dexter Fletcher having to come in mid way through production to complete the film, it’s quite amazing it turned out as well as it did. But having said that, the quality of Queen’s music does not merit this Best Picture nomination when you consider the quality of some of the other films in this awards season, especially some of the films that were not so lucky to nab a nomination. When it came to deciding the nominees, particularly given the controversies surrounding Bryan Singer, this one should have bitten the dust.

Now onto the five films that really (at least for my money) do deserve to be up for Best Picture…..

 

5. The Favourite

Full review here

The Oscars do love a good period drama, but when you have eccentric director Yorgos Lanthimos at the helm, you’re going to end up with something that’s decidedly very different to your regular period drama, and that is exactly what The Favourite is. I mean what other film this year featured duck races and throwing rotting fruit at some naked politician? While his other films have also had that uber-eccentric factor, this film much easier to connect with than some of his previous films, which is no small part down to the hilarious characters, and that makes it so much more enjoyable to watch.

With a script that is full of brilliant and hilarious dark humour, every single member of this cast turns in some delightfully hilarious performances, including a brilliant turn from Nicholas Hoult. However, the show is stolen by the three delightfully hilarious performances of the leading ladies: Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and the Queen herself Olivia Colman. It is a weird film, but it takes that weirdness and runs with it, and all the better for it.

4. Black Panther

Full review here

Making history by becoming the first superhero film to land a Best Picture nomination is a testament to the phenomenal cultural impact that this film made on audiences when it debuted back in February last year. Now one could make the argument that this film is here because of the whole kerfuffle over the Academy’s short-lived Most Popular Film award. While that definitely could be the case, simply put, it deserves its place among this line up, purely for the fact that it was a thoroughly entertaining and well made film.

Though the film definitely had the familiar isms of MCU films gone by, director Ryan Coogler definitely brought his own distinct visual style to the film. There are themes of family, country and ultimately what it means to be a leader of a great nation. But at the very core of the film, it tells a story about humanity as whole. Additionally, with a plethora of well deserved technical nominations under its belt as well, by becoming the first Superhero film to earn a nomination for Best Picture, it paves the way for future superhero films to get nominated, and that is not a bad thing by any means.

3. Roma

Full review here

The passion project of director Alfonso Cuaron that is in part inspired by the director’s upbringing in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. For a film that is shot in black and white, there is something that feels very colourful about the film, and part of that colour shines through in the performances of all the cast, especially lead actress Yalitza Aparicio, who prior to this film had never acted in her life, and now she has an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Dreams can definitely come true.

Cuaron based many of the events on screen from his own childhood memories, and his screenplay is so grounded in the reality of the day-to-day lives of its characters that could be forgiven you were watching a documentary and not a film. Though one can make the argument that the pacing is a little slow, the film takes its time with its plot and characters, and for good reason, because as it depicts the routine of life, and life can sometimes feel very much grounded in the day-to-day routine that many of us adhere to. However, Cuaron brilliantly weaves some brutally tragic moments into this tale, that are incredibly powerful and were directed to perfection by Cuaron.

2. A Star is Born

Full review here

Now, this is how you do a remake. You might wonder if bringing a familiar story back to the big screen for the fourth time would be a bit of a pointless exercise, as so often remakes do seem to be a bit unnecessary. However, the brilliant work of Bradley Cooper who, sings, writes, acts, produces and directs this film, ensures that this new version of this story has definitely got something to say. And Cooper does all of the above so tremendously well, and that is why this film is deservedly among the contenders.

The key strengths of this film lie in the talents of its two leads. Cooper in the lead role as a musician that is enduring the twilight of his career as he meets Lady Gaga’s Ally, a woman who’s career is heading very much in the opposite direction. Watching these two meet and fall in love is so heart-warming and emotional, as both of them have marvellous chemistry together. The music also is wonderful to listen to, and Cooper really captures the gigs with such authenticity, it makes us feel like we are at the gig ourselves, watching these two ridiculously talented people take to the stage and blow the audience away.

1. BlacKkKlansman

Full review here

In the same way that Black Panther has themes that are relevant in our 21st century world, the latest “joint” from Spike Lee is also an extremely relevant piece of film-making, but for very different reasons. It is incredible that a film that is based off events in the 1970s is shockingly relevant in 21st century America, but the fact that they are, is what what makes this film feel so powerful, and simultaneously so horrifying.

Telling the shocking true story of how one brave police officer infiltrates the KKK, whilst using they use a white police offer to maintain the ruse. It feels so utterly ludicrous that a story like this happened but it did. Anchored by two terrific performances from John David Washington and Adam Driver, the former of whom is mightily unlucky not to land himself a Best Actor nomination. Lee weaves humour into the film tremendously well, but when it wants to get serious, boy does it get serious and at times, REALLY scary.

And in what is one of the most powerful and emotionally charged endings of the last few years, Lee’s furious message comes to a head, as he recalls the horrors of the 2017 riots in Charlottesville. It’s a stark reminder that these terrible events of such hatred and bigotry are still rearing their ugly head in modern society, and they have not been consigned to the ash-heap of history where they belong. It’s this powerful, relevant message that is why BlacKkKlansman should walk away with the biggest prize of the night.

—————————————————————————————

Could/should have been nominated…

It always amazes me that when they have ten slots available, that the Academy chooses to nominate only eight films for the top honour. Why not fill the quota, especially in a year that quite a few films could, and perhaps should have joined the above? If it was down to me, I’d axe Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book and improve this line up considerably by putting in the following:

Widows (review). In what was one of the best ensemble casts of the year, featuring Academy Award winner Viola Davis, the absence of this film entirely is utterly completely baffling considering how good it was. Featuring a strong group of women who undertake their own heist to take control of their fates after their husbands die in a doomed heist. Viola Davis leads the way of a superb cast that includes superb performances from Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodgriguez, and special mention to Daniel Kaluuya for his performance as an utterly terrifying villain that should have got him his second nomination in as many years.

First Man (review). Damien Chazelle’s first two films (Whiplash and La La Land) were both up for Best Picture in their respective years, so the absence of his latest film from the lineup is surprising, given how well received this film was by both critics and audiences. Telling the story of how Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, with excellent performances from Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, likewise Claire Foy as his wife Janet. The technical work accomplished in this film, especially for the magnificent lunar landing scene, is nothing short of sublime, and somehow that score from Justin Hurwitz was completely snubbed….

Crazy Rich Asians (review). Representation in Hollywood was clearly a big thing this year, what with the first superhero film with a predominantly Black cast, and now for the first time since 1993, a major Hollywood production, this time lead by an all Asian cast. Story-wise it treads familiar ground of the classic rom-coms of the past, but the chemistry of the leading couple makes it such a sweet film to watch, with the added factor of the extreme wealth of the characters makes it all the more exciting, not to mention the extremely lavish production design and incredible costumes that were somehow not nominated.

Mission Impossible: Fallout (review). This is an unconventional choice, but screw it, if it was up to me, this would be getting nominated. The sixth entry in the Mission Impossible franchise came along and blew audiences away with its slick action, and absolutely insane stunts. This brings me to the point that it’s about time the Academy introduced a Best Stunt Oscar, cos these men and women risk their lives for our enjoyment, and no one typifies this more than Tom Cruise. This might have cropped up had the Popular Film category come to fruition, but this honestly deserved a nomination over some of the other films that were nominated, and should have, at the very least, landed some nominations in the technical categories.

Avengers: Infinity War (review). Again, not a conventional choice but given that Black Panther made that breakthrough, why not one of the biggest films of the last 12 months? The scale of a film like this was almost unprecedented, and the fact that it was such an entertaining film that flowed together pretty well is something to behold. Maybe Endgame can become the second film to break that threshold…

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