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The Ultimate Choice #9: Best Picture 2020 Contenders

In this special edition of The Ultimate Choice, I have asked each person to pick one of the nine nominees for Best Picture at the Oscars to back, and argue why it is their pick to win the big award. Each film will be covered here, so you will see the reasons for every film winning the big award.

1917 (2020) – source: Universal

1917
Chosen by Martin of Through the Silver Screen: Twitter | Blog

“Being the history student I am, I gravitate to war films. But this is not the reason why Sam Mendes’s magnum opus is my pick for the Best Picture of 2019. It’s for the fact that it is an astounding cinematic achievement that just floored me in every way. Filmed to look as if it is one continuous tracking shot, the film is a stunning cinematic achievement that should clean house in the technical categories, and ensure that the legend that is Roger Deakins picks up another Oscar. But all that technical mastery would count for nothing if the story being told in front of the camera was not compelling and emotionally investing, which it absolutely is. Focusing on two young English soldiers who must go behind enemy lines to deliver a message to call off an attack to prevent an absolute slaughter. The premise is simple but it’s extremely effective, and that’s down to the extraordinary performances of Dean-Charles Chapman, and especially George MacKay who demonstrate they are far more than just the uniforms they are wearing. From the first minute, I was thoroughly invested in their mission, and the extraordinary camerawork fully immerses you in the time and the place. You do feel like you are on the ground with these men, and it never let up throughout the tense two-hour run time. One of the finest war films ever made, not only is 1917 my favourite film of 2019, after multiple viewings, it has now cemented itself as one of my favourite films of all time.”

Ford v Ferrari (2019) – source: 20th Century Fox


Ford v Ferrari
Chosen by Simon Waite: Twitter | Blog

So the Oscars are upon us once again and so is another list of Best Picture nominees and one announcement within that block that made me very happy was James Mangold’s Ford V Ferrari which was also my co-favorite film of last year and even though it has little chance of actually winning the top prize I feel there is a good case as to why it could. Firstly, the film has a strong consensus behind it and has had it right from the first screenings on the festival circuit mid to late last year, it’s not unlike Parasite which is a foreign language film or Joker which has had a very divisive response or Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman which is both a Netflix movie and 3 and a half hours long. No, this was a movie that both audiences and critics got behind with both very positive reviews and strong box office plus made former President Barack Obama’s favorite films list of 2019 so this is a film that could win without upsetting very many. Secondly, the film is beautifully crafted by Mr Mangold and his team, the film runs at 152 minutes and it uses that runtime very well without feeling like it runs too long or overstays its welcome which some movies have done, Mangold’s direction and overall craft of this film with the editing and sound design and score are first-rate and this was a real treat to watch on a big cinema screen with a good sound system. Thirdly, the film is littered with great performances from top to bottom starting with its 2 leads in Matt Damon and Christian Bale, both are among our most popular movie stars working in movies today and both deliver great performances, Mr Bale in particular really plays to his strengths as the hot-headed racer Ken Miles who can be difficult to deal with but is absolutely great at what he does there was one point in particular where I was waiting for him to do a version of his infamous Terminator set rant in the film. And not just them, there are some great supporting performances by Jon Bernthal, Catrionia Balfe, Josh Lucas and Tracy Letts, the latter two, in particular, are very memorable in the film and have some great scenes Mr Letts, in particular, has two standout moments with Mr Damon and one of my dream movie projects now is him playing former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam as he bears a strong resemblance to Gough in this movie. And lastly, this movie is the kind of movie that we rarely get to see in a cinema anymore, the star-driven drama and dramas along with thrillers and comedies though that one may be to a lesser extent I feel have sadly been dusted from cinema screens as streaming services like Netflix and the dominance of television like we saw in the 1990s have taken those genres and gone there instead as studios have mainly drifted to big franchise fare and redoing old favorites like The Lion King and Aladdin to pull on our nostalgia for watching the original films as kids. Speaking of studios, this movie was one of the last to be produced by 20th Century Fox before it was bought by Walt Disney Studios in early 2019 and it serves as a great testament to the kind of risk-taking that studio used to do throughout its history, like the original Star Wars film to name as an example. It’s sad to see the tradition of the Big 6 studios which had stood for more than 80 years be torn down for the sake of some Marvel Comics characters being at another studio, how sad and how petty it feels. To see that once magnificent studio get a Best Picture win in its own right without it going to its sister company Fox Searchlight which has had some Best Picture success recently with The Shape of Water would be a great way to not only honor that studio for its many long years of service in the industry as one of the Big 6, but also reward a movie that has the consensus of both critics and audiences behind it and is also a well made and entertaining movie in its own right.

The Irishman (2019) – source: Netflix


The Irishman
Chosen by Tim Neill: Twitter | Letterboxd

There’s a certain level of irony to Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. This is a film representative of the kind of quality drama that is typically reserved in 2019/2020 for TV shows/ streaming services that most people will only get to experience on a streaming service.
When it was announced that my local cinema was getting Netflix films in time for The Irishman‘s early cinema release I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. I have struggled with some of the Scorsese work I’ve seen in the past and the thought of three-and-a-half hours without an interval was slightly terrifying. That said I went along anyway. I will admit I wasn’t sure based on the first couple of scenes introducing the framing device of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in the old folks home and then flashing back to him working as a much younger meat truck driver at the start of the story but once he gets his first introduction to Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) at the 10-minute mark the film totally hooked me.
It was easily the film that captivated me most in 2019. A superbly engrossing piece of drama made by a team at the top of their game. All the attention in the awards race has gone to Pesci and Al Pacino and they are both absolutely brilliant but it was De Niro reminding everyone that he is fantastic when given good/ great material that really surprised me (making Dirty Grandpa and the Fockers sequels even more inexcusable.)
The film will be far too slow and meditative for some viewers expecting a brush gangster epic but this really helped me as a viewer sink into the central characters story and films world much more effectively. A film of this length was never going to be exclusively made up of clips that entertain when watched on in YouTube montages. This is not saying that some of the criticisms aren’t valid. The film definitely has the painting of a mini-series and the film doesn’t score high marks from a representation perspective but honestly, while I acknowledge these criticisms I was so engaged during both my viewings of the film that these are only small nitpicks.
I’d love to see The Irishman win big at the Oscars. It would be a win for the kind of high-quality drama there has been a little marginalised in the world of superhero movies and franchises.

Jojo Rabbit (2020) – source: Fox Searchlight


Jojo Rabbit
Chosen by Ryan: Twitter

Taika Waititi delivers an important message in this trying time around the world. Hate for others we don’t understand is on the rise all over the world. Jojo Rabbit tackles the challenges of this type of messaging when aimed at younger audiences, the power they have to take a seemingly good young man and make them into monsters. Johannes “Jojo” Betzler is Taika’s way of showing us how these people become literally nazis. They are isolated, lonely and blitzed with propaganda that makes these people believe that all the problems with the world are some other group of people. His mother Rosie doesn’t know how to prevent this from happening, she knows the danger that they live in under Nazis rule so it’s not like she can tell him how awful they are.

Like many people right now, what breaks Jojo’s illusion is seeing the other group for what they are, people just trying to survive in the form of Elsa Korr, a Jewish girl that Rosie had been hiding in there home. What I think is important about this film is that it shows us that Jojo is saveable and he’s not to far gone. He’s not a nazi, he’s a child who doesn’t know any better. Taika still doesn’t hold back though, the real nazis in the film are not saved. It’s an important thing for us to learn in our society. Who are the Jojo’s who are just lonely people who are misinformed and who are the Hitler’s that just need to get kicked out the window?

When we look at the nominations for Best Picture there are a couple of stand out films that deserve the award, it’s been a fantastic year. Parasite, Little Women, 1917 and Ford V Ferrari all had a profound impact on me this year. Any of them winning would bring a smile to my face but if the Academy wants to show that world that hate can and must be rejected then they’ll give Best Picture to Jojo Rabbit. 

Joker (2019) – source: Warner Bros.


Joker
Chosen by Amy Smith (me)

Since it’s made its festival run, Joker has been receiving polarising reviews from everyone across the board. Some think it’s the best film of 2019, whilst others claim it to be the worst. Some people think the subject matter was handled excellently, whilst some say it was immature and weak in the handling of its themes. Considering I claimed it to be the best film of the year, it is easy to see which side of the argument I am on. Whilst I know it will not win Best Picture on Sunday night, I would like to make a case for why the stats would line up and why it deserves to win big this season.

It is clear what a mark it has left on the film community, with people still discussing the film heavily four months after its release. People are already becoming quiet on other films, such as Marriage Story and Ford v Ferrari, but not Joker. For a film to still be this talked about, that is worthy of recognition. Not all the word around Joker is negative either, with the film breaking record after record. Highest Box Office total for an R-rated film in the opening weekend of October, beating Venom. Largest Box Office total for an R-rated film of all time. Most successful comic book film of all time in terms of budget and profit. First R-rated film in history to make over a billion dollars in the Box Office. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. These are signs that people love Joker and will go back and watch it several times, despite how dark it is as a film.

People are currently in an era where we still love and appreciate comic book films, obviously due to the amount of money that Marvel is making alone, but we want a change from the formula. It is becoming a bit too repetitive now, and Joker proves to us that interesting narratives can be told in the comic book format, but it does not have to be all action sequences and follow the same structure. I think many people in the industry appreciate this and with the slow acceptance of comic book films in awards season (also due to Black Panther‘s nominations last year) people’s are starting to respect that side of the industry more and more.

If this awards season was going by stats alone, Joker may have been sitting at the best odds at winning the Best Picture win at the Oscars. It leads in nominations with 11, just overtaking 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Irishman with 10 each. Joker has all aspects covered as well, with nominations in directing, acting, writing and editing. No other film this year has nominations in all four of those categories. It has been seen that it is tough to win Best Picture without an Editing nomination, or even without an Acting nomination or a Screenplay nomination. That is where a lot of these films sit, but not Joker. It is highly likely that Joker will win at least two awards, Best Actor and Best Score, but watch out if it takes home any more technical awards, such as Makeup and Hairstyling. I know it will not happen, based on the other awards shows that have happened, but I would be thrilled if Joker won and I would sit there and watch Twitter go all out in madness.

Little Women (2019) – source: Netflix


Little Women
Chosen by Russell Bailey: Twitter 

The current award season has been a strange one. Over two dozen films would comfortably fit amongst the Academy’s nominees for best film and the final nine each feel they’ve earned their place to a varying degree. Some are technical marvels, marrying impressive cinematography and editing (Ford v. Ferrari, 1917), others are fascinating reappraisals of history, reshaping them into evocative fairy tales (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Jojo Rabbit), whilst a few would be history-making winners (Parasite, The Irishman). And yet one lands firmly amongst all of these categories. Little Women is a masterful work behind-the-camera, whilst also adding a rich modernity to its 19th century literary roots. And it would be only the second film directed by a woman to win the coveted prize, a shocking statistic given it would be the 92nd winner overall.

On the technical side, the seed of genius in this adaptation is to play the narrative across two timelines, simultaneously. The warmer childhood years are seen alongside the colder wintery adult years. Events are given greater resonance as they reflect and contrast those later on. The emotional highs reach exuberant peaks, whilst the lows break our hearts. It is a wonderful concept Greta Gerwig has landed on, giving a vitality to proceedings and a pace that makes Little Women such a joy to watch. It feeds into the film’s look, editing, music, elevating and enhancing what we witness.

Gerwig also turns the film into a powerful tribute to womanhood and the central dilemma of finding a space for themselves amongst the defined roles society would have them take up. Through a pair of brilliant (and nominated turns) we see how the choices women have to make impact them. Saoirse Ronan’s Jo is a headstrong presence, driven by her ambition and artistic talent but also burdened by these. One of the finest moments of the piece is when she vocalises what she is grappling with. As she exhibited with Lady Bird, Gerwig has a keen ability to write deeply personal scenes that manages to speak to many in the audience. We also see this in Amy, the oft-disliked literary figure, redeemed by Florence Pugh, who brings joy but also sorrow to the part. Across a talented ensemble (and there are a number of touching, softly spoken performances), Pugh manages to steal Little Women

As for the history-making element of a Little Women win, it would offer a course correction and ability to make up for one of the central failings of this year’s nominees. 2019 was a golden year for women-directed films and yet there has been no room for the likes of Greta Gerwig, Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Olivia Wilde (Booksmart), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) or Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale) in the director category. As the start of eventual equality in the nominations, I can think of no better statement than a Little Women victory.

Little Women is a masterpiece and on February 9th I’ll be quietly rooting for the March sisters to have their well-earned moment in the spotlight.

Marriage Story (2019) – source: Netflix


Marriage Story
Chosen by André Sousa: Twitter

Noah Baumbach is one of the filmmakers who has excited and surprised me the most, having a huge talent for balancing the tragic-comic tone on such relatable subjects like family problems, loneliness, relationships etc.

Besides that, I was a little afraid when I found out that he was going to deal with the divorce subject again because he had already brought us an excellent insight into that subject in the superb The Squid and the Whale.

What I didn’t realize is that Marriage Story shows an evolution of Noah Baumbach not only as a filmmaker but also as a person. There is a difference between the young man who saw their parents go through the process and the adult man who would live the same situation and that’s why Marriage Story is such a highlight in a prominent career.

The film starts with a powerful and heartbreaking montage introducing us, in detail, to each of our protagonists in the eyes of their partners, an intelligent and unique choice that helps us define the characteristics of each one of them, which will be vital for us to understand the course of the action
Instead of focusing on discussing who is to blame or try to find a villain in the story, the picture embraces the realism and ambiguity inherent in life. Neither Charlie or Nicole are perfect, after all, they are human beings, they make mistakes in some cases and get it right in others.


While Charlie appears to us as a selfish person who likes to be always in control of the situation and is in a state of denial, Nicole is more fragile, easily influenced and frustrated by never having been in the full domain of her life, blaming her husband for it. Nevertheless, even if their story is coming to an end, the film makes it clear through small gestures and moments of complicity that the years they spent together will never be forgotten.


The big criticism that the film makes is the divorce industry, the way lawyers, like vultures, manipulate and take advantage of the feeling of anger and desire to hurt the partner that is left in their client and try to profit from it. Some are more cynical and manipulative like Nora, who takes advantage of Nicole’s naivete, others are more direct and ferocious like Jay, who never hides his methods. But even lawyers are entitled to their redemption in the person of Bert, someone older, sensible and who tries to bring a human side to the situation.


For me, it is also a little weird that the film is not doing so well at the awards, since if there is a subject matter that Hollywood should be familiar with is divorce, am I right?


After all, Marriage Story presents realistic and juicy dialogues that capture the essence of a relationship and people’s daily lives, besides building dimensional characters that allow actors to shine and explore several layers through an attentive and precise direction by Noah Baumbach. And even if, unfortunately, the chances of winning Best Picture at the Oscars are unrealistic, the film is unlikely to be forgotten by the audience, either because of its formidable cast, its memorable scenes, Randy Newman’s magnificent score or the unbelievable screenplay, making the latest Noah Baumbach´s movie a triumphant contribution to the glorious year that was two thousand and nineteen for the history of cinema.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) – source: Sony Pictures


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Chosen by Phoenix of A Day or So Late Movie Reviews: Twitter | YouTube

There are a number of reasons why the 9th film from the celebrated filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, should win the top prize at the Academy Awards on Sunday, February 9th. One of them is obvious: Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. Especially old Hollywood, which based on this year’s nominations, it looks like old Hollywood is still firmly in place. But this film isn’t just beloved in California, it managed to capture universal appeal. Its main character is fleeting movie star Rick Dalton, played by an A-game Leonardo DiCaprio, dealing with the reality of a rapidly changing film and television landscape. Leo captures Rick’s desperation to hold on to his stature perfectly. No scene more reflects this than his yelling at the Manson kids with all the “Get-Off-My-Lawn” Granddad energy he can muster.

Still, this is a very different role from many of the others Leo has played. Many can attest to Leo’s dramatic chops, but here he explores an aspect of his career we’ve rarely, if ever, seen: comedic timing. He is really funny in this, whether he’s forgetting his lines or blowing up in his trailer, Leo commands this movie with finesse and presence that is unlike anything he’s ever done. His screen time equal and polar character opposite is his stuntman, Cliff Booth. Cliff couldn’t give a damn unless it’s about his paycheck, so he can feed his huge dog. Brad Pitt plays this guy with unmitigated coolness. The stock image of 60’s manliness. He doesn’t deal with his emotions at all, laughs at past mistakes, and keeps calm in hostile situations. He is the dude-iest of dudes, and Pitt has all the machismo and quiet confidence to sell it to a tee. 

Tarantino does well to give each guy their own story. Rick is trying to recapture his glory days while adjusting to the times, and Cliff is living with the choices he’s made (Did he kill his wife? We don’t know), while also maintaining his integrity. And Margot Robbie as the late Sharon Tate is used mostly as a Macguffin throughout the film and it’s executed to perfection in the last 20 minutes in only Tarantino fashion: garishly violent and comically brutal. 

But why should Tarantino’s love letter to Hollywood win Best Picture? Here’s why: Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, Inglorious Basterds, Jackie Brown. Quentin Tarantino has consistently done what other filmmakers have said for years could never be accomplished. He has made films that are considered both art house, capital-C, cinema that also become pop culture phenomenons. He is the greatest anomaly in Hollywood delivering stylized, think-pieces mixed in with a tinge of revenge horror-porn, and people love it. Whether he’s giving Slavery or the Holocaust an alternative ending o giving redemption and justice to a fallen film starlet, Quentin is able to tap into a universal theme of righteousness, by any means necessary.

The Academy Award for Best Picture is meant to be reflective of the time we’re in as a society. Even though the film is set in 1969, it’s relevancy points to where we are now: A changing film industry and the men who get left behind in it if they’re unable to adapt, and sometimes even if they are, and a sincere willingness to hold on to the past. That last point is deeply shown in the nominees in this year’s Oscar races: old veterans getting one last dance in the sun while the new kids like a Lulu Wang or an Alma Ha’rel or a Melina Matsoukas, who delivered some excellent work are left in the shadows. 

But Tarantino’s revisionist film is exactly where we are culturally, politically, and emotionally right now.  A frightened older generation clinging to a time long gone and a desperate, invigorated youth pushing us towards the future. Of course, in Tarantino’s film, those kids are the followers of Charles Manson, they’re completely crazy, and they finally get what’s coming to them. (I told you…revenge horror porn). It’s vindicating for a lot of people who still vividly remember 1969, and fortunately, those are the people still voting in the Academy. But more than just its deeply satisfying ending, the film gives the “Golden Era of Hollywood” it’s a fitting farewell. We’re regaled with late 60’s fashion, iconic set pieces, classic cinema and it all feels earnest. Like a guy who really fell in love with movies made a movie about how good it felt to fall in love with movies. 

That’s big for a guy who’s previous works are known (and celebrated) for their gratuitous violence, infectious dialogues, and overuse of the N-word, to deliver a film that is artsy, meaningful, and has a lot to say is one big step up. In many ways, Quentin Tarantino is the last vestige of a punk rock filmmaker. A guy who learned all the rules, just so he could break them, and in the meantime, carved a path all his own. His 9th film is a homage to all that has made him who he is, and here it is in all of its Hawaiian shirt-wearing, shag carpet-loving, rock and roll glory, your 2020 Academy Award Winner for Best Picture, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.  


Parasite (2020) – source: Curzon


Parasite
Chosen by Owen of The Pope in the Pool: Twitter | Podcast

Parasite is roughly the 12th foreign language film to be nominated for best picture depending on your source, and none of those won. Even some all-time greats such as Pan’s Labyrinth didn’t even get a nomination. This lets you know how rare it is for a foreign film to have even a little Oscar buzz around it. But unfortunately, this is likely not a question of why Parasite should win, but more an explanation of why I’ll be annoyed when it inevitably doesn’t. Bong Joon-ho is undeniably a master of cinema. He shows this through creating a movie inspired by so many different types of film that it would be impossible to describe all that it encompasses accurately. Whereas other films could be described as “if Scorsese did a supervillain film” or “if Anne Frank’s diary was funny but in a way that’s relevant to the 21st century”, Parasite is not as easy to describe. It’s as intricate and detailed as a Nolan film, but with the antics of something Billy Wilder would direct or Doris Day would star in. Yet it has the harsh bite and twists of a Park Chan-wook film, while highlighting social issues like Green Book thought it did. The worst part is that the more I describe what makes this film so great, the less you will enjoy the journey of the film evolving between genres. The less you know the more impressive it is as it develops. Parasite fuses genres together in ways that we don’t see in western movies, and although attempted before by other filmmakers across the globe, especially in South Korea, Bong Joon-ho perfects it in this film. So while still being as vague as possible, here are a couple more spoiler-free reasons why it is a masterpiece. The perfect editing that makes you feel part of the journey. Bong Joon-ho uses editing to create tension and draw our focus to certain aspects of the story. There are parts he speeds through using montage with a flow that fully engages you, and yet in other situations he won’t hurry and makes you feel every tense second. Then in another instance cutting between someone rehearsing their lines and when they actually use those lines, so you understand what is happening without it being spelt out. This requires so much forward planning to achieve and the film conducts our emotions with ease. The performances. To me, the standouts are Park So-dam and Song Kang-ho but you could argue for any of them as your favourite and I couldn’t fault you. Everyone is so believable and lovable that you buy into every decision they make. Not only that but as we understand why each character makes each decision we get to know various perspectives and nearly understand social classes better from having watched the film. I think what really makes the film so impressive for me is that I didn’t realise how great it was until after it was over. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it instantly but it wasn’t until I thought about everything that had happened, every clever detail, that I realised how impressive it was. It’s a film you will have no choice but to sit back and enjoy while it is on screen, but could spend endless amounts of time noticing what makes it so brilliant once it’s over.

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Who makes the strongest case here? Which film will win on Sunday? Make sure to check out all the people who wrote a piece and give them some love!

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