The 2020 Oscar nominations are in, and with #OscarsSoWhite trending once again, you might have surmised that not everyone is thrilled with the Academy’s choices. Personally, I was surprised by how much they got right. 2020 had a lot of great movies, a few of which made it onto my list of the top films of the decade. But while several inclusions certainly deserve all the recognition they can get, it’s certainly not a flawless list.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the nominees in a few key categories and see what they got right, and where they could have done better.
Best Picture of the Year
Many have raised issue with the lack of diversity here, and while that certainly warrants discussion, by and large these really were the best movies of the year. But that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect list.
Ford V Ferrari doesn’t belong here. Period. While engaging and well made, there’s nothing particularly special about it in relation to the modern zeitgeist. And while 1917 is a technical achievement packed with great acting, I’m not a big fan of how it falls into the trap of “video game storytelling” in which we watch an avatar move from one “level” to the next. Finally, while Little Women is a well composed, beautiful movie and Greta Gerwig is a brilliant filmmaker, the movie stumbles a bit in the middle and I’m not sure if it’s really up to snuff alongside a flawlessly constructed film like Parasite or Marriage Story.
…The Lighthouse also could have made an appearance, but maybe it’s just too weird for general audiences.
I think Jordan Peele’s Us should have been included. The direction, the acting, the storytelling, the relevant themes—all of it was perfect and it most certainly deserves recognition. Also, the visually stunning and beautifully acted Portrait of a Lady on Fire should be on here. Maybe the academy thought there was only room for one movie with subtitles? And maybe they just don’t like women (or people of color). The Lighthouse also could have made an appearance, but maybe it’s just too weird for general audiences.
Who should win: Parasite, because it’s perfect and I love it. It is a perfectly constructed work of art. But I could see them passing it up here then giving it Best Foreign Language Film.
Who will win: The Irishman or Once Upon a Time…, because these are big movies by the biggest directors. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to the latter, simply because the Academy loves movies about making movies.
This is a largely accurate list of the year’s best direction, with one exception. While Joker is an impressive movie that accurately captures the populist rage of our times, I’m not sure if Todd Phillips’ direction compares against the masterful visual storytelling offered by Jordan Peele in Us or Celine Sciamma in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Joker hinged mostly on a good screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix’s astounding performance, so I would replace Phillips with either of the aforementioned directors.
While I criticized 1917’s inclusion in the best movies of the year, Sam Mendes certainly belongs here. Few directors have ever attempted anything so ambitious.
But I think this one should go to Bong Joon-ho. Parasite is a flawless film. Flawless. Every single element of it is perfect, and that’s thanks to the director’s genius-level attention to detail.
Who should win: Parasite, it’s the most tightly wound film of the year (and maybe the decade).
Who will win: 1917, and that’s understandable.
While it certainly skews unsettlingly toward monochromatic, I don’t have any major problems with these nominations. These were all outstanding performances. Maybe Adam Sandler deserves to be on here for his role in Uncut Gems.
For me this one comes down to Joaquin Phoenix vs. Adam Driver. I really don’t know which to choose as they were both staggering portrayals in completely different ways. The former was a typically transformative, immersive experience by Phoenix, while Driver’s performance was all about gut-wrenching subtlety.
Who should win: Errrr…I’m gonna say Driver. I just really appreciate the nuance he delivered.
Who will win: Joaquin Phoenix, and I wouldn’t complain about it.
Cards on the table: I’ve only seen two of these, Marriage Story and Little Women. So I’m basing a lot of this one on hearsay. And that being said…
I don’t see any major problems with this lineup, though it is flat out abhorrent that Lupita Nyong’o didn’t get nominated for her role in Us. It’s probably because it was so early in the year that people forgot about it, and because horror movies never get the recognition they deserve, but she gave the best female lead performance of the year, without parallel.
So absent of her, I’m going to say that it should go to Johansson. Her performance in Marriage Story was heartbreakingly real. She had one monologue in which she relates how her marriage went wrong as the camera slowly pans in on her face…it’s beautifully refined acting, and reminds that while Johansson might do a lot of shallow blockbusters, she also has given numerous astounding performances over her career.
…it is flat out abhorrent that Lupita Nyong’o didn’t get nominated for her role in Us.
Ronan was great in Little Women and I’ve heard the Erivo was solid in Harriet, but I saw the former and it was rather boilerplate, and I’ve heard the latter was a little too generically biopicish. From what I’ve seen Zellweger and Theron gave visually transformative deliveries, but both roles feel like obvious Oscar-bait.
Who should win: Scarlett Johansson, it didn’t seem like she was acting—it was real.
Who will win: Scarlett Johansson.
Give Best Supporting Actor to Joe Pesci, because who knew he could act without screaming? Laura Dern should get Best Supporting Actress for her role in Marriage Story, because watching her and Ray Liotta as opposing divorce lawyers shouting over one another is a delight.
Best Adapted Screenplay should go to either Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit or Greta Gerwig for Little Women, but I suspect it will go to Joker. And maybe that’s okay. Original screenplay is really a toss-up between Baumbach for Marriage Story and Joon-ho for Parasite, but this I could see going to Tarantino, simply because Once Upon a Time… is such a fun ride.
Now for the really nerdy stuff. Best Cinematography should go to Jarin Blaschke for The Lighthouse, because that beautiful weirdness deserves something. Editing should go to Parasite. Original Score to Joker or 1917. And Visual Effects…let’s just give it to Avengers: Endgame because let’s be real—that closing battle was one of the craziest things ever put to screen.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.