Best Of: The 2020 Oscar Nominees For Best Picture

So the past while has been a wild ride because of the coronavirus, schools have now moved online and most of us are back home. I, for one, have had a bit more free time than I did at school and wanted to spend this time watching movies. However, you might be having trouble finding something decent to watch.

The 2020 Oscars, or the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, happened just over a month ago, and many of the nominated movies are now on Apple TV and other streaming services to buy or rent. I love watching all the Oscar nominees for Best Picture each year and seeing what all the hype is about. There were some great films nominated this year, and I’m here to share my thoughts with you (which you might totally disagree or agree with). Below are my own personal opinions of the nine nominated movies this year, ranked from least to most favourite.  

In 9th place: THE IRISHMAN - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “As an old man, World War II vet Frank Sheeran reflects on his life as a hustler and mob hitman, working alongside many notorious figures, including Jimmy Hoffa, the subject of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history.”

My Thoughts:

This is an Italian gangster movie directed by Martin Scorsese, who brings back his old gang of actors: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Kietel. Robert DeNiro, as fictional Frank Sheeran, the Irishman, tells the story of his life as a hitman and his involvement with Jimmy Hoffa, the real-life union leader who mysteriously disappeared in 1975. This is definitely an interesting look at the life of Jimmy Hoffa, or introduction to him if you've never heard of him, like me. The acting in this movie was great—Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro had great roles. Ray Romano was also interesting in this different kind of role. The character development is also awesome throughout. These are old guys, so CGI is used to make them appear younger, which was pretty weird to see at first. It's important to know this movie is three and a half hours long. You definitely feel its length, as it starts to feel drawn out as it goes on and on. Be sure to set aside a good chunk of time before sitting down to watch this. Overall, this movie keeps you interested, but it also felt a bit too long for me. If you're one for mob movies and/or this group of actors, you will definitely enjoy The Irishman.

In 8th place: ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “In Los Angeles in 1969, aging TV star Rick Dalton and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth struggle to make their way around an industry and a city they hardly recognize anymore.”

My Thoughts:

I thought that this movie was a really interesting concept. The two fictional protagonists have their own story that overlaps with the real actress Sharon Tate's time in Hollywood and the Manson family and Manson murders. I liked the late 60s old Hollywood feel conveyed through the set and references. I thought director Quentin Tarantino captured this very well. It offers a sense of nostalgia for something I never even lived through. The characters, played by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, were also enjoyable.They had a great bromance going. The two of them at the end were especially fun (Brad Pitt and his dog in particular). The ending itself was legendary and very Tarantino-esque (violence and gore). I was reeled in during every part concerning the Manson family, but other parts, like the middle, weren't as engaging. I found it hard to follow or even identify the plot. There's a lot of focus on these two characters' lives, history and struggles, but this just wasn't enough to keep my attention. The movie just seemed a bit too long. The action-packed ending almost made up for the rest of the film, but not quite. I would recommend this film if you're interested in film history (around the late 60s) or the Manson murders (though they're not a huge part). Otherwise, I think there are definitely better films on this list. Oh, and a warning: LOTS of bare feet in this movie (typical Tarantino).  

In 7th place: FORD V FERRARI - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “Visionary auto designer Carroll Shelby and race car driver Ken Miles team up to build a high-performance race car for the Ford Motor Company, hoping to defy the odds and defeat the dominant Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans.”

My Thoughts:

As someone who isn't crazy about cars, this movie didn't interest me too much. However, after watching I can say I was pleasantly surprised. This is definitely a big “Dad Movie”—my dad and brother loved it—but don't let that scare you away! The cinematography was great, as well as the acting (Matt Damon and Christian Bale). The car racing scenes are really well done and keep you on the edge of your seat. These were probably the most interesting parts to me. Personally, towards the middle where there were more dialogue portions, I found myself a bit bored. However, this film does a good job carrying out the storyline and developing the characters, as you find yourself rooting for them. Overall, the premise of this movie didn't really grab my attention, but it was satisfying in its action-packed scenes. But hey, you might be a car lover and automobile history buff who will love every second.

In 6th place: 1917 - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “During World War I, two British soldiers are sent on a dangerous mission to stop an attack by the British 7th Division that will result in a massacre by the Germans. Their assignment takes on extra urgency as one of the young soldiers’ brothers is fighting in that Division.”

My Thoughts:

This is another one of the two war movies on our list, this one during the time of World War I. War movies are constantly nominated for Oscars, and I see how they can get repetitive. However, even if you're not a big fan of them, this war movie is so unique and captivating, I promise you will never get bored. 1917 appears to be shot in only one take, which you will see is essential to its plot and execution. This was such a cool concept to me, and I found it so well-done. The cinematography and set design were amazing, and if anything, this film should be watched for them alone. The characters in this film are interesting—it's a realistic look at soldiers during war, and who they are as people. Many reviewers have said it's a very realistic depiction of war, and the effect it has on a person. As you follow these soldiers on their mission, you feel like you're right there with them. This isn't really a happy film, but it is sure to captivate your attention from start to finish. I urge you to drop any presumptions, and please watch this movie.

In 5th place: LITTLE WOMEN - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “In the late 1860s, burgeoning author Jo March looks back on her and her three sisters’ Massachusetts childhoods and the events and relationships that helped shape them as adults.”

My Thoughts:

Little Women is a timeless story that has been adapted at least 14 times. I might say we don’t need any more versions, but I see Greta Gerwig’s Little Women as an awesome addition to the list. I loved this 2019 rendering and the effect that writer and director Greta Gerwig had on the classic story. I’ve been a fan of Gerwig and her directing style since her film Lady Bird. Like Lady Bird, this film also stars the talented Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet as Jo March and Laurie. Along with these two, this star-studded cast includes Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Eliza Scanlen, and a new favourite of mine, Florence Pugh. One problem I did have with the cast was that Pugh (20-something) played Amy as both a woman and a little girl, who is meant to be 12, which felt a bit off. As a present-day adaptation, this film rightfully took more of a feminist approach. This is already a feminist story, but Gerwig’s adaptation seems more modern. For example, there were a few new or altered monologues (eg. Amy’s new monologue in Paris, Laurie’s slightly-altered profession to Jo). This film also had an interesting narrative structure, starting at a different point in the future, then returning to the past and alternating between the two. This version is warm like other adaptations, but also realistic—it reflects the emotion and growth of the characters throughout their lives. However, there were some scenes/events (without spoiling) that I felt lacked the importance/emotion they had in other adaptations. A couple characters and relationships were not as stressed as I thought they could have been. Overall, I recommend this movie—it carries along the feel-good spirit of Little Women that we’ve come to love, but with a distinct perspective and style that refreshes the story.

In 4th place: MARRIAGE STORY - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “A young creative couple and their son navigate the tricky waters of bicoastal separation and impending divorce.”

My Thoughts:

At the moment, I’ve seen Marriage Story twice, and I would watch it again. I enjoyed this film a lot, especially the acting. Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern—need I say more? These actors all gave legendary performances. There were some great dialogue and monologues (in particular, Scarlett Johansson’s, Laura Dern’s, and that now well-known fight scene). This movie shows the messiness and trauma of divorce in a realistic way, and it makes you want to stay as far away from it as possible. The storyline is nothing brand new, but the way it is executed invokes the most emotions. There are so many happy, fun moments, but also very sad ones (you’ll know which). It’s interesting, as it aims to make you root for both protagonists (though my family and I were leaning a bit more towards Adam Driver, oops). I read a review for the film where it felt the music was a bad fit (Randy Newman, who did the Toy Story score), and while I did think it was a different, odd choice, I still enjoyed its quirk for the most part. Overall, I’d watch this movie for the acting alone, but I love the way it involves you in this family’s world and conveys all their emotions.

In 3rd place: JOKER - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “In Gotham’s fractured society, a young man longs to be a stand-up comic, but finds the joke is always on him. Caught in a cycle of apathy, cruelty and ultimately, betrayal, the comedian makes one bad decision after another, bringing about a chain reaction of escalating events.”

My Thoughts:

Joker was the first movie I saw from this list, and it set the standard immediately. This is a movie you walk out of feeling different, and it sticks with you for a while. I found this film totally engaging. While it is related to the Batman universe, it's unnecessary to know anything about or be interested in Batman before watching. I know some people who loved this film, though some that did not. It definitely offers a dark perspective of the world, and that's not everyone's cup of tea and I can see why. In Gotham, there is no good, and this movie just emphasizes everything wrong with society and life in general. Some critics said that this movie would have a bad effect on people and make them lash out in violence (though who knows if that's true). Viewers can all agree that Joaquin Phoenix was absolutely amazing and deserved that Best Actor Oscar (his speeches are also notable and worth hearing). Phoenix provided a deep portrayal of mental illness, as did the movie as a whole. It was fairly honest, and delivered some important messages and lines in the film (eg. “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don't”). The atmosphere of this fictional city, plus the awesome soundtrack, perfectly contributed to the awful feeling this film offers. Overall, I would recommend Joker, but proceed with caution. This is not a feel-good movie, but rather dark and pretty violent.

In 2nd place: JOJO RABBIT - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “During World War II, a lonely German boy’s world is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.”

My Thoughts:

I loved this movie! This is one of two movies in a war period on our list –– this one set in World War II. This film surprised me as incredibly funny, which is unusual for a WWII movie, but Jojo Rabbit is a whole different kind. Director Taika Waititi plays protagonist Jojo Betzler's imaginary friend Hitler. You wouldn't expect this to be humorous, but Waititi (who also does the Thor movies) does such a great job as this comedic (and meaningful) character. On that note, the acting in this movie was noteworthy. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell both did amazing in their roles, but so did new, young actors: Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. This film shows WWII through young German Jojo's eyes, a totally unique perspective for a war movie. The audience gets to see Jojo's naivety, innocence, fear, loneliness and growth as his life changes. There's not a dull moment as we follow this child throughout his daily life. While Jojo provides humorous moments, the film is also very sad and moving. There's a good mix between comedy and drama, where neither is overpowering or inappropriate. In addition, the music and atmosphere (mostly very vibrant, with bright colours) add to this child's perspective and the overall meanings of the film. This movie is definitely one to see—you will laugh, you will cry and you will definitely remember this one.

In 1st place: PARASITE - Trailer

Synopsis (Oscars website): “Greed, class discrimination and a mysterious interloper threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.”

My Thoughts:

Wow! This movie surpassed any expectations I had, which wasn’t much. I went into this movie without knowing any premise nor watching any trailers, and I advise you to do the same. You don’t want anything spoiled for this movie. By now you should know that Parasite won in the Best Picture category this year, and rightfully so. Sometimes I’m surprised by or don’t agree with the Best Picture winner, but this was my favourite of this year’s nominees as well. I was pleasantly surprised that an international film won Best Picture for the first time ever. And don’t let the fact that this is a foreign film deter you—I know some people hate films with subtitles (my brother), but a few minutes in, I promise you will forget you’re even reading them (he did). This film is spectacular in every way—the story, the characters, the set design, the cinematography, the editing, the underlying messages. There is not a dull moment, and you will not be able to tear your eyes away from the screen. There are a ton of great sequences, such as a favourite of mine, the Peach Scene (no, not the one from Call Me by Your Name). Writer and director Bong Joon Ho is a genius and has done an amazing job. I will definitely watch some of his other films in the future, as well as more foreign cinema. This film, in particular, teaches you more about South Korea and the imbalance between socio-economic classes, something I had little idea about. Overall, Parasite covers practically every genre: comedy, dark comedy, drama, thriller, mystery and a bit of horror. You will feel every emotion throughout this movie, and you will love it. This year’s Oscars Best Picture category had a ton of awesome nominees worth checking out. It was really hard to create this list, because there were a lot of films I appreciated equally, in different ways. I was so happy to see a foreign film recognized for Best Picture this year, especially one like Parasite which truly deserved the award. As always, there are a lot of worthy films left out from the Oscar nominee lists (as well as female directors, but that’s another issue). I’ve heard a lot of great things about The Farewell, The Souvenir, Knives Out and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, so those are next on my watch list. I hope you consider watching some of these stellar nominees if you haven’t already, and giving some lesser-known films a chance. Tune in next year for my 2021 Oscar list, and happy watching!

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