Movies

The Case For And Against Every Best Picture Nominee At The 2020 Oscars

On Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named the nominees for Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Parasite. There’s less than a month before the host-less ceremony on February 9, but you still have time to see all the nominated films and choose which one you’re “rooting” for.

To help you along, I made a case for and against every potential 2020 Best Picture winner: why all the nominees should win (sometimes based less on quality than historical or cultural significance) and why they all shouldn’t win. Maybe it’s a good thing Uncut Gems wasn’t nominated (for anything, but especially Best Picture). Otherwise the case “against” every other nominee (minus one!) would be, “It’s not Uncut Gems.”

Ford v Ferrari

For: You know who loves Ford v Ferrari? Dads, and as far as dad movies go, Ford v Ferrari is one of the better ones in recent memory. It’s well-acted, of course, with Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and Jon Bernthal, and it’s a thrill to see (and hear) on the big screen; the racing sequences are genuinely thrilling. Hollywood should make more movies like Ford v Ferrari, a mid-budget drama aimed at adults (with great sunglasses).

Against: Best Picture is supposed to go to, well, the best picture of the year, right? Ford v Ferrari isn’t even the best mid-budget drama aimed at adults released in 2019 (Knives Out is out). I look forward to watching this movie on TNT on a lazy Sunday afternoon in three years, but keep its Oscar consideration to the (much deserving!) sound categories.

The Irishman

For: If The Irishman wins Best Picture, it would be the fourth-longest film to do so, narrowly edging out The Godfather: Part II and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (non-extended edition). That’s not my “for” case, but it’s still interesting! Anyway, Netflix might be the future of film, but the best title in its streaming library is obsessed with the past. The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s decades-stretching meditation on what happens to goodfellas when they “don’t feel so good” (sorry, Marty!), a beautiful, sprawling epic about considering your own legacy. America’s greatest living filmmaker is 77 years old. How many (three hours or otherwise) movies does he have left in him?

Against: “It’s too long” — some guy on Twitter, probably.

Jojo Rabbit

For: The most Jewish movie of the year wasn’t nominated for anything (justice for Adam Sandler!). Why not the second most Jewish movie?

Against: Jojo Rabbit wasn’t as loudly controversial as Joker, but, rightly or wrongly, it was criticized as a failed satire and being “more interested in making jokes about silly ol’ Nazis than exploring the other questions it raises, relevant ones about indoctrination, fanaticism, or even the Holocaust, which is only haltingly touched upon by the movie.” Beyond that, Jojo isn’t even director Taika Waititi’s best movie (What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are both funnier, sharper, and more poignant). Then again, how funny would it be if the Disney movie (technically!) to win Best Picture, in a year where the studio made more money than ever before, was the Hitler comedy?

Joker

For: Comic book movies reign supreme at the box office and dominate the cultural conversation — isn’t it time for the Academy to acknowledge Hollywood’s most popular genre with the industry’s biggest award (for a movie that won the Golden Lion, no less)?

Against: Maybe, but hopefully that movie isn’t Joker. Every year, there’s an Oscar villain, “the film it becomes the duty of every enlightened movie fan to root against,” according to Vulture. This year, that honor belongs to Joker, a movie with style (it was rightly nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Costume Design) but little substance. Actually, I take that back: it has substance, but of the “15-year-old boy not sure where to direct his anger” variety. Todd Phillips’ Joker is made up of pieces that other Best Picture nominees, and their directors, did much better. Want to watch a Martin Scorsese movie? Check out The Irishman. A movie about class consciousness? There’s always Parasite. A movie with a killer throwback soundtrack? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is right there. Don’t let Joker‘s phony prestige trappings fool you. If any 2019 comic book movie deserved a Best Picture nod, it’s Avengers: Endgame.

Little Women

For: As a fellow only child who has never read Louisa May Alcott, I was also skeptical coming into Little Women, only to be blown away by Greta Gerwig’s electric adaptation. (I am finally convinced that Emma Watson is a good actress; I already knew that about Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen.) I can’t think of a more, for lack of a better word, “warm” movie to come out last year; every shot radiates comfort. As much as I enjoy watching dancers set each other on fire after drinking LSD-spiked sangria and people throw themselves off cliffs, sometimes I want to watch a nice movie, y’know?

Against: A movie without a director can’t win Best Picture. Check the rulebook. It’s there.

Marriage Story

For: Directed and written by Best Original Screenplay nominee Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story is an effectively uncomfortable look at a cross-country couple going through a divorce; a portrait of a husband and wife on fire, so to speak. It’s not gooey or sentimental like so many breakup movies, and the even-handed script’s refusal to take a side, how it sympathizes with and hears from both Nicole and Charlie, played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, is admirable. It’s an ugly split, told with compassion.

Against: I’m not sure I’m ready for a “meme movie” to win Best Picture.

1917

For: I say this as a compliment: 1917 is a video game movie. I felt the same sweaty-palmed tension as the camera follows Schofield and Blake through the trenches as I do playing Call of Duty. The lack of cuts (or cut scenes?) keeps you in the moment, as if you’re on the blood-soaked battlefield alongside Lieutenant Hot Priest and the British soldiers. 1917 is an undeniable cinematic achievement with an effective gimmick…

Against: …a gimmick that occasionally takes you out of the movie by drawing attention to itself. Characters act curiously for the sake of visual drama, because it would look cool, and there’s a long lull where the movie almost seems to be re-charging its battery before the (admittedly terrific) climax. Maybe 1917 can win Game of the Year instead.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

For: The only Martin Scorsese-directed movie to win Best Picture is The Departed. Now, while I love Jack Nicholson’s attempt at a Boston accent as much as the next guy who’s been to Dunkin’, The Departed is not Scorsese’s best picture. Top 10, sure, but it’s no Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Cape Fear, and Goodfellas, all of which were either ignored entirely by the Academy or lost to less-deserving films (including, famously, Driving Miss Daisy). Meanwhile, unlike Scorsese, a Quentin Tarantino movie has never won Best Picture — wouldn’t it be satisfying if he won for what might be his best movie? It’s arguably his most re-watchable. Do it for Easy Breezy!

Against: I’ll just leave this here.

Parasite

For: Parasite is not only one of the best movies of 2019 — it’s one of the best movies of the 2010s. Beyond being a criticial favorite, though (it was named the best-reviewed film of last year by Rotten Tomatoes), Bong Joon Ho’s deeply funny social thriller is also a surprise hit at the box office, having made over $120 million worldwide. With its brilliant depiction of a poor family and a rich family becoming entangled, Parasite tells an evergreen story about class warfare, while also being extremely of this moment. If nothing else, it would be fun to hear a (historic) acceptance speech from Bong, who called the Oscars “not an international film festival. They’re very local.” #BongHive

Against: There isn’t one. This should win Best Picture.

×