Friday, January 1, 2021

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2019

The Contenders:

Ford v. Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywod
Parasite (winner)

What’s Missing

The danger of doing this for such a recent year is that there are plenty of films that I haven’t seen yet, of course. That being the case, I’m expecting there will be a good number of suggestions. In addition, there are a good number of movies from 2019 that I saw and enjoyed (Captain Marvel, Shazam, John Wick 3) that aren’t really the kind of things I would take seriously as a Best Picture candidate. There are some that I think are warranted possibilities, though. These can start with Doctor Sleep, which I think is probably a controversial pick, but one that I think builds on the previous movie extremely well. Ad Astra isn’t really Oscar’s style, but it would be an interesting addition. Parasite naturally got all of the foreign movie attention, but Pain and Glory deserved some and could be here. Oscar doesn’t love horror movies, which makes choices like Midsommar unlikely. Horror-adjacent movies like The Lighthouse and Swallow are in that same boat. Knives Out could well have been here, and I’d have loved to have seen it in the list over several of the actual nominees. Finally, The Farewell seems overlooked because, well, Oscar still has a serious race problem.

Weeding through the Nominees

9. I liked eight of the nine nominees well enough to say that I liked them. The one I didn’t like was Marriage Story, regardless of the quality of the cast. This movie seemed to me like a film about really terrible people doing their best to make each other as miserable as possible. I didn’t like any of the characters and I didn’t want any of them to be happy or successful. I wanted them to be off my screen as quickly as I could get them off my screen. Even if I liked the movie in question, that’s going to be tough to overcome…and I didn’t like the movie at all.

8. What can I say about Ford v. Ferrari that justifies eighth place? I’m not much of a fan of auto racing—I don’t really care about it and I didn’t when I cared about sports. But that’s not it, because I thoroughly enjoyed Grand Prix this year. No, the problem with Ford v. Ferrari is that it felt pretty bloodless. For all of the money and racing and competition involved in this, I was pretty emotionally detached from the whole thing. I’m not convinced it deserves to be here, and it’s hard to get beyond that.

7. Before I talk about why I am putting Little Women in seventh, I should say that I will watch anything Greta Gerwig ever directs and I will actively seek out her films. The problem with Little Women is that I just don’t like the story. I like what Gerwig did with it, in the sense that the ending is a bit meta and very much “grrl power” in its message, but I still don’t like the source material that much. It’s the same problem I have with almost every version of Romeo and Juliet—I can’t get over the fact that the source material doesn’t work for me.

6. Here’s the problem with Joker: there are two ways to interpret it. If this is meant to be more or less taken at face value, this is purely incel wish fulfillment fantasy. It’s well-made incel wish fulfillment, but it’s still a movie that glorifies the worst part of a lot of people. If, instead, it was intended to be taken as something going on entirely inside the head of the main character, it’s a fantastic piece of satire. I honestly don’t know which is correct. I have a feeling that Joaquin Phoenix agrees with my second interpretation. Sadly, I think Todd Phillips might stick with the first.

5. I know it’s not a shock that I’m putting Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood in the middle here, but in my own defense, I’ve put it higher than at least one movie I liked more. My problem with it is the problem I always have with Tarantino. It’s ridiculously self-indulgent and large parts of it are designed specifically so Tarantino can show off in terms of his knowledge of obscure cinema and trivia. I don’t really care about how much he knows; I care about what I’m watching. Cut 30 minutes from this and it likely moves up multiple spots.

4. Based on that criticism, the epic-length The Irishman seems to have a much larger problem in the length than did Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, despite my placing this one higher. The truth is, though, that while this movie is considerably longer, and perhaps far too long, I don’t think there’s as much that could be cut here. Scorsese still makes a great film, and I love the fact that De Niro and Pacino still have these performances in them. And give it up for Joe Pesci, too. I like the movie, but it’ll be a long and cold day when I think to watch it again.

3. Jojo Rabbit is probably the first of these movies that I could see actually winning Best Picture, but this one strikes a tone that I think Oscar finds difficult. Oscar often has issues with comedy, and Jojo Rabbit’s very much a comedy. It’s also very dark, features its director as Hitler, and has as its main character who thinks he is espousing Nazi political ideology. It’s a brilliant movie, but I also understand that at a glance, it looks like it could be very much sending the wrong message. But I would have been okay with it winning.

2. I very much grew up on movies that glorified war, particularly World War II. My tastes have changed a great deal in the past couple of decades, and I’m not so much a fan of movies that glorify war these days. 1917 runs an interesting line in that respect. There are those who could see it as a glorification of war. But it also seems to me like the sort of thing where what could be seen as glorification is happening only by the people who didn’t run the risk of dying or have to do the killing. And really, this won the awards it should have—cinematography, for instance.

My Choice

1. If you go back a few years in these Oscar posts, you’ll find at least one post where I discuss the fact that I don’t think there will ever be a non-English winner for Best Picture. Happily, that was a prediction that turned out to be wrong. Parasite was the correct winner of this Oscar and for once, Oscar actually gave the award to the foreign language film that genuinely deserved it. Bong Joon Ho is one of the best and most vital directors working, and his films demand to be watched. Parasite is brilliant, and it was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. So far, the nominees I haven't seen so far are 1917, Ford v. Ferrari, and The Irishman. To me, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood was the best film of the year though I had very personal reasons for loving that film. I have no problem with Parasite winning Best Picture as it was the right film and a historic one at least. The look in Jane Fonda's face when she read that envelope and just said the name and everything was like YEAH!!!!!

    My mom loved that film and she then told her friend about it and it spread like wildfire.

    Another film that I think should've gotten nominated as it was the last film I saw last year is A Hidden Life as I think it's Terrence Malick's most accessible work since The New World.

    1. I think there's a lot that can be cut from Once Upon a Time, but I like a lot of the base story. I've said it before and I'll keep on saying it--Tarantino would be a lot better if he stopped trying to be awesome and started trying to be merely good.