Friday, January 7, 2022

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2020

The Contenders:

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Nomadland (winner)
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

What’s Missing

For as crappy a year as 2020 was in so many ways, it was a very good year for movies. For a wonder, I don’t object to any of the movies that were nominated for Best Picture—in fact, I rated all eight of them at either 4 or 4 ½ stars. It’s going to make sorting them out very interesting. There are some other movies I liked quite a bit from 2020 that might get some play here as well. Superhero movies are still seen as kids’ fare and unserious, which will leave out the wild entertainment of Birds of Prey. Horror movies and science fiction, while starting to get more respect in the Academy, are still underrepresented, which leaves out The Invisible Man, Possessor, Relic, and His House. For whatever reason Shirley was completely ignored, and Elisabeth Moss deserved to get some recognition. The White Tiger and One Night in Miami are as good as anything nominated, but managed only recognition in the screenplay area. For my money, the biggest miss was Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

Weeding through the Nominees

8. The first of these I watched (I think) is the one I’m putting in last place. Mank is the film I would most happily jettison to make room for movies I liked better. There’s nothing specifically wrong with Mank aside from its inherent incestuous nature. The Academy loves movies about movies and loves it when movie people are the heroes, so this was guaranteed some nominations. I’m not convinced it really deserves them, though, and while I didn’t dislike Mank (and, in fact, I liked it well enough), it’s better in theory than it is in actuality.

7. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a very good movie with two major strikes against it. The first is the fact that there is another movie in this group that is about the same moment in time, and that movie is substantially better. The second problem is the presence of Eddie Redmayne. I realize that this is a personal bias on my part—I don’t generally like Redmayne and find his presence in most things forgettable at best. These rankings are personal, though, and sometimes I have to deal with fine distinctions. This is a good movie, but the better movie about the same general topic ranks much higher.

6. Minari is a very good movie, and one that I wish I liked a little better. There is perhaps no better cinematic depiction of the American dream from the past couple of decades than this one. It is a slice of life picture, showing the trials and problems of an immigrant family trying to make a life for themselves in a part of the country that in some ways might not be that friendly to them. It’s a good story, but I struggled in some cases with the characters. Specifically, I’m talking about Jacob. Steven Yuen is excellent in the role, but Jacob is not a person I liked spending a lot of time with.

5. Now is where the distinctions start to get a lot more difficult. Of the films that remain, The Father might not be honestly in fifth place, but it is the movie that was the hardest for me to watch. I’m dealing with an aging father right now whose greatest fear is slipping mentally so seeing this depicted in such a brutal way was not easy. It’s a damn good movie and Hopkins might be the best he’s ever been, but it’s not a movie I want to watch again any time soon. Like it or not, rewatchability is a part of how I rank these movies.

4. Winner Nomadland is in many ways the dark side of Minari. It’s a much more modern film about a different sort of American dream. In this case, it’s less the traditional dream and more about finding a way to fit into a society that is increasingly hostile to almost everyone. I like a lot of where the story goes, and Frances McDormand is almost always going to be worth watching in anything she does. But I do feel like it meanders a bit. That’s almost certainly intentional because of the subject matter, but a clear conclusion would help a little.

3. Based on what happens in the movie, Judas and the Black Messiah is a hard film to say that I enjoyed, but it is one that I would very happily watch a second time. The story is one that still resonates, and while it is smaller in some ways than The Trial of the Chicago 7, it is also substantially more important in a lot of ways. If you’re not someone who supports the #BLM movement, you’ll find a lot here that makes you angry or that you’ll consider fake news. That’s on you, because the story of Fred Hampton is one that still needs to be told and is still relevant.

My Choices

2. I find it very difficult to differentiate between the last two and would be happy with either of them winning. Ultimately, I’m putting Sound of Metal in second place because of a reason I will describe in the paragraph below. This is an intensely personal film, and one that creates an immediately sympathetic situation. The tight focus on the struggles of drummer Ruben as he deals with something that will likely destroy his link to one of the only things he has ever loved is depressing, enlightening, and wonderful all at once. This is a revelation, as was Riz Ahmed.

1. While I liked all of these movies to some degree, I’m putting Promising Young Woman on the top for one simple reason: no other movie from 2020 has stayed with me or affected me more than this one. I said it when I reviewed it that this kind of revenge movie is best put in the hands of women as the writers and the directors because that is the way the story really needs to be told. This is sardonic and black, but leaves open just a small hint of dark hopefulness at the end. This is a masterpiece, and perhaps the best noir-tangential film of the last ten years. It’s my pick.

Final Analysis


  1. I haven't seen any of these films but I'm trying to catch up on them now that I have access to some streaming services that will allow me to watch these films.

    1. I think they're all pretty good at least. It's a good collection of films, even if I would change some nominations.

  2. It was of course a very weird year, but credit to the industry for soldiering on and releasing some interesting films.

    I've so far seen five of the nominees. I gave Nomadland, Mank, and Sound Of Metal 3 stars; The Trial Of The Chicago Seven 4 stars; and Promising Young Woman 5 stars - so I liked your selection at #1!

    My other 5 star movies from 2020 (so far) are The Devil All The Time and Extraction.

    1. I'll be curious to hear your views on the others. Judas and the Black Messiah is a hell of a movie. The Father is a hard watch--it's great and Hopkins is brilliant, but it's not one I want to watch again.