It’s the time of the year again, as the prestigious 2020 Oscars (92nd Academy Awards) is set to air this Sunday night on 9 February (Monday morning on 10 February in Malaysia time zone) to announce its winners.
This year, there are 9 Best Pictures nominations in total, with Todd Phillips’ Joker leading the pack (11 nominations) while three nominees — Sam Mendes’ 1917, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood — are all close second with 10 each. Rounding up the Best Pictures nominees are Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit (6 each) as well as James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari (4).
Here are the 9 Best Pictures nominees, all ranked from worst to best.
9) Jojo Rabbit
On paper, Taika Waititi’s latest comedy-drama sounds promising enough: A WWII satire set during the Nazi era about a 10-year-old German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) whose imaginary friend happens to be Adolf Hitler (Waititi). Although Jojo Rabbit boasts an excellent newcomer in the form of French-British child actor Roman Griffin Davis with solid supporting turns including Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Taika Waititi himself, this so-called “anti-hate satire” feels somewhat hollow and largely unfunny. I enjoyed some of Waititi’s eccentric works in the past including 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows and 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok but this time, his attempt on combining wacky satire and heartfelt coming-of-age dramedy comes across as a feeble piece of work.
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress – Scarlett Johansson, Best Adapted Screenplay – Taika Waititi, Best Film Editing – Tom Eagles, Best Costume Design – Mayes C. Rubeo and Best Production Design – Ra Vincent and Nora Sopková)
8) Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino’s ode to Hollywood showbiz of the 1960s is far from his best work, particularly if compared with the likes of Pulp Fiction (1994) and Inglourious Basterds (2009). At 161 minutes, the movie’s leisurely-paced approach stretches a little too long for its own good while it’s odd that some of the all-star supporting roles aren’t given much to do here (Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate and Al Pacino’s Hollywood agent role as Marvin Schwarz come to mind). Still, Tarantino does a great job bringing out the best in Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, who both shared terrific buddy-movie chemistry while Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood successfully recreates the 1960s era of Hollywood setting in meticulous detail. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 10 (Best Picture, Best Director – Quentin Tarantino, Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt, Best Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino, Best Cinematography – Robert Richardson, Best Costume Design – Arianne Phillips, Best Production Design – Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh, Best Sound Mixing – Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano and Best Sound Editing – Wylie Stateman)
7) Marriage Story
Far from this year’s Kramer vs. Kramer — the 1979 Oscar-winning and quintessential divorce drama that famously won five major categories including Best Picture and Best Director, writer-director Noah Baumbach’s bittersweet take at the marital struggle and aftermath of a divorce between two artists (Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole and Adam Driver’s Charlie) isn’t exactly as great as I initially expected. But it does feature two of among finest performances ever seen in 2019, as both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver give their all with respectively engaging performances. The movie also boasts some of Baumbach’s sharply-written dialogues as well as memorable moments, notably the voiceover opening montage summarising what they love about each other and of course, the climactic argument scene.
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Actor – Adam Driver, Best Actress – Scarlett Johansson, Best Supporting Actress – Laura Dern, Best Original Screenplay – Noah Baumbach and Best Original Score – Randy Newman)
6) Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s highly-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s universally-acclaimed Lady Bird sees the Sacramento-born writer-director tackled another coming-of-age subject in Little Women, which is based upon Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 novel of the same name. The story about the four March sisters overcome the trials and tribulations of growing up as well as their careers and relationships have been told numerous times before, namely the 1933 George Cukor version starring Katharine Hepburn and the popular Winona Ryder-led 1994 film. Here, Gerwig stepped up her game by taking the beloved story to a fascinating non-linear structure — a result that made the otherwise oft-seen material all the more fresh and invigorating. While it can be confusing at times, credits go to Gerwig for giving each actress who plays the March sisters (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen) ample time to prove their worth. All four of them display terrific performances, with Ronan and Pugh particularly steal most of the show.
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Actress – Saoirse Ronan, Best Supporting Actress – Florence Pugh, Best Adapted Screenplay – Greta Gerwig, Best Costume Design – Jacqueline Durran and Best Original Score – Alexandre Desplat)
Who could have thought that a psychological thriller inspired by a certain famous comic-book antagonist ended up with a whopping 11 Oscar nominations? Todd Phillips’ Joker was a huge hit among many comic-book fans and audiences, thanks largely to Joaquin Phoenix’s captivating turn as the title character. His committed performance as a loner suffering from both mental and psychological breakdown is among Phoenix’s best acting ever seen in his career. It would be a crime if the Academy chooses to surprise us with another unexpected winner, considering Phoenix is seen as a shoo-in to win the coveted Best Actor award. Except for the story that resembled a watered-down version of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), Phillips does successfully captured the look and feel of a 1970s character-driven psychodrama while Hildur Guðnadóttir’s ominous score complements the overall theme of the movie. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 11 (Best Picture, Best Director – Todd Phillips, Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix, Best Adapted Screenplay – Todd Phillips and Scott Silver, Best Cinematography – Lawrence Sher, Best Costume Design – Mark Bridges, Best Makeup & Hairstyling – Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou, Best Original Score – Hildur Guðnadóttir, Best Film Editing – Jeff Groth, Best Sound Mixing – Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic and Tod A. Maitland and Best Sound Editing – Alan Robert Murray)
4) Ford v Ferrari
Sure, the screenplay — credited to Jez and John-Henry Butterworth along with Jason Keller — is nothing more than your standard-issue biopic formula about the underdog Ford team attempting to beat the all-conquering, race-car champion of Ferrari during the 1966’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. But James Mangold made great use of the old-fashioned spin of a biographical drama to his advantage, blending solid character-driven drama led by Matt Damon and Christian Bale with top-notch performances all around. Then, there’s the climactic racing scene where Mangold made the smart choice of staging them as practical as possible with minimum CGI. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 4 (Best Picture, Best Film Editing – Andrew Buckland and Michael McCusker, Best Sound Mixing – Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven Morrow and Best Sound Editing – Donald Sylvester)
Bong Joon-Ho’s historic Palme d’Or winner is undoubtedly a one-of-the-kind psychological thriller. His story, which explored the class divides between the rich and the poor may have echoed the thematic similarity seen in Snowpiercer (2013) but Bong Joon-Ho’s sneaky direction is fascinating enough. The kind that defies genre expectations as he seamlessly rotating between drama, comedy and thriller while keeping you intrigued with unexpected twists and turns. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Director – Bong Joon-Ho, Best Original Screenplay – Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin-Won, Best International Feature Film, Best Production Design – Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won-Woo and Best Film Editing – Jinmo Yang)
2) The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s 3 1/2 hours’ worth of a gangster epic isn’t exactly for everyone. His meditative approach may be deemed too slow for those looking another vibrant Goodfellas or Casino-like redux while Scorsese’s risky decision of utilising de-ageing effects to make the older actors look younger is a mixed bag. And yet, The Irishman remains one of the best works from the legendary auteur, as he explores his familiar gangster-drama territory with a more melancholy approach. Beyond the violent nature of its subject matter lies a genuinely reflective drama about friendships, remorses and mortality. The movie also benefits from a trio of late-career performances including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and the long-missed Joe Pesci in his perfectly restrained mob role as Russell Bufalino. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 10 (Best Picture, Best Director – Martin Scorsese, Best Supporting Actor – Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, Best Adapted Screenplay – Steven Zaillian, Best Cinematography – Rodrigo Prieto, Best Costume Design – Christopher Peterson and Sandy Powell, Best Production Design – Bob Shaw and Regina Graves, Best Film Editing – Thelma Schoonmaker and Best Visual Effects – Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda and Stephane Grabli)
In what could have been a typical World War I epic about two young lance corporals (Dean-Charles Chapman’s Blake and George MacKay’s Schofield) assigned by their general to deliver an important message to a battalion that will save 1,600 British soldiers, co-writer and director Sam Mendes injects a fresh spin to the well-worn genre. And that is, staging 1917 to make it look like a single-shot film. The result is technically impressive, thanks to Lee Smith’s impeccable editing and Roger Deakins’ arresting cinematography. But 1917 is more than just a mere technical achievement as Mendes also brings enough emotional weight to the otherwise minimalist storyline with solid characterisations played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 10 (Best Picture, Best Director – Sam Mendes, Best Original Screenplay – Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins, Best Makeup & Hairstyling – Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole, Best Production Design – Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales, Best Original Score – Thomas Newman, Best Visual Effects – Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy, Best Sound Mixing – Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson and Best Sound Editing – Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate)