There are only 8 nominees for the Best Picture Academy Award at the 2019 Oscars (there were 9 last year) and the voting body in charge of nominated the films – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences – has come under a lot of criticism for its choice of the overall field. From the controversy behind the making of Bohemian Rhapsody to the problematic political motivations and personal beliefs surrounding Green Book, the debut of streaming within the Best Picture race via Roma to the political quagmire that is Vice, there seems to be a debate surrounding each and every nomination in 2019 more so than any other year in recent history.
In this edition of Ranked, the 8 chosen 2019 Best Picture Oscar nominees are to be ranked from worst to best based on their quality, appeal and importance as a piece of cinematic art from the year 2018.
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8. Bohemian Rhapsody
An uplifting and engaging medley of Queen greatest hits Bohemian Rhapsody may have been, but Oscar Best Picture contender it most certainly should not have been.
Shoddy editing brought together the overtly bland visions of two directors – one of whom was fired midway through production for turning up late and/or intoxicated on many an occasion and has since been accused by dozens of people of sexual misconduct and assault towards minors – and the overall presentation of lead character Freddie Mercury’s bisexuality left a lot to be desired.
Bohemian Rhapsody simply catalogued a series of important band moments, making excuses for hit after hit while offering very little under the surface. More than high art, Bohemian Rhapsody was a nostalgia trip for fans of the more socially acceptable and universally appreciated aspects of Queen and particularly Freddie Mercury, a picture with one very good performance in the midst of an otherwise safe product – “product” being precisely what it was.
There seems to be at least one film on the Best Picture list each year that is far behind the rest of the pack. In 2019, that film is the messy and troublesome Bohemian Rhapsody.
7. A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born proved to be an important starting point for the directorial career of debut feature director Bradley Cooper and the acting career of first-time feature lead Lady Gaga with both offering quality work in their respective roles, but the remake was hardly the ground-breaking work of what else is to come on this list, nor did it offer new themes or explorations that weren’t already on offer in any one of its numerous predecessors.
The music was generally good and the way Cooper shot the concerts in particular brought to life the music industry in a way unmatched by even the most sophisticated of live concert recordings, and Cooper himself was fantastic as the alcoholic co-lead struggling to adapt to his waning stardom. Gaga also seemed to hit expectations out of the park while the small supporting cast did more than enough to support her progress, but the film did suffer from an off-beat editing style that destroyed the pacing and left many a moment on the precipice of tugging heart strings without ever truly delivering. It seems that A Star Is Born was judged against low expectations of a first time director and star as opposed to against the very best in its field, the box office hit perhaps being included as much for its popular appeal as its overall quality.
About as divisive as any film on the Best Picture list in 2019, Adam McKay’s political satire Vice is either the eye-opener we all need or an inappropriate and even exploitative film depending on what section of the internet you surround yourself with.
Vice does feature a number of impressive performances, not least from its lead Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, and does manage to capture some of the lightning in a bottle that McKay captured with his previous Best Picture nominee The Big Short a number of years ago, but as yet another film with awkward pacing issues and a number of sequences seemingly inconsequential to the overall thematic and personal explorations on offer in the film, Vice is perhaps too long and is certainly too self-indulgent; The Big Short it is not.
It seems that Vice was a step just over the line of acceptable from Adam McKay in many ways, the self-congratulatory presentation of its premise failing to capture the imagination for large amounts of its overdrawn run-time, the tone of the film feeling somewhat confused as to whether it was a comedy or a drama. It’s not that Vice is particularly bad, just not overwhelmingly good as we’ve come to expect from Best Picture nominees.
5. Black Panther
The cultural phenomenon of American cinema in 2018, Black Panther was an important landmark in a wide range of respects from its box office busting numbers to the power behind the portrayals of particular characters. Acted well and thematically as engaging as any film on this list, Marvel Studios’ coming out party for black superheroes was an incredibly important landmark that surpassed the confines of the action-fantasy genre to truly resonate with even the most hardened of superhero movie haters.
Michael B. Jordan was fantastic as one of the truly great comic book movie villains and director Ryan Coogler’s dedication to getting the character to a place from which he would become empathetic was important not only for the entire purpose of the movie’s unifying outward image but also for Marvel Studios, a production house not too familiar with spectacularly written, well motivated movie antagonists.
However, with a number of CG moments that look as goofy as some of the central concepts and a lowest common denominator structure tying its deeper themes to the typical Marvel Studios formula that aims for accessibility and common appreciation more than nuance and/or challenging reflection, Black Panther seems to have become the first ever superhero movie nominated for Best Picture off the back of its cultural merits and the popular outcry from its vocal fan-base rather than its achievements as a piece of art removed from that. Even so, what is art if it is not connected to our culture and societal history?
Black Panther is a very good, memorable superhero film, but much like the films that have come before it on this list, it doesn’t seem to be in the same conversation as what’s to follow.