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.
Recommended for you: A Millennial’s Take on Vice
4. Green Book
As seems to be the case with just about every Best Picture nominee in 2019, Green Book has become quite the source of division between the internet community, critics and enthusiasts alike.
The Oscar campaign for the film kicked off positively with the film receiving a host of early awards season wins and all the Oscars buzz that goes with it, but incredibly ill-informed comments from the screenwriter, the director and star Viggo Mortensen in the months that have followed have seen the film fall in the graces of just about everyone who had ever defended it. The picture, which has been judged to be white washing a Black American experience and is indisputably centred on Viggo Mortensen’s white character as opposed to the Best Actor nominee Mahershala Ali, was already a source of controversy before the comments but at this stage seems entirely out of the running.
Poorly informed comments aside, Green Book is a moving portrait of a developing platonic relationship between two entirely different people and is photographed with a class and sophistication in-keeping with some of the greatest Best Picture nominees of this century. Mortensen is simply sensational in his role as the brutish and racist Italian American at the film’s centre (characterisation controversy aside), while Mahershala Ali offers a phenomenal performance of class, sophistication and elegance as the real-life musician around whom the narrative of Mortensen’s character circulates.
Green Book looks and feels like an Oscars Best Picture nominee, but it relies too heavily on particular tropes and a whole heap of cliche to ever truly consider it to be in contention for the award. This is a well made film, but the intentions behind it are questionable and the comments of its creators even more so, placing it as high as number 5 based on the failings of its competitors more than its own successes.
Recommended for you: Green Book’s Verdant Views on Race Allow Inherent Contradiction
4. 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 the films to follow.