After nominating eight (from a possible ten) Best Picture nominees in 2019, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has this year returned to the same number as in 2018, nine; nominating films as wide ranging as auteur-driven dramas to adept thrillers, comic book adaptations to Nazi satire. The result is a rich selection of strong films, including an International Feature nominee for only the sixth time in history, and while the controversy surrounding the Oscars is as strong as ever in 2020, the Best Picture race seems as wide open as it has been for years.
That’s why, in this edition of Ranked, the nine films ordained as Best Picture nominees by The Academy will be ranked from worst to best; the only criteria being the quality of the art and the impact said art has had on the form as a whole.
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9. Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
There is no doubt that Tarantino knows how to construct a film, and this release was certainly born of a vivid imagination set on offering thrills and laughs, but Once Upon a Time was awkwardly edited, sometimes so much so that its sequences were completely at odds with one another, and it went on for way too long, lingering in scenes that were less useful to the overall narrative as they were to serving its creator’s ego.
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are the standouts of this particular Tarantino offering, each being on top form as the co-leads, and the focus the filmmaker placed upon the two actors was a refreshing take for a screenwriter usually intent on building ensembles. But, while the script did offer a number of moments indicative of the filmmaker’s genius, there were way too many points of significant downtime, and Tarantino’s insistence upon referencing his own work both on the screen and away from it seemed to flood the film with a feeling of self-indulgence the infrequent thrills simply couldn’t mask.
This picture, of course referencial to the very industry that has nominated it (Hollywood), at times looks as much like a grandiose 60s studio film as we’ll likely ever see in the modern era, but in a year where filmmakers were making arguably the very best movies of their careers and some films were making a case for being the best of the decade, this Tarantino offering felt remarkably safe and at time uncharacteristically shoddy, rooting it to the number 9 spot in this list.
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8. Jojo Rabbit
A movie very much featuring the same discrepencies in filmmaking choices as the above mentioned Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, though coming from a filmmaker who comes across as if he’s on an opposite trajectory to his more experienced fellow director, is Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, the Nazi satire about a boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler.
When 20th Century Fox were purchased by Disney, there were murmerings of the conglomerates’ resistance to distribute this film given its particularly spikey subject matter, and while we will perhaps never know of the intricacies of their decision to remain in charge of the project, it seems like the possibility of pushing this as an awards season movie was probably one of them. After all, satire rarely makes it to the Oscars, especially not in the Best Picture race.
Jojo Rabbit did tackle particularly hard-hitting aspects of Nazi rule in Germany during World War 2 however, and struck many emotional chords in what seemed like the perfect construction of its screenwriter-director’s talents for merging comedy and empathy. There were strong performances across the board too, many of which were from actors with lesser reputations than those on offer in other films on this list, and when a film can make you laugh and cry in equal measure it must certainly have fulfilled its obligation.
It’s not that Jojo Rabbit isn’t a remarkable film, it’s more that the ways in which it excels are limited in comparison to the other films on this list, the movie’s best parts being weighed down by less stellar elements (good but not excellent cinematography, accurate but not remarkable set design, etc.) in an equally as important though distinctly different way to Once Upon a Time, its improved position being the result of it featuring a substantially higher amount of hearty goodness at its core.