Every single film nominated for a 2020 Oscar, ranked
There are 76 hours of Oscar-nominated feature films. Two movies are harrowing documentaries about Syrian hospitals, two are based on magazine articles. Three films revolve around impending matrimony, and one around divorce. There are at least eight brutal snubs (don't worry Hustlers and The Farewell, I haven't forgotten about you). And, of course, there are the all-important nine films competing for the title of Best Picture.
But the most impressive movies of the 2020 Oscar class aren't necessarily the ones nominated for the top awards. Here are all 38 of the feature film nominees, ranked from worst to best (you can see last year's ranking here).
Movies that are bad
Nominated for: Best picture; actor in a leading role (Joaquin Phoenix); directing; adapted screenplay; cinematography; film editing; sound editing; sound mixing; original score; makeup and hair; costume design
There will be many who balk at Joker's placement at the bottom of my list — the film was a hit with audiences, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time shortly after its release. Even many of the film's most negative critics have found space to praise Joaquin Phoenix for his performance as the mentally-ill Arthur Fleck, who makes a shaky living as a clown before society beats him low enough to retaliate (the plot functions as an origin story for the Batman villain, although it isn't tied directly to the larger DC Cinematic Universe). In practice, though, Joker is a pompous and insultingly hollow film, full of half-baked philosophizing and empty gestures it mistakes as profound. That being said, the film's lack of redeeming artistic qualities doesn't mean those who have condemned it for "endorsing" violence are right. Please. It is The New Yorker's Anthony Lane who said it best: "I happen to dislike the film as heartily as anything I've seen in the past decade," he wrote, "but I realize, equally, that to vent any inordinate wrath toward it is to fall straight into its trap, for outrage merely proves that our attention has been snagged." Read our full review here.
37. The Lion King
Nominated for: Visual effects
This year's Oscar for Most Unnecessary Remake goes to The Lion King, an all but shot-for-shot, photorealistic reconstruction of the 1994 hand-drawn original. Directed by Jon Favreau, who apparently did not learn any lessons from the disaster that was The Jungle Book (2016), The Lion King squanders an immensely talented voice cast (Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyoncé!) by pinning them behind the expressionless faces of CGI lions, warthogs, and mandrills. The film nevertheless became the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and it's worthy, at least, of its nomination for visual effects; it might be dreadfully boring, but it's uncanny to look at. Most of all, The Lion King gave me a renewed appreciation for what I love and miss about traditional animation: its emotion, its artistry, its soul. Read our full review here.
36. Jojo Rabbit
Nominated for: Best picture; actress in a supporting role (Scarlett Johansson); adapted screenplay; film editing; production design; costume design
Jojo Rabbit is this year's Green Book: You either love it, or you really, really don't. I'm firmly in the latter camp, finding that the comedy by director Taika Waititi was "more interested in making jokes about silly ol' Nazis than exploring the other questions it raises." The movie tells the story of young Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), who idolizes Adolf Hitler (Waititi) to the point of making him his imaginary friend, only to have his prejudices called into question when he learns his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is sheltering a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. While the self-congratulatory script seems to think that mocking Nazis is in and of itself a withering comeback to fascists, I found it to be sorely mistaken. Read our full review here.
Nominated for: Original song
Breakthrough is the odd-one-out of this year's Oscars class, a faith-based film that feels more like a made-for-TV movie than your typical awards bait. Based on a true story, John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) is a typical American 14-year-old whose mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz), is having a hard time adjusting to his newfound independence. Everything comes to a screeching halt when John falls through an icy lake with his friends; by the time rescue crews retrieve him and take him to the hospital, he's been declared dead for 45 minutes. Doctors have all but given up, but when Joyce prays over her son, his pulse miraculously returns. There are glimpses of a good movie buried in here somewhere, one that more deeply grapples with doubt, the coexistence of faith and science, and why some people's prayers are answered with miracles while others' are not. Without that nuance, Breakthrough is preaching blindly to its own choir; some have gone as far as to brand it as "propaganda." One bright spot is Metz, who is clearly giving the movie her all; her performance of "I'm Standing With You" earned this movie its Oscar nomination.
Nominated for: Actress in a leading role (Charlize Theron); actress in a supporting role (Margot Robbie); makeup and hair
The #MeToo revolution might be the hottest trend in movies, but Bombshell, alas, is an example of what not to do. The movie valorizes the women of Fox News who helped bring down Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for his decades of sexual harassment and coercion, but fails to fully examine their own contribution to Fox News' "dangerous, bigoted, and inflammatory rhetoric." At the movie's center are Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and an up-and-coming talent named Kayla, a composite character played by Margot Robbie. "Those women, as real and historical figures, have contributed to the rise of a network that has often made a mockery of the very things Bombshell celebrates: collaboration, courage, justice," observed The Atlantic in its review. While the film itself is enjoyable enough to watch, it is ultimately a toothless exercise in accountability.
Nominated for: Original song
I went into Rocketman fearing another Bohemian Rhapsody from director Dexter Fletcher, and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that! Still, despite being hawked in its trailer as "based on a true fantasy," Rocketman is a fairly conventional biopic about Elton John's meteoric rise to rockstardom and his subsequent struggles with addiction and self-worth. Taron Egerton being left out of the lead actor race was a particularly brutal blow for the movie, which was otherwise only nominated for the original song "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," written of course by John and his long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin. Featuring a number of John's sing-along hits — most of which are blandly choreographed in the style of what I like to call "the American Airlines safety video" — the movie is palatable, if unmemorable. Ask me about it in three years, and expect a blank stare. Read our full review here.
32. Frozen II
Nominated for: Original song
The biggest surprise of this year's Oscar nominations was Frozen II being left out of the Best Animated Film category. I have to say, though, I'm with the Academy on this one: Frozen II just doesn't have the oomph to compete in this year's stacked animation category. The story picks up where 2013's smash-hit left off, with Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) being summoned to the Enchanted Forest in the far north to try to restore balance to nature. Tagging along on the adventure, of course, are her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) and her friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad), and Sven. Nominated just for its original song, "Into the Unknown," even that pales in comparison to the original's "Let It Go." Read our full review here.
31. Ford v. Ferrari
Nominated for: Best picture; film editing; sound editing; sound mixing
Car movies have a long and storied history on screen. Two-Lane Blacktop. Mad Max: Fury Road. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 2019, Ford v. Ferrari joined their ranks touting good ol' American ingenuity in this film about the Ford Motor Company attempting to humiliate Ferrari at the Le Mans car race, ostensibly because Henry Ford II was mocked by Enzo Ferrari after a failed business deal (men, am I right?). To win, Ford taps the retired driver and race car engineer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who in turn puts his trust in the rough-around-the-edges driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale, having way too much fun). To precisely pinpoint what I didn't love about this movie, though, I might point you to The New York Post's rave review, which called it "an unapologetic salute to all the stuff we've forgotten is awesome: America, capitalism, corporations, competition, cars, and especially hard-charging, fist-pumping, danger-scorning masculinity." Maybe it's because I'm not a part of the target demographic (presumably, chest-thumping Boomers who love free market capitalism and reminisce about a time when wives stayed home to worry about their husbands over the radio), but the whole execution rubbed me the wrong way.
30. The Two Popes
Nominated for: Actor in a leading role (Jonathan Pryce); actor in a supporting role (Anthony Hopkins); adapted screenplay
It's one thing for a book to be wordy, but it's a whole other problem when a movie is. Of course, that's not always true: there are plenty of dialogue-heavy movies that are great, it's just that The Two Popes isn't one of them (I chalk up its "adapted screenplay" nomination to voters recognizing that it is a movie with a lot of words). Both the film and the biography on which it is based were written by Anthony Hopkins, who uses the texts to explore the rare conundrum of having two living popes, resulting from Benedict XIV's retirement in 2005 and Pope Francis' subsequent election. Hopkins, playing the former pope, and Jonathan Pryce, the latter, do a great job expressing the men's opposing philosophies and personalities, but the filmmaking is lackluster and does nothing to spice up long periods of exposition between characters; it's an actor's showcase more than anything, and still such an uninteresting one at that. That being said, the production design— including a recreation of the Sistine Chapel — deserved a nom.
29. Les Misérables
Nominated for: International feature
France's submission to the Oscar's newly-rebranded "International Feature" competition is an unsubtle examination of the tension between the police and the oppressed immigrant communities of the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil, where Victor Hugo wrote the masterpiece that loans its title to the movie. The story follows Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), who, new to the police force in Montfermeil, is put on patrol with Gwada (Djebril Zonga), a black officer who grew up in the neighborhood, and Chris (Alexis Manenti) who looks down on the "microbes" he's tasked with protecting. Director Ladj Ly attempts to provocatively ask "who's in the right?" with the movie's explosive ending, but Les Misérables ultimately pales in comparison to movies that have explored the same themes far better, like Do the Right Thing and La Haine.
28. Avengers: Endgame
Nominated for: Visual effects
Avengers: Endgame was one of the lowest-stakes movies I've ever walked into: The film starts off with half the population of the universe (and half of our heroes) "dead" after the purple supervillain Thanos snapped his fingers in the last movie while wearing the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet. But of course Marvel was always going to bring those characters back to life — leaving them dead would mean leaving money on the table. Additionally, while Endgame was positioned as being the end of an era, eight more Marvel projects already have titles and release dates, including two coming this year. Directed by the Russo brothers, Endgame was unjustifiably clumsy for a $350 million movie, with its planar action sequences and an unearned and pandering "lady Avengers assemble!" scene. Still, you can dig up entertaining nuggets throughout its 181-minute runtime, including a time travel adventure that brings us back to the first Avengers' film in a creative and visually-remarkable way. Even if technically and narratively Endgame is a colossal mess, it's still at times an indulgently fun popcorn movie. I clapped along. Read our full review here.
Nominated for: Actress in a leading role (Renée Zellweger); makeup and hair
Every year it seems there is at least one knock-down, slam-dunk performance that transforms an otherwise mediocre movie into something almost worthwhile: This year, it's Judy (last year it was The Wife). Renée Zellweger is magnificent in this biopic, which zeroes in on the final, troubled months of Judy Garland's life. While director Rupert Goold includes frequent flashbacks to Garland's miserable adolescence during the making of The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis, I spent basically the whole time waiting for the camera to turn back to Zellweger, who portrays the damaged former child star during her attempt at a second act in London. But Garland isn't seeking stardom; rather, she dreams of the financial independence to reunite with her children, who her ex-husband is threatening to take custody of. Prognosticators say Zellweger is almost certainly a lock for Best Actress; if so, it would be well-earned.
Movies that are fine
26. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Nominated for: Makeup and hair
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is, strangely, one of three children's movie sequels from 2019 to be about marriage (Frozen II and How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World also have matrimony subplots). The story catches up with Aurora (Elle Fanning) as she prepares to marry Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), a union that Phillip's mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), decides to leverage to try to kill Aurora's godmother, a powerful Dark Fay named Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). The character of Maleficent is a stunning on-screen creation, helped by the hair and makeup it was nominated for, certainly, but also in no small part by Jolie's naturally intense facial structure. While most Disney sequels are cringe-worthy affairs, this one has bursts of inspiration throughout: I could have seen it getting nominated for costumes and visual effects, as well.
25. American Factory
Nominated for: Documentary feature
In 2016, the Chinese company Fuyao opened an auto-glass manufacturing plant in a former General Motors building in Dayton, Ohio, hiring hundreds of local, out-of-work Americans. The tensions that ensued are captured by filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert in their fly-on-the-wall documentary American Factory, the first movie to come out of Barack and Michelle Obama's Higher Ground production company. From amusing cultural misunderstandings to more worrisome union-busting techniques, American Factory paints an important picture of both the rise of 21st century globalization and the erosion of worker protections within our own borders. Reichert has long been an intimate chronicler of Ohio's working class — she was honored with a 50-year retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art last year — and American Factory is, above all else, an achievement of access. At times, though, it can feel unfocused, or even borderline safe in its approach.
24. Missing Link
Nominated for: Animated feature
The stop motion studio Laika has earned its reputation making some of the most creative animated movies on screen these days, from Coraline to Kubo and the Two Strings. This year's Missing Link, about a Sasquatch who befriends a cryptozoologist, didn't reach quite the same highs as those other films for me, but it's still refreshingly unique (case in point: Missing Link marked only the fourth time ever that the animated Golden Globe didn't go to Disney, and it was the first non-computer-animated movie to win the award since it started being handed out in 2006).
23. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Nominated for: Sound editing; original score; visual effects
Watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was a little like watching a balloon deflate — so much of what I'd loved about Rian Johnson's contribution to the galaxy far, far away in The Last Jedi was undone by director J.J. Abrams' return to the franchise. "Lucasfilm's decision to produce this trilogy by letting different writers and directors with their own unique approaches tackle each installment, with not nearly enough long-term planning, nearly ruins the final film," my colleague Brendan Morrow wrote at The Week. "Virtually every one of the movie's significant problems can be traced back to this relay-race approach to the story." While I wasn't as down on the film as many other critics, I did wish it was a whole lot steamier. Read our full review here.
22. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Nominated for: Animated feature
I was pleasantly surprised by How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which might not be anything to write home about but still marked a solid conclusion to an adorable trilogy that first took flight nearly a decade ago, in 2010. The weight of wrapping up a story so long in the making can be felt, sometimes detrimentally, in the script; a subplot about Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) getting cold feet before proposing to Astrid (America Ferrera) seems mostly irrelevant to its younger audiences. Still, there are plenty of dragons — hundreds of them! — to marvel at, including Toothless and his newfound, scaly love interest. There's a bigger story, involving a dragon hunter and a quest to find a secret utopia, but it pales in comparison to the time spent with the original endearing characters we're sending off.
21. The Edge of Democracy
Nominated for: Documentary feature
Anyone seeking an unbiased explanation of the recent political events in Brazil will want to pass up The Edge of Democracy, which hews so close to its director's point of view that it might be best described as an essay film. Petra Costa is the daughter of revolutionaries who risked their lives fighting against the country's military dictatorship, which unraveled in 1985, and is an unapologetic supporter of the left-wing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (often referred to as simply "Lula") and his successor and ally, Dilma Rousseff. Through this lens, Costa describes her own roller coaster of emotions after both Lula and Rousseff were swept up in a corruption investigation which ended in Rousseff's impeachment, Lula's imprisonment, and the right-wing authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro rising to power. While Costa is undoubtedly correct in her conclusions about Brazil's corruption and the political motivation behind the ousting of Lula and Rousseff, she lets both her heroes off the hook fairly quickly, dismissing their trespasses as simply how things are done in Brazil. Still, she never pretends to not have a dog in the fight — rather, Edge of Democracy is best when it turns inward.
20. Corpus Christi
Nominated for: International feature
Corpus Christi is one of the most intriguing Oscar nominees on paper, but reveals itself to be mediocre art house fare upon viewing. Poland's submission to the International Feature competition, the film is based on a true story and follows 20-year-old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), an inmate at a juvenile prison who decides he wants to become a priest. He's prevented from pursuing a spiritual vocation, however, due to his criminal record; as a result, he impulsively decides to pass himself off as a man-of-the-cloth when he wanders into a small town that's been scarred by a drunk-driving accident that left seven locals dead. Uneven in its execution, Corpus Christi has flashes of greatness, Bielenia's performance being one. I just wish those moments were better sustained.
Movies that I liked
19. Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood
Nominated for: Best picture; actor in a leading role (Leonardo DiCaprio); actor in a supporting role (Brad Pitt); directing; original screenplay; cinematography; sound editing; sound mixing; production design; costume design
Although Quentin Tarantino has been a competitor for Best Original Screenplay ever since Pulp Fiction won in 1994, Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood marks his first-ever Best Picture nomination. While QT is still a long shot for actually winning, it's not a surprise that it was Once Upon a Time that got Academy voters' attention: The film is a love-letter to the American movie industry, and what's not to adore about the performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as the washed-up television actor Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, his stunt double? Perhaps the best performance of all, though, is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate; the scene of her watching her own movie is one of the best of the year. While Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood doesn't hit every mark — in many ways, it's a rehash of what Tarantino already explored in Inglourious Basterds — it's still a solid movie. Read our full review here.
Nominated for: Documentary feature; international feature
The two 2019 films that stressed me out the most were Uncut Gems and Honeyland, a documentary about a Macedonian beekeeper. Hatidze is the 54-year-old at Honeyland's center; she lives with her 85-year-old bedridden mother in the hills outside Skopje, and makes a meager living for them both by selling honey that she harvests from her hives. Soon her isolated life is interrupted when a family of nomadic cow herders set up next door; the patriarch, Hussein, notices Hatidze's production and decides to set up his own rival operation. At first Hatidze skeptically gives Hussein advice; soon, though, you find yourself tearing out your hair as Hussein makes a mess of Hatidze's quiet little corner of the world. The film was a hit at Sundance in 2019, and it's easy to see why: Honeyland is as enjoyable as the golden, viscous treat it is named after, if only more bittersweet.
17. The Lighthouse
Nominated for: Cinematography
The Lighthouse deserves its nomination for cinematography; its director of photography, Jarin Blaschke, told The Hollywood Reporter he used "custom filters made to emulate film stock that doesn't exist anymore." The effect paid off; not only did The Lighthouse earn one of the rare nominations for a black-and-white movie since the Academy started considering black-and-white and color films together, but the inky shadows do wonders to absorb you into the world of "wickies" living on a rock in the north Atlantic during the 1890s. Although I can't tell you everything that went down in this bonkers movie (only that you don't want to cross a seagull), I can say it all looked great. I only wish the movie had gotten a nod for its sound design, too. Read our full review here.
16. Toy Story 4
Nominated for: Animated feature; original song
The Toy Story franchise has been consistently fantastic since Woody and Buzz Lightyear made their debuts way back in 1995. The fourth installment deals with Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) as he is phased out of being the favorite toy by Bonnie after she "creates" Forky, a sentient and existentially-tortured spork. When Forky tries to throw his life away while Bonnie and her family are on a road trip, Woody embarks on a terrifying rescue mission to get him back. "[W]ith Pixar's typical self-aware brilliance, Woody's arc reflects our own feelings heading into Toy Story 4, as he faces the same questions about his value as we asked about the movie's," wrote Brendan Morrow for The Week. And like Woody, the movie earns, and deserves, its place. Read our full review here.
Nominated for: Animated feature
As someone who watched a little too much of the Hallmark Channel this holiday season, I'm not sure I could have been convinced there were any original Christmas stories left. Klaus, from Spanish animator Sergio Pablos, proved me wrong. The story follows Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), the son of a wealthy postman who is punished for his sloth by being shipped off by his pop to the village of Smeerenburg. Until 6,000 letters pass through the station, Jesper isn't allowed to leave the frigid post. Things look bleak — the town is home to two warring families that have no interest in sending each other mail — until he accidentally stumbles onto a scheme that involves egging on kids to put in requests to a local toy-maker. Yes, Klaus ends up as a sort of Santa origin story, but it's a version you are assured to have never heard before. The lovely art is the icing on the fruitcake.
14. For Sama
Nominated for: Documentary feature
For Sama is a powerful epistolary documentary addressed to the baby daughter of its 26-year-old director, Waad Al-Kateab, and which attempts to explain why Waad and her husband chose to have Sama in Aleppo during the siege. Taking place over the course of five years, Waad is never without a camera in her hand; she captures the early days of the Syrian Civil War, when she was an optimistic 18-year-old college student, as well as her blooming relationship and eventual marriage to Hamza Al-Kateab, a doctor. Soon Waad becomes pregnant, even as the war worsens around her small family; all the while, she is collecting footage, including upsetting scenes as Hamza attends to dead or gravely injured children. But, as one mother screams upon seeing Waad holding her camera, "Film us, let the world see." For Sama is just that: an indispensable chronicle of the civilian side of a war.
13. Pain and Glory
Nominated for: Actor in a leading role (Antonio Banderas); international feature
Antonio Banderas gives a career-capping performance in Pain and Glory, which finds him reuniting with his friend and longtime director, Pedro Almodóvar (the movie is Spain's entry to the international feature competition). In it, Banderas stars as Salvador Mallo, a director who suffers from a variety of excruciating ailments, from insomnia to choking episodes to depression. He slowly begins to excavate his past after smoothing things over with one of his former actors, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), and subsequently being introduced to the hazy relief offered by heroin. Banderas has been candid about how his own trials influenced his creation of Salvador onscreen — he suffered a heart attack two and a half years ago — and much of his brilliant performance is just in the way he holds himself or lets pain show on his face. While Pain and Glory might be a highlight for Banderas, who is better known for his schlocky macho roles in the U.S., seeing his performance here makes you wonder how this could possibly be his first career nomination.
12. Little Women
Nominated for: Best picture; actress in a leading role (Saoirse Ronan); actress in a supporting role (Florence Pugh); adapted screenplay; original score; costume design
I should have loved Little Women; as it stands, I really, really like it. Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 classic has given us one of the most memorable casts of the March sisters yet, along with a swoon-worthy Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), but it sometimes seems to misrepresent the original story as a kind of feminist anthem — which it never was. Rather than explore that tension, though, Gerwig gives the movie an almost fantastical gloss. Still, there is much to love (Florence Pugh finally doing justice to Amy, for one), and the choice to blend the characters of Jo and Alcott together as a composite is particularly inspired. Read our full review here.
Nominated for: Actress in a leading role (Cynthia Erivo); original song
I wish there had been more excitement about Harriet, a lovely film by director Kasi Lemmons that never got the respect it deserved during its run in theaters. Cynthia Erivo is a star in the lead role as Harriet Tubman, with the script following her escape from slavery to her work as a gun-slinging abolitionist. While the film has been faulted by some critics as hagiography, it might be better read as a sort of slavery-era version of Joan of Arc, who of course has been represented reverently on screen for decades (Lemmons' movie, however, is the first Harriet Tubman biopic). Even with its deeply Christian underpinnings (it's been praised by a number of conservative critics, including at The Federalist and The Tennessee Star), Harriet never pushes its themes down your throat. Still, I was swept away.
10. Marriage Story
Nominated for: Best picture; actor in a leading role (Adam Driver); actress in a leading role (Scarlett Johansson); actress in a supporting role (Laura Dern); original screenplay; original score
The first thing I ask anyone who's seen Marriage Story is, "did you cry?" I have yet to hear a "no." With a script that seems inspired by the experiences of its writer and director, Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story focuses on the last months of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie's (Adam Driver) union. Complicating matters, though, is their young son Henry, and the problem presented by Nicole wanting to live in Los Angeles and Charlie wanting to stay in New York City. Elegantly constructed, including a great scene of Driver singing a Stephen Sondheim song, Marriage Story gets at the heart of love in this portrait of it falling to pieces.
9. I Lost My Body
Nominated for: Animated feature
Every so often you get an "adult" film that sneaks into the Best Animated Oscar nominations; this year, it's France's I Lost My Body (the movie is rated mature, with Common Sense Media recommending it to people ages 15 and up). Despite the somewhat goofy name, the story is wildly original, told from the perspective of a disembodied hand. At first, it is not quite clear what happened to Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris); the film opens with a splash of his blood, and then we see his hand escaping from an ice box in what seems to be either a hospital or morgue. It soon becomes clear that the hand is determined to get somewhere, and we, in turn, join it on its cross-Paris adventure. All the while, the film visits in flashbacks the events that brought Naoufel to this point — from the death of his parents in a car accident, to his failed work as a pizza delivery guy, to his infatuation with a stranger named Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois). With its lyrical use of visual metaphors and blend of hand-drawn and computer-generated art, I Lost My Body is like no other animated movie in competition — in the best way possible.
Movies that are great
8. Richard Jewell
Nominated for: Actress in a supporting role (Kathy Bates)
Richard Jewell marked director Clint Eastwood's biggest bomb in four decades, making just $5 million opening weekend. But box office reports can't tell you everything: the film is also one of Eastwood's best in recent memory, recounting the true story of a well-meaning security guard, Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who finds a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Georgia only to be wrongly accused by the FBI and media of planting it himself. Throughout his humiliation, Jewell, a wannabe-cop, keeps his faith in the authorities, even as the police make fun of him at every opportunity behind his back. What might at first pass seem like a Blue Lives Matter biopic by Eastwood isn't nearly so clear cut; the movie rewards multiple interpretations, serving as a kind of Rorschach test. Hauser gives a phenomenal performance as Jewell, although it is Kathy Bates, who plays his mother, that got the nomination here. Read our full review here.
7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Nominated for: Actor in a supporting role (Tom Hanks)
Once again, no women were nominated for Best Director at the Oscars — although Marielle Heller, who helmed A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, could have stood alongside any of the Academy's ultimate choices. Her film, about a cynical magazine reporter (Matthew Rhys) being sent to profile Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks), is surprisingly adventurous, from its dream sequences to its Mister Rogers' Neighborhood-style model establishing shots. Most remarkable of all though, is that the film never becomes saccharine. To quote Seven Days, "The story shouldn't work. It's the definition of sap ... But it does." The fact that Heller manages to pull that balance off is as impressive as the movie itself.
6. Knives Out
Nominated for: Original screenplay
It's safe to say that no movie in 2019 was a bigger blast than Knives Out, a murder mystery whodunit starring Daniel Craig as a detective with an inexplicable southern accent. Audiences were taken in, too: The movie made over $250 million at the worldwide box office off its budget of just $40 million, Collider reports, while Forbes notes it was "one of the very biggest non-horror live-action originals in unadjusted domestic box office since Chris Nolan's Interstellar [in 2014]." It might not have been a highbrow, arty masterpiece — and it was left off the Best Picture roster, meaning voters likely didn't consider the genre flick "serious" enough to be in contention — but in terms of sheer enjoyment at the movies, I couldn't have possibly had a better time. Read our full review here.
Nominated for: Best picture; directing; original screenplay; cinematography; sound editing; sound mixing; production design; original score; makeup and hair; visual effects
Making a war movie is kind of like an Oscars cheat code: From The Hurt Locker to Platoon to Patton, some 16 different war films have taken home the Best Picture statuette since the Academy Awards began in 1929, GoldDerby writes. There's plenty to suggest that 1917 could be next, after earning the top award at the Golden Globes as well as at the Producers Guild of America Awards, which is "one of the most reliable Best Picture bellwethers." I wouldn't be sad to see it win on Sunday, either: more than anything, I was wowed by 1917's production design, which dragged audiences into the muck of war with its rotting horse corpses and crackling dogfights. While director Sam Mendes' "one shot" editing left many critics crying "gimmick" (and exposed it to justifiable criticisms about timelines and distance), I found the exercise to work far more than it didn't — which was most of the time. Read our full review here.
4. The Cave
Nominated for: Documentary feature
There are hundreds of films and documentaries about war, but none have ever had as great of an effect on me as The Cave, a documentary that centers on Amani Ballour, a doctor who runs an underground hospital in the rebel holdout of Ghouta as it is being besieged by Bashar Al-Assad's regime during the Syrian Civil War. It is a movie that needs to be watched loud, ideally in a theater: As Ballour and her colleagues attend to the wounded in their makeshift network of tunnels beneath the city, the film barrages you with the constant, overwhelming boom of nearby bombs and rattle of Russian warplanes. This on-location sound, even divorced from the images, soon frayed my nerves raw. You begin to correlate the noise with the rush of bodies that flood the hospital in the aftermath of the bombings, even as Ballour's team has no medicine to help most of those who pass through the doors. Director Feras Fayyad, who was imprisoned and tortured by Assad's forces for 15-months after filming anti-government protests in 2011 and who was initially denied a U.S. visa by the Trump administration to attend this year's Oscars, uses The Cave to immerse us in a place where every moment could, and often does, bring death.
3. Ad Astra
Nominated for: Sound mixing
Ad Astra was one of the most unforeseen Oscar nominations of the year: the film had a rocky journey getting to screen, and was too slow and contemplative to ever be a major box office hit on the scale of Gravity or Arrival. The nod for sound mixing alone, though, doesn't do director James Gray justice for his film's reach, with its Biblical allegory and "daddy issue" meditations. While that might sound painful on paper, Ad Astra is anything but: glued together with a deeply personal performance by Brad Pitt, the film also utilizes scientifically-accurate CGI creations without ever overdoing it. Particular visual standouts include buggies passing from the light to the dark side of the moon, the rings of Neptune, and a conspicuously placed Subway sandwich restaurant. Ad Astra doesn't quite hit everything it's reaching for — but with a little patience, it's as rewarding as anything I've seen this year. Read our full review here.
2. The Irishman
Nominated for: Actor in a supporting role (Al Pacino); actor in a supporting role (Joe Pesci); directing; adapted screenplay; cinematography; film editing; sound editing; production design; costume design; visual effects
Speaking of patience, The Irishman has the longest runtime of any movie nominated for an Oscar this year at a whopping three and a half hours (don't complain: the longest-running Best Picture nominee ever, Cleopatra, was just over four). Martin Scorsese's return to the world of the mob with a story about the murder of former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa has gotten somewhat sidelined in recent months thanks to poorly-conceived interpretations of the film, which mistake it for being "nostalgic" or misread Anna Paquin's character lack of lines as evidence of the filmmaker's sexism, rather than a depiction of sexism in the world its portraying. In other words, don't listen to the naysayers: The Irishman is a phenomenal accomplishment, one that brings together Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci in career-capping roles, with characteristically electric editing from Scorsese's longtime collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker. If you think it's just another Martin Scorsese crime movie, you've blinked and missed it. Read our full review here.
Nominated for: Best picture; directing; original screenplay; international feature; film editing; production design
Could it ever have been anything else? There was no movie as mighty, as unexpected, or as masterful in 2019 as South Korean director Bong Joon Ho's class satire, Parasite. You don't even have to take it from me: The movie holds a mind-boggling 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with 375 reviews, and audiences rewarded it with a higher per-theater box office average than even Avengers: Endgame. The film is set in Seoul and follows the hilarious attempt by the Kim family to infiltrate the house of the wealthy Parks by posing as tutors, a chauffer, and a house maid. Bong has stressed, though, that Parasite is not a local story: "When I made Parasite, it was like trying to witness our world through a microscope," he said during a master class in Lyon, France, last fall. "The film talks about two opposing families, about the rich versus the poor, and that is a universal theme, because we all live in the same country now: that of capitalism." Ironically, it has been some of the wealthiest institutions and audiences, from Cannes to Telluride, who have been seduced by the story — all the more testament to Bong's slick filmmaking, in which you don't realize you're the one being mocked even as you're laughing. A dark horse for Best Picture, Parasite is now posed to be the little international feature that could. And it should. Read our full review here.
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