Around this time every year, I write about my picks for the Best Picture nominees. This is the third year running I’ve done this (after the 2017 and 2018 awards) and it’s something I’ve really started looking forward to.
It seems to be a really shallow pool this year, with all of the major awards being spread across a relatively low number of films. I usually struggle to watch all of the Best Picture nominees in time before the awards (given New Zealand’s position in the world when it comes to release schedules), but this year I’ve managed to watch almost all of the films nominated in all the major categories.
The only films I’ve yet to see are If Beale Street Could Talk (nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress) and Cold War (nominated for Best Director). Still, it’s the best I’ve done for years. I’ve seen everything else nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and everything else in the acting and writing categories. It’s good timing too, as this is the first time in years I’ll be able to watch the awards live on TV – it’s been wrestled away from Sky TV and is being broadcast on Free-To-Air in New Zealand. I’ve taken the afternoon off on Monday so I can watch it all by myself. I told my boss that this is my Cup Final, and would happily sit in the pub watching it if I could, drinking beers and shouting “You’re not singing, you’re not singing, you’re not singing anymore!” at the screen (a chant that could be utilised when people lose out in the awards, and also when people finish singing the musical numbers).
Before we get to my pick of the year’s 30 (!) honourable mentions, here’s my ranking of the Best Picture nominees, from worst to best:
8th: Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)
As many have pointed out, this wasn’t even the best Marvel film to be released last year. I’m all for genre films starting to get nominated for Best Picture again – it used to happen in the 1970s before the ‘message’ films of the 1980s started to focus the Academy’s gaze – but if you’re going to do it, at least pick a better film.
Last August, the Academy announced a new category – Outstanding Achievement In Popular Film – such was their desire to recognize this film (before changing their minds following a public outcry that it trivialised the awards). Their need to recognise Black Panther, for its predominately African-American cast, together with it being the highest-grossing film of all time by a black director, seems to be a purely political move. This is very strange in a year when multiple nominations awarded to BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk would have spared the Academy from any accusations of white-washing.
As a result of their misplaced focus on making sure Black Panther gets some awards attention, the Academy has completely overlooked female directors. Susanne Bier (Bird Box), Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Dorota Kobiela (Loving Vincent), Lynne Ramsey (You Were Never Really Here), Josie
Rourke (Mary Queen Of Scots) and Chloe Zhao (The Rider) were all overlooked for both Best Director and Best Picture. I don’t think there should be a quota in place to ensure female and black directors are recognized. It should be a meritocracy, and each one of these films is a far better picture than Ryan Coogler’s superhero film.
Black Panther: A marvel only in its mediocrity.
7th: Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018)
I’ve already written at length about my problems with this film. I’m kind of jealous that everybody enjoyed it so much, but the historical inaccuracies just overshadowed everything in my eyes. Maybe if I didn’t already know so much about Queen, I might have enjoyed it. The attention thrown at Rami Malek in the acting categories is also surprising. His low energy / none-existent charisma just doesn’t translate, and a pair of false teeth does not a Freddie Mercury make.
6th: Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018)
A film about racism for stupid people.
5th: A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, 2018)
Having avoided the original 1936 version, the 1954 remake with Judy Garland, and the most recent 1976 version, I didn’t really know what to expect with A Star Is Born. The Joy Of Sex poster for the 1976 version, featuring a naked Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, just put me off watching any of them. It almost put me off cinema for good. I didn’t rush to see this one either, as I met somebody late last year who spoiled the ending within minutes of us being introduced. Yeah, thanks.
It seems an odd choice for a Best Picture nomination. Even with a brand new script, the simple fact that three versions of the film already exist suggests that innovation and originality isn’t a high priority for Academy voters. It’s a joke that this film was nominated when other more deserving films – First Man in particular – were overlooked.
Still, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga turn in fine performances, and the music is solid enough. 2009’s Crazy Heart – surely a point of reference for debut director and co-writer Cooper – was a far better film in a similar vein.
4th: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)
I’m hot and cold about Spike Lee. Once you get beyond his first couple of seminal films (joints?), his hit rate really starts to suffer. For every Inside Man (brilliant!), there’s a Summer Of Sam (laughable!). Advance word of BlacKkKlansman was strong, and despite me initially getting it mixed up with a Dave Chappelle sketch about a blind black man joining the Klan, I really enjoyed it.
In the lead role, John David (son of Denzel) Washington shows he has a bright future, Adam Driver is as watchable as ever, and it was great to see Topher Grace back in the spotlight playing the slimy KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. What a dumbass.
3rd: Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)
Cuarón was the first Mexican-born director to win Best Director (for 2013’s Gravity), and while it looks very likely that he’ll repeat that accolade this year, a Best Picture win would actually make him the third Mexican winner in the last five years (following Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillmero del Toro).
Roma is a beautiful film. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted and beautifully told. The fact that it’s possible to see such a film on a streaming service is either a positive or a negative, depending on how you look at it. While it’s availability on Netflix massively increases its potential audience, ultimately it could mean that future art-house films will follow this down the path of least resistance: streaming rather than screening.
Joint 1st: The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018) and Vice (Adam McKay, 2018)
I was so impressed by both of these films, that I just can’t separate them. On one hand, you have bizarro Greek director Yorgos “is as good as mine” Lanthimos with period black comedy The Favourite, his follow-up to The Lobster (yay!) and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (nay!). On the other hand, you have Adam McKay’s Dick Chaney biopic Vice, his follow-up to The Big Short.
Both films are served by incredible acting performances. In McKay’s film, Best Actor nominee Christian Bale puts in a career-best performance (in a career full of career-best performances), inhabiting the role of Vice President Dick Cheney, with Best Supporting nods to Sam Rockwell (George W. Bush) and Amy Adams (Lynne Chaney). While in Lanthimos’ film, British national treasure Olivia Colman (Queen Anne) is nominated for Best Actress, with both Rachel Weisz (Sarah Churchill) and Emma Stone (Abigail Masham) up for Best Supporting Actress.
Both films are nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Adam McKay for Vice, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for The Favourite), and Best Film Editing (Hank Corwin for Vice and Yorgos “is as good as mine whether I can make this same joke twice” Mavropsaridis for The Favourite). A couple of additional nominations in Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design round out The Favourite, while Vice also picks up a nomination for Makeup & Hairstyling.
The reason it’s so hard to choose between the two films is that in addition to everything else, they’re both very strong in defying convention. I’d usually run a mile from a historical period drama and a political biopic, but The Favourite and Vice transcend their respective genres. The Favourite is more concerned with the interplay between its three principals and a few choice insults (“You look like a badger”), while Vice borrows the fourth-wall narrative framework of The Big Short with Jesse Plemons explaining Cheney’s actions to the audience in bite-size chunks.
I really like the fact that The Favourite is spelt with a ‘u’, and the use of Elton John’s lovely harpsichord ballad Skyline Pigeon (from his oft-overlooked 1969 debut album) almost makes up for the horrible typeface they used on the closing credits.
Mark Gatiss and Nicholas Hoult round out the cast of The Favourite, but the supporting cast of Vice is something else. Alongside Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell leads a supporting cast including Alfred Molina, Eddie Marsan, Tyler Perry and Alison Pill.
Bale looks, sounds and acts incredibly like Cheney – stopping mere inches short of over-egging his mannerisms, and the rest of Bush’s White House administration look just as authentic. Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice all look fantastic and as close to the real thing as you could get.
Both films deal with what goes on behind the doors of power. But the fact that we’re all still living with the consequences of Cheney’s actions makes Vice all the more frightening, and for that it’s the most important film of the year.
Here are my other favourite (eligible) films from the year (in alphabetical order):
American Animals (Bart Layton, 2018) – True story retelling of a group of college kids carrying out a major robbery. Part-documentary, part-heist thriller, it’s narrated by the participants themselves. The story is told in a really clever way, dealing with differing viewpoints and conflicting memories.
Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018) – The year of the Netflix movie got underway with this creepy sci-fi mystery, directed by the author of The Beach and screenwriter of 28 Days Later and Sunshine.
At Eternity’s Gate (Julian Schnabel, 2018) – Willem Defoe turns in a career-best performance as Vincent Van Gogh during his final years. Aside from some over-egged camera-work and editing, I really enjoyed this poetic struggle between natural beauty and personal insanity.
Bad Time At The El Royale (Drew Goddard, 2018) – After 2012’s excellent Cabin In The Woods, Drew Goddard was definitely somebody to watch out for. Like his previous film, he has again scripted another interesting story set in a locked-off location. A messy waste of a second half, but the Tarantino-esque set-up in the first half is just glorious.
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2018) – Another Netflix movie, this anthology film sees the Coens return to the western genre (after 2010’s True Grit); although aren’t all Coen Brothers films westerns to an extent? Some episodes resonate stronger than others, but a solid watch all the same.
Beast (Michael Pearce, 2017) – Hauntingly beautiful romantic thriller set on the island of Jersey. Stellar performances from leads Jessie Buckley and muso Johnny Flynn.
Bird Box (Susanne Bier, 2018) – Yet another Netflix offering, Sandra Bullock stars in a tense thriller somewhere between The Walking Dead and A Quiet Place. It feels very strange for Susanne Bier to direct a genre film, but I’ll take it. Features a great score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who seem to score every film these days).
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018) – Wonderful true story account of author Lee Israel making ends meet by faking letters from literary giants. I spent the entire film imagining that Richard E. Grant’s Jack Hock was a later-in-life Montague H. Withnail, as the timeline sort of works out. It’s been fantastic to see Grant so enthused to be nominated (for Best Supporting Actor), posting selfies on Instagram with everybody he’s gleefully met on the awards circuit.
Chappaquiddick (John Curran, 2017) – Australian actor Jason Clarke is good in anything you put him in, and he shines here as Senator Ted Kennedy, underachieving younger brother to John F. and Robert. A low-key examination of a major cover-up by one of the most powerful politic families in history.
Death Wish (Eli Roth, 2018) – Being a fan of the original Charles Bronson films, I wasn’t looking forward to this; surely another pointless remake. My low hopes were rewarded with an enjoyable slice of b-movie action, in a revitalised revenge / vigilantism genre (Taken, The Equalizer, Mandy, Revenge) that shows no signs of stopping.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018) – Joaquin Phoenix keeps on circling that Best Actor Oscar with this, his portrayal of disabled cartoonist John Callahan. After losing out for Walk The Line (2005) and The Master (2012), could this be his year?
First Man (Damien Chazelle, 2018) – You can smell the grease and hear the rattle of the 1960s technology that (allegedly!) put man on the moon, in this superb biopic of Neil Armstrong. His second collaboration with Chazelle, Ryan Gosling mumbles his way through the perfect film for him – as much a meditation on the grief of losing a child, as a celebration of the technological advances of mankind. A crime this wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.
Free Solo (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin, 2018) – Documentary following the ‘will he / won’t he’ climbing of El Capitan without ropes by Alex Honnold. As gripping (credit to my wife) and tense as cinema gets, this was a very, very hard watch.
Game Night (Jeff Tomsic, 2018) – Hollywood has made some really solid comedies in the last decade – Horrible Bosses, 21 Jump Street, We’re The Millers – and Game Night continues the tradition (last year’s Tag was also a good watch). Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and friends get involved in a murder mystery they think is just a game, but turns out to be very real.
Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018) – Hollywood horror has been largely overshadowed by stronger foreign films for most of the last ten years, preferring instead to shovel up predictable jump-scares and pointless remakes. Hereditary is a return to form and something far more real and disturbing. Marketed as ‘this generation’s Exorcist’, it’s more of a retread of Rosemary’s Baby. So good, I re-watched it almost immediately; psychological horror done right.
Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, 2018) – A sequel to the best Pixar film so far could have been a mistake, but under the same director in Brad Bird, it just about works despite some messy plotting in the final act. The absence of the definite article in the title is disappointing though.
Instant Family (Sean Anders, 2018) – Solid comedy with its heart in the right place, despite the usual amount of Hollywood schmaltz. Gets close to doing for comedies what 2017’s The Big Sick did for rom-coms.
Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018) – Subtle drama about a war veteran and his teenage daughter attempting to live off the grid. Ben Foster – as fantastic as always – shines alongside newcomer (and New Zealander) Thomasin McKenzie.
Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela / Hugh Welchman, 2017) – The last 12 months have been a drought in terms of trips to the cinema. Kids, work and other things have got in the way. One of my biggest regrets is not catching this on the big screen. Beautifully hand-painted, this rotoscope-style animation tells the tragic tale of Van Gogh’s short life. Part mystery, part love-letter to the Grandfather of modern art.
mid90s (Jonah Hill, 2018) – A nostalgic tribute to the skate-culture of his youth, Jonah Hill has written and directed an impressive first film. Another score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross alongside hip-hop gems from the period.
Mile 22 (Peter Berg, 2018) – Peter Berg has made some really solid action films with Mark Wahlberg – Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day – and this is their fourth collaboration, with a fifth due later this year. This one finds Wahlberg’s CIA team tasked with moving a high-priority asset twenty-two miles through a South East Asian city. As tense as thrillers get.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018) – The Cruiser’s Mission: Impossible films should have run out of steam by now. Despite the wet squib that was John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2, the rest of the series has been fantastic, and this sixth film didn’t disappoint. Features a brawl in a men’s restroom that might just be the best action sequence I saw all year. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson: take note.
A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) – The horror community seems to be divided on whether this qualifies as a horror film or not. Who cares when the film’s this good? John ‘Jim From The Office’ Krasinski stars and directs his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, as their family try to survive in silence after an alien invasion.
Searching (Aneesh Chaganty, 2018) – Presented entirely via computer and smartphone screens, this shouldn’t work. After a few scenes you just get used to it, as you follow John (Harold, of Harold & Kumar fame) Cho’s frantic search for his missing daughter. Pitched as the first ever mainstream Hollywood thriller to star an Asian-American actor (my blind ignorance doubted that at first, but it seems to be correct), this innovative film treads similar ground to Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners (2013) and offers a horrifying peak at how such events unfold in today’s digital world.
Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018) – Japanese drama about an odd family unit living in poverty. Has the same, shuffling pace as something like 1953’s Tokyo Story, but deals with the social class at the other end of the spectrum. The gradually unfolding explanation of who everybody is, in relation to everybody else, is really well handled.
Sorry To Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018) – Nuts dark comedy about a young black man who puts on a white voice to excel in his telemarketing job. I stayed on the ride as long as I could, but it lost me in its final third.
Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, 2018) – Remake of Dario Argento’s seminal horror places the action in 1977, the year of the original film’s release. Dakota Johnson joins a dance academy in divided Berlin, where all is not as it seems. Quite a muted film for a horror…until its roaring finale.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (Peter Rida Michail / Aaron Horvath, 2018) – An incredibly fun blast through a thousand pop-culture superhero references, this requires multiple viewings to catch everything. A great fart joke in the first few minutes sets the ball rolling nicely, as all fart jokes should.
Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle, 2018) – Engrossing documentary which first marvels about the bond between identical triplets separated at birth, but then leaves you seething at mankind for the actions of those pulling the strings.
You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017) – After 2002’s excellent Morvern Callar, and the success of 2011’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, we had to wait another six years to see what Lynne Ramsay would do next. This taut, gritty thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix fits somewhere between Taxi Driver (1976) and Drive (2011). The role couldn’t be any different to Pheonix’s part in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, but while Ramsay’s film won him the Best Actor at Cannes last year, it seems too much of a leftfield choice for the Academy.
My Picks For The 24
Finally, here are my picks for what the Academy will actually vote for on the night. I’ll try to remember to mark these next year to see how close I got!
Best Picture: The Favourite
Best Director: Roma
Best Actor: Christian Bale
Best Actress: Olivia Colman
Best Supporting Actor: Adam Driver
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone
Best Original Screenplay: Vice
Best Adapted Screenplay: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Best Animated Feature Film: Isle Of Dogs
Best Foreign Language Film: Roma
Best Documentary – Feature: Free Solo
Best Documentary – Short Subject: Lifeboat
Best Live Action Short Film: Skin
Best Animated Short Film: Bao
Best Original Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Best Original Song: Shallow from A Star Is Born
Best Sound Editing: First Man
Best Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Best Production Design: The Favourite
Best Cinematography: Roma
Best Makeup And Hairstyling: Vice
Best Costume Design: The Favourite
Best Film Editing: Vice
Best Visual Effects: Ready Player One