Tuesday 19 February 2019

Rank the Films: 2019 Best Picture Nominees

Who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned list? On the slate this month are the 2019 Best Picture nominees, ranked from worst to best.

The 91st Academy Awards are this Sunday (or Monday, if you live here in Australia) – after a rockier than usual preamble, the Oscars are just about ready to dish out some golden statuettes to some of the best and biggest films of the last 12 months.

Although they can nominate up to 10, the Academy opted to only nominate eight films in the Best Picture category this year, and it's a weird collection of contenders. Amongst the nominees you've got crowd-pleasers (A Star Is Born, Black Panther), biopics (Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice), classic Oscar bait (Green Book) and some experimental arthouse fare (Roma).

The winning film is anyone's guess – this year is particularly hard to predict. So I decided to rank all eight Best Pictures nominees from worst to best instead. And nothing gets people on the internet arguing like the Oscars, so be sure to tell me how much my ranking sucks in the comments below.

8th - Bohemian Rhapsody (dir. Bryan Singer)

Now I don't proclaim to be an expert in this whole awards season thing, but I do know this – Bohemian Rhapsody is easily the least deserving film to be nominated for Best Picture since I've been following the Oscars. There are umpteen other 2018 films more deserving of this slot (Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? spring to mind), and I find its inclusion frankly a bit shameful in light of the accusations surrounding Bryan Singer.

Only 12 months since the Time's Up movement took hold of the show and the Oscars has turned a blind eye to the creative force behind this shambolic biopic of Freddie Mercury. Even without Singer's history, Bohemian Rhapsody should be sitting on the sidelines – it's nothing more than a glorified series of montages masquerading as a motion picture, a lesser version of The Greatest Showman if that film was lacking its original tunes and charismatic leading man.

I could go on but I've covered it pretty extensively in my review from last week – if you'd like to have a read, click here and then come back for the rest of this list.

7th - Green Book (dir. Peter Farrelly) 

Green Book is a perfectly pleasant film that some circles consider problematic. And I can see their point; hasn't the world evolved past the point of an updated, role-reversed version of Driving Ms Daisy? But on the other hand, can't this film exist alongside more inflammatory or introspective work such as Blackkklansman or Moonlight? I mean, do all films about race have to come at it from the same angle?

I digress. Alas, no film exists in a vacuum, and Green Book is both bang average and an easy target for people to tear into. In today's climate, its refusal to rip into race relations like a rabid dog doesn't sit right with a lot of people, while others find its mediocrity just as offensive.

Green Book never digs too deep, always brushing against something substantial before retreating to its comfy, tried-and-tested territory of rose-tinted warmth. "The past wasn't great from a race relations perspective, but that's all in the past - right?" seems to be the overarching sentiment radiating from Farrelly's film, leaving it with some interesting stuff to work with (for example, I'd never heard of a 'green book' travel guide before) but very little interest in plumbing the depths of said material.

It certainly doesn't help that its main character, Viggo Mortensen's Italian AF driver Tony Lip, is a caricature akin to Luigi Risotto from The Simpsons. All huge hand gestures and mouthy New York-isms. The screenplay is loaded with some ham-fisted, cliched dialogue and the structure – framed around a road trip with stopovers for Mahershala Ali's piano maestro to perform – leaves the film feeling strung out and overlong.

6th - Vice (dir. Adam McKay)

Another contentious nominee, Vice charts the inexorable rise of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), a quiet and methodical civil servant who spends several decades scheming his way from Yale dropout to vice-president of the United States of America during the controversial George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) administration.

In the same vein as Adam McKay’s previous film The Big Short, Vice sees the filmmaker wielding a cinematic chainsaw and taking chunks out of his subject matter. Both films take a complex concept or complicated figure and unpack it, stripping away the nuance until we’re left with a blunt instrument – in this case, Vice uses Cheney as a figurehead to illustrate how evil has wormed its way into every nook and cranny of Washington.

On the nose and abrasive, Vice has divided opinion over its portrayal of Cheney. Personally, I found it hard to come down on one side or the other with this film. I knew next to nothing about Cheney going in, so even if the film was messy or a tonal nightmare, I still felt like I learned something and enjoyed myself at the same time.

Somehow too clever for its own good and bereft of subtlety, Vice veers from wildly entertaining to lashing political discourse, sometimes in the very same scene. Imperfect just about covers it, but I would rather watch a million films like Vice than another bland as white bread biopic that gives us every beat without doing anything daring.

5th - Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler)

The outlier in an already odd bunch, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther is the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture, defying a long-running hoodoo that should've ended with Wonder Woman, The Dark Knight or even Richard Donner's Superman.

Not taking anything away from Black Panther though; it's a great film and deserves all the plaudits that have been heaped upon it. Coogler's film feels, sounds and looks markedly different to anything in its genre or blockbuster cinema – this isn't just Captain America in a different outfit.

The fictional nation of Wakanda and its people aren't just a pretty backdrop; Coogler, with co-writer Joe Robert Cole, captured a moment in time with powerful and resonant themes and characters in Black Panther. Its 'blackness' (for want of a better word) is integral to the story, not just cosmetic. This film is as much about Africa and its history as it is about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Much like 2017's Wonder Woman, Black Panther is an important film for its time, and one awash in meaning for segments of the cinema-going audience that have long felt ignored or sidelined by mainstream cinema.

4th - The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

The Oscars love a good period drama, but The Favourite is not your standard period drama. It's a black comedy centred around a fiery female love triangle, with Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz vying for the affection Olivia Colman. If that doesn't sell you, nothing will.

Set during the reign of Great Britain's Queen Anne, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite is easily the director's most accessible film to date. It still has his trademark weirdness – the fish eye lens that warps and distorts the edges of the frame stands out – but it's all in service of a greater idea, such as the disconnect between royalty and their subjects in this example.

A devilishly dark spin on English history, Lanthimos' film is built around three terrific lead performances from Stone, Weisz and Colman. The escalating game of oneupmanship that seesaws back and forth between Stone and Weisz is wickedly entertaining and deliciously evil at times.

History and all of its minutiae are just the backdrop here; the tug-of-war between England and her enemies just the window frame that surrounds the core conflict between The Favourite's ruler and her two squabbling lovers. Along with Vice, The Favourite illustrates how absolute power (or the pursuit of it) corrupts absolutely, and in both instances, the results are a powerful mixture of laughs and ugliness.

3rd - A Star Is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)

Wind the clock back to last October, and it seemed as though A Star Is Born was destined to sweep up all the Oscars a la Titanic or Return of the King. Alas, it hasn't quite panned out that way – Bradley Cooper's omission in the Best Director category all but guarantees that it won't win Best Picture.

Which is a damn shame, because in addition to smashing it out of the park on his first attempt, Cooper is a revelation as co-writer and lead actor. His portrayal of booze-soaked country singer Jackson Maine is tragic and markedly better than anything a chubby Christian Bale achieved with Vice or a buck-toothed Rami Malek did in Bohemian Rhapsody.

But that's not even the best part, because along comes Lady Gaga to steal the show. Aside from a few appearances on American Horror Story, A Star Is Born marks Gaga's first full tilt at acting, and she disappears into the role of Ally. Stripped of her ostentatious music persona, Gaga perfectly captures the nerves, bravery and eventually the confidence of a nobody plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight.

Maybe A Star Is Born will defy convention and swoop in to take an unlikely Best Picture win. Strange how the front runner so quickly became the outsider.

2nd - Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

Roma isn't for everyone, that's for sure. With its slow and deliberate pacing, black and white palette, Mixtec and Spanish subtitles and aimless, winding narrative, it would be a Best Picture winner that appeals mostly to cinephiles than mainstream audiences.

And having been lucky enough to see it in a theatre, I can't vouch for how impactful or emotional it is while beaming through your living room TV, which is how 95 per cent of said mainstream audience will watch it.

That said, Roma's quality is simply undeniable. A poetic and personal project from Alfonso Cuaron that explores life's big moments as well as the little ones that link them together, Roma is a knockout, with so much detail and richness packed into every frame. The film doesn't so much plot a story so much as it unfurls a journey before you. The overall effect is one of intense immersion with its characters and their trials and tribulations.

1st - Blackkklansman (dir. Spike Lee)

I've written at length about the brilliance of Blackkklansman before on this blog, and nothing has changed since then. Roma might have the sentimentality and A Star Is Born the starry-eyed wonder, but in my mind nothing usurps the raw angry energy and passion that powers Spike Lee's rallying cry that is Blackkklansman.

My favourite film of 2018 and the pick of the litter from this year's Best Picture nominees, Blackkklansman is Lee at his most incendiary.

It's a film that makes you feel a million emotions a minute, from hilarity and fury to tension and desperation. Like all the best stories, Blackkklansman has its roots in truth; what starts out as a buddy cop comedy about the first black detective (John David Washington) on the beat and his Jewish buddy (Adam Driver) soon transforms into this explosive and unapologetic critique of contemporary politics, using the past as an illustration of how little has changed.

Thanks for reading – which 2019 Best Picture nominee is your favourite? Who would you like to see win on Monday? Let me know in the comments below.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...