Academy Awards Project: Best Picture
We have finally made it to the final batch. We have ranked, reviewed, and analyzed every single nomination at the 91st Academy Awards. We are at the end of the night (this month-long night), and we are going to go through the last category: Best Picture. Believe it or not, this category is much easier to rank than many others we have had to go through (Best Foreign Language Film was torture to rank in comparison). So, this should be easy.
However, I’ve already reviewed all of the Best Picture nominees, so the ranking might be a bit obvious. Plus, this is the last time I can discuss the actual nominees in terms of what films were missing. So, I will finish off in a strong, ambitious fashion. We aren’t just going to rank the Best Picture nominees. We are going to do two additional mini-lists: Five Films That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture, and Five Films That Should Not Have Been Shut Out By The Academy Awards Entirely.
Both of these tacked-on lists will have their own sets of rules. Let’s dive right in.
Five Films That Should Not Have Been Shut Out By The Academy Awards Entirely
In a perfect world, all of my favourite films would be nominated for Best Picture. However, this is all subjectivity, and no one will agree entirely with my picks (and vice versa). This category will look at five films that at least deserved more than one nomination in even some of the more minor categories (and what I think they could have been nominated for). If films only qualify for one category (for instance, Won’t You Be My Neighbour? and Best Documentary Feature), then it won’t be featured here.
5. Eighth Grade
Possible Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor
Bo Burnham’s directorial debut feature being completely forgotten about here is painful. Eighth Grade at the very least popped up in a whole series of other awards ceremonies (hell, even the Golden Globes for crying out loud). If there was a bigger awards push, maybe this film would have been more successful here; it’s sad that it has come down to “which film is promoted more” for the final spots at the Academy Awards.
4. Sorry To Bother You
Possible Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Visual Effects
We’ve certainly had weirder films make it here (even Border is way more messed up in terms of its incorporation of the taboo). Boots Riley has been vocal about Sorry To Bother You’s shut out, and he has a point. This imaginative film is as magical as Gondry, but as frightening as Hitchcock. Jordan Peele won an Academy Award for a similar absurdist-social-thriller with Get Out. Sorry To Bother You should not be ignored.
3. The Hate U Give
Possible Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography
I honestly thought this film was going to be noticed during its promotions push. When we get to the middle of the awards season (the pre-Oscars moment), there are so many Best Picture possibilities that can sneak their way in. Apparently, it was Vice this year. The Hate U Give had such a high chance of being this film, and yet it ended up being neglected everywhere. For a conscious film geared towards young adults, this is one of the finer examples in recent memory.
Possible Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Original Song
This new Steve McQueen film did not earn a single nomination. Not. A. Single. One. It’s been a month since the nominees were announced, and I am still completely baffled. This isn’t just because I love this film. It’s because it is an ideal Academy Award darling that ticks off all of the boxes, and does all of these tasks infinitely better than a number of the nominees that did make it (even in the Best Picture slot). I don’t think I will ever understand how the Academy completely disregarded this brooding political heist thriller.
Possible Nominations: Best Special Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress
Look. I know there is only a minority of people that love Annihilation. I am a part of that group. I think it is perfect. I think it is a modern mainstream sci-fi classic. Realistically, I knew it had a snowbell in hell’s chance of being nominated for Best Picture. Having said that, the film is a technical marvel. There are so many categories it could have been a part of. If Ex Machina was, why not this film? As there are so many nominations that this film could have garnered, it is ranked first. Of course, let’s be real. Netflix was absolutely promoting another certain film instead, so it all makes sense.
Five Films That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture
These five films are not my top five films of the year that were not mentioned. The way this category works is that it has to follow the few key rules. These films have to have been nominated in other categories. Period. The five films above are not eligible in this category. Secondly, these nominees have to have more than one nomination under their belts. First Reformed, as brilliant as it is, is not qualifiable here.
The idea with this category is to try and play by the Academy’s rules. Most years, Best Picture nominations have to work their way up to that point, mostly with a gathering of smaller categories (unless you’re The Post, of course). These are five films that could have easily made it to Best Picture, but they just did not make the cut, unfortunately.
5. Never Look Away
Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography
This isn’t the only foreign film to make it here, but in a year where foreign language works have been given a slightly warmer embrace than usual (in other categories, I mean), why couldn’t this happen? There was clearly a late-game push for Never Look Away to make the cut. It’s absolutely a Best Picture-like work (its similar to Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody in a way that its heart is stronger than its mind, but better). In the past, we’ve had other romantic epics like The English Patient and Out Of Africa actually win in this category, so this isn’t too far fetched once you get past the language barrier.
4. First Man
Nominations: Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
First Man looked like it was going to be a major force this year, yet it teetered out the closer we got to the actual morning announcement. Hey, at least it has a few nods here. However, was First Man brilliant? It was really good, but not brilliant. Is it better than some of the films that made it here? Absolutely. First Man is a more candid work by Damien Chazelle, and it’s an interesting departure from his usual work.
3. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay
There’s only three nominations, but they are all in major categories. Plus, the film as a whole is a solid spectacle from start to finish (Marielle Heller could have even been nominated for Best Director if the stars aligned). It’s good that this comedy drama got noticed, but I wish it was noticed for more. It definitely has all the right pieces to be a great Best Picture candidate.
2. Cold War
Nominations: Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography
I told you. Cold War is ranked higher up, because 1) it is a better film, and 2) a Best Director nomination is major. To have two foreign films up for Best Director has never been done before. Neither has having foreign language films dominate a technical category (three for Best Cinematography). Again, the Academy has been more generous towards foreign films this year. This isn’t even about being different. Cold War is flat out better than the majority of the Best Picture nominees, and it has major push in several categories. It isn’t the strangest suggestion ever.
1. If Beale Street Could Talk
Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score
It’s bad enough that Barry Jenkins was forgotten about for Best Director. At least his Moonlight followup was promoted in some of its strongest areas. However, Best Picture should have happened. Once again, it is better than a majority of the films that have been nominated. It is a more literary version of Moonlight: much more plot and dialogue, but the same sense of poetry. Even though Moonlight is better, its Best Picture win definitely opens the door for its sister film. This film is lush, brilliant, moving and powerful. It even has a major chance to win in at least two of the three categories (Best Adapted Screenplay being the only questionable group). This Best Picture nomination should have happened. I’m irritated that it didn’t.
After bloating (in typical Academy Awards fashion), we have reached the meat and potatoes. Here are the nominees for Best Picture ranked from worst to best.
Much of this film is admirable. Yet, much of its actual success here is because of awards season promoting at just the right time (and with the correct faces). Vice is a lesser The Big Short. It has great ideas, but its cohesion is not nearly as strong. Does it deserve nominations in most of its categories? Yes. Best Picture and Best Director could have gone to other applicants, though.
7. Green Book
I get why this film is here. It is hoisted up by strong acting, fun chemistry, and heaps of heart (and food). All of these qualities do not make a fundamentally strong film, though. The Best Picture award being given to a film with a rushed ending, thin characters, peculiar development, and confusing inaccuracies just does not feel right. Green Book is a fun time, a good laugh, and a light lesson, but it is not nearly as thought provoking or life changing as it might have aimed to be.
6. Bohemian Rhapsody
The most controversial nominee here actually isn’t the worst. Is it problematic? Absolutely. Yet, its strengths in all of its minor nomination categories are hard to ignore. It doesn’t make for a solid film, but it does make for an understandable nomination. Plus, as mistake-laden as Bohemian Rhapsody is, none of it becomes as frustrating as Vice or Green Book. They’re just noticeable. There isn’t even a pretending that this film is meant to be bold or powerful. It’s meant to be a fun homage to Freddie Mercury from the get go. It isn’t brilliant, but it really isn’t that bad.
5. Black Panther
This truly is a solid comic book film. However, it still caters to most of Marvel’s conventions, thus having some aspects of this film stymied. Still, Black Panther is subsequently boosted by its artistic push, indie sensibilities, and social consciousness. Is it better than most Marvel films? It actually is. If it wasn’t, I could understand the irritation people have with this film’s success in the awards season. But the fact is it is. We have certainly had way worse films do this well, no matter what the genre is. Just let Black Panther be. It’s a great film.
4. A Star is Born
This awards darling, ironically, might only go home with literally one award tomorrow (Best Original Song). That’s too bad. On paper, A Star is Born of course was made to win Academy Awards, and yet it’s going to be lousy. Then you see the film, and understand its relevancy. This is artistry vs. success. This is a suffering heart vs. a heart with new life. It is way more personal and stripped down than you would expect, especially compared to some previous iterations. This is a true reimagining of a Hollywood classic. It seemed stupid to have remade the same film for the fifth time. Here we are, and A Star is Born is actually justified.
Spike Lee hasn’t had much luck with the Academy, despite his brilliant filmography (not all of it, of course). We’ve finally reached a year where the Oscars know Lee’s importance to cinema, and it was during a damn good year for him. BlacKkKlansman absolutely is one of Lee’s greatest works. It contains his usual levels of social commentary and vocal nature, and it is a mutt of genres and styles that blend so damn seamlessly. This film should have a higher chance of winning multiple awards (it might only win for Best Adapted Screenplay), considering its all-around strengths. It won’t, but thankfully it was even recognized in great amounts.
2. The Favourite
We’re one day away from the Oscars, and I am still flabbergasted that this film has had so much Academy love. I’m all in favour with this, because The Favourite is an absurdist masterpiece. If this was ten years ago, the Academy would have ignored this like a spam email. This film isn’t just weird, it’s moving. It isn’t just witty, it’s actually aware. It’s silly, yet poignant. You might want to argue against any of its weirdness, yet all of it makes sense in this hyperbolic period piece. This is a chaotic aristocracy, and it’s a beautiful calamity to endure.
Did you expect anything else after a month of tooting this film’s horn? It takes a lot for a foreign film to be nominated for Best Picture, but Roma might have it all. Arguably the greatest film of the decade (I’m sure we will have this discussion again towards the end of the year), Roma is an opus for the ages. It is a celebration of cinema with its reinvention of filmmaking’s earliest roots. This is an exploitation of a streaming service, in a way that Netflix was forced to push this brilliant work into theatres (as it should be witnessed). This is deep within mind, heart, soul, and every fibre of our universe. This is human connectivity. This is perfection. This is the best picture of the year, nominated or not.
Our Predicted Winner: For the final time, we are going to try and pick a winner. This is going to be tough. We might have a major breakthrough with Roma being the first foreign film, and stream-exclusive work to win Best Picture. There are great chances it will. However, we dip to the other side of things with a more conventional Green Book winning. It depends on which side of the Academy wins: the critical, or the easy going. According to my rankings, this is a possibility for either sides of the spectrum. Let’s cross our fingers for Roma, not just for taste reasons, but because of its ability to break thresholds.
Join us tomorrow for some extras to wrap up the Academy Awards Project for good! Tune in to see what oddities we have in store.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.