It’s Oscar season, and because The Academy nearly always gets it wrong, the Beacon’s top film critics (heh) are here to write about the movies that should win the industry’s top prizes. This year, along with what was nominated, it’s worth noting what was left out. The 2020 Oscar nominations were again mostly white (one out of 20 acting nominees was non-white) and male-heavy (only one Best Picture nominee features a woman solely in the lead, and no women were nominated for Best Director). So, if you’re reading this, Academy, please be better next time.
Best Picture: “Marriage Story”
Noah Baumbach manages to create a love story in the most unlikely of places: the midst of a divorce. This searing, heartfelt, often hilarious movie is anchored by two incredible performances from two of our greatest working actors: Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. The attention paid to detail here, in everything from the editing to the melodic score by Randy Newman, is the biggest pay-off. “Marriage Story” is the best movie of the year because it makes you feel the most alive.
Best Actress: Renée Zellweger, “Judy”
Anger that Awkwafina was not nominated aside, the next-best actress this year was Zellweger. Perhaps she stands out more because she’s in an OK movie, and it’s true that playing Judy Garland is kind of an Oscar cop-out. But it’s undeniable that Zellweger gives a moving performance. Her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is enough to bring even the most stalwart Garland-haters (do those even exist?) to tears. What’s even more impressive is her complete transformation into the “Wizard of Oz” star: ticks, quirks, and expressive eye contractions included. Renée is Judy and Judy is Renée, and oh, would you look at that: there’s an Oscar.
Best Actor: Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
There were a lot of great performances this year, but none of them were as staggering as Driver’s work in Baumbach’s film. He doesn’t clown around, delivering a vulnerable performance as a man trying to cope with the loss of the woman he had taken for granted. Driver digs deep, deeper than any of the other nominees, and reaches a satisfyingly emotional core. Every actor can cry, but only the best can make you cry too.
Best Supporting Actress: Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
In a movie stuffed to the brim with great, charismatic actresses, Pugh as the annoying (at first) little sister might not seem like the crowning jewel (performance-wise) of the film. But that’s exactly why it is. She takes words that seem brat-like on the page, and transforms them into an earnest portrayal of an overlooked younger sibling. This performance, combined with her knockout role in last year’s “Midsommar” will hopefully ensure that Pugh goes overlooked no more.
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
Pitt plays a ramblin’, gamblin’ stuntman in Quentin Tarantino’s superb and nostalgic ode to old Hollywood. What makes Pitt’s performance a game-changer is the way he’s able to capture the voice of a fading star with only two friends (one is a dog) in a world that is rapidly changing before his own eyes. Plus, he looks very, very cool while doing it.
Best Picture: “Parasite”
Let me just say this: 2019 was one of the best years for film in a very long time. This is the first time where I don’t just like, but love every nominee for best picture. But among the group, “Parasite” is the film that most stands out. Why? Two words: subverted expectations. The comedy, quick pacing and dialogue composes enough of an assumption in the viewer’s head that when the film departs from this vision, you’re left flabbergasted and captivated. And if your eyes aren’t already popping out of their sockets, the bonkers third act will bash you over the head (no pun intended for those who’ve seen the film). Please see “Parasite”. As director Bong Joon-Ho said, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
2019 was an extremely strong year for lead actor performances. But Joaquin Phoenix was far and away the best of the bunch. As a mentally-ill loner, Phoenix is able to accomplish the impossible: induce empathy for the Joker. And as a psychotic murderer, Phoenix perfectly depicts a certain comedy in the chaos that prompts an unnerving response like no other in some time. If you really crave an in-depth analysis of Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck, check out my Helmer v. Holmes: “Joker” article on the Beacon website.
Best Actress: Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Throughout “Marriage Story”, Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal as astray mother Nicole is heartbreaking. Although not as tear-jerking as Meryl Streep’s Joanna in the definitive divorce film “Kramer v. Kramer”, Johansson’s performance comes off as so real. Grounded when managing her divorce, and emotionally battering when fighting for her integrity and her child, Johansson was simply incredible. If you don’t believe me, go on Youtube, search “Marriage Story” argument scene, and prepare to be amazed.
Best Supporting Actor: Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Although Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” seems to be the frontrunner, it’s Hollywood legend Tom Hanks as icon Fred Rogers who should win the Oscar. The subtle emotion that Hanks brings to the role is unlike what any actor has done this year. The facial and body expressions combined with the soothing voice of an angel is a perfect representation of Mr. Rogers. The two-time Oscar winner exhibits an abundant amount of sincerity and earnestness with just his stare as opposed to some other grand demonstration of emotion. Hanks succeeds in sending the most important message of Rogers’ career: don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers”
If you were to tell me at the beginning of 2019 that J. Lo would give my favorite supporting actress performance of the year, I would laugh harder than I did witnessing my favorite film of the year “Cats” (of course I’m being facetious). But J. Lo’s presence in “Hustlers” is so eccentric and slimy whilst still being somewhat likable. Her performance doesn’t just enhance the character, but it makes the actresses around her look even better.