Ranking the Best Picture Oscar Movies – 2019 Edition

I got a bit busy during Oscar season and didn´t publish my picks before the Oscars aired. Not a big deal as I plan to do an Oscars edition for every the Oscars have been around! Sounds crazy? That´s because it is.

To be honest, I may have delayed because I was not very keen on most of the movies nominated this year, aside from my top pick. Even in my original review for Blackkkansman, I said it was a good film but not Oscar-worthy. I edited that little bit out.

I understand that the Oscars are trying hard to capture a larger audience, thus pushing for more ticket-sale-friendly films in their nomination brackets, but I hope they don´t continue on this trend to the detriment of higher quality films that perhaps fewer people have seen.

Well, here are my picks from worst to best.

A Star is Born

I tried watching this movie twice and twice I felt it lost steam mid-way through. Lady Gaga is a decent actress but not once in the movie did I feel I wasn´t watching her in a very long music video. Bradley Cooper also didn´t hold my attention enough to care about his personal problems with alcohol and family.

This movie started out fine – and Shallow was a deserving entry to the pantheon of great Oscar-winning songs, but perhaps my heart it too “shallow” to appreciate this one. It was pretty by the numbers.

I do remember enjoying the 70s version a lot, though.

Image result for barbra streisand a star is born

Here is a podcast I did with some friends with lengthier reviews of this and other films on this list.

Vice

Vice was not a bad movie, but it was also an entirely forgettable one. It flitted between humanizing and demonizing a man, that did not need any more of either. There was really not point to the film that couldn´t have been expressed better in an actual documentary feature.

The saving grace was Bale´s performance.

He did his best Gary Oldman and submerged himself in the role of Dick Cheney, transforming his body and face to impressive standards.  The difference between this performance and Oldman´s is that Oldman´s was buffered by a superior (albeit not great) story to back it up.

Vice is certainly not a terrible choice for Best Picture, but I doubt it will be remembered down the years as a crowning achievement for anyone involved.

Black Panther

I shocked that this movie received a Best-Picture nomination. I saw it in the theatres twice and it was a spectacle for the eyes, but there was nothing about it, story-wise, that I hadn´t seen a million times before – and usually in other MCU movies.

I rank it higher than A Star is Born only for entertainment value. Killmonger was also one of my favorite MCU villains.

There is, of course, the cultural aspect of having a nearly all-black cast in a major money-making superhero movie, and although I was happy to see this, I can´t allow its blackness to override its quality. Black Panther was good, but it is certainly not a movie which I hold near and dear to my heart.

You can read my full original review of Black Panther here.

Green Book

This is cute little movie is Driving Miss Daisy 2.0 and could, like that movie, yet again stymie Spike Lee in the Oscar race. The big change from Miss Daisy is that in The Green Book the roles are reversed – a white driver and a black passenger.

I was entertained by this movie, throughout, but felt it was a bit simplistic. The friendship and bond that is built between these two men was the only standout, but predictable. The rest of the movie was basically the writers patronizingly explaining to us over and over again why racism in the deep South was bad.

The problem is that even in its most harrowing moments (like when Dr. Shirley and his driver Tony are arrested by some racist Southern cops, or when two men scope Dr. Shirley out and prepare to rob him, or when he is being beaten up in a bar, or even when he is caught doing illicit things with another man in a YMCA) there is never really any suspense. We, the audience, are assured by the music, the lighting, and the tone – that all will end well.

This being based on a true story, I can understand not adding extra drama where there was none, but by removing all tension from what must have been a somewhat harrowing journey for a black man alone in the pre-integration South does the film an injustice. It turns what could have been a true masterpiece of grander scope about the climate of America in the 1960s into a great story of friendship set in whatever city they ended up in next.

If Green Book set out to be an accessible movie for all ages about a rough period in American history, it probably succeeded (although with less humor and vibrancy than 2017s Hidden Figures) but it stands far below other films depicting that period and the people who lived through it – skip ahead a decade and watch Blackkksman for a better version of that.

(P.S. Edit *** I can´t believe this actually won Best Picture. Twice Spike Lee has been beaten by an interracial driving movie.)

Bohemian Rhapsody

This movie had moviegoers and critics on opposite ends of the spectrum. It took me a little while to get around to seeing it, but I have to say, I am with the people. Bohemian Rhapsody was comfortable in its leotards and sequins and played to the audience the way Freddie would have done.

Critics have derided the film for not being introspective enough, but I am not sure that is the movie I would have liked to have seen. Queen was about the flash, the pompousness, the audacity and that is where this movie shines brightest.

At the end Freddie finally tells his bandmates that he has AIDS, he cuts them short before they can mope about it and explains that he doesn’t want tears nor sympathy. Had this movie spent more time than it did with Freddie’s struggles with identifying as gay, or coming to terms with his illness, I think it would have detracted from what Freddie and the band’s essence was: energy and life.

This is not a masterpiece of filmmaking but as far as a movie that felt sure about what tone and road it wanted to take and executing that mission perfectly, it gets high marks. I don’t think it deserves best-picture, but Rami walking away with an Oscar might be the highlight of Oscar night.

Blackkklansman

Spike Lee makes up my trinity of great NYC filmmakers (Allen and Scorsese being the other two in the Holy Club). Sadly, Spike´s feature film output hadn´t been that great in quite some time (although I do recommend watching any of the documentaries he has put out of late). This is why it was gratifying for me to see that Blackkklansman saw him get a little of his stride back. Perhaps Jordan Peele´s socially-conscious and extremely smart “Get Out” (Peele had his hands in this film too) got his competitive juices flowing.

Blackkklansman is based on the true story of two cops (one black and one white) who infiltrate the KKK. Spike seems to recognize the absurdity of this plot and wastes no time in utilizing that to his benefit. This movie is 80% comedy with just enough drama sprinkled in to not completely wash over the important themes and messages.

Sure, there are times when he stumbles, like his “in case you didn´t get it” connections he makes to Donald Trump´s current “Make America Great” rhetoric, but thankfully these slip-ups are far and few between – although opening the film with Alec Baldwin trying to make a political statement was a mistake. I absolutely hate when a movie gets preachy even if I agree with the sermon!

These moments stand out like a sore thumb only because the rest of the movie is vintage Lee. It´s filled with characters who are polar opposites – even while being on the same side. It´s got a soundtrack that drives you along as much as the story. It´s got flashiness and snappy editing. It´s the Spike Lee I remember loving.

The only part of the movie I thought was a bit underdeveloped was protagonist Ron Stallworth´s (played with a sardonic air all the way through by John David Washington) relationship to a black activist, Patricia. Although their scenes together allowed for some back and forth about how to deal with racism in America, it felt like they were written in only to serve those purposes. Never did I feel that these two were actually building anything extraordinary together because their conversations were mostly flat and surface level.

To close, I haven´t been this excited about a Spike Lee feature film in quite some time. This movie is certainly worth taking a look at from both a historical and entertainment angle, though. Mr. Lee is back, and I hope he can keep his groove going for a good while.

The soundtrack is pretty hot too!

The Favourite

This is a period piece for people, like me, that don’t usually like period pieces. It is shot with the audaciousness and vibrancy of film set in the modern day while keeping its feet firmly grounded in 18th Century England during the French and English War. It tells the story of a power struggle between three women: Queen Anne, who seems slightly mad; her confidant, Lady Sarah; and a newcomer who seeks to be the Queen´s new confidant, Abigal.

What impressed me about this movie is the way that it manages to build its characters without pressing too hard. Little by little we see the balance of power shift from the Lady Sarah to Abigal – it’s subtle and subversive yet perfectly paced and delivered by the three actresses.

This movie has a lot going for it both in front and behind the camera, and in the age of #metoo, a film about three strong women doing anything they must to retain power may be a hit at the Oscars. It did lack moments of deeper feeling among the characters, and that is what keeps it out of first place for me. But, overall, The Favourite is a triumphant piece of film making.

Roma

Roma is many stories and I will go into them in a minute. But, the movie primarily focuses on the year in the life of a young maid named Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio with steady restraint. She is a simple woman who accepts life as it comes but learns by the end of the movie that sometimes life throws things at us which are hard to accept or not worth accepting. In this, she finds her inner strength and core.

But like I said, Roma is many stories.

Another of its stories is the story of women. For as Cleo grows, her employer, Sofia, goes through a similar realization towards inner power but from a different route. She is much more self-assured and seemingly in control of her life. She already understands the curve balls of existence. But her journey is in learning to cope and rise above that which she sees before her, namely her husband´s infidelity. She must not only accept reality but acknowledge what it means to her life.

Another story of Roma is the story of betrayal mostly by men who, though shown in roles of masculinity and power (skilled martial artist, doctor, wanna-be rock star), are lacking in their ability to be truly strong for the women in their lives.

Roma is also about revolution and civil struggle. The movie is set in 1971 Mexico during President Luis Echeverría Álvarez government. There is a sense of foreboding as student activists and para-military groups march and train for their respective causes. Yet, the social schism is used only as a backdrop to relate to the same theme of “not knowing and/or accepting what is laid out before you.” These young people are willing to live and die for a cause which may or may not be greater than their own lives.

Roma is also a story about being stuck in a place (both emotionally and physically) while learning to view that place in different ways. Throughout the film (including its opening and ending) airplanes are shown in the background while these characters deal with their daily challenges. This juxtaposition of those who have (by fate, hard work or whatever it may be) managed to “buy their ticket” out of their circumstances versus those who must make the most from what they have is both the most saddening and empowering message of the movie.

The tone of the movie is sad because we, the audience, understand that no amount of changing cars or moving things around in a room can truly deconstruct that which has always been there and will remain – our path in life. Yet. the movie also manages to empower because we can have hope that those same changes can allow us to see that which was always there in a different light. We can start to believe that with new eyes we can make the following day greater than the last.

Roma is a beautiful movie all around. It excels in its writing, acting, direction and especially its cinematography, which subtly hints at its themes and emotional beats throughout. It’s a two-hour movie, but it is beautifully paced and a marvel for the eyes. Don’t expect a Hollywood style exposition straight into the conflict and plot. This movie takes its time with its characters and the small journey they take from the movie’s start to the end.

I highly recommend this one –  it ranks as one of the best movies to have ever been nominated in the best-picture category a very long time.

 

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1 Response to Ranking the Best Picture Oscar Movies – 2019 Edition

  1. Pingback: What I am Reading: The Walking Dead Comics Comes to an End | Brazusa's Blog

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