oscar 2020 nominations

The 2020 Oscar nominations (and who we’d have chosen instead…)

The Academy Awards are the toast of awards season. But, as the nominees are announced, there’s a few changes we’d make to the shortlists…

The Oscar nominations are out — and we’re not happy. While the Academy have recognised many of the best performances, artistic choices and storytelling of the year, there are a few oversights and omissions we just couldn’t keep quiet about. So take a look at the lists below, and see if you agree with our changes…

The Best Picture race is missing some key competitors

The Academy is allowed to shortlist up to 10 films in the Best Picture category. So, quite why they wouldn’t use this allocation to stretch the entries beyond simple dramas is beyond us. Save for Jojo Rabbit, all nominees are dramas — just take a look:

  • Ford v Ferrari
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • Marriage Story
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • 1917
  • Parasite

We’ve got a fair few issues here. Let’s start with the films that deserve to be on the list. The Irishman may not be a masterpiece, but its vision and scale has to be applauded. It’s the same with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — perhaps more than the sum of its parts, but it feels like a Best Picture. 1917 is also a good call, if not simply for its format-stretching, boundary-pushing one-take conceit. And Jojo Rabbit, for all its tonal faults and foibles, is a very enjoyable film that gave us something truly different — that’s not to be sniffed at.

But the following four don’t quite cut it. We’ve seen relationship studies, Marriage Story. We’ve watched costume dramas, Little Women. We’ve sat through social satire, Parasite. And Ford v Ferrari — why are you even here? There were plenty better options for Best Picture this year, and we’ve plugged the holes here.

First up comes Knives Out, our film of the year and a well-crafted, tightly original slice of bittersweet cinema. Give it more awards! Uncut Gems, too, deserves a place on the shortlist — for artistically and authentically pushing cinema audiences to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Also add to this list Booksmart, for bringing us sharp, smart and truly entertaining cinema, and The Lighthouse, for its unsettling story, black-and-white composition and beardy Willem Dafoe.

The Best Director category shouldn’t be so elitist

There are some excellent films on the shortlist for Best Director, and some brilliant directors behind them. But we can’t help but feel that, as with the acting categories, highfalutin hoity-toity dramas have overshadowed other stellar achievements in the world of cinema. Here are the five nominees:

  • Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
  • Sam Mendes, 1917
  • Todd Phillips, Joker
  • Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
  • Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

There are a couple we agree with. Sam Mendes, who helmed the gritty war epic 1917, certainly deserves his spot on this list — and he’ll deserve the gong when he wins as well. We also don’t mind Todd Phillips getting a nod for Joker. Joaquin Phoenix surely couldn’t have created such an informed take on the character without a firm hand on the tiller — and the fact that ten years ago Phillips was directing The Hangover shows some serious career progression. But Tarantino and Scorsese turned in largely predictable fare, in the same niches they carved out many years ago. And Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, while a superbly tight thriller, owes its success to its script rather than its direction (Bong Joon-ho also wrote and produced).

For our directing nods, we’d go for two sets of brothers — and one quirky comedic filmmaker. First up come the Safdie brothers, whose Uncut Gems not only gave Adam Sandler the platform he needed to truly unleash his dramatic skills, but also gave most everyone who saw it a panic attack. Who else has managed to keep up such a frantic pace up across 135 minutes in modern cinema? No-one.

Our next brothers are the Russo brothers. Avengers: Endgame may have been a blockbuster, but it tasked the two men with tying up loose threads and character arcs from 22 (count them) previous films. And they did it, in style — and to the tune of $2.8 billion. And, to round out the category, we’re throwing a nom to Taika Waititi, who auteured Jojo Rabbit — all while performing as, and taking down, Hitler. Surely that deserves a round of applause?

The Best Actor category needs some more comedy

As it stands, the nominees for Best Actor look pretty exciting. Only two of the actors on the shortlist have ever been nominated in this category before — and only one has ever won. Here’s how they stand:

  • Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Adam Driver, Marriage Story
  • Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
  • Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Joaquin Phoenix will surely scoop the award for his biting, turbulent take on DC Comics’ arch-super-villain in Joker. And he deserves his place on the list — as does Antonio Banderas for his visceral, dramatic performance in Pain and Glory. But Jonathan Pryce, Adam Driver and Leonardo DiCaprio? The performances just didn’t do it for us. Instead, we’d switch these three actors out for a couple of more comedic turns.

First up, surely Daniel Craig should have got a look-in for his turn as hammy Benoit Blanc, the detective at the centre of Knives Out’s murder investigation. From Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids to Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder, the Academy has awarded broad, bold comedy in the past — and nothing was more camply comic this year than Craig’s ‘CSI: KFC’ southern drawl.

Next comes Adam Sandler. We know, we know — we’re as surprised as you are. But try to keep up with Sandler’s frenetic, charismatic performance as a jeweller-cum-gambling addict in Uncut Gems and you’ll know why he makes our shortlist. And our final suggestion? 12-year-old Roman Griffin Davis for resting Best Picture nominee Jojo Rabbit on his shoulders alone. There’s some stunning acting from the young Brit in the role, running the gamut from high concept comedy to true tragedy. He, like Craig, got a nod at the Golden Globes — but nothing here. And, even if Griffin Davis had been nominated, he wouldn’t be unprecedented in his youth — Jackie Cooper scored a nomination in 1931 at the age of just nine-years-old.

The Best Actress nominees are cut from the same cloth

At the Golden Globes, the acting categories are split down the middle: half for dramatic roles; half for musical and comedy roles. This year’s Oscar shortlist for Best Actress takes the Golden Globes dramatic nominees and replicates it, name for name — leaving out any lighter performances. Here’s the list:

  • Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
  • Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
  • Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
  • Charlize Theron, Bombshell
  • Renée Zellweger, Judy

As it stands, we’re backing Charlize Theron here, whose spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly more than did justice to those ridiculously realistic prosthetics in Bombshell. Renée Zellweger also deserves her spot — she sang every note you hear in the musical biopic Judy. But, aside from this, we’d swap out Cynthia Erivo and Saoirse Ronan’s nominations, and let Scarlett Johansson keep her Best Supporting nod (we’ll come to that).

Our first replacement would be Lupita Nyong’o. For anyone who saw Us, you’ll know that Nyong’o not only turned in two performances — but they were two of the best all year. Sadly, the Academy seems to be afraid of horror — no nod. Next up, we’ll take a trip back to Knives Out’s murdery mansion, where Ana de Armas’ nuanced turn as Christopher Plummer’s nurse was softly comedic, utterly believable and criminally overlooked. And our final choice? Like Sandler above, we love being surprised when we head to the cinema — and nothing struck us as more entertaining and enticing this year than Jennifer Lopez’s fierce take on Ramona Vega, the focus of crime comedy Hustlers. Unfortunately, if the Academy is still scared by horror, we can only imagine its take on pole dancing…

The Best Supporting Actor nominations seem oddly tokenistic

There are a couple of almost-sure things in this list — which once again directly lifts itself from the Golden Globes. But there’s a whiff of laziness about it, too. Are these really the best performances of the year, or are they what you’re meant to consider the best performances of the year? You be the judge:

  • Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Al Pacino, The Irishman
  • Joe Pesci, The Irishman
  • Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes

Obviously give it to Brad. In a sea of admittedly beautiful self-absorption, Pitt’s turn as a former stuntman was the best thing about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He’ll win. He should win. And, aside from Joe Pesci, pulled out of retirement to set a new career best performance, Pitt is the only actor who should be on this list. Al Pacino’s performance was by-the-book, Anthony Hopkins made it because of the Academy’s late-in-the-day love affair with The Two Popes and Tom Hanks — despite not having been nominated for almost two decades — didn’t exactly play against his nice-guy type as Mister Rogers.

Our first replacement nominee would have to be Willem Dafoe, whose gruff, beardy keeper in The Lighthouse was more rounded and realised than the performances of his the Academy recognised in 2018 and 2019. Next up would be Christopher Plummer in Knives Out — killed before the opening credits roll, but frequently and joyfully revisited in flashbacks throughout. And, for a wild card, we’d throw a nomination towards Jamie Bell for his oddly overlooked turn as Bernie Taupin in Rocketman. Behind Taron Egerton’s bombast, Bell embodied the sincere, beating heart of the musical biopic.

The Best Supporting Actress category is wildly irregular

The second category that Scarlett Johansson has acted her way into this year, the Best Supporting Actress award is tightly contested. But, despite some strong performances, a couple of the contenders have raised our eyebrows. Take a look:

  • Laura Dern, Marriage Story
  • Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
  • Florence Pugh, Little Women
  • Margot Robbie, Bombshell
  • Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Give it to ScarJo. She’s having a blistering, blast of a year: superheroics in Avengers: Endgame; lots of shouting in Marriage Story; upbeat freedom-fighting in Jojo Rabbit. And she deserves the gong for her convincing German accent and extensive hat collection in the latter. Florence Pugh should also be on this list — but not for Little Women. Instead, give her a chance by nominating her for Midsommar, a film that was released over eight months ago and is still being talked about. Laura Dern, too, should be on here — and will likely take the award home.

Unfortunately, while Margot Robbie was fun to watch in Bombshell, she doesn’t make our cut. And god knows why Kathy Bates has even made it onto this list — did anyone actually even see box-office bomb Richard Jewell? Instead, fill those two gaps with the leading duo of Booksmart, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. So equal in their roles that you couldn’t edge a ‘Leading’ nomination from either, these two frequently hilarious, unflinchingly real protagonists were essential in creating the teen tale of the decade.

The Best Cinematography category is almost spot on

Most of us don’t realise just how important the cinematography is on a film, but it defines it in our memory. Responsible for the distinct aesthetic, visual cues and tone-setting, the cinematographer is one of the most important people on set. Here are the masters of their art the Academy have recognised:

  • 1917, Roger Deakins
  • The Irishman, Rodrigo Prieto
  • Joker, Lawrence Sher
  • The Lighthouse, Jarin Blaschke
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Robert Richardson

Now we’re talking. The Academy has got it pretty much bang on here. Joker’s neon-tinged, darkly dingy aesthetic was perfect for the character, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was drenched in sun and a sweet, day haze and The Lighthouse was a cracked photograph of a movie. All richly deserve their place on the list. We’ll even bow to 1917, that had the unenviable job of stringing together a visually coherent narrative in the style of one shot.

But The Irishman? Why? It doesn’t have a visual identity — or certainly not more so than any other film. Instead, in a year when Wes Anderson didn’t release one of his instantly recognisable pictures, Jojo Rabbit stepped up to the quirky, pastel-hued plate and delivered a dose of kitschy eye candy. Taika Waititi’s film rounds out our top five, but Joker still swings it for us.

The Best Adapted Screenplay should look beyond books

At the Golden Globes, in the Best Original Screenplay category, Knives Out wasn’t even nominated. At the Oscars, it is — and we expect it to win. The sister category, the Adapted Screenplay shortlist, however, appears to be a considerably tighter-run race. These are the nominees:

  • The Irishman, Steven Zaillian
  • Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi
  • Joker, Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
  • Little Women, Greta Gerwig
  • The Two Popes, Anthony McCarten

And here’s the problem. If the gong should award straight adaptation, by all means give it to Little Women, or The Two Popes — which is based on a 2017 play and adapted by the same writer. But we’re looking for a little more skill in screenwriting — the elevation or reinvention of an idea that justifies the entire project. Joker, for instance, flipped the character we all love to hate on its head. And Jojo Rabbit inserts an imaginary friend into the plot of the original book, in the form of Hitler. These two make it onto our list.

But the remaining three change. We’d give Hustlers a nod, as well as A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, as they were both adapted from magazine articles — and took real work to flesh out and create distinct, coherent stories from. And, although it was allegedly only partially based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Light-House, we’d still throw The Lighthouse a nomination as well. After all, it’s as much about what you don’t translate from page to screen as what you do.

Want to see what we think will happen at the BAFTAs? Take a look at the 2020 nominees here…

Join the Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse here.

Further Reading