the gold rush

All 53 Movies Nominated for an Oscar This Year, Ranked

Here we go. Photo-Illustration: Vulture, United Artists Releasing, Paramount Pictures, A24 and Focus Features

This year’s Oscar nominations featured an unprecedented amount of overlap in the top categories, with four films — Joker, 1917, The Irishman, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — hogging a whopping 41 total nominations. And yet still, 53 films in total were nominated for at least one Academy Award, including documentaries, animated features, foreign-language films, and 15 short films. Because we are a list-making people, I set out to watch every nominated film and then rank them accordingly. This ranking is subjective and based on nothing but my own personal evaluation.

But it is right.

53. Breakthrough

Directed by: Roxann Dawson 
Nominations: (1) Best Original Song

I went into Breakthrough with a more-than-necessary amount of determination to find the good in it — it being a faith-based movie and me being a person of very little faith. But the message of this movie — Chrissy Metz’s son falls through pond ice and ends up in a coma, surviving thanks to the power of her faith and prayer — is incredibly muddled, and at times seems to be acting in bad faith, particularly when depicting incompetent medical staff. Diane Warren’s nominated song ranks right at the bottom of her own rankings, too.

52. Nefta Football Club

Directed by: Yves Piat
Nominations: (1) Best Live Action Short

Last year’s short films got called out for being unusually obsessed with placing children in danger in order to goose up a plot. Nominating a short film like Nefta Football Club anyway — a film where a pair of Tunisian kids who happen upon a drug-hauling donkey seem to make the most imperiling choice possible at every turn, if only for the sake of the film — either shows a callousness toward criticism or an unbreakable penchant for films like this.

51. Joker 

Directed by: Todd Phillips
Nominations: (11) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Film Editing

Joker isn’t a failure of aesthetics (though it is, from scene to scene, unsure of whether it wants to evoke the 1970s or be in the ’70s), nor one of storytelling (though it borrows so heavily from its obvious influences that you wonder where “adaptation” comes into it), nor certainly one of acting (though for every bravura and unsettling Joaquin Phoenix scene where he’s tap-dancing down the steps of his descent into madness, Zazie Beetz is wasted in another). No, Joker is primarily the failure of a man who looks at an America on the brink of political crisis, societal upheaval, and environmental doom and thinks, You know, I think I could fit in a scene of Thomas and Martha Wayne getting murdered again.

50. The Lion King 

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Nominations: (1) Best Visual Effects

Going in expecting the worst, I had to admit that The Lion King’s “live action” remake was not the soul-shriveling experience I had feared it would be. That’s it. That’s the compliment. When a movie can’t even make good on a Beyoncé original song, you know things are grim.

49. Richard Jewell 

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Nominations: (1) Best Supporting Actress

Clint Eastwood’s righteous anger at the government and the media — “two of the most powerful forces in the world,” per Sam Rockwell, acting as the film’s persistent Jiminy Cricket — for seeing nothing in Richard Jewell but the profile of a lone, fat loser who probably planted the bomb, is undercut somewhat by his determination to have a laugh at sad, fat Richard’s expense every time the film needs some levity. Well, that and turning Olivia Wilde’s ambitious reporter into a soulless, Macarena-dancing, fire-breathing dragon. There’s a good, gripping story at the center of this movie, but it’s surrounded in ugliness and hypocrisy.

48. Bombshell

Directed by: Jay Roach
Nominations: (3) Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell is too much of a star-studded, watchable, current-events tale to ever be truly worthless. But Jay Roach never seems to settle on what he wants to say about Megyn Kelly and the Fox News accusers, and while he’s tiptoeing around Kelly (played by Charlize Theron with uncanny physical and vocal accuracy, but with little in the way of intention), the rest of the story just floats in an unsatisfying middle ground. Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani made me literally scream though.

47. Ford v Ferrari

Directed by: James Mangold
Nominations: (4) Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

It seems correct that half of this movie’s Oscar nominations came for its sound and none for its story. That it managed a Best Picture nomination for being VROOM VROOM: The Movie is something a bit more puzzling. It’s not a bad movie, just a deeply uninteresting one, that’s all.

46. Klaus

Directed by: Sergio Pablos 
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Feature

We somehow keep finding more and more ways to pull back the curtain on the true story of what happens at the North Pole. This Santa Claus origin story has a whole lot more to do with the postal service and warring northern clans than you might expect. Between this and Maleficent, it sometimes seems like the most influential film of the 2010s was How to Train Your Dragon. Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, and Joan Cusack have a lot of fun with their voice work.

J.K. Simmons (left) and Jason Schwartzman (right). Photo: Netflix

45. Sister

Directed by: Siqi Song
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Short

China’s one-child policy was expected to be a featured topic for Oscar in the guise of the documentary feature One Child Nation. When that got snubbed, all pressure fell to Sister, a strikingly animated story about a boy and his beloved sister — only there’s a twist, and it involves an abortion. It’s not that tricky a needle to thread, criticizing China’s one-child policy without demonizing abortion, but Sister manages to find the wrong angle.

44. Corpus Christi

Directed by: Jan Komasa
Nominations: (1) Best International Film

This story of a man released from prison, who’s found faith but is blocked from joining the priesthood because of his crimes, marks Poland’s fifth nomination in this category since 2007. The concept is potentially juicy, but there’s an oppressive grimness that doesn’t serve the film as well as it thinks it does.

43. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Directed by: Dean DeBlois
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Feature

I mean I did just say the original was the most influential animated film of the 2010s. Now that we’re in our third iteration, however, we might just be at the end of what can be done with Hiccup and his pals.

42. Missing Link

Directed by: Chris Butler 
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Feature

In a twist that could only happen at the Oscars, Laika animation studios goes for years as a runner-up in this category, with great, engaging, emotional, thrilling films like ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings, and now it might finally win the Oscar for a movie I found mostly flat and at times quite irritating. There’s no explaining it.

41. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil 

Directed by: Joachim Rønning
Nominations: (1) Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Angelina Jolie appears to be having fun playing the sharp-boned, broad-winged faerie witch Maleficent, and while this movie delves into some pretty unnecessary backstory about her particular race of faeries while at the same time delivering a bland wedding subplot for Elle Fanning’s Aurora, Jolie is still able to carry it. Major deductions for restricting Michelle Pfeiffer to a whole lot of glowering from turrets.

40. Life Overtakes Me

Directed by: Kristine Samuelson, John Haptas
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Short

The year’s annual spotlight on an exotic and terrifying child illness. This time it’s “Resignation Syndrome,” where grade-school children retreat into an unresponsive, sleeping state due to some kind of trauma or another. The film does its level best to paint the picture of an immigration issue, as at least one of these families is seeking asylum from Russian gangsters, but the Swedish officials are bowing to anti-immigrant pressure. In the end the filmmaking is repetitious and flat.

39. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Nominations: (3) Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

The consistency of the Star Wars franchise to gather up Oscar nominations no matter the fan response, box-office fluctuations, or being eclipsed by other franchises is really something to appreciate. Honestly. But how many times is John Williams going to get applauded for writing the exact same score? I ask you! (Rise of Skywalker was fine, by the way! J.J. Abrams isn’t some kind of devil!)

38. American Factory 

Directed by: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert 
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Feature

That Netflix’s first film out of its production deal with the Obamas yielded a Best Documentary nomination doesn’t come as a huge surprise. It’s also a big pitch down the center of typical election-year issues, which is to say middle-class, middle-American unemployment and the encroaching influence of China. Those issues collide in American Factory in ways that often clash or contradict with each other, which the film does a good job of making into a positive. Workers’ rights, unionization, xenophobia, and racism aren’t always in easy translation with each other, as this film seems to understand, even if at times it feels like too many directions for the doc to explore at once.

37. Harriet

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Nominations: (2) Best Actress, Best Original Song

It is of course monstrously unfair to ask Cynthia Erivo to shoulder the burden of being the only acting nominee of color this year. Better instead to celebrate her first Oscar nomination (of possibly many, given her talent) and the strong and committed performance she brings to an otherwise hit-or-miss film like Harriet. Though, again, perhaps better to celebrate that at long last a Kasi Lemmons film got some Oscar nominations, all these many years after Eve’s Bayou was so sadly snubbed in all categories.

36. Dcera (Daughter)

Directed by: Daria Kashcheeva
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Short

An estranged father and daughter reconnect when he is in the hospital, and they flash back to their complicated relationship. The animation is harsh, muddled stop-motion, giving the film a grotesque quality, more admirable than re-watchable. There’s often a gulf between the animated shorts (challenging, experimental, lyrical) and animated features (fun, crowd-pleasing, commercial) at the Oscars. You can’t get much more emblematic of that divide than a nominated animated short inspired by Dogme 95 principles.

35. Les Misérables 

Directed by: Ladj Ly
Nominations: (1) Best International Film

No, Russell Crowe stayed blessedly away from this film, whose connection to the Victor Hugo novel and its subsequent musical version are tangential at best, mostly confined to geographic overlap, where Ly’s film takes place in roughly the same spot where Jean Valjean met Cosette. The degree to which that is meant to be clever or meaningful is rather fuzzy, something that is symptomatic of the rest of the film, telling its story of civil and social unrest with a lot of flash but shakier foundations.

34. Rocketman

Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Nominations: (1) Best Original Song

All year long, Rocketman has seemingly been in competition with one film and one alone: Bohemian Rhapsody, with the consensus being that Rocketman is great for all the ways it isn’t last year’s Bryan Singer–directed Queen biopic. That it fell short of most of B.R.’s Oscar haul — including a Best Actor nomination that Taron Egerton worked very hard for — is a disappointment, but perhaps now a reevaluation is due for a movie that, despite flashes of brilliance early on and Egerton’s magnetic performance, still manages to sag at all the moments all music biopics sag, and endure the same story beats as well.

33. I Lost My Body

Directed by: Jérémy Clapin
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Feature

The most unique animated feature of the year, and it definitely deserves bonus points for that. And certainly who wouldn’t love it if the heartwarming story of a severed hand trying to get back to the body it was cruelly separated from ended up winning the award created for Disney princesses and Pixar’s happy endings?

32. Judy

Directed by: Rupert Goold
Nominations: (2) Best Actress, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Yes, it’s incredibly uneven. Yes, it’s strange that Renée Zellweger’s performance went essentially unchallenged all awards season. But at its best moments, the film makes a space for Zellweger to fill her committed, respectful, and tragic turn as Judy. It’d rank a lot lower, too, if not for that perfect scene in the middle where Judy goes home with a pair of her most dedicated friends of Dorothy.

Renée! Zellweger! Photo: Courtesy of Pathé Productions/Pathé Productions

31. In the Absence 

Directed by: Yi Seung-jun
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Short

A devastating blow-by-blow account of the Korean ferry disaster that killed 304 people, including 250 students, the film’s focus is on the inability of Korean officials to act quickly (or at all) to help rescue the students as the ferry slowly sank into the sea. Focusing on that inaction lends itself to a somewhat muted presentation, and while the scenes of the families grieving their children are devastating, you can’t help wanting the film to better reflect that anger.

30. The Cave 

Directed by: Feras Fayyad
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Feature

The Cave gives director Feras Fayyad the opportunity to play prosecuting witness in front of a world stage. Much like with his previous, Oscar-nominated Last Men in Aleppo, Fayyad is recording the atrocities, the dead bodies, the grieving loved ones, as a way of both preserving the evidence against the perpetrators, but also as a real-time document to the rest of the world: These events in Syria are happening now, while we speak, while you eat your popcorn.

29. St. Louis Superman 

Directed by: Sami Khan, Smriti Mundhra
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Short

In the aftermath of Ferguson, Bruce Franks Jr. got active, ran for state assembly, and won. This glimpse into the life of an activist and everything he’s fighting for is incredibly inspirational. Its value as a film lies in its ability to document Franks at his crossroads between that which drives him and that which frustrates him.

28. Frozen II 

Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Nominations: (1) Best Original Song

The law of diminishing returns hit the Frozen sequel, almost inevitably. Which is too bad, because while the sequel does get bogged down in what most adventure-fantasy sequels get bogged down in — Who are the ancestors of our most intriguing character? — it is also an exhilarating and defiant exploration of snow queen Elsa: Under Disney’s dumb constraints we can’t make her actually queer, so we’ll just make her essentially queer.

27. The Neighbors’ Window 

Directed by: Marshall Curry
Nominations: (1) Best Live Action Short

Curry was nominated for the brief gut-punch documentary A Night at the Garden, depicting a Nazi rally in New York City in the ’20s. This film is much different, a kind of This Is 40 meets Rear Window, and there’s a bougie Brooklyn quality to it that will turn a lot of people off right away. Which is too bad, because those people will miss a top-notch Maria Dizzia performance and a genuinely powerful ending.

26. Saria

Directed by: Bryan Buckley
Nominations: (1) Best Live Action Short

An eye-opening look at the true-life story of a tragedy at an orphanage in Guatemala. Children in danger again, yes, and perhaps we’re just falling for another one, but opening the world’s eyes to this event seems worth it.

25. The Edge of Democracy 

Directed by: Petra Costa
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Feature

Documentary filmmaking as a real-time chronicle of a crumbling democracy, which fits right in with not only this year’s doc nominees but with the trend in this category for a while. Brazil’s political crisis in recent years is depicted as a terrifying unfolding of one highly plausible and relatable development after another. Like the ghost of Christmas Future.

24. Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Directed by: Carol Dysinger
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Short

Watching a school full of young girls in Afghanistan skateboarding their troubles away is probably exactly what you need after a grim helping of documentary shorts. Which isn’t to say this film is empty smiles amid war-torn conditions. It’s just that watching the open, inquisitive looks on these girls’ faces as they go to school and skate and make their own private protest against the Taliban is a real balm.

23. The Two Popes 

Directed by: Fernando Meirelles
Nominations: (3) Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay

Anthony McCarten’s script balances ecumenical debate with light comedy as outgoing pope Anthony Hopkins gradually thaws to the more modern-minded Jonathan Pryce. As unexpected as it sounds in describing a movie called The Two Popes, their interaction is incredibly fun. Popes! Two of ‘em!

22. Hair Love

Directed by: Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr., Bruce W. Smith
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Short

A celebratory, loving few minutes spent with a black father and daughter as he desperately tries to help her do her spectacular mane of hair. The only voice in the film is provided by Issa Rae as the “natural-hair vlogger.” There are a lot of high-profile producers on this one, including Jordan Peele, Gabourey Sidibe, Gabrielle Union, and Dwyane Wade.

21. A Sister

Directed by: Delphine Girard
Nominations: (1) Best Live Action Short

Look, okay, yes. To answer your question: The plot here is incredibly similar to Halle Berry’s The Call. That doesn’t change how exciting it was to spot a thriller among all the short-film dirges. It’s a tantalizing film, all the more so because it’s a short. But the dance performed by the abducted woman and her 9-1-1 operator is intense and thrilling.

20. Memorable

Directed by: Bruno Collet
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Short

An animated short about the cruel ravages of dementia? Sounds like Oscar to me! That said, this is a good one. The rough, texture-y quality to the clay animation feels perfectly in line with the story, with the malleability of the clay utilized to make the familiar seem unfamiliar. Clever but also unsettling in a very real way.

19. Brotherhood

Directed by: Meryam Joobeur
Nominations: (1) Best Live Action Short

This justifiably won a prize at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival for its urgent and emotional story about a Tunisian family whose prodigal son comes home from the Middle East with a Syrian wife. His father suspects he’s gone radical and has joined ISIL. But rather than just the series of unconfirmed suspicions and heedless actions that crescendo into something awful, there is a persistent and necessary family drama going on.

18. The Irishman 

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Nominations: (10) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (x2), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costumes, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects

At some point in its three-and-a-half-hour running time — almost certainly well before the three-hour mark, even — you get where this is going. Frank Sheeran’s disapproving daughter (eventually played in adulthood by Anna Paquin) is going to be the silent tribunal before which his life’s work of “painting houses” will be judged. And while the meticulous way Scorsese puts the film together is admirable, so little of it (Joe Pesci being one shining example) feels vital and essential.

17. The Lighthouse

Directed by: Robert Eggers
Nominations: (1) Best Cinematography

This movie is so slick with sea spray and whatever spray comes outta the characters played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson that it’s surprising the both of them didn’t slip away into the ocean forever. Instead, they lock themselves into this outpost on the edge of hell and try to fart each other into oblivion. The Lighthouse is the one movie this year where hyperbole is impossible, because every disgusting metaphor you bring up to describe it is actually, literally true.

Yes, it’s really Willem Dafoe monologuing as the great and powerful kraken. Yes, Robert Pattinson has a fraught relationship with a seagull. Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

16. For Sama 

Directed by: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Feature

Of all this year’s bleak, harrowing, soul-deadening films about the ongoing war in Syria, For Sama is the most focused and the most human. It’s not about to take it easy on you, but if the title was giving you Dear Zachary vibes, it might not be quite what you feared.

15. Toy Story 4

Directed by: Josh Cooley
Nominations: (2) Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song

The most welcome surprise of the year was Toy Story 4 turning out to be not only not awful but genuinely great. After a series of trailers that promised a manic, Cousin Oliver–esque new “toy” called Forky, it seemed like the franchise was spinning itself off into oblivion. Instead, Forky acts as a catalyst who opens the story up into a carnival setting, where Woody reconnects with a newly badass Bo Peep (Annie Potts giving the best voice performance of the year), who’s essentially the Furiosa of this nomadic band of free toys.

14. Jojo Rabbit

Directed by: Taika Waititi
Nominations: (6) Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Costumes, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing

My worry with Jojo was that Taika Waititi would spend so much of the running time being impressed with his own audacity that he’d leave no oxygen in the room for comedy or a story. Those fears were blessedly unfounded. The idea of a comedy unfolding in the world of Nazi soldiers and their grade-school recruits during the waning days of the war may not be your thing, but the characters, the humor, and the performances (especially the nominated Scarlett Johansson and the not nominated Thomasin McKenzie) are all pretty pure.

13. Honeyland

Directed by: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov
Nominations: (2) Best Documentary Feature, Best International Film

There are two movies happening in Honeyland: One is a kind of Macedonian frontierswoman Grey Gardens; the other is a drama about a family business that no one in the family likes or is good at. The two spend much of the movie in their own sometimes-funny, sometimes-stressful and sad spheres, only to cross over in a very human (and humane) way.

12. Kitbull

Directed by: Rosana Sullivan
Nominations: (1) Best Animated Short

Obviously, kids need to learn about the harrowing dangers of dogfighting sooner or later. This rather precious tale of a feisty, feral cat that strikes up a friendship with the new pit bull in the yard. And just like how the undercurrent of Charlotte’s Web was a family who definitely would have eaten that pig eventually, the undercurrent here is that on a long enough timeline, our adorable pit bull is going to get his face gnawed off by a particularly pissed-off dog. But that would be way too scary for Disney+, so instead it’s an escape attempt!

11. Avengers: Endgame

Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo
Nominations: (1) Best Visual Effects

It can be difficult to express what a triumph of multipart, long-lead storytelling I believe Avengers to be, while at the same time holding firm that it remains a tier below Best Picture. It’s saying Martin Scorsese wasn’t right, but the solemn, respectful Oscar campaign for Robert Downey Jr. was also ridiculous.

10. Walk, Run, Cha-Cha 

Directed by: Laura Nix
Nominations: (1) Best Documentary Short

The documentary shorts have a well-earned reputation for being a series of escalating travesties, leaving the viewer devastated. How refreshing, then, to get this story of Vietnam refugees and reunited lovers who take up dance classes in their old age. If only it had a music budget to speak of instead of that chintzy Carpenters cover.

9. 1917

Directed by: Sam Mendes
Nominations: (10) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

As the Best Picture favorite for the last month, 1917 has had a lot to answer for: Why another war film? Why the one-shot “gimmick”? Why do you keep beating Parasite for awards? Whether 1917 is truly the BEST movie of the year, it is a massive undertaking that brought the muck and horror and disorientation of the trenches right into viewers’ laps.

8. Pain and Glory

Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Nominations: (2) Best Actor, Best International Film

Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical story of love, work, regret, and freebasing could only have been brought to life in the person of Antonio Banderas, and watching these two old pals and colleagues back in the game together was a genuine gift.

7. Ad Astra

Directed by: James Gray
Nominations: (1) Best Sound Mixing

The best Brad Pitt performance of the year, sorry. James Gray’s adventures within the male psyche keep going farther and getting stranger, to their great benefit. So many delights to be found in what is really just a great long quest to let dad go.

6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Nominations: (10) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

A tale of at least two Tarantino. After all that vulgar yammering in The Hateful Eight felt just like that: yammering, Hollywood’s dialogue played like a real return to form, and came alive in that Julia Butters’s scene like nothing we’ve seen in years. DiCaprio is having a ball here, and it’s a real shame we couldn’t have given him his Oscar for this. Margot Robbie was nominated for the wrong movie. Honestly, if not for that predictable and (honestly) sadistic ending, it’s the best film of the year.

5. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 

Directed by: Marielle Heller
Nominations: (1) Best Supporting Actor

The year’s most deceptively difficult challenge of adaptation, and Marielle Heller handled it with aplomb. Not that she’s being recognized for it. Not to take anything away from Tom Hanks’s well-deserved nomination, but it’s stranded on an island without Heller framing this story as a skeptical inquiry of Fred Rogers, as much about the man doing the profiling than the profiled. And just when you think that’s starting to sound like an academic exercise, she nails you with a moment of kindness so pure, you’re in a puddle before you know it.

4. Knives Out 

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Nominations: (1) Best Original Screenplay

A triumph in a genre I didn’t even think we were having triumphs in anymore. Rian Johnson’s pitch-perfect murder-mystery ought to have at least five more Oscar nominations. What of those talk-of-the-town costumes? Or the production design of that house with all its sharp edges and witty coffee mugs? Or that cast, highlighted by a spry Daniel Craig, an empathetic Ana de Armas, and Chris Evans settling back into the Sarcastic Preppie archetype like it’s a warm bath.

3. Marriage Story

Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Nominations: (6) Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score

Noah Baumbach’s 2010s streak doesn’t get talked about enough. His collaborations with Greta Gerwig that elevated his game and expanded his emotional palette. His work on The Meyerowitz Stories that sharpened his takes on family and New York. All of this, seemingly, was leading to Marriage Story, which I’d call his magnum opus if it seemed for a second like he was slowing down. The dissolution of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s marriage isn’t about the audience taking sides (even if, dismayingly and predictably, that’s where the discourse took it), it’s about Nicole and Charlie (especially Charlie) finding the place in themselves to be okay.

2. Little Women 

Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Nominations: (6) Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design

Massive Greta Gerwig partisan that I am, even I wondered what more could be done with Little Women. But with the adaptive choices big and small that she brought to the story — from chopping up the timeline to post-modernizing the ending to turning Amy into a shadow protagonist — with every change made with intention and vision, every possible doubt was erased. This is the best adaptation of a piece of classic literature we’ve had in a long time.

1. Parasite

Directed by: Bong Joon Ho
Nominations: (6) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Film, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing

The central parable of Parasite is so strong, so elemental — with its class consciousness providing for high comedy in its first half, before boiling over into chaotic horror in its second half — that it can be easy to gloss over some of the small touches that make the film perfect. Some of these have been latched onto — Jessica’s mnemonic song before ringing the doorbell; the power of all that peach fuzz — but a lot of it boils down to small acting choices, or the way a pair of eyes become suddenly, cheekily visible. This isn’t Bong Joon Ho all cleaned up and respectable. This is the Establishment coming around to him because he made something undeniable.

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