Note: Winners in each category are bolded and any additional commentary is in green. If the winner is highlighted in gold, that indicates it also won the Oscar in the same category.
1. 1917 (producers Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall)
2. The Irishman (producers Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Emma Tillinger Koskoff)
3. JoJo Rabbit (producers Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley)
4. Joker (producers Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff)
5. Parasite (producers Kwak Sin Ae, Bong Joon Ho)
2019 was a pretty damn good year at the movies, as evidenced by 5 strong Best Picture nominees. And as you’ll see below, there were 2 other worthy candidates that I agonized over for the final spot. I could have easily made the Best Picture field 7 or 8 deep this year. I love all of these movies, and I particularly love that four of them are fresh takes on old ideas. Joker is based on comic book characters but in no way feels like a comic book movie. 1917 is a war movie that uses a rarely dramatized conflict (World War I) and shoots it in a way that makes it a quest more than a classic story of wartime heroism. The Irishman innovates new technology to allow legendary actors to play roles they otherwise couldn’t anymore. JoJo Rabbit turns what could’ve been typical WWII misery porn into brilliant, sweet and often hilarious satire, which is always difficult to pull off. When there’s a shortage of new ideas to go around, you better find a fresh way to reuse the old ideas, and these films did that. And Parasite, of course, is one of a kind with regards to originality.
This was one of the tightest Best Picture races I’ve ever deliberated. It was basically a pick’em here between 1917 and Parasite. I went with Parasite because it was also the most original movie of the year, and it’s so hard to create something new these days that’s also this good. If Parasite hadn’t come out this year, 1917 would have won easily. Bad luck for Sam Mendes, an excellent filmmaker, for whom this was his best shot at the top prizes in almost 20 years. It’s really hard to make movies at this level consistently, which I why have so much respect for people like Spielberg, Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher, whose films are in contention almost every time out. Parasite is the second foreign language film to win Best Picture, after The Raid 2 in 2014. Congratulations to Bong Joon Ho and his amazing cast & crew.
Editor’s note: for the galleries of photos below, you can click on any of the images and then easily browse the bigger versions of each pic, which I strongly encourage you to do if you’re reading this post on a phone.
1. Sam Mendes, 1917
2. Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
3. Todd Phillips, Joker
4. Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
5. Taika Waititi, JoJo Rabbit
I have a lot to say about this category. First, you can kiss my ass if you’re a Todd Phillips/Joker hater. I’ve been saying for over a decade that Phillips would excel in drama just as he had in comedy, and damn it feels good to be right. His first dramatic effort, War Dogs, showed a lot of promise, and with Joker he hits a 450′ two-run homer. That a movie this grim could gross a billion+ worldwide is still shocking to me. In a good way. And this movie couldn’t have been made this way by another director.
This is Sam Mendes‘ first directing nod since Road to Perdition way back in 2002. Our great Martin Scorsese now has 6 directing nominations, and he’s been on the sidelines since The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013. It’s the first directing nomination for Bong Joon Ho and Wacky Taika Waititi. None of them have won previously (not even Scorsese).
I’m sorry I didn’t nominate a female director. Burn me at the stake. I will go to my grave believing awards are for merit. Do I think it sends a good and important message when there are contenders who are something other than white males? Yes, I do. But the contenders have to get there because they deserved it, not because we have a quota to fill every year where there must be a woman and there must be a non-white male. Otherwise, it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations, which I will not succumb to. I haven’t given Best Director to a woman yet, but I look forward to the day I do. I can say that I did make a concerted effort to see every female-directed film that the internet insisted should’ve been considered, because I do actually give a shit about this issue and want to see more women making films worthy of nominating. I watched Little Women (Greta Gerwig), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller), The Farewell (Lulu Wang), Booksmart (Olivia Wilde), Honey Boy (Alma Har’el), Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria) and Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas). There isn’t a bad film among them. Hustlers is mediocre, but not bad. However, the one that stuck with me the most was Céline Sciamma‘s work on the stunning French import, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. As you’ll see below, I nominated her film twice, but it came VERY close to getting in for Picture and Director. Meanwhile, the exquisitely made Little Women checks in with 6 nominations.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. Knives Out, written by Rian Johnson
2. Marriage Story, written by Noah Baumbach
3. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, written by Quentin Tarantino
4. Parasite, written by Bong Joon Ho, Jin Won Han
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, written by Céline Sciamma
That’s 4 movies in a row Mr. Tarantino has been nominated for his original script (following Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight). Not bad, fella. It was cool to see Rian Johnson able to go from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, one of the biggest projects you could possibly be involved with, to a little Massachusetts murder mystery. With all the shit he took from diehard Star Wars fans a couple years ago, he could’ve easily disappeared for 5 or 6 years, or come back with a complete dud. I really enjoyed Knives Out, and I’m even happier that it was a big surprise hit at the box office, too. Good job, audiences. (It’s rare that I can say that.)
P.S. Now that we’ve seen all 3 of these new trilogy Star Wars movies, yeah…Last Jedi was easily the best of them. But on the whole, what a disaster that entire thing was. Not exactly how I envisioned Episodes VII-IX when I was younger.
Parasite completes the Picture-Director-Screenplay triangle. It’s at least the 20th Best Picture winner to win all three. I just think it makes sense that the best movie of the year was also the best directed and has one of the two best screenplays, be it original or adapted.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
1. The Irishman, screenplay by Steven Zaillian
2. JoJo Rabbit, screenplay by Taika Waititi
3. Joker, screenplay by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
4. Little Women, screenplay by Greta Gerwig
5. The Two Popes, screenplay by Anthony McCarten
BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
1. The Irishman
2. JoJo Rabbit
3. Little Women
4. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
1. Robert De Niro, The Irishman
2. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
3. Taron Egerton, Rocketman
4. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
5. Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
Yes, Joaqin Phoenix is going to win here just like he did everywhere else. Spoiler alert. He does Daniel Day-Lewis worthy, A+++ work in Joker. It’s the singular performance of 2019. Fun trivia: with Phoenix’s Oscar win, The Joker becomes only the second character in movie history to win an Oscar for two different actors (the other being Vito Corleone, with wins for Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro). I’ve said elsewhere, only somewhat in jest, that this is now a Shakespearean-level character, open to countless interpretations by any actor. I nominated Jack Nicholson for Supporting Actor for playing the Joker in Tim Burton‘s Batman at the inaugural Biggies for 1989, so it’s the third time I’ve nominated the character.
Adam Driver and Antonio Banderas get left out from the Oscar nominees. After seeing Rocketman, it was a no-brainer to me that Taron Egerton would be in. He’s absolutely amazing in that movie, and the fact that he does his own singing and dancing makes his performance all the more impressive. I was glad to see this, as I really hadn’t been blown away by anything Egerton had done previously. Now we know he’s not just another pretty face. Robert De Niro takes the other vacated slot with his excellent work in The Irishman, where he has by far the most screen time of any of these nominees. He’s done some fine work in recent years (most notably in Silver Linings Playbook and The Intern), but this was probably his best performance since 1995, when he was in Heat AND Casino. And when De Niro does some of his career-best work, that’s gonna be better than the best work of most other actors.
Jonathan Pryce is a marvel in The Two Popes. I have a soft spot for portrayals of reluctant leaders. I particularly loved his work at the end of the film as he gets voted Pope even though he’s made it clear he doesn’t want the job. For whatever reason, I had no clue Pope Francis had such a controversial history in his come country of Argentina. As you’ll see below, I almost nominated the actor who played the younger version of Jorge Brigolio, which would’ve been the first time I’ve ever nominated two actors for playing the same character in one movie. It needs to be mentioned how great Anthony Hopkins is in the film as well as Pope Benedict, and without him being so good, Pryce can’t do what he does.
Leonardo DiCaprio does what he does in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, which is spewing greatness. It’s fantastic that maybe the most successful actor in the world could so convincingly play an actor who’s down on his luck on the verge of being a has-been, something DiCaprio has never been in danger of in his own career. Now that’s acting.
In lesser years, any of these five performances could have won. It was the best lead actor year in quite awhile.
1. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
2. Noémie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
3. Lupita Nyong’o, Us
4. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
5. Renée Zellweger, Judy
The magic of Portrait of a Lady on Fire lies in its non-verbal acting. Rarely do you see two actors have such smoldering chemistry while saying nothing. This was the first time I’d seen any of those French actors, and by god was I impressed. It was hard to pick between the two leads, but for me Noémie Merlant is the protagonist, and she definitely has more screen time.
I think some of the girl power stuff in Little Women gets laid on a little thick, but dammit if Saoirse Ronan isn’t magnificent. Ronan will turn 26 this year, and this is already the 4th Best Actress nomination I’ve given her. As a writer, the scene at the end when she gets her first physical copy of her book hit me directly in the feels.
Lupita Nyong’o scared the shit out of me in Us. Her dual performance in the movie is incredible and was wrongly ignored by the Academy. Scarlett Johansson is excellent playing the entire spectrum of love in Marriage Story. ScarJo had a pretty decent year between this, JoJo Rabbit and that Avengers thing.
Judy was actually more entertaining than I thought it would be. It’s not a great movie, but it didn’t feel like work sitting through it, and Zellweger is as good as advertised. This is a really tough group to pick a winner from.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
2. Al Pacino, The Irishman
3. Joe Pesci, The Irishman
4. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
5. Choi Woo Shik, Parasite
What a powerhouse collection of talent. There actually weren’t a whole lot of great options in this category this year, so I allowed Pitt and Pacino in, both of whom you could argue were co-leads in their films.
The two standout performances in Parasite for me were Choi Woo Shik (playing the son who becomes the first to infiltrate the rich family’s home) and Cho Yeo-jeong, who is delightful as the wife in the rich Park family. Everyone is fantastic in the film, but Choi gets maybe the most to do in his screen time.
The Irishman is Al Pacino‘s best work in nearly 20 years, probably since his awesome one-two punch of The Insider and Any Given Sunday in 1999. Yeah, he does a lot of classic Pacino yelling, but there are so many subtle and quiet moments to go along with all that. I’m really glad he and Scorsese finally got to work together.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
2. Laura Dern, Marriage Story
3. Thomasin McKenzie, JoJo Rabbit
4. Florence Pugh, Little Women
5. Margot Robbie, Bombshell
I’m on board with the Oscar nominees here except for one; I think they nominated the wrong person from JoJo Rabbit, choosing star power over who was actually better. I think Scarlett Johansson is great in the movie, but the real star supporting player to me is young Thomasin McKenzie as the Jewish girl hiding in Johansson’s house. She’s absolutely wonderful, charming, intense and devastating. And she got ignored all season only because the studio chose to push the bigger name. I have no such agenda. Richard Jewell was the best Kathy Bates performance in a long time, and a great Kathy Bates performance is usually enough for a win. She breaks your heart in that movie. We’ll see. These were all excellent, multi-layered roles.
Florence Pugh also had a hell of a year in 2019, with Little Women, Midsommar, and the surprisingly good Fighting with My Family. That’s a really nice variety of roles. Up next, no big deal but she joins the MCU in Black Widow. It’s good to see a young actor making good choices like this.
We continue on page 3 with the technical categories…