Once again, the Oscars seem to have a real problem nominating horror films, and after the back to back masterpieces of Hereditary and Midsommar, Ari Aster’s films both failed to get any nominations. Midsommar is easily one of the most visually striking films of 2019, as it’s the rare horror film that is shot almost entirely in the daylight, and Aster’s team crafted a totally unique Swedish environment and culture. It definitely deserved to be nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
While Florence Pugh did receive an Oscar nomination this year for Best Supporting Actress in Little Women, she deserved a Best Actress nomination for Midsommar. As Dani, Pugh must play a survivor of trauma riddled with guilt and anxiety, and her emotionally devastating performance anchors all the insanity that occurs later in the film.
A remarkable emotional experience, Waves stands out due to its unique structure, in which both halves of the film form distinct segments. The first half is unrelentingly intense, as the character Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) faces pressure from his parents and girlfriend alike to live up to expectations, and the second half is meditative and meandering, as Tyler’s family is left to heal in the wake of a tragic event. It’s an amazing achievement in editing that was sorely ignored by the editor’s branch of the Academy.
In addition to the inspired structure, Waves also has one of the best acting ensembles of the year. Taylor Russell deserved a Best Supporting Actress as Emily, Tyler’s younger sister Emily, who is left in her brother’s shadow and must determine her own legacy. Sterling K. Brown was also deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as Tyler’s father Ronald, a stern and principled man whose life is turned inside out as he learns the errors of his philosophy.
3. The Farewell
One of the most personal and unique films of 2019, The Farewell was a wonderful exploration of the difference between Eastern and Western traditions. Lulu Wang told this story loosely based on her own experiences, and her touching and specific screenplay deserved a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. At the center of the story is Billi (Awkwafina), a Chinese-American writer who returns to China to care for her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who is unaware that she is dying.
Awkwafina gives a breakout performance and proves that she can do more than comedic roles, and was unjustly snubbed for Best Actress. However, it’s Zhao Shuzhen’s delightful performance as Nai Nai that steals the film; she is the embodiment of free spirited independence and warmth, and Shuzhen was deserving of a nomination, if not a win for Best Supporting Actress. As one of the best films of 2019, The Farewell deserved to be considered in many categories, including Best Picture.
2. Honey Boy
Shia Labeouf has had quite a year in 2019; he started with his charming performance in the independent road movie The Peanut Butter Falcon, and ended with the best work of his career in Honey Boy. Telling the story of his own childhood, Labeouf wrote the script and co-starred as a character inspired by his own father, and could’ve been a contender for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. It’s a shame that Labeouf misses out on both nominations; he’s often ridiculed for films he did early on in his career, but he’s really transformed his career and made some amazing films.
Honey Boy is beautifully written, and uses the framing device of a younger Labeouf going through therapy to explore the lasting impact of childhood trauma. The film doesn’t sensationalize any aspect, and Labeouf is quite honest in his depiction of his father and the ambiguous nature of their relationship. It’s a remarkable debut for director Alma Har’el that explores the nuances of being a child actor, and it is disappointing that it didn’t get the Best Picture nomination it deserved.
1. Apollo 11
The documentary branch of the Academy Awards often does odd things, as they tend to ignore documentaries with a lot of archival footage; last year, a similarly shocking snub occurred when Won’t You Be My Neighbor? missed out on a nomination. However, it is simply unfathomable that the incredible Apollo 11 wasn’t recognized, as the filmmakers sifted through thousands of hours of previously unreleased footage to present the Moon Landing mission chronologically. Avoiding voiceovers, retrospectives, and recreations, Apollo 11 depicts history as it is, and presents this beautiful footage in a compelling way.
Utilizing pioneering technological advances, Apollo 11 was one of the most visceral and exciting films of the past year. The film is edited like a traditional narrative, and the immersive filmmaking techniques made it a perfect candidate for IMAX screenings. Documentary films are rarely nominated in other categories, but Apollo 11 deserved to be a contender for both Best Editing and Best Original Score. However, the film was completely shunned and shockingly failed to get a Best Documentary Feature nomination. Apollo 11 is a cinematic achievement and is worth being hailed as one of the best films of 2019.