Every year when the Academy Award nominations are announced, film fans are quick to scrutinize the films chosen to represent the previous year in film. Sometimes the Oscars fall on familiar trends and nominate largely traditional “Oscar bait” films, but sometimes the nominations are more inspired and have more consideration for the films that really changed the industry.
Compared to the last few years, 2019 has a much stronger lineup, as many of the films nominated for Best Picture are genuine masterpieces that will be remembered long after this year’s awards ceremony is over. This year is also a rarity in that every film nominated is at the very least good. However, there is a clear hierarchy as to which films deserve the win over others. Here are the 2019 Best Picture nominees ranked worst to best.
While it is not the masterpiece that some have claimed that it is, Joker is a very strong film that features a remarkable leading performance by Joaquin Phoenix. After the iconic performances by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger as the Clown Prince of Crime, it was difficult for Phoenix to make his own mark on the character, but he did so by showing a troubled man forgotten by society who became defined by his darker impulses. It’s a riveting performance that makes the character initially sympathetic, and the expert cinematography by Lawrence Sher and terrific score by Hildur Guonadottir help pay homage to the classic crime films that inspired it.
However, Joker is not perfect, and the overtly obvious homages to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy can sometimes be a hindrance; one scene in particular, when Arthur Fleck practices what he will say on a talk show, is lifted almost exactly from The King of Comedy. Additionally, there are some storylines that don’t add anything to the central story, such as Arthur believing that Thomas Wayne is his father. Some of the dialogue revolving around the nature of mental illnesses is also quite weak, and is not handled very subtly. While the third act is terrific and sets up an interesting origin story, many of the plot mechanics used to get there could have used some fine tuning.
8. Little Women
While it is not the first time that the Little Women story has been adapted for the screen, Greta Gerwig’s spirited new version finds a creative way to retell the story of four sisters who grew up in the backdrop of the Civil War. By telling the story in a nonlinear way, Gerwig shows the eventual ramifications of key moments right after they appear; by allowing past and present to exist all at once, the film makes for a poignant study on memory. While this storytelling method can be initially confusing, particularly for those experiencing the story for the first time, the film finds a clever framing device in the way Jo (Saoirse Ronan) grows as an artist.
Undoubtedly the strongest element of the film is the chemistry between the four leads; Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, and Eliza Scanlen feel like authentic sisters, and the scenes of them all growing to support each other despite their differences are often the most entertaining moments in the film. The classically beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat and detailed production design also help to sell the authenticity of the setting. While it may not be one of the very best films nominated for Best Picture this year, Little Women is certainly worthy of its nominations.
7. Ford v. Ferrari
A throwback to a different era of filmmaking, Ford v. Ferrari is an unabashedly old-fashioned star vehicle that features some of the greatest racing sequences ever filmed. Director James Mangold goes in depth to tell the story of how Ford crafted the ultimate racing vehicle to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hour of Le Mans in 1966, and the film is extremely detailed in how it shows the process of testing, designing, and racing the vehicle. The final race sequence only works as well as it does because the viewer understands how hard these men worked to fine tune their craft, and it shows the importance of having people with passion behind the wheel.
Even for those who don’t have an interest in racing, Ford v. Ferrari is an excellent drama story about two outsiders who were united by their shared love of the craft, and Christian Bale and Matt Damon have excellent chemistry. As Ken Miles, Bale is perfectly cast as an eccentric artist whose willing to put his life on the line, and Damon gives a remarkably understated performance as a former race car driver who longs for victory, even if he’s past his racing days. The poignant performances from these two make the final race sequence even more emotional, and their dynamic makes the epic 152 minute runtime fly by. Ford v. Ferrari is a great example of the type of drama film that major studios should make more often, and is without a doubt one of the technical achievements of the year.
6. Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi works in the tradition of films like The Great Dictator and Life is Beautiful to tell a gripping story of Nazism and World War II through a child’s eyes. The real ramifications of these events are never lost, as the film shows the death of a main character and the brutality of war with unflinching detail to express the reality of the situation. However, the film never loses Waititi’s idiosyncratic touch, and is able to remix Nazi iconography and culture in a way that is satirical. The heart of the story is also never lost, as the remarkable child performance by Roman Griffin Davis is able to capture the youthful perspective with grace.
The relationship between Davis’s character Jojo, a child obsessed with Hitler, and Ilsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish girl hiding in his house, is the heart of the film; their dynamic allows both characters to understand each other, but there’s also a lot of great comedic banter. Scarlett Johansson also gives one of her best performances as Jojo’s mother, whose teachings of love and perseverance are in many ways the embodiment of the film’s message. The only times the film falls flat are with some of the smaller supporting comedic performances, such as Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant, which feel out of place. It is rare to see a straight up comedy nominated for Best Picture, and Jojo Rabbit is wholly deserving, as it is one of the funniest films of 2019.