Another year, another roundup of 41 (!) Oscar-nominated films that I’ve watched so you don’t have to—although there are a few that I’m going to suggest you should! Volume One starts off with two of the nine Best Picture nominees: Marriage Story and Little Women, helmed by real-life partners Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, respectively. In this round, I’ll also cover a handful of the one-hit wonders, which include some good surprises, like The Lighthouse, and some shockers, such as Frozen 2 (can’t let go of the shut out from the Best Animated Feature category) and The Lion King (but what about Beyoncé?!).   

Marriage Story

Tl;dr—this movie is a very modern approach to an age-old tale that zeroes in on the rippling impacts that happen when a family experiences divorce. Although many say that the film evenly depicts both sides, I find that by the end, you tend to sympathize more with Adam Driver’s character; this unbalanced portrayal alongside the whole “hating-LA-is-the-same-as-having-a-personality” vibe combine to make me personally rank this on the lower end of the Best Picture nominees. This film’s greatest chance at taking home Oscar gold is in the Best Supporting Actress category. Laura Dern appears to be the frontrunner for a performance that, in my humble opinion, is not even in her top five, but is excellent nonetheless. Perhaps Baumbach could win for Best Original Screenplay (and his partner, Gerwig for Best Adapted Screenplay—what a story that would be!) or even that Adam Driver could upset Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor in The Joker, but look to Dern for the one to give Marriage Story that “Academy Award winning” superlative.  

Little Women

Even though there have been many remakes of the popular novel, Gerwig’s influence is undeniable in Little Women.  The pseudo-punk, angsty-teen undertones work really well to breathe fresh life into a story that most audiences will find familiar, and the performances in particular seek to highlight this vibe. While Saoirse Ronan is incredible, as always, Florence Pugh steals the show in a role that is typically relegated to the “annoying little sister” stereotype. I am not sure how much of a shot she has, but I think that Pugh gave the best performance out of the Best Supporting Actress category. The film’s best shot at an Oscar win is in the costume design category as it is the quintessential period film that voters tend to reward—though it would not be my choice for that category (stay tuned for my pick in a later volume). And while Greta Gerwig stands a fair chance at winning for her adapted screenplay, the fact that she was shut out of the Best Director category may rally voters to reward her efforts for a Best Picture win.

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s whodunnit film features twists and turns, a stellar cast, and Chris Evan’s iconic fisherman sweater, making it one of the most popular films nominated this year. Though some expected the film to garner a few other nominations, namely for its performances, I think it’s noteworthy that Johnson snagged a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. I found this movie to be a fun Thanksgiving film, but that’s all it was to me (Editor’s Note: Many others, including a few here at Dinner Party, think otherwise.) The only thing that would be more surprising than its nomination would be a win here, in my personal opinion.

Rocketman

Many have compared Rocketman to Bohemian Rhapsody, and understandably so, due to the films’ similar premises, though I thought Rocketman was better. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, this film only garnered one nomination. Even though star Taron Egerton was nominated several other times this awards season and even took home the Golden Globe, he was shut out of the Best Actor category this year. The only nomination this film nabbed is for the real-life stars of the film, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, for their new song, “I’m Going to Love Me Again.” In a category full of uncertainty, the fact that longtime writing partners Elton John and Bernie Taupin have never won an award together is just enough of a story to push this song to win in the Best Original Song category.

Lion King 

One of the biggest snubs from this year’s nominations is the fact that Beyoncé was shut out of the Best Original Song category for her Lion King contribution with “Spirit.” Instead, the film is only nominated for Best Visual Effects. That said, the visual effects and the very idea of them were the source for most of the complaints against this “live action” remake.  The script, premise, and characters from the 1994 animated feature did not translate as well when the animals look like actual animals as opposed to cute, animated ones. The comedy fell flat, the romance wasn’t as deep, and despite it being called a “live action” remake, the fact that the film consisted mainly of visual effects contributed to its lack of real-life resonance.  Perhaps the scope of the project will be enough to propel it to a win, but I think it ultimately detracted from the story, docking points in my book from this film snagging a win.

Frozen 2

Without a doubt, the most shocking surprise on Oscar nomination morning came when Frozen 2, the sequel to Disney’s most successful animated franchise, was shut out of the Best Animated Feature category. Conspiracy theories abound as to what happened, but regardless of the snub, the film still took home a nomination for Elsa’s other power ballad, “Into the Unknown.” Like “Let It Go”—though not as prominently—this song has been featured on the radio via a cover by Panic! at the Disco, and it stands a fair chance at winning in the Best Original Song category. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that you should never count out a Disney-animated original song for winning the Oscar.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil 

It comes as no surprise that Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is nominated for the Best Makeup & Hairstyling category, as the visuals of this film are some of its best elements. As the live-action sequel to one of Disney’s first animated film remakes, it is different enough from the original film to be watched as a standalone. The many different fairy, witch, and mystical elements of the movie allowed the hair and makeup teams to flaunt their talents in ways that elevate the story. I was especially impressed with Elle Fanning’s blush game in this film—can we get the details on that, please? 

The Lighthouse

In the last few years, the Oscars have always surprised audiences with nominations that seem to come out of left field, and The Lighthouse is that shocking nomination for 2020. The second film from The Witch director Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse is a truly mad, absurd, captivating story about two seamen who are stranded inside a lighthouse. The film is shot in black and white and in a 1.19:1 ratio, a square; these stylistic choices, along with Eggers’s unbelievable understanding of period elements, all combine to make an unnerving visual cornucopia that traps viewers in a way that mirrors the ways in which the seamen are also trapped. The fact that Willem Dafoe wasn’t also nominated for his transformative, unhinged supporting actor performance ties with Jennifer Lopez’s Hustlers shutout for what I think are the most egregious snubs this year.

Ad Astra 

A sad, dad movie set in space, scored—predictably so—with an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing. To be honest, I have no clue what parameters are used to determine excellent sound mixing, but I will say I don’t remember Ad Astra’s sound sticking out—which, perhaps, is a good thing.

The Edge of Democracy

A story about democracy in the middle of a crisis—sound familiar? This documentary covers the complexities of Brazil’s fragile democracy and is intertwined beautifully with director Petra Costa’s own life. It unfolds like a drama and is especially compelling in an election year for America. If voters and viewers can get past the two-hour runtime, they will find a chilling warning with unreal access to key Brazilian political players, all disguised as a reflective piece that ultimately holds the mirror up to its viewer.