So it’s time for the Academy Awards. Yay. I know the academy has its issues, and the nominating process can be sketchy at best (11 noms for Joker?!?), but there’s a value to the whole ‘picking the best piece of art as compared to other subjective forms of art.’ Do I believe that the pictures that are nominated (and win) Best Picture are really the best pictures each year? Nah. Rarely do I feel like the Best Picture winner demonstrates the Academy having their finger on the pulse of the “best” art of the day. There are too many subjective factors that come into play there, whether they involve Hollywood politicking or popularity contests or whatever. What the Best Picture category does, however, is flag a handful of films each year that are usually worth seeing. Do I like them all? Not really. Do they miss a lot of deserving movies in the process? Absolutely. But do the awards shine a spotlight on movies that I might otherwise not make an effort to see. Time is valuable and the art form is varied, so it’s nice to have a curated list to seek out in these dark winter months. Sure. I’ve even liked a few of them. For that, I’m grateful for the Academy Awards.
Otherwise, it’s an industry trade show for an industry I’m not in, so there’s a good bit I don’t really care about. That’s ok. They can keep their overextended award ceremony with their fancy outfits and boring speeches—I’ll take the list, please and thank you.
For today, let’s look at the pics that lined up in the middle of the Venn Diagram between Academy favorites and my personal favorites. It’s surprising to me that for as many movies that seem be made for the sole purpose of being Oscar bate, my favorites are spread over a pretty wide variety of genres. Except comedy. The Academy hates comedies. I do not hate comedies, so the Academy and I differ there. Still, there are plenty of great films. Here are my faves! As far as rankings go, take the numbers with a grain of salt. Any of these are solid picks, and on any given day, I might switch one over the other based on whatever category is floating my boat. But there’s a movie for almost all occasions, so I’ll get onto the list!
10. Best Movie Where They Sing a Lot
Musicals have their place as a Hollywood staple, as it’s nice to imagine a word where people stop what they’re doing and randomly burst into song. Not only do I love the ridiculousness of thinking about worlds where musicals happen, I’m also a sucker for fast-talkin’ 1920’s gangster dialogue. Chicago did those things in spades while being set in the prohibition era Windy City. Factor in great song and dance performances by Catherine Zeta Jones, Renee Zelwiger, and Richard Gere, and don’t forget about John C. Reily. This movie wasn’t afraid to be funny or over the top while adding a glossy sheen of all the glitzy jazzy whatever it is overdramatizing. Sometimes, especially in the troubled times of 2002, that escapism is what we really needed.
9. Best Movie About Talking About Writing Stuff
Sometimes you need a visual reminder to help you care about an issue. It’s too easy in our 24 hour news cycle world to just acknowledge some of our systems are broken and move on to whatever the next big thing is. Spotlight is that kind of movie that forces you to slow down and realize how messed up the real word actually is. It tells the story of the Boston Globe and how they handled major coverups by the Catholic church. This movie resonated with me for a few reasons. 1) I was raised Catholic, and as a result, have my own issues with the church. These issues are nowhere near as severe as the scandals in the movie, and a comic book blog isn’t really the best place to air them, so I’ll just leave it as issues. I still feel like the full reckoning for the church’s ways is yet to come. 2) I’m apparently a journalist now! We keep getting press passes for comic cons, and I feel like maybe I’m a tiny bit part of that club. It’s nice to be reminded of the power of the press—and the responsibility. I wish more organizations had the 3) Batman and Hulk and Sabertooth and Iron Man’s dad and the girl from the Notebook are in this one. All in all, this is a story that’s richly compelling and well put together without the traditional excess of Hollywood while still utilizing some of its greatest talents.
8. Best Movie for Gamblin’ Man
Rain Man (1988)
Rain Man is a combination of a lot of things I enjoy. It’s part quirky-buddy movie with the relationship between Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It’s part poker movie with the high-stakes gambling portions. It’s a relatively simple plot played out very well. It’s a performing tour de force from Hoffmann and Cruise. Hoffman especially made an impression with his complex performance that’s resonated with me as I can recall, and I still don’t like Tom Cruise because he was such a jerk in this one. I remember seeing this movie when I was young and being fascinated by the idea of a savant, but the movie held up to rewatching in my grownup years, too. It’s been a minute since I’ve seen it, and I wonder if it maintains under the more sensitive lense we view movies through today. I remember the lasting impression from this one, so it made the list.
7. Best Movie that Left Me a Little Unnerved About Society
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
This movie makes the list because I went through a phase where Ken Kesey was awesome. Jack Nicholson has always been awesome. This movie combined those two through a Stanley Kubrick lense. He’s awesome, too. I’ve seen this movie described as simultaneously uplifting and disheartening, and that sounds about right. The cruelty of Nurse Ratched and the sadness you feel as you empathize for the state of the inmates in the mental ward counterbalances the cool of Jack Nicolson. This movie is a great exploration of how our systems can break down while sweeping everything out of site. Every though our systems might try to strip it away, humanity will find a way to triumph. Maybe.
6. Best Movie About Math
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Much like the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, I enjoy biopics and anytime the cinema shows people doing complex math equations in their heads. Bravo, Russel Crowe!
5. Best Superhero Movie
Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Since the Academy likes superhero movies only sliiiiiightly more than comedies, there’s not much to choose from in the superhero genre that’s dominated the last decade plus of the American cinema experience—except Birdman. Alejandro G. Inarritu’s film is the superhero movie artfully done, as indicated by its ridiculously long title. It’s a celebration of the craft, too, as indicated by its ridiculously long single take camera shot. It’s got great actors, including a washed up Batman making his career resurgence by playing a washed up Batman and an Incredible Hulk that was too pretentious to last in the rigors of the Marvel system. I kid, as I really respect the careers of both Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, but if there was going to be a superhero movie to show off their talents, this was it. Even Emma Stone showed off her chops as opposed to when she had to languish in those Amazing Spider-man movies. While the Academy traditionally ignores the superhero genre, they do love movies about acting in movies. I guess it took Inarritu’s film to focus on the Hollywood side of supers to get the Academy’s attention, but in this case, it was well-deserved.
4. Best Gangster Movie
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (1974) both took the Best Picture awards for their respective years, and that franchise really defined what a mob movie was and forever after would be. The focus on the family dynamic and the power struggle internally as well as externally set the bar and took gangster movies from guilty pleasure to high art. They didn’t so much glorify the gang lifestyle as humanize it. The reason I put the original instead of its more revered sequel? I actually have not seen Godfather Part II in its entirety. It’s been on my list for years. The problem with a movie like that, and the original Godfather as well, is that those movies achieved such a high level of cultural acknowledgement, I feel like I’ve already seen the best parts of the movies before they even start. Heck, Tiny Toons used to make Godfather jokes. I know part II is something I need to see eventually if I want any credibility when I talk about films. I’ll get to it after I finish watching this year’s Oscar movies. Which by that time might mean next year’s Oscar movies. It might be a while, but I plan to get there.
3. Best Sports Underdog Movie
Today, the idea of the underdog coming up big at the biggest moment is a played out story cliche. It may have been in 1976, too, but that didn’t stop Sly Stalone from telling one of the most inspirational stories about one of the most barbaric sports. Somehow Rocky, and heck, the Rocky franchise, managed the perfect alchemy for the movie-going audience. It’s action is exciting. It’s touching moments tug at the heartstrings, and it’s soundtrack was inspired. The theme Gonna Fly Now is one of the most recognizable songs in sports, and the imagery of Rocky ascending the stairs in his training to be the best is so awe inspiring, Philadelphia made a statue of a fictional character to celebrate it. It wasn’t just Stallone either. To this day, I still have a little Burgess Meredith over my shoulder when I need beat down to build myself back up again. Carl Weathers was the perfect noble but intimidating opponent. Everything about this movie was right, and it deserves a high spot on any sports fan, nay movie fan, nay pop culture fan’s list.
2. Best War Movie
“Freeeeeeeeeeeeedom!” Say what you will about Mel Gibson, and the fact is, he probably deserves it. Still, Hollywood loves a good war picture (hi, 1917!), and so it’s no surprise that’s a genre celebrated by the Academy. Mel Gibson directed and starred in this war epic that runs the gamut of human emotion. It had the historical accuracy, action, humor, and pathos built in that made me care about a story in Scotland. That’s no ordinary feat. Usually, I have a hard time separating the artist from the art, but Braveheart made such a strong impression on me before I had any idea about Mel Gibson, that I almost can’t help that I still hold it in high regard.
1. Best Movie About..Whatever Forrest Gump Is.
Forrest Gump (1994)
People love to hate on the Gump. The fact is, this movie did such a great job of catching the cultural zeitgeist that it became the cultural zeitgeist. It also has the rare distinction of one of the few movies I’ve seen that I enjoyed more than the book. Don’t get me wrong, Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump is a solid book—but his chess playing, space-traveling, harder edged Forrest is a different story at heart than Hollywood Forrest. Hollywood Forrest has Tom Hanks, and he makes most things better. The movie itself is epic in that it’s not just a love story, but it has that. It’s not just about the friendship of Forrest and Bubba, but it has that. It’s not just a story about redemption for Lt. Dan, but it has that. It manages to do a lot of stories really well all wrapped around the comically absurd Forrest Gump. Still, by anchoring him to the important historical events over the course of a lifetime, Robert Zemekis managed to mix in his social commentary while masterfully interweaving so many touching story elements. I always knew the Back to the Future II director had it in him. It’s rare that the Academy recognizes movies that have something for everybody, but here they did.
So what about this year? Well we have the following:
Ford V. Ferrari (Potential Best Car Movie)
the Irishman (Potential Best Movie Scorcese Keeps Making)
JoJo Rabbit (Potential Best Movie with Imaginary Hitler)
Joker (Potential Best Photocopy of a Buncha Parts of a Scorcese Movie)
Little Women (Potential Best Adaptation of a Book I was Supposed to Read In College),
Marriage Story (Potential Best Movie Where Kylo Ren and Black Widow Break Up),
1917 (Best War Movie About WW1),
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Potential Best Movie About Hollywood for Hollywood),
Parasite (Potentail Best Extended Metaphor Movie)
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Once Upon a Time because Hollywood loves them some Hollywood. As far as the rest go, Scorcese’s tired, Scorcese knock offs are tired, and Jojo’s too creative to be embraced. Little Women won’t win because Hollywood still disrespects women of all sizes, and I havent’ seen Marraige Story, Parasite, or 1917 to pass judgements, so there’s no way they could win. Maybe the car movie. That could fit well with my genre idea and I don’t see another racer on the big list of winners. I’ll pick that one to place, and 1917 to show.
Speaking of, enjoy the show! We’ll see who wins this weekend!