25/09/2020

If Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Murphy, Awkwafina and all of Hollywood’s female filmmakers couldn’t make the cut, despite behind-the-scenes changes, maybe it’s time for the Oscars to simply stop, asks Adam White

When the Baftas got it cripplingly, humiliatingly wrong last week, it wasnt entirely surprising. The Baftas have always existed as the stuffier cousin to the Academy Awards, with a plummy, middle-of-the-road lethargy that quite naturally resulted in huge oversights.
But the Oscars were meant to be better. After being on the receiving end of a number of backlashes, they had recognised their failings, changed up their membership and diversified. Yet somehow, theyve still come up with a list awash in whiteness, loudness and angry men. Next to the Oscars, even this months Golden Globes seem comparatively woke. 
As has become tradition, the Academy was distracted by big-budget technical prowess, self-consciously transformative performances and famous faces playing real-life figures. While there were pleasant surprises here and there (notably Little Womens Florence Pugh for Best Supporting Actress, Knives Out for Best Original Screenplay, Ad Astra for Best Sound Mixing and Pain and Glorys Antonio Banderas for Best Actor), there was a feeling of safety from top to bottom: perennial Oscar favourite Sam Mendes with 1917; the rote masculinity of Ford v Ferrari; the twee, centrist nothingness of Jojo Rabbit. The sole nominee of colour in the acting categories, Harriets Cynthia Erivo, was still the star of a stately, overcooked biopic that earned few critical raves.
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The more daring visions from last year were absent altogether particularly the frantic exhilaration of Uncut Gems, which so should have earned Adam Sandler his first Oscar nod, and the neon-soaked defiance of Hustlers. If Willem Dafoe could earn a Best Actor nomination last year for At Eternitys Gate, a film that absolutely no one saw and could potentially not actually exist, it is staggering that he and Robert Eggers nightmarish The Lighthouse were (aside from a well-deserved Best Cinematography nod) overlooked. Even Parasite, while awarded with six nominations, felt under-appreciated considering how it has galvanised US audiences since its release. Frustratingly, Brits must wait another month to see it for themselves. 
Of the actors that didnt make an appearance, spare a thought for Jennifer Lopez that perpetual critical underdog, whose 25-year career in movies has been so often undermined, mocked and jeered at, despite the barriers she has constantly overcome along the way. Her dazzling performance in Hustlers was a ripped and spread-eagled tribute to her importance as a Hollywood figure and the skill that has kept her where she is. Her absence here would be enraging if it werent so boringly predictable.
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1/20 20. Minding the Gap
One of the years biggest cinematic curveballs occurs at the midway point of this stirring documentary. Billed as a film about small-town US skate culture, Bing Lius Minding the Gap grows into a haunting depiction of class and masculinity, and how once inseparable groups of friends tend to untangle and diverge as they come of age. Few of 2019s films cast quite as long a shadow. Adam White
2/20 19. The Farewell
The Farewell rips your heart out of your chest. Then it hands it back to you, wrapped gently in cotton wool. Director Lulu Wang loosely adapts a chapter in her own life, as we follow a young woman (Awkwafina) travelling back to China to say goodbye to her terminally ill grandmother. Delving into all the intricacies of immigrant identity and family politics, its a comedy of warmth and bracing honesty. Clarisse Loughrey
3/20 18. Us
An opportunity for Jordan Peele to cement his status as one of horrors modern maestros, Us reels us in with old-fashioned thrills. Then it leaves us with the terrible dread of realising weve been looking into a mirror this whole time. Lupita Nyong’o delivers two of this years best performances in one film, both as our hero and as her sinister doppelgänger one of an army of Tethereds that emerge from underground seeking vengeance. Clarisse Loughrey
4/20 17. Pain & Glory
All of Pedro Almodovars films feel autobiographical in one way or another, but Pain & Glory couldnt be more lived-in if he stepped out in front of the camera to introduce every scene. A lushly romantic ode to cinema, shared history and cruelly interrupted love, it features a career-best performance from Antonio Banderas Zorro at his most tender and vulnerable. Adam White
5/20 16. Vox Lux
Vox Lux is 2019s most damning filmic portrait of American culture. We begin with a teenage girl (Raffey Cassidy), who survives a school shooting and ends up a pop star. As an adult, shes played by a breezy, vicious Natalie Portman. Her strut is one part Sia, two parts Lady Gaga. Its an ugly, despairing film that comes gift-wrapped in sequins, presenting art as the cavernous pit we throw our traumas into. Clarisse Loughrey
6/20 15. Under the Silver Lake
A paranoid puzzle box of a mystery, Under the Silver Lake is far more interested in the directions down the rabbit hole than allowing star Andrew Garfield to crawl his way out of it. Thats also the most pleasurable aspect of David Robert Mitchells film, a sunny LA noir which is sinister, hilarious and (potentially ruinously) male. Its probably 2019s most polarising film, adored and reviled in equal measure, but undeniably a work of striking creative autonomy. Adam White
7/20 14. High Life
High Life has its silly sub-Barbarella moments (Juliette Binoche testing out the spaceships very own orgasmatron machine) and clearly wasnt made on a Hollywood budget. Nonetheless, veteran French auteur Claire Deniss first English language film is a typically provocative and subversive affair. Binoche plays Dr Dibs, a scientist on board a ship full of criminals and trying to harvest healthy foetuses. Geoffrey Macnab
8/20 13. Ad Astra
Ad Astra is a space movie with an Oedipal undertow. Brad Pitt gives a fine, understated performance as the introspective astronaut trying to save the world and find his father at the same time. Writer-director James Gray throws in references to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. This is a slow-moving but beguiling film with an unexpected emotional kick. Geoffrey Macnab
9/20 12. Happy as Lazzaro
A bee keepers daughter, Italian director Alice Rohrwacher is one of European cinemas visionary young talents. Happy As Lazzaro, her best film yet, is a magical realist fable that combines hard-hitting social comment about the exploitation of rural workers with flights of astonishing lyricism. The film also has one of the best performances of the year from newcomer Adriano Tardiolo, an 18-year-old economics student who plays the holy innocent, Lazzaro, with an ingenuousness which rekindles memories of Peter Sellers in Being There. Geoffrey Macnab
10/20 11. Burning
Based on a Haruki Murakamis short story, Burning from South Korean maestro Lee Chang-dong is a meditation on dealing with isolation and the tricks being alone might play on your memory. Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is forced to play detective when Steven Yeuns affluent bachelor rolls into town an event that coincides with the disappearance of a schoolfriend. Burning is a searing drama whose central unanswered mystery unnerves long after the credits role. Jacob Stolworthy
11/20 10. For Sama
News coverage has hardly been short of harrowing, violent footage of the Syrian Civil War. But too often missing are the human moments inbetween the bombings and the bloodshed. In Waad Al-Kateabs first person account of the uprisings aftermath, her cameras gaze never flinches from the horrors it sees as she and her husband try to maintain a rebel hospital amid a reign of bombing from President al-Assad but nor does it stop rolling while she falls in love, has a baby, and jokes around with her friends and neighbours. This is the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It is an important, powerful, astonishing documentary. Alex Pollard
12/20 9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
It feels almost blasphemous to be glad of Julianne Moore stepping down from a role, but Lee Israel the cantankerous, lonely literary forger who found herself the target of an FBI investigation in the Nineties feels like a part Melissa McCarthy was born to play. Nimbly directed by Marielle Heller (who was shunned by the Oscars in the Best Director category), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a sharp, funny and deeply compassionate examination of loneliness and self-destruction. Richard E Grant and Dolly Wells give wonderful supporting performances, too. Alex Pollard
13/20 8. Booksmart
As deeply indebted to the teen movie genre as it is formally and narratively rebellious, Booksmart grounds its traditional night-before-graduation plot (teenagers eager to crash a party) in touching character-driven drama. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, both instant stars, convey the ever-shifting dynamics and heightened dramas of adolescent best-friendship perfectly. Behind the camera, meanwhile, actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde demonstrates a staggering amount of emotional empathy and technical mastery for someone so green. Adam White
14/20 7. The Irishman
Comparisons to Martin Scorseses previous films (Goodfellas, Casino) are unfounded considering The Irishman is unlike any other gangster film youll see. With his three-hour-30-minute-long opus, Scorsese places the harsh spotlight on mortality. Instead of tracking the rise of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) from regular family man to seasoned hitman with glitzy panache, we see him shamefully confess his crimes as an elderly man ruminating on his past in a nursing home. The result is an unsettlingly moving character study unafraid to ask the big questions.Jacob Stolworthy
15/20 6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
With his ninth feature, Quentin Tarantino took a breath and crafted an unhurried, oddly heartwarming fable, one that came with a career-best performance from Brad Pitt. Its release rolled around with the usual smattering of discourse-steering controversy but, for all the complaints about the directors depiction of his film star subjects, including the scant usage of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, the fact remains that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of the filmmakers most accomplished films a freeneasy sun-soaked delve into Sixties Hollywood, whose much-discussed final 20 minutes provided topics of conversation all summer long. Jacob Stolworthy
16/20 5. Eighth Grade
For too many years the internet was exclusively evil in movies, something for tech boffins to hack, or used to steal Sandra Bullocks identity. Bo Burnhams Eighth Grade felt so comparatively real because it felt like the real internet, which has been as toxic and terrifying as it has been helpful to a generation of young people. Elsie Fisher, as a 13-year-old girl chronicling her confidence and anxieties in a vlog, is an adorable delight here, in a film that is devastatingly, heartbreakingly and endearingly human. Adam White
17/20 4. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimoss delightful, subversive vision has shaken the cobwebs out of costume drama. Set in the 18th century, it follows a trio of women two cousins, Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), and the ruling Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as they vie for power over each other and England. Desire, savagery, and manipulative vulnerability all become weapons in the hands of those who have no choice but to fight dirty. But, then, Colmans childless, gout-ridden Queen Anne tenderly reveals her shattered soul its an Academy Award-winning performance that brings a slice of tragedy to an otherwise sublime farce. Clarisse Loughrey
18/20 3. If Beale Street Could Talk
The marriage of disparate talents united to ensure If Beale Street Could Talk is worthy of mention alongside Barry Jenkins previous film, Moonlight The Independents film of the decade. With his film, Jenkins takes the words of James Baldwin and translates them into visual poetry. From Nicholas Britells mesmerising score to Regina Kings towering supporting performance (that Oscar was well deserved), the result is a creative tour de force. Jacob Stolworthy
19/20 2. Marriage Story
Here is a love story about divorce. Noah Baumbach writes and directs this aching, empathetic depiction of a couple whose marriage has fallen apart. As ruthless divorce lawyers driving a wedge between two people already hanging by a thread, Ray Liotta and Laura Dern are magnificent, while Scarlett Johansson gives her best performance in years as a woman trying to do the right thing without knowing what that is. But the real star is Adam Driver, who hulking as he is makes himself seem small and fragile. For his rendition of Sondheims Being Alive alone, Marriage Story deserves all the awards coming its way. Alex Pollard
20/20 1. Little Women
Greta Gerwigs adaptation of Louisa May Alcotts 1868 novel the story of four Massachusetts sisters coming of age during the American Civil War may be a period piece, but there is nothing staid or stuffy about it. The girls, played by Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen, talk and clamber over one another, their hair messy, their dresses scorched, their ambitions unfettered. It is a lively, profound adaptation. Alexandre Desplat provides the exuberant score, and Yorick La Sauxs cinematography is lush and textured. I didnt want it to be beautiful at the expense of being real, said Gerwig. But I did want it to feel like you wish you can jump inside and live in there or eat it. I remember trying to explain that to the gaffer, who was like, You want what? I was like, I want them to want to eat it. And how delicious it is. Alex Pollard
1/20 20. Minding the Gap
One of the years biggest cinematic curveballs occurs at the midway point of this stirring documentary. Billed as a film about small-town US skate culture, Bing Lius Minding the Gap grows into a haunting depiction of class and masculinity, and how once inseparable groups of friends tend to untangle and diverge as they come of age. Few of 2019s films cast quite as long a shadow. Adam White
2/20 19. The Farewell
The Farewell rips your heart out of your chest. Then it hands it back to you, wrapped gently in cotton wool. Director Lulu Wang loosely adapts a chapter in her own life, as we follow a young woman (Awkwafina) travelling back to China to say goodbye to her terminally ill grandmother. Delving into all the intricacies of immigrant identity and family politics, its a comedy of warmth and bracing honesty. Clarisse Loughrey
3/20 18. Us
An opportunity for Jordan Peele to cement his status as one of horrors modern maestros, Us reels us in with old-fashioned thrills. Then it leaves us with the terrible dread of realising weve been looking into a mirror this whole time. Lupita Nyong’o delivers two of this years best performances in one film, both as our hero and as her sinister doppelgänger one of an army of Tethereds that emerge from underground seeking vengeance. Clarisse Loughrey
4/20 17. Pain & Glory
All of Pedro Almodovars films feel autobiographical in one way or another, but Pain & Glory couldnt be more lived-in if he stepped out in front of the camera to introduce every scene. A lushly romantic ode to cinema, shared history and cruelly interrupted love, it features a career-best performance from Antonio Banderas Zorro at his most tender and vulnerable. Adam White
5/20 16. Vox Lux
Vox Lux is 2019s most damning filmic portrait of American culture. We begin with a teenage girl (Raffey Cassidy), who survives a school shooting and ends up a pop star. As an adult, shes played by a breezy, vicious Natalie Portman. Her strut is one part Sia, two parts Lady Gaga. Its an ugly, despairing film that comes gift-wrapped in sequins, presenting art as the cavernous pit we throw our traumas into. Clarisse Loughrey
6/20 15. Under the Silver Lake
A paranoid puzzle box of a mystery, Under the Silver Lake is far more interested in the directions down the rabbit hole than allowing star Andrew Garfield to crawl his way out of it. Thats also the most pleasurable aspect of David Robert Mitchells film, a sunny LA noir which is sinister, hilarious and (potentially ruinously) male. Its probably 2019s most polarising film, adored and reviled in equal measure, but undeniably a work of striking creative autonomy. Adam White
7/20 14. High Life
High Life has its silly sub-Barbarella moments (Juliette Binoche testing out the spaceships very own orgasmatron machine) and clearly wasnt made on a Hollywood budget. Nonetheless, veteran French auteur Claire Deniss first English language film is a typically provocative and subversive affair. Binoche plays Dr Dibs, a scientist on board a ship full of criminals and trying to harvest healthy foetuses. Geoffrey Macnab
8/20 13. Ad Astra
Ad Astra is a space movie with an Oedipal undertow. Brad Pitt gives a fine, understated performance as the introspective astronaut trying to save the world and find his father at the same time. Writer-director James Gray throws in references to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. This is a slow-moving but beguiling film with an unexpected emotional kick. Geoffrey Macnab
9/20 12. Happy as Lazzaro
A bee keepers daughter, Italian director Alice Rohrwacher is one of European cinemas visionary young talents. Happy As Lazzaro, her best film yet, is a magical realist fable that combines hard-hitting social comment about the exploitation of rural workers with flights of astonishing lyricism. The film also has one of the best performances of the year from newcomer Adriano Tardiolo, an 18-year-old economics student who plays the holy innocent, Lazzaro, with an ingenuousness which rekindles memories of Peter Sellers in Being There. Geoffrey Macnab
10/20 11. Burning
Based on a Haruki Murakamis short story, Burning from South Korean maestro Lee Chang-dong is a meditation on dealing with isolation and the tricks being alone might play on your memory. Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is forced to play detective when Steven Yeuns affluent bachelor rolls into town an event that coincides with the disappearance of a schoolfriend. Burning is a searing drama whose central unanswered mystery unnerves long after the credits role. Jacob Stolworthy
11/20 10. For Sama
News coverage has hardly been short of harrowing, violent footage of the Syrian Civil War. But too often missing are the human moments inbetween the bombings and the bloodshed. In Waad Al-Kateabs first person account of the uprisings aftermath, her cameras gaze never flinches from the horrors it sees as she and her husband try to maintain a rebel hospital amid a reign of bombing from President al-Assad but nor does it stop rolling while she falls in love, has a baby, and jokes around with her friends and neighbours. This is the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It is an important, powerful, astonishing documentary. Alex Pollard
12/20 9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
It feels almost blasphemous to be glad of Julianne Moore stepping down from a role, but Lee Israel the cantankerous, lonely literary forger who found herself the target of an FBI investigation in the Nineties feels like a part Melissa McCarthy was born to play. Nimbly directed by Marielle Heller (who was shunned by the Oscars in the Best Director category), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a sharp, funny and deeply compassionate examination of loneliness and self-destruction. Richard E Grant and Dolly Wells give wonderful supporting performances, too. Alex Pollard
13/20 8. Booksmart
As deeply indebted to the teen movie genre as it is formally and narratively rebellious, Booksmart grounds its traditional night-before-graduation plot (teenagers eager to crash a party) in touching character-driven drama. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, both instant stars, convey the ever-shifting dynamics and heightened dramas of adolescent best-friendship perfectly. Behind the camera, meanwhile, actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde demonstrates a staggering amount of emotional empathy and technical mastery for someone so green. Adam White
14/20 7. The Irishman
Comparisons to Martin Scorseses previous films (Goodfellas, Casino) are unfounded considering The Irishman is unlike any other gangster film youll see. With his three-hour-30-minute-long opus, Scorsese places the harsh spotlight on mortality. Instead of tracking the rise of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) from regular family man to seasoned hitman with glitzy panache, we see him shamefully confess his crimes as an elderly man ruminating on his past in a nursing home. The result is an unsettlingly moving character study unafraid to ask the big questions.Jacob Stolworthy
15/20 6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
With his ninth feature, Quentin Tarantino took a breath and crafted an unhurried, oddly heartwarming fable, one that came with a career-best performance from Brad Pitt. Its release rolled around with the usual smattering of discourse-steering controversy but, for all the complaints about the directors depiction of his film star subjects, including the scant usage of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, the fact remains that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of the filmmakers most accomplished films a freeneasy sun-soaked delve into Sixties Hollywood, whose much-discussed final 20 minutes provided topics of conversation all summer long. Jacob Stolworthy
16/20 5. Eighth Grade
For too many years the internet was exclusively evil in movies, something for tech boffins to hack, or used to steal Sandra Bullocks identity. Bo Burnhams Eighth Grade felt so comparatively real because it felt like the real internet, which has been as toxic and terrifying as it has been helpful to a generation of young people. Elsie Fisher, as a 13-year-old girl chronicling her confidence and anxieties in a vlog, is an adorable delight here, in a film that is devastatingly, heartbreakingly and endearingly human. Adam White
17/20 4. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimoss delightful, subversive vision has shaken the cobwebs out of costume drama. Set in the 18th century, it follows a trio of women two cousins, Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), and the ruling Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as they vie for power over each other and England. Desire, savagery, and manipulative vulnerability all become weapons in the hands of those who have no choice but to fight dirty. But, then, Colmans childless, gout-ridden Queen Anne tenderly reveals her shattered soul its an Academy Award-winning performance that brings a slice of tragedy to an otherwise sublime farce. Clarisse Loughrey
18/20 3. If Beale Street Could Talk
The marriage of disparate talents united to ensure If Beale Street Could Talk is worthy of mention alongside Barry Jenkins previous film, Moonlight The Independents film of the decade. With his film, Jenkins takes the words of James Baldwin and translates them into visual poetry. From Nicholas Britells mesmerising score to Regina Kings towering supporting performance (that Oscar was well deserved), the result is a creative tour de force. Jacob Stolworthy
19/20 2. Marriage Story
Here is a love story about divorce. Noah Baumbach writes and directs this aching, empathetic depiction of a couple whose marriage has fallen apart. As ruthless divorce lawyers driving a wedge between two people already hanging by a thread, Ray Liotta and Laura Dern are magnificent, while Scarlett Johansson gives her best performance in years as a woman trying to do the right thing without knowing what that is. But the real star is Adam Driver, who hulking as he is makes himself seem small and fragile. For his rendition of Sondheims Being Alive alone, Marriage Story deserves all the awards coming its way. Alex Pollard
20/20 1. Little Women
Greta Gerwigs adaptation of Louisa May Alcotts 1868 novel the story of four Massachusetts sisters coming of age during the American Civil War may be a period piece, but there is nothing staid or stuffy about it. The girls, played by Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen, talk and clamber over one another, their hair messy, their dresses scorched, their ambitions unfettered. It is a lively, profound adaptation. Alexandre Desplat provides the exuberant score, and Yorick La Sauxs cinematography is lush and textured. I didnt want it to be beautiful at the expense of being real, said Gerwig. But I did want it to feel like you wish you can jump inside and live in there or eat it. I remember trying to explain that to the gaffer, who was like, You want what? I was like, I want them to want to eat it. And how delicious it is. Alex Pollard
Other notables refused a seat at the table were The Farewells Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen, Clemencys Alfre Woodard and Dolemite Is My Names Eddie Murphy. The absence of Lupita Nyongo, so mesmerising as two vastly different beings in Us, embodied once again the Academys odd reluctance to embrace horror.
Then there were the filmmakers. The snubbed were mostly women on their second or third films, handed far smaller budgets than the men behind the 1917s and Jokers of the world, yet who produced sensitive, radical and alert pleasures Hustlers Lorene Scafaria, Atlantics Mati Diop, The Farewells Lulu Wang. Marielle Hellers Can You Ever Forgive Me? earned three Oscar nods just last year, yet she herself stayed off the Academys radar as she has again for her work on A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. Greta Gerwigs lack of a Best Director nod, particularly in contrast to Todd Phillips photocopied Scorsese pastiche, was such an emotional thud that nominations presenter Issa Rae couldnt help but make a snarky joke about it: Congratulations to those men.
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In one sense, this was all inevitable. The Academy has never been cutting edge, more often than not gravitating towards the safe, the white and the narratively unambitious. But its also refused to admit such a thing. 
When Emma Baehr, director of awards at Bafta, blamed the industry as a whole for the lack of people of colour during this years nominations, it exposed a baffling ignorance of what is happening on the frontlines of filmmaking, and whose voices are breaking through. But the Academys members know the boom in female filmmakers, they know what films have been critically embraced, and they know that there are too many stunning performances from actors of colour being ignored. Membership has increased its become younger, less white and less straight yet here we are.
While the industry is shifting, the Oscars remain the same. With TV ratings declining, and more and more filmmakers recognising what is typically being snubbed in favour of the loud and the expensive, its worth asking what the Oscars are even for anymore.