And the Oscar Should’ve Gone to…[2020 Edition]

Looking at some alternate Oscar picks in the run up to this year’s Academy Awards.

It’s Oscar time again! As is the case with any year, the Academy Awards strive to lift up and honor the best of what film had to offer in the year that’s just past. While Covid-19 made sure that 2020 was not going to be a year anyone would soon forget, the same could definitely be said about the films that came out during this time. It seems there hasn’t been a year this diverse in terms of both the kinds of films that were unleashed onto the landscape and the array of voices bringing them to life both in front of and behind the camera.

Although the initial months of lockdown meant that many producers and studios held their breath as the industry scrambled to find new means of release strategies, the collection of titles which came our way throughout the last year was unbelievable. From Soul, to Promising Young Woman, so many titles which wouldn’t have had a prayer of being greenlit a decade ago now stand the chance of taking home the industry’s top prize this Sunday. With every category featuring at least one female/POC nominated, this year’s Academy Awards certainly represents a seismic shift in the industry.

Of course not every acclaimed or award-worthy title could make it to the big night. Thanks to the vast amount of avenues with which to release films, the world of cinema has found itself inundated with an abundance of voices and images all commenting on the human experience in one form or another. In honor of those not being represented on Oscar night, please enjoy some of my alternate picks for some of the top categories, all of which helped make 2020 such a stellar year in film in their own ways.

Best Picture: The Nest

Writer/director Sean Durkin returned to the world of features with this stirring drama. In The Nest, Jude Law and Carrie Coon play a seemingly well-to-do couple whose bond is tested after their move to a large English estate. Featuring both twists and character-driven moments, the film is a dark, searing tale of marriage, passion and ambition set in the thick of the 1980s.

Best Director: Edoardo Ponti- The Life Ahead

Edoardo Ponti achieved one of the year’s most stunning films with this film adaptation of a novel featuring a former prostitute (Sophia Loren) who takes in a troubled orphan boy (Ibrahima Gueye) in seaside Italy. Ponti shows his love for the source material as he delicately balances the film’s beauty, emotion, truth and slight magical realism.

Best Actor: Paul Bettany- Uncle Frank

Bettany may not have as many big, speechy scenes as you would expect in Uncle Frank, but this tale of a closeted southern gay man who returns from New York to his hometown for his father’s funeral didn’t need them. What it does offer is Bettany in top form beautifully conveying the story of a man finally embracing his true self.

Best Actress: Michelle Pfeiffer- French Exit

Pfeiffer adds another brilliant performance to her body of work with this dark comedy that dabbles in the absurd and surreal. As a New York socialite who flees to Paris when her money runs out, Pfeiffer is gifted with both a collection of delicious lines and the chance to explore a character rich in her own kind of tragedy.

Best Supporting Actor: Hugh Grant- The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie returned to true form with the highly entertaining action-comedy The Gentlemen. Driving the movie’s all-star cast was Grant as a cockney sleazeball who brilliantly instigates blackmail through a movie pitch. It’s Grant at his most playful and delectable thanks to great timing, delivery and a willingness to go for it.

Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei- The King of Staten Island

Pete Davidson’s cinematic re-telling of his own life story may not have won him any new fans, but it did give the always-welcome Tomei one of her most worthwhile turns in some time as the main character’s mother. The actress radiates as a woman allowing herself a second chance at a life she finally feels she deserves.

Best Original Screenplay: Kajillionaire

Writer/director Miranda July’s latest is an unconventional portrait of family dysfunction that also doubles as a quirky tragicomedy. Decidedly geared towards specific tastes, Kajillionaire is full of iconic imagery and stellar performances all propelled by this surprising story of a con artist family that feels both grounded and otherworldly.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Boys in the Band

Mart Crowley’s legendary play about a collection of gay men attending a party in 1960s New York City made the seamless transition to film yet again in 2020. Starring some of the industry’s most celebrated gay actors, the entire cast shines thanks to the eternal humor and surprising depth of Crowley’s script.

Best Cinematography: A Rainy Day in New York

Although not a lot of people saw Woody Allen’s latest, those who did were treated to the kind of whimsical, lovely New York comedy that draws on the winning quality of pure nostalgia. It’s an ethereal experience made all the more serene by it’s soft, dreamy photography, courtesy of the legendary Vittorio Storaro.

Best Visual Effects: Birds of Prey

Robbie’s solo turn as Harley Quinn may have been all anyone could talk about when it came to Birds of Prey, but the movie’s special effects had a wonderfully old school feel that was instrumental in bringing Harley’s world of dark poppiness to the screen.

Best Score: Shirley

The story of horror novelist Shirley Jackson was always promised to be a haunting portrait of the famous literary figure no matter what. Yet the intense and surreal score from Tamar-kali had a life of its own and took the author’s life story into another fascinating realm altogether.

Best Original Song: “Loyal Brave True”- Mulan

Christina Aguilera stunningly re-recorded “Reflection,” the song which helped launch both her and the animated Mulan back in 1998, for the 2020 live action version. But it was her new contribution to the soundtrack; a sweeping power ballad about what it means to be a warrior at heart, that proved breathtaking.

Best Documentary: Jasper Mall

This ode to small town America as seen through the eyes of a dying mall had an unexpected poetry as it followed patrons, store owners and even the mall’s Santa over the course of a single year as they all dealt with personal relationships, dwindling business and their own hopes for the future.

Best Foreign Film: The Truth

Two of French cinema’s most acclaimed actresses lead this compelling tale of pair of vastly different women. While one (Juliette Binoche) is struggling to reconcile both present day life and her relationship with her movie star mother (Catherine Denueve), the other finds herself at a personal and professional crossroads of her own.

Good luck to all of this year’s nominees!

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