WINNERS will be announced on Oscar Night, here is my salute to the best, worst and most ridiculous movies of the 2020 Oscar Season.
*** – denotes winner
Best First Film
The Assistant – Kitty Green
The Father – Florian Zeller
The Kid Detective – Evan Morgan
Saint Maud – Rose Glass
Shithouse – Cooper Raiff
***Sound of Metal – Darius Marder***
Mike’s Commentary: There were so many great and assured film debuts this year, surrounding topics ranging from workplace misogyny to workplace depression to workplace demonic possession to college dorm life and finally, Alzheimers. However, the one film that I feel really came together the best for the biggest emotional impact was Darius Marder‘s Sound of Metal about a drummer coming to terms with his hearing loss.
Best Supporting Actor
Leslie Odom, Jr. for One Night in Miami
Shaun Parkes for Mangrove
Will Patton for Minari
***Paul Raci for Sound of Metal ***
David Straithirn for Nomadland
Glynn Turman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mike’s Commentary: Notice the absence of Judas and the Black Messiah‘s Daniel Kaaluya and Lakeith Stanfield, that’s because I put them in my leading actor category because they gave leading performances. The shitty thing about category fraud is that it cuts both ways, it disrespects actors who gave actual supporting performances and it disrespects the work of the performer that clearly earned a leading actor nomination.
Anyway, the single best supporting and not leading performance I saw all year was from 72-year-old character actor and ASL advocate Paul Raci as Joe in Sound of Metal. It’s an extremely moving and natural performance that completely lands the biggest emotional moment of the movie. Seeing as though it’s from someone who seems to have just come out of nowhere with sparse credits here and there, it’s a real triumph.
Worst Supporting Actor
Kelsey Grammer for Money Plane
Thomas Jane for Money Plane
***Matthew Lawrence for Money Plane***
Rami Malek for The Little Things
Danny Trejo for American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules
Christopher Walken for Wild Mountain Thyme
Mike’s Commentary: Honestly, it could have been anyone from Money Plane but Mrs. Doubtfire‘s Matthew Lawrence‘s sloppy and half-committed Texan stereotype is just so miscalculated and ineffective, it can’t be ignored. The role, which was originally intended for Tom Arnold, is basically just a foul-mouthed Yosemite Sam with a Party City mustache that keeps coming loose.
Best Supporting Actress
Olivia Colman for The Father
Dominique Fishback for Judas and the Black Messiah
Gina Rodriguez for Kajillionaire
Amanda Seyfried for Mank
Letitia Wright for Mangrove
*** Youn Yuh-jung for Minari ***
Mike’s Commentary: I really hope Youn Yuh-jung is the breakout star of 2021 because I’d really like to see her in other stuff. Here, she does amazingly tender and nuanced work as the “bad grandma” of sorts and really plays a major role in Minari‘s overall success. And look, if she called the Brits “snobbish” during her BAFTA acceptance speech, imagine what she’s gonna call us Yanks at the Oscars.
Worst Supporting Actress
Glenn Close for Hillbilly Elegy
Jackie Cruz for Tremors 7: Shrieker Island
Denise Richards for Money Plane
Sara Rue for American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules
Gabourney Sidibe for Antebellum
***Maddie Ziegler for Music***
Mike’s Commentary: I mean….being a neurotypical person and playing this role is cringe-y, but overplaying it the way Ziegler does is downright shocking. Loudly squealing and clutching the wall like she’s the Japanese water ghost from The Grudge, this is 2020’s bleaker answer to Edward Norton‘s faux disabled person from 2001’s The Score. To say Maddie Ziegler‘s performance is misguided might be a little too soft, it’s truly something you have to watch through the cracks of your fingers in pure terror. And while it never seems like an intentionally malicious act on Ziegler or Sia‘s part, neither is negligent homicide.
Best Costume Design
Emma – Alexandra Byrne
Lovers Rock – Jacqueline Durran
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Ann Roth
***Mank – Trish Summerville***
The Vast of Night – Jamie Reed
Mike’s Commentary: Some good costumes this year and while I’m partial to the funk-a-licious threads of Lovers Rock, Mank flies away with this award for its gorgeous high society period costumes.
Best Production Design
The Father – Peter Francis
First Cow – Anthony Gasparro, Lisa Ward, Vanessa Knoll
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Mark Ricker, James F. Truesdale, Wes Hottman, Karen O’Hara, Diana Stoughton, Travis Kerr
***Mank – Donald Graham Burt, Dan Webster, Chris Cain, Hogan Lee, Jan Pascale***
The Vast of Night – Adam Dietrich, Jonathon Rudak, Tyler Corie
Mike’s Commentary: File this under not even close for the other nominees, the sets of Mank are brimming with precision and awe.
Most Awkward Dinner
The Father – “Chicken Twice”
***I’m Thinking of Ending Things – “Meet the Parents Time Jump”***
Kajillionaire – “Birthday Dinner”
The Nest – “Company Dinner”
Promising Young Woman – “My Parents Wanted Me to Be a DJ.”
Mike’s Commentary: I was so disappointed I didn’t love Charlie Kaufman‘s latest brain tickler, but it suffered from enormous pacing problems towards the end and an ending I’m still not sold on. However, the 20-minute “meet the parents” dinner between Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemmons, David Thewlis and Toni Collette is one of the funniest, most awkward and best scenes in Kaufman‘s impressive career.
***Sound of Metal***
The Vast of Night
Mike’s Commentary: There was some great sound design in movies in this year but Sound of Metal‘s sound design was as integral to telling its story as its screenplay.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Emma – Eleanor Catton
The Father – Christopher Hampton
***First Cow – Kelly Reichardt, Jonathon Raymond***
I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Charlie Kaufman
One Night in Miami – Kemp Powers
Mike’s Commentary: The single most snubbed movie of the 2021 Oscar Season, First Cow is a remarkably restrained and touching story about friendship between a fur trader that abandoned his company and a Chinese immigrant on the run for murder (but really just self-defense).
Best Original Screenplay
The Assistant – Kitty Green
The Kid Detective – Evan Morgan
***Minari – Lee Issac Chung***
Never Rarely Sometimes Always – Eliza Hittman
The Nest – Sean Durkin
Soul – Pete Docter, Kemp Powers, Mike Jones
Sound of Metal – Derek Cianfrance, Darius Marder, Abraham Marder
Mike’s Commentary: So many great original screenplays this year but the one that really seals the deal is Lee Issac Chung‘s Minari script which finds beauty in the most hopeless of places.
American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules – Blayne Weaver, David H. Steinberg
Hillbilly Elegy – Vanessa Taylor
The Lie – Veena Sud, Marcus Seibert, Sebastian Ko
***Money Plane – Andrew Lawrence, Richard Switzer, Tyler W. Konney, Tim Schaff***
Music – Sia, Dallas Clayton
Wild Mountain Thyme – John Patrick Shanley
Mike’s Commentary: Even without the dialogue, this movie’s story is so stupid and illogical it might have won this award. Add the excruciatingly stupid single entedres and tough-guy, macho posturing, wannabe Reservoir Dogs back and forths and this is the stupidest script of the decade.
Hillbilly Elegy – “Everyone in this world is one of three kinds: a good terminator, a bad terminator and neutral.” – Glenn Close on why she’s seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day over 100 times
***Money Plane – “The money plane has you covered. You want to bet on a dude fucking an alligator? … Money Plane.” – Kelsey Grammer trying to convince Edge to rob the Money Plane***
Money Plane – “Are you really fucking with me right now? Are you fucking with me? I don’t give a fuck who’s on that plane! I’m the baddest motherfucker on the planet! I am Darius Grouch III, The Rumble, and I am taking down the Money Plane! [slams hand on table with each punctuation] Now BRING! ME! MY! MONEY! – Kelsey Grammer right before he’s shot 784 times.
Music – “I don’t care about AIDS!” – Drunk Kate Hudson trying to fuck the HIV-positive neighbor.
Wild Mountain Thyme – “I think I’m a bumblebee.” – Jamie Dornan, in complete earnestness, when asked by frustrated crush, Emily Blunt, what’s he so afraid of.
Best Film Editing
The Father – Yorgos Lamprinos
First Cow – Kelly Reichardt
***Lovers Rock – Chris Dickens, Steve McQueen***
Sound of Metal – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
Tenet – Jennifer Lame
Mike’s Commentary: While Jennifer Lame‘s editing style in Tenet is revolutionary, it doesn’t succeed in making Tenet feel like anything less than four hours. That’s why I went with Chris Dickens and Steve McQueen‘s work on Lovers Rock, which feels like a fully, fleshed out classic-in-the-making love story that hits all necessary beats in 70 minutes flat. THAT’s incredible.
First Cow – Christopher Blauvelt
***Lovers Rock – Shabier Kirchner***
Mank – Erik Messerschmidt
Minari – Lachlan Milne
The Nest – Matyas Erdely
Nomadland – Joshua James Richards
Mike’s Commentary: Lovers Rock is an incredibly visual experience and cinematographer Shabier Kirchner thrillingly and realistically captures the vibe of a 1980s Reggae house party. The dance sequences feel like they’re happening around you rather than in front of you and that gorgeous shot of our young lovers riding a bike through the city at dawn, full of post-party bliss and lust for each other, is just the cherry on the sundae.
Best Original Score
Da 5 Bloods – Terence Blanchard
First Cow – William Tyler
Mank – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
****Minari – Emile Mosseri***
Soul – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Mike’s Commentary: No one is denying the talent of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who created not one but two of the year’s most indelible soundtracks, but it’s the sweet, gentle work of Emile Mosseri‘s Minari score that really captured my heart. It’s actually holding my heart prisoner until I give it this award.
Best Ensemble Cast
The Father – Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Anthony Hopkins, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams
Kajillionaire – Richard Jenkins, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, Evan Rachel Wood
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Chadwick Boseman, Dusan Brown, Jonny Coyne, Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Taylour Paige, Michael Potts, Jeremy Shamos, Glynn Turman
Mangrove – Darren Braithwaite, Richard Cordery, Duane Facey-Peason, Jumayn Hunter, Alex Jennings, Malachi Kirby, Nathaniel Martello-White, Shaun Parkes, Rochenda Sandall, Sam Spruell, Letitia Wright
***Minari – Noel Kate Cho, Kim Ha-Re, Alan Kim, Will Patton, Steven Yeun, Youn Yu-jung***
One Night in Miami – Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom, Jr.
Mike’s Commentary: So many amazing casts this year, but the best was Minari. Six different actors from various levels of experience, ages and cultural backgrounds, come together to create a family more authentic than yours.
Best Performance in a BAD Movie
***Jane Adams for She Dies Tomorrow***
John Carroll Lynch for The Trial of the Chicago 7
Janelle Monae for Antebellum
Robert Pattinson for The Devil All the Time
Rosamund Pike for I Care A Lot
Andrea Riseborough for The Grudge
Mike’s Commentary: When people rant about the rise of cerebral horror and it being pretentious, I usually disagree. I generally love high concept, artsy shit like The Lighthouse, The Witch and It Follows. As long as it can clearly say something or seem to exist with purpose. She Dies Tomorrow really doesn’t and to add insult to injury, it’s boring. However, Frasier‘s Jane Adams really knocks it out of the park as a disturbed woman not tied down by reality. The movie really slogs, but when Jane Adams is on screen, which isn’t a lot because she’s a supporting character, it’s actually interesting.
Christopher Abbot for Black Bear
Bo Burnham for Promising Young Woman
Charles Dance for Mank
***Oliver Jackson-Cohen for The Invisible Man***
Jesse Plemmons for I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Dan Stevens for The Rental
Mike’s Commentary: There were so many garbage boyfriends this year from Christopher Abbot’s manipulative filmmaker boyfriend who viciously taunts his actress girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) to get the performance he “needs” out of her, to Bo Burnham‘s seemingly innocent but actually really shitty funny boy. And while it was tempting to give it to Charles Dance‘s William Randolph Hearst, the worst of the worst had to be Oliver Jackson-Cohen‘s Adrian Griffin, a psychotic woman beater and eventual murderer from the underrated Elisabeth Moss thriller, The Invisible Man.
Worst Performance by a Trial of Chicago 7 Actor
Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman
Frank Langella as Judge Cranky Pants
Joseph Gordon Levitt as Young Republican, Probably Gay
Eddie Redmayne as The Human Equivalent of Watery Mashed Potatoes
***Jeremy Strong as Jerry Garcia***
Frank Langella’s Gavel as The Gavel that Practically Break Dances Out of Frank’s Hands During the Climax
Mike’s Commentary: Wow, this was hard for me to write. I’m starting to think that one of television’s greatest actors, Kendall “L 2 the O.G.” Roy on HBO’s Succession is only good in Succession. I barely remember him from The Big Short, but he was worst in show in Guy Ritchie‘s The Gentleman and now Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. He and Sacha are both over-the-top, but at least Sacha is somewhat entertaining in a Bugs Bunny type of way. Jeremy Strong is just bad here.
Made Me Want to Go There
***Da 5 Bloods – Vietnam***
First Cow – Oregon
The Kid Detective – Canada
Money Plane – An Airplane Casino That’s Actually Just a Storage Shed with Purple Curtains Hung Up
Weathering With You – Animated Japan World
Mike’s Commentary: I remember in the heart of our Quarantine Summer watching Da 5 Bloods in my bedroom with a bag of no contact Portillo’s delivery. I thought to myself, GOD I WANT TO TRAVEL and I ALWAYS WANTED TO GO TO VIETNAM. The movie probably wasn’t even filmed there.
Thanks for Reminding Me, I Miss It
Another Round – Getting Drunk with Friends at Fancy Restaurants Was Once a Thing
Black Bear – Being on Film Sets
***Lovers Rock – House Parties With All Your Friends***
Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Nomadland – Road Trips Were Once A Thing Minus Abortions and Dead Husbands
Soul – Live Music at Venues
Mike’s Commentary: I miss house parties more than anything, being surrounded by your closest friends and just dancing.
Best Lead Actor
Riz Ahmed for Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins for The Father
Daniel Kaaluya for Judas and the Black Messiah
Jude Law for The Nest
***Delroy Lindo for Da 5 Bloods***
Lakeith Stanfield for Judas and the Black Messiah
Steven Yeun for Minari
Mike’s Commentary: The single biggest acting snub of the year was Delroy Lindo‘s intense, multi-layered tortured black Vietnam vet Trump supporter. Spike Lee has had many self-hating protagonists in his films but this might be his most potent and timely. Even if the movie itself kind of falls apart due to lack of focus, Lindo‘s performance deserved way more attention.
This is a stacked category though, more than it has been in years past. That’s why I picked eight nominees instead of my usual six. If I picked ten I’d probably add John Magaro‘s understated performance in First Cow and Mads Mikkelsen‘s typically brilliant turn in Another Round.
Worst Lead Actor
***Steven “Edge” Copeland for Money Train***
James Corden for Prom
Pete Davidson for Big Time Adolescence
Pete Davidson for The King of Staten Island
Martin Lawrence for Bad Boys For Life
Denzel Washington for The Little Things
Mike’s Commentary: This might be Denzel‘s first truly bad performance, but he’s nowhere near as bad as half of the nominees on this list. Davidson continues to puzzle me as to why he’s being cast as lead roles in anything and the same could be said of James Corden being cast in any type of role, lead or supporting. The worst stands head and shoulders below the rest though, Steven “Edge” Copeland. A wrestler hopefully not turned actor, Edge is one of the least charismatic leading men I’ve ever seen in a movie. He’s not just terrible in Money Plane, he’s one of the biggest reasons the shitty material isn’t even fun. I couldn’t get behind this dude on anything.
Best Lead Actress
Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
***Carrie Coon for The Nest***
Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Julia Garner for The Assistant
Sidney Flanigan for Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Han Ye-ri for Minari
Frances McDormand for Nomadland
Aubrey Plaza for Black Bear
Mike’s Commentary: One of the best performances of the year, completely ignored by The Academy and critics’ groups, was Carrie Coon in Sean Durkin‘s The Nest. Coon plays a horseback riding teacher married to a type A personality asshole stock broker (Jude Law – never better) who has them living way above their means. Always waiting on that big check that never comes, her husband completely bankrupts them and the film is the emotional fall-out. While “marital dispute” stories aren’t anything new, The Nest is the most gut-wrenchingly brilliant since In the Bedroom or The Sopranos Season 4 finale “Whitecaps”, and a big part of what makes it that is Coon‘s incredibly nuanced and slyly riveting performance.
Worst Lead Actress
Amy Adams for Hillbilly Elegy
Lizze Broadway for American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules
Piper Curda for American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules
Gal Gadot for Wonder Woman 1984
***Kate Hudson for Music***
Meryl Streep for Prom
Mike’s Commentary: It’s really impossible to decipher what Kate Hudson and Sia were going for with the character of Zu, the head in the clouds fuck-up older sister that jokes about taking her autistic sister to the “people pound” and getting HIV from the neighbor. Also, one that smothers her autistic sister with her body when she’s misbehaving at the park. My god. Even beyond being problematic, Hudson doesn’t embue Zu with any deep emotional attributes. You never understand this character’s POV and even line deliveries seem otherworldly.
Best International Film
***Bacurau – Brazil***
Relic – Australia
Weathering With You – Japan
Mike’s Commentary: I hate that I didn’t see more film made outside the U.S. this past year, but I just didn’t get around to it. While I decidedly disliked Denmark’s Another Round despite a great lead performance by Mads Mikkelsen, I think it’s the odds on favorite to win the Best International Film Oscar tonight. Which is a shame because out of the three nominees I chose this year, none were nominated. Relic was a powerful Alzheimers allegory wrapped up in a horror movie costume and Weathering With You was a fascinating and well-detailed bit of science-fiction young adult romance. But the best was Brazil’s powerful and at times shocking post-Apocalyptic colonialism allegory, Bacurau, about a rural Brazilian villagers trying to defend their land against mysteriously sent U.S. and European mercenaries.
Lee Issac Chung for Minari
Sean Durkin for The Nest
Rose Glass for Saint Maud
Steve McQueen for Lovers Rock
***Kelly Reichardt for First Cow***
Chloe Zhao for Nomadland
Mike’s Commentary: It was a close one between Reichardt and Steve McQueen, who directed five whole motherfucking movies this past year (TV I guess if you want to get “technical”), but it’s Reichardt‘s sensitive take on this struggling human story set against frontier times that takes the cake for me. Every shot here is purposeful, every actor expression, every edit. Snubbed by mainstream awards probably because it’s such gentle and precise filmmaking. In an era where every filmmaker is trying to be the loudest, something this restrained is a gift.
Mike Elliot for American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules
Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy
Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman 1984
Andrew Lawrence for Money Plane
Don Michael Paul for Tremors 7: Shrieker Island
***Sia for Music***
Mike’s Commentary: The absolute trainwreck buffet that is Music is 100% the fault of Sia, incredibly, almost unbelievably tone-deaf in its representation of the autistic community and not even structurally sound from a pacing perspective. At one point, Sia casts herself as herself who buys pills off of Kate Hudson‘s character, saying she’s smuggling prescription and street drugs over to Haiti as relief packages for children.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Sound of Metal
Mike’s Commentary: Steve McQueen‘s second entry to his Small Axe anthology, a tight but substantial 68-minute film centered around a house party in the West Indies community in 1980s West London. If that seems a bit unsubstantial, that’s ok, McQueen‘s film is less about telling an epic plot-driven narrative (like Mangrove) and more concerned with giving you a full, lived-in experience. This is the sexiest and most realistic house party I’ve ever seen on film, so technically perfect in it’s capturing of the little details we all know from house parties we’ve attended (like the sound a hand makes rubbing against a denim-covered booty), that it succeeds in coercing the same level of intense emotion from its audience that a dialed-in character study or great tearjerker would. Again, this isn’t about narrative substance its about evoking a time that Covid-19 ripped away from most of us this past year. We all miss our friends and parties and that warm sense of community we had, and for 68 short minutes, McQueen tries and I’d argue, succeeds, in bringing it all back.
American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules
Tremors 7: Shrieker Island
Wild Mountain Thyme
Mike’s Commentary: Music was far and away the worst film of the year but we’ve talked about that piece of shit movie for like four sections already, so let’s talk about the other nominees. In a somewhat distant second place was Money Plane, another horrendous heist movie from child acting siblings The Lawrences. Third and fourth place are reserved for The Lie, which had one of the stupidest twists in movie history, and American Pie Presents: Girl’s Rules was maybe the most flagrant display of cinematic misogyny we got all year, essentially just gender swapping the American Pie date rape-y formula. Antebellum and Hillbilly Elegy were among the most problematic releases of the year, one a tone-deaf horror movie about slavery, the other a melodramatic, potty-mouthed would-be Lifetime movie victimizing Trump folk. Tremors 7 and The Grudge were both terrible horror movies, The Grudge being decidedly more polished but way less fun than Tremors. Prom and Wild Mountain Thyme were both miscalculated Oscar bait, somewhat more tolerable than Hillbilly Elegy, but still pretty awful and poorly conceived.