The 2020 Oscars are almost upon us, and as usual, the nominations are causing quite the controversy. The lack of diversity among the acting and directing nominees has perhaps been the biggest ongoing criticism. But fans and critics alike have also been closely scrutinizing the year’s top prize: Best Picture.
Back in 2009, the academy announced it would expand the category from five films to as many as 10. So this year, nine films from a variety of genres are vying for Best Picture. Yet, because each winner ostensibly represents that year in cinema history, this Oscar race is typically the most heavily debated.
As it turns out, not every 2020 Best Picture nominee is equally beloved, at least by critics.
The divide between critics and audiences
Something to keep in mind with Best Picture is the ever-widening divide between the films critics adore and which ones audiences love. In fact, this very element of the process is why the academy expanded the category in the first place. With so many little-seen movies dominating the conversation, the academy worried casual moviegoers wouldn’t even tune in to the Oscars.
So the years since the Best Picture expansion have been much more inclusive in that regard. Sure, the films that get nominated tend to be mostly well-received by critics. But now mainstream hits like Avatar, Toy Story 3, Gravity, and Black Panther have all made the cut in recent years as well. For the 2020 Oscars, the academy has selected a collection that includes smaller releases and even another billion-dollar hit.
The Oscars’ Best Picture nominees ranked by reviews
To compare the critical responses of the 2020 Best Picture nominees, we’ll be referring to their ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. The review aggregator, unfortunately, features a binary system labeling critics’ thoughts either “Fresh” or “Rotten.” But the site is still widely regarded as a general measure of which movies are embraced by the critical community.
While all the 2020 nominees are certified Fresh, the range is pretty wide. With 99 percent positive ratings, South Korean release Parasite leads the nominees, followed closely by The Irishman (96 percent), Little Women and Marriage Story (both 95 percent), and Ford v Ferrari (92 percent). Next come 1917 (89 percent), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (85 percent), and Jojo Rabbit (80 percent).
The Best Picture nominee with the lowest score on Rotten Tomatoes — perhaps unsurprisingly — is Joker with 69 percent. Todd Phillips’ adaptation of the DC Comics character has been polarizing from the beginning. Its 11 Oscar nominations have only further aggravated debates over the film and whether it’s really worthy of all the accolades.
But could ‘Joker’ still sweep the Oscars?
That being said, Joker could still have the last laugh. The film clearly has huge support among Oscar voters, and its $1 billion gross could be integral to how it performs on Oscar night. While the Academy Awards aren’t based on financial performance, everyone is familiar with Joker and its impact on the industry. At an awards show voted on by people in the business, that counts for a lot.
Phillips’ film is R-rated, ultraviolent and super-bleak, all facts that might have hurt its Oscar chances. Likewise, some accuse Joker of “borrowing” too heavily from Martin Scorsese. But Joker found a fresh way to leverage the comic book movie phenomenon. Depending on how you feel about the genre, he either brought an exciting new approach to it or elevated a genre Scorsese himself doesn’t even consider real cinema.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance has certainly helped endear critics to the film, which is why he is a likely lock for Best Actor. As for Joker‘s Best Picture prospects, its status as the worst-reviewed film in the category shouldn’t make much difference. After all, Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody — both box office hits with polarized critical reactions — won big. So the joke could wind up being on those who bet against Phillips’ mega-hit.