The following is my initial ranking of all 38 of the 2020 Oscar nominated movies. At this point in the year, I haven’t seen a single one of these movies, so my ranking is not based on my opinion of the movie. Instead, I am looking at the current critical and audience reaction, as well as the patterns in the Oscar nominations. For the audience reaction, I use the IMDB average audience rating as determined on the day the Oscars nominations were announced. The critics’ reaction is measured through IMDB MetaScore, which reflects an average of the available reviews and the ratings they have given each movie. By ‘Oscar nomination patterns’ I am referring to the total number of nominations as well as whether the nominations were in the ‘Above the line’ categories (Best Picture, Writing, Directing, and Acting), or in the more technical ‘Below the line’ categories, which include things like Cinematography and Original Score. ‘Specialized’ movies are those in the Documentary, Foreign Language, Animation, Original Song, and Visual Effects categories. If a movie receives only nominations in those categories, then it is considered separately. They can be ranked against the other entries in their Oscar categories, but probably shouldn’t be compared to the more mainstream movies.
Based on this analysis the movies seem to fall into some natural groups from better to worse. The following analysis will consider them in groups because, within a group, distinguishing a rank between movies is subject to quite a bit of error.
By any and all measures, there is just one movie at the top, Parasite. This is the critically acclaimed movie from South Korea which, even though it is a foreign language film received important nominations for Original Screenplay, Director, and Best Picture, as well as two below-the-line nominations, and one in International. It was ranked number one by the critics and third by audiences, out of all 38 movies. Like Roma last year (also a Foreign Language movie) this one stands apart from the rest. (It is interesting that the highest-ranked movies of the last two years have come from foreign sources.)
Just below Parasite there is a group of four movies that have received very high ratings from both critics and audiences. The Irishman and Marriage Story were both liked by critics more than audiences, but both ratings were very high. Along with Little Women, these three should be excellent movies. For Sama also received very high ratings and is likely the best in the documentary series.
Next there is a large group of eleven movies which all ranked fairly close. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and 1917 both received a large number of nominations. The former movie received five above the line and 1917 received three above the line plus seven technical nominations. So far, though, audience and critics haven’t rated these movies as well as those noted earlier. Ford v Ferrari was, strangely, nominated for Best Picture even though it didn’t receive any other major nominations. Pain & Glory received both a best actor and a Foreign Language nomination; Knives Out got one for Screenplay, and Lighthouse was nominated in Cinematography. The last five in this group are specialized movies – three documentaries (Honeyland (also a Foreign Language nominee), The Cave, and American Factory), Avengers: Endgame (nominated in Visual Effects), and Toy Story 4, which could well win the Animation and Original Song categories. I’m giving all of these movies an initial B+ rating
The next (B) group finds two movies with major nominations (Two Popes and A Beautiful Day). There are also three specialized movies, I Lost My Body (Animation), Les Miserables (International), and Edge of Democracy (Documentary).
The B- group includes Joker, Richard Jewell, and Ad Astra. Ad Astra was rated higher by the critics than audiences, but garnered only a Sound Mixing nomination. Richard Jewell is Kathy Bates vehicle, but received no other nominations. Joker is the real surprise this year, scoring the most nominations of any movie, but an abysmal rating from the critics. The positive audience reaction is responsible for elevating the movie from an even lower group. But the contrast between critical reaction and the sheer number of nominations is one of this year’s major mysteries. This group includes four specialized movies: two animations (How to Train Your Dragon and the Christmas movie Klaus), a song nomination for Rocketman, and the International film from Poland, Corpus Christi. If these movies end up being ‘very good’, it will certainly be a surprise.
Then there are a half dozen nominees that truly seem to be just mediocre films – a C rating. JoJo Rabbit is another movie like Joker that seems to enjoy audience appeal, while not being well received by critics. It too received a fairly large number of nominations, including one for Best Picture. Bombshell garnered nominations for two of its actresses (Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie) as well as a Makeup nomination, but those successes may not be enough to make up for a mediocre reception. Judy is the Renee Zellweger vehicle, and it also earned a Makeup nomination, but, again, nothing else seems outstanding enough to recommend it. Harriet earned a Leading Actress for Cynthia Erivo as well as an Original Song nomination, but public and critical reaction to the movie is not real strong. Frozen II was NOT nominated for animation, but did get a song nomination while Missing Link was our last entry in the animation category.
Two movies received technical nominations, but have not done well at all with audiences and critics alike, the Star Wars movie and Lion King. Star Wars is the last of the regular nine-volume Star Wars series but it appears the franchise has exhausted its appeal. The Lion King visual effects, especially the animals fur, garnered the movie a nomination in that category but, reportedly, audiences and critics alike found them creepy. I’m giving these two movies a D grade.
Finally, at the bottom of the entire pack are two movies that seem to have little reason to be in the Oscars at all. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was nominated for Makeup and Breakthrough garnered a song nomination, but neither of those are major awards. Yes, we will watch them, but we aren’t expecting much.
Now that I’ve done this analysis, I will put it away and not look at it again until we finish screening, reviewing, and ranking all 38 films. Then I will dust off this ranking, based on critic and audience reaction prior to the Oscar announcements, and compare it to my ranking of all the movies. That will happen towards the end of this year, or January of next year. It will be interesting to see where the differences lie.