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Ranking the Oscar best picture nominees from the past 5 years

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in the movie "Moonlight."
(David Bornfriend / A24)

When the Lakers and Dodgers won titles last year, I didn’t hear many people complaining, saying that their championships should come with an asterisk. Or maybe they did, but I was just too busy celebrating to hear their whining. (And, no, those illegal fireworks were most definitely not coming from my house. Somewhere on my street, maybe, but, I repeat, not my house.)

Which is why I have little patience for people protesting that this year’s Oscars are somehow tainted because theaters were mostly shut down and studios shuffled movies out of the season or, I don’t know, they tried watching “Mank” three times but could never get through it. I understand that the Oscars are different this year. Watching the movies at home isn’t as satisfying as sitting in a theater next to someone who keeps whispering confused questions, wondering if that’s really Bill Nye the Science Guy playing Upton Sinclair in “Mank.” (Yes it is. And, God, how I miss those annoying people sitting next to me in movie theaters.)

But just because the experience of watching the movies in our living rooms wasn’t as enjoyable doesn’t mean that the movies themselves were somehow inferior. At least, I think. But to road-test that theory, I decided to rank the last five years of best picture nominees to see how 2020 measured up.

43. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) I know smart people who love this movie. In fact, had it not been directed by Bryan Singer, who has been accused of sexual abuse and all manner of misconduct, it might have won best picture instead of “Green Book.” Words I never thought I’d write: Thank ... God ... for ... “Green Book.”

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42. “Joker” (2019) Self-conscious Scorsese imitation.

41. “Jojo Rabbit” (2019) If it’s an “anti-hate satire,” why do I hate it so much?

40. “Darkest Hour” (2017) Worth a watch for Gary Oldman. But enough Churchill already.

39. “Lion” (2016) It brought Nicole Kidman back to the Oscars, so I can’t complain.

38. “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016) One thing’s for certain: Mel Gibson knows madness.

37. “The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020) “Mangrove” > “Chicago 7.” But there’s no shame in being the second-best courtroom drama of the year.

36. “Green Book” (2018) Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen carry it. I’d watch it 10 times before subjecting myself to “Crash” again.

35. “Fences” (2016) Vital August Wilson adaptation, planting the flag to hopefully bring all 10 of his plays to the screen.

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34. “Promising Young Woman” (2020) Audacious, darkly funny and sometimes uncertain in its messaging.

33. “The Post” (2017) Not the worst Spielberg film to be nominated. But also far from the best.

32. “Ford v Ferrari” (2019) Decent Dad Cinema.

31. “Hidden Figures” (2016) Heartfelt and inspirational in all the right ways.

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30. “Vice” (2018) Pungent political satire, though not quite as shrewd as “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.”

29. “Sound of Metal” (2020) Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I cue this movie up on Amazon Prime and listen to Paul Raci for five minutes.

28. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017) Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, grief and forgiveness, profane and poignant.

27. “The Shape of Water” (2017) The sixth-best movie of the nominated films from 2017 ended up winning best picture. It was a very good year.

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26. “The Father” (2020) and 25. “Marriage Story” (2019) Exemplary tales of grueling, lacerating heartbreak that I’ll probably never revisit.

24. “1917" (2019) All hail Roger Deakins!

23. “A Star Is Born” (2018) “Haaaaaa-ahhhh-ahhh-ohhhh-ahhaaaaaa-ahhhh-ahhh-ohhhh-ah!!!”

22. “Hell or High Water” (2016) Peak Dad Cinema.

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21. “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) Earns Spike Lee an overdue Oscar.

20. “Arrival” (2016) Years later, I’m still wondering how Amy Adams wasn’t nominated for this.

19. “Judas and the Black Messiah” (2020) Can Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield both win the Oscar?

18. “Minari” (2020) Best acting ensemble of 2020.

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17. “Manchester by the Sea” (2016) Does anyone mine shattering trauma better than Kenneth Lonergan?

16. “Mank” (2020) I’ve watched it twice ... straight through both times!

15. “Dunkirk” (2017) Christopher Nolan’s best.

14. “The Favourite” (2018) Costume drama for people bored with costume dramas.

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13. “Little Women” (2019) Greta Gerwig was wronged.

12. “La La Land” (2016) The L.A. story that won best picture ... for about two minutes.

11. “Roma” (2018) Sublime Cuarón love poem.

10. “The Irishman” (2019) Scorsese’s “September Song.”

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9. “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” (2019) Tarantino gets wistful about Old Hollywood and hates on those damn hippies.

8. “Black Panther” (2018) Wakanda forever!

7. “Lady Bird” (2017) Gerwig’s the only director on here twice. (She’s good.)

6. “Get Out” (2017) We remain deep in the Sunken Place. But maybe we’re talking about it more?

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5. “Call Me by Your Name” (2017) Timothéeeeeeee and Italy.

4. “Phantom Thread” (2017) Still holding out hope that this isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis’ last movie.

3. “Nomadland” (2020) A spiritual journey centered on community and compassion — pretty much the film we needed in this challenging year.

2. “Parasite” (2019) First non-English-language movie to win best picture, a (too) rare example of the academy getting it right.

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1. “Moonlight” (2016) The Oscar win for Barry Jenkins’ melancholy masterpiece redefined the parameters of what kind of film could earn best picture.

[Whew] So what did we learn? Well, again, 2017 was a great year for movies. 2016? Not so much. And 2020 ranks right there with 2019 and 2018, offering plenty of good films — and a couple of great ones. If you still haven’t seen the eight pictures nominated this year, please find them and savor their pleasures.

And for all those who wrote two years ago to tell me how I misjudged “Jojo Rabbit,” I know ... I know.

But I’m still right.


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