Kristofer Jenson’s 2019 BOFCA Ballot

There’s a lot to love about the way we in the Boston Online Film Critics Association choose our annual BOFCA Award winners. Ranked voting (which, ahem, would be one positive step toward fixing democracy), a Top 10 list where beloved non-winners still get represented, and the satisfaction of boosting what we all know should win (e.g. You Were Never Really Here) instead of what we all know will win (that other movie).

To see this year’s winners, click here. Here’s my 2019 Boston Online Film Critics Awards ballot.

Burrito: Steak burrito grande, Felipe’s, Cambridge, MA (2019, dir. J.J. Abrams)

BEST PICTURE

1 – THE NIGHTINGALE*
2 – PARASITE
3 – LITTLE WOMEN
4 – ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
5 – UNCUT GEMS
6 – US
7 – THE FAREWELL
8 – THE IRISHMAN
9 – MIDSOMMAR
10 – IN FABRIC

Any other year, I would have included John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Knives Out, or Hustlers, but would you look at this lineup?! My biggest dilemma was my number 10 spot, which reserved for a dark horse pick for rewarding originality, audacity, or something intangible that demands inclusion in any Best Of list. It usually goes to genres film like The First Purge. If In Fabric hadn’t come along, that might have gone to The Death of Dick Long.

*As I wrote in C-Ville Weekly: Please note that The Nightingale is one of the most harrowing, disturbing films I’ve ever seen. This is recognition, not recommendation. If you consider yourself a movie lover in the sense that you enjoy a night out at the pictures, this is not that. If you’re a believer in the power of cinema to explore the most essential problems of humanity, including our most ugly, violent, and vicious tendencies and the systems we create to enshrine those vices (colonialism, private property, human servitude and slavery), then you have to acknowledge The Nightingale as an unmitigated masterpiece.

BEST DIRECTOR

1 – Jennifer Kent, THE NIGHTINGALE
2 – Greta Gerwig, LITTLE WOMEN
3 – Bong Joon-ho, PARASITE

Every film mentioned above could have shown up in this category, I set some ground rules. This year’s Best Director slate went to filmmakers who somehow exceeded expectations or demonstrated mastery of something unique to them. Kent showed that she can do absolutely anything behind a camera, Greta Gerwig’s nonlinear approach to Little Women was one hell of a gamble, and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite deftly handles so many tones at once that to say it’s “genre-hopping” feels like an insult.

BEST ACTOR

1 – Adam Sandler, UNCUT GEMS
2 – Eddie Murphy, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
3 – Leonardo DiCaprio, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD

Yes, really.

BEST ACTRESS

1 – Lupita Nyong’o, US
2 – Elisabeth Moss, HER SMELL
3 – Awkwafina, THE FAREWELL

Since Us premiered, there was no other choice than Lupita. Her Smell was two-thirds of a great movie that loses nearly all of its steam as soon as the kid starts talking, but it comes with the revelation that Elisabeth Moss is even better than we thought.

Awkwafina has been wonderful in all of her roles, but her performance as a heritage speaker conveyed the linguistic component of Billi’s struggle to audiences that don’t speak a word of Mandarin. I couldn’t understand it, but I could feel it. She’s far more proficient than, say, Michael Corleone is in Sicilian in the first Godfather, but the way she speaks is as crucial to her feeling like an outsider as the way she thinks. Fascinating performance, powerful stuff.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1 – Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
2 – Baykali Ganambarr THE NIGHTINGALE
3 – Eric Bogosian, UNCUT GEMS

What is it that Pokémon do? Evolve, turn into more powerful versions of themselves or something? That’s what Brad Pitt’s two personalities seem to have done in 2019. The sullen sadboy of Ad Astra and the goofy heartthrob of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood both made it to the screen, and in each case, he’s never felt more natural. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both roles were also dissections of those archetypes. Whatever it is, he was getting on my ballot somehow.

Baykali Ganambarr in The Nightingale took one of the best-written roles of the year and made it his own. Even if we’d never learned any of Billy’s backstory, we’d be able to read it on his face, in his eyes, the way he speaks. The same goes for Eric Bogosian, whose most memorable moments in Uncut Gems come when he’s not speaking but just observing. His expression alone carries enough violence to earn an R rating.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1 – Florence Pugh, LITTLE WOMEN
2 – Jennifer Lopez, HUSTLERS
3 – Zhao Shuzhen, THE FAREWELL

This would have been Jennifer Lopez’s year if it weren’t already Florence Pugh’s. Like Brad Pitt, it’s hard to believe what a year Pugh has had, as both the traumatized heroine of Midsommar and the mile-a-minute sister in Little Women. My friends who’ve read the book tell me Amy is apparently the least-liked character, but Pugh steals the show in every scene.

That said, Lopez is at her all-time best in Hustlers, proving that we should have taken her screen presence more seriously after Out of Sight and The Cell. Meanwhile, Zhao Shuzhen, a veteran of Chinese television, helps bring The Farewell home for viewers of all nationalities. She’s not just Billi’s Nai Nai. She’s your grandmother. You, the viewer.

BEST ENSEMBLE

1 – LITTLE WOMEN
2 – THE FAREWELL
3 – KNIVES OUT

This is probably the most alchemical of the categories. Two actors can give great individual performances but fail to connect with one another, so it’s pure magic when each member of a large cast of speaking roles feels indispensable.

BEST SCREENPLAY

1 – Lulu Wang, THE FAREWELL
2 – Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
3 – Ray Wright, Neil Jordan, GRETA

Greta needed something for its screenplay dripping with camp. I do still have to call it to task for one thing:

BEST FOREIGN FILM

1 – PARASITE
2 – LUZ
3 – ATLANTICS

Luz (not Luce) was another candidate for the number 10 spot, but I am very happy to have a space for it and Atlantics, the best ghost (kind of?) movie of the year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

1 – VARDA BY AGNÈS
2 – AMAZING GRACE
3 – HAIL SATAN?

I don’t have the same knowledge of the French New Wave as many of my colleagues (ask me about Russian Formalism!) so my appreciation of Agnès Varda has come unfortunately late. But if you need a place to start, it was kind of her that her final film should be a beginner’s guide to her life and art. A beautiful soul who lived the kind of creative life we should all aspire to.

Amazing Grace and Hail Satan? round out the list. The latter disarms you with charm and humor. Their whole thing is sincere irony or ironic sincerity as a tool for dismantling Christian hegemony, as captured by one participant’s comments that they started as an atheist, then realized that wasn’t enough. “Look at these kooky performance artists, aren’t they precious? Hmm, they kind of have a point. Oh shit, they’re right about basically everything. Wait, am I a Satanist?!”

Loath as I am to agree with Armond White, in a review filled with “u triggered lib lol” crap, he does make a fascinating point about Amazing Grace and white observers treating black artistic achievement as natural and instinctive yet non-intellectual, robbing the artists of their hard work and technical skill. (Google it, I am not linking to National Review.) Sydney Pollack’s fault or not, he fucking failed at making this movie about the recording of Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace (the best-selling live gospel record of all time). The documentary sat unfinished for decades. But there he is, on film as the guy documenting it. The camera seeks out Mick Jagger in the audience while Franklin and her supporting musicians work their asses off. It’s enough to make you think, but not enough to leave it off the list because witnessing her in her element is so overwhelmingly powerful. This one is for Aretha.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

1 – TOY STORY 4
2 – ABOMINABLE
3 – MISSING LINK

Toy Story 4 is better than Toy Story 3. And somehow two animated Yeti movies didn’t suck. But why did the marketing for Missing Link make it look so bad when it was a perfectly charming adventure?

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1 – Jarin Blaschke, THE LIGHTHOUSE
2 – Ari Wegner, IN FABRIC
3 – Robert Richardson, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD

I’m of the opinion that black and white film heightens your non-visual senses. You can feel the texture, smell the air, hear the madness, taste the lobster farts. The tight aspect ratio and shadowy visuals are far more than a gimmick, making this absurd, surreal story in a universe that cannot exist far more immersive than if it had looked conventionally lush or vibrant.

In Fabric and Once Upon a Time, meanwhile, are much more traditionally gorgeous. If each movie were an hour longer with no story, just visuals, I’d be perfectly happy.

BEST EDITING

1 – Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland, FORD V FERRARI
2 – Fred Raskin, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
3 – Louise Ford, THE LIGHTHOUSE

If you can get me excited about racing, a sport that I do not and will never understand, you’re getting Best Editing. Easy as that. Really wish I’d seen Ford v Ferrari on the big screen. The two best editing tricks of the year by numbers 2 and 3 are unmatched by any other film: Once Upon a Time‘s rooftop flashback and Robert Pattinson’s realization of how much time has passed in The Lighthouse.

BEST SCORE

1 – Cavern of Anti-Matter, IN FABRIC
2 – Mark Korven, THE LIGHTHOUSE
3 – Emile Mosseri, THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

Two non-traditional scores (I don’t know about you, but I fucking loved that bwaaaaah in The Lighthouse) and music gorgeous enough to further elevate The Last Black Man in San Francisco but that could also remind you of your humanity during your daily commute.

Soundtrack to this week’s post: Nova Twins. HOLY SHIT. MAKE THEM FAMOUS.