Oscars 2020: AFI Awards

So the AFI Awards were announced today. They got the jump on NBR by a day. Usually I kick off my Oscar season with NBR, but apparently AFI just had to jump the gun. So let’s consider this the soft open. The dates article is already up, so it’s all fair game anyway.

Typically AFI is the most populist of this groups to announce, though they tend to get about half their list on the Best Picture list. Who the hell knows what the case is this year. I feel like I might have heard they were thinking of going back to a set ten, but maybe that was all just conjecture. So I’m just gonna look at this as a finger in the wind instead of a weather vane and just see where the winds are blowing before we start calculating it down to the exact direction and wind speed.

AFI Top Ten Films

Da 5 Bloods

Judas and the Black Messiah

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom




One Night in Miami


Sound of Metal

The Trial of the Chicago 7


The thing with AFI is… you generally see the same stuff you see from them as you see other places. So I was not at all surprised to see Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Sound of Metal or Chicago 7 on here. Which is half the list. Soul, I’d need to see how often they go for Pixar to know how much of an anomaly that is (I looked, they love that shit. So that fits). The other four — Spike makes sense. The other three… I feel like that’s them trying to fit into a populist narrative of 2020. I haven’t seen Judas and the Black Messiah yet, so I can’t say, but Ma Rainey and One Night in Miami just felt like okay movies that act more as social statements than ‘we think this is one of the best films of the year’. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve been looking at AFI for 20 years now, and I know they love to go populist. But, if there’s any year to make those statements, this is the one, so good on them.

And to further my point about them going populist, here are choices that made the AFI Top Ten in their respective years: Friday Night Lights, Spider-Man 2, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Borat, Happy Feet, Iron Man, The Hangover, Bridesmaids, The Force Awakens, Straight Outta Compton, Zootopia, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, A Quiet Place. I’m not saying any of the choices are bad films (I may not like some of their choices as films and as choices, but that’s a separate issue), I’m just saying — if things are populist breakout hits or carry ‘narratives’ behind them, they tend to go for stuff like that. This year, with so little, those lines are blurred, though I do feel a statement was being made by them. Which, as I said, might as well make it this year, since there is so little out there that feels great. They got the majority of the stuff I’d have looked for anyway. I honestly wouldn’t have expected them to go with some of the other choices I’d have gone with (though I will say, no Small Axe on either the film list or TV list tells me a lot about their decision-making and what they actually care about).

So onto the important part here. What, if anything, this means for the Oscars. Short version: nothing. Means nothing. Longer version, here’s how many Best Picture nominees the AFI list has had over the past decade:

2010 — 9/10 (and The King’s Speech got a ‘special’ award, so basically it’s 10/10)
2011 — 7/9 (The Artist got a ‘special’ award. The only miss was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
2012 — 8/9 (no Amour)
2013 — 7/9 (missed Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena)
2014 — 6/8 (missed Grand Budapest and Theory of Everything)
2015 — 6/8 (missed Brooklyn and The Revenant)
2016 — 7/9 (missed Hidden Figures and Lion)
2017 — 7/9 (missed Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread)
2018 — 5/8 (Roma got a ‘special’ award, and they missed Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice)
2019 — 7/9 (Parasite got a ‘special’ award and they missed Ford v Ferrari)

And yet I still dismiss them. Even though they haven’t missed more than two Best Picture nominees since 2009 (where they missed five). And weirdly, since I had to go back after seeing that… 2000-2008 when they only had to get 5/10 to hit perfectly, they only did that once. Most years they were either 3/5 or 4/5. Which is just fascinating to me.

But anyway, depending on where the Best Picture list goes (and this could be one of those years with only 5 or 6 films – because you don’t know until all the precursors are in and you really look at what we’ve got), the majority of it should come from this list, if we’re gonna look at how the previous decade has gone.

At this point, I’d imagine the locks here are Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Trial of the Chicago 7 and probably Sound of Metal. I’m not 100% sold on Sound of Metal, but it feels like as good a lock as anything. Soul is 50/50, just being animated. Da 5 Bloods feels like it’ll get on the lists, and then Judas I just don’t know about, which leaves either Ma Rainey or One Night in Miami as something that might just get on. But we’ll see. It’s hard to listen to something that ends up being right in the end a lot of the time but feels so meaningless on its surface.

NBR should tell us a bit more tomorrow. But while this kicks off the season, nothing really starts going until the Golden Globe nominations get announced. That’s when we start to get real, tangible ideas of where we’re headed.

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