The 2020 BenWatchesThings Awards

After once again being disappointed by the Oscars nominations, I decided to have my own awards. None of this is related to the Oscar nominees, as I picked my own nominees and winners in each category, but I only did this for categories I felt qualified to talk about (in addition to some categories I made on my own). Also, there are some slight discrepancies between my best picture nominees and my Top 10 Movies of 2019, but this is just because I tried to honor my favorite movies while also acknowledging some great movies that had a presence in individual categories.

Best Picture

Photo credit: NEON

Winner: Parasite

Sometimes my favorite movie of the year isn’t necessarily the one I would give best picture, but Parasite manages to be both with little-to-no competition. It’s a thrilling, hilarious, and shocking crowdpleaser that uses its entertainment value not to mask its chilling subtext, but to enhance it and have its wallop of an ending hit home even harder. We’re going to be talking about this movie for years to come.

Other Nominees:

Marriage Story

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Jojo Rabbit

Knives Out


The Lighthouse


Avengers: Endgame

The Farewell

Best Lead Actor

Photo credit: Netflix

Winner: Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

I appreciate Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the Joker, but nothing came close for me to the humanity or nuance of Adam Driver’s performance in Marriage Story. Sure, there are some flashy monologues (and even some karaoke too), yet the real charm of this performance lies in how Driver brings out every little detail of everyday actions as a man trying to navigate parenting alongside a divorce.

Other Nominees:

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems)

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse)

Best Lead Actress

Photo credit: Netflix

Winner: Scarlett Johannson (Marriage Story)

Similar to Driver, Scarlett Johannson’s performance in Marriage Story is heartbreaking and relatable in equal measure. One of the most powerful moments from the movie is her character’s monologue when she first meets her lawyer, as the whole time she feels on the verge of tears that never quite arrive, and it’s a testament to Johannson that the scene — alongside many others — hits as hard as it does.

Other Nominees:

Lupita Nyong’o (Us)

Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)

Florence Pugh (Midsommar)

Awkwafina (The Farewell)

Best Supporting Actor

Photo credit: A24

Winner: Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse)

Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse is like watching an acting masterclass right in front of you. He brings a hilarious level of camp and insanity to his maritime dialogue, all enlaced with an over-the-top accent that creates one of the most memorable characters of the year.

Other Nominees:

Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

Song Kang-Ho (Parasite)

Alessandro Nivola (The Art of Self-Defense)

Best Supporting Actress

Photo credit: Netflix

Winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

Anybody who has seen Marriage Story probably walked away terrified of vicious lawyers, and it’s hard to blame them when Laura Dern is just so darn good. She is a presence in every scene that asserts herself as the dominant person in the room.

Other Nominees:

Florence Pugh (Little Women)

Shuzhen Zhao (The Farewell)

Jo Yeo-jeong (Parasite)

Ana de Armas (Knives Out)

Best Director

Photo credit: NBC

Winner: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

It remains uncertain whether Bong will go on to win the Oscar, but The Academy has to everything lose by failing to recognize a work of genuine mastery that no other filmmaker could pull off. From its first frame to its last, Parasite is a truly singular vision that pulls off comedy and suspense in spades, and none of it would work without Bong conducting a symphony of genres like a maestro.

Other Nominees:

Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep)

Lulu Wang (The Farewell)

Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story)

Sam Mendes (1917)

Best Original Screenplay

Photo credit: NEON

Winner: Parasite (Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won)

This is the type of script that people would kill to have written. Alongside all of the shocking twists, the writing never loses sight of the sharp character work and urgent social commentary at the story’s core, all while subtly foreshadowing the payoff that arrives in its third act. ‘This is so metaphorical’ indeed.

Other Nominees:

Knives Out (Rian Johnson)

The Farewell (Lulu Wang)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Avengers: Endgame (Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely)

This is a pretty weak category overall this year, so it only is fitting that a total dark horse candidate comes in and takes the top prize for me. The screenplay of Avengers: Endgame is a structural marvel that effortlessly juggles countless moving parts and years worth of storytelling, all while embracing the quieter moments just as much as the scenes that make you want to stand up and cheer.

Other Nominees:

Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)

The Irishman (Steven Zaillian)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Noah Harpster & Micah Fitzerman-Blue)

Best Cinematography

Photo credit: A24

Winner: The Lighthouse (Jarin Blaschke)

Everybody is talking about the technical feat of 1917’s camerawork, but at the end of the day the most technically impressive cinematography doesn’t necessarily amount to the best cinematography; cinematography is supposed to visually tell a story in every frame and hopefully create some gorgeous paintings along the way, and nothing did that better than the atmospheric and gorgeous cinematography of The Lighthouse.

Other Nominees:

Parasite (Kyung-pyo Hong)

Midsommar (Pawel Pogorzelski)

Us (Mike Gioulakis)

1917 (Roger Deakins)

Best Editing

Photo credit: NEON

Winner: Parasite (Jinmo Yang)

I considered giving this to the cocaine-laden precision of Uncut Gems, but it’s hard to compete with the way the editing in Parasite deftly handles such wild tonal shifts. Also, that peach montage is an all-timer, and it’s in no short part due to great editing.

Other Nominees:

Marriage Story (Jennifer Lame)

Uncut Gems (Benny Sadie & Ronald Bronstein)

Ford v Ferrari (Andrew Buckland & Michael McCusker)

The Irishman (Thelma Schoonmaker)

Best Production Design

Photo credit: NEON

Winner: Parasite (Ha-jun Lee)

This might seem more like the Parasite Awards than the BenWatchesThings Awards at this point, but the house in Parasite is an absolute marvel of production design that is just as much a character as anybody else in the movie.

Other Nominees:

Midsommar (Henrik Svensson)

1917 (Dennis Gassner)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Barbara Ling)

Little Women (Jess Gonchor)

Best Score

Photo credit: NEON

Winner: Parasite (Jaeil Jung)

The music in Parasite is much like the film itself, effortlessly jumping between tones like nobody’s business, and the seven-minute track ‘Belt of Faith’ is an exhilarating symphony that cements the score as the best of the year.

Other Nominees:

Us (Michael Abels)

Avengers: Endgame (Alan Silvestri)

Uncut Gems (Daniel Lopatin)

Marriage Story (Randy Newman)

Most Undeserved Oscar Nomination

Winner: Todd Phillips (Best Director)

I could have picked well over ten nominations for this category, yet there was never any doubt that Todd Phillips was always going to be the clear winner (loser?). He essentially directed a shallow knock-off of a Scorsese movie, called it a comic-book movie that’s ‘not really a comic-book movie’, and then got praised as some auteur of high art worthy of an Oscar nomination. Joker should undoubtedly receive recognition for its acting and cinematography, but when it comes to taking an undeserved spot in the most competitive category of the year? No, thanks.

Other Nominees:

Joker (Best Adapted Screenplay)

The Irishman (Best Cinematography)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Best Score)

1917 (Best Original Screenplay)

Biggest Oscars Snub

Photo credit: A24

Winner: Willem Dafoe (Best Supporting Actor)

I braced myself for a Willem Dafoe snub on the morning nominations were announced, but it still really stings that this performance isn’t getting the awards recognition it deserves; perhaps it’s just too good for the Oscars.

Other Nominees:

Adam Sandler (Best Lead Actor)

Lupita Nyong’o (Best Lead Actress)

Avengers: Endgame (Best Adapted Screenplay)

Parasite (Best Score)

Best Movie Moment

Photo credit: NEON

Winner: The Big Tonal Shift (Parasite)

Parasite is a movie that zigs and zags every ten minutes, but every prior plot development feels minor once the movie drops its big moment on you halfway through after a certain housekeeper arrives in the rain. It’s a scene so shocking that I will never forget the adrenaline I felt the first time I watched it, and the following 25 minutes of hide-and-seek that ensue is one of the most thrilling and masterfully crafted suspense sequences to ever grace the screen.

Other Nominees:

Avengers Assemble (Avengers: Endgame)

Blanc Figures It All Out (Knives Out)

The Argument Scene (Marriage Story)

The Manson Murders (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

That’s a Wrap

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for following along! Stay tuned for my thoughts on the Oscars after they air next week.

Acclaimed Movies I Haven’t Seen: A Hidden Life, Honey Boy, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Judy, Hustlers, Under the Silver Lake, Monos, The Two Popes, Pain and Glory, Queen & Slim, Just Mercy, Fighting With My Family, Her Smell, The Souvenir, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Report