Oscars 2020: Best Picture nominees as fine art paintings

Oscars 2020: Best Picture nominees as fine art paintings

As the 2020 Oscar Awards draw near, audiences remain divided on which of the nine nominated films deserves to claim the coveted Best Picture statuette. Representing a range of styles and genres that have intrigued (and frustrated) the public, the Best Picture pool includes “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” “Parasite,” “Little Women,” “1917,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker” and “Marriage Story.” And while we will refrain from wading into the murky waters of predictions, we’ve taken the liberty to imagine what this year’s cohort of Best Picture nominees might look like as pieces of fine art.

“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”
“A Bigger Splash,” David Hockney, 1967

"A Bigger Splash," David Hockney, 1967.
“A Bigger Splash,” David Hockney, 1967.

Quentin Tarantino’s woozy nostalgia trip hit theaters in July and has been gaining Oscar buzz since. Centering on an aging television cowboy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt), the film takes place in Los Angeles during the last year of the 1960s, ending with what would have been the murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) on Cielo Drive. Seen through Tarantino’s exacting eye, the movie overflows with easy-going references to the leisure of Hollywood and the ever-pervasive staple of Los Angeles living: the swimming pool.

The pool, as it turns out, plays a large role in the ethos of the film. At one point early on in the movie, DiCaprio’s character, Rick, declares: “I could be one pool party away from starring in a Polanski movie!” Later, the pool serves as a pivotal backdrop to one of the movie’s most violence-tinged moments.

Artist David Hockney, who moved to Los Angeles in 1963, also found himself captivated by the shimmering blue water of private swimming pools. Shortly after arriving in California, Hockney painted his first depiction of a pool, “California Art Collector.” He would go on to feature the bodies of water more prominently in his work, creating some of his most iconic pieces, such as “Portrait of An Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” and his most famous work “A Bigger Splash.”

“Self Portrait in Paris 1,” George Condo, 2017

"Self Portrait in Paris," George Condo, 2017
“Self Portrait in Paris,” George Condo, 2017

Director Bong Joon-Ho’s critically acclaimed “Parasite” arrived at Cannes last May, after which it made history as the first South Korean film to win the festival’s Palme d’Or and the first Korean film to be nominated in the Oscar category of Best Picture. Proceeding as a taut exploration of late capitalism, the film charts the meteoric rise and fall of the financially insecure Kim family, who scheme to take various jobs within the wealthy Park residence. Visually, the film presents the division between the two classes through a series of architectural choices (the Kim family lives in a grimy, partially subterranean apartment, while the Parks dwell in a sleek, multi-story home). Meanwhile, art and education — and who is meant to have access — inform another type of class separation.

Still from "Parasite" showing the son's self-portrait.
Still from “Parasite” showing the son’s self-portrait.

To this end, the youngest Kims (Park So-dam, Choi Woo-Shik) are employed as tutors for the Park children (Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun). The mother (Cho Yeo-jeong) believes that her son is a gifted artist. His self-portrait, petrifying in its intensity, fits comfortably into the camp of George Condo, whose own self-portraits call upon a variety of art forms. Condo, celebrated for his contributions to American figurative art, first presented his portraits as part of the exhibition “George Condo at Cycladic.”

“Little Women”
“Dearest Art Collector,” Guerrilla Girls, 1986

"Dearest Art Collector," Guerrilla Girls, 1986.
“Dearest Art Collector,” Guerrilla Girls, 1986.

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louis May Alcott’s beloved 1868 novel “Little Women” premiered on Christmas Day, and has since made more than $95 million domestically. Packed with a star-studded cast (Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep), the film has been lauded for the way that it merges timelines to tell the story of Jo’s literary aspirations while still staying true to the sisterly bond at the heart of the book.

Though the film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, much of the discussion surrounding the adaptation has been about the nomination that Gerwig did not receive: Best Director. The snub has re-intensified public outcry about gender-bias in the Oscars, which has only seen five female directors nominated in the field over the ceremony’s history.

Also faced with issues of inclusion, in 1986, the Guerrilla Girls published 30 posters in a portfolio titled “Guerrilla Girls Talk Back,” giving voice to frustrations long-felt. Formed by an anonymous league of American female artists and feminists in response to the Museum of Modern Art’s male-dominated “International Survey of Painting and Sculpture” (1984), the Guerrilla Girls created work that was meant to shine a light on both sexual and racial discrimination within the art world. The posters populating “Guerrilla Girls Talk Back” take the form of a handwritten letter, addressed “Dearest Art Collector,” and states in simple, cheeky terms that the artists have faith that the lack of women collected and shown in art spaces will improve in time.

“Marriage Story”
“Ashes,” Edvard Munch, 1894

"Ashes," Edvard Munch, 1894
“Ashes,” Edvard Munch, 1894.

Since its debut at the Venice Film Festival, Noah Baumbach’s divorce film, “Marriage Story,” has received praise for the empathetic acting of its main characters (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) and its cutting gaze into the slow collapse of what was once a seemingly happy union. The dissolution of the relationship occurs throughout the entirety of the film, allowing for Charlie and Nicole (the unhappy couple) to move through a range of emotions — from regret to rage.

Edvard Munch’s paintings on marriage depict a similar pained process. In a sketchbook about the lost amour that propelled him into painting “Love and Pain” and “Ashes,” he writes: “I was subjected here to the whole Disaster of Love — and I was for several Years nearly mad.” While “Love and Pain” places the couple in excruciating embrace, “Ashes” perfectly captures the separation and consuming anguish at the center of Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.”

“Two Pierrots,” Juan Gris, 1922

"Two Pierrots," Juan Gris, 1922.
“Two Pierrots,” Juan Gris, 1922.

When “Joker” premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the comic book movie starring Joaquin Phoenix secured the prestigious Golden Lion prize. Since then, the film has gone on to smash box office sales, grossing over $300 million domestically. The Todd Phillips-directed movie explores one possible origin story of the Joker, also known as Arthur Fleck. Central to this background-building is Arthur’s mother, Penny (Frances Conroy). The plot posits that the mother plays a large role in driving Arthur into insanity through abuse and neglect.

For some, the mother figure and her abandonment allowed for the Joker’s childhood self to become permanently damaged. In Juan Gris’s painting “Two Pierrots,” the artist depicts a pair of clowns that are identical in every way but scale. While the figures are painted with round borders, jagged shapes cut into their bodies, creating a foreboding sense of the outside world. Here, the large clown (perhaps the adult version of the smaller Pierrot) clings to the child so as to guide him through the darkened environment of the canvas. Taken figuratively, the duo in the painting could be representative of an internal childlike state that has been carried forward into adulthood.

“The Irishman”
“Jimmy Hoffa,” Boris Chaliapin for Time Magazine, 1957

“Jimmy Hoffa,” Boris Chaliapin for Time Magazine, 1957
“Jimmy Hoffa,” Boris Chaliapin for Time Magazine, 1957. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine.

Martin Scorsese’s gangster film “The Irishman” is nominated for a total of 10 Oscars. Released by Netflix, the film faces steep competition for the bid, though the New York Film Critics Circle chose the movie as their top-pick for Best Picture. Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, the epic, big-budget film is based on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” and follows truck-driver-turned-hitman Frank Sheeran, who claims to have committed the murder of Teamster Jimmy Hoffa.

Born in Brazil, Indiana, Hoffa was at one time one of the most powerful leaders of the Teamsters Union. He also had deep ties to organized crime. In 1975, Hoffa disappeared, seemingly without a trace. With no body found and no answers surfaced about what happened, he was declared dead in 1982. To this day, while many believe that the union leader was murdered, his death remains shrouded in mystery. As for Sheeran, his grisly account of Hoffa’s disappearance in “I Heard You Paint Houses” was swiftly discounted, though theories about what actually took place July 30, 1975 still abound. This illustration, created by the Time Magazine artist Boris Chaliapin, depicts a smiling Hoffa surrounded by work trucks. The drawing was the magazine’s cover on Sept. 9, 1957.

“A Battery Shelled,” Percy Wyndham Lewis, 1919

"A Battery Shelled," Percy Wyndham Lewis, 1919
“A Battery Shelled,” Percy Wyndham Lewis, 1919.

While the Sam Mendes-directed war film may have arrived relatively late in the race, “1917” has been pegged as an Oscar favorite. Starring George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, the movie tells the story of two British soldiers who must deliver a message calling off an attack during World War I. The film has been applauded for its cinematography (filmed to look like one continuous take) and for the thick atmosphere that it evokes.

Committing the devastating effects of the industrialized warfare of WWI proved to be a new challenge for some artists. Rather than approaching the battles in a realist fashion, Percy Wyndham Lewis utilized a more abstract approach. His experimental take resulted in “A Battery Shelled,” which depicts soldiers from the war’s Western Front backdropped by a gutted landscape, full of zigzagging lines, muted tones and soldiers with legs perpetually bent over the wreckage. The English artist, an official war painter for both the British and Canadians, showed the piece at London’s Royal Academy in 1919. Though the painting was not received well initially, it would endure for its style and tone.

“Ford v Ferrari”
“Ford,” Edward Ruscha, 2009

“Ford,” Edward Ruscha, 2009
“Ford,” Edward Ruscha, 2009.

Fast cars, fast construction. Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in “Ford v Ferrari,” a movie that follows an American engineering team who push against time to build a new race car for Ford Motor Company to rival that of the then-prevailing Enzo Ferrari. Directed by James Mangold, the film takes place during the tense and pivotal 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

Edward Ruscha, who once said, “I want to be the Henry Ford of bookmaking,” took many stabs at creating his own representations of cars, which were (alongside words) a great obsession of the artist. Among many other works, Ruscha represented his love of moving vehicles through a series of seven aquatint etchings of car logos, all gathered under the title “Motor City Portfolio.”

“Jojo Rabbit”
“The Enigma of Hitler,” Salvador Dalí, 1939

“The Enigma of Hitler,” Salvador Dalí, 1939
“The Enigma of Hitler,” Salvador Dalí, 1939.

Written and directed by Taika Waititi, the dark comedy “Jojo Rabbit” follows 10-year-old Hitler Youth member Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), who discovers (much to his moral dismay) that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) in their family’s attic. Conflicted about what to do, he consults his imaginary friend, Hitler (Waititi). Taking off from Christine Leunens’s book “Caging Skies,” the film won the top prize at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival.

In 1939, Salvador Dalí (supporter of the Francisco Franco) infused one of his most controversial pieces with the image of Hitler. Titled “The Enigma of Hitler,” the surrealist painting shows a large plate holding a small photograph of the dictator. Looming above the scene is a leaking telephone, suspended by a branch. The ambiguous painting got the painter condemned by his fellow surrealists.