There is always one film nominated for Best Picture whose very concept bores the fucking hell out of me.
Last year it was Green Book (which won for reasons I’m still trying to ignore), the year before Louise took the bullet and reviewed Darkest Hour so I didn’t have to; mostly, it’s films that feel like they are only included because they tick enough boxes. Why else would the likes of Philomena, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Theory of Everything, and The Big Short get nominated? You, the reader, may like these films, but for me they represent the sheer predictable dullery of the worst of Oscar season. Ford v Ferrari is that film for 2020.
Like any review, my opinions here are my own and no one else’s. I’m not saying that Ford v Ferrari is a bad film by any means, it’s just a topic that I have next to no interest in. Yet it ticks some Oscar boxes: it’s directed by James Mangold of Logan and Walk the Line fame, it stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon, two actors who are on top form here, and it tells the true story of American excellence in the titular rivalry between American company, Ford, taking on the dominant Ferrari and beating them at the 1966 24 Hours race of Le Mans. It has been described to me as a film for dads, and perhaps that is true – but, as the proud father of one tiny, angry cat, I can say without a doubt that this isn’t for me.
It’s a typical sports movie, with great feats by men toeing the line between passionate and obsessive; the racing sequences are fun and well shot, it’s competently made, with a decent sense of humor and a commitment to period detail. But Ford and Ferrari is let down when compared to a racing film that I really enjoyed: Ron Howard’s Rush. Rush’s advantage was a rivalry (however fictitious it was) between two men, James Hunt and Nicki Lauda, that gives the film a sense of propulsion. Whereas Ford v Ferrari is company v company, an inescapably drier take that only gets drier when you compare it to the human-driven stories that often populate the sports movie genre.
I think my main problem, though, is with Mangold himself. His filmography is patchy but even his misfires are interesting. For every brilliant film like Copland, you have a rubbish but entertaining Identity, for every Logan you have The Wolverine. While Ford v Ferrari is easily one of Mangold’s most acclaimed films, it’s also one of his most safe. With Logan he redefined what a comic book movie could be, three years before Joker even dared to remake King of Comedy with clown make-up on, so it is disappointing that his next effort is such a well-judged and almost cynical treat for Academy voters. Expect this film to be in future lists of forgotten Oscar films. If it doesn’t somehow win the big prize.
Welcome to Oscar Season! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be covering all the Best Picture nominees here on No But Listen. Catch up on our previous coverage right here, and weigh in with your opinions on the nominations below!
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via NME)