When John Cho and Issa Rae announced the nine films vying to win Best Picture on the morning of the Oscar nominations, there was a mild surprise when the first name called was James Mangold’s Ford V Ferrari.
The surprise doesn’t stem from anyone being particularly enthused or angry about the film’s nomination, but rather that it means this is going to be a nine film Best Picture field, as opposed to last year’s eight.
Since its name was called, there hasn’t been much discussion about the film or its other three nominations (Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing), and it is incredibly strange. The film has 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, is currently ranked 140 on the IMDB Top 250 and made $211 million worldwide. So why does no one care?
Virtually every other Best Picture nominee has some form of support behind it. Any project Tarantino or Scorsese is involved in draws their fans; Baumbach and Gerwig have carved out a devoted fanbase for themselves; since Parasite premiered at Cannes people have declared themselves as part of the #BongHive across social media; 1917 has been widely acclaimed for its technical skill in addition to winning two Golden Globes, and Joker…well it speaks for itself.
Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit hasn’t had as much discussion as those other seven (partially due to an unremarkable box office). Still, it won the people’s choice award at TIFF and has sparked some discussion online, which is more than can be said for Ford V Ferrari.
So, where has been the impact of Ford V Ferrari? It is hard to say, but it may have to do with the fact that the film fits firmly into a category of films that could be described as ‘good but not exceptionally good’. This adequacy has rendered the film almost impossible to talk about in any meaningful way. Like them or hate them, but every other film in the Best Picture category offers something to discuss (they have certainly been the subject of film twitter discourse).
The film is relatively brisk (as brisk as a 150-minute film can be), has entertaining moments (mainly anything involving Christian Bale’s accent, which is delightful to hear) and is completely inoffensive. At no point, however, does it go beyond mild entertainment. Anytime a semblance of dramatic stakes is introduced it never feels particularly earned. This is where the briskness of the film works against it; whilst the fast pace certainly prevents the film from being boring, it means that a real emotional connection between the audience and the characters is never formed, as they never get much of a chance to grow beyond archetypes.
Ford V Ferrari feels like a relic of a time that has passed: a certain type of film that would have come out in the period of 1991-8, that is fun, breezy, and doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. It would’ve gotten around five to seven Oscar nominations, and may have even won a few.
There is almost something appealing about a film that harkens back to those type of films released in the 90s. A robust, star-driven, feel-good film that anyone could watch. The problem is this film harkens back to an ‘ok’ type of 90s film rather than great one. It’s less of a Jerry Maguire and much more of an As Good as It Gets.
Perhaps the very reason Ford V Ferrari hasn’t been discussed much is because there simply isn’t very much there to discuss, especially when compared to its peers. Calling it great or terrible would be too hyperbolic, it firmly rests in the middle.
When the film came out, I admitted that I had no idea if it would please audiences. It has, but in a deeply unfashionable way! Good piece!