2019: it’s important to recognize that this year was unbelievable for film. In Midsommar and The Lighthouse, Ari Aster and Robert Eggers showed us that horror movies can still be more than just cheap thrills and lazy jump scares. Booksmart and Jojo Rabbit made audiences laugh hard enough to remember that comedy movies don’t have to be terrible to be funny. History came alive in front of us in 1917, Ford v Ferrari and Rocketman. Marvel shattered records and saved the world in Avengers: Endgame. Marriage Story, and The Farewell pulled our heartstrings and blurred the lines between movie and real life so intensely that it felt like reality was in the theater next to us. Quentin Tarantino and Todd Phillips showed their cinematic experience with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Joker. And Martin Scorsese set the internet on fire and reminded us that he’s still kickin’ with The Irishman.
But now, it’s time to talk about the Big Boy, the hot older sister everyone wants to date, the award that film majors can only dream of, the biggest of ‘em all, Best Picture.
Directed by Todd Phillips
A psychological reinvention of the iconic villain’s descent into madness.
I’m going to start with a sort of risky decision. I’m just going to say: Joker is not that good. I went in with the high expectation that there was gonna be a comic book movie that would really contend with Nolan’s Batman trilogy. But oh boy was I wrong. On a technical, production-based level, this movie is extremely well made. The cinematography, the production, and especially the score are all awesome: there’s no denying that. But that only gets you so far, especially when the script just sucks, which is the case with Joker. It sounds like it was written by an edgy fourteen-year-old who works at Hot Topic. Joker tries so hard to be “dark and gritty” that it just ends up being dull and depressing – which can work when the characters and dialogue are interesting, but they aren’t. They’re boring. There’s hardly even a plot for a large chunk of the movie. The worst offense is that Joker tries a lot to “raise questions” about mental health, but never even attempts to answer them, which leaves you wondering how you’re even supposed to feel the whole time. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is stellar, he knocks it out of the park for sure, but unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the movie. Ultimately, I don’t see this movie winning Best Picture because it’s a comic book movie, and I honestly wouldn’t want it to, anyway.
Directed by Sam Mendes
Set in the midst of WWI, two British soldiers are sent through enemy lines to deliver a vital message that will save 1,600 men.
I’m going to talk about my favorite movie of the bunch now. I love it. This movie is amazing. I don’t know how to articulate it any better than that. It’s just awesome. The one shot illusion immediately dragged me in, and I was instantly engulfed in the movie. We’re right alongside the characters the entire time, and that completely heightens the stakes and invests us in the film. The single shot also establishes unbelievable pacing that’s like a ticking time bomb in your head that doesn’t stop. And the movie never drags because of that: there isn’t a single dull moment. The cinematography is simply gorgeous, and the score by Thomas Newman is stunning. I’ve heard criticism thrown at the characters and their development in the movie, which I don’t understand at all. Both of the characters are real, believable, and work perfectly with the story. The amazing performances by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are to thank for that. This movie is terrifying, epic, heart-wrenching, and beautiful all at once; and it’s a film that I could see in theaters ten times and still be mesmerized by. Not only do I really want this movie to win Best Picture, I’ll predict that it’s probably going to as well.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
A bizarre tale weaving together 1960’s Hollywood and the Manson family murders.
This movie is odd, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it’s not very Tarantino-esque. The patented sharp and witty dialogue are there, and some of his directorial flair as well, but that’s about it. Instead, it views like a buddy movie about two older guys on their way out. Which while funny, makes the first hour very slow and ultimately a little boring. It also doesn’t help that a lot of the first act is set up for the story to unfold later. The movie begins to shine when the multiple stories start to weave together and the audience naturally starts to piece together the components; especially during the last twenty minutes. This ending is one of the most insane and abrupt endings to a film I’ve ever seen. After two and a half hours of build up, the story reaches a climax, and the movie goes from being not terribly Tarantino-esque to the most Tarantino conclusion possible. DiCaprio and Pitt are awesome as one would expect, and the film is absolutely the strongest when they’re on screen together. Although I would’ve liked to have seen more of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate (who oddly has no real lines), it’s definitely a movie I would watch again because the characters are too good to say otherwise. I don’t see this one taking home Best Picture this year, but it’s an extremely likely candidate for other wins on Oscar night.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
A story of the relationship between organized crime, unions and the government through the lens of a hitman spanning several decades.
I don’t want to say it, because it’s Scorsese after all, but I don’t like this movie very much. The first and biggest issue that I think everyone would agree with me on, is that it is simply too long. Three and a half hours is too long for almost any movie, but this one can’t justify it because it drags on for such a long time and grows unbelievably boring. The first hour is basically a remake of Goodfellas, except not as entertaining or fast paced, and the characters aren’t nearly as charismatic. Which brings me to my next big issue: Robert De Niro. In the parts of the film where he is supposed to be “young,” he is terrible. Not because of the CGI, or even his performance, but because he’s Robert De Niro and is clearly a million years old trying to pass as a young man. It doesn’t work. Thankfully, old De Niro is awesome because the old guy is more De Niro´s range. It does get better once the story actually begins to unfold and because Al Pacino arrives. Let me tell you, Al Pacino is by far the best part of this movie. His performance as Jimmy Hoffa is electrifying and so entertaining that the film suffers when he’s off-screen. The Irishman does have redeeming qualities: the cinematography and production are very good, almost all the performances are as solid as you’d expect in a Scorsese movie, and the film does have heartbreaking and developed characters. The themes of old age and guilt are particularly interesting when you consider the ages of Scorsese and the main cast, as well as the real history in the movie. I don’t think this one is going to win Best Picture, because although I think most of my issues with it are personal ones that most critics would easily overlook, the Academy’s hatred of Netflix and streaming productions has put it at too great a disadvantage for a win.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
A heartbreaking story of love, family, and a heated divorce.
This movie is beautiful. Truly. It’s simply so real that the entire thing barely even feels like a movie. And at the heart of this, is the incredible screenplay. The way the characters act and speak and interact with each other is so realistic and weirdly unique that they come off as people we know – not actors. It would be an injustice not to mention the actors’ roles in this film. Adam Driver is insanely talented, and he shines in this role. He effortlessly portrays so many emotions that again, we forget he is acting. Scarlett Johansson is amazing, as well; she expresses all of her emotions in a way we understand. I went into the movie assuming that I’d just cry the whole time, but there are points in it that are not only heartwarming, but also really funny. I couldn’t help but laugh during the scenes involving their son because they’re so moving and honest. But, the film is certainly very upsetting, although it never feels overly dramatic, and none of the scenes feel forced. The score is gorgeous and suits the film perfectly, and the cinematography and production are all memorable. Like The Irishman, this film probably won’t win Best Picture because it’s a Netflix production, but it makes a strong case for other awards this year.
Directed by Greta Gerwig
A story of love, family, and dreams as four sisters try to find their way in the world while dealing with prejudice and the pressures of their time.
There’s a scene in this film where three men stand speechless after watching the larger-than-life personalities of the March women unfold before them. This scene is a good representation of how I felt while watching Little Women. I love this movie. It’s heartwarming, beautiful, sad, hilarious, and inspiring all at once. And I really want to praise Greta Gerwig. The screenplay that she created from the novel is insanely creative and awesome; it’s the heart of the movie. The way she plays with time contributes to the film’s great pacing and also sets up the most beautiful character development and interactions. And my god, the performances defy description. Saoirse Ronan as Jo is perhaps the greatest casting of all time; Florence Pugh should win Best Supporting Actress hands down, Timothée Chalamet further solidifies his place as the leading actor of our generation. And I wish I had the space to discuss the moving performances of Emma Watson, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep. The cinematography is gorgeous and clever, the costume and production design is stunning, and the score supplements the moods of the entire film. I’ve grown up with three sisters, and this movie encapsulates sisterhood in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before. Little Women sits at the top next to 1917 for me this year, but sadly I don’t see it taking home Best Picture.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
A thrilling story of class, wealth, and discrimination through the lens of an unlikely relationship between two families.
I don’t have much experience with foreign films, or with the Korean language, so I wasn’t sure how I would feel going in. But sometimes a good movie is simply a good movie, no matter what language it’s in. That’s the case with Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s direction is phenomenal, and the layers he constructs are genius. The way the two families are characterized and developed throughout the film is both hilarious and tragic, and it’s the type of film where you know everything on screen has a purpose. The sly visual hints and subconscious cinematographic cues convey the themes of the movie so cleverly, that even without the subtitles you can understand what’s going on. The performances are astounding, especially that of Kang-Ho Song, who plays the struggling father, and I found myself feeling the most for his ultimately tragic character. The dark and dry humor goes along perfectly with the themes of class and wealth, but the aspects of horror throughout really hit the hardest, especially one scene in particular that legitimately gave me nightmares. This movie is very well made, and every facet of it is under the hand of a filmmaker at the top of his game. It’s thrilling, crushingly heartbreaking, and at times over the top funny, all with a fitting and timely message behind it. It’s highly uncommon for a foreign film to win Best Picture, and although Parasite is certainly deserving of the award, I don’t see it taking home the big one this year.
Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari
I haven’t seen either of these yet, but from what I’ve gathered through reviews and public opinion, they both seem like solid movies. Jojo Rabbit has looked hysterical since the early trailers, and I’m upset with myself that I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve seen from Taika Watiti, so I’m sure I’m going to love Jojo Rabbit when I finally get around to seeing it. Ford v Ferrari was hyped up for quite some time this year, and for the most part, seems to have lived up to it. The performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale are getting critical acclaim, which I don’t doubt. But I do think it’s worth noting that both of these movies are quintessential Oscar bait. They fit the formula of Oscar bait: charismatic and talented leads, lighthearted tone, positive message, and inoffensive themes. I don’t want to take away from either of these movies, I’m sure I’ll enjoy both, but I don’t think either of them are all that likely to win Best Picture.
The Other Categories
And just to quickly cite some of the other awards: I think Joaquin Phoenix squeaks by with Best Leading Actor in a hotly contested category. I have to say Brad Pitt for Best Supporting Actor. I’ve heard a lot of talk about Renée Zellweger taking Best Lead Actress for Judy, and as much as I’d like to see Florence Pugh win Supporting Actress for Little Women, it’s going to be Laura Dern for Marriage Story. 1917 easily takes Best Cinematography, and most likely Best Director, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Little Women will win Best Adapted Screenplay, and probably grabs Best Costume Design as well. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood gets Best Original Screenplay and Best Production Design. Best International Film will definitely go to Parasite, Ford v Ferrari will take Best Editing, and Hildur Guðnadóttir will win Best Score for Joker. Look out for Bombshell to win Best Hair and Makeup, for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman to win Best Original Song, and for Klaus to win Best Animated Film. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar enough with the Short Film or Documentary categories to make a prediction, but congrats to those who do win them.
I want to reiterate how awesome this year was for moviegoers. Even the films I didn’t rave about were at least relatively enjoyable. But even though just about every Best Picture nominee is deserving in some regard, I’ll still put my money on 1917 to win Best Picture. I find it hard to believe that the academy will pick anything else over that.