For the second year in a row, my wife and I managed to see all of the best picture nominees prior to the Oscars. We love movies, and while admittedly this accomplishment is minor, it’s also a lot of fun. There are nine nominees this year which is a lot! Some of these movies we would not have normally chosen to watch had they not been nominated.
Without further ado here are my rankings with a small amount of commentary:
9. The Joker
Count me among the people that do not think this movie should have been nominated. I am also among those people with a large amount of superhero fatigue, even though I end up seeing a lot of these movies anyway. That being said, this one is really a film for diehards. The performance by Joaquin Phoenix is impressive. But the point of this movie beyond an origin story was unclear to me and it was boring at times. Nothing really special about it other than the performance.
8. The Irishman
Speaking of films for diehards, unless you really love mafia movies or Martin Scorsese films, skip this dull, overlong movie. You’ve seen it all before and it honestly seems like it was nominated based on the pedigree of the director and actors. I wanted to like it more, but kept waiting for something interesting to happen. It never did.
7. Little Women
I liked this movie, but was hoping to like it more. It was well-made and creative. It does have really good performances. But as a remake, I’m not sure if it was significantly different enough to rank it higher. Florence Pugh, who was somewhat of a surprise nominee for her supporting role, was really good in three different movies I saw this year, including this one. The others were Fighting with My Family and Midsommar, and I’m excited to see where her career goes from here.
6. Ford vs. Ferrari
I gave this movie the edge over Little Women because it’s a well-made film and, as far as I know, not a remake. It’s fun and even though it’s totally predictable and you’ve seen it before, it’s also hard not to get sucked into this history-based story that mixes kinetic action with solid acting, and a universally-relatable theme about the benefits and costs of conforming. For fun I suggest reading this article that describes this as terrific “Dad Cinema.”
5. Marriage Story
Less fun than the prior two films, but probably more memorable is Marriage Story. You probably know this already, but people would not choose to go see a movie called Divorce Story. But that’s what this is about. Is it unpleasant to watch? Yes, mostly. But you also would have a hard time thinking the beats of this sad tale don’t seem realistic in many ways. It had some flaws too, but I think the performances of the two leads made it memorable. Scarlett Johansson, who is not my favorite actress, is terrific in this movie.
4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Based on chatter in my office, this movie is polarizing. Many thought it was weird and didn’t see the point. My theory? It all depends on how much you like Leo and Brad. I like them both, so it was a fun ride for me. If you don’t know the backstory of the secondary aspect of this film, it’s also probably confusing why this story is being told. I found it hard not to admire this movie, and the stylish nature of what was in it. But I do think it’s overhyped too.
This movie builds a sense of place that’s really unique. It’s a film that is probably best served not knowing much about it going in, and I truly had no sense of where it was going. It was fun and yet it’s interesting to me that this film has gained such a following. About three months after seeing it, it’s fading fast from my memory.
2. JoJo Rabbit
Wow. I have not felt as conflicted as I have watching a movie in a long time. The first few minutes were jarring. I walked out of the movie theater startled and provoked. I couldn’t decide if this movie was ill-conceived and offensive or brilliant and close to a masterpiece. The woman sitting next to my wife walked out after the first twenty minutes. So if you haven’t heard anything about this movie, it’s the comedy about a young Nazi boy who daydreams that he is best friends with Hitler. Sounds appealing, right? There’s a lot more to it of course. After ruminating over it for a few days, I don’t think it was a masterpiece. But I think it was really, really good and a high concept film executed well. It’s a look at extremism that has obvious parallels to today, and it becomes clear how there might be more of a connection between comedy and tragedy than we imagine. Scarlett Johansson is in this movie as well, and terrific in a supporting role. But the performance of the boy who is the protagonist of the movie is astonishing. It might truly be the best performance of the year, but the actor (Roman Griffin Davis) was not nominated.
It’s a war movie. You’ve seen war movies, and like superhero movies, you aren’t going to buy the hype that this one is so different that it’s special, right? It gets my nod over JoJo Rabbit for several reasons: it’s straight-forward, unambiguous, exciting and thrilling, and probably memorable. The tracking shots used to tell this story are seamlessly stitched together through editing trickery to give you the sense that you are amidst the action the entire way through this film. It’s arresting, nerve-racking, and exhilarating. The director of the film shrewdly gives us some down time at key moments to catch our breath. The ending was strong and left me feeling surprised and moved. It’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen if possible.
I’m looking forward to seeing which films take home honors on Sunday! I would love to hear your thoughts on these films and others that you thought were notable this year.