It is hard to remember a year now when the Oscars didn’t cause some controversy. From the La La Land-Moonlight snafu to Green Books upsetting win in the Best Picture category, each year has only courted more drama for the Academy Awards.
This year, the acclaimed awarding body is back under attack for not nominating deserving artists of color and not giving female directors their due, especially when films with both those have done so well.
But despite the glaring omissions, there are several steps forward that can be observed in the Best Picture nominees. Here GVS breaks down this year’s nine Best Picture nominees and what we made of them.
Noah Baumbach’s Netflix drama may not be as big an awards contender as many had hoped it’d be. However, the film still snagged six nominations in the Best Picture, Best Actor (Adam Driver), Best Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Best Supporting Actress (Laura Dern), Best Original Score and Screenplay categories.
The film is a dive into the troubled marriage of Charlie Barber (Driver), a renowned theatre director who is working on an Off-Broadway show with his wife and star player of the show, Nicole (Johansson). As the film establishes very quickly, the two are both very eager to make their divorce as painless as possible.
Yet their stubborn refusal to confront the problems in their marriage makes that task easier said than done. Johansson’s Nicole, a one-time movie actress, has gotten increasingly fed up with the life she lives. She is constantly setting her needs and career aside for the sake of the family. And although she is still not blind to what makes Charlie a good man and husband, their bond has frayed enough over time for her to consider leaving him.
On the flipside is Charlie, the theatre director, finally at the stage in his career where things are turning around for him. Although he seems more resistant to the idea of divorce at first, his consistent need to put his own job before hers makes him reluctantly agree to the split.
Read more: Knives Out: Murder by Hollywood’s finest
That isn’t to say that the fault lies with Nicole, who even decides to move back home to LA to star in a big-budget TV series. Marriage Story is careful not to pick favorites, and even when all is said and done, the film leaves you wistfully sad for what the two could have been.
No one could have predicted that DC Comics venture into “adult” filmmaking would prove to be so successful so quickly. After winning the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Cannes Film Festival, the film picked up nominations left and right in various other award shows. It is still a big shock that director Todd Phillips (best known for the trashy Hangover films) would bring forth a film of such caliber.
Joker leads the pack in all the nominations, picking up nods for Best Picture, Actor, Score, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Makeup and Hairstyle, Costume Design, Film Editing and Director. Out of these, the film barring a big upset will likely win in the Best Actor (for Joaquin Phoenix’s mesmerizing performance) and Best Music Score categories. Other possible wins could be Makeup and Hairstyle, Costume Design and Cinematography.
Joker is already the most nominated comic book film in Academy history, but these historic wins would radically change the kinds of comic book films being produced today. The gritty drama based on the DC Comics Batman villain Joker is a frightening depiction of how society can drive a man to the brink of insanity.
The movie revolves around a character called Arthur Fleck, who lives with his mother Penny in a hellish 1980’s Gotham, where economic disparity has resulted in the rich becoming powerful and has left the poor struggling to make ends meet. Joker is a slow burn taking its time acquainting us with the character and the dark world Arthur lives in before having him transform into the iconic villain we all love to hate.
The greatest strength of Joker is how it puts character before spectacle, with the film told entirely from his point of view. This plot device works great because even as the credits roll, we are left doubting the veracity of the story in the film. By taking us into the mind of Arthur Fleck, Joker manages to make us understand his desire to be a comedian or his interest in his neighbor and, most frighteningly, his drive to kill.
Read more: Joker – the best Hollywood film of the year
Cynics have taken it upon themselves to warn people about this film, believing that movie may inspire potential terrorists. However, the film itself is just a horrifyingly potent piece of art. And while it leaves an impact on you, the movie doesn’t really endorse his actions, even as it chooses not to judge them.
This Netflix behemoth boasts some of the most well-liked actors in Hollywood history with the three leads being Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. So, it is no wonder that the movie has ten Oscar nominations and a strong chance of taking home the Best Picture Oscar. Director Martin Scorsese’s epic could win Best Picture, Actor (De Niro), Supporting Actor (for Pesci or Pacino), Cinematography, Visual Effects, Production Design, Film Editing, Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay and Director.
Based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 memoir “I Heard You Paint Houses”, Scorsese’s Netflix film uses de-aging technology to make the aged film veterans appear much younger, as it tracks the lives of real-life crime family the Bufalinos and their working partner Jimmy Hoffa through the course of decades.
From the La La Land-Moonlight snafu to Green Books upsetting win in the Best Picture category, each year has only courted more drama for the Academy Awards
The film, based on actual events and characters, follows De Niro’s Frank Sheeran, who recounts his time as a World War 2 veteran and subsequently, as a hitman for the Mafia. With a budget that matches that of a big-budget superhero flick, Irishman is a slick and stylish return to form for Scorsese, who had smartly diverged into other genres of filmmaking for the past decade or so.
Steven Zaillian’s screenplay is a tad bit too lengthy, with the film crossing the three-and-a-half-hour mark when it could have easily been trimmed. Yet that doesn’t prevent Irishman from being immensely enjoyable and a sheer joy to sit through. While there is a possibility that the film goes home empty-handed, it will likely nab an award for Visual Effect, Editing or Production Design.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Another ten-picture nominee, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie) surprised critics and fans alike for how different it was to Tarantino’s usual fare. While retaining the wry humor and clever writing of his past work, the film subverted expectations about the kind of film it was, choosing to focus on the pair between two characters rather than 60’s Hollywood.
DiCaprio plays a fictional 60’s Hollywood actor Rick Dalton whose claim to fame is his role in a milquetoast Western TV series sometime in the past decade. Dalton is clearly at the end of his career and we are brought in to witness a time in his career where that realization is dawning upon him.
Pitt plays Dalton’s personal stuntman and confidante Cliff Booth, a war vet with a murky past and the looks of a movie star. While the ensemble film features a who’s who of notable actors, the film is essentially about these two leading men and their lives amidst a Hollywood on the precipice of change. DiCaprio gives a tour de force performance, managing to make Dalton’s moronic character fun to watch.
Likewise, Pitt is at the height of his prowess, exuding coolness in every scene. In Pitt’s capable hands, Cliff Booth is almost a rock star. Swaggering around LA, he is, in his own right, a 60s leading man facing his own obsolescence.
The film, however, is not the Django Unchained director’s finest work and while it features some iconic moments and memorable characters, a sluggish first half and lack of commitment to the film’s alt-history setting ultimately makes the movie one of Tarantino’s weakest features to date.
Read more: Ready or Not – a blast from start to end
The movie is nominated for Best Director, Actor (DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt with a strong chance of winning), Original Screenplay, Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Production Design, Sound Editing, Cinematography and Best Picture.
2019’s biggest surprise and perhaps the strongest as well, was the North Korean import Parasite, which blew its competition when it became the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It then proceeded to have a remarkably strong box office hold worldwide and has since become the only North Korean film to be nominated at the Oscars.
The black comedy benefited from director Bong Joon-Ho already having a foothold in Hollywood through English language films like Snowpiercer and Okja. The movie centers on a low-income family in Korea who worm their way into the household of an extremely well-off family. The film is delightfully dark and features strong performances from the ensemble, particularly Song Kang-ho, Park So-dam and Choi Woo-Shik.
Parasite isn’t only shot exquisitely, but its blend of bloody darkness and giddy humor make it a bitingly sharp mystery. At the 92nd Academy Awards, the film racked up six nominations for Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design and Best Film Editing. While the odds of it taking home Best Picture are tough (though not impossible), it will likely take home wins for Best Director and Original Screenplay.
Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is the tale of a young boy in Nazi Germany who creates Hitler as his imaginary friend to cope with the loss of his father while he is being indoctrinated to fight in the German army. What seems like a shockingly grim tale on paper ends up being a charming film that isn’t afraid to be bold and evocative.
The creative story comes from the mind of writer-director Taika Waititi, who most recently directed the third Thor film. The film stars a host of young actors including lead Roman Griffin Davis, a 12-year-old actor from England.
Scarlett Johansson, who is nominated for the role of his mother, is a charming presence in the film, but it is really the child actors who make this a must-see. Up for six Academy Awards, the film will battle it out in the Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Johansson), Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Production Design and Film Editing categories.
Ford vs. Ferrari
James Mangold’s Ford vs. Ferrari is the kind of old-fashioned Academy film that would have swept the awards in the past. While the drama is enjoyable in its right, it is also not on the level of its fellow nominees, bringing nothing new to the table even as it tells a real-life tale remarkably well.
Starring Christain Bale, Matt Damon and Tracy Letts, this film managed to be a surprise box office breakout based on good word of mouth and strong reviews. The plot follows the Ford company employing automotive entrepreneur Carroll Shelby and his driver Ken Miles as they work to defeat the Ferrari’s racing cars at the 1996 race in France.
Read more: The Irishman – sheer joy to watch
The film features strong performances from both the two leads, with Bale having a slight edge as the quick-tempered British car driver. That said, the film is largely superior to other racing films before it because it takes time to build up both the main characters’ (and Ford’s) motivations and really explore their differences.
It adds a charge of tension to the racing scenes that makes seeing them so much more effective and helps us invest ourselves into the races and fates of each character. The movie is nominated for Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing and could walk home with either of the latter two awards.
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women may be up for six Academy Awards, but history will still remember the sexism fueled exclusion of Gerwig from the Best Director category, an honor she was quite worthy of. The movie is up for Best Picture, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh), Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design.
Little Women tells the story of the March sisters: Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Meg (Emma Watson), who live with their mother (Laura Dern) in Massachusetts in 1868, amidst the American Civil War. The Sony feature film is based on the classic book by Louisa May and is amazingly the first true adaptation of the novel despite it being brought to the big and small screens countless times.
Read more: Little Women: The Year’s Best Oscar Film
Gerwig wrote the screenplay for the film herself, picking scenes from the book to add to her script but largely penning it herself. The screenplay, for which she may win an Oscar soon, is truly an excellent piece of writing and Gerwig’s deft hands make this old classic resonate in our times.
The movie not only showcases the excellence of Ronan, who now has a remarkable four lead actress Oscar nomination before she’s 25 but also seismically boosts the profile of the fellow nominee, the up-and-comer Florence Pugh who plays her sister in the film. Little Women also solidifies Gerwig’s place among the pantheon of truly extraordinary new voices.
Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes returns with a harrowing film set in World War I that recounts the story told by his grandfather. The film is set in 1917 and tells the tale of two soldiers who are appointed by the British Army to deliver a message as they ward off the German forces.
Starring George MacKay, Mark Strong, Dean Charles Chapman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth, this war epic became a box office smash when it won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, beating the likes of Irishman and Joker and becoming the frontrunner to win the trophy at the Oscars. Part of why there is so much buzz around this movie is because it was shot entirely in one take, meaning that the actors had to continuously act while the camera rolled.
This adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings and the feeling of danger that prevails from constantly tailing our two leads makes it hard to look away from the screen. The movie is among the most stunning films to come out in 2019 and it is no wonder that it has been rewarded with 10 Academy Award nominations.
These include Best Picture, Director Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design and Cinematography. Regardless of who wins and losses, all of the nominees are some of the best films to come out of the yesteryear and are worthy of a watch.