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by Kyle Sanders
Boy, 2019 sure was something, huh? Amidst all the talk of impeachment hearings, climate in crisis, and continual hints at a crumbling society, we still had the movies to help us cope through it all.
And what a year for films! While Disney continued it dominance with Marvel comic adaptations and live-action remakes of animated classics, there were filmmakers out there producing motion pictures that were less mind-numbing "theme park rides" (sorry, Mr. Scorsese!) and more so cerebral cinema.
Well, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has seen 'em all, and given us their nominees for the best of 2019. Here are the nine films up for Best Picture of the Year...
While it's been done before, it's still a pretty impressive effect to see a film that appears captured all in one take. Director Sam Mendes went this route for this World War I film about two British soldiers tasked with delivering a message to the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.
The two must maneuver through German trenches and avoid attacks from the enemy in order to insure the battalion calls off a planned attack against the Germans, who are plotting an ambush that could cost the lives of 1,600 British men.
The one-take gimmick works well at building tension, as there is a sense of timely dread the more this based-on-a-true-story unfolds. Skillfully directed by Mendes, 1917 surprised many by winning Best Drama at this year's Golden Globes, and it's possible it could do the same thing at this year's Oscars.
Another based-on-a-true-story drama, this film explores the determined team of American engineers and designers tasked with building the Ford GT40, a racing car that could potentially beat the dominant Ferrari racing team at the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans Race in France.
Honestly, I nearly dozed off while writing that synopsis, and out of all the nominated Best Picture films, this is the one I was least interested in seeing. Partly because I don't find automobiles the least bit exciting, but also partly because this film doesn't have the slightest chance in beating some of the more intriguing nominees.
It might take home a few of the technical awards it's up for, but don't expect Ford v Ferrari to take home Best Picture.
Taika Waititi has proved himself a filmmaker to watch for, and after directing the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, he was pretty much given a hall pass to do whatever project he wanted.
His choice? A comedy about Adolf Hitler (well, sort of). Based on Christine Leunens' book Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a young Hitler fanatic by the name of Johannes "Jojo" Betzler, who finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in the walls of their home.
Befriending the girl, Jojo begins to question his beliefs and faith to the Nazi Regime, helped in no part by his intervening imaginary friend: a fanciful version of Hitler (played by Waititi). While this film showcases Waititi's comedic sensibilities, the subject matter has come under criticism for portraying Nazis lightheartedly. Overall, it's a bizarre choice for Best Picture and not likely to win.
A movie about a guy upset with society seems to have society upset with the movie. Before it even premiered, the world seemed a bit concerned about Joker, a sort-of origin story based on the infamous DC Comics villain and considered the greatest foe of Batman/Bruce Wayne.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the chaotic clown, most everyone felt this movie glorified the dreaded "Incel Culture" and would inspire further retaliations of violence. Instead, the movie became a box office sensation and collected the most Oscar nominations of any film this year, sparking further outrage from the public.
Will this film twist the knife even deeper and claim the title of Best Picture of the Year? Not likely, but do expect Phoenix to go home with Best Actor (hey, it worked for Heath Ledger!).
What is it about award ceremonies and Greta Gerwig?
The indie darling made a big splash a few years ago with Ladybird, her directing debut, and got everyone in a tizzie when she didn't receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director (she was later nominated by the Academy that year, but lost to Guillermo Del Toro).
This year, her second directed feature, the seventh film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, collected several Oscar nominations--except for Best Director. Cue social media meltdown.
Regardless of the sexist accusations thrown at AMPAS (only 28% of Academy members are female), Gerwig's Little Women stands above its predecessors by remixing the chronology of the narrative, starting towards the end then flashing back at the beginning.
It's a refreshing take that highlights the bond between the four individualistic sisters and keeps the film from turning into another American Literature snoozefest. Gerwig might not have scored a deserving nod for directing, but don't be surprised to see her walk away with Best Adapted Screenplay. As for Best Picture? Not likely.
Call it Kramer vs. Kramer for a new generation if you want, but Noah Baumbach's tale of divorce is a little more complicated than Robert Benton's 1970s classic.
Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansen star as a young married couple with a son beginning to take baby steps toward divorce. At first, everything is amicable, but then things begin to take a turn for the messy and mean-spirited when it comes to the custody of their child.
Lawyers get involved, family members take sides, and two people trying to come to terms with letting go begin revealing resentments they've been holding on to. A dramedy held up by powerhouse performances, this streaming film has a better chance at winning Best Supporting Actress (for Renaissance Queen Laura Dern's portrayal of a successful cutthroat divorce lawyer) than it does Best Picture.
Quentin Tarantino has given us his old school vision of stylish kung-fu movies (Kill Bill) and gritty war dramas (Inglourious Basterds), and now he's finally presented his Kodachrome vision of 1960s Hollywood.
Setting his tale of a bygone era just before the Charles Manson murders, Tarantino casts A-list talent as B-movie performers suffering existential crises as they find their lives swallowed up by New Hollywood and the hippie movement. It's a great buddy comedy, with endless footnotes of Sixties-era references and a killer (no pun intended) soundtrack.
The movie is already a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor for Brad Pitt's aging stunt-man, but as Tarantino hints that his film making days are numbered, could the Academy finally take notice of more than just his slick screenwriting skills?
Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho might not be a household name, but his track record of films speak for itself. Parasite might finally give him the recognition he deserves, as this film about a basement-dwelling family sneaking their way into the lives of a rich family's chic suburban home takes so many different turns you have no idea where this wild ride will end up.
The film won the prestigious Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and it's cast recently took home Best Ensemble at the Screen Actor's Guild Awards. Could the Oscar be next? Almost certain to win Best Foreign Picture, it's chances of winning Best Picture are fairly high.
Scorsese. De Niro. Pesci. Pacino. The Mob. No fewer words have automatically calculated as Oscar gold.
Martin Scorsese returns to Goodfellas form directing this 3+ hour magnum opus about alleged mafia hitman Frank Sheeran and his murder of union activist Jimmy Hoffa. The de-aging technology used isn't entirely convincing, but the performances are, and the delectable trio of De Niro, Pesci and Pacino is a gift from the movie gods.
The time frame might be a little bloated (thankfully you can catch this on Netflix where you can pause for multiple bathroom breaks), but Scorsese keeps the story tight and engaging throughout the film's run time. Considering Roma's luck last year, don't expect the Academy to give its biggest award to a streaming film (the Academy just isn't there yet).
To find out which film takes home the gold, tune in February 9th on ABC for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards. See you at the Oscars!
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