I Watched Every Oscar Film So You Don’t Have To

The beginning of the new year brings an exciting time, not for resolutions or winter weather-- but for film awards show season. I adore going to the cinema, and there’s a thrill in rounding up the best of the previous year in film. I only recently joined the annual tradition of scraping through Academy Awards film checklists (thank god for snowy days and frosty weather!), but it’s one I’ve fallen in love with.

P.S. For the sake of word count, I’ve limited my reviews to the nine best picture nominees, with a few honorable mentions you cannot miss!

Little Women: ★★★★☆

Image Courtesy of Sony

I read Little Women for the first time when entering fifth grade, urged by a lengthy summer reading list and my mother, who enjoyed the book herself. In 2020, I can’t say I remember a lot from the novel-- but I was pleasantly reminded of everything I’d initially fallen in love with, with an interpretation that translates perfectly to a modern audience. Greta Gerwig was simply phenomenal-- from closing scene choices, to the humor in scenes with Jo March and her editor breaking the film’s fourth wall. Saoirse Ronan’s performance had me feeling genuinely every single emotion, to the point where even just her writing recounting naive childhood nostalgia had me welling up with tears. I’ll always find frustration with Amy and Laurie’s marriage-- but I can at least say Gerwig portrayed this better than previous adaptations.

1917: ★★★★★

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

1917 was the perfect film, from start to finish. It’s shot to look as though it was done in one take, keeping viewers on edge through the entire journey, allowing you to feel and see exactly what both characters go through. The tension keeps you unable to tear your eyes away from the screen, or even acknowledge the notion of potential distractions. 1917 was my absolute favorite on the entire list of nominees, providing its audience with the perfect mix of haunt and excitement. You wouldn’t think a World War I film could be relatable to a modern audience, but with moments depicting fierce sibling-hood, friendship, and the dismantling of a man who goes through so damn much-- 1917 is everything anyone could ever want.

Ford v Ferrari: ★★★★☆

Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

I’ll admit-- upon hearing the plot of Ford v Ferrari, I was groaning at the prospect of having to watch a two and a half hour film about cars and racing. But-- I’m so beyond happy the Oscars led me to this film. Despite my hesitations, not once did the film drag. I couldn’t get enough. At its core, the film is about Caroll Shelby and Ken Miles’ friendship, seizing the opportunity to act on their passions by designing a car and running a race in a way that was unprecedented. It was great to watch Matt Damon and Christian Bale play off one another-- from their physical fights to having each other’s backs when Ford’s leadership wore them down, every scene with the duo felt so realistic.

Caitiona Bale is the film’s underdog-- she never submits to the cliche 60s American housewife trope, remaining witty and powerful in a way that’s hardly explicable. Her performance, matched with the seasoned innocence of Noah Jupe’s character, takes this film to the next level, making Ford v Ferrari a movie you can’t help but finish with a few tears in your eyes.

Marriage Story: ★☆☆☆☆

Image Courtesy of Google Images

It was beyond hard to take this movie seriously. Obviously, it’s important to portray divorce and imperfect familial relationships in popular media-- but this film just wasn’t it. The characters were extremely unlikeable, the script wasn’t my favorite, and it truly just wasn’t the actors’ best work. There were so many other films and actors who deserved the nomination over this film, and it’s kind of a shame that this was what was chosen over any of the honorable mentions I’ll note.

Parasite: ★★★★★

Image Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

Extraordinary acting, a clever script, and direction that gave the film an edge in making all its chaos feel real and surprising… Parasite deserves every bit of recognition it has received this awards season, and more. Parasite reminds us that originality isn’t dead, all while pushing new limits in criticizing capitalism. Bong Joon Ho leaves his audience with a film they’ll be thinking about for hours after its finish— from reflection on your own role you play in the world, to the notion that, in a capitalistic society, things aren’t as black and white as the rich vs the poor. This film showcases the complexities of society pitting the poor against the even poorer, and the notion that no matter what you do and what you plan, you cannot overcome class status.

The Irishman: ★★★☆☆

Image Courtesy of The Daily Beast

I don’t know how I sat through nearly four hours of this thing-- but I’m glad I did. The timeline’s a bit hard to follow, and I did find myself wishing there were ways to differentiate more easily between the many flashbacks, but the film editing was still great. Though it wasn’t for everyone, I was a fan of the aging and de-aging done to characters.

There’s the thought that this film could have worked better as a limited series. While long, there were certain scenes that, if they were going to go into it, they should have fully fledged them out, or just tossed it completely. I found myself either feeling like things were too rushed or too slow, and it was a bit upsetting at times.

As for acting, Al Pacino most certainly takes the cake, with his humor and contrasting vulnerability easily winning over the audience. He was my favorite part of the entire film, making his inevitable death even more sad to watch. Still-- this was enjoyable to watch, and a worthwhile experience nonetheless.

Jojo Rabbit: ★★★☆☆

Image Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

An anti-hate satire, coming of age film about a young boy who must confront his blind nationalism as World War II rages on— Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit confronts the mass manipulation and misinformation during World War II, as well as the absurdity of Hitler Youth in a way that’s never been done before. In essence, the story's about a boy learning to think for himself in a society where, as a kid, you're indoctrinated to further a totalitarian state's despicable agenda. 

The film sparked controversy as critics questioned whether there was ever a good time for wacky Nazi satire, and whether the film downplayed Nazism. Frankly, I think it's an appropriate display. It's not a revolutionary idea to tackle immense tragedy with outrageous humor-- and this film does it so nicely. With moments that force viewers to face the cruelty that existed during the time, Jojo Rabbit is a film that'll make you simultaneously laugh and cry. To me, that's what makes it successful. You don't leave the film laughing like you might have at the beginning-- you leave facing evil, thanks to lines from Elsa's character, and notions brought into light through Jojo's mother. At the end of the day, I think it's most important to remember that this film is told through a young boy's eyes. Everything is his own interpretation, and it allows the film to take on a unique narrative that critics tend to overlook.

Joker: ★★★★☆

Image Courtesy of DC Comics

Joaquin Phoenix is so powerful in this role, in that he’s able to explore and convey the mind of his complex, mentally ill character without romanticizing or glorifying his actions. Director Todd Phillips comments on classism and society’s treatment of mental health, yet provides no hero for the story, following Arthur’s descent into evil. It’s true that you initially root for him— at the beginning, he’s trying to be good. You want him to get better, and to confront the system that pushes him down. But he snaps, in the wrong way, and is sent into a spiral of murder and actions that turn him into the super villain we’ve known for decades. 

Through all DC and Marvel universes, Joker has always been my favorite villain— Joaquin Phoenix’s disturbing and authentic portrayal finally gives him the depth and development into the monster we’ve seen him as for all the years he’s been around. This film is utterly clever in conveying how someone like Arthur Fleck became one of the scariest villains we know to this day. In short-- Joaquin Phoenix truly deserves all the awards.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: ★★★★☆

Image Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The death of Old Hollywood, and a love letter to the 1960s, sealed with a kiss and delivered to the silver screen. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film I simply can’t grow tired of. There were moments that certainly need to be called out-- Bruce Lee’s portrayal seemed a little off base, if not one-dimensional; and Quentin Tarantino, while able to make a kick-ass film, is undeniably problematic (also… what’s with the foot fetish, buddy?) Still-- I can’t help but love the movie for its ability to be laid-back yet elegiac at the same time. Brad Pitt steals the show with his nonchalant attitude and adorable pitbull Brandy, Leonardo DiCaprio keeps you emotional even when things are a bit humorous-- and Margot Robbie! She’s completely ingenious, stunning, and has given Hollywood the best portrayal of Sharon Tate since the wonderful woman herself.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Rocketman
  • The Two Popes
  • Harriet
  • Bombshell

Overall, even with quite a few undeniable snubs, 2019 was clearly a great year for film. While ultimately frustrated with the list of nominees, I found that this year was rich in pictures I actually ended up enjoying-- so much that it was never grueling this year to work through the list of 38 films, only enjoyable and eye-opening.