The Oscars, whilst being far from perfect, do stand to promote and award the year’s best cinema. However, with a controversial comic-book origin story, two Netflix originals and a small South Korean film on track to be the first foreign-language entry to win best picture, this year’s nominations seem to demonstrate a slow, yet progressive change in the Academy’s preferences.
Parasite (aka Gisaengchung) – dir. Bong Joon-Ho
On the face of it, Parasite initially comes off as a heist film of sorts. A working-class family (the Kims) slowly integrate themselves as various staff members for the wealthy Parks family, all with the aim to fund their son’s university expenses. However, that is only a thin slice of this rich, complex and gripping tale of two families. Bong Joon-Ho describes his film as “the stairs” which is a perfect encapsulation of the messages, imagery and cinematography that make it my personal choice for best picture.
Joker – dir. Todd Phillips
As a self-confessed comic book fan and especially ones involving the crown prince of crime, I was enthralled with ‘Joker’. Its’ crowning achievement is, of course, Joaquin Phoenix as the title character. His portrayal is electrifying, terrifying and disturbing in all the right ways and as such adds to the story to create scenes that are tense, depressing and uplifting but will ultimately become iconic. Anyone want to dance down some stairs?
The Irishman – dir. Martin Scorsese
Three and a half hours is a long time. However, there are few directors who could use every single minute to create a true piece of cinema. That statement alone shows why Martin Scorsese is as acclaimed as he is. Paired with the tour de force that is Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, The Irishman stands as an event for film fans that submerges the audience in its gloriously brutal history. As such, The Irishman triumphs as a testament to subtle direction which all culminates in one of the most heart-breaking final scenes of 2019.
Little Women – dir. Greta Gerwig
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name, Greta Gerwig’s latest film exemplifies that the common struggles of coming of age, familial pressures and forging your own life are just as relevant now as they were in the 1800s. The film’s ability to delicately weave between four leading ladies and two different time periods whilst not losing the audience is testament to Gerwig’s talent behind the camera further making her absence from the directors’ category all the more shocking.
1917 – dir. Sam Mendes
Two soldiers are tasked to deliver a message in WW1. With Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins behind the camera, such a simple story is given a harrowing lease of life. With the strategy of presenting the story as one continuous take, the film succeeds at planting you in the reality of war. It isn’t all guns and fighting. There is walking, quiet and peace. But with the underlying knowledge that chaos could strike at any time truly cranks up the tension. However, to be blunt, whilst the long takes are impressive, 2006’s ‘Children of Men’ did it better.
Jojo Rabbit – dir. Taika Waititi
From the serious war drama to the comedic war satire. Jojo rabbit follows a boy whose imaginary best friend… is Hitler. That sentence alone was enough to get me excited. Paired with Taika Waititi (who plays the dictator), this war satire easily becomes one of the funniest pictures of the year. Is it a controversial subject? Definitely. But the sight of Hitler jollily prancing through a forest while giving the worst advice on grenades is enough to make anyone laugh at this little gem of a film.
Marriage Story – dir. Noah Baumbach
Whilst I don’t believe Scarlett Johansson deserves her nomination for Jojo Rabbit, both she and Adam Driver deliver their best performances in this tragically realistic depiction of the divorce process. By never truly taking a side in the proceedings, the film places the audience, like a child, hopelessly in the middle of the hostilities and forced niceties. Whilst not necessarily the best picture, Netflix have definitely laid the gauntlet when considering the acting categories.
Ford vs Ferrari (aka Le Mans ’66) – dir. James Mangold
With nominations primarily in production areas, Ford vs Ferrari seems to be a strange choice for best picture. However, whilst the story is not particularly ground-breaking, the sights that result from it are stunning to behold. Whilst not a huge car fan myself, even I had to admit that, when all the talent in front and behind the camera unite for the racing sequences, what is delivered becomes something truly special.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – dir. Quentin Tarantino
This film is not for me. Being a 21-year old student, I am not the target audience for this film. The true target audience is those who remember (or who have knowledge of) 1960s Hollywood. Despite being beautifully crafted by Tarantino, a day in the life of Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Rick Dalton’, whilst amusing, is a slow burn with seemingly little motivating plot pushing it forward. Although those last 20 minutes are f***ing brilliant.