2019 has been a good year for cinema. When movies like The Lighthouse, Uncut Gems, and The Farewell are left out of the nominees for Best Picture, the competition among the high quality films in the running to snag an Oscar is definitely tough.
That said, with the 92nd Academy Awards just around the corner, there’s no better time than now to reflect on the nominees of this year, looking at the reasons why they’ve captured the hearts of cinephiles everywhere, and why, in their own special way, they all stand a chance at claiming the title of Best Picture.
Little Women, Glenielle
Since being published in 1868, screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women have been bountiful. Propelled by stars like Janet Leigh and Winona Ryder, and helmed by talented directors such as George Cukor and Gillian Armstrong, the story had taken many different directions over the years, begging the question of whether or not a fifth movie adaptation could bring anything new to the table.
If Greta Gerwig’s masterpiece of a film is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes. Saoirse Ronan leads the cast of the 2019 adaptation with a breathtaking performance as Jo March, fleshing out the character from the one-dimensional “strong woman” mold, equal parts brave and vulnerable. Eliza Scanlen’s performance as Beth March is a steadying force throughout the movie. Florence Pugh, perhaps the film’s breakout star, portrays Amy in a charming and nuanced manner, a hard feat to pull off considering the divisive opinions on her character’s arc.
The powerful performances are elevated by Gerwig’s distinctive vision; her non-linear structure only making the movie more compelling, the different shades she gives to her characters a welcome addition. Not only is Jo a formidable heroine, but the other March sisters also shine in their own ways, not just as a backdrop for the former. Tackling ache, human connection, and the mortifying ordeal of being known, the narrative Gerwig carefully weaves is nothing short of exquisite.
Some movie buffs believe that war movies are overdone—there have been many notable films based on a war premise that competed in the Oscars, many of which raked in their own respectable accolades. However, 1917 sets itself apart in numerous remarkable aspects.
The actors perfectly embodied their characters, and captured them as they should be: real and raw. George MacKay, a veteran in the acting community, portrays Lance Corporal “Scho” Schofield flawlessly and with conviction. His performance leaves the audience with melancholic soundness—Scho had achieved what needed to be done, but at what cost? Happiness always seems out of reach for his character, but the movie’s denouement gives the audience a sliver of hope for his future.
1917 does not shy away from the harsh realities and somber nature of war—casualties are portrayed in a straightforward manner to illustrate how much devastation the battle had caused. Although the scenes revolved—sometimes literally—around the two main characters, the film avoided a narrow narrative and encapsulated the entire story by injecting other relevant characters and environments, giving more body to the story line.
The film’s biggest selling point is the illusion that the entire two-hour film was shot in a single continuous take, which director Sam Mendes uses to great effect. Seamless editing ensures that scenes flow into one another perfectly, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats as they wonder whether Scho and Tom would survive the rigors of war.
Despite tackling the used-and-abused theme of war stories, 1917 is a welcomed fresh perspective on the genre. The audience need not worry about the redundancy of the plot—there are a multitude of facets to this movie that demand your attention and possibly even more than one viewing of the film itself.
Jojo Rabbit, Angelo
Directed by Kiwi filmmaker, comedian, and actor Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit is an enthralling and light-hearted tale that tackles one of the darkest moments in history while offering a fresh take on a worn-out trope. Set against a backdrop of bleak skies, cobblestone streets, baroque architecture, and the safe haven that is Jojo’s home, the film takes a decidedly gloomy look in spite of its comedic nature, which, in itself, is among the many strengths that make the film so unique. Beneath all the satire and comedy, however, is a narrative that is deeply anti-hate, using humor as a tool to pique the viewer’s interest, and make them comfortable enough to watch a jingoistic 10-year-old excitedly proclaim, “Heil Hitler!”
While at first glance, the use of Nazi symbolism for comedic purposes seems like a questionable undertaking, this seemingly dubious approach only serves as a metaphor for its central narrative, as the film casts a light on some of the most pressing social issues, all of which are relevant even today.
Led by Roman Griffith Davis, stellar performances from Jojo Rabbit’s star-studded cast played a crucial part in successfully producing this narrative. Davis delivers a convincing and heartfelt performance as the protagonist, Jojo Betzler, and Waititi—who is, perhaps unironically, a Jew—takes up the role of Jojo’s imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Jojo’s mother, Rosie, was also impactful and empowering, giving audiences the impression of a deeply complex and nuanced character. Thomansin Mckenzie also inspired with her delivery of Jewish refugee, Elsa Korr, while Rebel Wilson shined as Fraulein Rahm.
Jojo Rabbit is a uniquely spectacular film, a different type of war drama from what we’re used to. Its use of dark humor, and satirical portrayal of Nazi Germany draws you in, then leaves you with a sense of melancholy, curiosity, and relief as the story evolves. While it isn’t perfect, Waititi has crafted a captivating, one-of-a-kind film. Bolstered by its delicate and beautiful use of cinematography, and accompanied by a charming soundtrack composed by none other than the brilliant Michael Giacchino, Jojo Rabbit proves that it is deserving of its multiple Academy Award nominations.
Ford v Ferrari, Westin
Personally, I’m not that big of a racing buff—but you wouldn’t have guessed based on how much I loved Ford v Ferrari.
That’s probably because the film isn’t really about racing. Sure, the races play a huge role in the characters’ motivations and goals. But the story at its core is about two people who are deeply passionate about something, and are willing to do whatever it takes to do what they love how they want it. It’s this kind of heartfelt, human storytelling that makes the film so captivating.
James Mangold showcases why he’s one of the best directors working today, delivering one of the most entertaining films in 2019. The dialogue is snappy, while the racing sequences are heart-pounding, presented in captivating wide shots to enhance the spectacle.
Christian Bale and Matt Damon play wonderfully off each other in the film, showing why they’re some of the most recognizable talents in the business today. Damon’s Caroll Shelby—a racer forced into retirement due to hypertension—and Bale’s Ken Miles—a World War II veteran turned race car driver—are brought together by their passion for cars and racing, despite being at odds at times. This relationship is at the core of the film: two friends fighting against corporations, financial constraints, and nasty politics just for the chance to get behind the wheel.
Ford v Ferrari is a thoroughly entertaining film. It is funny and lighthearted, while never shying away from the sadder moments that life has as well, always being true to its characters and to life. It is a wonderfully directed tale that is masterfully brought together by its talented cast, without a doubt being a worthy candidate for this year’s Best Picture.
This is part one of The LaSallian’s reviews of this year’s Best Picture nominees. The remaining nominees in the running are discussed in part two.