The Oscars are a glitz and glam fest, where rich people give other rich people awards for who has the most buzz. But, unlike the claims of recent years, this does not make the Oscars totally irrelevant.
Whether it should be, the awards tell the average movie viewer what is and is not worth their money. Awards buzz brings audiences to deserving films that likely wouldn’t have received much traction otherwise.
That considered, which of this year’s Best Picture nominations are truly the best pictures?
"Joker" (2.5 stars)
The allure of its artsy filmmaking and Joaquin Phoenix’s dedicated performance aside, “Joker” presents little by way of quality, importance or originality. The origin story of Batman’s most famous foil comes across as mostly soulless; cramming in as much “edgy” condemnation of the state of the world as possible and clearly attempting to depict the life of a tortured artist with very little depth or effort underneath its initially attractive exterior.
"Ford v. Ferrari" (3 stars)
I’ve rarely seen anything try so hard to break the mold while clinging so desperately to it than this Matt Damon-Christian Bale flick about the quest to build the fastest American race car. Save for a few flickers of cinematic inspiration, “Ford” is formulaic to a fault. While fun and inviting, it ultimately stops short of being anything more than “another car guy movie.”
"Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood" (3.5 stars)
Led by cinema veterans Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, there is no way Quentin Tarantino’s '60s romp could have been bad, per se. A hardcore, whimsical, revisionist take on the story of the 1969 Manson murders, the biggest issue with this film is not that it’s poorly made or unentertaining, but that it generally seems worthless, shadowed by an awareness of its own lack of an underlying point.
"The Irishman" (3.5 stars)
Martin Scorsese’s 3.5-hour epic about former mafioso Frank Sheeran recalling his work for Jimmy Hoffa is masterful from a technical standpoint, but makes its largest mistake in assuming the most interesting thing a character can be is white, violent and well played by Robert DeNiro. While certainly a good film, and (eventually) a somber reflection on aging, it’s hard to say the superior finale makes up for the first two hours of drudge.
"Jojo Rabbit" (4 stars)
Hitting every conceivable emotional note (although occasionally a bit on-the-nose), Taika Waititi’s satire about a German boy during World War II wrestling with the ideologies of Nazism is, at the very least, charming. Although parodying a sensitive topic, Waititi mixes war and whimsy in a manner that pushes boundaries but never breaks them, and leaves you at the credits with a dopey smile on your face.
"Marriage Story" (4.5 stars)
Structured around two hurricane-like performances by Scarlett Johanson and Adam Driver, this film chronicles an amicable divorce based on director Noah Baumbach’s own experiences. Physically placid and yet emotionally violent, “Marriage Story” is a film that will make you laugh while you’re crying as Baumbach gently drives you through the snowstorm of feelings that accompany a broken relationship.
"1917" (4.5 stars)
Shot to appear as a single take, this World War I-set epic is intense, emotional and surreal. There is nothing to compare to the way it was made, nor to the way it feels when you are experiencing it. However, outside of that (and a memorable performance by lead actor George MacKay) it’s mostly just another war film; one that might not hold up to the scrutiny of audiences after it has left theaters.
"Little Women" (5 stars)
Writer and director Greta Gerwig captures the essence of the classic novel about four sisters living in Civil War-era America better than any previous adaptation has (and there have been many.) Warm, vivid and led with stellar performances by up-and-coming Hollywood favorites, including Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Timothée Chalamet, “Little Women” transcends the concept of the period piece to deliver a timeless story of youth, family and womanhood.
"Parasite" (5 stars)
My personal favorite of the year, this unpredictable South Korean film about a lower-class family attempting to infiltrate the household staff of a rich one drips with charm, flashing a dazzling smile at viewers to draw them in before bearing its twisted claws. A poignant statement on classism in the modern age, “Parasite” makes like its namesake, latching deep inside your mind and sticking there for the long run.