I decided to do a deep dive and watch all nine films up for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, which takes place February 9th at 8:00PM EST. Each film is unique and incredible, so I had to take it one at a time and put together a viewing-strategy to help you decide which films interest you most.
Here are my thoughts:
- 1917 (Sam Mendes)
1917 is the perfect lesson in storytelling – it throws the audience right into the middle of the action from the very start. The film follows two World War I soldiers, Lance Cpl. Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake, on the assignment of their lives – they are sent to deliver a time-sensitive message to a faraway Colonel. One soldier is reluctant, while the other is eager to get to there as soon as possible because his brother’s life may be at risk, creating an intriguing imbalance in stakes. Schofield and Blake face many trials to get to their destination. And you are right there with them: Mendes shot 1917 to appear as one take.
Should I watch this?: Yes. Even if you don’t flock to war movies, it gets to the heart of humanity.
- Ford V Ferrari (James Mangold)
Ford V Ferrari is an artful retelling of a special moment in history. It follows the true story of car designer & racer Carroll Shelby and car engineer & racer Ken Miles in the 1960s. They come together to try and construct and race a car with the team at Ford to beat Enzo Ferrari’s cars at Le Mans, the world’s oldest automotive endurance race. There are multiple levels of conflict here. From the title, of course, Ford is up against Ferrari in the race, but there is an internal conflict, as well. Ford’s executives don’t mesh well with Ken Miles, but he is a genius who can both race and build cars, so he becomes key to the winning strategy despite ticking people off. What makes this film very immersive is the complicated friendship between Shelby and Miles, played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, respectively.
Should I watch this?: Maybe. If you love history and racing, it’s a must-see. As someone who isn’t usually drawn to either, I was very immersed in the character quirks and relationships built throughout.
- Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)
Jojo Rabbit is a dark comedy that offers a mix of hope and teachable moments. The film follows Jojo, a ten-year-old boy who is obsessed with becoming a Nazi under Hitler’s reign during World War II. His obsession leads to him creating an imaginary friend in the form of Hitler himself, played by writer and director Taika Waititi. Jojo Rabbit sheds light on the truly awful experience of the Holocaust by homing in on a child’s perspective in Nazi Germany and how he navigates the world. The film plays with music, colour, objects and editing in a fun and creative way.
Jojo Rabbit is based on Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies.
Should I watch this?: Yes. You might get your guard up for this one, but bear with its twists and turns and high stakes storytelling, because the payoff is beautiful.
- Joker (Todd Phillips)
Joker is a psychological thriller that explores a possible origin story of how the infamous Batman villain was born. The film follows comedian Arthur Fleck as he tries to find community while grappling with a rare illness that makes it hard for him to properly emote. There is a tense and disturbing thread through the film and the viewer’s perspectives are challenged, making it very captivating. Joaquin Phoenix brought this character to life in an unforgettable way. It really demonstrated what feels like his infinite range as an actor.
Should I watch this?: Yes. You don’t need to be a fan of superhero films to appreciate the unique and gritty storyline, which has left many feeling uncertain about what really happened during the film.
- Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
Little Women is a breathtaking and enthralling story of four sisters who grapple with growing up during the Civil War in New England in very different ways. Jo, Meg, Beth & Amy March look at life differently but have one thing in common: their upbringing. The film’s pacing was genius, as it hopped between the sisters’ younger years and the present in an impressive manner, not needing to rely on costume and hair changes. It is the fantastic shots and the developing mannerisms between time periods that make this film so special. The sisters, played by Saorsie Ronan, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen & Florence Pugh, paint a vivid picture of the struggles women faced in the 19th century.
Little Women is based on Louisa May Alcott’s book of the same name.
Should I watch this?: Yes. Even if you haven’t read the book, you are likely to get swept right into the lives of the March sisters as they navigate choices many of us face at one point or another in our lives.
- Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Marriage Story takes a raw look at divorce and puts a microscope on the decisions people make when dealing with a crumbling marriage. The film stars Adam Driver as Charlie and Scarlett Johansson as Nicole. Each of the actors bring in their own real-life experiences of divorce to the story. It is the ultimate story of conflict, complicated by their child who is torn between life in New York City (where Charlie lives) and Los Angeles (where Nicole lives).
Should I watch this?: Yes. Whether you’ve experienced the pains of a divorce or not, this powerful, deep look into a troubling experience is done with empathy.
- Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood is the story of a washed-up actor looking for work who happens to live beside Roman Polanski & Sharon Tate. The film, taking place in the late 60’s, pays homage to old Hollywood and the history of film in true Tarantino fashion. It stars Leonardo Di Caprio as Rick Dalton, the actor searching for work, and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, his stunt double. Once Upon a Time, although slowly paced at times, adds higher and higher stakes to create an exceptional and satisfying end.
Should I watch this?: Maybe. If you are a lover of classic film and generally curious about the life of a celebrity outside of the spotlight, this is a must-see.
- Parasite (Bong Joon Ho)
Parasite follows a poor family as they become employed by a rich one, but things quickly start to unravel as the classist attitude of the rich family gets under the skin of the poor one. The themes, motifs and nuances come full circle as it comes to an end. Stylistically, Parasite is shot flawlessly. The actors, Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, Woo-sik Choi & So-dam Park, create a duality in their performances that makes it hard to take your eyes away from the film. But with this film, the less you know, the better.
Should I watch this?: Yes. For lovers of thrillers and mysteries with a dark comedic element, this is not to be missed. The stakes are high and time is ticking.
- The Irishman (Martin Scorcese)
The Irishman is a crime drama that follows Frank Sheeran, an elderly man played by Robert De Niro, as he reflects on his life from his retirement home. In his reflections, he becomes more and more involved with Russell Bufalino, as played by Joe Pesci in his crime ring. The film is based on true events around the mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa in the 1970s; Hoffa is played by Al Pacino. This film is full of acting gold with several stand out actors who have shown us how it’s done in crime dramas for decades. An impressive new editing feature used in The Irishman allowed the actors to appear much younger in the movie’s earlier scenes.
The Irishman is based on Charles Brandt’s book, I Hear You Paint Houses.
Should I watch this?: Maybe. If you have an interest in crime dramas, this is definitely worth the watch. Just get ready to spare about 4 hours – or break it into two watches.
It is hard to say at this point which will win, but Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, 1917 and Parasite are looking like serious contenders. For myself, my top 3 films off this list are Little Women, Jojo Rabbit & Parasite.
Which film(s) are you rooting for most? Do you think the Academy should have considered any others? Comment below.