Movies & TV
Which Oscar-Nominated Movies Should You Actually Go See?
Watch the trailers for all the Oscar-nominated films here.
by : Briony Smith- Jan 13th, 2020
The Oscar nominations were announced today: how many of the movies have you seen? It’s easy to fall behind in watching all the big award contenders, and figuring out which of them are actually good, but never fear: we’ve watched all the big nominees for you! Below we share what we loved – and didn’t love – about each movie so you can decide which prestige pictures deserve your hard-earned cash this month…and which you can skip.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 10
Big Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography
So, What’s It About? Two fresh-faced English lads are tasked during WWI with delivering a message to a British battalion in enemy territory who are preparing to attack 1,600 Germans – and are walking into a trap. If the boys fail in delivering their message, a bloodbath will ensue. Even worse? One of the soldier’s brothers is among them.
What We Loved: Cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country For Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption) skillfully stitched together long takes to create the illusion of one single take.
What Sucked: This tweet: https://twitter.com/brendohare/status/1214037536961634304
Number Of Oscar Noms: 3
Key Nominations: Lead Actress (Charlize Theron), Supporting Actress (Margot Robbie)
So, What’s It About? Ambitious wannabe Fox-anchor Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, playing a composite character invented for the film) finds herself caught up in the maelstrom of the 2016 Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal kicked off by Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman)’s harassment lawsuit against Ailes after she was fired. Charlize Theron dons a few prosthetics and a folksy Midwestern accent to play conservative pundit Megyn Kelly, who waffles about whether to disclose her own trauma at the hands of her boss.
What We Loved: This film is packed with powerhouses: Kidman, Theron, and Robbie are terrific, and even the bit parts are ringers, from Holland Taylor as Ailes’ icy admin and Robin Weigert as Gretchen’s attorney to Kate McKinnon’s fun turn as Kayla’s closeted work BFF turned occasional paramour.
What Sucked: The film’s inspiring #MeToo empowerment message is mildly thrilling, but positioning these women as scrappy human-rights heroes feels a little squicky, given that they worked for Fox News for years, making millions off actively disseminating harmful views (including racist invective). This is a shallow film; one wonders what a savvier screenwriter and director could have done with the material and such a stellar cast.
Ford v Ferrari
Number Of Oscar Noms: 4
Key Nominations: Best Picture
So, What’s It About? Enraged that Ferrari wins the prestigious 24-hour Le Mans race every single year, Ford enlists Droll Texan Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who teams up with high-strung Brummie Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to create a racecar that will beat Ferrari once and for all.
What We Loved: Nothing gets the blood going like a good ol’ fashioned car movie. This movie really sticks you in the driver’s seat, giving you all kinds of intriguing insight into the intricacies of handling such a dangerous machine and what it takes to win a high-profile, gruelling race like Le Mans. Bale is pitch-perfect, as always, this time in wiry ham mode, cracking jokes and throwing wrenches at Damon’s head.
What Sucked: Ford v Ferrari is like the Ford of its title: solid, workman-like. It never kicks into a high enough gear, sadly, to make it a true action masterpiece.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 10
Key Nominations: Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci, Al Pacino), Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography
So, What’s It About? Elderly, lonely Frank Sheehan (Robert De Niro) reflects on his multi-decade career as a mob hitman and his relationship with the volatile Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
What We Loved: In an award season littered with Scorsese knockoffs (Hustlers, Joker), here’s the actual Scorsese picture. The director fought for years to get The Irishman made, eventually finding it a home at Netflix, complete with his dream cast (including Joe Pesci, who he managed to lure back to work after asking literally 50 times). His passion for the material comes through in every frame, from the gorgeous production design to hours of detailed discussion about union business and mob etiquette.
What Sucked: It is so, so, so long. Now, this isn’t automatically bad: Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street clock in around three hours, but The Irishman’s three-and-a-half-hour running time is painful since the film is bereft of any great setpieces or characters that you care about whatsoever. Yawn. (The final injustice: changing the title from the elegant I Heard You Paint Houses to the bland-ass The Irishman. Even the title is boring!)
Number Of Oscar Noms: 6
Key Nominations: Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Adapted Screenplay
So, What’s It About? Single mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) and her quirky kid Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis) try to make it out of WWII alive. Director Taika Waititi stars as Johannes’ imaginary friend, Hitler. (Yes. Hitler.)
What We Loved: Pretty much everything Waititi does is worth watching. Jojo Rabbit has a typically cracking cast, including Sam Rockwell as a zany local commander and a cameo from Stephen Merchant as a creepy Gestapo patrol head. (Johansson is also much sparkier here than the dull Marriage Story.) There are some funny moments, considering the bleak subject matter, and an amazing score featuring German covers of bangers like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Heroes.”
What Sucked: How much twee can you handle? Davis is very good, yes, but the cute-sassy-kid shtick wears thin and so does the weak satire. This movie is smart, but not smart enough.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 11
Key Nominations: Best Picture, Lead Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography
So, What’s It About? Weirdo loner clown and comedian Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) is beaten up on the job, sparking a violent vengeance spree unleashed upon an unfeeling metropolis.
What We Loved: Phoenix is typically electrifying as the Joker, and makes the character his own, which is impressive, given the precedent set by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger (sorry, Jared Leto). He is gaunt and miserable and terrifying and just may win the Best Actor trophy for this portrayal.
What Sucked: Todd Philipps wishes he was Scorsese but Scorsese this isn’t.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 2
Key Nominations: Lead Actress (Renée Zellweger)
So, What’s It About? Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) heads over to England to revitalize her career, and it works…for awhile.
What We Loved: Zellweger is back! She does an excellent job bringing both sides of the icon to life, from the mercurial to the sweet. Her singing isn’t bad, either!
What Sucked: We’re pretty much at peak biopic saturation and this one doesn’t really stand out.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 1
Key Nominations: Original Screenplay
So, What’s It About? After rich author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is murdered, his zany family including, among others, hipster brat Ransom (Chris Evans), imperious realtor Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and surly suck-up Walt (Michael Shannon) –gather in his Clue-esque country manor to determine whodunit (with a little help from super-detective Benoit Blanc, played by a showboating Daniel Craig, all southern twang).
What We Loved: There’s twists and turns aplenty, plus watching veteran character actors squabble and scramble around a creaky old mansion is good fun.
What Sucked: The attempts at political commentary fall totally flat, and the final reveal is totally unsatisfying. A disappointment, given the massive buzz the film had.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 6
Key Nominations: Best Picture, Lead Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh), Adapted Screenplay
So, What’s It About? Greta Gerwig brings us the latest retelling of the Louisa May Alcott classic, tracing the triumphs and travails of the 19th century New England March clan, including matriarch Marmee (Laura Dern), marriage-minded Meg (Emma Watson), headstrong Jo (Saoirse Ronan), delicate Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and snotty Amy (Florence Pugh).
What We Loved: Mega-fans of the 1994 classic version starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon will be delighted to see that producer Denise Di Novi and screenwriter Robin Swicord are on-board as producers of this version as well. This film almost functions as a companion piece to the 1994 film, including not only key scenes like Amy’s ice incident and Jo singing Meg’s hair pre-ball, but many extended scenes covering material and events not shown in the earlier film. The narrative also jumps around between present-day (Jo’s journey home to visit an ailing Beth) and remembering the past, creating an exciting new narrative that is augmented by a few meta twists. The cast is uniformly excellent as well, with Florence Pugh (arguably the hottest new star of 2019, between Fighting With My Family, Midsommar and now this) the true stand-out as Amy, more thoughtful and clever in this version than others. Finally, her romance with Teddy (played by Timothée Chalamet) makes sense!
What Sucked: It’s a little long – the movie could have been trimmed a little to help the pacing a bit.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 6
Key Nominations: Best Picture, Lead Actor (Adam Driver), Lead Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Supporting Actress (Laura Dern), Original Screenplay
So, What’s It About? Theatre director Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) suffer through a messy bicoastal divorce and custody dispute.
What We Loved: The supporting players are the true stars here, whether it’s Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s flaky, bossy mom, or the trio of divorce attorneys hired, including Ray Liotta as a cutthroat shark, Alan Alda as a kindly dad-like figure doling out life advice, and Laura Dern in her Golden Globe-winning performance as a high-powered, high-fashion lawyer who fights for her clients with fiery passion.
What Sucked: In an age of Marvel blockbusters and constant reboots of classic properties, risk-averse studios no longer want to fund the small-scale, mid-budget relationship dramas and romances that were once so ubiquitous. People clearly miss these movies, however, as Marriage Story elicited an avalanche of praise that it didn’t quite deserve. Everything is pitched at the level of a high-school drama class monologue and the characters are pretty unlikeable – by the end, you feel semi-sorry the kid has to end up with either of them.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Number Of Oscar Noms: 10
Key Nominations: Best Picture, Lead Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt), Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography
So, What’s It About? Washed up action star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman sidekick Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) hang out in 1960s Hollywood and eventually run into the Manson family.
What We Loved: The combined star wattage of DiCaprio and Pitt is blinding, and it’s a real treat to watch both in comedy mode and crushing it. The extravagant production design is just as gorgeous as Brad’s abs.
What Sucked: It meanders (Tarantino’s movies get longer and longer and worse and worse) and it’s extremely violent, and some of the violence against women – played for laughs – comes off as gross, especially given Tarantino’s celluloid history (he often steps in to perform acts of violence against women on-screen, whether it’s spitting on Uma Thurman in Kill Bill or choking Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds).
Number Of Oscar Noms: 6
Key Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film
So, What’s It About? A poor Korean family grifts their way into a rich family’s house. Then it gets weird.
What We Loved: This film is one of the most acclaimed movies of the year for a reason: you have zero idea where the plot is going to go. What a rare delight in a time when so many movies are so simplistic and predictable. The fancy house – built entirely on a set – is also an architectural dream; get ready to drool with décor envy.
What Sucked: Parasite suffers from Lord of the Rings syndrome. The ending was just about perfect…until it goes on five minutes too long, getting overly explanatory.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 1
Key Nominations: Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates)
So, What’s It About? The titular security guard manages to save a bunch of lives during the 1996 Olympics bombing…only to find himself the prime suspect a week later.
What We Loved: Paul Walter Hauser was the comedic stand-out in I, Tonya two years ago and he does some impressive dramatic work here as the well-meaning, yet bumbling Jewell, inspiring real pathos for a complicated man. Sam Rockwell is also wonderful as Jewell’s somewhat unorthodox defense attorney, filled with righteous rage for his unjustly accused client.
What Sucked: Clint Eastwood continues to churn out middling dramas that are, well, fine. There is also a troubling subplot involving a female journalist (played by Olivia Wilde) offering sex in exchange for story information, something the real-life reporter apparently never did and which perpetuates a shitty trope about ambitious women in publishing.
Number Of Oscar Noms: 1
Key Nominations: Original Song
So, What’s It About? Taron Egerton plays Elton John in this fanciful, hit-stuffed biopic tracing the artist formerly known as Reginald Dwight’s small-town origins through to his eighties comeback.
What We Loved: Egerton remains one of the more charming young pups on-screen today and he really commits to the role, doing his own singing – and well – and donning a dizzying array of sequins, platform boots, sunglasses, and feathered headdresses to play the singer.
What Sucked: Elton John is a supernova pop star: an energy that is notoriously hard to duplicate on-screen. Despite his surprise Golden Globe win for the role, all Egerton’s charm can’t quite carry the picture. Just as in Judy, all the fashion and musical numbers can’t bring the film up to the thrilling level of the OG performer.
The Two Popes
Number Of Oscar Noms: 3
Key Nominations: Lead Actor (Jonathan Pryce), Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Adapted Screenplay
So, What’s It About? Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires (Jonathan Pryce), wants to retire – but so does Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins)…and he wants Bergoglio to replace him as pope. Listen in on their conversations leading up to the great switcheroo.
What We Loved: Pryce is sweet as a teddy bear in this movie, so good and pure, that you just want to hug him. Hopkins is also very good as the conservative pope with a slight eccentric edge.
What Sucked: It’s a testament to these actors’ skill that they were able to wring such good performances out of such a blah script: the flashbacks feel a little unnecessary, and you never really buy that this changeover could possibly have gone down this way.
Contenders Out Of The Nominations, But Definitely Worth Watching:
A handful of super-buzzy, much-awarded films were shut out this morning, but are still worth watching, including:
So, What’s It About? Jewelry dealer Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a serious gambling addict and owes money all over town. He’s also mid-separation and perennially squabbling with his hot young mistress (a killer performance by first-timer Julia Fox). Can his giant black opal, newly arrived from Africa, save him from this spiral?
What We Loved: This is our favourite movie of the year: it’s a funny, visceral, heart-pounding thriller, propelled along by a pounding Oneohtrix Point Never synth score, that squeezes you by the throat for two hours then kicks you out of the theatre in a daze. Sandler gives the (already endlessly memed) performance of his career as a skeezy, sad degenerate that you somehow end up rooting for, anyway; this part may not snag him an Oscar nom, but he sure as hell deserves one. Newbie Fox is just as luminous as people have been raving, and those outfits are to die for – we want that crop-top-and-acidwash-jeans combo. Even former NBA star Kevin Garnett kills! Keep an eye out for the movie’s rabidly anticipated merch, including bejeweled Furbies; it’ll be the must-have stuff of winter 2020.
Dolemite Is My Name
So, What’s It About? After years of trying to make it with his music and comedy, perennial opener Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) hits big with his outlandish Dolemite character, releasing a string of hit comedy records. Up next? Moore rounds up his ragtag group of friends to make a Dolemite movie, recruiting a huge – and temperamental – star (a surprisingly funny Wesley Snipes) to direct…and risking everything he has to make his cinema stardom dreams come true.
What We Loved: The let’s-put-on-a-show genre is always a crowdpleaser, and here director Craig Brewer really makes you feel like one of the gang, listening in on how the budget filmmakers deal with everything from power shut-offs (just borrow some from next door!) to the logistics of filming a truly earth-shaking sex scene. Broadway queen Da’Vine Joy Randolph steals the show, however, as Dolemite’s fierce leading lady (we’re still dreaming of that green sequin premiere dress!).
So, What’s It About? Billi (Awkwafina) finds out that her beloved grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has terminal lung cancer but, as per Chinese tradition, no-one is going to actually tell Nai Nai she’s dying. The family hastily schedules a wedding so that the whole family can gather in China to see Nai Nai one last time. The wildest part? It’s based on a true story; this actually happened to the director, Lulu Wang (who, PS, is very chic and also one-half of the coolest director power couple with Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins).
What We Loved: It’s wonderful to see more BIPOC families represented come award season. Spending time with the opinionated Wang clan is a joy, and Shuzhen, a huge star in her native China, is delightful as Nai Nai, sassy yet warm. We’re sad Awkwafina couldn’t translate her Golden Globe acting win – a first for an East Asian woman in the film category – into an Oscar nom.
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