Movie Review: Oscar Nominees 2020

Every year I always do my best to try and see as many of the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture as possible. It’s good to be able to form an actual opinion on who should and shouldn’t walk away with a golden statue come Oscar night, and makes watching the ceremony a lot more engaging. Of course, what good is having an opinion if you can’t share it, and so, I will be presenting my thoughts on the nominees below. So far I have seen 4 of the 9 films vying for the award, and I have presented those in order of most to least favorite, and I will update this post with more as I watch them. Of course, I don’t expect you to agree with me (the Academy certainly didn’t last year), so feel free to let me know your favorites in the comments!

And don’t forget that we will be hosting an event on February 6th in which you can try to predict the winners! The top scorer will receive a prize!


Bong Joon Ho’s latest cements his status as a master filmmaker. The story opens on the Kim family, as they gather together in their cramped, squalid, basement-level apartment. An opportunity for son Ki-woo to pose as an English tutor for the wealthy Park family gets some money rolling in, and begins to set in motion a plan to get his sister and parents employed under false pretenses as well. The family’s plot is often comically brazen, as is the movie’s biting look at the class divide and transactional relationships. While there are a handful of references that will likely make more sense in the film’s native South Korea, the main themes revolving around the haves and the have-nots will ring true pretty much everywhere. The movie looks absolutely gorgeous throughout and the cast is universally superb. It is the story that will stick with you long after the final frame however. It oscillates wildly between satire, drama, mystery, and even a touch of horror, but is so well-structured that each tonal shift fits perfectly, all leading up to an ending that feels both shocking and inevitable. A true masterpiece. ★★★★★

Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s novel has already been adapted for film numerous times, so anyone attempting to do so again had better nail it. Lucky for us, writer/director Greta Gerwig has done just that. The story of the March sisters follows each of them as they grow up together and strive to figure out who they want to be. It is told in a dual-timeline, flipping back and forth between the time of the Civil War, when their father is away fighting, leaving their mother to raise them alone, and the years after the war has ended, and they are all away on their own, chasing their dreams. This allows for some very smart juxtapositions between the two periods, deftly contrasting the thoughts and emotions the characters feel experiencing the same places at different times in their lives, and really adds some extra emotional punch to the story. The cast is excellent, and will likely leave viewers hard-pressed to imagine anyone else in the roles, but the script is really the star here. It ably switches between moments of joy and sadness and everything in between, and also manages to make this period drama feel both true to its roots and suitably modern at the same time. Well-crafted, entertaining, and the kind of movie one wants to revisit again and again. ★★★★★

Marriage Story

In most movies about divorce, one party or another is clearly the “villain” in the film, and therefore is 100% to blame for the marriage falling apart. While there are some real life instances in which things are that black and white, typically, the situation is a lot more gray. In Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach shows us a couple who clearly still love each other, but for whom things have reached a point where that simply isn’t enough anymore. As the divorce proceedings move from awkward attempts at splitting amicably to a full-fledged courtroom battle, knowing that the couple at the center of the story still genuinely care for each other makes the proceedings that much more painful. That doesn’t mean this movie spends its entire runtime wallowing in misery. Far from it. There are wryly funny scenes liberally scattered throughout, and lead actors Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver prove themselves equally adept at the comedic and tragic moments. Both fully commit to the roles and make you believe every moment of the movie, as do the excellent supporting cast. This is an absolutely brilliant movie, that takes an honest look at the dissolution of a loving union, that still manages to be entertaining the entire time and features a final scene that is perfectly bittersweet. ★★★★★

Jojo Rabbit

To walk the line between absurdist satire and heartfelt coming of age drama is no easy task, and to set the whole thing against the final months of Nazi Germany certainly doesn’t make it any easier, but writer/director Taika Waititi pulls it off. 10 year old Jojo, whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, returns home from an accident at a Nazi youth camp to discover that his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in a hidden attic space of their home. The movie mixes slapstick comedy that pokes fun at the ridiculousness of Nazi ideology with Jojo’s own growing realization that everything he had been lead to believe is wrong, with a few dashes of the horror of the period thrown in. The wild tonal shifts will definitely be off-putting for some, but those that can get behind what the movie is going for will find a sharply funny but sweet movie about looking beyond our prejudices and seeing people for who they really are. ★★★★★

Ford v Ferrari

I have to admit that this was perhaps the movie out of this year’s crop of nominees that I was the least interested in seeing, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Following car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles as they work to help Ford engineer a race car that can beat Ferrari in the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, the film does an excellent job of telling the sort of inspiring and thrilling story that Hollywood used to excel at. The race sequences are an edge-of-your-seat joy to watch, which is an accomplishment considering the foregone conclusion, and perhaps more importantly, the scenes off the track are equally entertaining. It can feel a little too old-fashioned at times, but it’s still quite possibly the most universal crowd-pleaser out of this year’s nominated movies. ★★★★


1917 offers up a simple but well told story, that drives home the absolute horror of war. A pair of British soldiers in World War I are tasked with getting a message to another regiment, in an effort to prevent them from walking into a trap and losing all 1,600 men, including one of the soldiers’ brothers. Getting there requires crossing deep into enemy controlled territory, where the men encounter all manner of danger and devastation. The film is presented as one continuous take, and that illusion combined with Roger Deakins’ impressive cinematography make for a harrowing and visually stunning experience. One sequence in a bombed out French town at night is especially extraordinary. Writer/director Sam Mendes also has a clever way of using small moments spent travelling to convey a much larger passage of time and distance, that helps to maintain the single-shot trick without getting bogged down in “real-time” rules. That being said, while there are some mawkishly effective emotional moments, the movie can feel so enraptured with its aesthetic ideas that it can ring a little hollow. It’s incredible to look at, especially on a big screen, and though a little thin, the story did keep me riveted. But after the suspense of a first-time viewing wears off, there is little else besides the visuals to inspire one to ever watch it again. ★★★★

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film follows aging Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his friend / assistant / sometimes stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) in 1969 Los Angeles as Rick deals with his faded career. Both actors are in top form here, and the usual Tarantino style and subversion are on ample display. There is a subplot occurring simultaneously involving Cliff’s new neighbor Sharton Tate (Margot Robbie) and Charles Manson’s young hippie clan living on Spahn Ranch. It takes a while for the 2 stories to completely gel, and as a result the movie can feel a little disjointed at times, but the wholly unexpected ending makes it payoff. How much you enjoy this movie will likely depend on how much you enjoy QT’s films in general. I wouldn’t say it isn’t his best, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. ★★★★

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese is back with a very different sort of mob epic than he is known for. Sure, there’s still backstabbing, infighting, and more than a hit or two, but this movie is more somber and reflective than Goodfellas or Casino. We open on Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) who are driving to a wedding in Michigan with their wives. Along the way, Frank reminisces about how he worked his way up from a meat truck driver to a made man working with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The entire cast shines, as does the digital de-aging technology used to allow the same actors to play the younger versions of themselves. There is a certain hazy artificiality to it, but one could say the same of our own memories, which makes it feel somewhat apt for the story. There isn’t any of the glamour associated with the mafia life that is present in most other similar movies, including Scorsese’s own. Instead, we focus on how choosing to lead such a life leads to isolation and regret, for those who live long enough to reflect back on it. With it’s themes of coming to terms with getting older, it’s a surprisingly sad movie. And while it doesn’t feel like it’s Scorsese’s best, it may be one of his most personal. ★★★★


Not many comic book movies aspire to be more than popcorn entertainment, so when one does, it’s bound to garner a lot of attention, as evidenced by the $1 billion global box office and 11 Academy Award nominations Joker has earned. Covering the origin story of DC Comics’ most popular villain, this movie takes a more dark and serious tone than what the public has come to expect from these kinds of movies, for better and for worse. Joaquin Phoenix is mostly very good in the title role, though at times overacting at least a little, and the movie looks great throughout. It’s also nice to see this sort of mass market entertainment attempt to tackle some thornier issues, it’s just a shame it hasn’t done so more convincingly. As we follow Arthur Fleck’s change into the Joker, and the simmering rage it brings out among many of Gotham City’s citizens, something about it all just rings a little hollow. Themes of mental health and class division are brought up, but aside from throwing out the idea that cutting psychiatric care funding is bad, nothing is really said about any of them. In the end, it’s a revenge horror movie that thinks it’s smarter than it is, and which, while certainly entertaining, doesn’t deserve the amount of accolades it is receiving, excepting for Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score and Lawrence Sher’s cinematography. ★★★


American Factory


A shuttered General Motors plant in Ohio is purchased by a Chinese auto-glass company, bringing jobs back to a town that had been struggling for years. Of course, they don’t pay nearly as much as employees were used to getting under GM, and the Chinese owner is surprised to learn just how differently his new American workforce views their relationship with their employer. This culture clash sets up a fascinating documentary that gives viewers an inside look of the struggles facing factory workers in the United States as we head into the 2020’s and contrasts that experience with highly-regimented, almost cult-like operation of a similar facility in China. It adds up to a somewhat bleak, but absolutely vital viewing experience. ★★★★



In 1968, actress Judy Garland (a superb Renée Zellweger), finds herself effectively homeless and struggling to maintain custody of her 2 young children. She agrees to perform a series of concerts in London to help get herself back to financial stability, but has to deal with the effects of years of alcohol and drug-addiction brought about by the abusive treatment she received working for MGM head Louis B. Mayer as a young girl. There are some moments of beauty and joy scattered throughout the movie, but otherwise this is a major downer of a film. It flashes back and forth between her time in London and at MGM, and shows us a woman who has been beaten down but is still trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to achieve her goals. Ms. Zellweger absolutely nails the part, and really makes you feel every heartbreak right along with her. It’s an overwhelmingly sad story, and one you won’t soon forget. ★★★★



Netflix has managed to get 2 films into the Best Animated Feature category this year, including this unique spin on the origins of Santa Claus. As a result of his incredibly poor performance at the postal academy, Jesper is sent to establish mail service in the town of Smeerensburg, far above the Arctic Circle. The town is largely built-up of 2 families, who are involved in a never-ending feud with each other, but Jesper does find some allies in a dispirited local teacher and a lonely old toymaker named, you guessed it, Klaus. This trio attempts to bring kindness back into their fellow townspeoples’ lives and in the process manage to create a very special tradition. The 2D art style is lovely to look at, and fits the tone of the movie like a glove. It is questionable how much we really needed a new take on this topic, given that Santa is already a piece of pretty well-established folklore, but it’s a sweet story, that should entertain parents just as well as kids, and should leave the little ones (and maybe a few adults) with some valuable life lessons. If Netflix’s goal was to create a movie that subscribers would happily watch every Christmas, I would have to say that they succeeded. ★★★★

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