The Oscars Homestretch: '1917' Is on Top as Voting Begins

The Oscars Homestretch: '1917' Is on Top as Voting Begins

January 30, 2020

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It’s still January, but it’s almost time to bring this circus to an end. Oscar voting begins on Thursday and ends only five days later, next Tuesday. Only 11 of the 41 official Academy members’ screenings remain in Los Angeles, and only three short-film screenings remain in New York.

The Nominees Luncheon has already happened; the indie contingent is back from Sundance; and three of the four major Hollywood guilds — the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild — have handed out their awards.

In the last week, we’ve learned a few more things as we head into the lightning round of voting. For instance:

“1917” looks like a solid frontrunner.

Sam Mendes’ World War I epic won the Producers Guild Award on Jan. 18 and the Directors Guild Award on Jan. 25. Those two awards, the two most reliable Oscar predictors, should be enough to make it a clear favorite.

In the 30 years that both groups have been giving out awards, they’ve honored the same film 22 times, and 17 of those have gone on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. (The five that didn’t: “Apollo 13,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “La La Land” and “Gravity,” though that last film tied with Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave” at the DGA.)

More to the point: In the 10 years since the Academy and the Producers Guild both moved to 10 nominees and to the preferential system of counting votes, the PGA and DGA have agreed seven times (eight if you count the “Gravity”/”12 Years” tie) and correctly predicted the Oscar winner six of those times.

Throw in the Golden Globe Award for drama film, and the statistics get even more formidable. And if “1917” wins the British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) on Sunday, as it most likely will, all the stats will point to an Oscar win.

And yet the race doesn’t really feel solid.

Despite the stats, though, this has been an unsettled year. And fans of Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” can point to the example of five of the last seven years, when Best Picture and Best Director went to different films.

The list: “Argo” for picture and “Life of Pi” for director in 2013; “12 Years a Slave” for picture and “Gravity” for director in 2014; “Spotlight” for picture and “The Revenant” for director in 2016; “Moonlight” for picture and “La La Land” for director in 2017; “Green Book” for picture and “Roma” for director in 2019.

In every case, the bigger, more complicated movie won for director while the smaller, often actor-driven film won for picture. And while that kind of split would favor “1917” for director, it leaves an opening for “Parasite” for picture, particularly since that film won the SAG ensemble award.

I wrote about this last week, and about how the biggest obstacle in the way of “Parasite” is that it is a certain winner in the Best International Feature Film category, which is a way for voters to give it a kind of best-picture prize. Its chances would have looked better if Bong had prevailed at the DGA, but it can’t be written off even now.

Something funny is going on at the Annie Awards.

ASIFA-Hollywood, the organization that presents the Annie Awards, reworked its voting rules a few years ago when Disney stopped submitting its films and withdrew financial support after years in which DreamWorks Animation was curiously dominant (with, for instance, “Kung Fu Panda” winning 10 awards and “WALL-E” being shut out completely). At the time, it emerged that DWA paid for memberships for almost all of its employees, padding the voter rolls with loyalists.

DWA and Disney do not currently pay for ASIFA memberships for their employees, according to those aware of the company policies, but there’s a new kid in town in the animation game — Netflix. And Netflix films and television productions completely dominated the Annie Awards on Saturday night, with “Klaus” winning seven awards, “I Lost My Body” winning three and Netflix picking up the lion’s share of awards in the television categories, as well.

It felt like an old-style Annie Award party-line vote, which means that “Klaus” may not be the Oscar frontrunner that those results would otherwise suggest.

The Writers Guild might help clear a few things up, but then again it might not.

The last of the major Hollywood guilds, the Writers Guild of America, is handing out its awards on Saturday in simultaneous ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York. But the WGA occupies an odd position on the guild circuit because it restricts its awards to screenplays written under WGA contracts or those of related international guilds, which means some Oscar contenders (and nominees) are ineligible.

This year, that includes Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” which is one of the Oscar frontrunners in the Best Original Screenplay category. With that script out of the running, a win for “Parasite,” “1917” or “Marriage Story” won’t be nearly as significant in predicting the Oscars.

On the other hand, the top contenders in the Oscars’ Best Adapted Screenplay category — “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Little Women” and “Joker” — are all on the WGA ballot. This race could be one to keep an eye on to determine if Greta Gerwig can keep up the winning streak she began last Saturday at the Scripter Awards.

Everybody is fried.

We already knew this, but it was reinforced even more strongly after having to follow five simultaneous awards shows on Saturday night and after talking to people at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon on Monday: The shortened awards season has drained everybody as it hurtles toward the earliest-ever Feb. 9 Oscars.

Was that the reason for the disappointingly low turnout of actors at the luncheon? It was certainly a factor. Where the annual event usually assembles a full slate of five nominees from at least one of the four acting categories, this year it drew two of the five Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominees and three of the five in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Of the 19 acting nominees (Scarlett Johansson took two slots), 10 of them made it to the lunch and nine did not, a fact that did not go unnoticed in the room.

So now we’ve got the Visual Effects Society Awards on Wednesday, the Writers Guild and the Art Directors Guild on Saturday, BAFTA (and the Super Bowl) on Sunday. And then, suddenly, it’ll be Oscar week. And yes, we’re all fried.

All 38 2020 Oscar-Nominated Features, Ranked Worst to Best (Photos)

  • The Oscar nominations are hard to keep up with, even for those of us who try, and every year brings surprise nominations, unthinkable snubs and a series of films that, darn it, we haven’t all been able to catch up with. Watching all the feature films nominated at the 92nd Academy Awards is a time-consuming task, and mainlining all these movies doesn’t always paint a clear picture of what the Academy actually likes. A few of these nominees are practically inexplicable. Quite a few of the nominees are technically impressive but thematically empty (or troublesome). Some are merely mediocre, except for that one incredible, Oscar-worthy element. And, mercifully, quite a few others are truly brilliant from beginning to end.

  • 38. “The Lion King” 

    Nomination: Best Visual Effects 

    Jon Favreau’s remake of the animated classic “The Lion King” offers uncannily realistic CG-animation, but at the sacrifice of the entire story. The animated cast is stiff and unemotional, robbing the tragedy of its power, and the staging denies even the film’s zippiest musical number its power to captivate. The temptation to give “The Lion King” bonus points for technical wizardry fades quickly, and all that remains is a tedious, lifeless remake with no new take on the material.


  • 37. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” 

    Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects 

    The (allegedly) final installment in the official “Star Wars” saga is an overstuffed mess that bends over backwards (and breaks) to hastily rewrite backstories and then bring them to an epic conclusion, even though the frantic pacing and half-developed storylines had no opportunity to take hold, let alone resonate. A few memorable moments and characters can’t compensate for the slapdash editing, underdeveloped character arcs and seemingly important moments that, instead, read as merely laughable.


  • 36. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” 

    Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling 

    Aggressively silly but, at least, somewhat aware of its camp value, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” finds Angelina Jolie returning to her iconic role. Unfortunately she’s written out of significant chunks of the movie, forcing the preposterous storyline (involving faery-poisoning flowers and, in the film’s most baffling moment, its pipe organ delivery system) to struggle, and fail, to capture our imagination without her. Michelle Pfeiffer, as the villainous queen, appears to be having fun, and the scene where she and Jolie trade catty barbs over a dinner table is an undeniable highlight.


  • 35. “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design 

    Sometimes movies are less than the sum of their parts, and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” is one of them. Masterful production design and memorable performances can’t prevent the film from feeling like a shiftless tourist attraction featuring Tarantino’s favorite 1960s obsessions. The film’s unapologetic adoration of male artists who put women in danger — those men, in the film’s ugly climax, are given a contrived excuse to indulge in their violence and get celebrated for it — comes across as unintentionally disturbing. Impressive in fits and starts, “Once Upon a Time” ultimately seems misguided, mean-spirited and immature.


  • 34. “Richard Jewell” 

    Nomination: Best Supporting Actress 

    In many respects, “Richard Jewell,” Clint Eastwood’s down-to-earth biopic about a man who stopped a terrorist bombing only to be falsely accused of the crime, is a smart and finely acted drama. Paul Walter Hauser brings depth and sympathy to a man who otherwise could have seem merely naive, and Oscar-nominee Kathy Bates is captivatingly dignified in undignified situations. Unfortunately, the film’s entire raison d’être — to expose and decry character assassination in the media — is undermined by the arch and two-dimensionally villainous portrayal of reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde). Eastwood’s movie turns into the very thing it rails against.

    Warner Bros.

  • 33. “Bombshell” 

    Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Makeup and Hairstyling 

    Jay Roach’s exposé of the sexual harassment claims at Fox News boasts impeccable makeup and excellent performances by Charlize Theron (as Megyn Kelly), John Lithgow (as Roger Ailes) and Margot Robbie (as a composite character based on multiple real-life Fox News employees). But from the outset, the film struggles to find a meaningful perspective, asking the audience to detest Fox News while simultaneously sympathizing with its figureheads. Either Roach’s film is trying to humanize Fox News for audience members who don’t respect the network, or to attract Fox News fans and then undermine their faith in the network. “Bombshell” doesn’t seem to function either way.

    Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Lionsgate

  • 32. “Frozen II” 

    Nomination: Best Original Song 

    The follow-up to Disney’s breakout smash “Frozen” has the same characters but little of the subversive charm and only one memorable musical number. (“Lost in the Woods,” which isn’t even nominated.) “Frozen II” sends the ensemble into a mystical forest, where two feuding factions have been trapped for a generation, and where Elsa (Idina Menzel) learns the truth behind her identity. It’s certainly better than last year’s other disappointing and underdeveloped Disney sequel (*cough* “The Rise of Skywalker” *cough*), and some of the animation is eye-poppingly beautiful, but it never presents a convincing argument for why this chapter of the story needed to be told (apart from the money, of course).


  • 31. “Breakthrough” 

    Nomination: Best Original Song 

    Roxann Dawson’s adaptation of the memoir “The Impossible” is a modest but effective melodrama about a teenage boy who falls into a frozen lake, was underwater for 15 minutes and miraculously survived. Anchored by a strong performance by Chrissy Metz, and a fine supporting turn by Topher Grace as the family’s young pastor, “Breakthrough” is one of the strongest faith-based dramas to emerge in recent years, but one’s mileage may vary depending upon personal beliefs.

    Allen Fraser/20th Century Fox

  • 30. “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” 

    Nomination: Best Animated Feature 

    The third and, by far, the least interesting installment of Dean DeBlois’ “How to Train Your Dragon” series finally answers the question of why there used to be dragons in the world and why there aren’t any now. But after the triumphant and dramatically intense conclusion to “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “The Hidden World” doesn’t make much of an impact. It’s another entertaining feature, but it’s pulling all of its emotional punches, and so this formerly exceptional franchise ends with a weary sigh instead of a mighty roar.

    DreamWorks Animation

  • 29. “Joker” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing 

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Todd Phillips’ take on the DC supervillain “Joker” is how unremarkable it is. Aside from Joaquin Phoenix’s all-or-nothing performance, “Joker” is a loving pastiche to the films of Martin Scorsese — “King of Comedy,” in particular — but it has little to add to Scorsese’s perspective on captivating antiheroes. Phillips’ film portrays Arthur Fleck, soon to be a costumed murderer, as a victim of a failed social system but never ventures deeper into how that system works, or even what made Scorsese’s approach so radical. The seriousness of “Joker” is all window-dressing, like a C+ term paper submitted in a fancy binder. But taken strictly as a supervillain origin story, it’s a mostly satisfying genre movie.

    Warner Bros.

  • 28. “Harriet” 

    Nominations: Best Actress, Best Original Song 

    It’s hard to believe that there had never been a major motion picture made about Harriet Tubman before Kasi Lemmons’ biopic. Perhaps that’s why the film feels conventional; it’s the old-fashioned, slick and fawning production Tubman probably should have received years ago. Cynthia Erivo delivers a forceful performance, only occasionally hindered by arch writing, and Lemmons’ take on Tubman as a slightly larger-than-life folk hero — who essentially has her own superpowers — is a bit simplistic but effectively rousing.

    Focus Features

  • 27. “Toy Story 4” 

    Nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song 

    Ambitious but undercooked, “Toy Story 4” finds Woody (Tom Hanks) on an all-new adventure with an all-new toy, Forky (Tony Hale), a spork who doesn’t understand how he came to life or why he’s supposed to act like a toy. Kudos to Pixar for finally addressing some of the weirder elements of the “Toy Story” franchise, and for a well-intentioned subplot about disabled toys trying to be loved, but it’s too easy to interpret the themes of “Toy Story 4” in unsettling ways for the film to live up to its nuanced predecessors. Woody genuinely seems to be denying Forky his right to his own identity, and in most films Woody would learn a valuable lesson about letting other people be who they are, but instead the film argues the best thing Forky can be is defined by someone else’s expectations.


  • 26. “Ad Astra” 

    Nominations: Best Sound Mixing 

    James Gray’s expensive art-house sci-fi spectacle plays like “Apocalypse Now” meets “2001: A Space Odyssey,” without the extreme innovation that came with either of those classic films. Still, the story of an astronaut (Brad Pitt) who ventures to the edge of the solar system to contact and then retrieve his missing father is an impressively slick production, filled with astounding imagery and unexpectedly pulpy action sequences. At its best, “Ad Astra” is a rarefied space opera. At its worst, it’s an overly languid, albeit stunning VFX showcase.


  • 25. “I Lost My Body” 

    Nomination: Best Animated Feature 

    A severed hand squirms its way across the city, trying to reconnect with the rest of its body in an animated film unlike anything else in theaters in 2019. Those bizarre and distinctive sequences show “I Lost My Body” at its finest, but it’s also a somewhat familiar and oddly conceived drama about the young man who will eventually lose his hand, as he stalks a girl he kinda-sorta met while delivering pizzas. About one-third of “I Lost My Body” is absolute genius. The other two-thirds are a more conventional tale, occasionally punctuated by inspired animation and sound design.


  • 24. “The Edge of Democracy” 

    Nomination: Best Documentary Feature 

    The swift rise and almost immediate downfall of democracy in Brazil is the subject of a highly informative, deeply unsettling documentary which, for American audiences, offers disturbing and specific parallels to the contemporary political landscape. But most fascinatingly, those parallels aren’t neat and tidy, and aspects of the Brazilian government’s slide into absolute corruption seem to apply to either side of the American political landscape. “The Edge of Democracy” is a eulogy for a country, but although its commentary is valuable, its delivery is often depressive and dreary, which makes the pacing drag and leaves some of the messaging lost in a narrative haze.

    Orlando Brito/Netflix

  • 23. “Judy” 

    Nominations: Best Actress, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

    Renée Zellweger delivers a phenomenal performance as Judy Garland, giving some of the last live performances of her career, in an otherwise well-intentioned but unremarkable biopic. Rupert Goold’s film tries to explore Garland’s early life as a child star, abused by the studio system and addicted to drugs at an extremely early age, and juxtapose that tragedy with the undeniably brilliant but absolutely frayed human being Garland eventually became. Every element of “Judy” seems designed to bolster Zellweger’s talent, and succeeds, but at the cost of feeling unnecessarily slight.

    David Hindley/LD/Roadside

  • 22. “The Two Popes” 

    Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay 

    Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins star as, respectively, Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI, in a stagy two-hander designed to let two great actors talk about serious issues — faith, politics, fascism, church scandals — with witty dialogue and clever asides. Sometimes, “The Two Popes” feels absolutely sublime, with both Pryce and Hopkins at the top of their game, biting into the juicy roles of popes with opposing views. But for all the film’s heavy talk, it skirts some of the most pressing issues surrounding the two Popes and the Catholic church, opting instead of let the audience feel good about this friendship rather than experience complicated emotions about the Catholic church’s role in horrifying cover-up of sexual abuses.


  • 21. “Les Misérables” 

    Nomination: Best International Feature 

    The French submission this year is not another adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, but does take place in the area where he wrote it. Ladj Ly’s absorbing drama is about corrupt cops struggling to keep order amidst a variety of complex social tensions. When altercation results in a child being shot, the cops will do whatever it takes to avoid the consequences.”Les Misérables” has many structural similarities to Antoine Fuqua’s “Training Day,” for better and for worse, but the searing conclusion makes up for the familiarity and brings the film’s title back into question in a confrontational, troubling and fascinating way.


  • 20. “Marriage Story” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score 

    Noah Baumbach’s stressful drama about the dissolution of a marriage features nuanced performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, as the couple in question, and a series of distinctive and memorable supporting turns from Ray Liotta, Alan Alda and Laura Dern as their opinionated attorneys. Straightforward in its delivery, sometimes subtle in its execution, “Marriage Story” works best as a slice-of-life drama about falling out of love and into a heartless legal system. Sometimes, however, it slides into cloying melodrama and overwrought theatricality, and the unique backdrop of the affluent entertainment industry makes the film sometimes feel alienating when, it seems, its aim is to connect on a universal level.


  • 19. “Corpus Christi” 

    Nominations: Best International Feature 

    The Polish Oscar submission is an ethically complicated take on a seemingly Capra-esque story: An ex-con, who’s unable to enroll in the seminary, impersonates a priest in a small town and ultimately does more good than harm. On paper, “Corpus Christi” should be a crowd-pleaser: It’s filled with love and redemption and mistaken identities and a small-town healed by an outsider with good intentions. But Jan Komasa’s feature is also solemn and earnest about its moral, ethical and faith-based questions, and avoids coming to any trite conclusions. It’s a smart, absorbing, impressive drama.

    Film Movement

  • 18. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” 

    Nomination: Best Supporting Actor 

    Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” isn’t a biopic about Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s show host. Nor is it even so much a biopic about the film’s protagonist, reporter Lloyd Vogel (a fictionalized version of “Esquire” writer Tom Junod). At heart, it’s an episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” designed specifically for adults, to remind them — just as Mr. Rogers reminded children every day — that it’s OK to feel what you’re feeling, and to be present for and understanding about the other human beings in your life. Unabashedly good-natured but genuinely affecting and sincere, “A Beautiful Day” relies on Tom Hanks’ nuanced performance as Rogers. He seems saintly, but pay close attention and you can tell that all his seemingly boundless kindness is, if nothing else, an awful lot of work.


  • 17. “For Sama” 

    Nomination: Best Documentary Feature 

    A Syrian journalist makes a documentary about the horrifying air strikes and encroaching Russian war machine in Aleppo. But “For Sama” is not an educational film for the masses, it’s a letter to an infant daughter, from a mother who herself is struggling to decide whether the film is about how her parents tried to stand up for what’s right or how they failed. “For Sama” takes a harrowing large-scale crisis and whittles it down to an intimate family drama, set against a backdrop of death and fear. It’s a gut-punch movie, but its lack of subtlety is wholly justified, its imagery is staggering and disturbing, and its tale is undeniably powerful.


  • 16. “Ford v Ferrari” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Editing 

    James Mangold’s finely tuned biopic about automobile designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and mechanic/race-car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), who helped Ford compete against Ferrari at Le Mans, is a slick sports story welded onto a smart drama about talented individuals fighting against conventional corporate marketing mentalities. It’s also one of the most positive and healthy portrayals of masculinity in years. Sharply edited and thrilling, “Ford v Ferrari” is just as precisely calibrated and powerful as the cars it lovingly photographs.

    Merrick Morton/Fox

  • 15. “Missing Link” 

    Nomination: Best Animated Feature 

    In many respects “Missing Link” is the slightest film in LAIKA’s impressive slate of stop-motion animated films. It’s a whimsical adventure about a turn-of-the-century explorer who befriends Bigfoot and tries to bring him to Mount Everest to meet his estranged yeti kinfolk, who learns the importance of friendship along the way, nowhere near as creepy or eccentric as “Coraline,” “Paranorman,” “The Boxtrolls” or “Kubo and the Two Strings.” But that simple, sensitive storyline masks just what a flabbergastingly complicated production “Missing Link” is, with even minor dialogue scenes produced with an eye for incredibly subtle humor and dazzling visual detail. It’s one of the most deceptively impressive movies of the year.

    Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures

  • 14. “1917” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects 

    Sam Mendes’ World War I epic is an overwhelming piece of sensationalist filmmaking, depicting a typical, formulaic men-on-a-mission B-movie storyline as though it was (mostly) one, dynamic, endlessly complicated and breathtaking shot. “1917” seems to be aiming for immersion, and at that it fails miserably: The gimmicky showiness is always on full display, overwhelming our eyes, and evoking first-person video game storytelling throughout the whole journey. (Don’t forget to search the shack! It’ll solve a puzzle later!) But despite its artificiality and relatively shallow ideas about war, it’s a dazzling spectacle, with thrills that most bigger, flashier, more expensive whiz-bang blockbusters couldn’t come close to providing in 2019.


  • 13. “Knives Out” 

    Nomination: Best Original Screenplay 

    Rian Johnson’s ode to all-star Hollywood ensemble flicks of old, and to the grand tradition of Agatha Christie-esque murder mysteries, assembles probably the most impressive cast of the year — Jamie Lee Curtis! Toni Collette! Michael Shannon! Chris Evans! Don Johnson! More! — to play rich a-holes who each have a perfectly good motive for killing their family’s rich patriarch. And embroiled in the whole shocking mess is the old man’s seemingly innocent nurse, played by Ana de Armas, and Daniel Craig’s somewhat cartoonish Southern-gentleman detective. Deftly conceived and pointedly written, “Knives Out” is simultaneously old-fashioned and refreshingly relevant to modern issues.

    Claire Folger/Lionsgate

  • 12. “American Factory” 

    Nomination: Best Documentary Feature 

    The story of Chinese company Fuyao buying an American factory in Ohio begins as an optimistic drama about bridging divides between cultures and economies, but as “American Factory” progresses, we learn that was just wishful thinking. Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s rich, layered and captivating documentary catalogues the way capitalistic motivations completely undermine good intentions, and how the eagerness to solve immediate economic problems can open doors for greater calamities down the road. Sobering, captivating, deeply sad and borderline profound.


  • 11. “Rocketman” 

    Nominations: Best Original Song

    Dexter Fletcher’s biopic about music legend Elton John hits many of the same beats as other, more conventional stories about real-life performers, but by framing John’s life as a glitzy, full-blown, old-fashioned movie musical, “Rocketman” eludes cinematic conventionality by leaning into dynamic artificiality. Taron Egerton goes full tilt as Elton John, singing and dancing and weeping his way through every gigantic moment in the singer’s gigantic life, and the fabulous soundtrack, dance numbers and supporting cast keep step with him every inch of the way. “Rocketman” is a delirious delight.


  • 10. “Honeyland” 

    Nominations: Best International Feature, Best Documentary Feature 

    Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s “Honeyland” is the first film ever nominated for both Best International Feature and Best Documentary Feature, but it’s easy to see why. This sumptuously photographed documentary about Macedonian beekeepers couldn’t have told a more beautiful story if it had been fully scripted, and no amount of artificial cinematic finesse could have made it seem more natural. “Honeyland” follows Hatidze Muratova, a rural apiarist whose life is changed by a nomadic family moving in next door and threatening her livelihood. Harrowing, lovely, humane filmmaking.


  • 9. “The Irishman” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (x2), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects 

    Martin Scorsese’s epic biopic about mafia hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and his close friendship with, and shocking betrayal of, union legend Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) is as big as any Scorsese film, and not just because it’s over three hours long. Revisiting themes he’s previously explored in “Mean Streets” and “Goodfellas,” but from the perspective of a man nearing the end of his existence, “The Irishman” follows a life of crime all the way into old age, where guilt, shame and ossified behaviors take the ultimate existential toll. Impeccably acted — albeit through sometimes-impressive, sometimes-distracting CG de-aging effects — “The Irishman” quickly established itself as one of the most significant films in Scorsese’s oeuvre, even though it’s hardly the best.


  • 8. “Avengers: Endgame” 

    Nomination: Best Visual Effects 

    The grand cinematic experiment that was the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t always feel impressive anymore; the studio proved that an interconnected series of characters and franchises was manageable, profitable, and capable of telling interesting, sometimes meaningful stories. But no matter how accustomed we’ve come to Marvel’s unique storytelling style, “Endgame” is an undeniable accomplishment, bringing nearly two dozen blockbuster films together into a single, rousing, sometimes daring conclusion that merges disparate genres, combines seemingly disparate story elements, and concluding in one of the grandest action sequences in blockbuster moviemaking history. It’s a miracle that the MCU ever worked. That it could eventually come together in such a beautiful fashion is a legitimate cinematic miracle.


  • 7. “The Cave” 

    Nomination: Best Documentary Feature 

    Feras Fayyad’s utterly absorbing documentary, which takes place almost entirely in a retrofitted underground bunker, tells the story of Dr. Amani Ballour, who’s desperately trying to save lives in Syria during the Russian military strikes. Which would be hard enough, given the life-threatening bombings and ever-dwindling medical resources, but she also has to endure lectures about how she, as a woman, shouldn’t be a doctor at all, no matter how many lives she’s saving. “The Cave” captures the nightmare of the Syrian crisis through the lens of familiar office politics and absurd systemic misogyny, and watching Ballour fight until she can fight no more is an impossibly inspirational, daily act of nobility. Multifaceted, engrossing, absolutely invaluable filmmaking on every level.

    National Geographic

  • 6. “Pain and Glory” 

    Nominations: Best Actor, Best International Feature 

    Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical “Pain and Glory” stars Antonio Banderas as an aging filmmaker, struggling with memories of lost loves and a string of debilitating physical ailments, who reconnects with an estranged former leading man and takes up, seemingly for the hell of it, heroin. Although clearly influenced by Fellini’s “8 1/2,” Almodóvar’s film refrains from self-aggrandizement and seems eager to implode whatever sense of ego the filmmaker has about himself. Playful, sensitive, mournful, “Pain and Glory” gives Banderas one of his finest roles and beautifully avoids all the usual, cloying pitfalls that come with making films about filmmakers, coming to wise conclusions about the way art can be used to treat, explore and share one’s most uncomfortable feelings.

    Sony Pictures Classics

  • 5. “The Lighthouse” 

    Nomination: Best Cinematography 

    Two salty sea-dogs, alone on a tiny island, hating each other’s guts and sneaking off to masturbate and worship a giant lamp at every available opportunity. Say what you will about Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” but it’s not exactly coasting on formula. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give wet, musty, gross and captivating performances as the keepers of a lighthouse, while Jarin Blaschke’s alarmingly beautiful black-and-white cinematography captures their every nervous tic and hallucinogenic fantasy. Equal parts funny and horrifying, “The Lighthouse” is one of the most distinct artistic visions of 2019, and easily the year’s most beautifully photographed motion pictures.

    Eric Chakeen/A24

  • 4. “Klaus” 

    Nomination: Best Animated Feature 

    Everything about Sergio Pablos’s directorial debut feels new and beautiful, from the uncanny hybrid animation style to the storyline, which ostensibly tells the origin of Santa Claus. But you’d never know it from the film’s first act, which begins so far afield from any Christmas story we know that we have no idea how “Klaus” is ever going to get there. But then, in a plot that’s both impressively complicated and absolutely natural, the legend of Santa comes to life via a combination of capitalistic cynicism and genuine love for mankind. The best animated film of 2019 flew under a lot of radars before its Oscar nomination, but it seems destined to go down as an all-time Christmas classic.


  • 3. “Parasite” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing 

    Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is a comedy until it’s a thriller, and a thriller until it’s a tragedy. By running the gamut of cinematic experience, the filmmaker is able to tackle issues of economic disparity more fully than practically any other film in recent memory, keeping the audience perpetually on pins and needles, uncertain of what could possibly come next. A poor family begins conning a rich family into hiring each and every one of them as servants, as they conspire daily against their ignorant employers, but the title doesn’t necessarily refer to who you initially think it does. Absolutely vicious, incisive filmmaking, impeccably acted and realized at every level of production.


  • 2. “Jojo Rabbit” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing 

    Joining in the grand tradition of subversive comedies about fascism, à la “The Great Dictator” and “The Producers,” Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” follows a young, true-believer Nazi through the waning days of World War II, when the fog of propaganda begins to lift and young Jojo (Roman Griffith Davis) gradually realizes he’s been indoctrinated into an absurd, evil regime. As he begins to interact with a young Jewish girl his mother has been hiding in their crawl spaces, his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Waititi) devolves from a lovable father figure into the demonic psychological disease he really is. Dancing precariously on the line between humor and tragedy, “Jojo Rabbit” draws clear parallels between modern political groupthink and the Nazi regime. It’s disturbingly topical, fascinatingly conceived, and beautifully performed by a cast that is, amazingly, all in tune with Waititi’s eerie vision of World War II Germany.

    Fox Searchlight

  • 1. “Little Women” 

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design 

    There had already been three classic adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” before Greta Gerwig got around to it, and yet this new version improves on all of them. Gerwig assembles a perfect cast and reframes each beloved character as the protagonist of their own story, finding dignity within often maligned supporting cast members — and, within its ostensible protagonist Jo (based loosely on Alcott herself), a greater sense of nuance than ever before. Gerwig’s greatest gamble, transforming the narrative into a flashback structure, completely recontextualizes the complex love story at the heart of “Little Women” and applies invaluable emphasis to the creation of “Little Women” itself. Gerwig finds at the heart of Alcott’s book a story about women telling stories about women, confronting mainstream rhetoric about gendered storytelling and compromising for the sake of populism. Gerwig’s “Little Women” is not just “Little Women”; it’s the novel’s cultural significance, distilled into a glorious, inspiring, funny, sad, unforgettable motion picture.


How do this year’s Academy Award contenders stack up against each other?

The Oscar nominations are hard to keep up with, even for those of us who try, and every year brings surprise nominations, unthinkable snubs and a series of films that, darn it, we haven’t all been able to catch up with. Watching all the feature films nominated at the 92nd Academy Awards is a time-consuming task, and mainlining all these movies doesn’t always paint a clear picture of what the Academy actually likes. A few of these nominees are practically inexplicable. Quite a few of the nominees are technically impressive but thematically empty (or troublesome). Some are merely mediocre, except for that one incredible, Oscar-worthy element. And, mercifully, quite a few others are truly brilliant from beginning to end.

Steve Pond