Let’s set aside the fact that this is a prestige war movie, something of a nectar for academy voters. Let’s also set aside that Sam Mendes dedicated the film to his grandfather, who inspired it. The filmmakers spent months speaking to the press about the actual creation of the movie, and “1917” is the rare instance in which the behind-the-scenes stories are actually interesting.
The movie is shot to look as though it’s happening in real time, which required the entire film to be painstakingly outlined beforehand. Mendes and his team set up camp in an enormous field and mapped out the entire film, plunking down different colored flags to show where this actor or that camera should be when shooting commenced. The dialogue was precisely timed; the sets built with a set of strict guidelines in place. The movie is a true technical feat.
Read the full argument: Could ‘1917’ win the Oscar for best picture? The case for Sam Mendes’s WWI drama.
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Ford v Ferrari” isn’t just a thrilling movie. It’s also a sports drama that aims to go further by focusing on the heart and drive of its characters, particularly the friendship between Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby. After seeing it at the Telluride Film Festival, Variety’s Peter Debruge noted that the genre’s best movies “aren’t so much about the sport as they are the personalities, and these two go big with their performances.”
Read the full argument: Could ‘Ford v Ferrari’ win the Oscar for best picture? The case for the Christian Bale vehicle.
Simply put, “Parasite” is one of the year’s best-reviewed movies. It has a 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest number of any best picture nominee. It also took home the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes.
The genre-bending film may be specific to South Korea and Seoul in particular, but its themes about class, struggle and human dignity are universal. “Parasite” received no acting nominations (as tends to be the case with Oscar films featuring predominantly Asian casts), but it made history as the first foreign-language film to win best ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. That considerably boosted its chances for Oscar love come Sunday.
Read the full argument: Could ‘Parasite’ win the Oscar for best picture? The case for Bong Joon-ho’s biting drama.
Aside from the fact that it’s an excellent film, “The Irishman” includes many qualities the academy rewards. It’s directed by a living legend and stars three more in what feels like a final statement of sorts. The entire movie is told from the perspective of the main character, who finds himself at the end of his life, picking out his own casket. As he shares his story, it feels in some ways like a reflection of Scorsese’s own career. The actors he worked with again and again — Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel — are all there. The themes from his former movies — the role of organized crime, the plight of Italian and Irish immigrants, the exploration of Catholicism — are all there. But this time, it holds an added weight.
This movie feels like the work of a director trying to make sense of it all, of his characters’ lives and careers along with his own.
“Jojo Rabbit” won the Toronto International Film Festival’s audience award when it premiered in September, an accolade often used to predict Oscar nominees. Of the past 12 festivals, 11 films that won TIFF’s audience award have also received best picture Oscar nominations; four (“Green Book,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire”) ended up winning.
“Jojo Rabbit’s” feel-good nature also works in its favor, as the academy tends to embrace movies about people overcoming their differences. (For another example of the “we’re not so different, you and I” cliche, consider last year’s best picture winner.) It could also be seen as the film that made supporting actress Scarlett Johansson a double nominee, given that she was all but guaranteed to land a nod for her leading role in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.”
There’s a ton of goodwill for the movie, which received glowing reviews and left many viewers in tears, particularly readers with deeply nostalgic memories of the book from their younger years. It’s also the type of film the academy typically loves: based on a novel; a period piece; a family drama; gorgeous costumes; the presence of Saoirse Ronan (this is her fourth acting nomination by age 25); and Meryl Streep.
Critics loved “Marriage Story,” hailing it as a moving drama that, according to Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, is also an “observant, compassionate film, full of deep feeling and tenderness.” The acting in particular has received plenty of acclaim; the film’s two leads have received several nominations at various award shows for their respective roles. And Laura Dern is already considered the main contender for best supporting actress.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
The academy has a soft spot for movies that present Hollywood in a good light. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of self-adulation? In the past, we’ve seen films such as“Argo” and “The Artist” earn the top prize against arguably better fare, probably because they bathe Tinseltown in a golden light. Well, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” does that and more, correcting a historical atrocity while romanticizing the movie industry of the 1960s. Toss in a few movie stars and killer soundtrack, and we’ve got a real contender on our hands.