CultureMap film critic's guide to the 8 Best Picture Oscar nominees of 2019
The nominations for the 2019 Academy Awards have been revealed, with eight films garnering nods for Best Picture. But are all of them deserving? Take a look back at what CultureMap's film critic, Alex Bentley, had to say about each of the nominees when they were originally released. The Oscars will be handed out on February 24.
I declared Black Panther a contender for the best movie of 2018 when it came out in February, and nothing has changed. It's not going to win simply because it's not your "typical" Oscar movie, but it's a perfect superhero movie that actually has something cogent to say about the real, non-movie world. Director Ryan Coogler and stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita N'Yongo, Letitia Wright, and more have bright futures in front of them.
Writer/director Spike Lee is in peak storytelling form in this film that tells the story of the first African American policeman in Colorado Springs who infiltrated the local KKK organization. It joins a growing line of movies, like Black Panther, that successfully address racial issues and entertain audiences at the same time. It's Lee’s best film in years (he was nominated for both writing and directing), and proof that, given the right story, he still has the ability to be a powerful and insightful filmmaker.
All art is subjective, but even given that, there's no reason that this film belongs among the nominees for Best Picture at the Oscars. Star Rami Malek does give an Oscar-worthy (and nominated) performance as Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, but the film is little more than an excuse to revel in the greatness of Queen's many hits. There's no valuable insight into Queen as a band or Mercury as a person, and the filmmakers include too many cheesy moments for the film to be considered great.
Remember what I said about art being subjective? The Favourite is a supremely strange movie from the king of bizarre filmmaking, Yorgos Lanthimos (nominated for both writing and directing), that won over most other film critics. I found it to be a drag, as Lanthimos and his team are more interested in odd diversions than actually getting to the point. Still, all props go to Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, whose Oscar-nominated performances keep the movie interesting even when it shouldn't be.
Many critics are still standing behind Green Book, but for the life of me, I can't understand why. Directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly (he earned a nomination for the script), the broadness of the film makes it feel like it’s a movie that’s 20-30 years too late. It preaches racial harmony, but through the lens of the white protagonist, one that stands at odds with the nuanced messages of movies like Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman. The strength of nominated actors Mahershala Ali, the favorite to win for Best Supporting Actor, and Viggo Mortensen keep it afloat, but just barely.
The most personal film yet from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón, who's the favorite to win both Best Director and Best Cinematography, is a slow-moving yet engrossing film shot in sumptuous black and white. The mostly plotless film reveals significant developments almost in passing, allowing the focus to remain on the intimacy of the central characters while still acknowledging the importance of bigger things. The compelling story and the astonishing re-creation of a time more than 40 years in the past make it a front-runner to win the whole thing.
A Star is Born
Like most critics, I thought the first 30-45 minutes of A Star is Born was some of the best storytelling of the year. And then writer/director/star Bradley Cooper puts the film into fast-forward, getting away from the personal aspect that made the beginning so great. The story arcs of both Cooper's Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga's Ally (Cooper and his co-writers are nominated) aren't given the depth they deserve, rendering flat what should be an emotional ending. The music, including Best Original Song favorite "Shallow," is deserving of accolades, but the film as a whole is not.
My personal No. 1 movie of the year, Vice features Best Actor nominee Christian Bale at perhaps his career best thanks to his terrifyingly entertaining turn as former Vice President Dick Cheney. He's aided by superb performances by Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams as Lynn Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, and Best Supporting Actor nominee Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, and unique style of writer/director Adam McKay (who's nominated for both), who again tackles serious material in a satirical manner.