Oscars: Read Hollywood Reporter's Reviews of the Best Picture Nominees

6:59 AM 1/13/2020

by Alexandra Del Rosario

From 'Parasite' to '1917,' read what The Hollywood Reporter's critics thought about the titles vying for the 2020 Academy Awards' highest prize.

From left: 'The Irishman,' '1917,' 'Parasite,' 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' and 'Marriage Story'
From left: 'The Irishman,' '1917,' 'Parasite,' 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' and 'Marriage Story'
Courtesy of Films

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominees for the top best picture prize on Monday morning. 

Topping the nominations was Joker, tallying a total of 11 nominations for the 2020 Oscars. The Irishman, 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trail behind with 10 nominations each. Also making the cut for the best picture prize are Parasite and Ford v Ferrari. Jojo Rabbit, Little Women and Marriage Story are also in the best picture race. 

With such a stacked category, The Hollywood Reporter's critics' reviews can serve as a guide to all the nominated movies. From "a visual knockout" to "unbearably tender," here's what THR's film critics thought about the year's top films. 

  • 'Ford v Ferrari'

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    THR's Todd McCarthy aptly dubs James Mangold's racing drama "a well-built vehicle in every respect that should make a good run through theaters and have a substantial home-viewing afterlife."

    The film sees Christian Bale and Matt Damon as racing legends Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby, respectively, in their efforts to win big at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    Ford v Ferrari features a narrative structure that allows viewers to immerse themselves without drag, he writes. McCarthy also notes that Bale and Damon lend themselves to the racing world roles, making for a believable relationship between Miles and Shelby. 

    "Bale and Damon seem enthusiastically immersed in the colorful characters they play here and they spar well together very engagingly, both when in cahoots and at odds," he writes. 

  • 'The Irishman'

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Martin Scorsese brought together Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci for his three-and-a-half hour film The Irishman. THR's David Rooney calls the Taxi Driver director's latest "a sprawling gangland saga that's by turns flinty, amusing, richly nostalgic."

    Scorsese's film centers on Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a hitman conflicted between his loyalties to labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) and mob boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci). In his review, Rooney praises the Netflix film for effective cinematography and finessed editing, dubbing it a "beautifully crafted piece of deluxe cinema." 

    But despite the film's leads, engaging storyline and finessed editing, Rooney notes that the film does see star power wasted in less-than-fleshed-out characters, including those for Harvey Keitel and Bobby Cannavale. 

    Lastly, Rooney explains that the film's length happens to be more of a weakness than strength, noting that "the movie works best when it remains tightly focused on the three central figures of Frank, Russell and Jimmy."

  • 'Jojo Rabbit'

    Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

    Taika Waititi's Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit is up for six categories, including best picture and best film editing. But while the film may be all fun and games, McCarthy writes that it's "a Holocaust-focused comic crowd-pleaser that won't please all crowds."

    The film sees Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo Betzler, a 10-year-old who finds solace in his imaginary best friend, Adolf (Waititi). The boy must deal with conflicting emotions and motives when he learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. 

    "It’s by turns rude, flippant and aggressive, sometimes laced with clever wordplay and not overly sentimental, neither with the kids nor at the end, despite the built-in potential for it," McCarthy notes. "(Waititi) manifestly loves to show off his cleverness, to pose, to grandstand. Still, as did Chaplin, he leaves plenty of room on this occasion for his young co-star to excel and fully remain at the center of the story."

  • 'Joker'

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

    In Todd Phillips' villain origin story Joker, Joaquin Phoenix does some heavy lifting, Rooney writes

    A dive into the notable comic book villain's descent into madness, Joker sees Phoenix in violent fits of rage and insanity as he fashions himself physically and emotionally into Batman's enemy. 

    "What's most noteworthy about this gritty entry in the DC canon and the lead actor's sensational performance is the pathos he brings to a pathetically disenfranchised character," Rooney writes. "This is Phoenix's film, and he inhabits it with an insanity by turns pitiful and fearsome in an out-there performance that's no laughing matter."

    Additionally, Rooney notes that Phillips' more experimental take on a comic book film can appeal to viewers beyond just the DC fanatics.  

  • 'Little Women'

    Wilson Webb

    When the Oscars come around, can Greta Gerwig's Little Women take home the big prize?

    Rooney writes that Gerwig's star-studded adaptation "brings freshness, vitality and emotional nuance to source material which has been etched for generations into the popular imagination, shaking up the chronology to reinvigorate the plot's familiar beats."

    The only woman-directed title up for best picture, Little Women sees Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen as the iconic March girls, who find their way in the world. Gerwig remixes the classic with themes and messages that resonate with today's mindset, Rooney notes.

    "Gerwig skillfully navigates the line between respecting the story's old-fashioned bones while illuminating the modernity of its proto-feminist perspective, only occasionally leaning into speechy advocacy of a woman's right to self-actualization beyond marriage," he writes. 

    The film features terrific performances, nuanced by "disarming grace and humor," by Ronan and Pugh, who each received nominations for their work in the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel. 

  • 'Marriage Story'

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story "puts you through the wringer, but leaves you exhilarated at having witnessed a filmmaker and his actors surpass themselves," writes THR's Jon Frosch.

    The director's latest sees Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a struggling playwright and his actress wife work their way through a tough, bi-coastal divorce. Frosch praises Driver, Johansson and Laura Dern (who plays Johansson's Los Angeles divorce attorney) for their solid performances. 

    "(Baumbach's) is a tough piece of work, steeped in pain that feels wincingly immediate and unsparing in its willingness to observe, at sometimes startling emotional proximity, good people at their worst," he writes. 

  • 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

    Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures

    Will a movie about Hollywood take home the industry's most coveted prize this awards season? 

    Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood brings Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio together for his own reimagining of late '60s Tinseltown and the Manson murders. Rooney writes that the film can be "uneven, unwieldy in its structure," but also serves as a disarming and characteristically subversive love letter to the industry. 

    "What Tarantino really gets off on here is playfully re-creating the magic of Hollywood 50 years ago," he writes. 

    Rooney also lauds the performances by the film's leading men, noting that DiCaprio adds soul to Rick Dalton's vanity and makes for a more engaging journey to the actor's success. On the other hand, Pitt lends his cool and "self-satisfied" swagger to his confident Cliff Booth. 

  • 'Parasite'

    Courtesy of Neon and CJ Entertainment

    Bong Joon Ho's Parasite, which made history as South Korea's first ever Golden Globe win, takes a riveting and fast-paced take on the class war. THR's Stephen Dalton notes that Bong's latest film "packs a timely punch that will resonate in our financially tough, politically polarized times."

    Parasite revolves around members of a lower-class family who manage to infiltrate a higher-class household by filling in the cracks in latter's domestic staff and creating openings when possible. Dalton notes that the film takes a bit to get into the meat of its twisted, unexpected narrative, but when it arrives, it does so with full thrust.

    "Parasite peaks during its lively mid-section as a fast-paced, black-hearted, Coens-esque farce before climaxing with a chaotic orgy of vengeful violence," Dalton writes. "Bong then makes the film’s class war subtext concrete with a bloody struggle for survival that leaves no one holding the moral high ground."

    Dalton also lauds the ensemble for solid performances and the team behind the camera, Hong Kyung-pyo and Lee Ha-jun, for the polished work that adds to Parasite's hold over audiences. 

  • '1917'

    Universal Pictures

    McCarthy summarizes his opinions on Sam Mendes' 1917 into three words: A visual knockout.

    Set in the midst of World War I, 1917 follows two English soldiers as they traverse no-man's-land to deliver a message for the army colonel calling off the next morning's attacks. The film features a star-studded cast, including Colin Firth, George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman and Benedict Cumberbatch. 

    McCarthy writes that the film's seemingly singular take makes Mendes' and Roger Deakins' work an unquestionable example of great cinematography and camera operating.

    "Like trailblazers in any realm of endeavor, they set themselves a challenge and figured out a way to pull it off, and the result is magnificent by any standard," he writes. 

    The critic also notes that while 1917 invokes previous war movies, including Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jack and Saving Private Ryan, "the new film outdoes them all in terms of absolute immersion in an inescapable environment, one dominated by misery and the continuous threat of death by any number of means."