All the Oscars 2019 Best Picture nominees, as reviewed by critics

Rappler.com
It's a tight race for the coveted Oscar – but when it comes to reviews, some films have an edge over others

BEST FILM. 8 films compete for the coveted Oscar statuette. Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The 2019 Academy Awards is set for February 24 (February 25, Philippine time), and the world is waiting to see which film will take home the coveted Oscar for best picture.

This year’s best picture nominees make for quite a diverse lineup, with a superhero movie, several biopics, a musical romance, a quirky historical comedy, and a black-and-white family drama among others.

Which of them will take home the best picture title? It’s a tight race but when it comes to reviews, some have an edge over others. These are what the critics have said:

Black Panther

Director Ryan Coogler took Hollywood by storm with his take on Marvel’s Black Panther, a visually stunning film about a mythical, hidden, technologically advanced African kingdom called Wakanda.

The film is centered on the title character, T’Challa, the heir to Wakanda’s throne who takes over as king when his father is assassinated. He is challenged by Killmonger, a US black ops soldier with nefarious intentions who also happens to be T’Challa’s cousin.

The film earned an impressive 7 nominations overall, and made history by becoming the first comic book film to win a best picture nomination. It won top honors at the Screen Actors Guild awards for best ensemble cast.

It was generally loved by critics, who say that it brought the superhero genre to the next level by bringing a fresh new voice to the genre’s formula.

Christopher Orr in his review in The Atlantic said Black Panther is more than just a superhero movie, praising the film’s visuals, production and costume design, and the fight scenes, which he describes as “better than usual.” He also praised Michael B Jordan’s turn as the “vicious yet relatable” villain, and the fact that many of the film’s central characters are women. “This is a film that does not merely pass the Bechtel test, it demolishes it,” he wrote.

Oggz Cruz likewise raved about the film in his review for Rappler, calling it “a rare animal in a jungle full of loud but fleeting blockbusters.” He praised the way the film “takes its sweet time to carve culture, even if it is all fictional,” and said that the film on the whole is more profound than other superhero flicks.

He said that the film is fun and entertaining, and, with its Stan Lee cameo and end credits scene is still very much a Marvel movie. “Coogler however blends much-needed imperative character and overt discourse to all the otherwise routine and colorless fun,” he added.

BlacKkKlansman

In BlacKkKlansman, veteran director Spike Lee turned out a blistering drama based on the real-life tale of a black cop in Colorado who decides to try to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his white partner.

The film – which earned 6 nominations – stars John David Washington (son of two-time Oscar winner Denzel) as Ron Stalwart and Oscar nominee Adam Driver as his partner Flip Zimmerman.

BlacKkKlansman unfolds in the 1970s, but the film ends with images of rallies in Charlottesville two years ago, becoming a searing indictment of divisions in today’s America.

The film was hailed by critics, including Mark Kermode who said in his review for The Guardian that the film was Lee’s best work since his 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls. He praised Washington’s performance, calling it “wonderfully wry and nuanced,” as well as the cinematography of Chayse Irvin and the “note perfect” production and costume design.

“What’s most remarkable is how well Lee balances the tonal shifts, provoking both laughs and gasps with a film built upon dualities: fact and fiction (Stallworth’s story is heavily fictionalized, yet rings “true”); past and present; inside and outside,” he said.

Reviewing for Empire, Helen O’Hara also noted the film’s swaying tone, which she said might not be appreciated by everybody. “But for the most part, the moments of levity serve to keep the bleakness at bay,” she said.

She praised the film and noted its significance in Lee’s larger body of work. “This is vital and timely work that’s up there with [Lee’s] best, with a gut-wrenching sting in the tail,” she wrote.

Bohemian Rhapsody

The biopic about legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury earned a total of 5 nominations, with star Rami Malek a top contender for best actor for his portrayal of Mercury. The film also took home wins at the Golden Globes, but it did not escape scandal. It was directed by Bryan Singer, who is facing a raft of sexual misconduct allegations, some of them involving teenage boys.

Singer was fired shortly before Bohemian Rhapsody wrapped, and has not been involved or even mentioned during the film’s awards season campaigns. But his name remains in the movie’s credits.

At any rate, the film has been met with mixed reviews, though Malek’s performance was met with praise for the most part. In fact, for Roger Ebert, it was about the only part of the film that merited praise.

“The single star of this review is for Malek’s performance,” he said, commending the way Malek “tapped into Mercury’s ferocious energy,” even as he criticized the film’s narrative and, more pointedly, its attitude towards Mercury’s sexuality.

Bohemian Rhapsody is bad in the way a lot of biopics are bad: it’s superficial, it avoids complexity, and the narrative has a connect-the-dots quality. This kind of badness, while annoying, is relatively benign. However, the attitude towards Mercury’s sexual expression is the opposite of benign,” he wrote.

Ann Hornaday, writing for The Washington Post, also shared the opinion that the film is bad, but acknowledged that it is “giddily entertaining” and that it “succeeds simply on the level of pure inexplicable pleasure.”

She goes on to sing praises for Malek’s performance, and said that the final scene is among “the most memorable movie finales in recent memory.”

Bohemian Rhapsody might have started out as an ode to the supernatural talent of one man. It ends as a testament to a band, and simply how good they made their fans feel,” she said.

The Favourite

A film with a decidedly female perspective has not won best picture since Million Dollar Baby in 2005 and The Favourite would be a welcome way to break that streak.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos hired a trio of powerhouse actresses – Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone – to bring to life his feminist reimagining of the life and reign of Britain’s Queen Anne.

Colman plays the ailing, paranoid monarch, while Weisz plays her best friend, advisor and (in the film) lover Lady Sarah, and Stone appears as Abigail, Sarah’s distant cousin looking to move up at court.

What ensues is a dark, farcical yet affecting look at a queen in turmoil, who falls victim to her scheming female companions. It earned 10 nominations, tying with Roma, and all 3 women got Oscar nods.

Rappler’s Cruz called the film “outrageously fun and funny,” commending its clever screenplay and the way it pokes fun at royal extravagance in a hilarious way.

The Favourite, while draped in the predictable extravagance of a costume drama, never sees the need to suffocate itself with rituals and formalities. The film thrives in finding faults in what supposedly are considered as bastions of etiquette and civility,” he wrote.

David Edelstein writing for Vulture said that while the film is “mostly twaddle as history,” it’s “wonderful, nasty fun,” anchored by the strong performance of its 3 central actresses, calling Colman in particular “astonishing.” He also sang praises for the film’s tight script and its pace, saying “Lanthimos should always work at tempos this brisk.”

Green Book

Can a classical black pianist and a rough-and-ready Italian-American bouncer-turned-driver become friends in the 1960s as they travel through the segregated Deep South? Green Book says yes.

The civil rights dramedy, based on the real-life experiences of musician Don Shirley and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, is running behind Roma in most Oscar predictions for best picture honors.

The movie – which explores race relations and questions about identity – soars thanks to its lead actors Viggo Mortensen (Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (Shirley), who are both Oscar nominees. In total, the film counts 5 nominations, including best screenplay, and best film editing.

It endured its fair share of criticism and controversy, including over whether it is the latest in a stream of “white savior” movies, but the stars and the film’s team have vigorously defended it.

Lawrence Ware in the New York Times hailed Mortensen’s and Ali’s performances, and said that Vallelonga’s transformation throughout the film is convincing. However, he said that the way the film portrays race is “simplistic,” and calls out its decision to tell the story through a white perspective. He is particularly troubled by a scene that seems to gloss over Shirley’s sexuality, saying that it is especially problematic – referencing the attack on Jussie Smollett (the review was written before Smollet was alleged to have orchestrated the attack himself).

“The screenplay essentially turns Shirley into a black man who thematically shapeshifts into whoever will make the story appealing to white audiences — and that’s inexcusable,” he wrote.

Orr for The Atlantic was also of the opinion that the film was simplistic in its attempts to talk about race, saying that it doesn’t offer much in terms of meaningful commentary. But he said that the performances of Mortensen and Ali save the film.

“First-rate execution can’t solve all of a film’s problems, but Mortensen and Ali offer a reminder that it can solve an awful lot of them,” he said.

Roma

Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to his childhood – and the 2 women who guided him, his mother and his nanny – has been the overwhelming favorite to win the top prize on February 24. If it does win, it will be the first foreign-language film to do so, and the first best picture winner for streaming giant Netflix.

Roma tells the story of an indigenous woman named Cleo – played by first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio – who works as a housekeeper and nanny for a middle-class family in Mexico City during the 1970s.

The movie, shot in a mixture of Spanish and the indigenous Mixtec language, is a personal triumph for Cuaron, already an Oscar winner for best director in 2014 for space epic Gravity.

In his review for Rappler, Cruz called Roma “that perfectly molded loving tribute to the people in the fringes,” and applauded the way it portrays the lead character realistically, and not in a glamorized or romanticized way. He also praises the way the film intimately explores its themes.

Peter Travers, writing for Rolling Stone, called it “the best movie of the year,” and “Cuaron’s masterpiece.” He praised the way the director used the film’s visuals, sound design, and cinematography in his storytelling, and likewise commended the character of Cleo – and Aparicio’s portrayal of her.

“Like the film itself, Cleo never begs for sympathy. Trust us: your tears will come nonetheless.” he said.

A Star Is Born

At the start of Hollywood’s awards season, A Star Is Born looked like the natural leading contender.

The retelling of a classic Tinseltown tale – an addicted singer on the wane, a young ingenue on the rise and their doomed love affair in the balance – had Oscars gold written all over it. It had mega-star power in actor-director Bradley Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga. It enjoyed massive success at the box office. Critics loved it. So what happened?

Despite earning 8 nominations, Oscarologists see the film as a lock for best original song (“Shallow”) but not for much else.

When it comes to the reviews, however, the film is generally well-liked.

In his review on Rappler, Cruz commended the film’s cinematography and applauded it’s authenticity. In particular, he sang praises for the performances by the two leads, which he described as “riveting.”

“Cooper evolves the heartbreaking but overly familiar tale and turns it into a fascinating glimpse into yearning lives eventually broken by an industry that thrives in ease and appearances,” he said.

Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5/4 stars, praising the way the film breathes new life into a story that’s been told many times over. He lauded Cooper’s and Gaga’s performances, Cooper’s direction, and the film’s “heart-baring music.”

“Cynics may be tempted to rip apart A Star is Born but there’s just too much that’s been done right here for them to sound legit,” he said.

Vice

Adam McKay brought his offbeat sense of satire to the life of former US vice president Dick Cheney for Vice, charting the rise of George W. Bush’s veep from Montana to the West Wing.

Christian Bale earned widespread praise for disappearing under extra pounds and a mountain of make-up into the role – and earned a Golden Globe and a Bafta for his efforts.

Bale, along with co-stars Amy Adams (Cheney’s wife Lynne) and Sam Rockwell (Bush), received Oscar nominations, but the film’s mixed reviews stalled its awards campaign for the bigger prizes.

Most critics were impressed by Bale’s performance.

Owen Gleiberman in a review for Variety described the film as “brashly entertaining but not, in the end, as rich or deep as you want it to be,” though he commended Bale’s portrayal of Cheney, calling it an impersonation “on a virtuoso level of observation and exactitude.”

In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw similarly praised Bale’s Cheney, calling his performance “a terrifically and in fact rather scarily plausible impersonation.” The film itself he described as “a kind of PowerPoint biopic, a Ted talk of a comedy, with fourth-wall breaks and voiceover routines borrowed from Michael Moore.”

The film’s style, he said, is reminiscent of McKay’s earlier and “bafflingly overrated” work, The Big Short, but ultimately concluded that Vice is better, “because of a big, enjoyable, intelligent central performance in which Bale has the sense to do more with less.”

Which of the 8 films are you raring to see? And which one gets your best picture vote?

Sound off in the comments – or leave it to the Academy to decide on February 24. – With reports from Agence-France-Presse/Rappler.com