Bong Joon-ho’s splendid class-war thriller, Parasite, is waiting in the wings to become the Academy Awards’ first foreign-language Best Picture winner. Only one thing stands in the South Korean film’s way: the dogged, irrepressible march of history. If Bong hadn’t devised the year’s singular masterpiece, a perfect butter-and-salt blend of popcorn entertainment and shrewd cultural commentary, the betting-market favorite (and admittedly good) 1917 would be a respectable winner. With Parasite in the mix, 1917 is a tired return to the familiar.
Co-writer and director Sam Mendes entrusted his frequent collaborator and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, with an ambitious one-shot war epic. The 70-year-old director of photography delivered a cinematic achievement fitting of his visual genius.
The origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime, whose history is often as fluid as his sanity, is firmly established in Joker. Loosely remaking Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, director Todd Phillips riffs on the Martin Scorsese classics without revamping them. Star Joaquin Phoenix is contorted and damaged as Batman’s notorious archnemesis, but never approaches Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Joker masquerades as prestige film without revealing emotional, political, or intellectual depth behind its clown-shaped mask.
After 11 months of dull blockbusters unlikely to inspire you to do more than check your watch, Ford v Ferrari zips into theaters to finally quicken your pulse. James Mangold, writer-director of Logan and director of 3:10 to Yuma (2007), delivers the blockbuster of the year in a prestigious, Gulf Oil blue alloy chassis.
A hectic opening 15 minutes set the pace for writer-director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s literary classic. The seventh adaptation (!) of Little Women extracts its tone from its frenetic, distinctive, engrossing quadrivium of stars. Gerwig’s optimistic, feministic take on the 1868 novel uncovers an original film, even on the seventh try.
Co-writer and director J.J. Abrams launched the newest trilogy of Star Wars movies with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Writer-director Rian Johnson’s challenging (and somehow controversial) second entry, The Last Jedi, indicated a shift in priorities for the franchise. In The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams returns to bookend the trilogy and nullify Johnson’s efforts to advance the canon.
Disney, the IP empire behind Marvel, Star Wars, and remakes of its own animated classics, was responsible for an asinine, unprecedented 80 percent of box office hits in 2019. The dominance of a single multimedia conglomerate is counter to the oligopoly that we’ve grown accustomed to in the entertainment industry (and, broadly speaking, the United States).