The Empty Bookshelf Guide to the 2019 Oscars

Another year, another set of movies!

JoJo Rabbit

Authoritarianism = bad

Brainwashing youths = bad

Nazis = bad

Hitler being a brainwashed kid’s invisible friend = an irreverent take on the above. But it’s not singularly great. Next movie, please.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

It’s a movie about movie-dom. The Oscars love that stuff. It’s a better Quentin Tarantino movie (which is saying something given his usual standard of quality), but it has his typical traits: a relaxed run time, talkiness, and a ton of world-building. And, oh yeah. Brutal, unrepentantly gory violence out of the blue. If you normally like his movies, you’ll love this. If they’re not normally your favorite, you should still watch it, as it’s one of his best movies so far.

Ford v Ferrari

It’s been the go-to joke since the trailers for this movie first came out, but this truly is the ultimate “dad movie.” (or “granddad movie” depending on your age). Truly, it’s the only one of these my dad was interested in seeing. That doesn’t make it bad, but aside from the “dad topic” (1960s sports car racing…), it has a lot of “dad moments” and “dad comments.” Whether it be the “scrappy underdog overcoming those pretentious Europeans” [note: those “scrappy underdogs” were bankrolled by one of the largest companies on Earth] or completely unnecessary “out loud” reactions to obvious situations. Hint: Shelby arriving via showy airplane landing and someone saying something like “Now that’s how to make an entrance.” Ugh. The racing scenes are great, and it truly is a good car movie, and I like cars, so I’ll recommend it. Christian Bale is… Christian Bale in this. If you’re wondering if he’ll go too far in his impression of someone, even if that person isn’t famous… the answer is yes. Look at this, then keep it in mind when watching. I don’t know a ton about 1960s sports car racing, but I know enough to see how the movie deviated from the true story, but I won’t hold that against it. It’s this year’s Green Book which (somehow) won last year, so who knows.

The Irishman

I appreciate Martin Scorsese movies. (weasel word noted) I find mob movies very same-y (“I love my family, but I kill mooks who get in my way. Let’s all go to church and pray. Fuhgeddaboutit! Moral Complexity!”). I generally have little tolerance for movies that approach, much less exceed three hours. The Irishman was great and got better as its run time ticked up. That said, it doesn’t transcend the genre, and its de-aging effects draw wayyyy too much attention to themselves for a movie of this caliber, and it didn’t need to be 3+ hours long.

Little Women

Short answer: Not the best movie of the year and it won’t win. It was fine. Longer answer: this is the movie about which I’ve read the most. I wasn’t familiar with the story going in, and using the same actors for the 8 year time jumping without (what I could tell) obvious visual cues was a little disorienting, as the main characters would have been jumping from their early 20s to their “tweens.” A lot happens, but the plot is more vignettes than a continuous thread from beginning to end. Meryl Streep plays another Queen B (the “B” doesn’t stand for “bee”) but is kept in the background, so it’s not her usual scenery-chewing role when she’s given the background, “so… your character is a little bit difficult.” Laura Dern is NOT great in this movie; another reviewer said it best, she’s playing the mom character as a cool aunt instead of a mother. The dialogue also oscillates between contemporary and old-timey even from the beginning of a scene to the end. Very odd. With a second viewing, I’d wonder if this is to track the progression of the main character’s writing. Maybe.


This is the one. It’s scary without being a horror movie; it’s funny without being a comedy; it’s heavy family drama without being melodrama; it’s satirical without being satire; it’s simultaneously ironic yet sincere. It’s the best movie of the year. If someone ever asks “what does the director do other than tell actors where to stand?” watch this movie and point out how it maintains a singular tone while hopping among genres. It’s amazing.


It’s a movie-gimmick war movie. Without “movie-gimmick” modifying “war movie,” what else is there? Answer: not a whole lot. BUT, the “single take” gimmick makes it worthwhile. This is faint praise, but at least it wasn’t another World War II movie. I won’t spoil it here, but I did give the movie a “holy crap” when as “plane and barn” scene played out. That was unexpected given the trailer and commercials. It won’t win.

Marriage Story

In the tight race for “really good movies I never need to see again,” Marriage Story just edges out Joker. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson successfully create characters where you can hate them in one scene, then completely root for them in the next. Ray Liotta, Laura Dern, and Alan Alda steal all of their scenes but remain “I could see how there are people like this in the world” despite almost being caricatures. Watch it. Once.


This is the toughest nominee to encapsulate. It was good, and never dragged while telling an uncomfortable story. Joaquin Phoenix walked a tightrope between “best acting” and “most acting,” usually staying on the correct side, unless it was a dancing sequence, so a win for him wouldn’t be too out-of-line. The issue with this movie is my own baggage where there’s no outcome that wouldn’t have resulted in me saying, “but just a little Batman would’ve helped it.” Watch this: “The movie wasn’t great. It had some moments, but never quite came together. Some Batman would’ve helped.” OR “The movie was awesome. They did something new with the character. I can’t help but wonder how much better it would’ve been with some Batman in it.” I’m closer to the latter (“great” not “awesome,” though), but it’s clear that this is on me. What isn’t on me is that Parasite is objectively the better movie, so my conscience is clear.


Should win: Parasite.

Will win: Likely. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It’s a movie literally about a Golden Age of Hollywood for which many of the Academy voters were alive. Good luck, every other nominee.

Should have been nominated: Uncut Gems and Adam Sandler. This isn’t just “applying the manic side of his usual characters in something serious for once.” This is whole-cloth character creation. A completely bonkers ending, but in immediate hindsight, it makes perfect sense.

Should have been nominated, part two: Ad Astra. I liked Brad Pitt in this more than in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and I love me some hard sci-fi. Brad Pitt’s stunt man in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was presented as interesting but just outside the frame. Ad Astra puts all of that directly into the movie itself. (Sure, these are supporting vs. lead roles, but Ad Astra is the one no one is talking about.)

Out of left field MVP: Tracey Letts, with “I don’t think that’s Jeff Daniels… is it? No, it’s definitely not.” turns in TWO of this year’s movies, Little Women and Ford v Ferrari, and he’s GREAT in both. (disclaimer: he was also in two of 2017’s nominees, The Post and Lady Bird.)

Last year’s recap here. Two years ago’s here.

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