From gangster movies filtered through a “toxic masculinity” lens to period pieces peppered with modern social agendas, this year’s Academy Awards recognized plenty of woke pictures, but also some surprisingly good ones too.
Little Women: This drama follows the story of four women dealing with life during the Civil War.
Nominations: Six, including including Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan) and Best Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh).
Good or woke: The film has earned some backlash for containing uncharacteristically modern liberal speeches. The moments include characters being ashamed of America and explaining why marriage is bad for women. The speeches are sprinkled throughout the movie and make the proceedings feel odd and disjointed. It’s yet another Hollywood feature that suffers from too much focus on modern agendas and not enough focus on story.
Though the film was nominated for Best Picture and several other awards, producer Amy Pascal has said men’s “unconscious bias” has led to awards snubs at several ceremonies.
The Irishman: Martin Scorsese’s film joined the talents of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – all staples of gangster cinema classics – for the first time. It follows the story of Jimmy Hoffa’s (Pacino) – an uncharacteristically popular labor union leader with mob connections who mysteriously disappeared in 1975 – rise and fall through the eyes of a gangster and pal (De Niro).
Nominations: Nine, including Best Picture, Director and Supporting Actor (both Pacino and Pesci).
Good or woke: The de-aging of the actors was atrocious and an actual story doesn’t really kick in until the film’s last hour or so. Producers behind the movie tried to win over politically correct social media mobs before the flick’s release by talking up the story’s supposed takedown of “toxic masculinity.”
It’s easy to see how the makers filtered this move through a “toxic masculinity” lens. They seem so afraid to give any energy to their characters. While Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino’ were fun and vibrant, ‘The Irishman’ ended up being a tepid and lifeless look at gangster life and all it has to offer.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: An aging actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman (Brad Pitt) attempt a comeback in the movie business in 1969 Los Angeles.
Nominations: Nine, including Best Picture, Director, Actor (DiCaprio), and Supporting Actor (Pitt)
Good or woke: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ got away with quite a lot for being released in 2019. The film included extreme violence, Brad Pitt beating up hippies and plenty of right-leaning talking points from its main characters. It got away with so much because the new strategy for being politically incorrect without angering anyone is simply setting your story in the past. That way you can hide behind excuses like, “it was a different time” or “of course these characters are mean, but they didn’t know any better.” Past or no past, we should still be grateful a movie as unforgivably free-wheeling in its dialogue and action like this was released in a year where wokeness in movies was dialed up to 11.
Rating: Good, especially when Pitt beats up those hippies
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: The concluding chapter to the rebooted saga based on George Lucas’ original films.
Nominations: Three, including Best Visual Effects and Original Score.
Good or woke: From the Mary Sue main character in Rey to the lame “hate the rich” speeches in ‘Last Jedi’ to the overall muddy storytelling that makes Lucas’s prequel trilogy look like a masterpiece, we should all be grateful this trilogy has come to a conclusion.
Yes, it’s more diverse than the other ‘Star Wars’ chapters, but that does not suddenly make this good storytelling.
Rating: The wokest of the woke
Parasite: An unemployed family takes various jobs working for a wealthy family who may have a few twisted secrets.
Nominations: Eight, including Best Picture and Director.
Good or woke: ‘Parasite’ is an incredibly well-made film. It’s beautifully shot and expertly builds tension until its final moments – but it’s also woke, woke, woke.
The film’s intention in contrasting the families is clear from the beginning. One scene even shows how the two families deal with the same rain storm. The rich family look out their window and simply enjoys a rainy night in their cozy abode while the poor family, who quite literally live miles below, fight for their lives as they battle incoming water.
Rating: Super woke, but super good
1917: Two British soldiers in World War I are tasked with moving through enemy lines to warn 1,600 soldiers that they are walking into a trap.
Nominations: Eight, including Best Picture and Director
Good or woke: ‘1917’ was this year’s gimmick movie, but luckily the gimmick worked. The World War I feature was filmed to look as though everything happens in one take and it really adds to the rising tension of the film. The Sam Mendes-directed movie spends so much time wrapped up in telling its story that it doesn’t have a whole lot of time to push an agenda. Just pure filmmaking here.
Bombshell: Three blonde “bombshells” (Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, Naomie Watts) work at Fox News and face sexual harassment at the hands of the late Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).
Nominations: Three, including Best Actress (Theron) and Supporting Actress (Robbie).
Good or woke: It’s a story worth telling considering Ailes had some very real and harsh accusations lodged against him toward the end of his life, but told through the filter of liberal Hollywood, ‘Bombshell’ is an insufferably one-sided affair. According to this flick, Fox News is the only place where these sorts of things were happening, which anyone with an internet connection knows is far, far from the truth.
It also goes out of its way to make its main characters, including former Fox News host Megyn Kelly (Theron), look bad. It’s afraid to humanize conservative women.
Ford v Ferrari: Matt Damon and Christian Bale star as Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, two racing legends tasked with helping Ford take the Le Mans racing title from Ferrari.
Nominations: Four, including Best Picture and Editing.
Good or woke: It was a bit of a shock to see ‘Ford v Ferrari’ earn a Best Picture nomination considering how little the film caters to modern cultural standards. The James Mangold-directed feature looks lovingly at men and ambition, two things almost never shown in a good light in modern Hollywood. It’s an old school tale of hard work, passion and competition bringing out the very best in men who dedicate their lives to doing what they love.
Marriage Story: This film quite simply tells the tale of a married couple (Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver) going through the painful process of a divorce.
Nominations: Six, including Best Actress (Johansson) and Actor (Driver).
Good or woke: One could say Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’ is a socially liberal, anti-marriage film since it’s such a cynical and uncomfortable look at every step of a marriage falling apart, but there’s really no agenda here besides giving an honest and uncomfortably real look at a relationship devolving.
Jojo Rabbit: The satirical film follows the story of a young Nazi boy who worships Hitler, but finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl.
Nominations: Six, including Best Picture and Supporting Actress (Johansson)
Good or woke: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ remains one of the most surprising movies of the year. At a time when people, especially conservatives, are accused of being “Nazis” on a daily basis, it seemed unlikely that Hollywood would turn its attention to a Nazi comedy, but that’s exactly what they did.
What commences may make some uncomfortable, but it is also surprisingly charming.
Joker: This was the movie the mainstream media warned us would cause violence and panic in the streets. Todd Phillips’ slowburn look inside the mind of a man losing a grip with sanity ended up causing nothing but people to actually go to cinemas. The Popeye’s chicken sandwich inspired more violence than this flick.
Nominations: 11, including Best Picture, Director and Actor (Joaquin Phoenix).
Good or woke: Despite tackling serious subjects like mental health and class division, the film managed to not be a preachy diatribe. It was an actual story with a nuanced lead character and a layered message that doesn’t fully align with any political party.
‘Joker’ may have been the hit the media and woke crowds didn’t want, but people came out in droves for this flick. The $60 million film made a colossal billion dollars at the box office and is sure to change the landscape of comic book movies for years to come.
Any movie that can get praises from both Glenn Beck and Michael Moore can’t be all bad, right?
Rating: Not just good, but great
Zachary Leeman, author of the novel Nigh and journalist who covers art and culture.