Catholic movie reviews of 2020 Oscar best picture nominees

| January 14, 2020 | 0 Comments

“1917”

Gripping historical drama, set in the midst of World War I, in which two British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are dispatched across enemy territory to call off an attack by an officer (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose men are about to fall into a German trap, a mission made more urgent by the fact that the brother (Richard Madden) of Chapman’s character is among those facing slaughter if they fail. By turns harrowing and lyrically beautiful, and deeply humane throughout, director and co-writer Sam Mendes’ film displays both the horrors of trench combat and the endurance of fundamental decency and spiritual striving. Unsparing in its portrayal of misery and desperation, it’s also luminous in its affirmation of civilized values and the triumph of faith, broadly considered, over cynicism. Much combat violence with gore, numerous gruesome sights, slightly irreverent humor, a fleeting sexual reference, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, several rough terms, occasional crude and crass language.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

“Ford v Ferrari”

A film that revels in its 1960s gender stereotypes, evoking a “Great Man” age of auto racers in which the men were men and the women glad of it. Director James Mangold, working from a screenplay by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, keeps the story stripped down to the competition between automakers Ford (led by Tracy Letts and Jon Bernthal) and Ferrari (its namesake founder played by Remo Girone) to have their cars win the grueling 24-hour Le Mans road race in 1966. Car developer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and daredevil British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) fight off their personal troubles to form a successful partnership in which they also keep the corporate types at bay. Probably acceptable for mature teens, despite some salty dialogue. Intense action sequences, fleeting crude and crass language, a single racial slur.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

“Jojo Rabbit”

Writer-director Taika Waititi’s thoroughly offbeat satire, adapted from Christine Leunens’ 2004 novel “Caging Skies,” pretty much exemplifies the expression “not to all tastes” since it sees Waititi also playing a young German boy’s vision of Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend during the final year of World War II. Roman Griffin Davis is Jojo, a 10-year-old seduced by what he’s learned in the Hitler Youth, at least until a teenage Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hidden by his mother (Scarlett Johansson) begins to challenge his blind nationalism. Waititi shows, often in a deadpan way, the deadly consequences of surrendering to ideologies that marginalize entire categories of humanity and the singular evil of inculcating children with hateful beliefs. Viewers interested in challenging, thoughtful fare will be left with much to consider. Mature themes, images of the aftermath of executions, anti-Semitic dialogue, a single rough term, fleeting crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

“Joker”

Origin stories of Batman villains don’t get any darker than this one. Director Todd Phillips and screenwriter Scott Silver turn the cackling maniac into a warped homage to Travis Bickle, the violent anti-hero in 1976’s “Taxi Driver,” and a bit of frustrated stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin in 1983’s “The King of Comedy.” To drive home the point, Robert De Niro, who played both roles, has a cameo as talk show host Murray Franklin, who, Arthur Fleck/Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) regards as a sort of father figure whose approval he craves. It’s a familiar and unappealing narrative with no sense of moral uplift. A vengeance theme, gun and knife violence, some gore, fleeting rough and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audiences, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

“Marriage Story”

Engrossing study of the divorce process as an avant-garde New York theater director (Adam Driver) and his actress wife (Scarlett Johansson) split, their initial shared impulse to behave decently toward each other and to shield their young son (Azhy Robertson) being swiftly undermined by the legal system and by the aggressive stance of some of the attorneys involved (Laura Dern and Ray Liotta). Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s hard-hitting drama, which also features Alan Alda as a more sympathetic lawyer, covers a broad range of emotions, from gentle affection to blind rage, each mood carefully calibrated by the script and skillfully evoked in remarkably fine performances. Viewers guided by Gospel values will find an implicit but unmistakable affirmation of marriage since the loss of the bond between the principals is limned in starkly tragic hues. Though the dialogue is steadily studded with terms that would normally preclude endorsement for any but grown-ups, some parents may consider that the underlying value of the picture overrides such considerations where older teens are concerned. Mature references, including to adultery and sexual acts, brief irreverent talk, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of milder oaths, frequent rough and much crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Writer-director Quentin Tarantino uses two fictional characters — a screen star (Leonardo DiCaprio) who’s experiencing a career crisis and his stunt man and best pal (Brad Pitt) — to explore the milieu of real-life 1969 Tinseltown. Menace underlies the pitch-perfect evocation of the era as both one of infamous cult leader Charles Manson’s (Damon Herriman) followers (Margaret Qualley) and the group’s most famous future victim, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), cross paths with the duo. Though diffuse and somewhat self-indulgent, the film ultimately achieves a powerful cumulative effect aesthetically. Yet, in line with other of the auteur’s offerings, it wallows, briefly but excessively, in brutal violence visited on easy-to-hate victims, appealing to viewers’ worst instincts. Skewed values, a sequence of horrific, torturous mayhem, some other violence, drug use, frequent profanity, a few milder oaths, pervasive rough and crude language, explicit sexual references.

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

“Parasite”

This South Korean feature begins as a sly comedy, then takes a surprising turn that leads on to a bloody, operatic climax laden with grim social commentary about class conflict. After the son (Choi Woo-shik) of an impoverished family uses false pretenses to secure a position tutoring the daughter (Jeong Ji-so) of a wealthy household (led by Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Yeo-jeong), both his parents (Song Kang-ho and Chang Hyae-jin) and his sister (Park So-dam) con their way into jobs with the prosperous clan while pretending to be strangers to one another. But the longtime housekeeper (Lee Jung-eun) they’ve displaced has a secret that threatens to upend their successful ruse. Clever and insightful, director and co-writer Bong Joon-ho’s film is too disturbing for casual moviegoers, though grown viewers willing to tackle its tougher elements, including some explicit sensuality within marriage, will encounter an accomplished piece of cinema. In Korean. Subtitles. Much gory violence, semi-graphic marital lovemaking, a couple of profanities, a few milder oaths, considerable rough and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

“The Irishman”

The disappearance of union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who vanished without a trace in 1975, has never been solved. But that doesn’t deter director Martin Scorsese from solving the mystery in this epic historical drama, based on the life of union official and erstwhile gangster Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). Crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) initiates Sheeran into the seedy mob underworld, and introduces him to the charismatic Hoffa (Al Pacino). More of a detailed character study than a relentless shoot-’em-up (the body count is still high, but the camera does not linger long on the victims), the film is problematic for viewers of faith in its presentation of three very bad men devoid of conscience and possessing zero remorse for their evil actions, as well as a theologically incorrect, confusing episode with a Catholic priest (Jonathan Morris) on the nature of forgiveness and absolution. Themes requiring mature discernment, occasional bloody violence, implied adultery, pervasive profane and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

“Little Women”

Elegant, vibrantly emotional adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel from writer-director Greta Gerwig. The familiar March sisters, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), are presented in the format of a non-linear memory play, with Jo, first shown as an adult writer, recalling the episodes that formed their characters and shaped their life decisions. The main storyline finds feckless Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) longing to marry Jo but ending up with Amy. Moviegoers who already loves these characters will get the lush presentation they hope to see. And Gerwig’s occasional alterations prove she’s equally adept at accurate history and subtle moral messaging. Mature themes, including death.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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