What critics had to say about the Best Picture Oscar nominees

Not every movie vying for the Academy's top honor was a winner in reviewers' eyes.

Black Panther
Chadwick Boseman in a scene from "Black Panther." –The Associated Press

With mere days until the 2019 Oscars, moviegoers have precious little time to catch up on some of the top nominated movies before Sunday’s telecast.

While you can theoretically still watch all eight Best Picture nominees through a combination of streaming, renting, and actually going to the theater, the likelihood that you’ll have time to see that many movies before 8 p.m. on Sunday is low. To help you pick and choose which films to see in the short time you have to catch up, here are critic reviews from The Boston Globe and The New York Times of all eight movies vying for the Academy’s top honor.

“Black Panther”

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Plot: After the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his hidden home of Wakanda and fights for his rightful place on the throne. 

What The Boston Globe said: Ty Burr gave the film three-and-a-half stars, writing, “The movie doesn’t reinvent the superhero genre so much as reclaim and reenergize it — archetypes, cliches, and all — for viewers hungry to dream in their own skin.”

What The New York Times said: In her review of “Black Panther,” a NYT critics pick, Manohla Dargis wrote, “Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one.”

“BlacKkKlansman”

Plot: Based on a true story, “BlacKkKlansman” follows the first African-American detective (John David Washington) to join the Colorado Springs Police Department as he remotely infiltrates the KKK, using a veteran white officer (Adam Driver) as his stand-in for in-person meetings.

What The Boston Globe said: In his three-and-a-half-star review, Burr explained “BlacKkKlansman” as “a ferocious mix of prankishness and cold fury that is one of [director Spike Lee’s] strongest yet most entertaining works in years.”

What The New York Times said: A.O. Scott called “BlacKkKlansman,” a NYT critics pick, Lee’s “best nondocumentary feature in more than a decade and one of his greatest.”

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

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Plot: The story of iconic rock band Queen is told through the life of irrepressible frontman Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”).

What The Boston Globe said: “The trouble isn’t really star Rami Malek, who gives a mesmerizing if opaque performance as Mercury,” Burr wrote in his two-star review for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “The problem is that the movie doesn’t have anything interesting to say.”

What The New York Times said: Scott also was not a fan of “Bohemian Rhapsody”: “A baroque blend of gibberish, mysticism and melodrama, the film seems engineered to be as unmemorable as possible, with the exception of the prosthetic teeth worn by the lead actor, Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury, Queen’s lead singer,” he wrote in his review.

“The Favourite”

Plot: Set in 18th-century England, “The Favourite” chronicles the battle between Abigail (Emma Stone) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz) as they curry favor with the sickly, depressed Queen Anne (Olivia Colman).

What The Boston Globe said: Burr granted three-and-a-half stars to “The Favourite” and said, “Among the many daft pleasures of ‘The Favourite’ is watching three talented actresses from different corners of the pop-culture universe go at each other with minds, mettle, and manipulation. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman — it’s fun just to think of them in the same thought, let alone on the same screen.”

What The New York Times said: Scott considered “The Favourite,” a NYT critics pick, “a wildly entertaining, bracingly cynical comedy of royal manners” and “a farce with teeth, a costume drama with sharp political instincts and an aggressive sense of the absurd.”

“Green Book”

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Plot: A comedy-drama about the unlikely friendship between a black concert pianist (Mahershala Ali) and the white driver (Viggo Mortensen) hired to safely escort him through a segregated South, “Green Book” was co-written and directed by Rhode Island native and onetime Massachusetts resident Peter Farrelly.

What The Boston Globe said: “‘Green Book’ is well-intentioned and well made, and it works better the less you think about it, which is why it will probably be a success,” Burr wrote, giving the film two-and-a-half stars. “It’s a movie built to flatter white audiences, who are meant to feel wiser and more evolved than Tony even as they share his front-seat vantage point and cheer his evolution. That said, there’s a whole other movie to be made about the view from the back of the car.”

What The New York Times said: Scott found “Green Book” to be overly simple and predictable, writing, “There is virtually no milestone in this tale of interracial male friendship that you won’t see coming from a long way off, including scenes that seem too corny or misguided for any movie in its right mind to contemplate.”

“Roma”

Plot: This semi-autobiographical story of director Alfonso Cuaron’s life growing up as a child in Mexico City focuses on one of his family’s live-in housekeepers (Yalitza Aparicio).

What The Boston Globe said: Burr gave “Roma” a noteworthy four stars, writing, “But, oh, how gentle, wide, wise, and true this movie is! How immediately it engrosses us in lives like ours and lives we rarely stop to consider. How generous is its gaze, enfolding cruelty and kindness in its embrace, seeing the rich, busy daily life that overflows the foreground and the political realities that hang behind the scenes like a background hum. Like all the best films, ‘Roma’ is achingly specific while constantly opening up to the universal.”

What The New York Times said: “It’s an expansive, emotional portrait of life buffeted by violent forces, and a masterpiece,” Dargis wrote of “Roma,” a NYT critics pick.

“A Star Is Born”

Plot: Veteran musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers Ally (Lady Gaga) singing at a local bar, binding the two together through the trials and tribulations of romance and stardom.

What The Boston Globe said: In his three-and-a-half-star review for “A Star Is Born,” Burr wrote, “The opening 45 minutes of ‘A Star Is Born’ are as good as mainstream moviemaking gets in the 21st century, and the rest is only slightly less impressive for being so familiar. We’re perfectly willing to come to a story we’ve heard before as long as its emotions can be made convincingly fresh. That’s what happens here.”

What The New York Times said: “A Star Is Born” was a NYT critics pick; in her review, Dargis wrote, “Like its finest antecedents, it wrings tears from its romance and thrills from a steadfast belief in old-fashioned, big-feeling cinema. That it’s also a perverse fantasy about men, women, love and sacrifice makes it all the better.”

“Vice”

Plot: “Vice” is director Adam McKay’s darkly comic take on the life and times of former Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale).

What The Boston Globe said: Burr gave “Vice” his lowest rating of 2019’s Best Picture Oscar nominees: one-and-a-half stars. “If writer-director Adam McKay were to act out Cheney’s Wikipedia entry as a full-body interpretive dance while following every link and cutting to random GIFs and YouTube videos, you might have an approximation of what awaits you in the theater,” Burr wrote. “This is a story that needs to be told, but McKay turns out to be precisely the wrong man to tell it.”

What The New York Times said: Scott was more measured than Burr in his review, writing, “‘Vice’ offers more than Yuletide rage-bait for liberal moviegoers, who already have plenty to be mad about. Revulsion and admiration lie as close together as the red and white stripes on the American flag, and if this is in some respects a real-life monster movie, it’s one that takes a lively and at times surprisingly sympathetic interest in its chosen demon.”

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