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The Oscar contenders for best picture – reviewed

Nine films are in the running.

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The Irishman (Niko Tavernise/Netlfix

The Irishman (Niko Tavernise/Netlfix

The Irishman (Niko Tavernise/Netlfix

Nine films are in the running for the coveted best picture prize at the Oscars.

We take a look at the contenders.

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s exhaustive return to the criminal underworld transplants toxic masculinity from the mean streets of New York to 1950s Philadelphia, where an epic tale of brotherhood culminates in the disappearance of labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa in July 1975.

Bruised egos collide and sinews throb in claustrophobic close-up as Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino posture and snarl through decades of fraternal bonding with predictable intensity and fury.

Jojo Rabbit

New Zealand writer, director and star Taika Waititi confidently walks a tightrope between heartbreak and hilarity in a deeply affecting coming-of-age story adapted from Christine Leunen’s novel Caging Skies.

Jojo Rabbit navigates delicate changes in pacing and tone to recount one episode of suffering during the Second World War through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy, who claims the Fuhrer as an imaginary friend.

A stellar lead performance from young London-born actor Roman Griffin Davis illuminates every frame.

Joker

The Joker’s wild in director Todd Phillips’s profoundly disturbing character study. His relentlessly grim portrait of mental illness and societal neglect burrows deep beneath the translucent, bone-stretched skin of Batman’s adversary, several years before the Caped Crusader dons a cowl.

Joaquin Phoenix’s ferocious and uncompromising performance gambols through a fug of delusions and horrifying self-realisation that gives birth to an anarchistic revolutionary with nothing to lose.

Le Mans ’66 (Released in the US as Ford vs Ferrari)

Welsh actor Christian Bale achieves another extreme body transformation, dropping 70lb in weight to portray daredevil driver Ken Miles in director James Mangold’s crowd-pleasing drama of triumph on four wheels.

Bale jump-starts a winning on-screen partnership with Matt Damon’s automotive designer while Mangold shifts sweetly through the gears, hitting top speed with a thrilling showdown between constructors Ford and Ferrari at the 1966 edition of the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race.

Little Women 

Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s handsomely mounted adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel sells the author’s morality largely word for word through pithy observational humour and boundless affection for the spirited protagonists.

The script remains faithful to the source text and abides by literary tropes but Gerwig also indulges in post-feminist revisionism to set her Little Women apart from previous incarnations and strike a rousing chord in the MeToo era.

Marriage Story

Writer-director Noah Baumbach draws inspiration from his divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh to compose a bruising portrait of a marriage in crisis, which pits a successful stage director (Adam Driver) against his actress wife (Scarlett Johansson) for primary custody of their young son.

Incendiary lines of dialogue explode with devastating precision as warring spouses search for glimmers of hope in the smouldering rubble of their relationship.

1917

Practice makes nail-bitingly tense perfection in Sam Mendes’s thriller, inspired by stories of The Great War told by the director’s grandfather.

Shot in real-time in several exquisitely staged single takes, which have been stitched together by editor Lee Smith into a continuous fluid shot, 1917 pushes lead actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay to the physical limit as we accompany them on a breathless race against time to prevent a bloodbath on foreign soil.

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s valentine to the golden age of Hollywood unspools the exploits of a fictional actor and his stunt double against the real-life backdrop of the Manson family murders in the summer of 1969.

Fact and blood-soaked fantasy are rumbustious playmates in Tarantino’s script, which is energised by terrific performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as the fading stars, who stare down their inevitable decline with a combustive mix of weariness and frustration.

Parasite

Writer-director Bong Joon-ho mines a mother lode of deliciously cruel intentions in a wickedly entertaining, genre-bending satire, which gleefully inhabits the cavernous divide between South Korea’s haves and have-nots.

The tone careens wildly from slapstick and scabrous social commentary to full-blooded horror as Joon-ho tightens the screws on his desperate characters, setting in motion a jaw-dropping second act that will be glimpsed through trembling fingers.

PA Media