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The Federalist’s Guide To The 2020 Oscars


Prepare for Sunday’s Academy Awards by reviewing a year’s worth of Federalist takes on the nominees. From John Daniel Davidson’s fascinatingly personal look at “The Irishman,” to Josh Shepherd’s interview with the director of “Harriet,” to James Dawson’s sharp review of “Judy,” to Ellie Bufkin’s ode to “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood,” to everything we published on “Richard Jewell,” our coverage includes fresh, original, and moving insights into an excellent crop of films. As usual, where much of the media will push the same narrative (think “Joker,” for instance), we offer different perspectives.

Start with Bufkin and Domenech’s broader analyses of the nominees—”Despite Overwhelming ‘Whiteness,’ This Year’s Oscar Nominations Show The Academy Awards Might Actually Be Fun” and “2019 Was The Year Of The Guy Movie“—and then check out the highlights from our coverage of the individual films below.


John Daniel Davidson: Why Liberal Media Hate ‘The Joker’

At the risk of reading too much into what is, at bottom, a comic-book supervillain origin story movie, “Joker” is on some level an indictment. But not quite in the way liberals critics suppose. What “Joker” indicts is moral relativism.

James Dawson: Joaquin Phoenix Rises To Create Devastatingly Deranged ‘Joker’

Phoenix is so shockingly convincing as the physically and mentally brutalized psychotic Arthur Fleck, a.k.a. Joker, the actor may finally be awarded the Oscar he should have won years ago… Watching Arthur contort himself with humiliated frustration as he struggles to keep his manic outbursts in check is almost painful.

Ben Domenech and Emily Jashinsky: Why ‘Joker’ Is More Than A Comic Book Movie

So many people don’t want to wrestle with this, they just want to dismiss it as ‘This is just another angry white guy.’ What you see is…this total atomization of the individual and then lashing out in a way that proves destructive to the community and to everything that people value.

JoJo Rabbit

James Dawson: Outrageous ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Adds Imaginary-Friend Hitler, Slapstick Humor To Dark WWII Novel

“Jojo Rabbit” turns the decidedly unfunny World War II-era novel “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens into a zany slapstick farce. The book is a grim historical-fiction allegory about an Austrian teenager’s manipulative, years-long obsession with a Jewish woman his parents are hiding from the Nazis. The fact that the boy is a Hitler Youth member and dedicated follower of Der Führer makes him understandably conflicted about feelings he develops for her, which progress from disgusted lust to yearning compassion to monstrous cruelty.

Caroline D’Agati: Why ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Is Social Justice Filmmaking Done Right

Director Taika Waititi’s Nazi satire “Jojo Rabbit” pulls a fast one on the audience and never lets up. It reminds us of the human cost of Nazism—not in historical black and white, but in brightly colored sets and catchy music. By putting us in the shoes of both victim and villain, “Jojo Rabbit” is fun, beautiful, and convicting all at the same time.

Little Women

Jessica Kramer: Why Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ Is A Huge Letdown

Gerwig’s version seemed to highlight Amy and Jo’s stories on purpose, but in doing so, it took away from telling the whole story. Each sister represents a different type of woman, and each should have her story fully told. In one scene, Meg says, “Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t make them any less important.” By cutting back on Meg and Beth’s stories, Gerwig implied she did find those characters less important.


Ellie Bufkin: ‘1917’ Tells One Of The Greatest Stories Of Courage Since ‘Saving Private Ryan’

It’s not often a film about a conflict as brutal and heartbreaking as the First World War manages to cut through tragedy and tell a story of courage and bravery. “1917,” which follows the release of Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking World War I documentary “They Shall not Grow Old” by one year, shares a story of selflessness and honor through technically dazzling cinematic effects.

Caroline D’Agati: ‘1917’ Reminds Us War Is An Addiction We’ll Never Shake

One of the movie’s greatest triumphs is that it doesn’t pitch you on how horrible World War I was. Instead, it simply tells the story of ordinary men, who for a moment became something more than what peacetime would ever allow them to be.

Marriage Story

Suzanne Venker: ‘Marriage Story’ Is A Predictable Feminist Screed

The film “Marriage Story” — available now in select theaters, as well as on Netflix — perpetuates feminist dogma, attempting to garner sympathy for a woman who initiates an avoidable divorce, driven by her desire to emancipate herself at the expense of their child, whose feelings are considered entirely secondary. It hit a nerve for one unfortunate reason: Many married couples can relate.

The Irishman

John Daniel Davidson: Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ Rings True Because Much Of It Is True

For one thing, Bufalino, the soft-spoken crime boss played masterfully by [Joe] Pesci, is exactly who [Frank] Sheeran said he was. I know because I read Bufalino’s FBI file.

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Ellie Bufkin: Why ‘Once Upon A Time’ Deserve Best Picture At This Year’s Oscars

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is a glorious mastery of cinema worthy of the highest honors that the entertainment industry is capable of handing out. His two-hour and 40-minute story of the final days of Hollywood’s golden era prove that now, even 50 years later, movies can still be magical

David Acord: Why Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ Is A Tribute To Masculine Heroism

In this post-Christian era, one could argue that modern movies and pop culture are the new religion, and movie theaters the new cathedrals. If that’s the case, then at least Tarantino has his characters worshiping at the right altar: the classic Hollywood films of a bygone era that celebrated the virtues of heroism and doing the right thing, even in the face of danger.

James Dawson: Tarantino Remixes Retro Tinseltown In ‘Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood’

Tarantino crams so many pop songs, movie references, magazine cover mock-ups, and recreated locations into this 161-minute extravaganza that the obsessively immersive period detail becomes almost overwhelming. From the Playboy Mansion, to Spahn’s Movie Ranch, to the Musso and Frank Grill, to the Bruin cinema in Westwood, this is 1960s Los Angeles in all its garish, fantasy-fueled glory.


J. Antonio Juarez: ‘Harriet’ Is True To History And True To Her Christian Faith

After enough people told me to go see it, even saying I should take my 12-year-old daughter, I did. I am glad I listened. Whether the film’s creators intended it or not, “Harriet” is finely done and despite the usual amount of creative liberties that Hollywood normally takes with historic films, many aspects of the movie offer an accurate and balanced view of both Tubman and our country’s history.

Josh Shepherd: First-Ever Biopic On Harriet Tubman Elevates Christian Faith of Freedom Fighter

The film reveals chapters from her life some viewers may doubt. Scenes show Tubman at night kneeling in prayer — and, moments later, navigating her charges through the forest to evade capture. It’s as if she had received supernatural guidance.


James Dawson: Faked-Up Fox News Sexual Harassment ‘Bombshell’ Film Fizzles Like A Dud

Instead of presenting three woke women co-workers joining forces to take down their 21st-century Dabney Coleman with slapstick style, “Bombshell” plays like a drearily padded made-for-TV yawner, with occasional, tiresomely obvious, “SNL”-level political one-liners.


James Dawson: Award-Worthy Renée Zellweger Captures Falling Star Judy Garland In ‘Judy’

When Judy is on, though, she’s really on. Zellweger’s amazing single shot, no-edits performance of the first onstage song in the movie (“By Myself”) is a showstopper. And when “Over the Rainbow” finally arrives, its tear-jerking sentimentality is enhanced by Zellweger’s utterly spent, gave-it-all devastation.

Richard Jewell

Edward Chang: ‘Richard Jewell’ Is A Story Of Media And Government Bungling That’s Still Fresh Today

Although not without its flaws, “Richard Jewell” is a valuable film on many levels. It captures a moment in time many Americans recall as idyllic yet was anything but. It also hammers home the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the two-headed monster: the federal government and the media.

Katya Sedgwick: Clint Eastwood’s ‘Richard Jewell’ Reveals An Appetite For Libertarian Entertainment

For a film to make a libertarian point, the director must introduce characters that would not figure into your standard “critique of American capitalism” Hollywood drama. Most of the films produced in this country today are ideological and amount to some sort of soft Marxism. It’s hard to imagine that in different hands, Jewell’s persona would morph into anything other than a villain or an unfortunate victim of circumstances, but in Eastwood’s reading, he is an individual in his own right.

James Dawson: Flawed ‘Richard Jewell’ Fails To Live Up To Its Trailer And Message

Sadly, the film somehow manages to tell this real-life David-versus-Goliath tale with such bland restraint that it actually becomes boring, in addition to looking TV-movie cheap. At two hours and 11 minutes, it feels tediously long. That’s not as in “sympathetically experiencing the hellish duration of the main character’s Kafka-esque torment” long, but as in repetitive, flat, and lacking dramatic tension.

Christian Toto: Media Clutches Pearls Over Clint Eastwood’s Journalism Movie, But Embraces Film About Fox News

Two high-profile films about journalism hit theaters over the weekend, with two very different reactions from our media overlords.

One caused a flurry of reporters to shriek in fury. The other? Not a peep in protest. The reasons why say plenty about the sorry state of modern journalism and why trust in the institution continues to crater.

Toy Story 4

James Dawson: Franchise-Best ‘Toy Story 4’ Puts A Forky In It

The animators also do an impressive job of giving the toys so much character that they can be genuinely heartbreaking. Aside from the big tearjerker moments, even little details such as Forky’s awkwardly amusing walk and Gabby Gabby’s expressive eyes are small wonders.

Brad Slager: ‘Toy Story 4’ Is Too ‘White’ For Hollywood Reporter Critic

To launch the new year in appropriately oblivious fashion, The Hollywood Reporter has an article out condemning ‘’Toy Story 4’’ for a litany of social transgressions. The outlet should be embarrassed over such content, but that emotion is in short supply in the business.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

G. Shane Morris: ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ 3 Illustrates The Power Of Prioritizing Marriage Over Friends

While our culture debates whether marriage is obsolete, movies that glorify traditional love and the nuclear family keep drawing audiences and critical acclaim. DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the latest, and it has a dumbfoundingly old-fashioned message: grow up, release your dragon, get married, and have children.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Libby Emmons: The New Maleficent Movie Is Grotesquely Distorted By Identity Politics

In “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” we see a reversal of the expected understanding of good and evil. Everyone knows the evil queen is evil. She’s got the crazy magic, she’s got horns, she only wears black, and she doesn’t know how to smile. But in what has become a distinct, expected reversal, it’s the good queen in white who has the hardest heart. To understand why, we have look at the film from the perspective of that ghastly contemporary distraction, identity politics.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Paulina Enck: Why I Loved ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

I was thrilled that this film truly “felt like Star Wars,” an impossible-to-explain phenomena overwhelmingly captured by this excellent yet polarizing film. “The Rise of Skywalker” was clearly made by and for those who truly love Star Wars, and it shows in every frame.

Sumantra Maitra: After Seeing ‘The Rise Of Skywalker,’ I Can’t Wait For Star Wars To End Forever

One of the reason the original trilogy was successful was its build-up behind the story arc of Palpatine and Vader, not to mention the two very different forms of heroism, the stoic Luke and the rakish Han. This story felt like a student who forgot to study the quotes of a history textbook, and started every answer with “a wise man once said” before making stuff up.

Ad Astra

James Dawson: Brad Pitt Star Power Saves Self-Sabotaging ‘Ad Astra’

Pitt’s movingly downbeat portrayal of resignation and regret, along with the film’s elegant look and sound, are award-worthy. Unfortunately, those positive elements are at odds with a sometimes illogical plot and scenes that seem hammered in solely to keep easily distracted and action-craving audiences awake. It’s a shame that everyone in front of and behind the cameras couldn’t have been working from a less commercially compromised script.

Knives Out

Clay Waters: ‘Knives Out’ Is The Worthwhile Whodunnit We’ve All Been Waiting For

“Knives Out” is enjoyably creaky, with a “Clue” vibe (a debt acknowledged in the dialogue), and a wide streak of dark humor. The theme of a nasty, overprivileged family puts one in mind of the recent horror movie “Ready or Not,” but with a deeper investment in character.


Libby Emmons: Why ‘Rocketman’ Is An Irresistible Look Inside Elton John’s Soul

More than what would be a “clothesline” musical, in which songs are strung along the line of a scanty book for the sole purpose of selling tickets on the name of a band, “Rocketman” uses the songs to propel story, heighten stakes, and enhance character. The way the songs are woven into the storytelling is really well done, moves both story and emotional life along seamlessly.

Avengers: Endgame

Titus Techera: What Made ‘Avengers: Endgame’ The Highest-Grossing Movie Of All Time

But all things considered, “Endgame” was the Russo brothers at their best, developing relationships between characters that make sense in human terms: Friendship, fatherhood, female solidarity — all these things emerge not in dialogue or interior scenes, but in the fight choreography. The characters in any given montage are emotionally compelled to face each other or help each other.

John Cooper: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Makes It Easier To Say Goodbye To An Era

Ultimately, this is a film not just about massive battles between good and evil, about flashy tech and iron suits, it is a look into the human soul, the challenges we face, and what we are willing to do to overcome them. It holds up a mirror to us and asks us to be honest about whether we are trying to get there in our own strength, or whether we will reach out and take the helping hand a friend is offering. Finally, it challenges us to be the friend who is willing to extend that hand.

James Dawson: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Wraps Up Epic Marvel Storyline With Fateful, Fantastic Finale

It’s here, and it’s spectacular. This history-hopping culmination of the epic storyline woven through every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date delivers a fitting finale well worth the year-long wait since “Avengers: Infinity War.” It’s not perfect, but “Avengers: Endgame” comes close enough that even the most superhero-saturated, seen-it-all fan will love it.