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This Year’s Best Picture Hopefuls Offer Fresh Takes on Eternal Issues

One of the main reasons movies resonate with us is that they make us think: about our own lives, our history or our appreciation for past pieces of art. So many of this year’s awards contenders do one or all of the above, be it a flashy musical that yanks at memories from our childhood like “Mary Poppins Returns” or period dramas like “Green Book” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” that takes on race relations and reminds us that we haven’t evolved as far past the Jim Crow era as we’d like to think.  We’ve rounded up a list of films that will most likely bring up these sensations – for better or for worse – with awards season voters.

A Star Is Born
Every generation nose this story
Since its inception, Hollywood’s delicate eco-system has maintained its balance by cheering talent on the rise while clearing space for them on the top pedestals by knocking off others who may have overstayed their welcome. Yet “A Star Is Born” co-writer, director and star Bradley Cooper proved this time-honored story doesn’t stop truckloads of fresh faces from flocking to fame — or audiences from wanting to see this story.

If Beale Street Could Talk
Romeo and Juliet set in reality
There is a grim reality to writer-director Barry Jenkins’ interpretation of the classic James Baldwin novel; it’s set in the 1970s, but this story of a young relationship cut tragically short by systemic and bureaucratic racism — one narrated by a young woman (KiKi Layne) who unfortunately has to be way too pragmatic and weary for her age — is a stark reminder that America’s dark past has continued into its present.

BlacKkKlansman
“Very fine people, on both sides.”
As more scrutiny is given to politicians’ — and some publications’ — attempts to normalize white supremacists, director Spike Lee’s period dramedy looks back on what happened when an African-American and a Jewish police officer (played by John David Washington and Adam Driver, respectively) attempted to infiltrate and break up the hate festering in their community. Based on retired Colorado Springs police detective Ron Stallworth’s memoir and written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Lee, the film mixes some darkly comedic moments with a dramatic seriousness not dissimilar to what Academy members responded to with 1988’s “Mississippi Burning” — or, frankly, what many Americans felt after watching the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Black Panther
Don’t judge a comic-book movie by its cover
Comic-book fans have long lamented that no one takes their movies seriously, regardless of how obvious the metaphors are between, say, the “X-Men” movies’ mutants and our own fear of outsiders, or how strongly the Batman trilogy’s stories of wealth inequality and access to privacy paralleled real life. But director Ryan Coogler, who wrote “Black Panther” with Joe Robert Cole, takes on so many topical issues in his blockbuster that he has ensured this genre is no longer relegated to just popcorn fluff.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
For those who love a small-time crook
Anyone who says writing is easy is lying to you. But this movie about best-selling con artist Lee Israel, directed by Marielle Heller and written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, makes lying about being a writer look quite simple. It’s also, depending on the way you look at it, either a deeply depressing comedy or a darkly comedic drama: an ideal middle ground for anyone who shares a connection with films about beaten-down New Yorkers pushed to their limits including “Dog Day Afternoon” and the original “The Producers.”

The Favourite
A costume drama fit for a queen
A farce that speaks to aristocracy and privilege as much as it does female ingenuity, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ interpretation of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script has all the witticism we loved about such shows as PBS’ “Downton Abbey” and Showtime’s “The Tudors.” But it also has the heart to explore complicated and historically misunderstood monarchs as in the movies “Elizabeth” and “Young Victoria.” It also has one heck of a dance scene, and who can resist lobster races?

First Man
If you believe they put a man on the moon (man on the moon) …
It’s easy to simply focus on the optimism and adrenaline rush that the space race had on America as we went through one of the most turbulent social times in our existence. But director Damien Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer’s depiction of the politicking and near-misses that went into getting Apollo 11 cleared for takeoff also harkens to other Oscar-worthy NASA stories including 1995’s “Apollo 13” and 2016’s “Hidden Figures.”

Green Book
Mismatched partners become friends
Some people’s history lessons are others’ facts of life, as in director Peter Farrelly’s period drama about the time famous Jamaican pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) hired a white nightclub bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) to drive him to gigs in the racially tense Deep South in the 1960s. Some have already noted comparisons to Oscar winner “Driving Miss Daisy,” and much like previous awards darlings “Hidden Figures” and “The Help,” this dramedy — written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Farrelly —shines a light on inequalities still talked about today.

Mary Poppins Returns
Step (back) in time
Possibly the most obvious example of a 2018 film pulling at our sentiment-loving heartstrings is movie musical virtuoso Rob Marshall’s sequel to the adored 1960s Disney film, which brings back the firm-but-fair flying nanny originally played by Julie Andrews just when we need her most of all. As the character, now played by Emily Blunt, sings in the film: “Nothing’s gone forever; only out of place.” Perhaps this film, whose screenplay comes from David Magee with a story by Magee, Marshall and John DeLuca, will resonate more with Academy voters than Disney’s previous attempt to cash in on “Mary Poppins”-related stories.

Roma
What if you could see your childhood through the eyes of an adult?
Writer-director Alfonso Cuarón attempts to make good on the “if I knew then what I know now” adage by re-creating both personal and political events of his childhood without the aid of rose-colored glasses. In doing so, he gives audiences a chance to look inward and grow a newfound appreciation for the people (women) who raised them.

Vice
Remember when our biggest fear was the George W. Bush administration?
Come for actor Christian Bale’s utter transformation into former VP Dick Cheney; stay for the writer-director Adam McKay’s reminder that we shouldn’t whitewash historical events from less than 20 years ago either, no matter how spellbindingly terrified progressives are of Donald Trump’s administration. Of course, plenty of commentators have weighed in on our 43rd president’s legacy (including McKay’s business partner Will Ferrell’s own Emmy- and Tony-nominated depictions), but “Vice” is unique because it centers on the puppet master himself.

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