Sunday, February 9, 2020
Some quick thoughts on the Best Picture Nominees
Tonight is the Academy Awards, and once again I finished watching the nominees for Best Picture with 1917. Since there's no time for me to do a podcast, I figured I'd jot down a few thoughts about each nominee.
My New Years Resolution this year was to be less negative in my reviews. I'm going to use the fact that this film was released last year as a technicality. War movies are not my thing. This year's nominees mostly stayed away from the tropes of Oscar Bait with a few exceptions, this being one. On the surface, this is just a ware movie, with some novelty that it takes place during World War I instead of World War II. The gimmick of the movie is that it uses a single camera that masks cuts with weird digital effects. Many people like this. For me, it was incredibly distracting, created motion sickness, and gave a sense of discontinuity whenever they would have a time jump. I was also in a bad mood when I was watching it, so there's that.
Ford V. Ferrari:
I was not expecting to like this movie. From the first preview, it was clear Oscar Bait, but its early release suggested that the studios did not have faith in its success based on Oscar buzz(reminiscent of First Man in 2018). Maybe it was my lowered expectations, combined with the film's many cliches, but this was one of the most watchable movies nominated this year. It doesn't reinvent the wheel(see what I did there?), but it is full of solid performances. Christian Bale chews the scenery just enough. Nobody will ever watch this movie again, but it's a solid choice to watch once.
Like 1917's camera tricks, the use of anti-aging technology was fairly distracting in this film. Robert De Niro is not believable as a 30 year old. Still, it was nice to see Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in the type of serious roles that made them famous, as opposed to the self-parody they've been known to take for most of my lifetime. Of course, this is the first of several films on the list that was too long. It may even have been better if it were broken up into a four part mini-series, even without any other changes.
Everyone thinks I'm crazy for saying this one will win, but everyone also loves this film. Even those not sold on the pitch that it's "Wes Anderson's Schindler's List" seem to come out seeing that it has so much heart and has so much to say about how idiotic racism can be and how the worst of us can still be redeemed. I've gushed about this movie enough already. Read or listen to my Best Movies of 2019 podcast and article to hear more.
The most fascinating thing about Joker is how polarizing the reactions to the film were. For me, it was a comic movie that tried to be artistic and failed on both counts. That said, I heard people say "It's like Taxi Driver, but better" and "It's like Taxi Driver, but worse." Other people said it was "Incel Propaganda" or "SJW Propaganda." Still others were able to "just enjoy it for what it is." These reactions came from people whose opinions I respect and those who I label as having terrible taste with no correlation one way or another. If you haven't seen it, it's worth seeing just in case you fall into that camp who really love it. See Taxi Driver first though.
If the presenter and/or winner of tonight's Best Director Award doesn't acknowledge that Greta Gerwig deserved a nomination, they're doing it wrong. This was a delightfully modern take on a classic story. I saw it with my wife, mother, and grandmother on Christmas day, and thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. In the past, I've compared it to The Phantom Thread or The Favourite(two films I loved) as a beautiful period piece with terrific costumes, but there is something much more modern underneath. It also has just a little bit of meta commentary that I thought I wanted more of, but may have been just enough to avoid self-parody. There's truly something special here. Also, in a list where four films cannot even pass the Bechdel Test, it's nice to see a female dominated film get nominated.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are terrific in this film. It's on Netflix. Go watch it now. The story of a marriage falling apart, Marriage Story is accessible to anyone while being one of the most real movies I've seen in a long time. I laughed, I cried, and I thought about the characters for weeks after seeing it. These two love each other, but there lives are going in different directions, and they both desperately want their son to be with them. My favorite thing about the film is that Adam Driver's character is a good dad who has to be an authoritarian sometimes. He's not an abusive dad who has a moment of redemption, and he's not a manic pixy dream dad. He's a real, believable character.
Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood:
This film is beautifully shot, with a great last act. It also meanders and is too long to make it worth a second watch to see whether the meandering was really necessary to set things up. It is also a film whose trailer was in front of about a dozen movies that I saw leading up, and whose trailer included most of the fun and/or funny moments. In other words, while I can see why some people would really enjoy this film, it is not for me. It could have been a great ninety minute film, but at its run time of over two and a half hours, it just does not succeed.
If you haven't seen this film, go see it now and come back to read the last few sentences of this article. Parasite is the only film on this list that gave me nightmares. It's a Korean horror/thriller that says something about capitalism and class and other stuff that probably went over my head. One family manipulates another family into hiring them as tutors for their two kids, a housekeeper, and a driver. That's their endgame, to get menial jobs from a family who has money and can afford to do so. As the film goes on, we see the consequences of the affluent family firing their previous staff, as well as a stark difference between what the two different families consider to be a major inconvenience. This won't win anything besides Best Foreign Film, but how cool would it be if it won best picture?
That's all I have to say about the nominees. I can't wait for the Oscars to be over, so I can go back to seeing good films like Sonic the Hedgehog!