The Oscars—Best Pictures

It’s almost a month after the Oscars. So, I am late with this blog. It doesn’t really matter because I didn’t agree with the Academy’s votes. Who does? I saw all the nominees for Best Picture and all the Oscar-nominated shorts, both live action and animated. It was a lot of fun, taught me a good bit about storytelling, and made Oscar night more interesting. After a fashion, I had skin in the game. I wanted my favorites to win. 

Most of them didn’t.I did get about half the ballot right. It was still fun. 

Also, who saw PARASITE winning four Oscars? Not this girl. I figured it would win for Best Foreign Picture, which it did, and that would be the end of it. To say that I was gobsmacked when it picked up the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director ,and Best Picture is an understatement. Bong Joon-ho is right—the subtitles are only 1 inch high obstacles. 

All the nominees were good movies in that they were all worth watching. 

Of them, I found LITTLE WOMEN the most annoying and the weakest of the films. The endless bloody flashbacks made the narrative progression difficult to follow. It was an attempt, I think, to link present pain, anxiety, and love to memory of shared and cherished past. It failed. IThe flashbacks simply got tedious and hard to follow. Furthermore, the overt, modern feminism was  trite. I know we live in the age of Trump, but c’mon, SIster, sing a new song. The old patriarchy bashing doesn’t cut it anymore—men are bad; marriage equals a merely transactional arrangement; children are a burden and waste of time, talent, intellect, wealth; independence is the only thing of value. Next time, the director should take on Virginia Woolf.

I also had other issues. I may also be suffering from Saoirse Ronan fatigue, as I do with Meryl Streep, who plays snooty Aunt March.  Ronan’s performance as Jo was studied, not exuberant. Florence Pugh did a better job with Amy, who was never my favorite sister in the book. She also delivered the feminist speeches to a confused and maudlin Laurie, played by Timothée Chalamet, as if she were speaking to an idiot. In this movie, Laurie is a spoiled rich kid who needs a comeuppance. There’s not a lot of reason to like him or, worse, marry him, as Amy does. The marriage rings hollow because all the chattering about love strikes a false and mercenary note. Furthermore, Timothée Chalamet is lackluster as Laurie. And why Jo should’ve been in love with Professor Baer is utterly unclear in this film. The character seemed to be a throwaway. 

Let’s just say I’ve seen better adaptations of the novel. FORD v FERRARI was also an adaptation, of GO LIKE HELL. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say if it is faithful or far-fetched. The movie, however, is excellent, and even if you’re not a gearhead, you won’t be bored.

FORD v FERRARI is really about the drive for innovation and perfection. Christian Bale’s Ken Miles says that you can’t be perfect all the time, but you can try for one perfect lap. It’s also a buddy film—Carroll Shelby, one of the hottest designers in the history of American cars, and Ken Miles, perhaps the greatest driver in American automotive history. It’s about these two buddies winning the 24 hours of Le Mans in spite of Ford’s corporate control freakishness, as represented by Leo Beebe (Who?), and Ferrari’s general superiority. Ford’s GT-40 won Le Mans four straight years, the only American car to do that. It’s also a period piece, and its cast reflects that—all male except for Caitriona Balfe (better known to OUTLANDER fans as Claire Fraser). She was fabulous, a standout as Mollie Miles. Matt Damon and Christian Bale were great, particularly Bale whom I did not see except as Ken Miles. It was a well crafted film wherein the sum is greater than its parts.

That, unfortunately, I can’t say that about ONCE UPON A TIME . . . IN HOLLYWOOD. Usually, I like Quentin Tarantino’s films, but not this one. Wishing doesn’t do it for me. The film is a sincere wish that a gruesome murder didn’t take place. There’s genuine longing here and a suggestion that Roman Polanski might not have been so screwed up if the Manson cult had just busted into the wrong house and got what they deserved. 

However, I am glad Brad Pitt did get his Oscar. Usually, I can’t stand him, but not this time. As the aging stunt man/babysitter for a declining movie star., he was great and the moral center of the film—especially when he has his encounter with the Manson cult. Boy, is that weirdsville. Leonardo di Caprio was excellent. He carried off the moments of Hollywood angst with poignancy. Contemplating the loss of one’s career is never easy. Margot Robbie’s role as Sharon Tate was actually small, but she carried it off, especially as she really looked like Sharon Tate. But altogether, I feel rather meh about it.

I can’t say I feel that way about JOJO RABBIT. I know it’s supposed to be satire, but it comes off more as twee and nucking futz. In the abstract, Taika Waititi (who plays a scandalously hilarious Hitler) is correct—Nazism is made up to appeal to 10 year old boys who never grew up and who like to dress up in uniforms. They have childish, one dimensional fantasies about Jews. The childish artwork was perfect for this point. On paper, it is eminently mock-worthy for its sheer absurdity. However, given the renewed vigor all over the world for populism based in ethnic, gender, and/or religious superiority—or God helps us, all of the above—it has gone well past mockery and into damned deadly. 

Speaking of surreal, 1917 certainly captured the idiocy and the wastefulness of the World War. The moonscapes created by the artillery. The deep craters turned into ponds. The dirt, the mud, the rats. The dead bodies in no man’s land. Everything but the smell and the trench foot. The shelled-out buildings. The trenches. Did you know the Germans had better? The shell shock and the absolute bone-deep exhaustion of the troops. Will Scofield is every Tommy. He has every weird war experience to be had in his mission to save 1600 men from disaster. The camera work suits the subject and enhances the absurdities of the war. 

But . . . and this is a huge but . . . if you don’t know much about WWI, then all you’re really going to get out of this movie is that war really, really sucks. That’s true, but that’s not much to hang a movie on. Historical content was lacking. I had to fill in all the gaps. Yes, I can do it—I had a whole graduate history class in WWI—but a viewer shouldn’t need that level of outside education to bring to a movie. I would use this movie in a class on WWI—at the end, to bring it all together.

And now, I come back to PARASITE. Why did it win? It had something to say, and it said in a genuinely funny, even slapstick way. Irony and bullshit, deception and flattery abound in the oddest caper film. It’s a black-humored film that turns downright grim at the end. The poor fight each other for scraps from the tables of the rich until it kills them. The rich are, of course, clueless. 

One sharp, but poor kid decides to take advantage of that cluelessness. Once in the household of a rich family, he leverages his position to assist other members of his family in getting jobs with this wealthy family. Once everybody’s in position, you have to ask—who are the parasites here? Of course, it comes a cropper when the poor family has to—literally—fight it out with the previous housekeeper, who’s keeping her debt-riddled husband in hiding in the basement. Appeals to solidarity fall on deaf ears. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking. The situation ultimately explodes families, suggesting that nothing works for anybody when society doesn’t work for everybody.

A movie has to have something to say, and it has to say it in a clever, yet easily received way. PARASITE did that. And in the end, one inch subtitles proved to be no obstacle at all.

Copyright KG Whitehurst