Part of a series watching past Best Picture nominees! Despite the flaws of the Oscars system, these are still a great mix of art and political films to view.
The aim of this article is to kill your browser with large image loading - jokes - although it may take a while!
Additionally, as this is one of my initial website articles you may note that some reviews are in different formats to each other. I used one style and format of review in 2020, and tried a different method in 2021. In future articles, we'll see how I decide to use the long-form content type to arrange everything!
Use the table of contents below to jump to relevant review (ordered by my rating descending):
"'Down to Gehenna, or up to the Throne, He who travels fastest, travels alone.' Wouldn't you say Lieutenant?"
One of the best movies I've seen in my life. So many well-executed technical things coming together to lift a standard story into something special.
Beautiful, varied cinematography capturing the tight and open spaces across WW1. It cannot be understated how effective the use of light, colour and the environment is, and the film knows when to change it. The seamless one-take camera movement like in Birdman, but here used to much better effect in my opinion. The score. Stunning, and intense at the right moments, enhancing the fear or emotion of a moment. The acting across the board was phenomenal as well, especially in the leads, providing some really emotional beats. Even the dialogue seems so simple yet real.
There were so many powerful scenes in this film, and it really got my heart pumping and moved me. Among the seemingly endless WW1/2 movies, this one holds a special place.
"You know what kind of plan never fails?"
On first time viewing, the movie was definitely packed with all the right things. It goes beyond genre, the first half being a humorous setup against a realistic and not-great projection of the future, before transitioning seamlessly into a thriller-style situation. I rarely check my phone or the time during a movie, but this one contained so much that I had to check and was surprised by how little time had passed - the movie was definitely forward-moving but the pacing never felt rushed, except perhaps in the open ending. The ending itself brings together the story and themes, and subtly pushes the viewer to think about the characters in their own world.
The cinematography was at times beautiful, with the camerawork really changing with the pacing of the film - it was a clear step up from Snowpiercer, just like how the themes here were much more richly developed and nuanced whilst remaining in the background. The acting invites the audience in, and is enhanced by held camera shots and costuming, with all the characters given great arcs. Definitely going to rewatch it, but will need some time to process and appreciate everything the film brought.
EDIT: thinking upon and watching Youtube analysis videos, this movie is so layered it blows my mind with how much depth and craft is put into every single shot and frame.
#3: Ford v Ferrari
"There's a point, seven thousand RPM, where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, just disappears. And all that's left is a body moving through space and time."
WHY: Excited to see Bale and Ford in a racing biopic. Also 2020 Oscars Best Picture Nominees list! 5/9.
STORY: Did not expect this to be in the 60s, but the story of friends-from-WWII Shelby and Miles is a great one as they work on developing a Ford vehicle that can win the 24-hour Le Mans race. The setup through executives Iacocca, Beebe, Ford II and Ferrari was necessary but made interesting through the rotating perspectives. Shelby's family as well felt authentic, despite seeming underwritten, and there's a clear discussion of individuality vs the corporate machine as we see personalities collide.
TECHNICAL: Damon and Bernthal deliver understated performances (especially emotionally for Damon), whilst Bale is confident and able to carry the frame so well. Speaking of which, I loved the camerawork from ground-view shots of vehicles and the track, camera moving behind actors and wide shots of the land and sky. The cinematography particularly stood out in dawn and dusk, with the sunlight providing some great colour to the scene. The score was really, really good - loved the use of different instruments and mix of soft and powerful moments.
WHO: Rush's last race is phenomenal, especially with Zimmer's score, and this movie felt like that experience taken and expanded. There's dedication, uniqueness, and an intimate understanding of the vehicle as a living, dangerous and beautiful thing. If you have any affinity towards racing, this movie will blow your socks off from its opening voiceover.
#4: The Irishman
"Three people can keep a secret when two are dead."
A sweeping epic that barely justifies its runtime, but manages to not only reveal the historical intersection of organised crime and major events in the USA from the 50s through to 90s, but also displays the remorse and regrets that come with age. I found the story intriguing and smart, with cross-cutting between 2-3 different timelines framed through narration and camerawork.
Scorsese's direction is delectable, from the colour palette of different scenes to the held camera angles pulling you into each frame and scene for the appropriate amount of time. The cast speaks for itself, and whilst each actor plays rather comfortably in their roles they all hold a certain weight that can't be put in words (and the de-ageing technology works wonderfully!). The score also really lifts the film, playing those old-time tunes but also providing an atmospheric soundtrack for separate parts.
I'm not sure if/ when I'll rewatch this as it honestly was very long, but if I do I hope to reflect more upon its heavy themes.
#5: Jojo Rabbit
"The humble little bunny faces a dangerous world everyday, hunting carrots for his family, for his country."
WHY: Saw it on Disney+. Been on my list mainly due to Taika Waititi, and my quest to complete the 2020 Oscars Best Picture nominee list. 6/9!
STORY: 10-year-old Johannes Beltzer is a young Nazi at home in WWII, indoctrinated (and dealing with issues) so greatly that he has conversations with a ridiculous Hitler. I found the first 30 minutes a really tough watch, especially if you didn't go into the film expecting satire, but then the plot settles after his youth camp and "Jojo Rabbit" nickname. As a twist in the walls of his home is introduced, the film just got better and better as more of its runtime passed, leading to an excellent and emotional third act.
TECHNICAL: This was fantastic acting from young lead Davis and his counterparts in McKenzie and the humorous Yates. The supporting cast were all great, adding layers of character beneath sarcasm and deadpan dialogue. The colours were vibrant despite the conflict setting, which accented the child-like perspective and made later sequences more impactful. There are some key motifs in the knife, shoes and rabbit itself and the screenplay as a whole is good, especially the conversations that occur between the humour.
WHO: I did notice the negative feedback to Waititi's effort here, and do not feel the same way about Jojo Rabbit - although I do not have the experiences or perspective that others may on what is an encompassing and sensitive issue. If you can stomach a reductionist take on Hitler and his party as a means to communicate how systems blindly consume children against their moral compasses, this film will pull you in and move you.
"Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?"
Honestly, I thought Joker was over-hyped and for the wrong reasons. As a huge comics fan (nerd) myself, I definitely feel like the rather linear approach they took failed to do justice to the maniac's backstory or quirks, and something "multiple-choice" would have been better. There were alright shots, but using the Joker as a representative of citizen unrest that broils over into a class revolution just felt... wrong. Don't get me wrong, Arthur Fleck is a troubled citizen who perhaps is not being served as well as possible by the system - but his character did not deserve the praise and "justice" handed to him, and it's not like the film did a better job of presenting alternatives.
There was some good stuff however. Joaquin Phoenix put in a masterful performance that earned him his Best Actor Oscar after 3 nominations, and the simple yet haunting strings score featured a fitting musical motif. There were some nice colour choices in the cinematography, but overall the story's direction felt as if it overstepped the boundaries of homage and too directly took inspiration from films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Whilst I feel general audiences may enjoy this, I found the final messages around mental health and counter-culture in a failing society too muddled and contradictory to provide any educational or even clear takeaways.
- Little Women - heard it's a classic and has been adapted many times, but want to read the novel first
- Marriage Story - need to be in the right mind-frame to watch this one
- Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood - am exploring Tarantino's work semi-chronologically to see his evolution as a director, so will get around to this one
When I get around to watching these, I'll adjust the rankings list accordingly!
Follow the links below:
🎞️ Thank you for reading the article!
🎥 As always, you can find more film reviews on my Letterboxd account here 😄