And now I return to my regretfully neglected blog to dispense my thoughts on the movies nominated for Oscars (and one or two that didn’t make the cut). As always, I’ll be steering clear of the actual ceremony but checking the winners list as the night goes on.
All Quiet on the Western Front – If I had to choose a top movie of the year, it might be this one. A staggering adaptation of the classic novel, it really puts you on the front lines of the Great War and makes you see the brutality of that war and the fact that it really was being fought by young men who were being cut down in droves in the primes of their lives. Not sure when the last time was that I saw a war film that affected me this much.
Avatar: The Way of Water – A spectacle over ten years in the making that was well worth the wait. The 3D is immersive in a way that most other movies wish they could achieve, and it tells a relatable story about the bonds of family and community. Maybe it’s a bit overlong in the middle, but why bother complaining about the length of a James Cameron movie? He’s based his entire directing career on “Go big or forget it!” Another achievement from that master director.
Babylon – This is not a movie for everyone, and you’ll know within the first ten minutes whether or not you want to invest the next three hours in this story. That being said, I loved it. I was totally onboard with its over-the-top craziness and its deep dive into Hollywood in the late 1920s as the seismic shift from silent films to talkies was happening. Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie were excellent as stars who suffer the pitfalls of stardom in this time, and Diego Calva was solid as the Nick Carroway-esque observer of all this madness.
The Banshees of Inisherin – This has cemented for me that I am not a Martin McDonough fan. I found this dull, dreary, and mean-spirited, and not at all an enjoyable experience. In fact, Colin Farrell’s sister in the movie shouts a line at Brendan Gleeson that sums up my thoughts: “You’re all fecking boring!” That’s what this movie should’ve been called: “Two Boring Assholes Have An Uninteresting Fight.” An absolute dud in my eyes, but it looks likely to take home a bunch of awards (why?).
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Immensely satisfying sequel to the breakout 2018 original. Ryan Coogler had a huge task on his hands making a sequel to one of the biggest, most important films of the past few years and to do it without his main star must have been daunting, but he weaves a strong tale of the strength of familial bonds and what happens when one culture encroaches on another. The entire cast is great, but Angela Bassett was superb in this. I imagine she’ll need to make some space on her mantle for a well-deserved Oscar.
Elvis – Austin Butler’s performance as the King of Rock and Roll is a star-making turn of epic proportions. Baz Luhrmann’s biopic is all over the place but Butler is the never-wavering anchor that keeps us interested in a tale that’s been told in various forms over the years. A lot has been said about Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, and while his performance is off-putting at first, it falls in sync with the rest of the film and doesn’t remain a distraction. One of the better biopics to come out in recent years.
Emily the Criminal – It’s criminal that Aubrey Plaza didn’t get an Oscar nomination for her surprisingly deep and effective performance in the title role. This small indie drama packs a punch when you see what her character will do to earn money in a world where she just can’t seem to get ahead. A strong supporting cast keeps this a riveting study of life on the other side of the law and how that other side is a lot closer than we think.
Everything Everywhere All At Once – Here is a movie where I want so badly to celebrate all that’s good about it but I find it hard to ignore its shortcomings. Michelle Yeoh is transcendent in this and will most likely take home a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar. Same with Ke Huy Quan in his Supporting Actor turn. It’s a brashly original piece that carves its own niche into the sci-fi film world. And yet…its first hour is a complete mess, to the point that I almost turned it off because of how frustrated I became with how the story was going everywhere and yet nowhere, not to mention the overly chaotic editing that made a mess of the story. However, in this case, I’ll focus more on the positive, so hooray for Yeoh and Quan.
The Fablemans – A heartfelt entry from Steven Spielberg that fictionalizes his early days as a young boy who becomes fascinated by movies and then as a teenager who wants to make movies for living, all while navigating his parents’ rocky marriage, moving to different places every few years, and antisemitism at one of his high schools. It culminates in a fateful meeting with legendary director John Ford, gamely played by director David Lynch. Good performances from Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch help keep this grounded, and the young supporting cast playing the siblings within this family are all very good. Not sure if it’s Best Picture material, but it’s definitely one for the aspiring artists out there.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – I’d elect that Daniel Craig should only play Benoit Blanc from now on. He looks like he’s having a blast playing that character, and I’m sure the intricate, spitfire script provided by director Rian Johnson has a lot to do with that enjoyment. This is a murder mystery in the same vein as the original, only now set on an island and with a more neurotic set of characters. This was a ton of fun, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for Monsieur Blanc.
Nope – This is another solid effort from Jordan Peele, but it has one staggering flaw: the subplot featuring the monkey going berserk on the set of the family sitcom was inherently more interesting than the main plot. Don’t get me wrong, the main plot has an effectively original take on the alien invasion scenario. It’s just that the characters involved in that story were kinda dull, whereas a monkey tearing up a sitcom set will always command my attention.
Tar – Cate Blanchett’s performance in this is dynamic. You can’t take your eyes off of her. As for the rest of the movie, it’s understandably divisive, but it’s one I found interesting and never boring, even when it meanders wildly. It’s the classic story of a creative mind who can’t get out of their own head to the detriment of their public life, and how those with celebrated talent can quickly find themselves on the chopping block of public opinion. This is definitely worth a watch but don’t expect an easy time with it.
Top Gun: Maverick – A crowd-pleasing movie made in a way that movies just aren’t made anymore. Tom Cruise slips back effortlessly into one of his most iconic characters, and the new characters placed around him (especially Miles Teller as Goose’s son) are compelling in their own way. Val Kilmer’s cameo tugs at the heartstrings, just as the action scenes get the adrenaline going. Definitely one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in a while, and a reminder that Oscar-nominated movies don’t always have to feel like homework.
Triangle of Sadness – How this utterly atrocious movie got a Best Picture nomination, I’ll never know. It tries to be three different movies and fails miserably at all of them. None of the characters were interesting. All of them were just vapid idiots I couldn’t wait to be rid of (well, except for Woody Harrelson’s captain character, who was in this all too briefly). And the movie was endless, literally. It drones on for close to three hours and doesn’t even have the good sense to have a proper ending. It just does that crappy “fill in the ending in your mind” thing that all too-cool-for-school art filmmakers do, to much less effect here. Avoid this one at all costs.
White Noise – I’ve loved Noah Baumbach since his debut Kicking and Screaming in 1995. That being said, it takes someone as truly talented as him to make something as horrid as this. The story is all over the place but still manages to go nowhere. Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig look lost. It makes some philosophical statements that are no deeper than what you’d hear two stoners in a college cafeteria saying. And it feels endless. It prattles on for over two hours. The ending sequence has a flash mob type thing in a supermarket, which could’ve been enjoyable had the movie that preceded it not been so joyless.