Today was another rough one. My back remains in debilitating pain which has made even watching movies difficult, but I’m doing the best I can. Regardless, today’s entry is once again going to be on the short end as I try to write through the pain and the painkillers.
Pinocchio (2020, Dir. Matteo Garrone)
No film had me scratching my head more when watching the Oscar nominations this year than Pinocchio. I immediately double checked to make sure that I hadn’t missed the new Guillermo del Toro film, and I hadn’t. Instead, there was a live action Italian version that came out this year. Surprise at its existence aside, I really enjoyed this version of the classic story. This version leaned heavily into the episodic nature of the story to deliver numerous darkly twisted set pieces.
The film’s Oscar nominated categories are costuming and makeup, and they are more than deserving. Pinocchio’s wooden face is wonderfully done, and as the film becomes more and more fantastical, the animal faces are all wonderfully done. If I had any complaints about these aspects of the film, it’s that the colors are so muted in the film, that it’s difficult to fully appreciate it’s majesty. Still the film stands out as a hidden gem from this year’s Oscar films.
Another day, and while I didn’t need to go to the ER today, my back feels just as bad. So while I was in bed for most of the day, pain killers kept my movie viewing to a minimum. In between hydrocodone naps, I managed to sneak in another Oscar nominated film. Looking at timing moving forward, I believe I should be able to finish my Oscar viewing by the time SIFF starts late next week, so look forward to that in the upcoming days.
Love and Monsters (2020, Dir. Michael Matthews)
I’m just going to get this out of the up front, Love and Monsters is almost exactly Zombieland (2009, Dir. Ruben Fleischer). Dylan O’Brien play Joel the Jesse Eisenberg equivalent, a bit of a bumbling naïve protagonist. This archetype works perfectly for an apocalyptic comedy as it is primed for easy character growth and allows for a mentor figure to heavily influence the scope of the film. This gives the film a pulpy quality following a well-trodden formula.
The film’s Oscar nomination confuses me some as well. Zombieland was never in any serious consideration for an Oscar, but most of that I’m willing to chock up to Covid shrinking the pool. What really confuses me is that the visual effects themselves are somewhat lackluster. I thought the designs of the monsters themselves were noisy making it difficult to know what exactly was going on, and the CGI falls into the standard trappings of looking like CG. The actors never appear to share the screen with the monsters they are fighting. All of this adds up to a fine action comedy streaming offering, but not a film I’d peg for Oscar consideration.
Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday. I’ve had a back spasm for a handful of days now, and yesterday while attempting to pick up my mail I collapsed and ended up spending most of the day in the ER via an ambulance. By the time I finally made it home it was around midnight and all I could do was pass out. To make up for the missed day, I made it through three features today as my Oscar viewing inches ever closer to its conclusion.
The White Tiger (2021, Dir. Ramin Bahrani)
I have to admit, The White Tiger’s presence among the Oscar nominations perplexes me some. It’s by no means a bad choice, in fact I think the adaptation is one of the better parts of the film. What specifically perplexes me is that as an Indian film it’s quite a bit removed from the Hollywood system, but also not really an arthouse film like what frequently becomes popular from abroad. Instead, director Ramin Bahrani delivers a captivating rags to riches story told from the prospective of a country with a caste system dedicated to making those stories even more unlikely than a capitalist society alone. An interesting story that while I may not go out of my way to suggest, I’m also wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid it.
Tenet (2020, Dir. Christopher Nolan)
I don’t hate Christopher Nolan. I really don’t, but he does frequently frustrate me. Tenet fits comfortably into the frustrating part of his filmography. In particular, I think that Inception (2010) in particular taught Nolan that his audience loves convoluted screenplays rather than innovative direction, and that misunderstanding has colored his work for the following decade. Tenet is a perfectly fine action film, but Nolan’s head scratching time travel logic is a hindrance rather than a selling point. The film does nothing to engage me enough to care about the intricate logic, and without caring about that all that’s left is some mind-numbing action.
The One and Only Ivan (2020, Thea Sharrock)
And this makes three 2.5-star films in a row for the day. I’m glad I watched so many because I have very little to say about any of these. The One and Only Ivan feels entirely like streaming fodder. The story of a mall circus gorilla voiced by Sam Rockwell is clearly marketed for adults to turn on as unobjectionable viewing content to keep the kids busy. The visual effects of the animals look fine enough, but not especially Oscar nomination worthy. It’s not a bad movie, but there’s just very little of it. You could definitely do worse in putting on noise for your children though.
The week is over, and after multiple consecutive days of films that weren’t quite my cup of tea, so today I chose a film that I hope would be a better fit for me. There are only a handful of films left for me to watch that are Oscar nominated this year and then I’ll be able to move on to more films that are more reliably my speed.
Pieces of a Woman (2020, Dir. Kornél Mundruczó)
For the second night in a row, my film included the song ‘Untitled 3’ by Sigur Rós; thankfully, that was the only thing the two films had in common. Pieces of a Woman existed to make its viewers miserable, and that, but in a way that’s purposeful and more productive than Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga unfunny attempts at comedy. It’s arguable that Pieces of a Woman actually wades into the genre of misery-porn, but that genre tends to be a guilty pleasure of mine, so no complaints here on the face of it.
The highlight of the films is undoubtedly the labor scene in the first act. The 24-minute single shot is textbook in creating tension. As the camera moves throughout the house without cutting the ensuing tragedy becomes all but guaranteed. While the film dabbles into melodrama with a bit too heavy a hand at times in this moment the film is unimpeachable. The nominated Vanessa Kirby and her costar Sia LaBeouf play off each other wonderfully in this devastating scene. while LaBeouf’s performance devolved into a bit of showy mess after these moments, Kirby proved her nomination was well deserved.
There comes an unfortunate time in each year’s Oscar watching at which point I have to watch the films nominated exclusively for best song. While I’ve been unimpressed by quite a few of the films that I’ve watched in the past few days, these films aren’t meant to have any cinematic value, rather just an impressive song. One of these years I’m just going to give up on this category, but it’s not going to be this year.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020, Dir. David Dobkin)
Why was this movie two hours long? While yesterday I mentioned that I’ve become less cynical when it comes to child centric entertainment, I still have little patience for Will Ferrell and his overly broad comedies. Watching this movie was a trying experience. Will Ferrell is 53 years old and his manchild persona has only gotten more cringeworthy with age. He’s always loud and awkward and prone to misunderstandings, and that’s the joke. It attempts to approximate a fish out of water style of humor, but there’s no reason for a Will Ferrell character to be a fish out of water. It’s just grating and comes across as a little mean.
I don’t have much to say about the film in general. I know that some people like movies like this, but I can’t find any entertainment in it. Even the song for which the film received it’s nomination frustrated me. Molly Sandén who sang for Rachel McAdams has a genuinely great voice, but I was a little isillusioned to learn she’s Swedish. The film couldn’t cast Icelandic actors or singers. Even more frustrating than that, was Will Ferrell’s unimpressive singing voice featured prominently in the song. Nothing worked for me. If I can say one good thing about the film, at least the film about a fictional Icelandic band had the decency to include ample Sigur Rós music.
Today followed in yesterday’s footsteps. I’m feeling much better than I did over the weekend, and today I managed to watch a short in addition to today’s feature and finish off two Oscar categories in the meantime. Additionally, the film list for SIFF came out today and I’m getting excited. I’m going to spend some time figuring out what my writing will look like that week. I’ll likely be pausing this series to focus entirely on that.
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020, Dir. Will Becher and Richard Phelan)
When I watched the first Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015, Dir. Mark Burton and Richard Starzak) I remember being rather ambivalent towards the film. The film wasn’t created for me, but 5 years ago I tended towards being a curmudgeon. With more accepting eyes I feel more positive about the sequel, though I admit it still isn’t for me.
The stop motion in the film was wonderful and the dialogue free action works well for the slapstick comedy. The entire package was reminiscent to comedy staples from the silent era. All that said, the very young target audience left the film with little complexity or depth to hold my undivided attention. While better than the sinical cash grabs of many child focused media, the simplicity was still undeniable and a bit of a hinderance. A good film but not one that serves much of a purpose outside of its intended audience.
Hunger Ward (2020, Dir. Skye Fitzgerald)
I don’t have a ton to say about this short. If there were any doubt that constant war in the Middle East has led to countless humanitarian crises, one would only need to watch the films in this Oscar category over the past few decades. I feel like each year there’s at least one of these, and while the message is always important, they tend to be so stylistically similar that they blend together almost immediately after watching them. They feel more like an extended news story than a piece of art; they are useful at telling depressing facts, but only the fact is remembered not the film.
Today was a slightly better day for me than the prior two. I’m still feeling largely run down by everything but sitting down to watch a movie felt much less arduous today, so I’ll take my win. While I may be feeling a bit better, time still eluded me, so in the service of getting to bed at a reasonable time, it will be another short entry about an Oscar nominated film for me today.
My Octopus Teacher (2020, Dir. Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed)
After multiple days of running into films the followed the traditional Oscar bait formula to a T, it was nice to watch a film that was at the very least unique. I also have a personal penchant for stories of people taking to nature as a means of self-reflection having done so myself, so My Octopus Teacher should be right up my alley. However, while I didn’t dislike the film, there are a couple of things keeping me from endorsing the film outright.
Escaping to nature in the midst of an internal crisis is a well tried trop for a reason. A combination of an escape from obligations with peace, quiet, and solidarity is a perfect mixture for a self-reassessment. In this way, nature acts as a catalyst rather than the literal solution. And there in lies what doesn’t quite sit with me in My Octopus Teacher. Craig Foster mentions his struggles with fatherhood, but the film let’s his struggles with reality take a back seat to his relationship with the octopus. This flipped perspective on the formula leads to some awkward conclusions. By choosing to exist in natures literal healing properties rather than implying metaphor, the extreme personification of the mollusk comes across as Craig imposing himself on the wild creature rather than a meditative experience. I was frequently taken aback form the film as Craig appeared to be terrorizing his supposed teacher. While I commend the film for trying a new framing of their documentary, this deviation away from symbolism distorted the message in an unproductive way.
Anxiety continued to rule much of my day today. It’s been pretty constant the past two days, and everything has felt like a bit of a chore, but tonight at least, I made sure to watch a feature film. I once again decided to stick with the Oscar nominations to save me the indecision.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021, Dir. Lee Daniels)
I realize I’ve been a bit of a broken record about the genre, but filmmakers really need to stop following the same, tired biopic formula. The United States vs. Billie Holiday is another victim of tired style. While the film makes some attempt at being more thematically concise by focusing on Holiday’s tumultuous relationship with the Federal Department of Narcotics. Even with a specific part of Holiday’s life in mind, the film felt bloated with other details of the singer’s life muddying the message.
Thankfully, despite the film’s other shortcomings, the one category it was nominated in, Lead Actress for Andra Day as Holiday, was genuinely great. The role’s range from Holidays electric stage performance and heroin fueled stupor gives Day a lot to work with, and she doesn’t back down from the challenge. Her encapsulation of the enigmatic singer is a highlight in an otherwise lacking film.
My plan to take a break from Oscar nominated films for the day didn’t quite pan out today. In fact it’s somewhat miraculous that I’m getting this post up today at all, and it’s arguable that what I did manage to make it through doesn’t really count. Most of my day today has been consumed by crippling anxiety that’s kept me more or less bedridden all day. So, while I only managed to stumble my way through a pair of animated shorts, I’m going to be considerate with myself and admit that I did the best I could all things considered.
Genius Loci (2020, Dir. Adrien Merigeau)
This was an apt viewing today given my current state of mind as Genius Loci uses it’s medium to capture what it feels like to exist in the world with debilitating anxiety. No matter how familiar a location may be, when suffering from serious mental health issues, everything can seem foreign and foreboding. The cubism art style exhibited throughout the film enhances the feeling of terror from having so little control over reality. The film perfectly captures the way an unhealthy brain distorts life. The film may be short on narrative scope, but in visuals and motif is speaks volumes.
Yes-People (2020, Dir. Gísli Darri Halldórsson)
If the choice in art movement contained hidden depths for Genius Loci, Yes-People’s overly rounded CGI was a much more simplistic choice. The short is extremely simplistic (containing only Icelandic words for yes and no as dialogue), and the low detail large-shaped art style works with the simple premise. Simplistic in style doesn’t mean there’s nothing of substance present though. Through little peeks in people’s everyday lives, Yes-People leaves the word “yes” meaningless as it applies to both happy and depressed moments. While I personally lean more towards the former short, Yes-People is a solid blend of comedy and melancholy with the appropriate art for its message.
Saturday means I’m back to watching double features with my extra time. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve already reached the point in my Oscar viewing where it becomes a slog of overly sentimental films that are the Academy’s bread and butter. After today’s viewings, I only have 15 features left to watch in the next month, so even with taking some time off in early April for the Seattle International Film Festival, I can definitely afford to take some Oscar breaks. I’ll likely plan on exercising that option tomorrow.
News of the World (2020, Dir. Paul Greengrass)
A decade ago, News of the World would haven been all but guaranteed a best picture nod. A solid western staring Tom Hanks and leaning heavily into sentimentality is the perfect recipe for Oscar bait. And while the film was good enough, I’m much happier with this year’s batch of nominees reflect more diverse and ambitious filmmaking that I’m glad to see as a change of the guard.
While I anticipated News of the World being a throwback Oscar bait film, I didn’t anticipate how uninspired of a reunion between Hanks and director Paul Greengrass it would be. Hanks is still capable of being one of the best working actors, but it’s not a given. For Hanks to live up to his potential, he needs a role that can push him. In Captain Phillips (2013), their prior film together, Greengrass pushed Hanks into one of the stronger performances of the latter part of his career. In News of the World, Hanks just plays a version of his real-life persona of the worlds grandpa. It’s not bad, it’s just a bit of a waste of Hanks’s talent.
Mulan (2020, Dir. Niki Caro)
I’m going to be blunt; Mulan is a fine movie, but it has absolutely no reason to exist. I passed on watching this film when it came out, because after the atrocious remake of The Lion King (Dir. Jon Favreau) from 2019, it was clear that Disney was taking the term remake way too literally. The music and Eddie Murray may be missing from this version, but this new version does nothing to differentiate it outside of what’s missing.