Best Picture Movie Marathon, Part 8
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
I’ve embarked on an EPIC challenge to watch every movie ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. To do so, I’ve put all the years from 1929 to 2020 into a bucket and I’m pulling out years one by one to determine what movies to watch.
In this special edition, I bring you the Oscar-nominated movies of 2020! Figured since we had already seen most of these already, might as well finish it up before the Awards on February 9th!
PART 8: 2020
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Hollywood loves itself. The cinematic landscape is filled with movies about Hollywood in its heyday. Some are set to music, like La La Land or Singin’ in the Rain, some are cynical and whimsy like Sunset Boulevard or Tropic Thunder and some are cautiously honest, like A Star is Born. But none boast the unparalleled and unique voice that Quentin Tarantino brings to his latest masterpiece, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.
Set in Los Angeles in 1969, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is really two stories in one. The first story centers around a declining Western TV actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double and BFF, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Once the star of a hit Western show titled “Bounty Law”, Dalton is now struggling to find work, keenly aware that his days of heroism are nearing an end as he ages out of the Hollywood spotlight.
On the flipside, newcomer Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is enjoying her rise to stardom. Recently married to famed director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and celebrating the release of her newest film, The Wrecking Crew, Tate’s storyline runs parallel with Dalton’s, only intersecting at the end of the film in one hell of a glorious climax.
While Dalton’s storyline really could exist on its own here, the purpose of including Tate’s storyline in this movie is two-fold, in my opinion. On one hand, Tate offers a foil for Dalton, instilling the age-old Hollywood myth that as one star rises, another must fall. The fact that both Dalton and Tate are next door neighbors seems to drive that point home a little bit more.
On the other hand, the brutal murder of Tate at the hands of the Manson family marks the end of this bygone “golden age” of Hollywood and might be the proverbial period at the end of this wild and amazing storyline.
So, what’s this movie about, you ask? Well, it really isn’t about anything. It’s more a series of moments in time. I would even go so far as to compare it to the likes of The Big Lebowski, where people just kind of…hang out. The majority of OUATIH is really designed to be a dreamy snapshot of 1960s LA. We get tons of shots of Cliff driving around in his car, if for no other reason than to show off the amazing production design, the classic cars of the era and the phenomenal jams coming from the radio. It's filled with pop culture iconography, yet it’s completely void of those other hot button issues that made this era so historic – political protest, social conflict and perhaps most importantly, the Vietnam War. But the thing is, it works! In this Hollywood fairy tale, Tinsletown really is everything we want it to be.
Also like Lebowski, OUATIH is really character-driven, and no one – and I mean no one – could have pulled this off better than Leo and Brad.
For Pitt, playing Cliff Booth was probably nothing more than Brad just being Brad. In this role, Pitt reminds us of how wonderful he can be when given the right material. Playful, charismatic, charming, funny…he really does shine in this movie – and he’s not the only one.
DiCaprio is so perfectly cast as Rick Dalton that it’s truly hard to imagine anyone else in that role. Leo has always had classic Hollywood charisma and he plays Dalton with that poignant mix of longing and fading optimism that so often comes with realizing you ain’t as good as you once were.
The ending of OUATIH is quintessentially Tarantino…and if you’re a fan of his, you will not be disappointed. I personally was so blown away by the ending that I literally laughed through the entire thing because I didn’t know what else to do. True to form, a beautiful marriage of violence and humor brings this groovy Hollywood fairy tale to a close and I have to be honest, I thought the whole thing was a blast. For those who love movies, those who love Hollywood and those who long for the good ol’ days in their own lives, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
Joker: What draws us to the strange and unusual? I know I’m not alone when I say I’d rather sit in bed watching true crime documentaries than do just about anything else. But why this weird fascination with the dredge and scum of society? What is it about Walter White, Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer that always keeps me coming back for more?
Understandably, I think it’s simply a desire to know why. What drives someone to a life of crime? It’s the question at the heart of every serial killer documentary and the catalyst for Todd Phillips’ Joker.
Joaquin Phoenix is the most recent addition in a long line of actors who have given it their all to play this notorious Batman villain. In this interpretation, Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A for-hire clown by day and a want-to-be stand-up comic by night, Fleck lacks the one thing he needs to succeed in his dream job: a sense of humor. His sets bomb so badly that the late-night talk shows mock him endlessly. Fleck doesn’t tell jokes, he IS the joke.
As a victim of mental illness, Fleck is also plagued with a disorder that causes him to laugh hysterically during stressful or uncomfortable situations. Whether it’s a coping mechanism or an actual disease is never explained; however, he does carry a card with him explaining his situation, meaning he’s probably gotten treatment for it at one time.
This laughter is just one of many things not in Arthur’s control – and ironically is the spark that forces him to make one bad decision, resulting in a chain reaction of escalating events. Though he’s not nearly the cunning mastermind that Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson brought to the screen (he’s not even the master of his own faculties), Fleck becomes a victim of his environment and embarks on a dark, compelling journey into self-destruction.
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Phoenix is electrifying in what might be his best movie role to date. Like the legends that came before him, Phoenix’s interpretation of the Joker is uniquely him and undoubtedly mesmerizing. Few actors could carry a movie like this on their tiny 100-pound skin and bone frame, but Phoenix appears to do it effortlessly.
Besides the incredible acting by Phoenix, the cinematography is breathtaking, giving us real-world vibes of 1980’s city life. Director Todd Phillips was said to have been inspired by the films of Martin Scorsese, specifically Taxi Driver, and it shows in the camerawork for this film. Robert DeNiro was even cast as a late-night TV host in Joker as a nod to Scorsese’s influence.
Besides racking up 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, Joker also was the biggest October opening of all time, bringing in $93.5 million. As of now, it’s grossed over $1 billion, making it the first R-rated movie to do so, and is the 33rd highest grossing film of all time. Nothing to laugh at there!
So, what role does society play in creating a villain? Are these social outcasts mere products of their environment or is something else at play when it comes to turning to a life of crime? In Joker, we get a look into how mental illness, self-deprecation and loneliness drives a man insane. And like Walter White or the broken minds of serial killers, you may not agree with it, but you get it.
1917: Move over, Saving Private Ryan, there’s a new general in town.
April 6, 1917. It’s the height of World War I. The United States formally declared war against Germany and entered the conflict in Europe. The entire world is in chaos. And in the fields of Northern France, Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are about to embark on a seemingly impossible mission set forth by their captain.
Hearing that the Germans have made a “strategic withdrawal” and are now on the run, the British aerial intelligence comes to learn that they are in fact lying in wait, armed and ready to destroy the planned British attack. In a race against time, Blake and Schofield must cross enemy territory and deliver a message to the Devonshire Regiment, telling them to call off their attack against the Germans, which might cost the lives of 1,600 men – Blake’s brother among them. What results is a brutal, immersive dramatic thriller that takes the viewers into the trenches and on the corpse-filled battlefields of the ruined French countryside.
Directed by Sam Mendes, 1917 is nothing short of a cinematic achievement (you’re gonna want to see this in the theater). Shot to look like one continuous take, this film is a tense, unnerving ride that highlights the first-person experience of war better than any movie I’ve ever seen. It almost feels like a video game, with the camera often following close behind the pair as they work their way through the fields of the dead.
The fact that there are no obvious cuts in this film adds to the terror. The feeling of suspense never subsides. There are no cutaways. The fear of something going wrong is so real and so organic…and it lurks around every corner. This movie is very much about the experience of war – the brutality, the unfairness and the uncertainty.
Yet for all the loud explosions and gun blasts, it’s the quiet moments of 1917 that really pack a punch. Looking at a photo of a family back home, seeing a dead dog on the side of the road, watching a friend die. It’s in these moments that we really see, and are confronted with, the humanity behind the lines.
In terms of acting, both Chapman and MacKay are wonderfully cast in this film and really carry it on their own. They’re given little to no exposition, but it doesn’t really matter. Their motivation is not internal, they’re doing a job. Any background we need is revealed through their dialogue, which felt so real and honest to me. I mean, how well do we really know anyone? So much of what we know about our friends, our co-workers, our fellow soldiers, is probably just what comes up in conversation. In any other movie, this would have been a detriment…but here, I think it works perfectly.
1917 ended up taking home the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama and Best Director for Mendes. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It was one of AFI’s Top Ten Films of the Year and has appeared on many critics’ year-end Top 10 lists.
All in all, I think 1917 did for World War I what Saving Private Ryan did for World War II and Platoon did for Vietnam. It showed us, on a very real and intimate level, the true cost of war.
Marriage Story: After I watched Marriage Story with my husband, we just sat in silence for a while. I really didn’t know what to think about it until I had let it sink in a bit, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Directed by Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story begins with a long voice-over montage of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) explaining what they love – or once loved – about each other. They both consider each other excellent parents to their young son, Henry. She gives great gifts, loves playtime with her son and always forgets to close cabinets around the house. He isn’t scared to show emotion, always remembers inside jokes with his friends and eats his food like someone is going to steal it from him. The heartbreak comes with the reveal that Nicole and Charlie are actually in therapy after having already separated and are reading letters they wrote to each other as part of a counseling session with a marriage mediator.
Despite its gut-wrenching subject matter, Marriage Story uses the tropes that make romantic comedies so successful – witty dialogue, double entendre, sassy BFF’s. These methods are used with such energy and gusto that it’s a real shame that it’s in service of a couple falling apart, not coming together. Conversations feel real and relatable, with lines that overlap and moments of mumbling to find the right word or phrase. The camera gets up close and personal with Nicole and Charlie, and we get to see them look at each other in ways that words fail to describe.
What I loved most about Marriage Story is that it tells both sides equally. There’s no hero here and, perhaps more importantly, there’s no villain. Just as if we were a child stuck in the middle, we get time with each parent, learning about their strengths and their flaws. While Charlie has control issues and was unfaithful to his wife, he also is so tender with his son and loves him unconditionally. Nicole may have taken Henry and moved across the country to live with her mom and sister in Los Angeles, but in a beautifully written monologue (which literally clocks in at about 5 minutes), Nicole explains how she fell in love with Charlie and how she began to feel diminished and unheard in their relationship. In these moments we begin to understand why they’re wrong for each other, and by the end, you care for both of them so deeply that you just hope that they find their own happiness in whatever way they can.
Of course, no movie about divorce is complete without the lawyers. Nicole’s lawyer Nora, played by the AMAZING Laura Dern, and Adam’s lawyers Jay (Ray Liotta) and Bert (Alan Alda) complicate the separation as only lawyers can. Jay even tells Charlie that, by the time this is all over, he will hate him “…because of what we represent in your life.” Nora also tells Nicole that this system “…rewards bad behavior.” Originally wanting to separate without lawyers, Charlie and Nicole learn that bringing in a middleman means secrets are used as weapons, moments of weakness turn you into a bad parent and terms and conditions are negotiated that Nicole and Charlie don’t even want or agree with. It’s heartbreaking, it’s tragic and, for many couples, it’s real.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to not mention the importance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” in this film. For those of you who are unaware, “Company” is a musical series of vignettes that tells the story of a New York bachelor named Bobby, who learns about the perils and pleasures of love, marriage, dating and divorce from his collection of married friends. In Marriage Story, Nicole sings a song from “Company” with her mom and sister (“You Can Drive a Person Crazy”) at a party while Charlie is at a bar singing Bobby’s heartbreaking song, “Being Alive”, about a man just wanting someone to be there to help him feel like a person. By the end of “Company”, Bobby comes to believe and have faith that marriage can be beautiful despite its evident agonies. At the end of Marriage Story, Nicole and Charlie show us that marriage has agonies despite its evident beauty. Brilliant.
In the end, Marriage Story strives for the honesty in this relationship. Nicole and Charlie struggle through the same things that we do – how most arguments are really the same argument in different ways, how leaving a spouse means leaving their family as well, and how those little problems that bring about the end of a relationship are often all there at the beginning.
During a counseling session, Bert tells Charlie that divorce is like “…death without a body”. Something is missing. By the end of this film, we’ve come to care about Nicole and Charlie so much that, as we say goodbye, we hope that they both find what they’re looking for – life after the death of divorce.
Ford v Ferrari: Never in my wildest dreams did I think that one of my favorite movies of 2019 would be a film about racing.
Based on the amazing true story of the visionary American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and the fearless racecar driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), Ford v Ferrari is the story of how these two men come together to battle corporate giants, their own personal demons and the laws of physics to design a revolutionary racecar for the Ford Motor Company that will take on – and hopefully beat – the reigning Le Mans champion, Ferrari.
Riding high after the release of the Thunderbird (which is literally the car of my dreams), Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is unhappy with how things are progressing at the major motor company started by his grandfather. In an effort to encourage innovation, he tells his staff to walk home and come up with the next great idea for Ford Motor Company.
On a wing and a prayer, a young hotshot by the name of Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) presents the idea of getting into the racing game by way of purchasing the struggling Italian company, Ferrari. After pitching the idea to Enzo Ferrari himself, Iacocca is laughed off his high horse, told that Ford makes “ugly little cars” in “big ugly factories”. Ferrari also insults Ford II himself, calling him fat and diminishing his ego in comparison to his grandfather.
Needless to say, Ford does not respond well to the news. He decides to beat Ferrari at its own game, on its own turf. He tells his staff to stop at nothing to build the best and brightest team to create the first American racecar to compete at the fabled 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Ferrari’s racecars reign supreme.
Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon). At once one of America’s most incredible racers in the late 1950s, Shelby has been forced into retirement due to a heart condition and now sells sports cars baring his name. Armed with a blank check, his job is to design a racecar for Ford and find the perfect man to drive it.
When I first heard Christian Bale as famed racecar driver Ken Miles on screen, I knew I was going to love him. With an easy, Artful Dodger-style swagger, Ken Miles is a man with motor oil in his veins. He’s everything Ford isn’t – he’s temperamental, he’s sarcastic, he’s dirty and cockney to the core – and, as it turns out, he’s just the man for the job.
Much to the dismay of Ford executives, Shelby brings Miles on board as the lead driver for the team and, just like that, we’re off to the races. What happens next will be no surprise to motorheads, but is really best left unsaid for those of us who do not know this story. Suffice it to say, you don’t need to be a car person to appreciate the story that animates Ford v. Ferrari. Yes, it’s a car movie, but it’s also a drama and a comedy and a buddy movie and really works well in all those categories, thanks mainly to the casting.
Bale continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors working today, carrying this film much like his character carried his racing team. Fresh off his work on Vice, another fantastic film, Bale completely disappears into this role, bringing Ken Miles to life in a way only he can. Similar to Miles and the cars he loved, I think Bale is best when directors just cut him loose – give him a long, open road and let him hit the gas…and with that freedom, Bale rides smooth on to the finish line here.
Though his part is somewhat smaller, Damon is also great in this movie – doing what he does best: sarcastically breaking all the rules. Not only is he designing, rebuilding and redesigning this car for Ford, he’s also dancing a delicate dance with the Ford executives, particularly one Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas – man you’ll love to hate this guy) who wants Miles gone because he insulted Bebbe’s little pride and joy, the Ford Mustang. Boys will be boys, right?
From a directorial standpoint, this film shines. Directed by James Mangold, who also was behind the camera for a few other amazing films including Walk the Line and Girl, Interrupted, Ford v Ferrari proves he’s the up-and-coming director worth watching. With stunning camerawork and a script that is just as funny as it is heartbreaking, Ford v. Ferrari will no doubt go down as one of the best films in Mangold's career.
In the end, this is simply a movie about pride – being proud of who you are, proud of what you stand for, and what ends your willing to meet if that pride is hurt. It was seriously the most entertaining theater experience I’ve had in years and I can’t wait to add this one to my collection. Will it win Best Picture? Probably not. But, as Ken Miles said, “It’s not about the win, it’s about the ride.” And this is one hell of a ride.
Parasite: Let’s get one thing out of the way. It’s going to be reeeeally hard for me to fully dive into this movie without getting into spoiler territory, so this review is gonna be a little short. I’m not going to spoil anything for you because this movie is best enjoyed if you go in knowing nothing. That being said, HOLY SHIT, THIS MOVIE IS INSANE.
Living in squalor in a semi-underground apartment is the Kim family. Made up of husband Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), mother Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park) and son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), the Kim family is just as loveable as they are witty. Though they live in poverty, they do their best – folding pizza boxes for a delivery company to earn some extra cash, stealing wi-fi from a nearby coffee shop and sharing their small living space with an infestation of stink bugs.
When a friend offers Ki-woo the chance to earn some money by taking his place as the English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy Korean family, Ki-woo jumps at the opportunity and happily accepts.
With the help of his sister, Ki-woo crafts a killer resume to prepare for his meeting with the matriarch of the wealthy Park family, Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong, who utterly SHINES on screen). And with that, Parasite takes off with the forward-barreling energy of a delightful heist comedy as the Kim’s work together to take over the wealthy Park family home and fortune.
At this point, to say anything more would be a crime. What follows is a hilarious and depressing social commentary on class structure that twists and turns between the worlds of the poor and the wealthy. The tone is comedic at first, but then takes a hard-right turn, hurtling us into one hell of an unexpected ending.
What makes Parasite such an amazing film is the delicate marriage of words and pictures. While the script is a clever, twisted fairy tale filled with symbolism and foreshadowing, the visual language is just as powerful. The clean, empty spaces of the Park home contrast perfectly against the tight living quarters of the Kim apartment. A rainstorm that marks a pivotal shift in the story is beautiful when viewed from the large windows in the home of the Parks, but is detrimental to the Kim family and their underground apartment.
Much like the other films in this batch, the character development here is phenomenal. The Kim family, despite their stature in life, is extremely smart and calculating. The Parks, while insanely wealthy and maybe obtuse, are not stupid, either. This movie respects its characters and really shows them all in various shades of grey…we really don’t KNOW anyone. Class may have a bearing on how we live, but no matter your wealth, everyone has something to hide…
Filled with everything that makes a movie worth seeing (and seeing again) Parasite is a film lover’s film. It begs to be discussed and analyzed and rewatched and interpreted…and I’m DYING to talk about it! So, go see it, then let’s meet for tea and peach pie to discuss it all!
Jojo Rabbit: “What if Wes Anderson made a Nazi comedy?” is a reasonable way to pitch Jojo Rabbit to someone interested in seeing it. Filled with everything you’ve never seen in a movie about World War II (beautiful cinematography, vibrant color pallets, likeable Nazi’s…), Jojo Rabbit is a satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo (played by the freaking adorable Roman Griffin Davis in his film debut) who will stop at nothing to join Hitler’s Nazi regime. However, his world view is turned upside down when Jojo discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. With the help of his imaginary friend, one Adolf Hitler (played by writer/director Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism and endure the epic battle between what he has been taught and what he’s coming to discover on his own.
You guys, I really hate to say this…because I really wanted to love this movie – but I’m really torn on how I feel about it. Granted, this film is FAR from the disaster it could have been, considering the content, but I also feel like it just didn’t go far enough. Ironically, the “Hitler Comedy” played it too safe.
Here’s the thing. This movie is really two storylines in one. On the one hand, we have the whimsy, over-the-top comedic story of Jojo going to Nazi summer camp, where young boys learn how to throw grenades and girls learn the importance of having Aryan babies. It’s bright and satirical and completely ridiculous in every sense of the word…very Wes Anderson-y. This storyline also features Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen as two camp leaders, both of whom are some of the most fascinating characters in this movie and, unfortunately, drastically underused. If Waititi stayed in this world the whole time, I think this movie would have been near flawless (minus Rebel Wilson, who I really can’t stand in anything anymore). This could have been a super dark comedy about the Hitler youth, “group-think” and those adorable childhood friendships Wes Anderson loves to bring to the big screen. In this world, an imaginary friend who takes on the form of Adolf Hitler is just weird enough to work, and even the inconsistent accents could be forgiven for the sake of imagination.
The problem is that this whimsical, fantastical story is contrasted with storyline number two – a much sadder, real-life narrative about a little boy who comes to discover that everything he’s been taught to believe is a lie. In this storyline, Jojo forms a relationship with a Jewish girl that completely changes who he is and what he believes. After being raised to believe that Jews were monsters with horns and tails, Jojo comes to realize that Elsa isn’t a monster at all, in fact, far from it. On its own, this would be a beautiful story about love and friendship, not unlike The Book Thief or Life is Beautiful…but as a contrast to the fantastical storyline above, this storyline felt completely out of place.
Now, I’m not saying it necessarily had to be one storyline or the other – I mean the whole parallel between the imaginary friend who is actually a monster and the girl he’s been told is a monster but is actually a friend is clever, but the comedy isn’t funny enough, nor is the emotional storyline sharp enough, to really hit the mark.
The Irishman: I can’t take full credit for this comment, but nonetheless it remains true: “When I was a kid these guys were old. Now that I’m old, these guys are still old.”
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and every freaking Italian actor working in Hollywood today, The Irishman is the latest crime thriller directed by Martin Scorsese. It follows Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as he recalls his past years working for Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). In what is essentially one large flashback with its own flashbacks, a much older Frank recounts his life of crime, specifically his involvement with the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) in 1975.
On the surface, this film is about the intersection of crime and politics. With storylines that span the years between 1949 and 2000, this film covers everything from Castro’s rise in Cuba to the Kennedy assassination to the mob wars of the 1960s and 70s. But at its heart, The Irishman is about age and loss. It’s about sin, regret and remorse (or the lack thereof). It’s clearly Scorsese’s definitive, and maybe even final, statement on the consequences of a life lived in violence.
It’s been 25 years since the bromance that is Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese graced Hollywood. In what’s easily his best performance in years, De Niro excels at playing the closed off Frank Sheeran, a man who seems dull at first, but is just one freaking mystery after another. Frank kills with little to no emotion. A few gunshots to the head and off he goes. After all, he’s just doing a job. In fact, Frank is so detached from what he does that he speaks in euphemisms and metaphors. Murder becomes “painting houses”, “taking someone on vacation” or “taking out the trash”.
The sadness of this movie is not in the murders themselves, but in Frank’s inability or unwillingness to reflect on what he’s done. Even at the end of his life, Frank can’t admit to feeling guilt, sadness or even remorse for murdering dozens of people, including one of his dearest friends, in cold blood. The only emotion we get from Frank is when he’s trying to communicate with his distant daughter, Peggy (Anna Paquin) who, in a near-silent role, pretty much personifies Frank’s conscience. She also helps highlight Frank's real feelings about Bufalino (fear) and Hoffa (adoration).
As for the rest of the cast, Joe Pesci came out of retirement to prove he’s still the king of quiet intimidation. As crime boss Russell Bufalino, Pesci pretty much plays a quieter version of himself, only with more wrinkles and higher pants.
And in what has become his first collaboration with Scorsese, Al Pacino is a joy to watch as Teamster leader, Jimmy Hoffa. In this role, Pacino gets to do what he does best – yell and scream and call people ‘cocksuckers’. These three stars shine so bright in this film that the rest of the cast really falls into the background. It’s not always easy to understand who they are as people or what role they play – and honestly, it doesn’t really matter. Spoiler alert – most of them die, anyway.
Clocking in at just about 3.5 hours long, The Irishman is a commitment, but well worth the watch. Surprisingly, this movie didn’t feel as long as it was, which is shocking since a lot of the movie is actually very quiet. Scorsese really allows these characters to think and scheme on screen, which is not something we see too often in film. This tactic seems to highlight the theory that The Irishman is not about the battle between Hoffa and the mob as much as it's about the struggle of a man accepting his life choices.
In his 60-plus years making movies, Scorsese has killed a lot of characters. Fist fights, mob crimes, gang violence and mental illness have all contributed to the death count…but in The Irishman, he tackles the most vicious killer of all: old age. What role Frank and the Bufalino family had in Hoffa’s disappearance takes a second seat to what happens to these criminal lions in the twilight of their years – lonely, alone and afraid, with only their sins to keep them company.
Little Women: With not one, not two, but SIX movie adaptations since the novel’s release, Little Women continues to delight audiences year after year. This timeless Civil War classic of four close-knit sisters has been adapted into two silent films (one in 1917 and another in 1918), an Oscar-nominated 1933 film starring Katherine Hepburn, a 1949 film starring June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor, and yet another Oscar-nominated 1994 film starring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes and Christian Bale. In this 2019 interpretation, writer and director Greta Gerwig gives us a fresh and lovely reimagining of Little Women that is just as delightful, if not more so, than its predecessors.
(((Fair warning, there may be spoilers ahead if you’re unfamiliar with the story)))
Weaving both past and present together, this film does not aim to replace the other versions that have come before it, rather it finds its own voice while remaining faithful to the source material. Our present-day storyline is still set in the Civil War era, and the March sisters remain true to their literary counterparts, with Jo (Saoirse Ronan) the dedicated writer, Meg (Emma Watson) the domestic goddess, Beth (Eliza Scanlen) the gifted musician, and Amy (Florence Pugh) the talented artist. However, this story begins much later in the timeline, with Amy, Aunt March and Laurie already in Europe, Beth home sick, Meg married to John Brooke and Jo in New York, trying to start her life as a writer.
From this present-day storyline, shot in cool blue and grey tones, we flash back to the storyline we all know and love of the sisters living at home, shot in warm, golden tones. These flashbacks are mainly in Jo’s memory, inspired by her reacquaintance with cherished childhood mementos – Beth’s piano, a mailbox in the woods, a beloved dress. These transitions happen so quickly and fluidly that it’s sometimes hard to tell where we are in time, even with the change in color palette.
As for the rest of our players, Timothee Chalamet brings boy-next-door Laurie to life in a role he was pretty much born to play, and Laura Dern proves, once again, she’s freaking beautiful and amazing as the March matriarch, Marmee. However, one of my favorite roles in this film has to go to Meryl Streep, who gave such a funny and true interpretation of Aunt March that I found myself wishing she got way more screen time than she did.
The other thing I loved about Gerwig’s Little Women was that her characters, while true to the novel, also had ambition, good intention and hopes for the future that were not limited to being wives and mothers. In this way, Little Women is quite unlike its sister-films and really stands out with a message of female empowerment. This is probably most evident in a speech given by Amy where she tells Laurie how powerless women of that period really were, not only could they not vote or work, but through marriage, they would lose ownership of their money, property and children. This not only helps educate Laurie, but acts as a way for the audience to learn why these characters were so against marriage in the first place (this speech was actually not part of the original script, but was suggested by none other than Meryl herself).
This is further highlighted in the chemistry between Jo and Laurie. In what appears to be a gender reversal, Jo is given new life in this adaptation. She’s determined, quick to anger and strong in her beliefs. Laurie is loose and mellow, dancing around Jo as he flirts and teases her with playful aloofness that is often reserved for the ladies of the Austen novels. As a final period on the end of the feminist sentence, Laurie also wears a ring given to him by Jo, which he refuses to take off, even as Jo turns down his eventual proposal.
Halfway through her novel, Alcott pauses to celebrate a burst of joy, saying, “Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is.” In Gerwig’s Little Women, we find a break from the mundane, a light and warm and refreshing retelling of a story so many of us hold near and dear to our hearts…and what a comfort that is.
MAN, movies really blew it out of the park this year. Since this review is coming out before the Oscars, I can’t comment on winners, but I’m guessing – based on what I know of how these things go – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood or 1917 will take home Best Picture – and it would be well deserved in both cases. If it were up to me, Parasite would win, no questions asked. That movie was so innovative and really showcased everything that I love about storytelling.
The human condition was a big theme this year, especially in Joker, Marriage Story and The Irishman. These movies covered everything from family drama to mental illness and did it in a way that was not only understandable, but relatable.
Jojo Rabbit, despite playing it a little safe, was still a fun time, as was Ford v Ferrari, which is certainly my hidden gem this year, along with Little Women.
I think for the first time in a while, I can honestly say that all of these movies are terrific in some way, and I can only hope 2020 continues to give us films of this caliber…and for the love of G/d, please keep casting Laura Dern in everything!
Stay tuned in the coming days for our Oscar predictions!
Onto the next pull!