By Lori Bennett
Special to Wreckhouse Press
It’s easy to find a good flick these days thanks to producers dropping their best and most recent projects in hope of catching the attention of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences. On Feb. 8, the Academy announced nominees in 24 categories for the 94th Academy Awards. All categories have five nominees, except one. Since 2009 the Best Picture category allows up to ten nominees. There have been years where selecting just five films for the Best Picture nod was challenging. This wasn’t one of those years, and the Academy has diluted the tank with ten nominees. Nonetheless, I’ll give you my thoughts on the ten and you can choose which to watch so you’re ready for the Academy Awards Ceremony on Sunday, Mar. 27.
Belfast is set in 1969 Northern Ireland during the conflict between the Ulster Protestants, who wanted Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the Irish Catholics who wanted to form a united Ireland, separate from the UK. Don’t be put off by the politics. This is the story of a young family, told from young Buddy’s perspective, living in Belfast amid the conflict and trying to decide whether they should stay or go. Watching this one feels a little like going home to NL, where the accents, turns of phrase and big dilemma are familiar. You’ll love Judi Dench as Granny, in quite a switch from her James Bond role, and if you can’t fall in love with Jude Hill as Buddy, you’re a curmudgeon.
One of my favourite films of the year was CODA. An acronym for Child of Deaf Adults, it’s the story of a teenage girl who is the only hearing person in a deaf family. The plot follows her growth to independence while filling an essential role in the family fishing business. Ruby is a beautiful singer that none of them can hear, with opportunities they can’t fathom. I’d recommend this movie to absolutely anyone and be confident they’d enjoy it. It’s funny and charming, with impressive acting performances from names you won’t recognize. The directorship was also strong, powerfully integrating the use of sound and interpretation to bring in its audience.
I wish I could tell you what Don’t Look Up is about. A young scientist discovers a comet that is about to collide with earth and is unable to make politicians take her seriously. The movie is supposed to be satire – a commentary on the lack of attention to climate change – and it should be brilliant with a cast of Oscar owners that includes Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. It gave me some laughs, but it tries way too hard, endures way too long, and at the end of the day it fits best in a new genre we’ll call contrived.
Drive My Car won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s Japanese and most of the movie is subtitled, but beyond that it is three hours long. A good portion of that three hours takes place in a red Saab with the lead, an aging actor played by Hidetoshi Nishijima, being driven around by his temporary chauffeur. The story is decent, albeit too long, the scenery is stunning, and the performances are good. But you’ll want an extra large Tim’s for this one.
I should confess that I can’t stand science fiction, so don’t trust my review of Dune. It’s the same old thing – we’re a million years or so in the future, the characters have special powers and there is a conflict about something or other. The cinematography was good, I guess, but shouldn’t an Oscar contender have a plot you can remember?
King Richard is a wonderful sports movie. It’s the story of Richard Williams, the father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams, and the role he had in their rise to stardom as elite tennis players. Will Smith is brilliant in the lead role and may snag Best Actor for his role. In a funny way, tennis is kind of a sub-plot in this film. It’s about racial inequities and fatherhood and perseverance. You’ll love it.
I thoroughly enjoyed Licorice Pizza, but I’m not exactly sure why. It’s a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy who is a child actor, wannabe entrepreneur, borderline swindler who falls in love with an older woman. The movie is the story of their friendship and various exploits that uses way too many 70s references. Did you even know that licorice pizza is 70s slang for a vinyl album? It was entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny in places. I’m not sure it’s Best Picture material.
Nightmare Alley is quirky and kind of weird, exploring the life of a carnie with a troublesome past. It’s dark, with strong performances from Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett, and a set that will attract some technical awards. But it was also too long, and that may not be the only thing that was overdone.
I went into The Power of the Dog with no clue of what it was about. In some ways I left feeling the same way. It’s the story of a wealthy rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his relationship with his brother’s wife and her teenage son. It’s a classic villain versus victim and the who’s who gets murkier the longer you watch. This film had my complete attention from start to finish, and it belongs in the Best Picture conversation. The imagery is lovely in this one, and I’m not referring to the river baths.
I don’t need to tell anyone what West Side Story is about since the Romeo and Juliette modernization has been modernized a few times, and it’s probably not a story that needed to be told more than once. The singing isn’t as distracting as you might think, and none of the performances blow your mind.
For me, there were four films that firmly belonged the Best Picture category. Belfast is my predicted winner, but I also quite enjoyed CODA, The Power of the Dog and King Richard. If I had to pick another one, I’d go with Licorice Pizza.
That said, the Academy crowd are an odd bunch, and there is a good chance they’ll love the political attention for Don’t Look Up. Either way, there are some good hours of entertainment in this year’s field.
Enjoy the movies and don’t forget the popcorn!