In an effort to see and review the films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture before the upcoming Oscars ceremony, cramming a mini review for each film into this post is the way to go… especially since I’d seen none of the eight films prior to the nomination announcements. Being ‘mini reviews’, they are going to be more concise – hitting the main points in a paragraph or two to give an indication of what works and what doesn’t. Also, this isn’t going to be all of the films since I haven’t seen a few of the nominees. Without further ado… let’s do this!
Directed by David Fincher, Mank provides an exploration of 1930s Hollywood as screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz races against the clock to finish writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane. From a technical standpoint, everything about this film is a hit. Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography is the most obvious technical achievement. Every shot is framed and composed in a way which enhances the overall beauty and captures the look and feel of the era. If nothing else, it’s a stunning film to look at. Complete with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross‘ brilliant score, and incredible costuming and production design across every scene.
On top of this, Gary Oldman’s lead performance as Herman J. Mankiewicz is fantastic. He really displays his ability to completely transform and disappear into a role and makes a number of scenes more interesting than they would be without him. The narrative is where the film completely fails for me. I couldn’t get invested in the story or the lives of the characters involved. The jumping back and forth through time and introduction of more and more characters felt like too much. There’s nothing in the narrative strong enough to hold my attention for more than a few minutes, and for that reason it was quite a dull watch.
I recognise the technical achievements of the film, and Gary Oldman’s great performance, but the narrative just doesn’t hit the spot.
Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari follows a Korean family who move to a farm in Arkansas in search of the American dream. Not everything goes as planned and their bond as a family is tested when the farm life is not all it’s set up to be. Above all else, Minari is a deeply touching story about the strength, determination and resilience of a family when they all dig deep and work together, through their differences. The themes and messages of the core narrative are clear and very well explored through the course of the film. It does remain engaging for the first act, parts of the second and a good chunk of the closing moments. However, the slow pacing does make the middle of the film feel like it’s meandering through various subplots rather than moving along. It was very rollercoaster-like, in terms of keeping me engaged for parts and then losing me in others. This uneven feel is what hurt the film the most for me.
That being said, Steven Yeun being recognised for his acting performance is a spot on call. He’s awesome across every single one of his scenes and has you transfixed on him whenever he delivers the more emotion-driven moments. There’s also a lovely, sweeping instrumental score that made for a nice backdrop to the narrative at all points through the film.
So, in the end, Minari is a very solid film that has a heartwarming story and a top notch performance from Steven Yeun. However, the pacing through the middle of the film and the inability to lock me into the narrative at all times brings it down somewhat.
Going into this year’s Oscars ceremony, there’s plenty of buzz surrounding Nomadland and the great chance it has to take home multiple of the 6 awards it’s nominated for. Right at the forefront of the film is the phenomenal performance from Frances McDormand. In a category where there are a number of strong performances, she has all but cemented herself as the favourite. Every scene of hers is absolutely breathtaking. She delves so deep into the role that you would think this is a documentary and that she’s a real nomad. The emotional strength of her performance, but also her ability to weave in some snarky humour is brilliant. It’s a brilliantly layered performance that’s worth the price of admission alone.
Beyond that, this is a film that’s not only written well but directed incredibly well by Chloe Zhao. She has set herself up as one of the hottest directors right now thanks to how incredibly well she has put together all the pieces of this film. Every single element works together in unison to create a complete package that is intriguing and engaging from beginning to end. Also, the fact that much of the cast are real-life nomads playing fictionalised versions of themselves only heightens the realism of everything going on. Even Joshua James Richards‘ cinematography is a stunning work of art. The way he frames the beauty of the American Midwest will leave you in awe.
I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about Nomadland. It hit the mark across all areas and is thoroughly moving and entertaining the whole way through. Frances McDormand’s performance and Chloe Zhao’s remarkable directing work make this a must see!
A truly incredible triumph. The Father, based on the play of the same name, is a brilliant character study and mesmerising exploration of the effects dementia has on the mind of the person living with it and those around them. What makes this exploration different is that it cleverly puts you in the mind of the person suffering dementia instead of viewing it from the outside. The narrative is adjusted in a way that reflects exactly how they are experiencing the world – which results in some truly incredible sequences. The story is emotionally impactful, deeply engaging and hooks you from the beginning right through to the very end. Everything down to the dialogue is expertly crafted across every scene.
There’s no doubting the fact that Anthony Hopkins is one of the greats when it comes to delivering riveting performances, and that’s exactly what you get here. If you thought Chadwick Boseman’s performance placed him as a guarantee to win the Oscar, guess again. Anthony Hopkins is so incredible across every single moment that he will leave you speechless. Every line of dialogue, every facial expression and every nuanced movement that he does in playing this character is flawless. There is not a single hole I can find in his performance, which puts him in an amazing spot to with the award for Best Actor. I mean, that fact that he outshines Olivia Colman in every scene they share is amazing in itself.
Complete with a beautifully eerie score, great supporting performances and a spectacular showcase of incredible editing, The Father is a film that should be seen by all who love a deeply moving and emotional drama. Look out for this one come the night of the Oscars because it may take home some surprise wins.
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Promising Young Woman is perfection in every sense of the word. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, this is the story of a woman determined to get revenge against those who wronged her in the past. It’s thrilling, dramatic, emotional, hilarious and entertaining across every single second. The way it manages to incorporate all of those contrasting tones and balance them to where there’s never a time where one feels too overpowering is amazing. In her directorial debut, Emerald Fennell has crafted something special that highlights some relevant societal issues without feeling like it’s beating you over the head. She takes a bold approach in the way she chooses to touch on these issues and it pays off amazingly well.
The narrative itself is compelling right from the brilliant opening scene. There are twists and turns waiting around every corner and despite hitting a couple beats that some may find familiar, the unique tone of this film is what sets it apart. It never dips in quality, never dips in pace and stays wholly engaging right to the moment the credits start to roll. Much of the credit here also goes to Carey Mulligan who, to put it simply, is phenomenal. She’s utterly mesmerising in this role and nails her character so well that she manages to show how she’s hilarious, emotionally damaged and terrifying all at once. She definitely has my vote for this upcoming Oscars.
On top of her performance, her chemistry with Bo Burnham is off the charts. Whenever the two of them are on screen the mood is lifted and it puts a smile on your face. There are awesome performances across the whole film, but I need to mention Laverne Cox who is hilarious every time she shows up. If it’s not clear already, this is one of the best films of 2020. Everything is flawlessly executed and there wasn’t a single second that I did not love. There may be a tough scene or two, but the way Emerald Fennell crafts these moments in contrast to the more uplifting moments is done with a delicate touch.
Whatever you’re doing this weekend… check out this movie!