By: Henry J. Fromage –
This week I’m hustling to watch all of those Oscar 2020 nominees while I still can before the ceremony.
37. The Two Popes
I was a bit afraid this would be dry and stagey, but was surprised to see it’s rather a delight in no small part due to Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins’ prickly chemistry and the lively hand of director Fernando Meirelles. The fact that the majority of the film is the two men feeling each other out in matters of theology and the future of the Catholic Church adds to the surprise- it’s compelling, hard stop. Two Beers.
38. Wild Rose
This movie’s ostensibly about Jessie Buckley’s Nashville dreams as a recently released Scottish con who wishes to become a Country Music star. What it turns into is a tale of her maturation as a person, which Buckley delivers beautifully. Good thing, too, because she’s pretty insufferable to start out. Three Beers.
This North Macedonian documentary about a wild beekeeper coming in conflict with a new family in her village who use her proffered knowledge to less environmentally friendly ends is the first film I can remember to land on both the Best Documentary and Best International Feature shortlists- and deservedly so. Elegiac, beautiful, and tragic in turn, this is pure filmmaking. A Toast.
This surprise Oscar nominee starts fairly dire as Jason Schwartzman’s motormouth routine is rarely as amusing as he seems to think it is. However, something alchemical begins to happen when he and the taciturn woodsman named Klaus start on their path of good deeds, reuniting a town divided by clannish feuds and starting a few familiar traditions. In the end, quite sweet and nicely animated. Three Beers.
41. Les Miserables
France’s Best International film nominee may have been a front-runner to win if it hadn’t come in the same year as the Parasite buzzsaw. Interweaving themes of Hugo’s masterpiece with contemporary police/immigrant relations in Paris yields some potent imagery and character-work, even if it doesn’t feel entirely different than many dirty cop/hood dramas you’ve probably seen. Two Beers.
42. The Edge of Democracy
Documentarian Petra Costa doesn’t have the greatest remove from her subject matter of the apparent destruction of democratic institutions that has been occurring in her native Brazil, being on a first-name basis with deposed Progressive Presidents Lula de Silva and Dilma Roussef. She more than makes up for it in raging against the Conservative machine that has stripped away the rule of law in her home country over the last decade. One doesn’t have to think long to see the parallels… in far too many places. Two Beers.
43. For Sama
Another year, another Oscar-nominated, absolutely harrowing Syrian War documentary. For Sama‘s Waad al-Kateab takes a personal approach, documenting these horrifying years under Assad’s thumb and in his crosshairs for her daughter Sama, who she can only hopes survives to see them, even if her and her father do not. You’ll see things you can’t unsee, but we shouldn’t be able to- none of us. Two Beers.
44. The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animated
On a slightly less abjectly depressing front, the Animated shorts had a little uplift to them. Okay, the big studio-produced Bad Hair and my personal favorite (and very likely voters’), Kitbull, did, anyway. The other three, whose subjects include the onset of dementia, all of the unborn children due to China’s One Child policy, and a daughter connecting with her reserved father as he dies- not so much. Three Beers.
45. The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action
The live action shorts all seem to have a twist of sorts, and there’s not a truly bad one in the bunch, which doesn’t often happen. For my money the ruthless efficiency of A Sister, Brotherhood, and Saria put them a hair above the other two, but it’s truly hard to call a winner. Three Beers.
46. The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Documentary
Back to the depressing. I was particularly impressed by St. Louis Superman, but that uplift is undercut by the ending revelation that Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks, Jr. stepped down from his position due to his depression from his best friend dying by gun violence tempers that. I still hope it wins, if only to give this incredible man some dearly needed encouragement. Also impressive was the way the Sewol ferry disaster doc In the Absence builds an incredibly damning case by simply playing audio of government disaster response over timestamped footage of the recovery effort. Utterly shocking. Three Beers.
47. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
This halfway forgotten Disney sequel landed a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nomination this year, hence my needing to see it. All the rubber and kidsy CGI tires the eye pretty fast, and Jolie is in surprisingly little of this film considering it bears her character’s name. Four Beers.
48. The Cave
The other Syrian conflict documentary up for an Oscar this year is perhaps more polished than For Sama– the opening scene of destruction and panning camerawork is stunner- but similarly focuses on a heroic young woman doing all she can to save the wounded who stream through her hospital’s doors. The angle to this one is the pervasive sexism she also fights- her utter refusal to capitulate to the obstacles in her way is truly inspiring. Two Beers.