April 5th, 2021

It was time to get caught up on the latest Oscar nominated films. This activity can be beset with many pitfalls from way too high expectations, as has been discussed in the blog many a time. It seems that it is always better to be seeing a film without the filters of others and their opinions, or having watched way too many trailers. This is a most interesting year for Oscar, because he is still having the same party but all the best guests have decided to stay away. So instead, there is a B Team of films that in other years likely wouldn’t be given the time of day at the Oscars. For me, I am actually thinking that a quality Best Picture from the past that DIDN’T win, say for example The Imitation Game, should be given the award for this year. None of the three films that I am reviewing today can really hold a candle to the previously snubbed film, in this guy’s opinion. But you will see that as I explain further:

Promising Young Woman: Of the three films this week, this was the best of them. I enjoyed it more because it surprised me more than a little. I knew some rough background with a revenge aspect, but that was it. It stars Carey Mulligan again, who I had just reviewed last week from The Dig. There she was playing a fifty-something woman in England during the early years of the War, and here she plays a woman presumably in her late twenties – but the age is hard to pin point. In both I think she is miscast from an age perspective. This film a little too old, and the other a little too young. But never mind. We find it as we see it. The premise is one of a woman working in a local coffee shop, who seems to have very little direction. Mulligan is a hard edged, sarcastic server who dances to the beat of her own drum. At night, she dresses up, heads out alone to bars and gets drunk it seems. While there, various men approach her and she engages with them. What we learn is that she is making up for a difficult time in her past. She is compensating for this difficult time by seeking revenge in very personal forms against those who were in some way a part of this difficult time. She keeps score. She has apparently been doing this for a while, although it doesn’t seem to be helping her cope with her feelings. The surprises for me came when I saw just how far this was willing to go. It was surprising and satisfying in a strange way. What did I learn about the human condition? Well, that men can be assholes. This isn’t a new lesson. I also learned that despite the #MeToo movement and others, that coming forward with accusations of sexual assault brings about a legal defense strategy that can be downright ugly. There is a lawyer, played by Al Molina, who details the ease upon which the job of defense work is made by the proliferation of social media sites. Everything it seems, if in any way compromising, can be used against a female accuser. In the end, despite my surprise and the enjoyment of being entertained I am not so sure that this is Best Picture worthy in another year. Likely not, and to that end it became my starting point for thinking maybe a past runner up deserves another shot.

Minari: Another nominated film for Best Picture. Would this film have been nominated if not for a film like Parasite last year? I doubt it. From the poster, and the supposed reviews on the poster, this seems to be a “feel-good” movie of a Korean family making their way in Arkansas farm country. From that set up alone, one’s imagination can conjure up plenty of scenes for the young family. Like challenges with narrow minded locals, and difficulty getting started etc. But this isn’t that movie. It is painfully slow. In parts I wished that I had watched the minari grow by the river bank for two hours rather than seeing what happens. Minari in case you wanted to know is a parsley-like plant. Certainly by the time it abruptly finished, I most certainly felt that way. This is a movie that the Academy seems to like, but those who want to be entertained in a theatre do not. I am glad I didn’t spend money on it. In short the young family is stressed from the beginning. They have moved from California to Arkansas, because the husband likes the idea of owning land, and feels the soil is the “best in America”. The wife, feels betrayed and hates it. Hates all of it. They both have menial jobs checking the sex of baby chicks (this is a real thing apparently) where one learns that male chicks are discarded. Weird. Anyway, they have limited funds. Mother-in-law shows up and lives with the family. Things happen, although that likely overstates it. After some challenges that take place, it ends. It ends in disappointing fashion because the audience is invested (somewhat) in the story (if they have stayed awake) and it’s hard to tell if there has been progress. I don’t care enough, in truth, to find out. So despite the nomination, this can’t be the Best Picture. It may look pretty at times, and have a cute youngster, but that just isn’t enough.

Sound of Metal: This movie again entices you in with the idea of a premise and where the story might take you. In some ways it does, but it also misses the mark. The premise for this Best Picture nominee is that a drummer from a metal band, notices that he is losing his hearing. He and his girlfriend, who is the lead singer, have been touring in their Winnebago and looking for a record deal. The new development with his hearing derails this plan of next steps. He is angry to begin with, so is the girlfriend, but this sets him off on tilt for a while. He is taken to a camp for the deaf where they are a group looking to encourage those who have lost their hearing. I do think that losing one’s hearing would be much more difficult than never having it. One would be distinctly aware of just what has been lost. Being a stranger in a strange land, he doesn’t sign, he must learn a new language and try to fit in. All the while he was encouraged by a doctor who told him about an expensive procedure that could potentially give him his hearing back. The story moves along. What transpires is in some ways predictable, and we are to appreciate the journey. After Minari almost anything makes you appreciate the journey more and this fills that gap a bit. There is a decision made and consequences to that decision. We as the audience are set to fill in the blanks of our own as the credits roll. I can do that, although my interpretation may vary from yours. It really doesn’t matter. This is a slow journey. Again.

There is a part of me that is thankful that small independent films made with tight budgets are getting some Oscar love. I fully expect that apart from Film Festivals they wouldn’t normally be seen by a larger audience. There is good reason for that at times. There are people like me that try to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Awards are given. I am being punished a bit because of Covid-19 as a result. It’s a small punishment I admit, but still. Sitting through two+ hours of Minari was draining and frustrating at the end. I do watch movies to be entertained and see new stories. Show me different parts of the world and give me a glimpse of others. Yes these movies do that, in their own way, just some are more effective than others. I only have one more nominee to see Judas and the Black Messiah, in order to have watched all the Best Picture nominees. In a very slow year, with little released, this has been more of a chore than in the past. I note that Godzilla Vs Kong has been released, and I won’t watch The Justice League in its four hours and two minutes. Between the two I have to chose the guys dressed in an ape suit and dino suit wrestling on a train set rather than the super heroes. Spring has sprung, although a new lockdown shrouds Ontario for the next 28 days. So more movies to come.

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