As if the Crash Course wasn’t enough, I also try to make sure I see the Best Picture nominees each year by the time the Oscars are awarded. I’m about halfway through the full list of nominations by now, so here are some quick notes.
The performances are spot-on. Not mad about the fact that Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson have both received acting nominations for this. But it almost feels like the rest of the film didn’t trust them enough, and was trying to manipulate me into feeling a certain way. Particularly the score – usually I like Randy Newman, but his score felt all wrong. There were also a number of moments of on-the-nose symbolism that made me roll my eyes a little (someone should really have stopped Noah Baumbach from including a scene where Adam Driver’s character unironically sings the entirety of the song “Being Alive” at a karaoke bar). One of the best scenes is one where they have no score, and nothing but Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in a room arguing; the film finally got out of their way and let them do their thing, and it finally worked.
Also – Adam Driver is ostensibly an avant-garde director, and they show a couple rehearsal scenes of his latest staging of Electra. There is no way that a director presenting the kind of work they’re trying to produce would be making enough to own a Brooklyn apartment, nor would such a director have won a MacArthur Genius grant. That show would never have gotten beyond an off-Broadway run on East 4th Street and closed in two months.
Now this is more like it. Roommate Russ and I both cynically agreed that it would probably get the “Best International Film” consolation prize instead, as it’s been nominated for both, but it is a very, very strong contender for the top honor. It starts out with some moments of comedy, as the various members of the Kim family – a poor family living in the slums of a South Korean city – gradually insinuate themselves as employees to the wealth Park family, all of them faking their credentials and pretending they’re unrelated. The Parks are either too oblivious to notice or too wealthy to care, though, and soon the Kims are happily enjoying their newfound fortune, even throwing themselves a secret house party when the Parks go out of town. But the film very quickly brings in some scathing commentary about classism and capitalism, throwing in some intense twists and turns. I’m annoyed that Song Kang-ho, who plays the Kim family patriarch, was not nominated for his performance.
I was really uneasy about this film when I first saw the trailers; I may have even mumbled something like “Oh, Taika Waititi, what are you doing.” I was even more uneasy when I read the plot description of the book which inspired the film – it ends very, very differently. The book is about a teenage Nazi Youth member who discovers that his parents are sheltering a teenage Jewish girl; he keeps their secret and gradually starts to get off on the fact that there’s a teenage girl who’s a practical captive in his house, to the point that after the war ends, he lies to her and tells her that the Nazis won – and keeps here there for several more months.
In the film, instead, Jojo is a ten-year-old boy. His intentions towards the girl are conflicted, but ultimately a little more pure; instead of a dark sort of predation, he develops a puppydog crush. Nearly the whole film is from his perspective, so all of the goofy stuff you see in the trailer is his own innocent take on the situation. “You’re not a Nazi,” the Jewish girl tells him at one point, “you just want to belong to a club.” And she’s spot-on. His mother (another tour de force for Scarlett Johansson) also senses that the “real” Jojo, a sweet little doofus, is somewhere buried inside, and she’s determined to hang in there and try to draw it back out.
Okay, yes, there are plenty of scenes with the sweet-faced little Jojo interacting with Hitler as his imaginary friend. But Waititi actually pulls off the right note here – he’s not playing the actual Hitler, somehow it’s clear that he is paying Hitler the way a lonely ten-year-old boy would imagine him to be. If you’re familiar with the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book Good Omens – Jojo’s perspective is about the same as the kids in that book; they’ve heard of big scary concepts like war and torture, but are way too young to understand them, so when they play with some dark stuff it’s a sort of cargo-cult version where no one really gets hurt for keeps, and as soon as someone feels real pain they have second thoughts. There’s a sequence when Jojo is at a Hitler Youth camp weekend lead by a delightfully bats Sam Rockwell; as the kids are learning how to “crawl behind enemy lines” or “throw grenades”, the whole sequence is scored by Tom Waits’ song “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up“- a pairing I thought perfect (and not just because I love Tom Waits, either).
….I did see One Upon A Time In Hollywood, but I think I may need to rewatch it for a review first. All in good time.