So, here’s the thing. There is one film that I really, really feel was snubbed this year, and the fact that it is not one of the nominees I’ve been watching has left a bitter taste in my mouth. So I’m going to try very hard to remember my bias as I review these last three films. But all things being equal – I still feel that Jordan Peele’s Us should have taken one of the spots on this year’s list, and admit that a couple of the films I’ve seen don’t measure up to that.
So…yeah, something to bear in mind.
This is probably going to be a controversial take, but….overall my reaction to this was a shrug and a “Meh”.
Look, this is not a pan. Empirically, I respect and recognize the talent of everyone involved. DeNiro is excellent as always as mafia insider Frank Sheeran; as is Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, and Joe Pesci as Russel Bufalino. Scorcese’s direction is, as ever, spot-on, with this tale of aging mafioso (literally).
But….honestly, it’s familiar ground for all of them, and I’m not a person who was ever all that into Scorcese’s Mafioso Tales anyway. I acknowledge the quality of The Godfather, I acknowledge the quality of Goodfellas. But those have always been empirical acknowledgements of quality as opposed to being stories that have grabbed me around the shoulders and shaken me up. So this just felt like everyone was treading very familiar ground (except for Ray Romano, who has a fun bit as a mob lawyer).
So was it bad? No. But did I dig it? ….again, no.
So this was….serviceable?
I dunno, guys. Again, it wasn’t bad – Damon and Bale have great chemistry. But…sport racing never really was anything I gave a wet slap about in the first place, and while they did passing well with the human-interest background story involved in this biopic, it’s still the same kind of human-interest story I’ve seen before, where you have a guy who’s talented but hard to control and another guy who’s charming but determined and they have to learn to work together and overcome the obstacles that the corporate suits are throwing in their path.
Again, was it bad? No. But did I dig it? No. I think overall my take is like that old adage that “for the people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.” Not sold on it having been nominated for Best Picture, if I have to be honest.
Now this is something else again. Still not my favorite of this year’s crop, but at least I get its nomination. And I did find myself affected by it afterward; the film ends with a title card from Sam Mendes dedicating it to his grandfather, “for telling us the stories.”
Thing is, that dedication comes after a harrowing hour-and-change of chaos and desperation and death and war and violence. The whole thing is nearly in real time – so when someone dies, you see that in real time as well. And you see a charge in real time.
Those are the kinds of stories that Sam Mendes’ grandfather was telling him.
And that brought me up short – my grandparents and father have no such similar stories they could have told. My paternal grandfather was a veteran, but he was in the Seabees construction corps in Guam, and I don’t think he saw combat. My maternal grandfather was a metalurgist, and during the Second World War he was serving by doing scientific research. Similarly, my own father “served” during the Vietnam War by designing subs under a military contract.
You hear of veterans telling their kids and grandkids “war stories” and it sounds like something quaint and charming, grandpa spinning yarns about his derring-do. But no – war stories are horrifying. Even for civilians – Roommate Russ and I discussed this afterward, and he mentioned that his grandmother was a teenager in Germany during the Third Reich and told him many, many stories about what it was like because “she didn’t want us to come anywhere near that kind of bullshit.”
I’m grateful, for my father and grandfathers’ sakes, that they didn’t see direct combat. But only in seeing this film was it driven home to me what I may have lost in terms of a visceral understanding of war by their not having that in their pasts. Not to the point that I’d have wished it on them, of course, but I’ve realized there was a gap in my knowledge, and this film told me why.
I’ve come down to three close favorites – the mind-blowing Parasite, the fairytale One Upon A Time In Hollywood, and – surprisingly, Jojo Rabbit. I wasn’t expecting to like that last one, but Taika Waititi saw something in the story and brought it out in a way that caught me. In my initial review, I forgot to mention Roman Griffin Davis, the brilliant child actor who plays Jojo – amazingly, this is his first-ever film, and he does amazingly with the role. Taika Waititi also takes a concept that sounded like it could have gone so wrong and ends up handling it well.
I mean, likely none of those three will win (unless we are living in an age of miracles). But I’ve noticed recently that the films I tend to prefer for Best Picture tend to take Best Screenplay instead. Jojo Rabbit and Little Women are both up for Best Adapted screenplay, and Parasite is up for Best Original screenplay – and I would have no objection to any of those three taking home a statuette.
Tomorrow I’ll be liveblogging the Oscar ceremony again (as I did last year). Drop on by. And for extra fun, Roommate Russ is posting his own take on the Best Picture nominees on his blog if you want to compare-and-contrast.