Best Pictures of 2023, Extra Credit, Oscar Extra Credit

Best Picture Oscar Extra Credit – Part 2

Right! Time for a bit of a palate cleanser after the last film.

The Banshees of Inisherin

If you’ve seen any of Martin McDonagh’s theater work, some parts of this will ring very familiar; it may even be a rewrite of one of his Aran Islands plays that he changed his mind about producing. It’s definitely got the same rural-Ireland focus, the same darkly comic perspective, and the same over-the-top levels of violence. (I once saw a production of McDonagh’s work The Lieutenant of Inishmore, where the ending sees the stage strewn with broken furniture, spilled milk, gallons of stage blood, black shoe polish, and two or three boxes’ worth of breakfast cereal and cat kibble. After the show as the audience was filing out, I walked to the lip of the stage where the stage manager was overseeing a huge cleanup crew and insisted on shaking his hand.)

So I wasn’t surprised by the tone of McDonagh’s voice…but I was a little surprised by what he was saying with it. The bookish musician Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and dairy farmer Pádraic (Colin Farrell) live on a fictional island off Ireland’s coast during the tail end of the Irish Civil War, and have been mates for years – until suddenly, and without warning, Colm tells Pádraic that he doesn’t want to be friends any more. This of course leaves Pádraic baffled, and hurt – and he starts a campaign to either win Colm back over, or at least find out what the hell he did to drive him away. But as Pádraic goes to more and more extreme lengths to get through to Colm, Colm also goes to equally extreme lengths to convince Pádraic to leave him alone.

I’ve had a couple of friendships end on me equally as unexpectedly (although, I handled it way better than Pádraic does), so I went into this thinking I would take his side. But when Colm finally gives Pádraic a bit of an explanation – a sort of life-overhaul and a rethinking of his priorities – I understood his side as well. He didn’t handle things all that well either, mind you – both men let their falling-out get much, much too carried away. But by the end Pádraic seems to finally accept the situation, turning down a suggestion that he and Colm could be friends again with the observation that “Some things there’s no moving on from, and I think that’s a good thing.”

It was a fine film, but somehow didn’t feel like a Best Picture film, if that makes sense. Do see it on the big screen if you can – as Roommate Russ observed, “it’s shot like an ad for Irish tourism.”

Triangle Of Sadness

Another black comedy….although for me, while this had scores of darkly ridiculous moments, it never really gelled into a complete story.

We start off meeting Carl (Harris Dickinson), a modestly successful male model in a lackluster relationship with “influencer” Yaya (Charlbi Dean). The pair frequently bicker about money and gender roles, but Carl is more turned off by Yaya’s superficiality – even though that’s what drives her career, such as it is. Still, it gets them tickets to a cruise on a luxury yacht, where they meet an oddball group of other passengers – a sweet English couple grown rich of arms dealing, a boorish Russian oligarch named Dimitry (Zlatko Burić) traveling with both his wife and his mistress, and Therese, a middle-aged stroke victim (Iris Berben) confined to a wheelchair and incapable of saying anything except the German phrase “in den Wolken”. We also meet some of the crew – the harried chief of staff Paula (Vicki Berlin), and the reluctant captain Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson), a socialist who’s sold out and spends the majority of the voyage blind drunk in his cabin. After a thoroughly disastrous dinner – featuring both dodgy food and the outbreak of a heavy storm – most of the cast spends the night copiously vomiting in their cabins (fair warning) while Smith and Dimitry lock themselves in Smith’s cabin with an obscene amount of Scotch and debate economic theory over the loudspeakers.

And to add insult to injury, the ship sinks the following morning. Carl and Yaya both make it to a nearby island, as do Paula, Therese, Dimitry, a tech millionaire named Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin), an engineer (Jean-Christophe Folly) whom Dimitry is convinced sabotaged the ship, and Abigail (Dolly de Leon), a member of the cleaning staff who hitches a ride on a very well-stocked lifeboat. The savvy Abigail quickly realizes that she’s the only one who knows how to fish, start a fire, or build a shelter – and turns the tables on the wealthy folk who’d been bossing her around up to this point.

…Abigail was actually a good example of one of my complaints about this film. I appreciated how she was able to show up the others while on the island, but if there were a scene of someone on board the ship dressing her down for some ridiculous slight, I’d have appreciated that more. (There’s even a perfect candidate – an elderly woman who is somehow convinced that the motorized yacht they’re on has “sails” that “need washing”.) We spend an entire act of the film meeting a whole host of characters at great length, most of whom vanish from the film completely in the third act. Our “introduction” to Yaya is so desultory that I honestly thought she was a model herself until midfilm when Carl tells Paula that she’s an influencer. Granted, all of the characters have such finely-drawn quirks that I could still follow what was going on, and some of the satire is deliciously sharp; but I still feel screenwriter Ruben Östlund could have spent a bit more time introducing characters better and tying things together into a more cohesive and consistent plot.

Still, this did let me give one of the more unique sum-ups about a film I’ve ever said: I told Roommate Russ that “it was like a cross between Parasite and Gilligan’s Island”.

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