Rapid-Fire Reviews: Oscars 2020 edition

Expectation when writing movie reviews: write thoughtful, nuanced reviews in a leisurely manner a la Carrie Bradshaw.

Reality: realize that you dropped the ball, the Oscars are imminent and feel an obligation to simply write something

Which brings us to Rapid-Fire Reviews, an assortment of brief reviews about various Oscar-nominated movies, just in time for the 2020 Oscars on February 9. Perfect for those short on reading (and writing) time!

In order of most to least-liked, I present to you my rambling thoughts on Parasite, 1917, The Irishman, Little Women, and Marriage Story.

2020 Best Picture nominees

Parasite

WOW. Where to begin. 

Truthfully, this was not a movie I planned on seeing, because for some weird reason, I assumed it would be a weird, disturbing horror movie with gore, in the same vein as The Ring or Bird Box. No idea why I thought this. Maybe because of the title? Anyway. Once the Oscars hype started rolling in, I began to feel like maybe I needed to see it. I was also assured that, while creepy, it was not gory-creepy (thank you, MKM), so I felt confident that my delicate heart would be able to handle it. 

The movie starts off on a humorous note, as we watch a poor, but close-knit family, con their way into working for a rich family, who live in a house that I could only dream of. With hilarious deft and a knack for getting into the heads of their employer family, I took delight in their antics and you really can’t help but root for them (though of course, recognizing that the poor driver and housekeeper got pretty screwed over). 

This isn’t so bad. What a nice little comedy about a family working together to make ends meet. Not disturbing at all! I thought to myself as I chuckled along. 

Well. Things took a turn when the housekeeper showed up, revealing a hidden-away secret in the basement bunker – her husband. A series of mishaps result in three families being torn apart. It all ends on a heartbreaking and frustrating note, and I can’t help but blame the mother, who, hypocritically, didn’t just agree to look after the housekeeper’s husband. 

Sooo yeah. Not such a comedy after all. It’s a heavy, beautiful movie that managed to live up to all of the hype. It’s gorgeously shot, disturbing, depressing, funny and infuriating all at once (side note: it also confirms every fear I’ve ever had about hiring help in my home). It’s a strange movie in that I’m not sure what the “takeaway” is – Don’t con people? Be willing to help others? Don’t hire a tutor for your daughter? But regardless, it’s a unique must-see that stays with you long after the credits roll.

1917

How is it possible for a movie to have fantastic acting, truly mind-blowing cinematography, and a gorgeous score… yet still be painfully boring and slow?

Somehow, 1917 manages just that. Kudos?

I’m pretty over war movies in general – I mean, we get it, it was a rough time. And while I understand that it provides for easy Oscars bait, it just feels so overdone (plus, will anything ever truly top Pearl Harbor??). I was curious to see what, if anything, set 1917 apart.

One answer came pretty quickly when I realized that it was shot in a one-scene style. Which is cool, but after Birdman, it now feels a bit derivative. I enjoyed the surprise appearances from Mark Darcy Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch – I imagine it’s now a royal decree that every British movie must feature these two actors. 

It’s hard to make a war movie without amazing cinematography, but 1917 still surpasses expectations with some truly beautiful scenes; notably, the chopped-down cherry orchard scene, and, most impressively, the nighttime sequence featuring a city on fire (this one really took my breath away). And like I said, there was some great acting going on, and a very epic, soaring musical score. If it wasn’t for Joker, I’d have no problem with 1917 winning Best Score. 

If there was one thing that truly struck me, it was the realization that the soldiers in the two world wars were such young kids. It seems obvious in hindsight, but I think I’d always imagined soldiers to have been more “men”-like – older, muscular, rugged men who braved the trenches (or whatever war lingo is). But this movie really put things into perspective – the soldiers were in fact pretty young boys who were tasked with an unbearably heavy mission. So while I didn’t find the story itself to be overly compelling, this movie did move me in an unexpected way. 

That all being said… I think Parasite was the superior movie and it will be a shame if, as predicted, 1917 walks away with the top prize. Despite the flash and showiness of 1917, its storytelling is just not Best Picture-worthy. 

The Irishman

Another one of those “Well it’s gotten a lot of hype so I guess I’ll have to see it even though I don’t enjoy mob movies” types of movies. Mercifully, this one’s on Netflix so it was much easier to commit to the three hours of required viewing.

Honestly? I didn’t hate it. I found myself being pulled into the story pretty quickly (I guess that Robert De Niro guy knows how to tell a story). I didn’t know much about the cast or story, and found myself being drawn in more once I realized that this was based on a true story. Although honestly, it’s now hard for me to believe that a guy can be tough if his last name is Sheeran. 

But it was an interesting story and I generally found it to be a well-done movie – and not only because of the incredible de-aging effects applied. As someone who is put off by the machismo of mob movies, I nonetheless found myself invested in the characters and their hurdles. And it’s an educational film to boot! I now have excellent knowledge of various mobsters and Jimmy Hoffa to bust out at my next cocktail party.

However, I did need to keep reminding myself that De Niro, Pesci and Pacino were all of a sudden not Italian in this movie – a very difficult thing to accept. Also, these three and Scorsese really need to branch out and make some new friends. They might be shocked to learn that they can, in fact, make movies with other people. 

My only gripe? The last hour was incredibly depressing and provided an all-too-real look at how horrible and lonely life is when you’re old. That really could have been all cut out so as to allow me to live in blissful ignorance.   

Little Women

I have a deep-rooted connection to this story. It’s the first “real” book that I read, and like so many other people, it’s truly a classic for me. And as with any other classic, I tend to believe that there’s no real reason to recreate it. The story and characters are already iconic, why mess with it? When I saw the trailer, I was pretty underwhelmed and was comfortable just not seeing it altogether.

But then awards season rolled around. When I saw its slew of nominations, I figured I needed to see what the fuss was about. 

Well… true to my instincts, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the movie. Not because it was bad – but because it really wasn’t anything special. The problem with already knowing a story inside and out is that you need something truly extraordinary in a remake – and I just didn’t see that in Greta Gerwig’s version of it. The story pretty well played out as in the book. With the exception of the time-hopping (which I concede was a cool touch), everything went as predicted. 

For all the comments I kept hearing about how this was a ‘feminist take’ on the story that ‘made space for Jo’s queerness’ (actual quote from a headline), I just didn’t get it. IT WAS BASICALLY THE BOOK. 

Further underwhelming me was the way the characters were brought to life. I found them all to be tepid, watered-down versions of their book descriptions – Jo didn’t have the raw wildness and hot temper that I expected, and goody-two-shoes Emma Watson didn’t quite persuade me that she was the materialistic Meg March. While Laura Dern is a fantastic actress for certain kinds of roles, the martyr-esque role of Marmee March was just a tad too unbelievable (especially after her more believable, bitchy performances in Big Little Lies and Marriage Story). The actress that played Beth creeped the hell out of me in Sharp Objects, so I simply couldn’t look past that. And Florence Pugh was annoying as Amy… which… okay, I guess that was fairly true to the book. Though is it anti-feminist of me to say that she looked too old to play Amy? Again, not convincing.

Timothee Chalamet was a great casting choice though, so points there. 

But overall, I just didn’t love the movie. Granted, it’s a difficult and detailed book to adapt into a two-hour feature – but as a result, the movie’s pacing was off and felt choppy. I imagine that those who hadn’t read the book would have felt confused by Laurie’s sudden switch from Jo to Amy (and rightly so – that whole storyline is pretty icky when you think about it). 

I’m all for female-led movies, but this one just didn’t make the cut for me. 

Marriage Story

I mean… it was okay. I guess. 

First of all, despite all the comments about how incredibly depressing this movie was and how it provided a nuanced, complex look at marriage, I did not see this. At all. Maybe because I already have a pretty firm grasp on what divorce proceedings entail, and the dirty antics that can come with it, I didn’t really find anything about this movie to be overly depressing. Nor did I feel that their divorce was particularly interesting, complex or unique. 

Second, the reviews made it seem as though I’d be conflicted about which protagonist I sided with – but honestly, I was pretty firmly in the Adam Driver Camp throughout the whole movie, and found ScarJo’s character annoying. 

While not a terrible movie, it really didn’t live up to all the hype. It was an okay movie about divorce proceedings, though with a pretty fantastic performance from Laura Dern who is no doubt finalizing her Oscars acceptance speech.

***

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’ve put down Parasite as my office pool pick to take home Best Picture. Wishful thinking perhaps, but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out tonight!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s