Ok, the Oscars are done for the year and history has been made! I am thrilled that Parasite won 4 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director and am doubly thrilled that the (subjective) scoring system I developed to rank the Best Picture nominees, threw up Parasite and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood with the joint highest scores.
But as I indicated at the end of that post, there were plenty of other quality movies worth watching besides those Best Picture nominees, some of which were recognized at the Indie Spirit Awards which took place a day before the Oscars.
In this series of posts, I’ll do a run down of the other memorable films of 2019, many of which, I now realize, are based on real people or events or are semi-autobiographical in nature.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: I’d been waiting for this film to be released for multiple reasons. The show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a big part of my growing up along with Sesame Street. I loved the comfortable routine which bookended the show of Mr. Rogers switching between jacket and cardigan, home shoes and walking shoes; it was a revelation to me that someone would have a separate pair of shoes to wear inside the house! And of course, it was also Mr. Rogers’ soft-spoken demeanour and the very many characters (both real and make-believe) on the show that collectively made it so appealing. It’s only when I watched the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor that I realized what an amazing human being Mr. Rogers was in real life and I came to appreciate the impact of the show on an entire generation of kids and adults. Another reason I looked forward to the movie is that it’s director Marielle Heller made Can You Ever Forgive Me?, one of the best movies of 2018 and one that I wish had been watched by more people. And last but not least, I am a die-hard Tom Hanks fan and will watch virtually anything that he is in. Suffice to say, with such a pedigree, the movie didn’t disappoint me; Marielle Heller honoured the memory of Mr. Rogers by creating a movie that artfully integrated the values and the warm-hearted tone of the iconic show into its narrative.
Dark Waters: Director Todd Haynes has made some memorable films such as Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven, I’m Not There and Carol. He is considered a leading light of the New Queer Cinema movement and therefore an important voice in contemporary filmmaking. With that in mind, Dark Waters is an unusual project for Mr. Haynes, because it steps away from his preferred LGBT-themed storylines. Instead it tells the equally important true story of a lawyer who took on the powerful DuPont corporation to expose their willful negligence leading to the exposure of entire commuities to toxic chemicals from the manufacture of Teflon. The movie stars one of my favourite actors Mark Ruffalo who is able to bring an ‘everyman’ sensibility to any character he plays (…even Dr. Banner/the Hulk!). This is a low key, almost documentary-style film, very much in the vein of other recent expose-based movies such as Spotlight (which also featured Mark Ruffalo) and The Post.
Dolemite is My Name: This is the 3rd fact-based movie in this list, but as far removed from the tone and subject matter of the first two movies as it is possible to be. This movie tells the story of filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore, who made a name for himself in the 70s filming blaxploitation films, featuring himself playing the lead character Dolomite who would get into some pretty ridiculous situations involving crime and beautiful women. This is a script that is tailor-made for Eddie Murphy and you can see that he’s having a blast on screen. Rudy Ray Moore’s films were over-the-top and this film about Rudy Ray Moore follows in the same vein. Be prepared for 2 hours of politically incorrect entertainment from this Netflix production. Eddie Murphy received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and the National Board of Review included the film in its annual Top 10 list.
A Hidden Life: This tragic story of Austrian soldier Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight during World War II as a conscientious objector is very different from that of American objector Desmond Doss, whose story was chronicled in 2016’s outstanding Oscar-nominated film Hacksaw Ridge. Unlike the US Army, the German Third Reich was not quite as sympathetic to Mr. Jägerstätter’s beliefs and after a period of incarceration, had him executed. Director Terrence Malick narrates this somewhat disheartening story using his lyrical, elliptical style of filmmaking. I am a big fan (as is pretty much every cinephile out there) of Malick’s first 2 films from the 70s – Badlands and Days of Heaven. After a self-imposed exile of 2 decades, Malick returned with a relatively prolific output of 6 films in the next 2 decades. The ones with the most conventional narrative structure have been The Thin Red Line and The New World, but The Tree of Life was just too “stream of consciousness” for me and I skipped his next 2 films. A Hidden Life feels like more of the same and while I can appreciate the movie as a work of art, the meandering pacing and 3 hour running time makes it tough going to watch at one stretch. I have to admit, I watched about 60% of the movie at high speed, occasionally resuming normal speed. It just felt like more of the same…monologues, slice of life scenes, lots of classical music in the background. Not really my cup of tea. But great acting performances from August Diehl (the very irritating and persistent Major Hellstrom from Inglourious Basterds) and Valerie Pachner as his wife.
I have another 19 movies to cover and I hope to finish off this series in the next couple of weeks.