Continuing my series of notable or highly talked about (which I may not have necessarily found notable) films of 2019, in this instalment, I have 3 more films based on true events and one based on a beloved novel published 150 years ago.
It’s extraordinary what a high proportion of critically acclaimed movies are based on true events. All four movies I covered in Part 1 of this series fell into that group. And one of the movies in Part 2 – Hustlers – did too. Mark Twain said – “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”. And the ‘impossible’ situations that the protagonists of these films experience is what makes all these stories so compelling.
So, here we go:
Bombshell: Director Jay Roach became famous for the 3 Austin Powers movies and the first two installments of the Meet the Parents series. All are known for being entertaining, though politically incorrect comedies. Since 2012, he has turned 180 degrees to making ‘movies with a message’ which are closely linked to the world of American politics. Bombshell continues that trend and tells the story of how Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was sacked as a result of sexual harassment charges leveled against him by high profile news anchors Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly as well as several other employees. This is a fast-paced and well-made movie that looks and feels like a Fox News expose…think brightly lit, high definition video. Of particular note is the make-up on John Lithgow (as Roger Ailes) and on Nicole Kidman (as Gretchen Carlson), for which the film won an Oscar. Very good acting job (as we have come to expect) from Margot Robbie, for which she received an Oscar nomination, as did Charlize Theron. I know I sound naïve, but it’s difficult to absorb the fact that this kind of outright harassment and female objectification has existed and continues to exist in blue chip corporate companies…in the case of Fox News, it seems to mean that blonde hair and short skirts are a must-have for success. An important film to watch.
Honey Boy: As Melina Matsoukas did with Queen and Slim, another female music video director, Alma Har’el has made a splash in 2019 with her debut feature Honey Boy. The script was written by Shia LaBeouf and is a fictionalized version of his own troubled childhood under the care of his erratic and emotionally abusive father. In an act of catharsis, LaBeouf plays his own father, a motor-mouthed man constantly at war with the world and with himself. Talented child actor Noah Jupe does an outstanding job as the young version of LaBeouf. The movie comes in at a very trim 93 minutes running time and director Har’el does a good job of picturizing some really dramatic moments in a non-melodramatic way. I feel like LaBeouf, Noah Jupe (and Lucas Hedges, as a grown up version of the boy) should all have received more widespread acclaim for their acting in this film.
Just Mercy: The third movie in this list based on real life events, Just Mercy shines a light on racial injustice in the deep South. We have seen enough of these films to not be surprised or shocked. If anything, movies like this and Queen and Slim are just depressing, because one wonders how society can ever overcome these social prejudices. At least in this film, there is a happy ending, but even using that term ‘happy’ is an injustice to an innocent person who had to experience the trauma of living on death row for six years. The film is produced by rising star Michael B. Jordan who also plays the lead role as Harvard lawyer Bryan Stevenson, on whose memoir the film is based, while Jamie Foxx plays the death row inmate. Perhaps one reason Just Mercy has not received much notice during the awards season is that it is a conventional, linear, formulaic narrative…no fancy camerawork or directorial flourishes. Director Destin Daniel Cretton jumps into the big league next with a Marvel Phase 4 movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, due to be released in Feb 2021.
Little Women: I missed out covering this film in my ranking of the Best Picture Oscar contenders, but finally managed to watch it this weekend. I’d watched the 1933 version with Katherine Hepburn playing Jo March, but didn’t remember much of the story. Director Greta Gerwig re-teams with her Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan as Jo March and adds on an entire cohort of talented actresses to round off the family – Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlan – as the other March sisters and Laura Dern as their mother Marmee. Quite interesting that they got 4 non-American actresses to play the lead roles in one of the quintessential American classics. I also really loved the portrayal of wealthy neigbour Mr. Lawrence, an unusually sedate role for Chris Cooper. Director Gerwig who also wrote the screenplay, takes an interesting approach to the narrative by cutting back and forth in time, drawing parallels between events that took place when the girls were growing up in 1861 and developments in the “present day” in 1868. It takes a bit of getting used to, but one is able to figure it out especially from the lighting and the costumes, which take on dark tones in 1868 reflecting the emotions of the family. It’s a very engrossing story and using my scoring system for Oscar nominees, it would have got a score of 43, very close to the top score of 45 which I gave Parasite and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Certainly these are the 3 films from 2019 that I’ll feel like watching again.
In Part 4, I’ll write about 4 extraordinary films that fall into the category of edgy, quirky or disturbing – Midsommar, The Lighthouse, Uncut Gems and Knives Out.