Oscars Best Picture Challenge: Part II

Welcome to part deux of my Best Picture Challenge in conjunction with the 92nd Oscars. In this post, I’m talking about The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, and Joker.

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The Irishman

I was stunned to discover this film had a three-and-a-half hour runtime. Good Lord! If you can get over that – and how the film moves at a snail’s pace, you’ll enjoy it.

Martin Scorsese’s latest work follows the tale of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) as he recalls his life as a labor union official and hit man, his relationship to the Bufalino crime family, and his role in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the president of the union.

Like its Best Picture counterpart, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Irishman meanders almost aimlessly through its epic runtime. At least this one does so coherently. The cinematography is very well done – although not to the level of its fellow contender, 1917.

The Irishman was skewered by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Melissa Villaseñor for its portrayal of “white male rage.” While the film had several moments that could be characterized as this, I don’t think it was totally about the concept.

It is the quintessential mobster film, however. Just okay for me and nothing more. I mean, it certainly could have gotten its message across sooner than three-and-a-half hours.

My Rating: 3/5

Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s film is a World War II satire with, surprisingly, a lot of heart.

Jojo Rabbit follows 10-year-old German boy Johannes Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) or “Jojo” for short. Jojo is wrapped up in Hitler’s propaganda machine, wanting to become a Nazi and join his army. So wrapped up that his imaginary friend is Hitler himself (brilliantly played by Waititi). His father is away in Italy fighting the war and the family recently lost Jojo’s sister due to illness.

He stays at home with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), where he discovers a humongous secret: she is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. Facing this new circumstance, Jojo must choose which side he’s on: Nazi Germany or the people of whom he has been brainwashed into believing are evil.

Jojo Rabbit is really good. I was not so sure about it at first but I grew to like the film. Davis, Waititi, and Thomasin McKenzie (who plays Jewish girl Elsa) provide standout performances. The runtime is not too short and not too long, the plot was enthralling and it even provided bits of comedy relief given its rather grim overarching theme.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Marriage Story

A deep examination of a married couple’s fracturing relationship and a family trying to stay together. Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is rich in compassion for its subject matter.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as acclaimed actor-wife Nicole Barber and successful New York theatre director Charlie. Through the course of the film, we study this couple and a fraying marriage as their lives take separate turns.

We jump right into the couple’s bustling lives. Both having to juggle their respective jobs and a child. I love how the film begins with a montage-esque sequence utilizing voiceovers of our two main characters. Each telling the audience what he or she loves about the other. Everything seems hunky dory and then we come crashing down alongside the couple in a marriage counseling session.

It’s clear there is a rift in the Barber’s relationship. If their facial expressions during the first 15 minutes were not enough, the filmmakers convey this visually by framing a shot of our couple on a subway. Charlie on one side and Nicole on another, separated by a subway pole.

Johansson and Driver provide outstanding performances and make us truly believe in the roles they are portraying. Perhaps the most heartbreaking scene comes when (SLIGHT SPOILER!) the couple has a huge fight about things. Facial expressions come into play again, here, as Driver and Johansson are astonishingly masterful in this scene.

Marriage Story not only has an enthralling plot but some comedic moments as well to lighten what is an overall sour mood. Combine that with impeccable performances from Driver and Johansson – perhaps their best yet – as well as the supporting cast. It is, without a doubt, a must see.

My Rating 5/5

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