BY MARTIN SEVCIK
The Academy Awards have released their nominees for all sorts of fun categories. Like any publication worth its salt, The Sandpiper has a duty to decide which films deserve awards in some of the top categories.
This was the year of Adam Driver: He was in four feature films this year, and his best work was undoubtedly in “Marriage Story,” where Driver portrays a director and father going through a divorce, which begins benign, but ends on difficult terms. The problem is that he’s so terribly mundane—he’s certainly good, but he usually feels like a random person pulled off the street. It would be a mistake if he were to win.
Leonardo DiCaprio should be earning his second Academy Award this year. He no longer has his notorious losing streak, which makes a win here far less likely, but his performance in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” a nostalgic and historically inaccurate romp at the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, is excellent. His portrayal of a down-and-out actor in the middle of a changing film industry felt totally genuine. Maybe it hit a little close to home….
Who will win? Joaquin Phoenix. He got the Golden Globe, and, for Phoenix, it’s been a long time coming. The Academy loved “Joker”—11 nominations—and a large part of the film’s appeal was Phoenix’s portrayal of the titular character, a mentally unstable comedian who gets crushed by society and turns to a life of crime. Phoenix totally dedicated himself to the role, and he may be the best portrayal of the character yet.
Fred Rogers was not a part of my childhood, yet Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the man in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” made me instantly nostalgic for a childhood I never had. Hanks portrays the famous children’s TV host as he guides a jaded journalist through a personal crisis in the film, which allows a far more intimate and personal side of Fred Rogers to emerge. In many biopics, it feels like a well-known actor is trying to replicate the voice and mannerisms of another famous individual; instead, it felt as if Mr. Rogers was reborn for the modern screen. There are few feats quite as impressive as that.
Funnily enough, these were the exact same actresses chosen for the Golden Globes in a similar category. This time around, Scarlett Johansson should be picking up an Academy Award for her incredibly believable performance in “Marriage Story.” She portrays Driver’s counterpart, an actress who wants to begin her own life outside of marriage. Despite being paired alongside a piece of drywall, she manages to make the progression of her character and the marriage feel incredibly nuanced and natural.
It would be a shame to not also highlight Saoirse Ronan, who just received her fourth Oscar nomination as Jo March in “Little Women,” the latest screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about four sisters growing up during the Civil War. I would put my money on her, since the Academy loves to end losing streaks, and the character she played is incredibly progressive, something the Academy is trying very hard to pretend to be. Oh, and she is very good, if that matters.
Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson and Kathy Bates all perform their roles well, but none of them really do anything more dynamic than their respective script requires. Florence Pugh (for her work in “Little Women”) is a strong candidate, but Laura Dern is the clear standout among the nominees.
Dern portrays Nora in “Marriage Story,” a vicious lawyer representing Johansson’s character in court during her divorce. Nora is cynical, cruel, and totally unapologetic, yet has moments where she is the most empathetic person in the film. Dern is a relatively minor character into a dynamic element of the film, and her work will hopefully not go unappreciated at the awards ceremony.
“1917” is great for many reasons, but most notable among them is the cinematography. The film follows a couple of WWI soldiers delivering an important message across a warzone. What makes it more than another “Saving Private Ryan” is the camerawork, as the whole film is one consistent shot with no cuts. As you follow these young men across a terrible battlefield, you see every obstacle they overcome and every hardship they endure. It’s totally engrossing, and it’s all thanks to the incredibly dynamic camera work.
Flashy. Over-the-top. Excessively violent, at points. These are the hallmarks of a Tarantino film, yet they feel like they’re a little more subdued in his most recent outing. Tarantino is maturing, and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” feels like an apology for all the immaturity he put audiences through previously. Mind you, there are still scenes where thugs get burned alive, but these scenes feel far less important than the moments where irrelevant actors dwell on their once prolific careers. This balance is hard to strike, but Tarantino nails it on the head.
Foreign screenplays have a hard time earning screenplay nominations at the Academy Awards. None ever earn a nomination with the clout that “Parasite” has earned, either. The film focuses on a Korean family trying to improve their situation by slowly involving themselves with the affairs of a wealthy family. A tale that has countless, subtle messages and which feels satisfying the whole way through, “Parasite” reveals its full hand well before the film ends, yet the suspense never really goes away.
Who got snubbed?
“Monos” was the best film released this year. Unfortunately, it’s a Columbian arthouse film about children with guns guarding a hostage in a war-torn country, so it makes sense that the Academy may have overlooked it. They’re a sensitive bunch, it seems.
Adam Driver isn’t the only important Adam from this year: Adam Sandler decided to finally be a good actor in “Uncut Gems.” He totally inhabits his role as a seedy, scummy scoundrel trying to catch a lucky break in New York’s diamond district. It sometimes feels like Sandler himself had a mental breakdown and someone just happened to be there to film it. He should have been nominated for best actor.
Who really cares anymore?
I mean, seriously. The Oscars are the ultimate show of Hollywood pedantry which never amounts to anything. Ricky Gervais made waves with his Golden Globes monologue calling out Hollywood for the corrupt, soulless entity it is, yet little tangible change has occurred since.
It seemed for a few years that Hollywood might undergo change, that underrepresented groups would get a shot in the spotlight. That clearly didn’t happen this year, despite #MeToo, despite the incredible turnout of women on the technical side of the camera, and despite the amazing work of underrepresented groups this year. The Oscars didn’t change, nor do they seem to want to change. The disconnect between the actual industry and what’s represented at the award shows has never been greater.
“The Irishman” will probably win best picture. Catch the awards show Feb. 8.