By: Colin Carney
Fresh off its win for Best Picture and Best Director at the recent Golden Globes, “1917” stands poised to claim this year’s top honors at the 92nd Academy Awards. The acclaim it has received for good reason, as it is a breathtaking film set in the trenches of WWI. The plot of the film follows the efforts of two young British soldiers as they make their way through the battlefield to prevent a battalion from walking into a trap. From the onset of the film, the audience is placed right in the midst of the emotion and action as the camera never pulls away from our protagonists. This intimacy is expertly captured by director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins as the film adopts the feel of one continuous take as the camera never leaves our main stars and remains up close and personal throughout all of the action. This monumental feet of coordination and camera work places audiences deep in the trenches allowing them to bear witness to every struggle our protagonists face. The fluidity and precision of the camera work as the filmmakers undergo this task is flawless and adds to the tensions as the soldiers race against the clock to deliver their message. The cinematography is coupled with expert performances from its two leads, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, and the film’s phenomenal production design. Each actor captures and conveys the determination and fear these characters experience as they undertake a task that’ll likely fail. The environments they find themselves in are beautifully authentic of war-torn France as we follow them through mazes of trenches, burning villages and scorched landscapes. Every aspect of this film, both behind the scenes and on camera, work spectacularly and cohesively fit together to create a jaw-dropping and engaging film set in during the first world war.
By: Adam Alvernaz
The breakout South Korean film stands as a true outlier in the Best Picture category, but not without reason. Following a lower income Korean family living paycheck to paycheck, the film takes a mature look at class struggles like many other South Korean films. The drama engrosses the audience with its brilliant writing from the moment the film begins. Audiences are introduced to the Kim family who try to get by with odd jobs. An opportunity soon presents itself when their son, Kim Ki-woo, quickly becomes a tutor for the wealthy Park family. From then on, the Kim family attempts to charm the Parks in order to install themselves as assets to the family by providing a multitude of services. The two families’ interactions are masterfully captured by the famous duo Bong Joon-ho and Hong Kyung-pyo, as the director and cinematographer, respectively. Viewers will find themselves entranced in the plot as Joon-ho’s masterful direction will engross audiences in even the most mundane situations. These scenes are captured elegantly as the camera and score enhance and elevate the emotions in the characters. The strongest part of the film is the convincing acting of the Kim family. The clear standout is Kang-Ho Song as the father of the Kim family. Over the course of the film, he receives the most development and his amazing range of emotion reflects that beautifully. Audiences will laugh at the irony and suffer from sheer anxiety through the films gripping moments. It certainly is a different type of film, with many of its messages and overall themes leaving the viewer wanting to watch it again as soon as it ends. It certainly is one of the only Best Picture nominees that tries something new. While the film is the clear underdog, it’s achievements in writing, direction, acting and messages cannot be understated.
Sam Mendes (“1917”)
Following his Golden Globe win for Best Director, Sam Mendes stands a good chance at receiving the same honor at this year’s Academy Awards. As acknowledged by its Oscar nomination for Best Picture, “1917” is one of the past year’s best films, largely due to Mendes’ cinematic vision. “1917” is an achievement in film production. All the moving parts of filming a movie in one continuous shot takes a skilled director to manage and guide. Great efforts were needed to ensure that each consecutive shot had the same natural lighting (as the film is shot almost entirely outside on location), which requires careful timing and mobilization to capture the perfect weather conditions. Never once during the duration of the film did a scene feel poorly shot or inconsistent with the nature of the previous shot. Furthermore, Mendes’ work to draw out the best possible performances from his cast is perfectly captured on screen. As the focus of a single-shot narrative, a great deal was expected of the two leads as they would have to carry much of the film’s emotional weight as the cameras followed them closely. Mendes’ directing and management of these actors translates into breathtaking shots of these characters perseverance alongside artfully crafted shots throughout the film. Never once did an actor feel as if they were phoning it in which is both a testament to their abilities and the directorial guidance of Mendes. Every camera angle and shot masterfully captures each character’s determination and desperation while also incorporating the oppressive circumstances of their war-torn environments. As such, each shot is deliberate and conveys the desperate tone of the scene expertly, never once losing the audience’s attention or investment. Mendes’ vision for “1917” is perfectly conveyed on screen earning him all the praise he has thus far received.
Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”)
This year, the Best Director nomination is full of outstanding new and returning filmmakers. The masterful director Bong Joon-ho stands amongst them as the newest addition. The critically acclaimed director has quickly risen in popularity and has gained worldwide praise for his interesting genre twists and social commentary. While primarily making films for the South Korean market, he has received critical acclaim for the 2013 science fiction film, “Snowpiercer.” This year, his achievements are recognized with his newest film, “Parasite,” which features everything Joon-ho’s directorial abilities are capable of. The Best Picture nomination has cemented this film as one of the greatest in the past year, yet its success is due to Joon-ho’s dedication as the writer, director and producer. His talents in all three areas show audiences a masterfully crafted film that prominently features his signature style with developed character arcs, clever dialogue and even humor. This is most evident in his actors as every character is utilized in the narrative to great effect. Whether it’s the mother of the Kim family or the Park’s daughter; Joon-ho gives these characters purpose because of the limited scope of the cast. It’s clear from an acting perspective that each character is doing their best to display Joon-ho’s vision of two distinct families with a symbiotic relationship. His writing prowess gives the film much more depth and intrigue to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Every scene feels calculated with the right amount of screen time and emphasis on minute details, while allowing more engrossing scenes time to settle and sink in with viewers. Again, Joon-ho stands amongst many other strong contenders who are no stranger to the award scene. I feel confident in saying he has a strong chance as his Oscar debut is a cut above the rest.
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Todd Philips’ unsettling film, “Joker,” is captivating to say the least. This feat is almost entirely due to Phoenix’s magnificent take on the titular character. From the first moment we lay eyes on Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, we become immediately aware of the man’s mental state and bleak environment. Every scene of the film is haunting as Phoenix perfectly captures Arthur’s worsening sanity as each bad day takes its toll on him. In one scene in particular, as Arthur commits his first horrendous crime and begins his descent toward becoming the clown prince of crime, Phoenix begins to dance in an empty public restroom. This scene perfectly captures Arthur’s mental state while chilling audiences to their core. The expression on Phoenix’s face is harrowing as his cold visage portrays an utter lack of empathy for his recent victims. More unsettling is how his unsettling expression is coupled with a slow and deliberate dance as Arthur finally feels comfortable in his own skin. From that point on we witness a change in Arthur’s character as he begins to embrace his situation and succumb to his insanity. Phoenix captures Arthur’s heartache and glee as he is faced with the oppressive cruelty of 1980’s Gotham and learns to lash out in horrific ways. The sheer fact that Phoenix is the clear focus of nearly every frame of this film speaks volumes. Lesser actors would struggle to carry an entire film, but Phoenix does so expertly as he loses himself in this unforgettable character.
Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
Adam Driver brings his best to “Marriage Story” as the captivating Charlie Barber, delivering on his rich theater background to both charm and engage audiences. Initially, audiences are shown the more calculated, calm and collected side to Charlie as he experiences the initial phases of a separation. As the film progresses, we come to empathize but also scrutinize both characters’ actions and decisions, which creates a very authentic experience in telling such a troubling story about a mutual divorce. Most interestingly, Charlie’s perspective and experience through this disturbing process is quite compelling as we come to learn more about the cost of divorce, in both a monetary and psychological sense. His performance shows him clearly lending the role extra intrigue thanks to his absorbing presence. This is evident with his role in the film, but also with his interactions with other characters. Yet, this does not take away from his ability to show the opposite side of his outward appearance as his tender and loving side is clearly shown multiple times to great effect. As the film goes on, we are treated to more scenes that reflect inward as Driver recognizes and reconciles with his mistakes and its rippling effects. All expertly captured thanks to his genuine acting and raw performance that heightens the drama.This only furthers audience interest as we see multiple layers to Charlie and the troubles he faces. Driver gives a very theatrical but legitimate portrayal of a husband and father that must come to terms with divorce and the strain it accumulates.
Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)
Ever since its release in September of 2019, Renee Zellweger’s performance in “Judy” has been the talk of almost every Oscar conversation. Her performance as the titular Hollywood star, Judy Garland has captivated audiences and garnered the veteran actress critical acclaim. Such talent isn’t entirely unheard of from Zellweger as she has previously been nominated for her leading roles in “Chicago” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in “Cold Mountain.” However, her expert performance as Garland has led many to believe that she is on track to win her first Oscar for lead actress, and not without reason. Zellweger seemingly loses herself in the role as she masterfully captures the Hollywood icon in her later years and delivers beautiful authenticity to the role. Perhaps her most impressive achievement in the film, however, is her dedication to performing the musical numbers Garland became famous for. Rather than dub her singing voice with another singer or use Garland’s voice, Zellweger instead chose to sing each song herself. In preparation for the role, Zellweger worked tirelessly with vocal coaches to improve her singing voice to perform in the film. Though she worked tirelessly to improve her singing voice, which was good to begin with, she didn’t exactly learn to mimic Garland’s singing voice but rather instead chose to improve her own and adopt a tone reminiscent and respectful to Garland herself. The end result was a breathtaking vocal performance from Zellweger that delivers on beautiful musical numbers as a famous singer/actress. Audience members unfamiliar with Garland’s later work will likely still be familiar with her lead role as Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” and will undoubtedly be impressed by Zellweger’s marvelous rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Every aspect of Zellweger’s performance in “Judy” is well deserved as she has been considered the Oscar front-runner since the film’s theatrical debut last summer. Her beautifully authentic performance as Garland coupled with her superb singing ability make for an amazing performance that is easily deserving of the Academy’s top honors for acting.
Best Supporting Actor:
Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)
This year’s Oscar race for Best Supporting Actor features two standout performances from Martin Scorsese’s recent crime film “The Irishman”: Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. However, among these two acting heavy weights, Pesci’s performance as Pennsylvania mob boss Russel Buffalino steals the show and is more than deserving of the Academy’s top honors. Pesci is by no means a stranger to critical acclaim, as he has previously won the same award for his unforgettable role in Scorsese’s crime classic “Goodfellas.” There are few who can argue that Pesci is not one of Hollywood’s greatest actors as almost all of his roles have reached legendary status, such as his performances in “Casino” and even “Home Alone.” However, his recent hiatus from the world of acting and subsequent return in “The Irishman” has brought the attention back on the seasoned actor for his outstanding performance in a refreshingly different type of role. His stunning performance this time around alongside longtime colleague Robert De Niro proves that he has lost none of his skill in front of the camera as he steals almost every scene he’s in, despite often sharing them with other legends like Pacino, De Niro and Keitel. With that said, what is most remarkable about his most recent role is just how unique and original it is for the actor. Based on his past crime films with Scorsese, Pesci has garnered a reputation for playing crazed mobsters capable of turning on a dime and killing anyone for the slightest of offenses. As Buffalino, Pesci stuns audiences as he plays a calm and calculative mobster more keen to use his wits rather than his fists to solve any given situation. Pesci is quiet and deliberative as this mob boss, portraying an intelligence and composure thus far unseen in his previous roles. This welcomed originality coupled with his superb acting and palpable onscreen chemistry with his friend De Niro makes for an enthralling character and exemplary performance.
Best Supporting Actress:
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)
Much like every year, this year’s Supporting Actress category is crowded with spectacular performances from a multitude of talented actresses. Laura Dern’s performance in “Marriage Story” secured her win in the Golden Globes with her portrayal of the cold and deliberate Nora Fanshaw, a lawyer representing Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson). Many of her scenes are spent with her and Barber building a case for her in the divorce as Fanshaw attempts to help and build Barber’s confidence. Her character plays off of Johansson quite well as their interactions are profound and intimate. In every scene she is in, she takes such an active role in supporting Barber as she literally lends her confidence; this allows Barber to become free of what keeps her scared and trapped. It’s in these unique interactions we see the very best of Dern’s acting as her monologues of continuous thought only build on each other throughout the film. Dern’s experience allows her to take this active role in the film with certainty as her delivery in these key moments are very captivating and convincing. Dern’s expertise positions her in a point of power uncommon to supporting actors, where her actions become the focal points of Barber’s decisions and motivations. Not to mention the expertly conveyed weight she is able to carry with her without Johansson as she shares many scenes with Charlie as well. While clearly at odds, she remains composed and able to handle the sheer hatred of her spouse. This is especially evident in her shared scenes with Ray Liotta, the lawyer representing her husband. She remains calm and poised while discussing circumstances outside of work, yet during the courtroom scene she reveals a more intense and ferocious side. While her scenes are played to the benefit of our main protagonist, the amount of emotion and ferocity conveyed in Dern’s performance places her a cut above the rest.