Highlights of the silver screen: Oscar 2020’s Best Picture nominees – Part Two

With nine films vying for Best Picture, a second article was warranted to give ample space to discuss the highs and lows of each work. Without further ado, The LaSallian presents part two of its reviews of Oscar-nominated films.

Parasite, Joaquin

With an ensemble of veteran and novice actors, director Bong Joon-ho—having helmed classics like Snowpiercer, Okja, and Memories of Murder—returns to the cinematic limelight to deliver another social spectacle in the form of Parasite, a film that has the audience snickering at first, but leaves them terrified come its conclusion.

As with every Bong production, the film does not shy away from openly discussing social issues that plague society. Centering around the class structure, Parasite depicts the story of a family, with each representing different sectors of society; one is the Park family—nice yet indifferent—who is part of the upper stratum, while the other are the Kims—desolate yet ingenious—who clamber their way into the household of the former via methodical and clever approaches that make the film so fresh and creative.

One of the film’s most praiseworthy aspects is its use of light and visual language in producing stellar cinematography. The film captivates its audience through enthralling shots by cinematographer, Hong Gyeong-Pyo—who also teamed up with Bong to produce Snowpiercer. Further, by blending elements taken from previous films, the end result is nothing short of a masterpiece; the film’s key utilization of engaging characters, praiseworthy visuals, and dark humor, establish Parasite as a film worth watching for many, regardless of social status. 

Despite the surge of overrated societal films, Bong’s execution of Parasite, however, is done convincingly well, marking another achievement for the South Korean director, and is undoubtedly, deserving of an entry in this year’s Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Romeo

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is more than just a period piece. Director Quentin Tarantino’s propensity for historical films allows him to give a fresh and relevant spin on what would otherwise be a simple retelling. Despite being set during the time of the Manson murders, the film still has its own story to tell: one of Rick Dalton, portrayed excellently by Leonardo DiCaprio, a Spaghetti Western actor who doesn’t want to walk off into the sunset just yet. This journey mirrors not only the transition of the landscape of film back then, but also the career trajectory of its creator. With this, the significance of this film becomes apparent. 

DiCaprio’s performance as Dalton is rife with palpable outbursts and exclamations that passionately illustrate the frustration that comes with being an actor. Supporting him is Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, Dalton’s stunt double and chauffeur. His cool temperament and gravitas command the attention of viewers even without his slick dialogue. Their chemistry creates memorable scenes as they drive around the pristine streets of late 60s Beverly Hills. The aesthetic of the movie, from its locations to its use of vibrant colors to its use of vintage set pieces, allowed it to truly feel immersive. The use of lesser-known music complemented the atmosphere without necessarily sounding generic.

Somehow, in a film filled with a star-studded cast and beautiful landscapes, what stands out is Tarantino’s direction and writing. The snappy dialogue of the movie, with its countless memorable one-liners, keeps viewers engaged. Each scene in the film’s nearly three-hour runtime is utilized to set up its glorious conclusion, which subverts all expectations. This film has all the makings of another Tarantino cult-classic—one of his best at that.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Joker, Westin

Joker’s inclusion among Best Picture nominees has no doubt been the most controversial. It’s perhaps fitting, given just how controversial the film was even before it was released in theaters.

However, despite the more zany nature of the film, Joker certainly deserves its spot. It’s a bold movie that takes plenty of inspiration from its comic book origins, yet is able to tell a fresh story that focuses on a villain’s origins amid today’s blockbuster superhero film-riddled landscape. It certainly helps that at its heart is the breathtaking performance of Joaquin Phoenix, who is without a doubt one of the finest actors working today. His raw, unsettling portrayal of Arthur Fleck is shocking, instilling a sense of dread and uneasiness on the audience as he laughs and dances across the screen.

The film also boasts cinematography that is a feast for the eyes. The hues are to convey Arthur’s state of mind at any given instant, with scenes either bursting with color or being drained and drab. The disgusting backdrop of Gotham City fleshes the world out, adding a further sense of immersion for the benefit of the viewing audience. Its score is incredibly haunting as well—thanks in no small part to composer Hildur Guðnadóttir—slowly building to a deafening crescendo at all times, mirroring Arthur’s descent to madness.

Joker has had its detractors ever since it was released in film festivals, and should it claim the title of Best Picture, the amount of controversy surrounding the film will no doubt increase. One might say the film’s protagonist would get a good chuckle out of that. Despite the harsh criticism the movie has received, there is no doubt that Joker is a worthy candidate for its spot as a Best Picture nominee, and is a dark-horse candidate to win it all.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

The Irishman, William

The Irishman is exactly the kind of film you would expect from the caliber of the director and cast working on it, and then some. Revolving around the mafia life of hitman Frank Sheeran and his journey climbing up the Bufalino crime family, it was no gripping tale of action. The movie was—in the simplest sense—as pure as cinema can be. It’s a slow burn, clocking in at three and a half hours long, but it manages to tell a compelling story that engrossed viewers enough to still want more. The film was split into a series of acts—from Frank’s first step into the mafia underworld to his final days in an old folks home—chronicling his rise and descent.

It’s difficult to appreciate the effort that goes into making films when one is only presented with the finished product on the silver screen. The de-aging process of the film’s main protagonists was nothing short of spectacular once you realize how it was done. While mainstream films have incorporated equipment attached directly on the face actors to achieve a de-aging effect, director Martin Scorsese wanted none of that. Being the purist that he is, while still aware that modern makeup may not be enough to pull off such a complex effect, an entirely new form of technology was developed that required only a camera to preserve and modify intricate facial details. Though there are some limitations to the technology, what ended up in the final film was  enough to persuade viewers of its ability.

Scorsese once turned heads with rather jarring comments about certain films not qualified to be labelled cinema. His comments are debatable—but with films like this, it’s quite difficult to argue against his understanding of the craft, especially since The Irishman feels like cinema at its purest.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Marriage Story, Trisha

Beautiful and devastating, director Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story provides its viewers with an intimate portrait of human connection—a modern tragedy that contemplates the intricacies of relationships and delivers an affirmation of love in its many forms. A straightforward tale that doesn’t strive to teach a lesson about marriage, it instead portrays the difficult process of separation as a result of the confrontation between passion and responsibility. It explores the daunting reality of gender politics, legal processes, and co-parenting—a nuanced dissection of divorce that all at once mourns and celebrates the end of a life together. 

Baumbach boasts cinematography that is endearingly simple yet undeniably evocative—his expertise in the art of visual storytelling evident in almost every scene. On the other hand, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are masterful in their roles as a couple in the agonizing throes of divorce, the diverse and sympathetic characterizations serving to fully immerse us in a compelling narrative about two people who are going through a process that demands their hatred—the kind of hatred you can only have toward someone you truly loved. 

Through various interweaving narratives, the film carefully illustrates not only how they have drifted apart, but perhaps more importantly, why. More than anything, it portrays the aftermath of a separation—not in broad, melodramatic strokes, but in complex, shifting tones that acknowledge their humanity. It is a compassionate look at the vicious ordeal that is divorce, teaching us that the end of a relationship doesn’t always mean that it is a failure; sometimes, good things fall apart so better things can fall together. In the end, Marriage Story is a raw and tender depiction of how we can begin our relationships with love—and end them with grace.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Regardless of which film people believe deserves to take home the prize, the answers will be revealed once the 92nd Academy Awards airs live on Monday, February 10, at 9 am.

By Trisha Concepcion

By Romeo Escareal

By Joaquin Luna

By William Ong

By Westin Perez

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