For as long as movies have existed, the magic of cinema has brought people together. The collective experience of sitting in a darkened theater and reveling in the highs and lows of the silver screen has been the cornerstone of the industry. 

With the pandemic shutting down theaters and fundamentally changing entertainment, the past year has been a game changer as movies ranging from tentpole projects to arthouse films were quickly shuffled to various streaming platforms. And while this Oscars season was rolled out with much less fanfare than usual, it is undeniable that the eight Best Picture contenders are powerhouses in their own right. Exploring grief, isolation, and social upheaval, this year’s nominees  ultimately reflect the interesting times we live in.

So while we patiently wait for the day that we can once again watch films in all their 30-foot glory, let’s take a look at the best this year has to offer. 

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8. Mank, Glen 

Director David Fincher’s long-awaited return to the big screen after 2015’s Gone Girl comes in the form of a star-studded love letter to Old Hollywood. Mank brings to life the conception of the classic film Citizen Kane through the eyes of alcoholic screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. 

The film is brimming with talent—Gary Oldman is as inimitable as ever as the titular Mank and Amanda Seyfried is simply dazzling as Marion Davies—and gorgeous setpieces and wardrobe as well. But what truly elevates the film is Fincher’s trademark attention to detail that culminates in a perfectly-lit and meticulously-shot noir homage to one of the all-time greats. 

What are the odds: 

Despite being a technical and stylistic feat, Mank suffers from a lack of substance and stilted pacing despite its bloated runtime. It’s overindulgent, oftentimes stumbling into Oscar-bait territory, and is a lackluster companion to the rest of Fincher’s masterful body of work. Ultimately forgettable, Mank landed at the bottom of our list faster than you can say “Rosebud.”

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7. Minari, Monica

Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is a film that explores the illusory haze of the American dream—the allure of a new life, the promise of success, and the strength of family. However, not all that glitters is gold for Monica (Han Ye-ri), Jacob (Steven Yeun), and their two children as they make a fresh start in Arkansas. The idyllic Midwest landscapes and elegant score belie the conflict among the family as cultural differences and economic hardships take their toll.

The story is captivating in its universality—no matter who you are or where you come from, you will surely see a little bit of yourself in Jacob’s wild-eyed determination,  Soonja’s (Youn Yuh-jung) wisdom, or how David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) act around their grandmother. The rawness of the actors’ performances only serve to heighten the film’s charm.

What are the odds:

While the film is empathetic in its exploration of Jacob’s ambition and his love for his family, it doesn’t sufficiently delve into the tension between each conflict and goes straight to the resolution. There is no expertly-woven build up nor liberating catharsis, only the same tedious themes that quickly plateau and lose their shine. This leaves Minari narratively underwhelming and ultimately forgettable.

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6. The Trial of the Chicago 7, Alyssa

The Trial of Chicago 7 is director Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the infamous trial against seven anti-war activists from the counterculture protests in Chicago. Featuring a talented ensemble and Sorkin’s signature sharp script, the snappy courtroom drama bridles with conflict and promise.  

The Social Network screenwriter does his best work when he weaves tension with moral quandaries, and Trial is at its peak when it explores the ties that bind. Sacha Baron Cohen steals the show as the razor-tongued and free-spirited Abbie Hoffman who clashes with Eddie Redmayne’s clean-cut Tom Hayden. Along with five other defendants, their differences in political activism were put aside to work towards the same goal. These complex character dynamics all happen against the backdrop of systemic injustice and abuse of power, and the movie does not shy away from highlighting the parallels to modern-day police brutality.  

What are the odds:

While it does attempt to take a stab at thought-provoking discourse surrounding collective action, The Trial of Chicago 7  loses touch when its own toothless social commentary never goes beyond stuffy courtroom antics. Moments of information overload lead to upsettingly dull scenes instead of creating an emotional impact. Verdict? There’s no long-lasting appeal, Your Honor.

 

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5. Sound of Metal, Lizelle

Darius Marder’s directorial debut, Sound of Metal, veers away from your typical tear-jerking talent-meets-demise drama to reveal an immersive, intricately-crafted picture that sits with you in peaceful silence.

Every element of the film, from the rustling leaves to the open captions, reveals Marder’s creative vision without compromise. Star Riz Ahmed exudes depth and tenacity in playing Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer who grapples with the loss of his hearing. Delivering equally-mesmerizing performances are Olivia Cooke as Ruben’s girlfriend Lou and Paul Raci as the wise mentor Joe. Cooke, who says so much with a mere two-second gaze, shines in her sparse screen time, while Raci brings a certain gravitas to his heartbreaking performance.

But for all the film’s masterful emotional pacing, an unexpected puppeteer is responsible–the sound design. Sound editor Nicolas Becker creates a palpable atmosphere that perfectly conveys Ruben’s inner conflict and immerses the audience in it. After all has been said and done, a message of acceptance resonates through the silence.

What are the odds:

Though Sound of Metal revels in conveying emotional authenticity without begging for sympathy, it fails to deliver the rush of feeling sought after by audiences. A hit or miss, the film is easily consumable with just one viewing. It does everything just right and simply stays with you until it doesn’t.


This is part one of The LaSallian’s reviews of this year’s Best Picture nominees. The remaining nominees in the running are discussed in part two.

By Alyssa Ann Dela Cruz

By Monica Espiritu

By Glenielle Geraldo Nanglihan

By Lizelle Villaflor

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