The Oscar Project
In my experience, when people say that a movie is great, to the point where almost no one you talk to has anything bad to say about it, things can go one of two ways. I had the first thing happen many years ago when I finally watched Napoleon Dynamite after friends raving about it for months. I watched it and was thoroughly unimpressed, something I wrote about after returning to the film when I did a 30-day film challenge in late 2020.
The second thing that can happen is the film can completely live up to the expectations, or sometimes even exceed all the glowing things people said about it before you saw it. Parasite is one of those films.
It feels like a little more than just three years since Parasite swept the awards season and capped it off with four Oscar wins including Bong Joon-ho for Best Director and the Best Picture award. It’s also hard to believe that just about a month after the Oscars where Parasite led the pack, the world shut down and things have never been the same since.
Ki-woo meets with a friend and agrees to take his place as an English tutor for the daughter of wealthy family. Once he gets his foot in the door with the Park family, he recommends his sister (re-named “Jessica” to avoid detection as his sister) as an art tutor for the Park’s young son. “Jessica” then recommends Ki-taek as a new driver for Mr. Park, who in turn recommends Chung-sook as a new housekeeper when the Park’s long-time housekeeper is let go. The Kims slowly insinuate themselves into the lives of the entire Park family, latching on to the wealthy in order to improve their own station in life. Once they have forced the existing driver and housekeeper out of the picture, the Kim’s begin to settle into their new way of life, but before they can get too comfortable, things take a drastic turn.
The first half of this film was a slow burn the way it set the scene. While initially feeling bad for the Kim’s in their destitution, I soon turned to feeling for the Park family, especially because of how easily they are duped into trusting the Kim family. The two families are mirrors of one another, both having four members, a mother, father, son, and daughter, and part of the genius of the film is how they could almost be considered the same family that diverged at some point in history.
Where the film really shines is in the second half, once the Kims are fully in place working for the Parks. Mr. Kim ingratiates himself with Mr. Park, gaining his trust and helping with whatever needs doing when it comes to driving him and Mrs. Park around. But we find out in the second half that while Mr. Park appreciates the service provided by Mr. Kim (and the rest of the Kim family) he doesn’t truly respect them, even complaining about the smell that Mr. Kim has in the car as they drive around town. We also learn that the Kims are not the first ones to latch on to the wealthy family in the house. This is where things start to unravel for the Kims and ultimately leads to a deadly conclusion.
If you were to ask me what this film reminds me of, my initial thought would be something along the lines of Hitchcock. Rear Window jumps to mind in the way the first half of that film is a lot of set up where not much really happens, but once the action starts, it doesn’t stop. Just like Hitchcock, there are moments throughout the second half of Parasite where things are quiet and you know something’s coming around the corner, but the quiet lasts just long enough to allow you to let down your guard, before the director smacks you in the face with a new twist.
Several times in the second half of the film I was certain I knew where it was heading, but every time I was wrong. It’s rare in movies today that things can catch seasoned viewers completely off guard, and this film is the exception that proves that rule. Director Bong delivers a trail of breadcrumbs that oftentimes seem to lead to safety, but only serve to take the film in a new direction completely different from where you expect it to go.
Plenty has been written about this film and the statements on class and social inequality, specifically in Korea but also in the world at large. At the end of the film, Ki-woo narrates over the last few scenes that he has a plan in place to bring the Kim family out of poverty, but the very last image shows him still residing in the same basement apartment where he started. Despite the proximity to the wealthy Park family, his position in life hasn’t changed, and the Kim family as a whole is in a much worse situation. It can even be argued that by associating with the Kims, the Park family has collapsed and begun a fall from grace…the host succumbing to the infection of the parasite that has invaded.
This film is one that I absolutely plan to revisit at least once in the next few months. I need a little time to sit with it in my consciousness, but I know there are things I missed on my first viewing. Just like watching Rian Johnson’s Knives Out a second time last fall, there will surely be little details that I pick up on now that I know the outcome of the story.
Bravo Bong Joon-ho! This is truly a masterpiece.
It’s time to get started with the first week of movies. We have an easy category this week, and that’s picking a film that has won the Oscar for Best Picture. If you are looking for a help selecting your film, check out the list of Best Picture winners from Wikipedia. Many are available on streaming services, and you can always check your local library or rent them from Amazon.
I’m going to keep these introductory posts fairly short, but I want to announce the film that I’m watching this week. Later in the week, I’ll be back with another post recapping what I thought of the film.
My Selection - Midnight Cowboy
A film with a single word title
Yesterday I chose a very recent film, and today I’m going in the way back machine for my selection. My film with a single word title is Casablanca, the Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman classic that provided some of the most memorable lines in film history.
This was actually a terrible gap in my film resume until about a year ago. I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years, catching segments when it was on television, or snippets in documentaries about films, but I had never sat down and watched the film from beginning to end. I went back and looked at the films I have rated on the movie tracking website Trakt.tv and I have reserved a 10 out of 10 rating for only about a dozen films, Casablanca being one of them. It is a truly timeless film and I think the thing that struck me most during my most recent watch was the fact that it was a film set during WWII, made shortly after the United States entered the war at the end of 1941 and premiered less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The entire film feels a bit like the story of the war up to that point. Bogart’s Rick Blaine is the stand in for the United States, staying out of the politics and making money from both sides until his hand is forced and he has to make a decision. Bergman’s Ilsa Lund is the reason Rick ends up getting involved for she begs him to help her and her husband and Czech Resistance leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) escape Casablanca.
One of my favorite scenes from the film comes when the Germans start singing their patriot anthem “Die Wacht am Rhein” in Rick’s bar. Laszlo urges the house band to break into “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. The band pauses only a moment until Rick gives a nod of approval. The patrons of the bar pick up the French tune and soon drown out the Germans, but it’s Rick’s subtle nod that is the true turning point of the story. He has decided to do what is right, rather than what will provide him financial gains. It may have been, just like the United States’ own entry into the war, a bit later than the Allies would have liked, but it came just the same.
There is so much more to this film than I have space to discuss here, but I am so mad at myself that I waited so long to see it. If you are like I was and haven’t seen the entire film, please do yourself a favor and check it out. It is currently available on HBO Max and at just 102 minutes, it’s not a terribly long film.
Best Biography Film
Green Book is one of the most recent films on my list this year and it is fantastic. There is a reason this film won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Best Original Screenplay a few years ago and was nominated for several others.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect film by any stretch, but a great film doesn’t have to be perfect. There is plenty to quibble with in the film and its depiction of race in the Southern United States in the 1960s, but at the heart it is a story about two men from different worlds that come to understand and respect each other through a series of shared experiences.
If you don’t know the story, Ali stars as Dr. Don Shirley, a black pianist who is about to embark on a concert tour of the American Midwest and South. He hires Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as his driver. The men start off as complete strangers, Shirley trying to get Tony to act with more refinement and class, while Tony makes some attempts to get Shirley to lighten up a bit and “live a little.”
As the trip wears on and the pair venture further into the Deep South, the attitudes towards a black man change and Tony starts to see how Shirley is treated. The final straw comes when Shirley is denied permission to eat dinner in the very dining room of a white country club that he has been hired to perform in that evening. Tony stands fully by Shirley’s side and begs the owners to relent on their rules and allow Shirley to dine with the white members.
While I don’t know much about the two men depicted in the film, I do love the actors that portrayed them. I have been a Mortensen fan since seeing him in G.I. Jane and of course his star turn as Aragon in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Ali has been a rising star as well, garnering his second Oscar for this role following his win for Moonlight several years ago. These two roles couldn’t be more different, so it’s wonderful to see the actor inhabit these drastically different characters.
After more than a year away, I have finally been able to go see two films in the theater in recent weeks and I can't express how much I missed that experience.
I didn't think I would have missed it as much as I did, but it truly was something I had taken for granted for my entire life. Until recently, I had never been a regular theater goer. I would pop into the nearest multiplex for big event films like Star Wars or Avengers, sometimes for midnight screenings. The time I went to the most movies in the theater was probably in high school where my friends and I would check out a new movie once a month or so, before walking to the bowling alley next door on a Friday night to pass the time. I couldn't tell you what most of those movies were now, but the experience remains in my head.
Back then, over 20 years ago now, we took that ability to congregate for granted. It never crossed our self-focused teen brains that we would be stuck at home for months on end, only able to go to the grocery store and having to conduct our schooling from home. Looking at this experience through this lens, that's one of the things I fear the most, that the high schoolers and college kids have lost the opportunity to find out who they are through these shared experiences like going to the movies on a Friday night with their friends.
Don't get me wrong, I've been watching movies, probably more in the last year than at any time in my recent memory. I've watched films that have made me laugh out loud, and many more that have made me stop in my tracks and think about parts of this world I was naive to. Films have taken me so many places in the last year and I'm glad that one of them has finally been out of my house and back to a theater.
Yes, it sucks to have to sit there in the dark with a mask on the whole time, but if that's what it takes, I'm willing to do it. Both the films I went to see had small audiences for my screenings, no more than 10 people in either one.
Minari was my first foray back to the theater. I went to an open cineplex on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, not quite sure what to expect. When I go to the theater by myself, I don't usually get snacks, but this was a special occasion so I treated myself to a popcorn and soft drink. I felt a little like I was getting away with something during the times I took my mask down to eat and drink.
If you've seen Minari, you know there are a few good laughs provided by the young boy in the film, one in particular involving his grandmother. I had heard about this sequence before seeing the film, but still laughed out loud in the theater when it happened, and I was so pleased to hear other perfect strangers laughing aloud with me. It was a shared experience with these people I didn't know, and probably never will, but it was ours in that moment.
Earlier this week, I continued my progress through this year's Best Picture nominees with Promising Young Woman. Again, I had heard a few things about this film from various commentators, but was completely blown away by seeing it on a big screen. The absolute care with which it was constructed showed exactly why it should be considered among the top films of the year. I would even venture to put it in my top five for 2020, even though I didn't see it until 2021.
All this is to say that I don't think the theaters will be gone any time soon. Yes, some are closed, and smaller theaters may struggle even more because of the pandemic, but there are some films that just need to be experienced on a big screen. I would love to see Nomadland again and this time on a big screen. I will certainly be reserving a seat in a theater for Black Widow when it (FINALLY) comes out later this summer (yes, I'm still a sucker for superhero movies).
At the same time, I appreciate the other avenues that are now available to the consumer for accessing these films. As of this writing, I've seen 25 of the 56 nominated films for this year's Academy Awards, a record for me before the awards ceremony. This is also the third biggest tally for me in a single Oscar year, behind only 2016 (93.55% watched) and 2017 (54.24% watched). I'm hoping to top 50% before Sunday, and should be able to hit at least six or seven of the Best Picture nominees, almost completely rounding out that category.
Don't forget, if you want to vote for Best Picture yourself, check out my post from earlier this week to do so.
Leave me a note in the comments below with your best movie theater memory or tell me the last movie you saw in a theater (if you can remember!).
With the 93rd Oscars just one week away, it's time to do a little Best Picture voting of our own. I have set up a quick poll to gather votes for the 8 films nominated for Best Picture this year.
The Oscars uses a ranked choice voting method to choose the film awarded Best Picture. I would probably do a terrible job of explaining the process of ranked choice voting, so I'll let the website Ballotpedia.com do it. I THINK I know enough to be dangerous in putting this together, but I can probably figure out how to catalog the votes to determine the winner the same way the Academy does it.
So on to the poll below. I have all eight Best Picture nominees listed below, in alphabetical order to avoid any bias. Please rank all eight films with your first choice being 1 and last choice being 8. Don't worry if you haven't seen some (or even all) of them, you can still vote. Many of the Academy members, all busy working on movies of their own, don't watch all of the nominees but are still eligible to vote.
I also included a question below to see if readers would be interested in voting on the rest of the categories. There are a bunch to choose from, and normally only members of each individual branch of the Academy, but since we don't have branches, I would allow everyone to vote in all categories.
Get your votes in and share this with your friends. I want to get as many votes in here as possible.
Part of what I want to do with this challenge this year is chronicle my experiences through watching the movies that I select for each of these categories. In certain circumstances, the timing of watching the films will play a part in my feelings on it. My choice to watch Platoon on the evening of January 6, 2021 certainly had an impact.
As I write this post, we are in the midst of a strange time in our nation's history. While there is still much to be figured out about the events of January 6, 2021, it is sure to be a date that finds a place in history books of the future, not unlike July 4th, 1776, December 7th, 1941, and September 11th, 2001. I bring up those dates not to compare the recent events to those famous events. The scale and ultimate loss of life that resulted from the events on those days goes far beyond what we saw this week. However, there was a sense of January 6th being a turning point in history, just as those dates were.
But what does this have to do with Platoon? Well, nothing really. The only connection is that I spent the afternoon watching continuous news coverage of the events then watched the film. Usually I would turn to a comedy to cleanse the palate. But I had committed to doing this challenge and needed to get my film in before the end of the week, planning to watch it on Wednesday evening, before all the chaos erupted. So I sat down and pulled it up on Netflix as planned and tried to focus my attention on the movie for a few hours.
This was easier said than done and I fear it may have detracted a bit from the viewing experience. That said, the violence and chaos I saw in the film were definitely more serious than what was on television news earlier that evening. But, it was a very interesting juxtaposition.
What about the film?
As someone who has loved films for a long time, I have read, seen, and heard many people's opinions on this film. It is often cited as one of the best films about war ever made and given the fact that Oliver Stone was himself a Vietnam veteran, the entire film feels extremely real and genuine. However, I have to admit to being a little less enthralled with this film than I was with Apocalypse Now (the Redux version). That is not to say that it's a bad film. It is fantastic and still worthy of all the praise it has received over the years. Perhaps the fact that I have heard continued hype about it over the years meant that whatever the film was would fail to live up to expectations. Perhaps if I'd seen this earlier in life, before I settled down and had a family, maybe then I would have been able to connect even more with the characters, all being young teenage and early 20s men.
One thing I will say as a huge positive about the film is that it didn't feel bloated the way war films often do. It was a tight two hours and didn't even feel that long because the pacing was great. There were times for quiet and introspection, punctuated by the fire fights and chaos of the guerrilla warfare faced in Vietnam. Continuing the comparison to Apocalypse Now, that film clocks in at just over two and a half hours in the director's cut, but often feels like three hours or more. That film tends to have more extended periods of introspection and rumination, and feels much more like a psychological study than a snapshot of a short period in history in a small part of the jungle like Platoon.
I can't let the comparisons end there with the obvious one left unstated. While Platoon was made nearly a decade later than Apocalypse Now, they feature father Martin (Apocalypse Now) and son Charlie (Platoon) Sheen in the leading roles. One could argue that Charlie's is less of a lead since Platoon's cast is much more of an ensemble, but both actors are the featured voice in the film and provide narration at different points.
Interestingly, both Martin's Captain Willard and Charlie's Chris Taylor undergo a transformation during the time that we are with them in Vietnam. Willard is already a seasoned veteran at the beginning of the film, but progress more and more towards going native as he progresses up river over the course of the film. Taylor on the other hand is a brand new soldier, fresh off the plane from the States. Initially he is a fish out of water, the only man who volunteered in a unit full of draftees. But when he is accepted by some of his peers, he begins to blossom and ultimately shows levels of courage and bravery, along with at least one bout of insanity along the way.
Keith David (King) has enjoyed a prolific career since the 1980s with appearances in blockbusters like Pitch Black, There's Something About Mary, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith while also providing voice work for a number of films. Forest Whitaker (Big Harold) appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High a few years prior to Platoon, and returned to the subject of Vietnam with Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam before winning an Oscar for his role in The Last King of Scotland in 2006.
Two more cast members to note are John C. McGinley (Sgt. O'Neill) who would go on to land a role as Dr. Perry Cox on the comedy series Scrubs and Johnny Depp (Lerner) who you may know best as Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Depp's role in Platoon was minimal, but McGinley figured prominently as Sgt. Barnes's right hand man.
The final word
I plan to post an official review of this film under the Reviews section, but to summarize my feelings on the film, it nearly met my expectations. I was looking for a story about a group of soldiers in Vietnam and that's what I got. There were relationships built and strained, as I'm sure really happened on the ground there. There was plenty of chaos, a sprinkle of weed and alcohol, lots of f-bombs, and what felt to me like genuine military jargon (I'll leave the actual veterans to fully judge that point).
In the end, Platoon lives up to the tag line from the trailer and posters: "The first casualty of war is innocence."
Be sure to come back next week for the next film in the challenge. Week to is all about "classic" films.
I actually went about selecting the first film for my 52 Week Film Challenge somewhat systematically. The first category is "A film that won Best Picture" and you can find the full list of Best Picture winners in my previous post.
So how did I pick my film? I reviewed the list of films and in the interest of time, looked for films I hadn't already seen that are currently available through a streaming service I already pay for (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime in this case). Sure, I could pay a few bucks to rent something else, but if I don't have to shell out the cash, why would I?
After going through most of the list (I've only seen about 25% of the winners) I had a list of about 15 films that I hadn't seen and that were also available to stream right away. Most of them come from the 2000s as the recent films are in higher demand. I considered filling in the most recent gaps in my Best Picture viewing resume and finally checking out Parasite, Spotlight, or 12 Years a Slave. Any one of those would have gotten me close to completing all the winners from the 2010s.
In the end, I decided to fill in an older gap in my resume with Oliver Stone's 1986 film Platoon. I have been interested in stories about the war in Vietnam for some time, ever since reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien in high school. Add to this my extreme interest in Coppola's Apocalypse Now when I got to college (thank you file sharing sites) which only grew when I took a course all about Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, upon which Apocalypse Now is based.
Now I am happy to add Platoon to my film resume and will relish watching young up and coming actors of the time like Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Keith David, and Johnny Depp. The fact that so many of these actors have become household names is incredible, and even more so that all those listed above are still working, with recent credits in the last year or two.
If you have already joined the challenge for this year, I would love for you to leave a comment down below with the film you've chosen for this challenge. Remember, if you need a refresher, the films are in my previous post and if you haven't joined the challenge yet, just click the button below and jump on the train. It's going to be a fun ride!
A film you like that is not set in the current era
There was plenty to choose from when I picked this category, but I had to go with a film that I absolutely love, and I have seen probably two dozen times or more over the years. It’s one of those that I usually watch to the end whenever it comes on TV, which sometimes takes up several hours of my afternoon/evening/night.
I have to say, this film is one of the best I’ve seen when it comes to immersing the audience in the time period and the world it exists in. From the opening sequence in Germania, we are thrust into a gritty hellscape of how war was waged two thousand years ago, give or take a century or two. The opening battle is brutal, and they don’t get any tamer from there.
It’s easy to say that the battle and fight scenes are some of the best parts of Gladiator, yet I find many of the best parts are in the quiet intimate moments between the chaos. The personal interaction between Russell Crowe’s Maximus and his owner Proximo (Oliver Reed) about how he can win the crowd and potentially win his freedom is one of those moments. Another is Maximus’s interaction with the young prince Lucius before one of his fights. He speaks with the boy I think because he sees his own dead son in the boy and wants to connect with someone that age once again. And speaking of his son, one of the most incredible scenes is when Maximus returns to his farm to find his wife and son dead. The anguish that Crowe displays is part of the reason he was crowned Best Actor by the Academy for his work in the film.
The film also won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, and this goes back to my initial point about immersing you in the world. There are thousands of costumes in this film that make you feel like you are in ancient Rome. Everything is here from the obvious gladiator gear, to the soldiers in the army, the simple robes of the senators, and the elaborate robes of the royalty. The last time we were watching the film, my wife and I both remarked that Lucilla’s (Connie Nielsen) costumes are some of the most beautiful in the film and fit her character perfectly.
But the costumes alone don’t make this film feel like a part of history. There are plenty of scenes in the markets, the countryside, and of course, in the gladiatorial arenas themselves. The way the story progresses, Maximus fights his way through several lesser arenas throughout the Roman Empire, before venturing to Rome itself and competing in the Super Bowl of gladiatorial arenas, The Colosseum. It’s quite a scene when Maximus and his fellow slaves see the edifice for the first time and once they get inside, it’s hard to distinguish where the live replica of the building ends and the digital version begins.
All in all, Gladiator is a fantastic film. Yes, there are some historical inaccuracies, but you get that with any film based on historical events. That’s the beauty of film. It’s a chance to tell a story set in a real time and place, but with some elements of fiction woven in. It’s hard to say that there are no wasted shots in a film that stretches over two and a half hours, but I feel that this is about as close as one might come, with nearly every moment on screen contributing to and moving the story forward.
Take a moment this holiday weekend and visit ancient Rome in Gladiator. You won’t regret it.
Day 24 – A film you wish you saw in theaters | Day 26 – A film you like that is adapted front somewhere
We're on to a smaller batch of films that are coming to Disney+ next month and taking a look at the list of Pixar animated films.
If you haven't already checked out the previous posts in this series, please go back and look at the list of live action films and animated films coming to Disney+ when the service kicks off in a few weeks.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?