Oscars 2023, 2

My takes on the films released in 2022 that we saw, including 8 of the 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees.

  • Everything Everwhere All at Once. Noticed it when it came out, way back in March 2022, but didn’t see it until last month. An audacious, chaotic, genuine science fiction film about the multiverse, about a woman who runs a laundromat and who has tax problems; a sort of kitchen-sink movie with everything thrown in. Was hard to follow, worthy of a rewatch. In a sense, that it all resolved to a mother-daughter issue trivialized it, but for many that relationship redeemed it. Partly filmed in Simi Valley! And San Fernando!
  • All Quiet on the Western Front. A straightforward, very well-made, movie about the horrors of World War I, departing from the 1929 source novel more so than the 1930 film did, IIRC. Some German critics hated it (hmm); other critics found it apt, considering the war in Ukraine. Idealism falls to realism; demagogues can rally the patriotic suckers every time. It came to the attention of American film-watchers very late in the year. I liked the score especially; I posted a YouTube link to that in previous post.
  • The Banshees of Inisherin. A small private story about two friends on an Irish island in the 1920s. Many thought it profound; others were bored. A Slate review called it blarney. I found it pleasant, even profound — the cinematic equivalent of a literary short story — about how the assumptions of life can be rethought, even changed, even late in life.
  • Elvis. Impressed by this as an historical profile, though I’ve never cared one way or another about Elvis himself. Tom Hanks’ performance was weird, creepy, and everyone seemed to hate it. I didn’t; it provided a balance. I liked the historical context as the film neared its end.
  • The Fabelmans. Steven Spielberg’s portrait of his own early life and his wonderment at discovering film. Perfectly nice film, well-made. I appreciated the sense in which Spielberg, like so many people, discover something early in their life that drives their passion, even despite family disapproval. (The golden age of science fiction is 12, they say, meaning exactly the same thing.) Many people seem to think the film is self-indulgent, but artists throughout history have created art based on their own lives. (James Joyce’s Portrait is the first that comes to mind.)
  • Tár, with an accent over the a. I was fascinated and driven by this, a film about a female conductor doing Mahler’s 5th symphony (!), and the power dynamics of someone in charge over those she can control, with the twist that Lydia Tar is a lesbian, and has a mundane, hidden past. I especially liked scenes that showed how conductors “interpret”; they have the orchestra play a passage, then stop and give instructions about how to subtly change the phrasing or intonation. This is commonplace but most people never see it. A lot of people were upset by this film for one reason or another; but a lot of people will become upset for one reason or another by almost anything.
  • Top Gun: Maverick. Action film for the masses, superficially thrilling. Didn’t care. Neil deGrasse Tyson got shade for pointing out that when Tom Cruise ejected from his plane at Mach 10 (is that what it was?) he would have pulverized. People who like movies like this don’t care. I’ve also seen comments that the plot of this is basically Star Wars; indeed, I suspect most action films, most superhero films, share very similar structures.
  • Triangle of Sadness. One of several recent films (Glass Onion; The Menu) and TV shows (The White Lotus) about rich people behaving badly and getting their comeuppance. (“Eat the rich” stories someone called them.) Haven’t seen that TV show, but I liked those other two films better than this one, an oddly structured piece about a yacht hitting a storm and survivors washing up on an island. It has its moments, but it’s not subtle; a wealthy couple, who admit unapologetically that they made their fortune manufacturing hand grenades, get blown up near the end by… a hand grenade.

That’s eight of the best picture nominees; we didn’t see the Avatar movie, or Women Talking. We did see these, also notable:

  • The Whale. Lead actor Brendan Fraser won. It’s a one-room stage play set to film, about this morbidly-obese guy whose situation and backstory gradually reveals itself. The criticism of the movie focused on the fat-suit performance by Fraser, and how this was fat-shaming, as if the character was miserable because he was fat. Well, no… he became obese because he was miserable. His gay partner killed himself (due to an eating disorder, apparently, a mirror-image of his own condition), he left his wife and daughter because he was gay, and has had trouble all his life connecting with his daughter. Many layers to this, not to mention Moby Dick and that whale, and being honest, besides the fat suit. I liked it, and would watch it again.
  • Glass Onion. This was the second film starring Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc, this time invited to a fabulous estate on a Greek Island, to solve a murder mystery that has been planned in advance. Lots of fun; great scenery. I note that this got an Oscar nomination for “adapted” screenplay because the Academy considers a sequel to have been “adapted” from its predecessor, even if it’s an independent story not based on any previous novel or play.

I believe the only other 2022 movie we saw, and this one in a theater, was Bros, a gay rom-com that I didn’t like simply because of Billy Eichner’s character. I discussed it here, on 20 Oct 2022; scroll down.

Finally, I’ll post two more YouTube videos of film scores that struck me this year.

First is this one, Triangle of Sadness, which has a theme that haunted me for weeks.

Update 24 March 2023: Turns out it’s not an original theme by the score composer; it’s a Baroque composition by one Marin Marais, called “The Bells of St Genevieve.”

It’s still there in the film’s soundtrack; it begins about 17 minutes in, and has a relentless three note descending theme, underlying colorful violin lines. It goes for about five minutes. It’s just not by the film’s composer. It’s the only part of the score I want to listen to again. (Well, the following track is really nice too.) Composer is Mikkel Maltha.

This one, for The Menu, I liked all the way through. Maybe even better than the All Quiet score, which is overwhelmed by that single three-note theme half way in. Colin Stetson is the composer.

Well no; listening again to the All Quiet score just now, even before that theme, the music is quite beautiful, and profound.

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