Newsletter 387

Published April 26, 2021
Those little golden men that filmmakers covet

It’s Academy award time again and I’m almost inclined to take an interest. The pandemic year has had a curious effect on the kind of movies that have risen to the top of the heap. As I write, the announcements have yet to be made, but the general feeling is that Nomadland is going to emerge with the Best Picture Award. I wouldn’t be unhappy to see this happen because Chloe Zhao’s movie is quite unlike anything that’s ever knocked on the door of Oscar success.

It’s a low-key, almost meandering film in which nothing much happens. Seen from another angle it’s an impressively humane portrait of a society gradually coming apart at the seams, and the people who either opt out or are left behind. It’s a movie for our times, and that counts for a lot. Much the same might be said about Minari, which follows the lives of a Korean-American family who move to the Ozarks and try to start a new life. If the award were to go to a Korean-language film for the second year in a row it would really make the world sit and recognise the quality of this country’s cinema. That said, I don’t think it’ll happen.

Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7 are historical dramas of the 1960s that comment obliquely on the rising political extremism of the present day. I wonder whether the very bleak ending of the former and the Sorkinesque wordiness of the latter will count against them in the final reckoning. Judging by the popular reaction to the George Floyd case, Judas’ may be the dark horse in this year’s field (no Afro-American puns intended!).

Next is David Fincher’s Mank, a tale of old Hollywood, shot in gorgeous black-and-white, with a mesmeric script. The big question here is whether the members of the Academy would be willing to vote for a film about the film industry when so many social and political issues are being vented by the other candidates. I suspect they will take the political path.

The Father is dominated by a cracking performance by Anthony Hopkins as a weird, chatty old paterfamilias who is growing rapidly more demented. Director, Florian Zeller, makes us feel as if we’re becoming just as dotty as the old man, as we slip and slide between reality and his private version of reality. This studied confusion may make the film just a little too arty to be first over the finish line. It’s also, quite obviously, a play made into a movie, if that matters.

Finally there are the two films I’m reviewing this week: Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman and Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal. Both have plenty to recommend them: Fennell’s movie being a black comedy-drama, while Marder has given us a poignant, introverted study of a drummer afflicted with sudden deafness. Although both movies could be mined for “issues” – from the #MeToo movement to our attitudes towards disabilities, I don’t think either of them touches the public conscience as powerfully as Nomadland in its quiet, insistent way.

So by a process of elimination I’d put my money on Nomadland, but wouldn’t be disturbed if there’s an upset.

The movie review is all I’ve got for you this week, as the newspaper decided to hold the review of The National for another week, after I’d already scheduled it for the website. I’m obliged to hold a piece on She-Oak and Sunlight at the National Gallery of Victoria until next week.

Last week a piece on a small perfume bottle stolen by the Nazis and returned, 80 years later, to is rightful owners, failed to load. Therefore I’m putting it up on the site this week, with apologies and the usual expressions of frustration. Like the Academy that decides the Oscars, I’ll get it right one day.