So, last night the Oscars happened and at least on screen, no one got slapped. A win! Overall, I thought it was pretty good as a viewing experience, actually.
You had awkward moments between presenters, of course. You always have that and there was no golden age where there was no awkwardness (like so many “golden age” delusions that never existed). Jimmy Kimmel was serviceable if somewhat neutered. I think he is funny and the Jan. 6 joke was deft in making its point. There were some pleasant moments. If you weren’t moved by singing “Happy Birthday” to Irish actor and Oscars Birthday Boy James Martin, who has Down syndrome, during the presentation of the award for Best Live Action Short for “An Irish Goodbye” then there is nothing that can be done for you. Same if you did not dig the Entertainment With A Capital “E” of the big production number for Best Song winner “Naatu Naatu” from the Indian film “RRR.”
As for the films themselves, I had a freelance film review gig for a while in the 90s for a few publications in Pittsburgh and I love movies, so I tend to try to see as many of them as I can. This year I only saw four of the Best Picture nominees, which ordinarily would be most of them but this year there are a whopping 10 nominees. So, I saw less than half.
Shame on me, I suppose. In any event, here are my capsule reviews for the ones I did see, and whether you should stream it or skip it.
The Banshees of Inisherin: This is quite a movie, and it definitely feels like an old Irish fable. Like so many fables, this can be pitch black but also funny, which is the very definition of black comedy. A story of two life-long best friends and what happens when one of them decides he doesn’t like the other is a pretty unique subject. Films often tackle romantic breakups but rarely best-friend breakups like this. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are their usual outstanding selves, as is Kerry Condon in a supporting role that landed all of them Oscar nominations. Like any good fable, this one gets a little disturbing and there are a few shocking instances of just how far Gleeson’s character will go to get himself rid of Farrell’s character, but it also has a ton of heart. The Feel Bad Hit of the year. Stream it if you like Irish tales.
Elvis: Look, if you are seeking out a straight biopic of the so-called King of Rock and Roll then you might want to look elsewhere. But if you are looking for a very entertaining and often over-the-top treatment of Elvis Presley that uses his music (and modern music) to tell quite a crazy story, then climb aboard. Despite not looking all that much like the King, Austin Butler becomes Elvis much in the way Anthony Hopkins became One of Our Worst Presidents in Nixon, in one of those Career Launching Roles. Tom Hanks has to fight his makeup as Col. Tom Parker and becomes part of the Baz Luhrmann spectacle. Spectacles are what you should come to expect from Luhrmann, who made in-your-face eye candy such as William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge. This style of music biopic, where it’s more about the IDEA of the artist and what they represent, might not be for everyone (See also the treatments of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There and David Bowie in Moonage Daydream). But as a movie, Elvis is over-the-top, outlandish, and divisive…just like the man himself. Stream it if you want a spectacle like Elvis in Vegas in 1974.
Everything Everywhere All at Once: I have a feeling that there will be a big backlash against this movie for three reasons: movies that get a lot of praise always attract haters, it is definitely unique and not for everyone, and the attention paid to the Asian winners has brought out the anti-woke dopes. The movie has crazy visuals, and it can be a little exhausting to watch, but like a good amusement park ride it’s worth the trip. I think that the three who won: Jamie Lee Curtis for Best Supporting Actress, Ke Huy Quan for Best Supporting Actor, and the incredible Michelle Yeoh for Best Actress earned their trophies. I’ve seen people criticize this movie for “taking itself too seriously” and I just don’t get that. This movie is silly in a very good way, and it knows it. Stream it if you are into offbeat movies and accept the undeniable truth that Michelle Yeoh is a gift.
Tàr: This film has the guts to begin with a 15-minute fake interview with the main character about the ins and outs of classical music. Yikes! I would guess that opening lost some viewers. But patient and open-minded viewers are rewarded with a story about a world-renowned conductor, played perfectly by Cate Blanchett, named Lydia Tàr. It takes a while to get going, but Tàr is a married lesbian who has a weakness for affairs, as so many other famous people are when it comes to infidelity. One affair ends horribly and destroys Lydia’s pampered perfect world. It’s a satire of elitist pretension that at times careens dangerously close to becoming what it is skewering. It is also going to spark debates about whether it is “pro” cancel culture or “anti” cancel culture because our Lydia is a terrible person on several levels and whether her career should be endangered over it is one of the key points of the film. It also raises the question of whether it is a gothic horror story about vengeful spirits, and even if the last third of the movie is the main character’s panicked fever dream nightmare. A movie every bit as divisive as The Tree of Live and O Brother Where Are Thou as to whether it is good or a pretentious train wreck. Stream it but try to get through that opening interview before you judge it.
The last word goes to the Bollywood craziness of Best Song winner “Naatu Naatu.” I was happy for my South Asian friends that the wildly entertaining style of movie musical from the home country got some Oscar love.