There was a time when I saw every Academy-Award nominated Best Film, Actor, Actress, and screenplay nominee before the awards presentation. But when Best Film nominees expanded from five to ten, what had been a game became a chore. I slacked off, and once I started to pick and choose, I started to be pickier, choosier. I wasn’t going to waste two hours on The Joker, no matter how many nominations it received.
The older I get, the more divergent my taste in films becomes vis-a-vis Oscar-bait. This year, I am particularly out of sync.
I tried—I truly tried—to watch Everything Everywhere All at Once, this year’s most nominated film (11). I give the movie credit for being properly titled, but having everything, everywhere all at once is not art. It is chaos. After half an hour of hyperactivity, I turned away and let my blood pressure settle.
Next up: The Banshees of Inisherin (9 nominations). I figured I’d love it. I’m Irish; it stars Colin Farrell. We set aside Christmas night to watch with great expectation. I managed to sit through the entire thing, albeit puzzled. The black humor, the irony, the deep meanings eluded me. Doesn’t filmmaking 101 teach that before you depict the deterioration of a relationship, you show its healthy bloom, so the audience knows what’s being lost? Does anyone believe these two oddballs were actually friends before they started setting fires and cutting off fingers? Does anyone care? I couldn’t see it, and definitely did not care. With the essential premise soured, what remained was simply dull horror.
I love Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, which practically invented the genre of critiquing war from within. So I was wary whether I would appreciate another nine-nomination film. I had nothing to fear. The opening sequence sucked me right in; the awe and the futility. Throughout the film, the cinematography is gorgeous, the gore revolting, the youthful fervor foreboding, the brutal end of youth agonizing. Director Edward Berger has taken liberties with the novel, all of which I thought enriched the story’s translation from one medium to another. The woes of lowly privates in trenches is condensed in time, and counterpointed by the affairs of generals and diplomats crafting the brutal terms of armistice, November 11, 1918.
All Quiet on the Western Front will likely not win Best Picture, though I believe it should. Regardless, the film catapults to the top of any list of Greatest War Movies Ever Made. And I am appreciative of Netflix for bringing it into my home.
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Feeling lucky, another evening I simply surfed Netflix, and was rewarded with another terrific film. Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is an inspiring documentary that couches the life and career of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen within the song that’s come to define him. “Hallelujah” boiled for years, through hundreds of verses, until Leonard Cohen recorded it on an album that was never even released in the United States. How, then, the song was discovered, covered, and blossomed into a phenomenon makes for a gripping framework in which to tell Leonard Cohen’s own biography.
“Hallelujah…” confirms the ability of music to bind and to salve. But if you watch, linger through the end credits, which include this remarkable coda:
You look around and see a world that is impenetrable.
You either raise your fist
Or you sing Hallelujah.
I try to do both.
– Leonard Cohen