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Oscar Reflections

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It’s disappointing that female directors have once again been shut out of the Oscars’ Best Director category, when this past year has seen such accomplished works by Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir), and many other talented women.

One of the silver linings of this year’s Oscar season has been Bong Joon-ho’s superlative Parasite (winner of VIFF 2019’s People’s Choice Award) amassing six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. I would have liked to see some of the cast members, such as Song Kang-ho, receive nominations for the utterly charming performances that drove the film. Lupita Nyong’o also should have received an Oscar nod for her mesmerizing and versatile performance in Jordan Peele’s Us.

Among this year’s nominees for Best Supporting Actress, a win for Marriage Story’s magnetic Laura Dern seems like a fait accompli. I’m personally rooting for Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin Won’s clever and riveting Parasite script for Best Original Screenplay, and Greta Gerwig’s splendid reframing of Little Women for Best Adapted Screenplay. Whereas precious few of this year’s Oscar-nominated narrative features so much as pass the Bechdel test, Little Women and Parasite are both delightful exceptions, depicting nuanced relationships between women.

While global box office record-breaking Toy Story 4 is an obvious frontrunner for Best Animated Feature, I’d love to see more attention drawn to Jérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice’s stunningly original I Lost My Body. It’s hard to choose between the many excellent selections for Best Short Film (Animated), but Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver’s heartwarming Hair Love would be well-deserving of a win. Meanwhile, Cynthia Erivo’s rousing, gospel-infused “Stand Up” seems like a shoe-in for Best Original Song. —Mikaela Asfour (Education Coordinator)

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While accepting his Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Bong Joon-ho made sure to give credit where he considered it due: “I’d like to thank the two great French filmmakers,” he said, “Chabrol and Clouzot.” The former, whose 1995 La Ceremonie is an indelible influence on Parasite, is arguably the French New Wave’s most forgotten great filmmaker. That Bong would name-drop this iconoclastic director at a conservative French festival largely responsible for forming our reductive canon simply goes to show that the South Korean filmmaker understands his work as a form of aesthetic advocacy, resulting from a sincere, prolonged engagement with cinema history—an engagement that is always destined to be incomplete but becomes all the more impoverished when borders of language and culture get in the way.

Fast forward to the recent Golden Globes, where Bong won the award for Best Foreign Language Film. In his now famous acceptance speech, the director altered his polemic to suit this new context: “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles,” he said, “you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” What is the difference between Cannes and Hollywood, whether real or perceived, that Bong would feel it necessary to cast his net to such widely differing sizes—in one speech resuscitating the legacy of two particular French filmmakers, in the other advocating for the entirety of non-English language cinema, both past and present?

The answer should be obvious: while good-faith efforts from within the Academy can aspire to diversify its members list, we will continue to see mediocrities like Joker, Jojo Rabbit, and Ford v Ferrari nominated for Best Picture until the dominant aesthetic tastes (and what is taste if not political?) of the group reflect this change. Until that seismic shift occurs, more daring work will continue to be relegated to the ghetto of the Foreign Language category. So, even if I’m less enthused with Parasite than many of my colleagues, I can only hope that, much like the films of Bong’s co-nominee Quentin Tarantino, it inspires audiences to seek out the transgressive inspirations lurking underneath its polished surface. There, they might be introduced to horrors and wonders previously unknown to them.—Josh Cabrita (Programming Intern)

 

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An LA actor friend calls this time of year “Holy Week,” and that predates The Two Popes sneaking into the conversation. The Oscars TM always bring out the sanctimony in the movie industry, and frankly most of the Best Picture winners of the last two decades speak to an embarrassing oscillation between self-congratulation and flagellation. Look no further than last year’s feel-good travesty, Green Book.

But it’s easy to knock the Academy for its lack of discernment and sophistication. By this time that should be a given, which is why faint hopes for Parasite to seize centre stage are most likely going to be trounced by Sam Mendes’ war porn, 1917 (if there are two things well-meaning voters can agree on, it’s that war is hell and single takes rock).

Still, let’s give credit where it is due. The Academy has worked hard to fix its hitherto problematic Best Documentary category, and this year’s nominees (American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama and Honeyland), are a solid representation of exemplary, hard-hitting activist filmmaking taking place on multiple fronts as the world spirals.  Whoever wins the Oscar (personally I would vote for the extraordinary Honeyland), they will fully merit their 15 seconds before a billion viewers. 

Honeyland is also in with an outside chance for what is now called “Best International Picture”, and this year’s nominees in that borderline farcical category do at least reflect an eclectic mix of ambitious, provocative, and highly accomplished movies, which is more than can be said of the 9 (!) Best Picture hopefuls. I know a Joker shut-out is not on the cards (Joaquin!) but if Jo Jo comes away empty handed for me the night won’t be a total loss. —Tom Charity (VIFF Year-Round Programmer)

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This year’s Oscars ceremony isn’t “appointment viewing” for me. But, to be clear, that isn’t an elitist declaration but rather a confession that I legitimately neglected to add it to my calendar and now have a conflicting event.

If that weren’t the case, my morbid curiosity would undoubtedly get the better of me and I’d find myself grimly watching to see how many statues are snagged by the 11-nominee sideshow that is Joker. While I’d be hard-pressed to praise the superficial Scorsese riff itself, I do need to credit it with inspiring one of my most memorable post-screening conversations of 2019: With 1993’s Hated: GG Allin & the Murder Junkies marking the only previous Todd Phillips film he’d seen, a friend extolled Joker for being a natural extension of that punk ethos. In that moment, I was offered a glimpse into a parallel universe in which the multiplex-friendly, misogyny-fueled likes of Old School and The Hangover never existed. It would’ve been nice to linger there a little longer.

Indeed, the Oscars aren’t just an opportunity to revisit a given year’s films but also the debates, ruminations, revelations, and sensations that they inspired. Consequently, should Greta Gerwig deservedly hoist her first Oscar for her Little Women Adapted Screenplay, I’ll immediately recall the exhilaration that coursed through me when I first witnessed her adaptation’s audaciously meta climax. Similarly, when Roger Deakins inevitably continues to make up for lost time by snagging Best Cinematography for his herculean 1917 efforts, I’ll remember how that bloodbath’s explanatory final title card instantly filled me with renewed appreciation for the more lyrical declaration that capped Terrence Malick’s decidedly more evocative A Hidden Life

And just as that masterful paean to principled sacrifice returned us to reality with the suggestion that “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” we can watch the Oscars content in the knowledge that, at the very moment that achievements in grease-painting nihilists and digitally de-aging gangsters are meeting with polite applause, there are yet-to-be-discovered soldiers of cinema toiling away on the next wave of films that will quicken our pulses and reaffirm our devotion to the seventh art. —Curtis Woloschuk (Associate Director of Programming)

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