[#2020oscardeathrace] A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

Screenplay: Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue

109 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role [Tom Hanks] [PENDING]

 

After the success of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, it seemed certain that we would see a Mr. Rogers biopic. I became surprised that we hadn’t already gotten one in the years following his death, but I learned that his estate was primarily concerned with getting it as accurate as possible, and so when it was announced that Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) would be directing the biopic with Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Toy Story 4) playing Mr. Rogers, it seemed to be perfect, but could Hanks pull it off?

In 1998, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, The Report, TV’s The Americans), a journalist for Esquire magazine, is tasked with profiling Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for an issue on heroes. Lloyd’s at a place in his life where he’s known for his cynical and scathing pieces of journalism, and he’s not too keen on writing about Mr. Rogers, but he begrudgingly accepts. Over several meetings, Lloyd and Fred learn quite a lot about each other, and Fred is determined to understand his interviewer and help him come to terms with his past.

I cannot begin to discuss the merits of this film without giving a whole lot of credit to Tom Hanks and his performance as Mr. Rogers. There are a few different ways that Hanks could have approached playing the iconic personality. The worst of these ways would have been to attempt an impersonation of Fred Rogers. Hanks avoids this by purely studying the mannerisms, inflection, and tone of the character and apply it to his performance. No one can be Fred Rogers, and Hanks plays the spirit of who Mr. Rogers is.

The decision made by the screenwriters, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The Motel Life), to focus on a single story of friendship instead of a straight-up biopic was a great choice. I’m so sick of by-the-numbers checklist biopics. I want to see a story. That’s what we get here. It also works since most everyone who has an interest in the life story can watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and get all that. Using Lloyd Vogel as the lens through which we view Mr. Rogers creates an accessibility that really works for understanding Fred Rogers as a human being.

Another benefit of telling a singular story is that director Marielle Heller is able to experiment and really let her artistry shine. She constructs a dream-like quality by creating a framing device that also lets us see Lloyd through Fred’s eyes as well. She also expanded upon the diner scene in the film, and I don’t want to get into the details of it, but that sequence because I want you to experience it for yourself, but it’s the moment that elevates this film to another level.A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is another outstanding feature from Marielle Heller that contains another stunner of a performance from Tom Hanks. This unforgettable film experience is well worth your time, even if you think you know the whole story…so sing it with me:

“Won’t you please, won’t you please,
Please won’t you see this movie?”

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, click here.

[#2020oscardeathrace] Marriage Story (2019)

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever

Screenplay: Noah Baumbach

137 mins. Rated R for language throughout and sexual references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Scarlett Johansson] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Adam Driver] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Laura Dern] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [PENDING]

IMDb Top 250: #194 (as of 1/14/2020)

 

It must be a pretty good feeling to live in the Baumbach/Gerwig household right now, with writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories) and his wife, writer/director Greta Gerwig, both having films in the Best Picture race for Marriage Story and Little Women, respectively. It definitely raises the odds for them.

Marriage Story is the tale of a marriage at its end, focusing on the downward spiral between husband and wife Charlie (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Dead Don’t Die) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing). It’s also a love story that uses the pain of divorce to highlight the beautiful moments that the relationship gave them both. As Charlie starts to see the mistakes he makes with not listening to his wife’s needs, Nicole finds herself down the career path she’s always wanted, and they find that they are going in different directions. Charlie struggles to find adequate representation for the divorce proceedings while Nicole hires a shark attorney, Nora (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, TV’s Big Little Lies). While Charlie and Nicole both want the process to go as painlessly as possible, they find that they are in a system designed to turn their divorce into a war zone.

Marriage Story accomplishes something that is incredible in its storytelling, but it also makes it look easy. Baumbach is able to tell a story about divorce that is, at its core, a love story. Similar to how Taika Waititi told a story about hate that became a story about love with Jojo Rabbit, Baumbach is able to use tragic circumstances to really show how powerful its inverse is. Using his own real-life divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh as a guide, he crafts a screenplay that gives us equal moments of sadness and joy, and his direction is simple enough to focus on his powerhouse performers.

Speaking of powerhouses, I love that everyone in the film is firing on all cylinders here. Driver and Johansson have such great chemistry and they don’t try to out-act the other, instead letting each other have their moments of grandness amidst the strain, struggle, and fighting. There’s a scene near the end of the film that features the two stars in a contentious conversation that is one of the most well-acted scenes of the decade.

Even the supporting cast is spectacular. From the likely-winner Best Supporting Actress Laura Dern to Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, TV’s Shades of Blue) and Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies, TV’s M*A*S*H) who play potential lawyers for Charlie, everyone in this film is pitch-perfect, and again, none of them are competing for the spotlight. That’s key here. Everyone is as good as they need to be while also supporting the other players. It’s a real teamwork-heavy acting showcase.

Marriage Story is not a happy film even if it is a beautiful one. It plays with the inverse of a marriage crumbling but also seeing all the beauty that the marriage brought in a fascinating way. With an opening that feels like Pixar’s Up, this movie should have had investors from Kleenex because it will break your heart and then tape it back together. While it runs a little longer than it needs to be, it’s a fascinating case study of a relationship that I cannot recommend enough.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Pain and Glory (2019)

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, Penelope Cruz

Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar

113 mins. Rated R for drug use, some graphic nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor [Antonio Banderas] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best International Feature Film [PENDING]

 

Someone posed an interesting question to me the other day: Are there any famous filmmakers that you have never seen a film of theirs? I would’ve put Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her, Julieta) on that list, but I had just seen Pain and Glory. So I cannot give my list of the best Almodovar films because I’ve only seen one. Perhaps the best follow-up question is: After seeing Pain and Glory, would you want to see another Almodovar film? The answer, quite simply, is yes.

Salvador (Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro, Life Itself) is an aging film director who has thought very little about returning to the public eye until elements and memories of his past begin to resurface in the form of old broken connections. Now, he has begun the difficult mental and emotional journey through the choices that have brought him here in order to, perhaps, move forward.

Much like Judy, this movie’s gravitational pull surrounds another incredible turn from Banderas, a performer who, I believe, we tend to forget even though he has consistently put his all into his work. His role here as Salvador is another subtle and nuanced one that holds the heart out ready and willing to be seen. This is such an introspective character, one that isn’t flashy but intimate, as if her were sitting in a kitchen with the viewer and having a conversation. It’s the film’s biggest win.

Almodovar has an interesting style here, one that is flashier than I would have expected, but one that is used to accept the mental state of his lead character. All the rest of the elements in the film are in servitude to Banderas. It’s all meant to make him and his character the star, which works well enough. For me, though, it was tough to reconcile some of the flashbacks with Salvador’s mother with where his present-day self. I would rather have taken some avenues to discover more about his previous romantic relationships, something I felt was presented in such a beautiful manner and then left untouched for the rest of the film.

I really enjoyed elements of Pain and Glory, and while the film as a whole was not as strong, to me, as the lead performance by Banderas, I still found it to be a beautiful and emotional experience, one that I will not forget very soon.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] The Nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards

Nominations are officially out for the 92nd Academy Awards, and the #2020oscardeathrace has officially begun. The nominees are listed below, which some notable snubs and surprises throughout. Every year, I take part in a challenge called the Oscar Death Race, in which one attempts to see every nominated film by the night of the Academy Awards. It isn’t easy, and there’s usually a couple remaining films each year, but I love it. Take a look, and let’s get started.

 

Best Picture:

 

Best Director:

 

Best Actor:

 

Best Actress:

 

Best Supporting Actor:

 

Best Supporting Actress:

 

Best Original Screenplay:

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

 

Best Animated Feature Film:

 

Best International Feature Film:

  • Corpus Christi (Poland)
  • Honeyland (North Macedonia)
  • Les Miserables (France)
  • Pain and Glory (Spain)
  • Parasite (South Korea)

 

Best Documentary Feature:

  • American Factory
  • The Cave
  • The Edge of Democracy
  • For Sama
  • Honeyland

 

Best Documentary Short:

  • In the Absence
  • Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
  • Life Overtakes Me
  • St. Louis Superman
  • Walk Run Cha-Cha

 

Best Live Action Short Film:

  • Brotherhood
  • Nefta Football Club
  • The Neighbors’ Window
  • Saria
  • A Sister

 

Best Animated Short Film:

  • Dcera (Daughter)
  • Hair Love
  • Kitbull
  • Memorable
  • Sister

 

Best Original Score:

 

Best Original Song:

  • “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4
  • “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman
  • “I’m Standing With You” from Breakthrough
  • “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II
  • “Stand Up” from Harriet

 

Best Sound Editing:

 

Best Sound Mixing:

 

Best Production Design:

 

Best Cinematography:

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

 

Best Costume Design:

 

Best Film Editing:

 

Best Visual Effects:

 

So there you have it. Lots of nominees and lots of interesting discussion on the way. Let the #2020oscardeathrace begin!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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