One would think that a pandemic year would be the best time to get caught up on movies, and to write reviews if one is so inclined. However the pandemic has been a giant unpleasant learning experience that transcends disinfecting groceries, wearing masks and running to the opposite side of the street to make passersby, and oneself, feel comfortable. Everything takes more time. Work? Consider yourself lucky if you are able to keep your job, and if your weekly meeting schedule has not doubled if you are lucky enough to work remotely. No, none of of this is good, and no alternatives are better.
Against this backdrop, I still dream of having enough free time to get caught up on movies this winter. News in the US is depressing as we have a race between horrible political candidates and good movies would be the most welcome diversion possible,
Which leads me to this quick look back at last year’s Oscar season, before everything shut down. There were some great movies worth catching up on before we even get around to discussing what kind of awards season 2021 can be. My saved impressions:
“Judy” was a salve to the soul, musical and emotional. Not much can top Rene Zellweger’s performance. See it.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Strong candidate for Best Picture, would have been deserving of a win, although arguably a tad lightweight. Still, it holds up after several views, and the scene at the ranch is a major reason why. This talented cast and director does not disappoint.
“Parasite” Not agreeing with the win, but a very artistic, creative, original, and occasionally horrifying film. Lots of technique that will help teach film classes for decades. Ultimately sad narrative on the state of class differences, often driven home with blunt force, as to how different everything is for the rich.
“The Irishman” When Martin Scorsese decides he wants to get you, he has you. The running time doesn’t matter, if he wanted to, he’d have you watching for 6 or 12 hours, if he felt like it. And that’s what is delivered in this movie, a truly excellent artistic feast where Scorsese skillfully weaves every scene in a tapestry that leaves you wishing to freeze frame every scene in a 3 hour movie for later viewing because every scene is that well done. The deeply talented cast together in one film, DeNiro, Pacino, Pesci, should be far beyond Netflix.
I don’t always like Scorsese movies. I hated Wolf of Wall Street as much as I loved Taxi Driver. In either case though it’s impossible to look away, which speaks to the talent and ability behind the projects. Scorsese knew he had something good here. The fact that he had to use Netflix to get this done is an indictment on modern times because this movie is flat out the best thing I had seen all year.
I don’t know how he does it. I just know that he does, and that he draws you in, and that you can tell yourself you won’t care but at some point in the movie, at the point where he decides to, you are done for. I sat down to watch knowing that I might be done for… but hoping that I could remain distant and uncaring and distance myself from what was unfolding on the screen and I even paused the movie to watch over two consecutive days and it just didn’t matter. Once Scorsese finishes building his masterpiece, at some point or another, you are affected and you can’t look away. For me it was that moment when the first mob murder took place and although he was more sparing in terms of gore, it was still enough to put everything on the line, meaning your reactions your emotions and your conclusions are really no longer up for grabs. The lives of gangsters often end abruptly in violence, and the good relationships in life take time to build. Scorsese takes both of these human truisms and draws you in so skillfully that no matter how hard you try, when he wants you he has you. For me that moment came after the gang hit when the next shot showed Ray Romano escorting his daughter down the aisle to be married. Scorsese loves to make us think about life and death and he will use his famous camera techniques and his use of background music to stop you in your tracks and make you think about it too. I have never agreed with his use of horrifying images but cannot argue that they have a place within his creative universe. How effective is his work? A week after watching I was still hearing and seeing the same scene, all day long. It’s OK that Hollywood has to move on and recognize new and upcoming talent. But make no mistake this was the best picture of the year and all of the leads are the best actors.
When will movie life, and normal life, become normal again? I don’t have the answer even while trying to hold onto employment and wondering what the winter will be like. 2020 was a strange pause year with everything on hold in favor of not getting a lethal virus. I know people who did get it. Not everyone had a fortunate outcome. I remain hopeful for a better 2021 and even more so, hope that 2020 was a reminder that humanity never has perfect vision.