Before the 93rd Academy Awards kick off on Sunday, we here at GateCrashers gathered 6 of our biggest film buffs to review the nominees for Best Picture. So without further ado, let’s dive in!
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (dir. Aaron Sorkin)
Review by Reagan
The best actor in The Trial of the Chicago 7 isn’t even nominated for an Academy Award. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II delivers a powerful performance as Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party and the eighth defendant in the titular trial. Over the course of the film, as in real life, Seale is abused by the court system. Judge Julius Hoffman has him beaten, bound, and gagged for the crime of daring to demand his constitutionally protected right to a lawyer. From there, Seale’s case is declared a mistrial, and aside from a footnote at the very end of the movie, he disappears. Despite this, in his l’îlotier screen time, Abdul-Mateen II acts circles around the rest of the crew. He portrays Seale’s righteous fury as he stands and demands his he not be tried without his lawyer present each day of the trial. And yet the only cast member to have been nominated for an award is Sasha Baron Cohen. His performance is good, don’t get me wrong, it just isn’t anything near as powerful as Abdul-Mateen II.
Beyond the cast, Chicago 7 has a good writer and a director who is decent at best, both of whom are Aaron Sorkin. Despite the promise of early scenes, about an hour and thirty minutes in, Chicago 7 devolve into dimly-lit leftist infighting which is honestly something we already get enough of on Twitter. It isn’t bad per-se, it just isn’t worthy of Best Picture when stacked up against the other nominees. In a different year? Maybe. This year? Not a chance.
Mank (dir. David Fincher)
Review by Ethan
Hollywood’s love of its own history at its most grandiose extreme. A stunning period piece following Herman J Mankiewcz, the titular Mank, as he’s hired by Orson Wells to write the script for his opus, Citizen Kane. Jumping between Mank’s rather… strenuous time writing the script, and his difficult past in the world of Golden Age Hollywood, we get to know the man full of cynicism with an uneasy conscience thanks to Gary Oldman’s restrained, but subtly brilliant performance.
However, the performance of the film belongs to Amanda Seyfried as actor, and close acquaintance of Mank, Marion Davies. She’s the life and soul of the film, bridging warmth and emotion to both the person and what could otherwise have been a cold film. David Fincher’s direction is unsurprisingly great. He’s proved himself time and time again to be one of the best in the industry. Mank is Fincher at the top of his game. A special shout-out has to be made to the score by industry legends Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This is a fine addition to their increasingly epic discography
Judas and the Black Messiah (dir. Shaka King)
Review by Amir
It’s the best film Michael Mann never made; that should clue you into what kind of movie you’re getting. Trading biopic standards for epic crime drams ambition, Judas and the Black Messiah is a well-crafted thriller from start to finish that just happens to be about the man who infiltrated the Black Panther Party and helped orchestrate Chairman Fred Hampton’s assassination. From the slick presentation crafted by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt to its moments of razor-sharp tension. Shaka King’s portrait of a city ready to burst is nothing short of efficient filmmaking. But while the filmmaking is great, and the acting even better with Daniel Kaluuya and Dominique Fishback serving up some of the best performances in recent memory, a lot of Fred Hampton’s core philosophy seems diluted, or simply pushed to the side in favor of genre thrills.
It doesn’t help that LaKeith Stanfield’s character, FBI informant Bill O’Neal and protagonist, isn’t written in the most compelling of ways leaving us disconnected at times when we should be deeply immersed. As a result, the film comes across at times as unbalanced, unsure of which crowd to entertain more. Judas and the Black Messiah is a great crime thriller, but it doesn’t honor Fred Hampton the way he ought to be honored. But of course, maybe that wasn’t the point.
Sound of Metal (dir. Darius Marder)
Review by Dan
Bear with me reader, film reviewing is much harder for me than comics reviewing. Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal is a highly emotional film that cuts deeply. The film revolves around a musician who is a recovering addict that’s facing the loss of his hearing. The performance by lead actor Riz Ahmed is not only moving but painful to experience. Watching someone struggle with losing the thing they hold most dear, that gives their life meaning, and being separated from something that has helped the character, Ruben, with his sobriety makes for a powerful performance.
While Ahmed’s performance is incredible, the actor who fascinated me the most was Paul Raci, who plays the person running the home for deaf people dealing with addiction. Paul is the son of deaf parents, is a certified ASL interpreter, and has worked with sign language his entire life. There is a scene where he tells the main character that they aren’t here to fix this, as he motions to his ears, but to work on this, and points to his forehead. The film never depicts those without hearing as anything lesser which is very important because a lot of pop culture treats it in a negative way. I’ve taken two years of ASL in my life so there were things I picked up on in the film such as a name sign which shows that there was thought put into the depiction. It’s a beautiful but very sad film.
Promising Young Woman (dir. Emerald Fennell)
Review by Ashley
This is a revenge film that holds a mirror up to society, reflecting back its treatment of women and the double standards they face in almost every facet of their lives. Writer-Director Emerald Fennell rafts a film unafraid to bloom in front of viewers. It methodically drops breadcrumbs, building tension and revealing just enough of past events to propel us ever forward with Cassandra, a thirty-year-old woman dealing with the trauma and loss of her best friend Nina. Carey Mulligan’s Best Actress nod for her portrayal of Cassie is well deserved. Mulligan balances on a razor’s edge of purpose and mania; where the audience is left questioning how far she will go to avenge Nina against those that took advantage of her and let her down.
Promising Young Woman is a frenzied feminist ride that deftly entwines itself with a powerful female-pop score; climaxing with a haunting violin rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” (which feels all too relevant a marriage after the Framing Britney documentary revealed the misogyny she faced as a young woman). The film is so well cast, with standouts being Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Alfred Molina, and Jennifer Coolidge. Best Picture nominee Promising Young Woman will leave its viewers wondering just how much a woman has to give up to be believed.
Minari (dir. Lee Isaac Chung)
Review by Jon
A powerful, emotional look at childhood innocence and the “American Dream” through the immigrant’s perspective, and how that dream can push a family to the limit. Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical tale manages to balance humor and heartbreak with every scene. In particular, the scene where the kids are trying to send paper airplanes to their constantly arguing parents is beautiful, funny, yet ultimately heartbreaking. Performance-wise, everyone across the board absolutely crushes it. There really aren’t any standouts, as everyone here gives it a hell of a go.
Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri’s tense back and forth when it comes back to Jacob’s hellbent pursuit of the “American Dream” is genuinely captivating to watch. Both Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho are absolutely precocious. They both capture childlike innocence so well. They never felt like artificial stereotypes, they felt like relatable, regular children with their own personalities. Will Patton delivers an unexpectedly touching performance as spiritual neighbor Paul. He comes across as a gentle, pure soul here. Finally, Youn Yuh-jung is the best onscreen grandma. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. I genuinely loved every minute of this and wouldn’t be surprised if this comes away with a lot of wins on Oscar night.
The Father (dir. Florian Zellar)
Review by Ethan
An incredibly difficult film to review due to the sheer fact of how heartbreaking it is. It’s hard to explain just how emotionally devastated I was come the end. What I do know is it’s a film worth watching. At the center of the film is Sir Anthony Hopkins, giving what is quite possibly his greatest performance. He plays a man diagnosed with dementia as his daughter (Olivia Coleman) struggles with caring for him.
What makes this so effective is that the film’s POV is placed solely through Hopkins’ eyes. Unlike a large number of films that deal with dementia, this gives it a real sense of sadness as we feel the helplessness and confusion Hopkins is dealing with right alongside him.
Nomadland (dir. Chloé Zhao)
Review by Reagan
By all means I should have loved Nomadland. It’s the kind of concept that I should fall head over heels for and yet it took me a full week to actually finish watching it. Nomadland is boring and that isn’t even its most egregious flaw; people smarter than me have already written about its portrayal of Amazon warehouses and poverty, I’m not about to throw my two cents in when I really have nothing of value to say that hasn’t already been said.
All of that aside, Nomadland is going to win Best Picture. It’s Oscar bait to the degree that it’s a shoo-in and that’s all fine and good. Along with that, it’s well crafted, Chloé Zhao is a talented director with a distinct style and I respect that. Despite that, I’m left with one question, did this really have to be as boring as it is? Did it have to suck my energy in the way it did? At least it was under two hours. It has that in its favour.
And that’s that. Make sure to check out our Oscars Predictions dropping shortly, then tune in to the 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday night!