Checking out three Oscar hopefuls from Netflix

JANUARY 16 ― Even after the strange year that was 2020, it looks like 2021 is already cooking up its own version of strangeness, with what happened at the Capitol and how Donald Trump became the first US president in history to be impeached twice.

Not to mention the things that are happening in our own backyard with regards to Covid-19 and the political scene.

The strangeness doesn’t stop there too, because in any other year I’d already be scrambling to catch up with as many of the Oscar hopefuls as possible because the Oscars usually take place in early February, but this year we’re seeing the Oscars being pushed back to April 25, almost three months later than usual.

So here we are in the middle of January and I don’t think anyone can say for sure which movies will be up there competing for the Oscars come April 25, although based on what the studios have been positioning we can sort of see which movies have been set up as their Oscar baits and which ones are not.

When it comes to Netflix movies, I’m pretty confident that The Trial Of The Chicago 7 will be in the conversation, at the very least for its screenplay and performances.

The same can be said about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which has graced many critics’ year-end list of best films, but there are quite a few other Oscar hopefuls from the Netflix slate last year that may or may not make the grade come April 25, courtesy of the mixed reviews they’ve been getting.

So why not give these ones a spin and check out their merits for yourself?

Mank

It’s been six years since Gone Girl, but David Fincher’s back, baby! Reviews have been a bit mixed, though there are more critics loving this movie about Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (as proved by its more than 80 per cent Tomatometer rating) than those who found it underwhelming.

The fact that it’s a biopic about old Hollywood should already make it a shoo-in for some of the big categories at the Oscars this year.

As for me, I found it to be one of the most playful and fun films in Fincher’s career, both a love letter and a poison pen letter to old Hollywood that’s chock full of references that will make lovers of 30s and 40s Hollywood films swoon with delight.

It would’ve been even better if this black and white movie is in the Academy “square” ratio instead of the widescreen that we’re getting, but it’s still a lot of fun to spot its many other tributes to the look and feel of films of the era, like the staging and camera movements (witness the scene where Mank first meets with Willie Hearst to fully savour what I mean), the little circles on the top right corner of the screen to signal reel changes, and most blatantly its snappy and witty dialogue that will bring to mind the banter of screwball comedies.

A delightful film then, and one that stands a pretty good chance to at least score a few nominations (and maybe even a few wins) come April 25.

Da 5 Bloods

As is the case with most other latter-day Spike Lee joints, opinions will differ greatly on their merits, depending especially on how well you can take Lee’s trademark brand of political firebrand filmmaking.

I found Da 5 Bloods to be a bit of a mixed bag simply because its attempt to mash up Lee’s usual political outrage (this time about the exploitation of black soldiers to fight in wars for America when African-Americans are still denied rights and treated poorly at home) with the aesthetics of B-movie war films doesn’t really gel as well as it should have.

In short, I loved the politics and the dramatic parts of the film, but when the war film parts of the movie arrive, the action scenes aren’t particularly well executed, taking the viewers out of the movie and making it lose the vitality and excitement that those gunfight scenes should be providing.

Still, this is Spike Lee we’re talking about and I have a feeling that, judging from the many rave reviews it’s been receiving, it’s an important enough film to justify at least a few nominations, especially for Delroy Lindo’s powerful performance. We shall see.

Hillbilly Elegy

This film’s pedigree practically screams Oscar bait ― directed by Ron Howard and starring Amy Adams and Glenn Close ― but reviews have been all-round bad for this one, scoring a disheartening 27 per cent on the Tomatometer.

Adapted from a bestselling memoir by JD Vance, this is one of those based-on-a-true-story films with actors “disappearing” into their roles (just look at the photos of the real life people this film’s based on to see how eerily similar the actors look in the film), focusing on one of the Oscars’ favourite subjects ― poor white folks (or in this case, “hillbillies” or “rednecks”).

But here’s the thing, despite the tone deaf nature of Howard’s approach, as we only get snippets of the characters’ lives and are left to emotionally put two and two together to figure out why they are who they are in the film, the movie is heartfelt and honest enough that it will connect with you, especially if you have families or friends who have dealt with the problems highlighted in the film ― financial deprivation, domestic problems, abuse, addiction and recovery, attempts at class mobility, and so on and so forth.

A bit of a mixed bag, but I’d be a fool to discount the Oscar-baiting powers of Howard, Adams and Close just yet.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles