MovieViews: Oscar Run 2018 Heads to WWII for 2 Final Stops

MovieViews: Oscar Run 2018 Heads to WWII for 2 Final Stops

Final. You saw the word in the headline. I wish that meant I had seen all 34 noms of the six core Oscar categories. Unfortunately, this year, I’m going to end up short…by one. Sigh. It seems the producers of ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD did not want devoted #OscarRun film seekers like me to find it…anywhere! Because unless I want to travel down to Key West, Florida, that is the only place I can see the film (legally) anywhere in my state — and since NetFlix, Amazon Prime and Frontier’s On-Demand service do not offer it, it seems this year’s mission is officially offer. I say officially because over the next few weeks, I still plan to see some of the remaining documentaries, animated feature films and even Christopher Plummer‘s nominated supporting actor role in the elusive flick when it does become available online later this month.

 

In the meantime, I still have two more stops to review here (albeit achieved at home via our cable company’s on-demand system). So on with the show which takes us to the same place (and this was totally unplanned) — England (and Dunkirk off the coast of France) in WWII. First up, Christopher Nolan‘s epic DUNKIRK. I call it epic because that is the only way to describe this sweeping film whose opening scene took my breath away in the first ten minutes. I’ve since learned that not only did Nolan choose to shoot on film rather than digitally (which created many obstacles and almost production disasters and that instead led to some amazing cinematography), but also that Nolan shot much of the film in IMAX. (Read more about this here!) And filmgoers feel this — even from their 40-50″ TVs at home. I can only imagine what this film experience would have been like in the theater.

Dunkirk

I admit from the onset that I am not a history buff, nor am I in particular a WWII scholar, so frankly, I knew nothing about the events that took place in Dunkirk (Dunkerque) in 1940, along the coast of France which left the fate of over 300,000 Allied troops in question as German forces cornered them within the port. The film shows from the soldier’s perspective what those days were like as strategies were put in place for a safe evacuation of the soldiers.

 

I won’t provide a history lesson on what happens next  for one thing, because I would not be the right source for that. In fact, I believe I would have enjoyed the film more had I done my homework beforehand and caught a documentary about the Dunkirk military option that ran on my local PBS affiliate last week. I decided against this to preserve the integrity of my film experience. In hindsight, I think it might have been helpful to familiarize myself more with the basics about the event before watching this film to truly appreciate it. Despite this, as someone who may not have always understood everything she saw on the screen, that didn’t take away the movie magic that was before me. As I watched, I frequently commented aloud my appreciation of the artistic setup of scenes, saying on more than one occasion that one could freeze that movie still and what was there in the frame looked like a piece of art that might hang in a museum. The cinematography is exquisite, and if it doesn’t win awards for its achievement in film editing and photography, it will be a real shame.

 

The cast is comprised of quite a few young unknowns (to me) and some familiar faces (yes, that is Harry Styles of One Direction fame and Cillian Murphy — how could you miss those spooky, blue eyes?!) Others who appear in significant leadership roles or players impacting the young soldiers include Kenneth Branagh, compelling as always as Commander Bolton, Mark Rylance, Fionne Whitehead and Tom Hardy, who I’m beginning to think simply does not like showing his face, in yet another mostly concealed role as a British fighter pilot taking on the German planes. A few moments left me on the edge of my seat including one very powerful scene featuring a plane on its imminent descent into the water and its impact on a nearby boat of civilians and soldiers. I would say the biggest weakness for me is not the film so much as my lack of knowledge about this event and how it may have taken away some of the punch of the scenes.

 

One of my friends told me that it depicts the war like we’ve never seen, and he’s right. I can’t remember the last time a film did such a wonderful job of showing what it’s like when you are sitting there waiting for the next line of planes to drop bombs from overhead or filing in line with thousands of others to find safety or shelter in the most vulnerable place ever — on a dock out in the open along a coast. It was more than a war movie. It was a war survival movie.

 

On a scale of 0-100, I give DUNKIRK an 84. 

 

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I never knew when we planned a weekend of these two on-demand final Best Picture nominees that there would be such a connection to the same subject matter. In DARKEST HOUR, we watch a completely unrecognizable Gary Oldman as the newly named prime minister of England Winston Churchill contemplate the country’s next moves in WWII, including an extensive and in-depth cabinet discussion about the fate of the British and French soldiers in Dunkirk. Seeing these films back-to-back provided an interesting context to the event and how one man’s decisions (or that of a group of military strategists and political figures) holds the lives of thousands of others in their hands (with the other film depicting precisely what that looks like).

 

I enjoyed DARKEST HOUR a bit more than DUNKIRK because it did a beautiful job showing us the many facets of Churchill the leader and the man behind the title — his idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses, wit and charm, fears and insecurities. I always appreciate reading multi-layered biographies but seeing them captured in scintillating documentaries or well-constructed and performed biopics can be far more impactful. Oldman does a tremendous acting job capturing the leader, and it never felt like an impersonation but an actor losing himself in a role. So once he sold me, I never thought about Oldman but instead focused on the Churchill before me. Having now seen all five of the performances nominated for Best Actor in a leading role, I think it would be a complete misrepresentation of the year in film if he didn’t win the Oscar.

 

DarkestHour

 

While Oldman would definitely take the Lead Actor prize if I were the Academy, the film would not claim the Best Picture nod, though it is intriguing and kept my interest throughout. But I wanted to see more of his interaction behind the scenes with wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) and with assistant Elizabeth Layton played by the always charming Lily James, which were a nice departure from the tough-as-nails battle of words in the cabinet meetings or on the Parliament floor. One of my favorite scenes had the contemplative and curious Churchill head to London’s underground to get a better understanding of the people he represented, and it is one of the most satisfying scenes in the film. Here, the prime minister learns firsthand what the general population would want him to do as he faces pressure to sign a treaty with German forces.

 

Filmmaker Joe Wright makes some interesting artistic choices with a strong, symbolic use of light and shadow and what I felt was an overuse of aerial shots to give viewers a bird’s eye view — of Parliament, of the streets of London, of the soldiers awaiting their fate in Calais and Dunkirk during WWII. It is effective the first couple of times but after a while, I began to roll my eyes and chuckle that it was time for yet another aerial shot.

 

Overall though, the film was compelling to watch and I learned much about Churchill and the time period marked by what could be considered his toughest decision of all in a way that  I wasn’t able to do quite so easily with Nolan’s DUNKIRK.

 

Thanks for reading and following along with my #OscarRun adventures this season. ~ Chris K.

 

On a scale of 0-100, I give DARKEST HOUR. an 86. 

 

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