Actors who transform themselves into historical figures win Oscars. If it’s a famous Brit, all the better. If it’s a famous Brit who battles Nazis, you’re practically a shoo-in. It might not even matter whether the movie is good or not. Add some lush cinematography and a rabble-rousing plot and you can start working on your acceptance speech.
“Darkest Hour” tells the story of the fateful month of May 1940 in the life of newly-minted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). With the Nazi forces having driven the British army to the seas of France in Dunkirk and the Western powers falling around them, efforts in Parliament are underway to attempt peace talks with Hitler. Churchill, knowing this to be a foolish and likely fatal endeavor, must fight to stay strong and continue the war even with such a bleak outlook.
The film is pretty much a vehicle for Oldman’s performance. It’s pretty obvious where the story is going, with the film setting up the unease over Churchill’s ascension, the backstabbing behind him and the threat of annihilation barreling towards Britain. Cue the deep introspective, the theme of nationalism over individual plight, the rousing speech at the end. It’s all very textbook.
This is not to say that “Darkest Hour” is a poor film. It’s a fine film. It hits all of its beats very well, all of the ones you’ve seen before. It’s purpose isn’t to tell an original story that might move you. It’s to display craftsmanship and win Academy Awards.
This is also not to take away from Gary Oldman’s performance. He really is fantastic in the lead role and probably deserves his Oscar. The entire movie is simply a driving force to showcase his acting ability and transformation into Churchill and in so doing, win accolades.
Those who go into “Darkest Hour” know exactly what they’re getting: a period piece that emphasizes strong acting and a forgettable plot. They just shouldn’t expect anything more.
Tonya Harding is one of the most infamous characters of the 1990s, but what is the real story about her and the attack on Nancy Kerrigan? Was Harding involved? Is she a villain or a victim? “I, Tonya” tells the story from Harding’s perspective, but with a wink about the nature of truth.
Directed by Craig Gillespie from a script written by Steven Rogers, the film starts with a young Tonya (Margot Robbie) as she grows up under the fierce tutelage of her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), who verbally and emotionally abuses her. She marries the violent Jeff (Sebastian Stan), who keeps pushing her to excel on the national and international stage. Her connection to him leads to a bizarre series of events that culminates with a crying Nancy Kerrigan, a public evisceration and years of scandal.
The film is organized around a “Goodfellas” style of voiceover, intermittent interviews and talking to camera. By framing the story around the words of those who were directly involved in the events, the issue of what is truth takes center stage. Tonya tells one story, her mom tells another, her ex-husband tells yet another. And then they change their minds about what happened. And on top of that, the media quickly comes to their own interpretation and defines the story regardless of the facts. It’s an interesting examination similar to “Rashomon”, but with a distinctly American feel. The film dares you to examine your own preconceived notions about the crime and examine if you what you believe is still what you believe.
All of the actors, particularly Robbie and Oscar-winner Janney, excel and the script motors along at a brisk, never-boring pace. You really feel for Harding as she is portrayed as a victim of circumstance rather than a villain. Whether or not that is true is up for debate, even by the film. But this is Harding’s story by Harding. Whether we take it as vindication for her past is up to us.
- Hidden Figures
- Going for the upset here. I’m thinking politics will ultimately win out over heart.
- Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
- He’s won the DGA. That usually leads to success.
- Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea”
- Denzel has already won, and that might be enough for Affleck to sneak a win.
- Emma Stone, “La La Land”
- She’s won everything. This is the easiest category of the night.
Best Supporting Actor
- Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
- He’s won the SAG and is the favorite.
Best Supporting Actress
- Viola Davis, “Fences”
- She also won the SAG and has no real competition.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Any of the nominees could realistically win. “Moonlight” might win by a hair.
Best Original Screenplay
- Manchester by the Sea
- It’s seen as a writer’s film, but watch out for La La Land if it sweeps.
Best Animated Film
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- “Zootopia” should put up a fight, but the beauty of the animation of “Kubo” might sway the voters.
Best Costume Design
- Alternative: Florence Foster Jenkins
- OJ: Made in America
- Alternative: I Am Not Your Negro
Best Documentary Short Subject
- The White Helmets
- Alternative: Watani: My Homeland
Best Foreign Language Film
- The Salesman
- Alternative: Toni Erdmann
- Star Trek Beyond
- Alternative: A Man Called Ove
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
- “City of Stars”, from “La La Land”
- Alternative: “How Far I’ll Go”, from “Moana”
Best Production Design
Best Animated Short Film
Best Live Action Short
- Alternative: La Femme et le TVG
Best Sound Editing
- Alternative: Hacksaw Ridge
Best Sound Mixing
Best Visual Effects
- The Jungle Book
- Alternative: Doctor Strange