As I was putting the finishing touches on this week’s review, the Academy Awards finalists were announced. In this column, and the next one in two weeks, I’ll catch you up on most of the films that qualified but that I haven’t yet reviewed.
First, I must laud the brilliant “Little Women,” director/writer Greta Gerwig’s gently modern take on the beloved book. It is a glorious, passionate film, filled with siblings who love and fight with each other with an equal fierceness that none of the other adaptations has managed to convey. The setting is New England during our country’s Civil War years, and the film is simply gorgeous to look at; more than that, one can almost smell the new grass of springtime and feel the chill of the snow that obliterates everything. There are warm indoor moments and grand outdoor vistas that look like landscapes from John Singer Sargent or Renoir. The director of photography is Yorick Le Saux; major kudos go to him and to Gerwig, both of whom were snubbed by the Academy, he for cinematography and she for directing. The film itself, though, made the cut, as did the always-magnificent Saoirse Ronan (best actress) as a spirited Jo, one who can barely contain herself amid the constraints of her time, and Florence Pugh (supporting actress) who makes Amy more than a spoiled brat; she brings to the role subtle character shadings that I’ve never seen in any of the other adaptations. The Academy also cited Gerwig for her adaptation—again, well deserved—and the brilliant Alexandre Desplat for music. As for the purists, I have never been one who becomes incensed when a film doesn’t exactly follow a novel—after all, it is impossible to condense several hundred pages of scenes and dialogue and complex characters into two hours. And Gerwig’s choice of an ending is exactly right for a modern retelling of this beloved classic.
I finally caught up with “Jojo Rabbit” a couple of weeks ago and, boy, am I glad I did. It’s so very enjoyable, not to mention offbeat and bizarre, all in a good way. Its star, director and co-writer is Taika Waititi, a New Zealander who describes himself as a “Polynesian Jew,” and who plays Adolph Hitler in the film. Waititi has created a blissfully off-the-wall black comedy about Nazi Germany, a lonely young boy who has been thoroughly indoctrinated to hate and fear Jews and who is so infatuated with Hitler that he has made Der Fuhrer his invisible, secret friend and mentor. The boy is played by a terrific young actor named Roman Griffin Davis and Scarlett Johansson (a supporting actress nominee) plays the mom. If you haven’t yet seen it, expect the unexpected because there are surprise plot twists around every corner. “Jojo Rabbit” is a total original, a dark satire with moments of slapstick that lighten the tone paired with a touching, sad and, finally, triumphant message.
From all indications, the late Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, was a sexual predator; in fact, there seems to have been a culture of that kind of behind-the-scenes behavior going on for years. “Bombshell” is the story of how two highly rated female anchors, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, finally had enough and took legal action. They faced enormous pressure, ostracism, threats, family disruptions and the glare of the media spotlight before finally getting some justice. As portrayed by Charlize Theron (nominee for best actress) and Nicole Kidman—both of them blond perfection and looking enough alike as to make one think they might have been crafted from the same doll design—it is a film that is not particularly riveting as we know the ending, but has enough going for it in star power and shining production values that it’s worth seeing. John Lithgow as Ailes is nearly unrecognizable under makeup that takes away all facial expression, but Margot Robbie (nominee for best actress in a supporting role) is excellent as a fictional character who stands in for several other women who (finally) joined in the lawsuit.