8. All Quiet on the Western Front
Edward Berger’s re-telling of the classic WWI novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” had strong literary expectation to overcome in its pursuit of critical acclaim, as well as being an adaptation of the same work as the Oscars’ third-ever Best Picture winner from 1929/30. As strong as Berger’s adaptation is – a Best Film winner at the BAFTAs no less – it lacks the nuance and expressionism of its counterpart from the 20th century, and is too cliché to truly rule in the 21st.
Netflix’s adaptation of the classic anti-war story of a WWI soldier’s frontline experiences resounds its themes of class warfare, hopelessness and needless conflict at full volume, but is more a “Netflix paid a lot of money for an awards push” type of Best Picture nominee than a “deserves it on its own merits” type of Best Picture nominee. It lacks subtlety in its expository dialogue and it borrows tropes and techniques from all of the overly-borrowed-from films of the genre (up to and including the Oscars’ most recent Best Picture war film 1917), and despite a year-topping score from Volker Bertelmann, this latest entry into the Oscars’ long catalogue of nominated war films cannot be considered in the same light as fellow Best Picture nominees The Bridge on the River Kwai and Saving Private Ryan.
With all that’s going on in Europe and beyond right now (not least the war in Ukraine), the contemporary relevance of this rendition is no doubt important, its messages of the poor dying at the behest of the rich seemingly more in focus than might ordinarily be the case, but sadly nothing fresh, unique or experimental is added to this tired genre in this latest addition.
7. Women Talking
Women Talking relies on a greater than usual suspension of disbelief due to its theatrical sensibilities, but once the unique aura of the piece (and distracting colourisation of the presentation) have foregone their initially shocking moments, Women Talking develops into one of the year’s most timely and powerful films about womanhood; the kind of movie that evolves the art form simply by telling the story it tells in the time it chooses to tell it in.
Some of English language cinema’s most prominent women actors bestow such gravitas into their theatrical dialogue that they manage to unshackle themselves from its theatricality, the film’s monologue-to-monologue formula a distraction but not fatal in the hands of Claire Foy, Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley, to name but a few. Their performances as women raped and beaten by the men of their isolated religious community are deeply human in spite of the staged nature of their interactions, and their stories are so rich and profound that it ultimately doesn’t matter how constructed and at times contrived their story beats are.
The Academy has long loved actors’ movies, not least because the acting branch hosts its largest member count. Women Talking is certainly an actor’s movie; the kind of film that legitimises itself to so many due to its association (and likeness) to the work often seen on the stage. As an adaptation of a stage play, this is perhaps even more evident than in the likes of the melodramatic 2021 Best Picture nominee The Trial of the Chicago 7, but this makes it no less impactful, no less applicable to our current time and space, no less of a statement by women about women. Cinema has long confronted issues of man, of history, of politics, and Women Talking (and its Best Picture nomination) is the latest film to ensure that women’s issues are confronted just as prominently in the post-#MeToo world.
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6. The Fabelmans
A peer back into the adolescence of one of cinema’s most influential and famous filmmakers, Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans is the filmmaker’s passion project, the film his mother told him he had been secretly making since before his feature debut. It’s warm, packed with meaning, formed with purpose, and superbly made.
Rejecting the usual tropes of the family period drama, The Fabelmans isn’t packed with the kinds of melodramatic beats that films of its type often demand. As such, it doesn’t feel as grand as you might expect, as Spielbergian (as presented across his other work spanning most genres), but its messages are immediate: follow your heart, tell your story, art is always worthwhile.
The Fabelmans isn’t quite the genre-shaping, form-evolving autobiography of the Oscar-nominated work of Spielberg’s colleague Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life (2011), nor the underappreciated (at least in terms of awards) The Souvenir (2019) by Joanna Hogg, but powerful cinema it remains, a celebration of cinema it should be remembered as being. “You made me look like I could fly”, as one character says in the film, is exactly what Spielberg has done for half a century, and whilst The Fabelmans isn’t the glamourised celebration a biographer may have produced, it remains an invaluable insight into the life and career of one of the great artists of the form.
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