Reviews & More: The Oscars

Last year, I wrote that I don’t like rankings like “The Best” anything because I genuinely don’t think the playing field is even, at least when it comes to the arts. I can’t compare a massive historical drama like “Dunkirk” with a small personal gem like “Lady Bird;” nor can I compare a subtle performance like Meryl Streep’s Kathryn Graham with Frances McDormand’s rage-filled grieving mother. So I will, once again, not predict winners for the upcoming Oscars on March 4. I’ll just share a few thoughts, and here they are: My favorite films this year were “The Shape of Water,” which completely swept me up in the fantastical world imagined and brought to life by Guillermo del Toro; “Get Out,” for its shocking effect, social commentary, and brilliant acting; and “The Post,” for its historical significance, fine acting, and rapid-fire, inspired script and directing. Lead actor? Gary Oldman was amazing as Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” but then Daniel Day-Lewis and Timothée Chalamet were also superb in totally different venues. For lead actress, the above-mentioned subtlety of Meryl Streep in “The Post” made my heart ache, and so did Sally Hawkins’ performance in “The Shape of Water.” My favorite male supporting performance was by Richard Jenkins in the latter film and my favorite female supporting performance was by an actress not even nominated: Holly Hunter in “The Big Sick.” But for the official finalists, Laurie Metcalf would get my vote, if I had to do so. As for director, I would have a terrible time choosing, because all five nominees did brilliant work on five completely different films; there is no way to compare them, so I won’t. That’s my Oscar wrap up; now onward with reviewing!

I saw “Black Panther” in a theater in Washington, D.C., last week. The audience was probably 75 percent black, and the sense of excitement and joy in the theater was palpable… and richly deserved. It may be based on a Marvel Comics superhero, but rather than one giant battle/one-on-one fight/blow-everything-up scene after another—as is standard for these kinds of films—”Black Panther” is an origin story shrouded in African mythology that has a message for the audience of today. Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”) has brought us a gem of a film enhanced by wonderful actors, both male and female, and made visually stunning by gorgeous costumes, battles fought with spears (not bombs), and a script that rises above most superhero films. Yes, there is a terrific car chase and a couple of epic battles for control—important set pieces—but the majority of the film is about the fight for what is the right thing to do for mankind in the face of greed, bullies and the quest for power. The fact that Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker and Martin Freeman (and many more) are all deeply committed to their roles only makes “Black Panther” more effective for audiences of all colors, and an important statement for our troubling times.

Finally, on the TV streaming front, I highly recommend a German import available on Netflix called “Babylon Berlin.” Not for the faint of heart, as there is considerable violence, it takes place in 1929 Germany as the post-World War I Weimar Republic is falling apart (Hitler would assume power four years later). On the surface it’s a police procedural but what it really is, is a dark, complex story of human beings struggling to get by in a world gone mad. And you don’t know who to like or trust, or even what to expect. For instance, the second episode has a long musical number that is mind-blowing—I couldn’t get it out of my head for a day afterward. For TV that makes you uneasy and challenges your perception of good and evil, “Babylon Berlin” is for you.

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