A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Oscar Marathon 2020, Pt. 4: ‘A Beautiful Day…’ and ‘1917’

So, that daily thing hasn’t worked out as ideally this year. Meh. Let’s get back on track, huh?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Mister Rogers movie, except it’s not, really. Unlike 2018’s (Oscar-snubbed) documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, ABDitN isn’t a biography of the universally beloved Fred Rogers, but instead focuses on the impact he had globally by boiling it down to his specific friendship with magazine writer Tom Junod, which sprouted after Junod was assigned to profile Rogers for Esquire magazine.

Instead of hearing anecdotes about Rogers’ honestly radical notions about love and respect, we see it in action as Roger (the brilliant Tom Hanks) offers a good example and an understanding ear to the somewhat fictionalized Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, equally good but not as acclaimed).

Director Marielle Heller’s film could have been sentimental mush, but between focused, wise choices that show how hard Rogers worked to put his own philosophies in action and with thoughtful touches (especially through, of all things, puppetry) that embraced his creative spirit, ABDitN succeeds fantastically.

And Hanks, make no mistake, succeeds at a truly daunting task — making a saint feel fully human and interesting without any cheap tricks or phony melodrama. This one fell off the radar in so many surprising ways — Heller, in particular, should have garnered more attention — but thankfully, Hanks got his first nomination in almost two decades.

(Nominated for Best Supporting Actor [Hanks])

1917: After its surprise win for Best Drama at the Golden Globes, this technically audacious war film from Sam Mendes now feels like the frontrunner for Best Picture.

And that’s … OK? I guess? Don’t get me wrong: This is an exceedingly well-crafted film, but I don’t have the passion for it that I have for something like Parasite or Little Women or the overlooked, I don’t know, Ad Astra.

The first time I watched it, on a DVD screener, I was enthralled with the way Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins made the action feel as if it were filmed in one continuous shot.

The second time, now on Regal’s giant RPX screen, I understood better why many critics compared it to a first-person shooter video game. I don’t know that I completely buy that argument, or perhaps that it’s as much of a detriment that it might seem, but there’s some truth to it. Mendes isn’t as concerned with plot or even much character development, but instead with immersing us in the hell of war, particularly the especially nightmarish trench warfare of World War I.

I think it could have been more of an emotional knockout, somehow, but that’s through no fault of stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman — especially the former, in a real breakout role. And Mendes and Deakins certainly didn’t make the film easy for themselves, with eye-popping set pieces like a plane crash and a night-time dash for safety lit only by bombs bursting mid-air.

But maybe it’s the film’s precision that makes it less devastating than you’d think it might be?

(Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director [Mendes], Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup/Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing)

Up next: For Sama and Avengers: Endgame

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