Oscar Marathon 2020, Pt. 10: ‘Edge of Democracy,’ ‘Rocketman’ and ‘The Lion King’

Today’s triad features a gut-punch of a documentary, a musical fantasia and an absolute abomination.

The Edge of Democracy: This Netflix doc offers highly personal look at the disaster that has become of Brazil’s experiment with democracy — and a haunting preview of what could happen in ours.

Director Petra Costa, who also provides the mournful narration, tells us that she and Brazilian democracy are the same age, “and I thought in our thirties we’d be on solid ground.”

The rest of the film proves how unstable that ground is. Costa takes us deep inside Brazil’s government (the access she’s granted is truly amazing), charting how former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva goes from beloved leader to political prisoner (on trumped-up charges) in just a few years.

Costa’s there, too, for the downfall of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, and the rise of rightwing populist Jair Bolsonaro and his fascistic supporters. As the nightmares multiply, Costa keeps focused on one overarching idea: Democracy is fragile, and once faith in it is broken, it could very well dissipate. Who says horror films don’t get nominated for Oscars?

(Nominated for Best Documentary Feature)

Rocketman: I don’t want to overpraise this Elton John biopic, because its flaws are real, but it’s such a fun movie to watch — flamboyantly entertaining, like its subject matter.

But here’s why I’m so tempted to just heap accolades: It’s a damn sight better than last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, another biopic about a gay ’70s rock icon that somehow (I will never know just how) became a massive hit and scored its star, Rami Malek, one of the most undeserving Oscar wins of recent memory.

Click the above link to see just why I hated Bohemian so violently, but to keep the focus now on where it belongs, here’s some things Rocketman does right: Star Taron Egerton actually sings (and does a creditable Elton impersonation); the film doesn’t shy away from exploring Elton’s sexuality; and it adopts a fantastical tone that’s both more interesting than a straight recitation of facts and is more true to its subject’s own spirit.

Though I found Egerton infinitely better than Malek, I’m not too disappointed or surprised that the former didn’t make the final cut in this year’s inordinately crowded Best Actor race. I sure would have thought the costume work would have gotten some recognition, though.

(Nominated for Best Original Song)

The Lion King: A list of things I absolutely hate about this film:

  • It’s not live action, no matter how many times people call it a “live-action remake” of the 1994 animated classic. (Disney didn’t even campaign for the film as an animated film for the Oscars.)
  • The more realistic the animals look, the more absurd and, frankly, bizarre it is to watch them cavort and sing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”
  • Relatedly: The more realistic the animals look, the more obvious it is that their eyes are as dead as those on a mounted head.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor is a great actor. His Scar, though, is neutered and dull compared to Jeremy Irons’ faaaaabulously gay version in the original.
  • Relatedly: Ejiofor’s “Be Prepared” is like listening to Luke Combs cover a Liza Minnelli song.
  • Beyoncé’s new song “Spirit” added precisely nothing to the film. Don’t @ me.
  • “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is sung in broad daylight. Think about that.
  • The last time The Lion King got remade, it was turned into a visually dazzling, imagination-filled Broadway musical. This time, it gets a lugubrious, shot-for-shot retread that doesn’t add much new but is somehow 30 minutes longer.
  • This is how I learned that Billy Eichner can legitimately sing. What a waste.

Up next: The Cave, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Marriage Story

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