Oscar Marathon 2020, Pt. 14: ‘Breakthrough,’ ‘Little Women,’ ‘Jojo Rabbit’ and ‘Corpus Christi’

We wrap up this year’s Oscar-nominated feature films (shorts still to come!) with two of the top in the field, a compelling treatise on redemption and a holy stinker.

Breakthrough: So, what kind of movie is this? It’s one where they edit the “hot damn” interjections out of “Uptown Funk” as it plays over the opening scene.

If you know me at all, it should come as no surprise that the only reason I would even consider watching this faith-based movie is if it were nominated for an Oscar, and thanks to now-11-times-nominated Diane Warren, here we are. Yippee.

Breakthrough, I suppose, isn’t as bad as it could be. It does boast a strong cast, anchored by Chrissy Metz, who’s given more of a character to play than these films generally offer. Metz’s Joyce Smith is a loving (if somewhat overbearing) mother who’s obstinate, prickly and a little rude, and though she softens a little bit, the movie still goes out of its way to prove that she’s right every time.

There’s a little nuance, too, in its look at faith and miracles, in so far as the medical professionals are presented as actually doing their jobs (though there’s nothing at all accurate in what they’re doing), and it at least nods at those who wonder why their loved ones weren’t saved by a similar “miracle,” though it’s done in the most off-putting manner. You could say I’m damning this film with faint praise, but you’d have to bleep out “damn.”

(Nominated for Best Original Song)

Little Women: What a gem!

This umpteenth adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s immortal novel feels so incredibly fresh and modern. That’s due both to the impeccable cast (Saoirse Ronan! Florence Pugh!! Timothée Chalamet! Everyone else!) and to writer-director Greta Gerwig’s inventive, non-linear storytelling. I’ll admit, the jumbled timeline took a minute for me to get used to when I first started watching it, but soon enough, the flashbacks and flash-forwards were no longer puzzles to solve, but conversations across the years between its characters.

With that in mind, I just cannot fathom how Gerwig didn’t get a nomination for best director. In only her second film as a solo director, Gerwig proves herself a true auteur worthy of every accolade out there.

(Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress [Ronan], Best Supporting Actress [Pugh], Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score)

Jojo Rabbit: It’s not an original observation, but it’s true: This movie shouldn’t have worked at all.

But somehow, writer-director Taika Waititi finds a way to balance a sweet coming-of-age story with a satire about Nazism and a cri de coeur against hatred.

It’s truly nimble work, aided by great performances from stars Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johannson, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Waititi himself.

Though he’s aiming his satirical rapier at an easily hateable group, Waititi finds room for understanding, and though I sympathize with those saying that now’s not exactly the time to sympathize with Nazis, Waititi won me over anyway.

(Nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress [Johansson], Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Film Editing)

Corpus Christi: One reason I challenge myself every year to watch every nominated film is to give me the opportunity to see movies I might not ordinarily watch voluntarily, like say a Polish drama about a criminal disguising himself as a priest and finding redemption.

Luckily, I got a screener of this one, because it hasn’t screened here and it’s not yet available digitally. Here’s what you’re missing: An intense, somewhat overlong reflection on the true meaning of faith and redemption, quite a bit more complicated and rewarding than the first film in today’s roundup.

Star Bartosz Bielenia gives a phenomenal performance as a parolee who impulsively lies and fakes his way into a position as a priest in a small Polish town that’s still crippled with grief following the deaths of several young residents in a drunken driving accident. Bielenia’s Daniel becomes an unlikely source of healing for the town, and his internal struggle over lying in order to live a better life was dramatic enough that a tossed-in blackmail subplot ultimately lessens the film’s impact.

(Nominated for Best International Feature)

Up next: The Documentary Shorts


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