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Far Better Films than the Oscar Nominated

Alternatives to the more white, more male and less original Academy picks

Darleen Ortega | 2/4/2020, 2:40 p.m.
The nihilistic "Joker" and Quentin Tarentino's bit of Hollywood narcissism top the list of this year's Oscar nominees.
From left, August Diehl in the film 'A Hidden Life' (photo by Reiner Bajo/courtesy 20th Century Fox), Lupita Nyong'o in Jordan Peele's thriller 'Us' (photo courtesy Universal Pictures), and Aisling Franciosi and Baykall Grnambarr in 'The Nightingale' (photo courtesy Transmission Films.)

The arguments leveled at them sound hopelessly hollow from our safe distance, and inevitably turn to the pointlessness of Franz's stand. As the judge says to him, "Do you imagine that anything you do will change the course of this war? That anyone outside this court will ever hear of you? No one will be changed. The world will go on as before. You'll vanish." If we are honest, we can easily summon the shape such arguments take today, and perhaps hear the same fear or cynicism in our own mouths. Like the couple's friends, neighbors and family members, we too expect that the right choice will involve public affirmation; few of us stand up for the truth when it is unpopular and costly. We want to be good and win at the same time. We miss what Franz knows when a Nazi official urges him to simply sign the oath of loyalty to go free; he responds, "I am free already."

More than is typical of a movie about World War II, this film reflects the current stakes if we are willing to look and confronts us with the costs of true heroism, which is mostly unheralded. I was struck watching several interviews with Diehl and Pachner how the experience of physically embodying these two people had obviously transformed them. As is apparent from watching the film, Malick's directorial method involves a process of searching and embodiment that has the capacity to capture, for the artists and for us, what is most deeply and ineffably true. Here he and his collaborators have captured the heartbreaking power of love to sustain courage, and the beauty and cost of standing firmly against injustice, even and most especially when no one affirms you. [In English and German; rated PG-13 for thematic material including violent images; deserved Oscar nominations for Best Picture (my pick), Best Director (Terrence Malick, my pick), Best Lead Actor (August Diehl, my pick), Best Lead Actress (Valerie Pachner), Best Cinematography (Jörg Widmer, my pick), Best Original Screenplay (Malick), and Best Original Score (James Newton Howard); on at least 39 other critics' best film lists.]

(2) "Us": Of all the omissions from the list of Oscar nominees, the complete shut-out of this film makes me most angry. None of the writers and directors recognized can come near Jordan Peele's originality and high quality of intention, and Winston Duke and especially Lupita Nyong'o gave two (actually four) of the best lead performances of the year, unrivaled by the vast majority of the actual nominees. (Typical that Nyong'o was deemed worthy of recognition only for playing a brutalized enslaved person in "12 Years a Slave," for which she justly received the award for Best Supporting Actress, but was shut out for her complex lead performances here, as a privileged woman and her psychic shadow.) This film exploring our relationship to the "other" has more to say and deserves our attention more than any of the nominated films by a long shot. You can read my original review here: http://portlandobserver.com/news/2019/apr/02/peele-delivers-again-scary/?page=1 [Rated R for violence/terror, and language; deserved Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Jordan Peele), Best Lead Actress (Lupita Nyong'o, who would be my pick), Best Lead Actor (Winston Duke), and Best Original Screenplay (Jordan Peele, my pick); on at least 75 other critics' best film lists.]