(The genres listed above are this year’s ‘minor’ categories, which basically means that only one or two movies, if any, fit into those genres. It is difficult to compare movies when there are so few, so, in this essay, we will treat them all as a group. References will be made to last year’s movies, if any, in the same genres. Note that four categories don’t have any movies at all, and I’m not sure quite what caused that. Maybe the pandemic put a break on certain kinds of films – like horror movies – saying we really didn’t need any Oscar-nominated horror movies on top of the horror of the pandemic situation. So here we go to get a take on just four movies from this year’s list, but a few more from last year.)
Horror: Nope, no horror movies this year. But there was one last year. If you are looking for an entertaining horror movie, although maybe not horrific in the usual Halloween sense, try Lighthouse. With an outstanding performance from Willem Dafoe, you will get an insight to the horrors men face as they age.
Musical: Over the Moon is this year’s only entry in this genre and it was an animated flick and one I didn’t particularly care for. As a Musical, though, the film stood up well – I liked the music and particularly the song “Ultraluminary” introducing one of the leading characters about a third of the way into the movie. Overall, the music was probably the best thing about the movie. The problem with it was that the storyline was disjointed and couldn’t integrate what was, ultimately, two entirely separate themes. Send this one back to the drawing boards.
If Musicals are what you are looking for, there were three of them last year – the animated features Frozen II and Lion King, and the Elton John biopic, Rocketman. I didn’t like Lion King at all, but enjoyed the Frozen sequel a bit. But I really liked Rocketman – anyone from my generation will likely love the story of Elton John’s rise to fame, embedded in so many of his great songs.
Mystery: Maybe Covid was mystery enough, but no mystery movies this year. Last year, though, saw Lighthouse (mentioned above), Ad Astra, and Knives Out. Ad Astra is a science fiction entry with Brad Pitt, and is good entertainment, although not a terrific movie. But Knives Out, with Daniel Craig and a wonderful performance by Ana de Armas was just a terrific movie with plot twists you definitely won’t see coming, even though you know what happened from the beginning.
Romance: Better Days, Emma.: Better Days is a Chinese film and it presents a lot of problems in reviewing it from a western perspective. But, as a romance, it is heart-wrenching story of two entirely different people who, mostly because of the intrinsic vulnerability and goodness in their hearts, end up committing a horrific crime. And they are in it together until the very bittersweet end. The film is a tough one to watch from many perspectives, not the least of which is the huge differences between Chinese and American cultures. Better Days is a romance, but is also intended to serve significant propaganda purposes. An intriguing movie, but probably not for everyone.
Emma. Is a far better movie, more appropriately a romance, and just much more fun and interesting to watch. Nominated for its costumes and hairstyles, the confections are layered on so thick that you can almost taste them. But the highlight of the film is in Autumn de Wilde’s direction and Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of the title character. Although both of them are young and unknown to me, they have emerged as strong contenders and we will be seeing more of them. In Emma. The romance is cloaked in 19th century, ‘period’, style but has the depth of sticking closely to Jane Austen’s script. It is fun to see Emma. At her worst as well as her best.
Last year there were actually four movies in the Romance category, including two that were first rate. Little Women was, yes, another take on the classic book, but it is an updated feminist version with terrific performances by all four sisters, but especially Saoirse Ronan. She propels this movie forward for a delightful evening of entertainment. Marriage Story is, really, more about the failure of romance than it’s successes, but performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver a dramatic story of what happens when two lovers are no longer. Judy, despite a terrific performance by Renee Zellweger, doesn’t quite rise to the level of a satisfying experience, despite her long running romance. And the animated feature, I Lost My Body, might be considered a romance by some fans, but most of us would watch the film for other reasons.
Sports: And no Sports movies this year. Last year’s single entry was Ford v Ferrari, about auto racing, which some people don’t identify as a sport anyway. But the movie was an intriguing look at the origins of the Ford Mustang and the muscle cars of the 60s.
Westerns: News of the World was the only western this year. Starring Tom Hanks, and a breakout performance from an amazing German 11-year old, even the music is straight out of an old-time western. There’s a gun battle and a chase scene and, of course, Tom Hanks playing his usual down-home, comforting, self. Not a terrific movie, but a good family entertainment. (There weren’t any westerns from last year to compare this to!)