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Newsletter: Are Oscar voters ready for a Holocaust comedy?

Taika Waititi as young Roman Griffin Davis’ imaginary friend and hero, Adolf Hitler, in “Jojo Rabbit.”
Taika Waititi, left, as young Roman Griffin Davis’ imaginary friend and hero, Hitler, in “Jojo Rabbit.”
(Kimberley French / 20th Century Fox Film )

Filmmaker Taika Waititi didn’t want to make a sad Holocaust movie. So he added Adolf Hitler for comic relief.

Are audiences — and Oscar voters — ready for “Jojo Rabbit”?

Welcome to the Gold Standard, the newsletter from the Los Angeles Times that helps guide you through the ins and outs of the awards season leading up to the Oscars.

I’m Glenn Whipp, The Times’ awards columnist and your newsletter host.

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TIFF audience prize-winner ‘Jojo Rabbit’ lands in theaters

“Jojo Rabbit,” a satire about a young Nazi zealot coming to terms with his idolatry of Adolf Hitler after discovering his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in his home, won the People’s Choice award last month at the Toronto Film Festival.

It’s a prize that carries awards season implications. Ten of the last 11 winners have earned an Oscar nomination for best picture. “Green Book” won the award last year, and you know how that turned out.

I know people who love “Jojo Rabbit” and believe it will win best picture.

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I’m not sure it will even be nominated.

It’s currently sporting an awful 56 score on review aggregator Metacritic. For context, “Bohemian Rhapsody” sat at 49 and “Vice” came in at 61 last year, and both earned best picture nods along with many other nominations. So, yes, there are occasions when the divide between critics and Oscar voters is rather pronounced.

My colleague, Times film critic Kenneth Turan, gave “Jojo” a measured review, calling it “erratic but engaging” and noting that its “mixture of black humor and unashamed sentimentality is not always as good as its best parts.”

I had much the same reaction when seeing it in August, shortly before meeting Waititi, the movie’s writer and director. Waititi also plays Hitler in the film, portraying the Nazi dictator as a benign buffoon, modernizing much of the character’s casual dialogue. His Hitler uses phrases you’d expect to hear from Fonzie on “Happy Days” (“correctamundo!”) and asks Jojo after an awkward moment, “Did I make it weird? It’s weird now between us.”

“Well, I was trying to make him the Fonz of 1945,” Waititi told me. In the same vein, he points to the movie’s opening credits sequence, which juxtaposes Jojo running off to summer camp to the sound of the Beatles singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in German with footage of early Nazi rallies. “I looked at those documentaries and it just came to me: Hitler was the Beatles of the time in Germany. It was like Beatlemania, the way people responded.”

I’m really interested to see how people respond to “Jojo Rabbit.” Waititi takes a big swing with this movie, that’s for sure.

Bong Joon Ho, writer and director of “Parasite.”
“Parasite” filmmaker Bong Joon Ho.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Bong Joon Ho digs deep on ‘Parasite’

Times film writer Jen Yamato had the pleasure of spending some time with Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho recently to talk about his new movie “Parasite,” a twisty, dark, satirical thriller that broke box office records last weekend.

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Musing on the social consciousness present in all his work, Bong said: “Every time we pass by someone on the streets or the subway, regardless of whether or not we want to, we can smell their scents. And when we smell them we can kind of think about, ‘Oh, this person went through this today. This person is probably not doing so well today.’

“We can all kind of feel that,” he continued. “I think even the most mundane of daily aspects, of individuals, all carry a political-social context with them.”

Opening in three theaters in Los Angeles and New York last weekend, “Parasite” earned the biggest per-screen average ever for a foreign-language film. It will be playing in even more locations this weekend. Do yourself a favor and find it.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson star in “The Lighthouse.”
Willem Dafoe, left, and Robert Pattinson star in “The Lighthouse.”
(A24)

Mad and mesmerizing, ‘The Lighthouse’ is here

I caught Robert Eggers’ unsettling mystery “The Lighthouse” at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it was one of my favorites. The Times’ film critic Justin Chang is on board too, calling it a “bleak and blisteringly funny squall of a film.”

The movie follows two lighthouse keepers (played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) working in a desolate, claustrophobic station where madness and ill omens (and flatulence) abound.

“‘The Lighthouse’ is a ferocious battle of wills, a tour de force of cold, clammy suspense and a protracted descent into cabin-fever madness,” Justin writes. “It is also a gorgeous piece of film craft, a chance to savor the visual glories of a bygone era of cinematic artisanship: a boxy aspect ratio, a black-and-white palette bathed in expressionist shadows, the rich textures of 35-millimeter celluloid.”

The movie should receive consideration in all those crafts categories — sound and cinematography, as well as production design. It’s also a superb showcase for its lead actors, Dafoe and Pattinson, who make for one of the year’s great screen couples.

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Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.


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