The best picture nominees have been named, and the race is on to figure out which one is going to win. Nobody knows for sure, but everybody has a theory. One way we at The Envelope like to judge a film’s chances is to see whether it echoes any previous Oscar winners — thematically, stylistically or even plot-twistily.
War. What is it good for? Awards! Say it again. The very first best picture Academy Award winner, “Wings,” takes place during WWI, as “1917” does, and also features a pair of comrades on a deadly mission. The third winner, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” showed the insanity of battling over inches of mud. And 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia” deserves honorable mention for its similarly awe-inspiring cinematography — like “1917,” a film that needs to be seen on something bigger than a phone.
“Ford v Ferrari”
Too bad “Crash” (2005) shares only the plot point described in its title. 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy” has a talented driver and a difficult best friend, but no, not a match. 1981’s “Chariots of Fire” has some of “Ford v Ferrari’s” sense of competition and strategy, but no actual chariots. So for sheer maniacal driving excitement, we must stretch a bit to 1971‘s “The French Connection.” Star Gene Hackman isn’t racing Le Mans, he’s racing the D Train. But he is racing in a LeMans.
Director Martin Scorsese has made several acclaimed films about mob families, loyalty, deception and violence, including his only film that won best picture, 2006’s “The Departed.” Irishman, meet Irish mob. The two movies even boast an expansive length, although at 151 minutes, “The Departed” now looks downright brisk.
This only requires looking back to last year’s winner “Green Book,” another period piece set in a time of state-sponsored (or state-condoned) terror, featuring an odd couple that nobody would expect to forge a bond (unless they knew how movies worked). Toss in a soupçon of foreign-language film winner “Life Is Beautiful” (1998) for its humorous approach to growing up under Nazism.
The academy isn’t big on murderous antiheroes — unless they’re in the mob — but “Joker” does share a link to 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” for its menacing killers and the filmic attempt to get inside their heads. In both cases, mental illness, delusion and disturbing violence make for a controversial choice.
OK, 1937’s “The Life of Emile Zola” may not have much in common with Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” other than centering the story on the life of a great author in the 1800s. But of all the previous “Little Women” adaptations, only the 1933 remake was nominated for best picture, and it didn’t win. (We’re looking at you, “Cavalcade.”) This time around, Gerwig reframes the classic to include aspects of author Louisa May Alcott’s own life, including the lengths she had to go to in order to get her stories about females into print. “J’Accuse” indeed.
Noah Baumbach’s keen, keening evocation of a family in dissolution recalls another such film, 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Both feature an attractive couple, their adorable son, a horrific court battle for custody, and ultimately the ability to find equanimity again.
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
The old reluctantly makes way for the new. The western meets pure evil. Quentin Tarantino and his latest revisionist history meets the Coen brothers and their “No Country for Old Men” (2007). All filmmakers share a deep knowledge of genre, and a willingness to toy with it. And “Country’s” villainous Anton Chigurh and Charles Manson are a match made in hell.
If “The Sting” (1973) went very, very wrong, one could conceivably end up with “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho’s tale of con artists preying upon rich, oblivious marks. Then throw in a dash of “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), another aspirational, devastating story of hustlers seeking security — and turning to violence — in a cold, uncaring world.
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Oscar’s big winner, ‘Parasite,’ and war tale ‘1917' show how interactive entertainment is shaping linear storytelling — often for the better.