1917 (Sam Mendes, 2019) / Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019)
Revolving around similar themes, but approaching them from very different perspectives, 1917 and Jojo Rabbit are last year's most accomplished takes on the depiction of war.
1917 (Sam Mendes, 2019)
Sam Mendes' 1917 is, without a doubt, as it has been called, an "impressive technical achievement" and an extraordinary visual masterpiece. In a film where the performances -and the few actors that compose the cast- are somewhat secondary, the camera is the big star. Mendes' direction works hand-in-hand with the cinematography, resulting in one of the most breathtaking works of film photography in modern cinema. Of course, this could only be achieved by none other than the master of cinematography himself: Roger Deakins. In its totality, the technical work in 1917 is indescribable, being the result of a truly notable effort from production to focus on the visuals -for instance, I have read that there were cameras made specially and exclusively for the film-. These impressive visuals are supported by the one-man approach chosen by Mendes to tell the story, having the entire movie follow the journey of one character. An approach that gives way to amazing long sequences and continuous shots that only get better with each scene. I think it's safe to say that Deakins will be receiving his very much deserved second Oscar -which should be his very much deserved fifteenth Oscar-, having won the first one a few years ago for his superb work in Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
For everything stated above, I believe 1917 has earned every single award it's nominated for... except for two: Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. And the reasons for this go together. I don't think it should be up for being named "the best picture of the year" because I don't think it has an amazing screenplay. It's not bad, I just find to be average. I have to acknowledge the fact that this is a story that is very personal to Mendes. I also truly liked his decision to tell the story from an individual viewpoint rather than depicting the collective experience of the war. Here I have to clarify that I do not know much of war movies, so I'm not referring to its accomplishments within the genre per se or how it compares to classics like Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan. However, in a year with original screenplays like Marriage Story, The Farewell, and every other Oscar snub you can think of, I think 1917's story falls short. Plus, even though it may be seen as an emotional story, it didn't make me feel things -other than the anguish of it all- and, to me, that is a big failure. And for this, I can't help but compare it to two films. On one hand, Christopher Nolan's own visual masterpiece, Dunkirk (2017), which I believe made the same mistake of focusing on technical achievements and leaving the story aside. And, on the other hand, Mendes' directorial debut back in 1999, a film with a screenplay that is pure gold. American Beauty is a story that tells things, not only shows them. It's a movie that shakes you to the very core. And that is not 1917.
Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019)
Unlike 1917, the latest work from unconventional director Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit, though addresses the context of World War II, is definitely not a war movie. Here, Waititi presents a satire both of the war and of modern times, with an innovative story that is both fun and funny. It's entertaining and refreshing at the same time, with a unique type of black humor that hides an important -yet seemingly obvious- anti-hate message. With a "Wes Andersonish" vibe, Jojo Rabbit approaches the subject from the naiveté of children, resulting in a film that could perfectly be described as "Moonrise Kingdom meets Life is Beautiful". Regarding the latter, critics have indeed compared it a lot with this classic, and, honestly, the comparison is inevitable. And, even though I personally believe that Jojo Rabbit has a better screenplay and a novel sense of comedy, I don't see it having the impact it requires to become a modern classic.
Regarding the acting performances, the film has a great comedic cast and I can see why they got a nomination for the SAG awards -side note: it's too bad that Stephen Merchant only appears in a scene, because his comedy never disappoints-. Scarlett Johansson's performance, with which she achieved the status of receiving double acting nominations this year, is quite good, though, as usual, not extraordinary. I think the true stars of the film are the children, with an impressive debut by Roman Griffin Davis, and great chemistry between his Jojo and Thomasin McKenzie's Elsa -also, special props to Archie Yates, whose character Yorki is by far the funniest in the film-. As far as Jojo's imaginary Hitler friend -played by Waititi- goes, I found it to be absolutely irrelevant to the story, being there for no more than funny lines every once in a while. I actually think the movie would be better off without him.
In conclusion, Jojo Rabbit is definitely a different type of film that uses a very peculiar form of comedy to create a social commentary on the absurdity of the war, and I praise this effort. However, I don't think it's a memorable film in its critique -unlike what BlacKkKlansman achieved last year, for instance- nor as a satire -being far from war satires like Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and Chaplin's The Great Dictator-. It's a film you will enjoy, and it's a film you will love to see, but it's not a film you will truly love.