The mark of a truly worthy and/or profound film is not about technical audacity or atmospheric authenticity (The Irishman‘s de-aging CG, the magical Birdman-like editing of 1917, Once Upon A Time‘s impressive period dressings), but how profoundly it connects.
In other words, what counts is whether the message or impression that it’s conveying “lands”, and how that makes you feel. It’s also about adding some kind of fresh-seeming insight to the subject and/or discussion at hand.
Which of the following Best Picture contenders sinks in the deepest? There’s only one answer.
1917 basically reminds that war is carnage and slaughter, but that compassion between solders endures regardless — something that The Big Parade, All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory said in their own eras and in their own ways.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood essentially says that (a) in the late ’60s second-tier Hollywood types were the lifeblood of this town, (b) Zen-cool guys like Cliff Booth may be lacking in political skills but they sure are good to have around when the maniacs come calling, and (c) wouldn’t it be nice to spare a real-life beautiful actress in her late 20s from a horrible death, retroactively-speaking?
The Irishman conveys the paradoxical notion that gangsters can’t survive without ice water in their veins, but that this same ice water drains them of recognizable humanity and separates them from other human beings. (You could actually say the same thing about people in other professional arenas.) Martin Scorsese‘s film also reminds that old age is not for sissies, and no matter how you slice it the assaults and indignities of old age — canes, grape juice, white hair, wheelchairs, assisted living and death itself — aren’t that far off and are patiently waiting their turn.
I understand how those with little or no concept of mortality (i.e., Millennials and GenZs) can regard The Irishman at a distance. I also understand how there are some out there who are just too thick or insensitive to appreciate the kind of fine aged wine that The Irishman is pouring.
But there’s no disputing that The Irishman is essentially “Wild Strawberries with handguns” (as Anthony Lane called it a few weeks ago), and there are no other Best Picture contenders with Ingmar Bergman-esque tonalities or aspirations. Think about that.
Think also about the fact that only one award-season film is saying that we’re all going to die (not just a dangerously high percentage of soldiers on the battlefield or actresses with tragic destinies but every last one of us) and that before we push on maybe we should pay more attention to the things that really matter. I’m sorry but that strikes me as a more fundamental and valuable observation than anything else on the table.