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Films I Neglected To Review: Special Oscar Edition
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy a short review of "Waiting for Anya" and my long-awaited Oscar picks.

Inspired by a true story and based on a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, who also wrote the book that was adapted into "War Horse," "Waiting for Anya" is set in a French town in the Pyrenees in 1942 and focuses on Jo (Noah Schnapp), a 14-year-old boy who works for his grandfather (Jean Reno) as a shepherd. One day, while out in the woods, he happens upon Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt) and soon discovers that he and his mother-in-law, Horcada (Anjelica Huston) are using their remote farmhouse as a base from which they help to smuggle young Jewish children to safety in nearby Spain. For Benjamin, this mission is especially personal--as we see in the prologue, he has a daughter of his own whom he had to send off abruptly to avoid capture and he is convinced that she will be one of those who pass through. Although the area is not technically occupied by the Nazis, a group of them do arrive in town to oversee things, a development that makes the smuggling exponentially more difficult. Wanting to help the effort, Jo volunteers to be the one to go into town for food and medical supplies for the kids who are stuck there and even becomes somewhat friendly with one of the more conflicted Nazis (Thomas Kretschmann). However, the others become suspicious and tensions eventually develop to the point where a daring escape plan is finally launched.

Under normal circumstances, a film like "Waiting for Anya" might have been looked at simply as a noble and well-meaning attempt to convey the horror of the Holocaust for younger audiences. Thanks to an accident in its releasing history, however, it feels more as if it was a film specifically made by and for people who hated "Jojo Rabbit" and its appalling blend of mawkish sentiment and toothless satire that would have been rejected from the "Hogan's Heroes" writers room (aside from that one genuinely funny joke) than anything else--even the fact that the young character at its center is named Jo feels like more than a coincidence. As someone who thought that "Jojo Rabbit" was the worst film released in 2019 without the word "Joker" in its title, such an approach sounds just fine in theory to me but to give "Jojo Rabbit" a little bit of credit, it at least made me feel something when it was all over, even if it was white-hot hatred at the filmmakers. "Waiting for Anya," on the other hand, is a far more sensible take on similar material but it has been rendered in such dully respectable terms that it inspires little more than mild yawning. It isn't bad, per se, and the performances by Reno and Huston are good, but it is so blandly familiar and ritualized that it is impossible to get involved with any aspect of it. Besides the lack of unpredictability, the film is also burdened by a draggy pace, too many unnecessary subplots and side characters and a finale that does its damndest to jerk tears from viewers to no avail. To be sure, "Waiting for Anya" is definitely a better and less repellent film than "Jojo Rabbit" but it is also, ultimately, a far more forgettable one as well.

So here, at long last, are my fearless Oscar Picks. It is a weird year in the sense that all of the acting awards seem to be locked in stone but the awards for Picture, Director and Original and Adapted Screenplay are still in a weird sort of flux. That said, I have a feeling that those awards will be spread out among the key films, though I cannot say that I would be too upset if "Parasite" made a surprise sweep. Speaking of surprises, even though I have Renee Zellweger winning for her mannered impersonation of Judy Garland in the dreadful "Judy," there is a part of me that is convinced that if any of the acting categories has the potential for an upset along the lines of Olivia Colman's win last year over presumptive favorite Glenn Close, it is that one. Yes, the smart money is on Zellweger but if you can fill out a second ballot, pencilling in "Scarlett Johansson" or "Cynthia Erivo" might not be the worst idea. At any rate, the best news of all is that after tonight, we no longer have to even pretend to treat bilge like "Joker" or "Jojo Rabbit" seriously ever again

Picture: 1917
Actor: Joaquin Phoenix--Joker
Actress: Renee Zellweger--Judy
Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt--Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood
Supporting Actress: Laura Dern--Marriage Story
Director: Bong Joon Ho--Parasite
Animated Feature: I Lost My Body
Animated Short: Memorable
Adapted Screenplay: Greta Gerwig--Little Women
Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino--Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood
Cinematography: 1917
Doc Feature: American Factory
Documentary Short: Life Overtakes Me
Live Action Short: Nefta Football Club
International Feature: Parasite
Editing: The Irishman
Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari
Sound mixing: 1917
Production Design: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Score: Joker
Song: "Stand Up" from Harriet
Makeup: Bombshell
Costume design: Little Women
Visual Effects: The Irishman

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originally posted: 02/10/20 02:28:12
last updated: 02/10/20 02:29:41
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