Each year for the past few years, I have attempted to watch as many of that year’s Oscar nominees as possible before the awards are presented. It’s just a little personal challenge for fun, and I’ve had varying degrees of success in both seeing the films, and making predictions (ok that’s stretching the truth- my predictions are always failures). This year the nomination announcements caught Me by surprise somehow. I’d managed to completely miss the Golden Globes (whose nominations I usually use to get a jump start), and for the first time ever, I have not seen a single one of the nominees already on my own. Doh! Lots of work to do! Last year I wrote up reviews of all the nominees I managed to see, and published both my predictions, and my reactions. I hope to do the same this year, but I’ll try to write up my reviews individually as I see the films, and then will do a big prediction post at the end. Today we focus on…
(1 nomination – best original screenplay)
Now you might be thinking “Wait, the Oscars were several weeks ago. And you promised you wouldn’t post any more Oscar stuff this year.” You are correct. And also… too bad suckers! I’m sneaking in one more after the deadline, just like all of my book reports in high school!
When I first saw the trailer for Knives out, I thought “Ooh! It has potential to be a super fun ride! But also potential to suck.” I had a very similar thought when watching trailers for Bad Times at the El Royale (which, by the way, started out AMAZING and then just suddenly fell off a cliff). If fact I think that usually, if I see a trailer this fun, the final product almost never lives up to its potential. But I had plenty of friends and family who had seen it, and everyone loved it! Huzzah! Seeing it get a writing nomination only heightened my excitement. But when I mentioned to one family member how I really wanted to see it and had super high hopes and expectations, he paused and carefully confessed, “I mean… maybe don’t get your hopes set TOO high.” And that’s about the right attitude for this film. If you enter it with the mindset of “I hope this doesn’t suck!” you’ll come out happy and satisfied. But if you go in thinking, “I can’t wait for this clever Oscar-worthy cinematic masterpiece…” Well, you’ll likely be disappointed. It could have gotten there, but just didn’t quite make it.
All that being said, Knives Out was delightful! In most respects, it’s a classic old-timey Agatha Christie style murder mystery! A bunch of rich people in a big fancy house, all considered suspect when the family patriarch winds up dead, a charming celebrity detective on scene to investigate. As Detective Elliot (the exacerbated real-world police department detective played by Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield, not the straight-out-a-novel Kentucky-drawl tweed-wearing celebrity detective played by Daniel Craig) explains, “Look around. The guy basically lives in a clue board!” The old-timey vibe comes complete with some modern-day updates: the leeching socialite is an Instagram influencer with a lifestyle brand, the rich grandson is an alt-right internet troll, etc. The casting for this film was remarkable, with each character being brought vividly to life. It would be difficult to confuse characters in the caper, despite the large number of them, because they were each so finely and uniquely crafted. Of course Daniel Craig was fantastic, and Christopher Plummer, Toni Colette, and Jamie Lee Curtis could do no wrong, but the most perfectly cast character, in my mind, was Don Johnson as the out-of-touch, entitled, rich white idiot husband. They never say he golfs, but… you know this moron golfs. He was just so spot on, that I swear I’ve met this guy a million times in real life (I live in a pretty affluent area with tons of people who think they’re important.)
But balancing with this beautiful whodunnit backdrop is the fact that this film isn’t actually your classic whodunnit at all. The problem is that going into this idea in detail would just be a whole bunch of spoilers, and that would ruin the fun. But one of the main differences that I think I can share, is the fact that we don’t piece together the story through the eyes of the celebrity detective, as in every BBC mystery I’ve ever seen, but through the eyes of Marta (played by Ana de Armas), the victim’s nurse. Marta is pretty much the only normal human being in the film, and through her, we get a much clearer picture of who these spoiled, one-dimensional wealthy people actually are. In this regard Knives Out is strikingly similar to its competitor Parasite, which of course went on to win best original screenplay (among a cornucopia of other Oscars including best picture). Both films, though thoroughly entertaining and fun, at their core are commentaries on class distinctions and attitudes. Parasite takes it to a much darker place, and pushes boundaries further, but the underlying message is the same.
In the end Knives Out is a fun film that could have easily gone off the rails and missed horribly, but it didn’t. There are plenty of nitpicky I would have liked to have seen done differently that I think could have made it a more serious Oscar contender. I can’t share them here (dang spoilers!), but if you’d like to know what they are, hit me up privately sometime.