2021 Oscar Reviews: News of the World

For the past several years, I’ve attempted to watch as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, and for the past two years I have written reviews of each film and posted them to this blog. Alas, I always run out of time and cannot see everything. This year’ ceremony has been delayed, and I started reviewing before nominations were announced, giving me a decent chance at wide coverage. Today we cover…

News of the World

[4 nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound, and Best Original Score]

Look, I’ve never really been into Westerns. They’re just not my thing. Mostly they’re just really boring to me, and they all feel pretty much the same. There are some exceptions, of course, but in general… meh. So while I wasn’t reluctant at all, I also wasn’t overly excited to see News of the World. I also could have sworn this movie was already nominated a couple years ago when it was called True Grit. But the professional-news-reader thing at least held some promise, and of course Tom Hanks isn’t a typical pick for a Western cowboy, so I figured maybe this one would be different.

It wasn’t different. Not really. The basics felt like any other Western to me. Wild untamed country covered by outlaws. Tension with Native Americans. Tension with Union officers. Savior to some white family who had someone killed. Clapboard towns with nothing bust dust and saloons. People just shooting at each other pretty much all the time. And so on and so forth. Of course, being a well-constructed Western means it was ripe for some nominations. Did we have big beautiful sweeping shots of the desert? Yes! Checkmark for the cinematography nomination! Did everything feel appropriately dismal? Yes! Checkmark for the production design nomination! (production designer is a native of Richmond, VA, which is good stuff). Did it sound pretty damn realistic when bullets whizzed by our protagonists and hit their wagon? Yes! Checkmark for the sound nomination!

What was different in this western? Well, pretty much what I’d suggested. I’d never heard of a news reader before (and still don’t actually know if that was a real thing). But Hanks’ character is a nerd who travels from shitty Texas town to shitty Texas town trying to educate the rubes. That concept alone was intriguing, but its this educated, informed perspective that allows our protagonists to venture through the exciting wild west and see it for what it is: a pretty shitty time and place with no business being romanticized. In fact, everything about this world sucks. Texas’ settlers were a bunch of racist backwater assholes. Shootouts aren’t fun and exciting when losing them means a child gets raped. Invading Indian land is jacked up. Killing the Buffalo is jacked up. And so on and so forth.

Was this perspective enough to make me love this film despite being a western? No, not really. But I didn’t dislike it at all. It was totally fine. I know this one was considered a Best Picture possibility, but didn’t make the nominee list in the end, and I think that’s about right. I also know that 12 year old Helena Zengel was nominated for a best supporting actress Golden Globe but didn’t score an Oscar nomination, and there was talk of Hanks being nominated but also not making the list. I think all of that is about right. This film and its performers were all solid, but nothing too mind-blowing here. And 4 nominations is nothing to sneeze at, even if none of them are the top prize.

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