2021 Oscar Reviews: The Father

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…

The Father

6 nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Supporting Actress (Olivia Colman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, and Best Editing

The Father is the last of the “big” movies in my viewing list. It’s the last Best Picture nominee, the last acting or writing category nominee, and the last movie with more than 3 nominations. It’s the only Best Picture nominee I didn’t see before the nominees were announced. And so on and so forth. The main reason for this is practical: the film wasn’t available for streaming until last week. But also, I wasn’t really in a rush to see this one. I didn’t want to watch it, frankly. It looked like just SUCH A BUMMER. Like so many other super sad movies up for prizes this year, this subject matter hits close to home for me. After sitting through so many sad tales after a sad year, could I really take a movie about an elderly family member struggling with dementia? Nothing looked warm and fuzzy about this one. Everything looked sad. Ugh ugh ugh. Regardless, there had to be a reason why it was up for so many prizes, I absolutely LOVE Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins, and I am out to watch everything, so, reluctantly, I bit the bullet and paid my twenty bucks.

This movie was, sort of, not what I was expecting. I mean, it was a sad tale about a father and daughter struggling with the father’s mental decline, sure. But there had to be something else going on here for it to win all these nomination, I just had no clue what. As it turns out, The Father isn’t really a sappy family drama.

No, it’s a psychological thriller. It’s a horror movie. It’s a slow-burn ghost story.

We linger on eerie empty shots of a kitchen, and wait for something scary to happen. We peer down long spooky hallways. Total strangers appear out of nowhere in our recliner. It’s scary, scary stuff. And while it’s very clear from the start that our protagonist is definitely having age-related memory issues, we can’t dismiss what’s happening as just memory loss. There is something extra scary happening here, and we’re right there along with him trying to figure out what, exactly, that is. Who is real and who isn’t? Where are we? Where are we in the timeline? What the hell is even happening?

This film also feels like something my English teachers would have us watch. Apparently it’s adapted from a French play, but it certainly feels like a novel to me. We start the film in a very yellow apartment reminiscent of the classic English class staple “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I don’t remember too much about this story except that there’s a chick stuck in a yellow-wallpapered room completely losing her mind. How very fitting for a man stuck in a yellow-wallpapered flat losing him mind. Color ends up playing a huge, yet subtle role in this film, just as it did in The Great Gatsby. I of course have no idea if this talking set was part of the play as well, but either way, it’s a very clever, well-executed use of staging that earns the film both its Production Design and its Editing nominations.

The performances were all spot-on here, too. I could see Hopkins walking away with the top prize. The rest of the cast was small, but every single person had to pull off a stunning range within visibly restrained exteriors. So all of the 6 nominations are clearly well-deserved, and I’d easily put it in the top 3 contenders of this year’s best picture nominees.

All that being said… I never, ever, ever, ever want to watch that movie again. The moment it ended my spouse and I both just exhaled. “Jesus. Christ,” I recall saying. It’s powerful and terrifying and sad. But also very important. Like I mentioned before, I’ve sat with a loved one as their mind deteriorated, and listened as every trauma from a long life resurfaced, and as they couldn’t distinguish between real memory and nightmares they’d had. It’s easily one of the worst experiences I could imagine anyone going through. So is it a fun ride to go through this experience with Anthony Hopkins? Especially when it is so effectively executed? Ugh, no. This movie will break you down.

In short, The Father is a masterpiece.

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