We’re in the home stretch for the Oscars on March 27. You can catch a bunch of the nominees at Ottawa’s 2 independent cinemas—The ByTowne and The Mayfair. Plus there’s an international film festival and a couple of must-see older films. Here are my recommendations from now until March 31.
The Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World scored big at Cannes with “best actress” awarded to Renate Reinsve. Now it’s up for the best international feature Oscar as well as best original screenplay. The film follows a young woman who is trying to decide on a career and to find her soulmate. Unlike many similar films, you can see her become more mature and self-aware. The Globe and Mail‘s reviewer wrote, “Reinsve’s charismatic, heart-rending performance is relatable for anyone who’s ever done stupid things for love.” That would be all of us, wouldn’t it? This film is at the Mayfair.
Steven Spielberg’s first musical, West Side Story, had a lot of industry buzz during development. If you loved the original film or like musicals, you should see it. The action is set in a realistic-looking slum that’s being razed to make way for the Lincoln Centre for the Arts and some tony apartment buildings. Several actors, particularly Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ariana DeBose as Anita, are excellent. Rita Moreno (the best thing about the original film) is back in this version. And like the original film, the song and dance number “America” is the highlight of the film. It’s at the ByTowne.
Another crowd-pleaser is Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film about his childhood. It won the People’s Choice award at this year’s TIFF, which often presages Oscar nominations. Sure enough, it’s nominated for best picture, best supporting actor and actress, original music, sound and original screenplay. The little boy who plays Branagh is really good. It’s at the Mayfair.
Drive My Car seems to be on every major critic’s “best films of 2021” list, and I personally enjoyed of the film. It may very well win the Oscar for best foreign film or for best director. It’s a dark horse for best picture Oscar, too. This slow-paced but intriguing Japanese film touches on spousal betrayal, grief, memory and artistic expression. Not for everyone, but, as they say about some other unusual things, if you like it, you’ll like it a lot. The film is playing at both cinemas.
Licorice Pizza is another favourite of the critics (it’s a “must see” in Metacritic.com). The film has received 3 Oscar nominations: best picture, best director (for the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson) and best original screenplay (written by Anderson). Plus there’s the irresistible opportunity to see the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper Hoffman, in his film debut. The film is at both cinemas.
Playground (Un Monde) is shortlisted for best international film. It won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes and has garnered high praise from critics. The New York Times said “it’s a knockout, as flawlessly constructed as it is harrowing.” It tackles the monumental challenges little children face, especially bullying and “fitting in.” Judging from the trailer and the reviews, the director has captured flawlessly believable performances from the little girl and boy who are the leads. It’s at the ByTowne.
You can catch 2022 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action at the ByTowne. Their trailers are streaming here and they all look intriguing. One of them—The Long Goodbye—stars the charismatic British actor Riz Ahmed. Another film, Please Hold, give us a frightening look into the near future.
Leaving the Oscar frenzy, I recommend some entertaining commercials (yes, commercials!). I’m referring to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. These commercials have been judged by their peers to be this past year’s most creative commercials from around the world. It’s at the ByTowne.
Two other films on offer are from the vault, and they couldn’t be more different:
Vagabond is a gritty compelling film about a young fiercely independent woman. She travels from place to place in wintry France, taking odd jobs, valuing her freedom above all else. But this freedom has a terrible cost. Vagabond’s director was the great Agnès Varda. Playing at the ByTowne.
Meanwhile, Airplane! is at the Mayfair. It’s a hilarious spoof of disaster movies. If you don’t laugh during this film, check that you have a pulse.
And here’s a real opportunity! The Canadian Film Institute’s International Film Festival of Ottawa (IFFO) is showing many of their films at the ByTowne and the Mayfair. The IFFO is “bringing the best of the film festival circuit to the city,” I’ve already seen a Spanish political thriller that was superior to most of what Hollywood produces. I recommend All My Puny Sorrows; it’s based on Miriam Toews’s excellent novel of the same name. Visit iffo.ca to check out the complete program and schedule.
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Visit bytowne.ca for showtimes and tickets at the ByTowne Cinema.
Visit mayfairtheatre.ca for showtimes and tickets at the Mayfair Theatre.
Visit iffo.ca for showtimes and tickets to the International Film Festival of Ottawa.