Another year of cinema has passed, which means it’s time for our second annual Golden Cages awards, the only end-of-the-year awards program featuring everyone’s favorite actor as a screaming statuette! Over the next two weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, we at Flixist will be announcing our winners across seventeen different categories for what we consider the best achievements in film in 2019. Why do we wait so long into the year to do this? Because we can! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the awards.
1917 inhabits a weird place. Nearly none of the staff put it in the top five films of the year and none of us would call it our favorite movie of the year. Not exactly how one usually starts a piece for an award for Best Picture, I know. However, when the dust settled in our voting 1917 had won best picture, beating out Knives Out, The Lighthouse, The Farewell, and Jojo Rabbit.
Does 1917 not deserve it then? Shouldn’t the best film of the year be the movie that everyone universally cherishes? Sure, if you can find that film go right ahead and make it the best movie of the year. Most years that movie doesn’t exist, especially with the staff at Flixist, which has a very diverse set of tastes and ideas about what makes a good movie. So what does that mean? It means 1917 was so good that everyone liked it and that’s saying something major. It’s hard to make a movie that nearly everyone can point to and say it works, but that is 1917. Every aspect of it is executed so well that it’s hard to not come away with something good about it.
We can discuss the very obvious, of course. 1917 is a technical marvel. The one-shot “gimmick” is executed to perfection by Sam Mendes, who uses the trick to deliver an unrelenting movie that captures the unpredictability and suddenness of war. The single shot is not used simply to use it but to deliver the pacing and feeling of the unending forward motion of the film’s characters. One event leads into another, without stopping, and little time for thought. Unlike a normally edited film, major emotional moments simply happen with no time to pause or reflect on them. This is war as it happens and Mendes uses the single shot to make sure we can’t escape from it.
There’s also Roger Deakins prolific cinematography. He, together with Mendes, are masters of detail. Tiny story notes are expressed throughout the film without clunky exposition or pauses in action: A doll in a corner caught slightly by the camera; the dead body trapped in barbed wire that lazily moves across the screen; the dead body of a friend simply sitting in the background. These smaller details are accompanied by some of the more stunning shots we’ve seen all year: Lance Corporal Schofield sprinting down the trench; a plane going from a speck in the sky to crashing in front of us; the lighting coming off flares making a chase into a horror film.
Yet for all its cinematic beauty the film never loses its heart. Thanks in large part to the fact that it is a single shot Mendes is able to pull the audience into the story in truly powerful ways. A brief respite in a hidden room finds a young woman and baby that isn’t hers in need of a meal. In less adept hands the moment could have felt like a cheap emotional con, but instead because we’ve been going non-stop for so long it is instead a relief for us as well. There’s a story structure here that’s incredible, culminating in a hinted-at but never full revealed moment at the end when we discover Schofield’s family in the photograph he’s carrying. It’s a single moment that helps us redefine the entire film, adding extra emphasis tot he tragedies and triumphs he’s just faced.
There’s an argument going around that 1917 is the easy win for the year. Not as challenging as other films or simply popular because of its single-shot trick. The fact is that that “trick” is not trick at all. It is a technical marvel but also an emotional one. 1917 is a great film because of it. It is a film that anyone can pull something out of and no one can resist getting sucked into.
1917 is a great film and it is a great film for anyone who likes film.