As the 92nd Academy Awards — colloquially known as the Oscars — approaches, two films in particular are being recognized almost more than any others.
1917 and JoJo Rabbit collectively total 16 nominations, with JoJo grabbing six and 1917 scoring 10. Both films are nominated for Best Picture; JoJo Rabbit is also up for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Scarlett Johansson) and Writing (Adapted Screenplay), among others. 1917’s nominations include Cinematography, Directing, Writing (Original Screenplay), and more.
These films represent times in history marked by dark conflict. 1917 focuses on World War I — which often falls by the wayside in media in favor of the Second World War — and JoJo Rabbit is an off-the-wall take on Hitler’s Germany.
The fact that they’ve been so well received shows our fascination with history and with war, and how powerful it can be to see these experiences on film. Here’s more about these critically-acclaimed war movies, and how you can watch them.
Director Sam Mendes loosely based the story of 1917 around his grandfather — who was a veteran of the Western Front. What really makes this film unique, though, is not just the fact that it focuses on a war many people don’t talk about (and whose veterans are long gone); it’s because it’s played as one continuous take. The movie is a 117-minute shot that aims to submerge viewers in a vicious battlefield for every heart-pounding second.
Although many are comparing it to the iconic Saving Private Ryan, Mendes claims it’s more like a thriller than a conventional war movie. It follows two British soldiers who are on a death-defying rescue mission. When they discover intel about a German ambush, they must deliver the information to their comrades before they fall prey to it.
It takes place in northern France, spring of 1917, as the Germans faked a retreat to the Hindenburg Line — using the cover of night to disguise their true plan. But the Germans were, in fact, gathering their forces together in a strategically offensive move. One where they would break through British lines and capture critical French territory.
In the movie, aerial observation is able to determine what’s really happening, and that’s when the main characters are tasked with the mission to deliver this news to 1,600 of their fellow soldiers. The only problem? Those soldiers are across what was known as “No Man’s Land” — an area of abandoned enemy trenches with little cover or protection.
Much of the praise being lumped on 1917 surrounds its cinematography (for which it is nominated). The trench warfare of World War I was some of the most gruesome in history, and Mendes sought to depict that in a raw and unfiltered way.
“World War II claimed more casualties, but World War I is perhaps unequaled in its horrific brutality. 1917 takes us into that horror and doesn’t let us out of it for two hours,” said Paul Asay of Plugged In.
Another review by Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian goes in depth… “Blake and Schofield travel through a postapocalyptic landscape, a bad dream of broken tree stumps, mud lakes left by shell craters, dead bodies, rats.”
“Mendes and Deakins convey, along with these men’s sense of futility and fear, the strange nausea and exhilaration that Blake and Schofield feel, the nihilist elation that comes with the moment-by-moment experience of survival, fiercely holding on to life with every eardrum-splitting sniper shot. But ahead of them lies chaos and loss.”
Overall, it’s cited as one of the best films of the year. For history buffs, it’s a must.
Director Taika Waititi took on an enormous, and perhaps controversial, project in JoJo Rabbit, a film that depicts the terrible reality of Hitler’s Third Reich through the eyes of a German child. It’s a marvelous piece of satire — based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens — with Adolf Hitler featuring as the protagonist’s goofy imaginary friend (played by Waititi himself).
The boy, named Johannes, is part of a Hitler youth group in his small German town. While he nurses dreams of being a great German soldier, he’s faced with the day-to-day of being a small, awkward boy who’s mercilessly teased by his fellow Hitler youth members.
The film teeters on the edge of going too far while never actually doing it. It makes a farce of Nazi Germany, and is littered with black humor (in moments you didn’t expect to be laughing). But it’s also sweet. Johannes’ mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is increasingly revealed as a Nazi opposer; who never outright tells her son what to believe, but rather lets him learn it for himself.
His real moral crisis comes in the form of a Jewish teenage girl named Elsa, who Johannes’ mother is protecting in their home’s crawl space. His reality with Elsa is juxtaposed by his imagination of Adolf Hitler, and his desperation to stick to what he “knows” is true — Nazi ideology.
“While ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is in many ways a coming-of-age film, with its satirical stance it is also an audacious one. It’s a film that hits hard and makes for an overwhelming cinematic experience with the mix of conflicting emotions that it throws open,” said Sreeparna Sengupta of Times of India.
And Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says: “Waititi’s faith in the notion that a child will lead us out of ignorance may be naive. It’s also deeply affecting.”
Overall, JoJo Rabbit packs a powerful punch without relying on violent battlescape or cliche character death. If you’re interested in a more artistic take on a World War II film, give it a try.
You can watch the Oscars live at 5 p.m. PST and 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Other notable films up for the coveted award include Joker, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood, Little Women, The Irishman, and Parasite.