Oscars 2020: From 1917 to Marriage Story, how two key characters in Best Picture nominees complement each other
The 92nd Oscars will see nine films compete for Best Picture, out of which six revolve around the interactions between two principal characters.
It is not easy to make a film with just two people talking. But when you do crack the balance or stir up the chemistry, you get two actors playing off each other. It is a visual equivalent of the saying, "Let's do something adventurous. Let's have a conversation."
Before we get glued to our television sets for the 92nd Academy Awards on Monday morning, we must pause and notice the commonality between most of the Best Picture nominees this year. All of them, barring a few (Joker, Little Women, and Parasite) revolve around twos. They star two, and sometimes more, but essentially two key characters, that drive the plot. Their interaction ranges from talking to working together to not talking to competing to just getting to know each other better.
The most obvious pick would be James Mangold's sports drama that stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon as drivers of competing luxury sports car brands Ford and Ferrari. The film originally starred Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt but the deal fell through, leading to the eventual casting of Bale and Damon. In a film inspired by a true story, they play British World War II veteran Ken Miles and American automotive designer Caroll Shelby respectively. Since both men are past their prime and have undergone life-altering experiences of a war and a heart attack, they realise the impermanence of a rivalry, and thus, often reach out to each other at a human level despite being representatives of two competing brands. Spoiler alert: When Shelby dies in a climactic car crash, Miles visits his wife and son as a mark of respect for his late foe-cum-friend. Spoiler alert ends.
While Ford v Ferrari could not materialise for Pitt, it could not stop him from being part of another two-hero film. Quentin Tarantino's ninth directorial is set in Hollywood of 1969. The narrative mainly revolves around two key characters in Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor with waning stardom, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt). It is a casting coup because not only has DiCapro replicated his real-life profession in the film, Pitt was seen as an aggressive street-smart man who did not mind engaging in a duel with Bruce Lee and pounding the brains out of hippies. As the film progressed, Pitt was projected as the 'real hero' while DiCaprio was reduced to a puddle of tears. Despite the interchanging dynamics, Booth and Dalton's friendship remained rock solid as they considered each other more friends than colleagues whenever their individual graphs intersected in the film.
Sam Mendes' historical war drama may seem like it is titled in favour of one of the two primary characters but it is essentially a tale of friendship and camaraderie. Set during World War I, two Lance Corporals from the British Army, William Schofield (George MacKay) and Thomas Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are sent on a mission to communicate an urgent strategic message to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) miles away in order to thwart a trap by the German Army. Spoiler alert: The two soldiers went from blaming the other for involving him in the mission to saving the other's life to fulfilling the final wish of the other. For MacKay, the quest after Blake's death became as much a personal mission as that of his nation. The permanently etched visual of him running across a battlefield to reach the colonel in time seemed to stem as much from a superior's order as from the steely will to not let his friend die in vain. Spoiler alert ends.
Taika Waititi's satire on Nazi Germany was narrated through the eyes of a child, Jojo, indoctrinated to persecute Jews and trained as an 'Aryan.' He is so disillusioned that he even has an imaginary friend in Adolf Hitler (Waititi), who encourages him to chase all things Swastika. However, the twos in question are not Jojo and the imaginary Hitler but the former and his very 'real' friend Elsa (Thomas McKenzie), a Jewish girl seeking refuge in his house. Though their bond could have been described as 'strange bedfellows,' the fact is Jojo and Elsa are merely children, divided on superficial sociopolitical lines. As the narrative progresses and their friendship deepens, they realise how similar they are despite being from different sides of the fence.
A still from Jojo Rabbit
Robert De Niro plays infamous gangster Frank Sheeran in the 1950-60s US. Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) could be assumed his 'partner-in-crime' in the first half of the film but as the narrative unfurls, it becomes clear who the other key character of the film is. Russell is mostly a medium through which Sheeran meets Frank Hoffa (Al Pacino), yet another
gangster businessman. Circumstances lead the growing friendship of Sheeran and Hoffa to a you-see-it-from-a-distance betrayal. This sets the ball rolling for a life of regret and reformation (?) for Sheeran in this Martin Scorsese Netflix gangster epic.
Noah Baumbach's Netflix divorce story mined the equation between two people who know each other really well for the most ingenious of outcomes. No brownie points for guessing, the narrative revolves around the wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and husband Charlie (Adam Driver) navigating the slippery ground of divorce. The film never dives into a flashback of their sunny marital days but leaves a lot of scope for the audience to decipher what their relationship would have been like by throwing light on how often-gentle, often-wild, and always-attached they are to each other during the divorce proceedings. Though the story is about their uncoupling, their individual tracks are not compromised either as they learn to balance their personal roles with their professional capacities after the divorce, rather than during the marriage.
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