What makes a film “Oscar bait”? At a time when transgenderism is a media buzzword and biographical films about unsung heroes are a cinema staple, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl seems to tick all the boxes. The story about 1920s Danish painters Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegenar (Alicia Vikander), the former of whom was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, seems tailored to be a critics’ favorite. Yet even as The Danish Girl presents itself as a serious film about serious themes, it has been dismissed as “awards bait” even before its release—good enough for the Academy, but not good enough to be great. Something, despite the big names and polished presentation, does not add up.
Paying tribute to an influential predecessor is an understandable—even admirable—artistic impulse. But here’s the catch: honoring someone by doing the very thing they had mastered inevitably invites comparison. This is where Trumbo, a biopic about legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo of Roman Holiday and Spartacus acclaim, falls short of its target. It is a good film—but not nearly as good as one that Trumbo himself would have written.
Television has long ceased to be a regional form of media. One would think that Amazon Studios, a purely online broadcasting platform owned by a global company, would be conscious of the international reach of American television. One might also think that, when tasked with producing an alternate history drama in which the Axis powers win World War II, measures would be taken to be inclusive of contemporary international audiences. Or at least, not to offend them.
War movies are of men. Historical war movies, more so. Which is why Testament of Youth, the first feature film dramatization of the famed World War I memoir by Vera Brittain, an auxiliary nurse, bestselling author, and lifelong pacifist, comes as a fresh perspective even in 2015. With an elegant and gritty performance by Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) as Vera and what can only be described as poetic direction by James Kent, Testament of Youth is a haunting and unsparing elegy to a war that, a century later, still has much to teach us about love, loss, and—believe it or not—feminism.