A century after World War I ended, “1917” reminds us of the cost of official policies that figure the best conflict resolution calls for young people to slaughter each other. As two angelic-looking, not-yet-cynical Tommies trudge through no-man’s land to deliver a life-or-death warning, the carnage they encounter demands we be mindful of similar missions being carried out by similar innocents somewhere on the globe, every single day. The previous major film crafted to appear as one uninterrupted shot, 2014’s “Birdman,” employed magical realism to dramatize a protagonist’s epiphany and ended up winning the best picture trophy. In director Sam Mendes and DP Roger Deakins’ hands, that bravura technique leads to ultrarealism, and the epiphany is ours: the sudden revelation of war’s unconscionable waste.
By contrast with the dark “1917” style, Taika Waititi’s cheeky “Jojo Rabbit” offers a witty, crisply satirical portrait of World War II, the Fatherland cheerfully painted in clean primary colors. The look is bright, the wit droll and deadpan throughout, and somehow Waititi makes sentimental subplots fit in seamlessly. Yet none of those trappings are able to mask the film’s ferocious attack on race hatred. The terms used by the movie’s slapstick Nazis to describe Jews are so ridiculous, so outrageous, so violently over-the-top that the spectator falls on the floor in hilarious disbelief, while betting that the most diehard white supremacist, having heard them, would instantly mend his ways. Not to mention the tin-pot Adolf Hitler conjured up in the youthful title character’s mind, who may remind the audience of a certain orange-haired political leader closer to home, another narcissist with a fondness for dictating minions to do his bidding.
And then there’s “Parasite,” the modern-day genre-defier (is it a horror movie? a tragedy? a farce?) currently making jaws drop worldwide. Taking on class division more directly than most other movies have in a decade or more, it sets oblivious 1 percenters against the impoverished but enterprising Kim family, who latch onto their hosts and dig in. Yet just as director Bong Joon Ho upends genre conventions, he also undercuts our narrative expectations: Far from the salt of the earth, the overreaching Kims start to behave every bit as badly as the exploiters on whom they’ve been feeding. And when another character reappears with a surprising tale of woe, we’re given a stinging reminder that no matter how badly off you are, there’s always somebody else worse off to whom you may feel superior.