Sam Mendes' World War I film 1917 has a legitimate shot at winning Best Picture at the Oscars in just over a week. The film has received a lot of critical success and has also been the rare Best Picture nominee to also see some decent box office returns. Much of the praise for 1917 comes from its structure where Roger Deakins' cinematography and Lee Smith's editing combine to give the film the appearance of being filmed as a single continuous shot, but Mendes apparently doesn't care for that term.
It seemed a natural thing to not have any cuts. That’s how I prefer to describe it, a movie with no cuts in it rather than a one-shot movie. You’re experiencing every second passing in what is a race against time.
Certainly, referring to 1917 as a movie with no cuts, rather than a one-shot movie, is a nuanced position, but it also makes some sense. Calling it a one-shot movie focuses on the filmmaking, the craft involved in making the movie look the way it does. Referring to it as a movie without cuts focuses more on the story, the fact that we won't be leaving these characters for even a moment. While the filmmaking craft is certainly worthy of note, and will hopefully be well rewarded at the Oscars, the story is what engages the audience and everything, including the great cinematography and editing skill, is in service of that.
This is at least how the director sees the situation. The key is how the audience emotionally invests in the characters...
I feel in some way it requires a different level of emotional investment. You know you feel like, ‘OK well if I’m here with these guys, I’m just going to have to live with that.’ So, it seemed to me it put the audience in the shoes of the characters. Where they literally don’t know whose telling them the truth or what’s around the next corner. Because there’s no way of finding out except going there.
The point of making 1917 a movie without cuts is so that the audience feels like they're following the main characters every step of the way, without any breaks. That's where the tension comes from. We don't know what's going to happen next because the characters have no idea what's going to happen next. There's also never any break in the tension for that reason. The characters are in fear for their lives for basically every minute of the film, and so are we. It's sort of an exhausting movie actually.
However you choose to describe it, 1917 is certainly working. The film won the Golden Globe for Best Picture as well as a directing award for Sam Mendes. It's made $200 million around the world, and it will almost certainly go home from the Oscars with some trophies, potentially in major categories like best Original Screenplay, Best Director and/or Best Picture.
The Academy Awards will be given out on Sunday February 9.