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Best Picture Binge - Past Lives

One of the great modern romances.

Past Lives is a 2023 romantic drama film directed by Celine Song, written by Celine Song, produced by CJ ENM, Killer Films, and 2AM, and distributed by A24. The film stars Greta Lee and Teo Yoo. It was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

"If you had never left Seoul, would I still have looked for you?" - Hae Sung


Childhood friends Hae Sung and Na Young have always been each other's number ones. When Na Young immigrates to America and changes her name to Nora, she grows apart from Hae Sung. When Hae Sung visits New York, however, he reconnects with Nora years later with both of their lives in completely different places.

The Sweet

Past Lives is a film with power in its subtlety. This film is incredibly gentle and quiet. There's honestly not a lot of dialogue, but the film conveys its emotions through looks and mannerisms. This whole tone that envelops the film makes it feel very grounded and realistic. This is not a dramatized Hollywood romance. Writer/director Celine Song based this film on an experience from her real life, and you can tell because of how real this film feels.

I'm also a little bit surprised that Greta Lee was not nominated. I actually think it's a pretty strong year for the Best Actress award, but I am biased and have not seen Nyad, so I think Lee could've gotten nominated over Annette Bening. She was really, really good. I think she must've worked with Celine Song really well, because she absolutely nails the subtlety of the film.

The ending of this film also packs a powerful punch. It feels like a release of all the build-up that the previous hour and a half had created. Because the film does lean on the subtle, you don't realize how emotional it is until the very end. It feels very human and, as I've said throughout, very gentle.

The Sour

I wish I liked Past Lives more than I do. I appreciate it, but I cannot say that I actively like it.

I really like that the film leans on subtlety, but it also made the film incredibly, incredibly slow. In a year where so many of the Best Picture nominees are very, very slow (The Holdovers, Oppenheimer, Anatomy of a Fall, Killers of the Flower Moon), Past Lives almost feels like the slowest. I just don't think much happens in this movie. I found a lot of it to be forgettable. A movie can be slow and subtle, but to me, it just felt like Past Lives needed more to be an enjoyable film.

I also feel like, for Nora and Hae Sung being the core relationship of the film, they do not interact as much as you'd think. I'd say about 45% of the film is the two of them interacting, which I personally don't think is enough. They are kind of fun to watch on screen together, but the parts where they are not together just drag.

I think I also said this in my review of The Holdovers, but I usually don't get bored during movies. I thought Past Lives was boring. I was checking how much time I had left in it when I was watching it. I just didn't find it very engaging. I understand the subtlety and the power it holds, but to get that subtle power, the film seems to depress the dialogue and the story and the characters. Not everything needs to be subtle for your film to feel subtle.

Does This Movie Deserve It's Best Picture Nomination?

I'm mixed on this one. But I think the nominations speak for themselves. Past Lives was only nominated for one other award besides Best Picture. Most of the time, Best Picture nominees have at least two (usually more) nominees. I think this film is well-made. I love the idea of a subtle, realistic approach to romance. But I don't think that the subtlety was executed in the exact right way, because the film is very slow and not very engaging.

So, no, I don't think Past Lives deserves it's Best Picture nod.

Final Thoughts and Score

I like thinking about Past Lives more than I liked actively watching it. The subtlety and ending make this movie stick with a somewhat positive spin in my mind, but I just could not connect with this story and these characters as much as I wanted to.

I have to go Sour here. Age range is 11+.


Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)

"Past Lives"

Fun Factor: 3.5/10

Acting: 8.5/10

Story: 7/10

Characters: 6.5/10

Quality: 8/10

Directed by Celine Song

Rated PG-13 for language

Released on June 2, 2023

1 hour and 46 minutes

Greta Lee as Nora Moon / Na Young

Teo Yoo as Hae Sung

John Magaro as Arthur

Seung Ah Moon as Young Nora

Seung Min Yim as Young Hae Sung

Ji-Hye Yoon as Nora's mother

Choi Won-young as Nora's father

Min Young Ahn as Hae Sung's mother


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