Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

19 January 2019

Best Actress 2018

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, this is my top five, but I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz. They are not in order of my preference. Instead, the actors whom I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.

ANDŌ SAKURA, Shoplifters (万引き家族)

THOMASIN McKENZIE, Leave No Trace

JOANNA KULIG, Zimna Wojna (Cold War)

MELISSA McCARTHY, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

OLIVIA COLMAN, The Favourite

Also loved:
Sarah Adler, Der Kuchenmacher (The Cakemaker) (האופה-מברלין)
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife 
Toni Collette, Hereditary
Regina Hall, Support the Girls 
Charlize Theron, Tully

Apologies to:
Chanté Adams (Roxanne Roxanne), Nathalie Baye (The Guardians), Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Trine Dyrholm (Nico, 1988), Adèle Exarchopolous (Racer and the Jailbird), Dominique Fishback (Night Comes On), Kathryn Hahn (Private Life), Felicity Jones (On the Basis of Sex), Nicole Kidman (Destroyer), Eva Melander (Border), Carey Mulligan (Wildlife), Michelle Pfeiffer (Where Is Kyra?), Rosamund Pike (A Private War), Sharon Stone (All I Wish), Tilda Swinton (Suspiria), and Shailene Woodley (Adrift), whose films I have not yet seen.

Related:
My Best Actress picks from past years (2004-2017)
My Best Actor picks from 2018
My Best Supporting Actress picks from 2018
My Best Supporting Actor picks from 2018

18 January 2019

Best Actor 2018

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, this is my top five, but I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz. They are not in order of my preference. Instead, the actors whom I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.

CHARLIE PLUMMER, Lean on Pete

TOMASZ KOT, Zimna Wojna (Cold War)

STEPHAN JAMES, If Beale Street Could Talk

JOAQUIN PHOENIX, You Were Never Really Here

BRADLEY COOPER, A Star Is Born

Also loved:
Zain Al Rafeea, Capernaum (کفرناحوم‎)
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Ryan Gosling, First Man
Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased
Tim Kalkhof, Der Kuchenmacher (The Cakemaker) (האופה-מברלין)
Meinhard Neumann, Western
Victor Polster, Girl

Apologies to:
Jakob Cedergrin (The Guilty), Sam Claflin (Adrift), Joe Cole (A Prayer before Dawn), Harris Dickinson (Postcards from London), Lorenzo Ferro (The Angel), Jake Gyllenhaal (Wildlife), McCaul Lombardi (Sollers Point), Tom Schilling (Never Look Away), Matthias Schoenaerts (Racer and the Jailbird), Adriano Tardiolo (Happy as Lazzaro), and Yoo Ah-in (Burning), whose films I have not yet seen.

Related:
My Best Actor picks from past years (2004-2017)
My Best Actress picks from 2018
My Best Supporting Actress picks from 2018
My Best Supporting Actor picks from 2018

17 January 2019

Best Supporting Actress 2018

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, this is my top five, but I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz. They are not in order of my preference. Instead, the actors whom I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.


KAWTHAR AL HADDAD, Capernaum (کفرناحوم‎)
ELIZABETH DEBICKI, Widows

REGINA KING, If Beale Street Could Talk

AMY ADAMS, Vice

Also loved:
Tyne Daly, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Shayna McHayle, Support the Girls
Andrea Riseborough, The Death of Stalin
Dolly Wells, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Apologies to:
Iris Bry (Les Gardiennes) and Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians), whose films I have not yet seen.

Related:
My Best Supporting Actress picks from past years (2004-2017)
My Best Actress picks from 2018
My Best Actor picks from 2018
My Best Supporting Actor picks from 2018

A Vicious Bit of Smugness

Top of the list of people I don't want to spend 2 hours with: Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. A (however well-intentioned) comedy about Bush and Cheney's criminal hijacking of our government? Not fun. Thanks but no.

Mr. Bale as Cheney
In fact, though, Vice is much worse than all of this. Adam McKay has made a gimmicky film, filled with bits that range from silly to tasteless to downright cringe-worthy. There's a fake credits sequence in the middle of the movie, for example. It's a silly bit that goes on for far too long, especially since its smug irony is so palpable. And there's a painful and bizarrely unfunny sequence in which Christian Bale and Amy Adams speak to each other in faux-Shakespearean dialogue that is supposed to indicate how like Macbeth and his queen the Cheneys were. I rolled my eyes, but then it just kept going. It's one of the most awkward things I've seen on film in a while.

Mr. Rockwell as Bush
Everyone is saying Oh the film doesn't work at all, but Christian Bale is great. But I guess that isn't how I feel at all. The man is probably going to win an Oscar for this performance, but my impression of his performance is that it mainly consists of him slowing down his speech and talking out of the side of his mouth. Vice has almost nothing to say about Cheney as a man. It sees him as a nearly passionless, vicious, criminal without principles, and, listen, I tend to agree with that portrait. But all of that makes for one-dimensional storytelling, and Bale does nothing to help the film with its dimensional challenges.

Mr. Carell as Rummy
To be honest, though, I thought Amy Adams was great. Her soulless politician character feels fleshed out in a way that Bale's does not. And Sam Rockwell's George W. Bush? He gets most of the film's laughs, and so he's a welcome bit of knowing camp in a sea of camp that doesn't know it's camp – like Tyler Perry's performance as Colin Powell. Steve Carell's performance as Donald Rumsfeld goes for every easy unfunny joke you can imagine. There's this absurd sequence where a very young Dick Cheney asks a youngish Donald Rumsfeld But what do we believe? and Rummy looks at Cheney and cracks up laughing. He then keeps laughing. Like some kind of villain in a Despicable Me cartoon. Carrell's laughter goes on for a long time. The joke – to Rumsfeld – is that Cheney would actually believe that (these particular) Republicans wanted to accomplish anything for the U.S. citizenry with the power they've accumulated. How green Cheney is that he thinks these guys have any principles! Ho ho ho! What a belly laugh. But what is supposed to be funny for us? Are we expected to laugh cynically but ruefully at the calculated greed of these men? Aside from the fact that this is a very, very old bit worthy only of a malefactor in a Saturday morning cartoon, there is simply nothing for us to find humorous at this point. Rumsfeld doesn't believe in anything and Cheney won't believe in anything either. Ok. Where's the joke?

Vice does teach us some things. There were a few things I didn't know about the Bush–Cheney years that Vice really made clear. But mostly I found this film smug and stupid.

Cold War

Cold War is beautifully made, spare, exacting, and sad. But I didn't emotionally connect to the two main characters the way I wanted to, and this meant I didn't connect to the film quite as I would have liked to. In many ways, Cold War is a kind of melodrama about Poland under Stalin, but I'm not sure Cold War has much to say about the political situation. The acting is great, though. Both leads are fantastic. And the film's music is unforgettable.

16 January 2019

Best Supporting Actor 2018

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, this is my top five, but I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz. They are not in order of my preference. Instead, the actors whom I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.

TOUMANI KOUYATÉ, Vazante

BILL HECK, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

PHILIP ETTINGER, First Reformed

JOSH HAMILTON, Eighth Grade

RICHARD E. GRANT, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Also loved:
Riz Ahmed, The Sisters Brothers
Russell Crowe, Boy Erased
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Rupert Friend, The Death of Stalin
Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Roma
Ben Hardy, Bohemian Rhapsody
Billy Howle, Outlaw/King
Noah Jupe, A Quiet Place
Ben Whishaw, Mary Poppins Returns
Arieh Worthalter, Girl

Apologies to:
Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Lucas Hedges (Mid90s), and Steven Yeun (Burning), whose films I have not yet seen.

Related:
My Best Supporting Actor picks from past years (2004-2017)
My Best Actress picks from 2018
My Best Actor picks from 2018
My Best Supporting Actress picks from 2018

11 January 2019

The Favourite

The Favourite was pretty great. I wanted it to head eventually in a more surprising direction, but this is a beautifully realized film. I laughed a great deal and enjoyed myself immensely.

Sandy Powell is a genius and honestly deserves a 4th Oscar.
Olivia Colman is excellent in The Favourite, and I really loved Rachel Weisz, too. The supporting cast is also excellent. Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn are both especially funny. (There is this amazing scene where Nicholas Hoult just pushes Emma Stone into a ditch that had me cackling.) I have to say that I never really like Emma Stone, though. Something about her always feels like she's playing dress-up – like she never quite gets over hoping that we'll believe her.

The Favourite is not perfect (even if its costumes are). It loses steam by act three, and my theory for why this happens is that the film actually stops surprising us. In most of Lanthimos's films, one never feels as though one has understood all of the rules. He changes them up again and again, until we are bewildered and puzzled beyond what is bearable. He did this with Dogtooth and The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (though I think that one was slightly more accessible – and slightly less interesting because of this). But with The Favourite, we actually learn the rules of the game. They become clear at about the point in the movie, I think, when Emma Stone watches from the bookcase while Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz fuck. The world, I think, begins to make sense in that moment, and like Emma Stone's character, we, too, understand what needs to be done, how she can win.

And so the delightfully confounding insanity of the film's first act and most of its second is replaced by a kind of toleration of the queen's peccadilloes. Her desires and whims become things which we both understand and which begin to grow tiresome.

The film's ending still works very well, and the acting stays excellent, but the screenplay loses its energy, even if there are still a few delightful scenes in the last half of the movie (I'm thinking especially of the sequence where the men hurl citrus fruits at that naked courtier).

And... this movie is about Trump, right? The ending certainly put me in mind of our president. (The oranges being hurled at the naked man, while not an obvious Trump reference, certainly could be read as one. He is orange, after all.) But I think, too, that perhaps my impatience with the film's latter half is a kind of Trumpian boredom, too. What I mean is this: a surprising person with a lot of power is interesting. What is he going to do? Whom will he bomb? Will we all die? What idiocy is going to come out of his mouth next? But once one realizes that there are no surprises left, that he hasn't anything really interesting to say, that he (like Queen Anne) just wants to be loved and adored and he doesn't care who gives him that fix, the whole thing becomes a bit of a chore. It's no longer an adventure at all.

Again, I really liked this movie – I'm just trying to make sense of why that last third of the picture didn't totally knock it out of the park.

08 January 2019

Capernaum (2018)

I found this film to be fairly devastating. I've read that some critics have thought it relentlessly sad and desperately sentimental. I didn't think it was either. It's a fascinating portrait of children caring for one another because of a government's failure to care. The acting is phenomenal and the filmmaking is lovely.

A note on the title. The version I saw was titled Capernaum (Chaos). Capernaum is a village in Israel on the Sea of Galilee that you will recognize if you've read the New Testament. The film is titled كفر ناحوم in Arabic, which is the name of that village. Capernaum, however, was shot in Beirut, Lebanon (about 70 miles as the crow flies from Capernaum), and concerns a young Lebanese boy. In French, Capharnaüm also refers to the city in Israel, but it also means, colloquially, a mess – chaos.

05 January 2019

8th Grade

I respected Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade a great deal. It's very good. But it's also so uncomfortable, and often very difficult to watch.

What is unique and fascinating about Eighth Grade is that it is told from the eighth-grader's point of view, and it avoids following a parent's own confusion about how to cope with the young person. In this way, Eighth Grade is willing to go to places that most films that pretend to be about growing up or adolescence (ahem – Boyhood) are unwilling to go. This is not a film that is actually about what a young person's parents are going through.

But, as I say, watching an eighth grade girl try to cope with being cool and figuring out who she is and liking boys and trying to fit in and working on being friendlier is really awkward and difficult, and I had trouble enjoying this film simply because it made me uncomfortable for much of its running time. This is a good thing, of course, and it is certainly interesting. Even better, Eighth Grade also packs a powerful emotional punch at its end. Overall, however, I can't say I totally connected with it.

03 January 2019

A Messy Queen of Scots

Let me say first that Mary Queen of Scots deserves Oscar nominations for its costumes and for its hair and makeup. I also think Max Richter's score is beautiful and deserves a nomination, but it isn't on the list of finalists, so we won't be hearing Richter's name on January 22.

Margot Robbie & Joe Alwyn
I suppose it can also be said that there are a bunch of great performers in this version of the Mary Queen of Scots story – Saoirse Ronan plays Mary and Margot Robbie plays Elizabeth, but the cast also boasts Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Adrian Lester, Guy Pearce, Simon Russell Beale, Martin Compston, James McArdle, Brendan Coyle, and Jack Lowden. And all of this is for nothing because Beau Willimon's script is a pile of absurdities.

There will be spoilers here, so be warned. But also you don't want to see this movie, so just go ahead and read on.

This Mary Queen of Scots seems to think it is a film about sisterhood, about misogyny and the ways that various groups of men conspired together so as not to be ruled by two women. This Mary Queen of Scots would have us believe that Mary and Elizabeth admired each other mutually and (worse yet) that Mary was some kind of devoted ruler who cared deeply about "her people". This Mary Queen of Scots finds that Mary married herself to Henry Darnley not because he was a Stuart and it strengthened her claim to the English throne but because she loved him and – this happens in the movie – because they had really good sex. This Mary Queen of Scots also would have us believe that Elizabeth I was brokenhearted because she had no child and that the demands of her throne kept Elizabeth from a) having sex with the man she loved, b) being best friends with Mary Stuart, and c) her own wish to marry and bear children (which is, as we all know, the only thing a woman really wants).

There is much more nonsense in this film. We might begin with Mary's Scottish accent – Mary Stuart grew up in France – and we might conclude with Elizabeth's English accent – which, as performed by Margot Robbie, is hardly ever in evidence.

Jack Lowden & Saoirse Ronan
The thing that drove me the most insane about MQS, however, was this film's portrayal of sixteenth-century sex and sexual politics. My eyes bugged out of my head when Lord Darnley was led to see Mary Stuart alone in her bedchamber and then performed cunnilingus on her. This is highly unlikely as a sexual practice for a nobleman and a queen, but it is also unlikely for anyone in the 16th century – they simply didn't bathe very much. Then this same man who has given head to the queen is revealed (in front of everyone and on their wedding night) to be sexually interested in men. This interest is (the film would have us believe) exclusive. He apparently doesn't want to have sex with his queen at all even though he has already done so. He would prefer to have sex with the adult minstrel that Mary keeps in her bedchamber. The film inaccurately uses the term sodomite to describe Lord Darnley, describing what we would call a homosexual, despite the fairly well documented fact that 16th century Britons would not have understood male–male sex in this way at all and probably wouldn't have been even a little bit surprised at Darnley's interest in boys. (The idea that Darnley would have been having an affair with a grown man is sort of absurd.) I found this entire section so stupid, its historical inaccuracies so frustrating, that the movie had lost me completely by this point in act two.

The movie, of course, gets worse, however. Though the film appears to want to be some kind of feminist retelling of this historical episode, Josie Rourke's movie imagines these women as caring only for motherhood, sex, and intrigue. There's no nuance, no images of either of them governing with any skill at all. They're characters in Beau Willimon's soap opera plot, cattily trading barbs and finding that the only important thing in life is who is inferior to whom. It's misogynist schlock dressed up as feminist sisterhood, and it's nearly a complete waste of time.

02 January 2019

Green Book

This year's candy-coated movie about Jim Crow.

Green Book is not as emotionally rousing as its predecessors (Hidden Figures, The Help, The Shape of Water), and this is to its credit.

Even more interestingly, Don Shirley is an intriguing, complex character who is explored beautifully by Mahershala Ali.

But... these kinds of movies drive me sort of nuts. We explore a very specific relationship between black folks and white folks within Jim Crow, and the positive aspects of these relationships allow us mostly to ignore the larger structures that subtend these personal relationships.

I was also really uncomfortable with the scene at the YMCA – I am not saying what it was since I don't want to spoil that aspect of the film's plot for anyone, but there is a sequence at a YMCA that Green Book deals with in a way that is typical of these kinds of candy-coated movies. Zoom in on the magic of this particular personal relationship, and then we can leave behind the real structural inequalities that exist. What this particular omission means for Green Book is that it fails to explore something that must've been very important to Don Shirley as a real person, glancing at it, instead, and perhaps using it as a kind of "key" to the character – an explanatory answer instead of a series of exploratory questions.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace has a great deal going for it. For me it was hampered a bit by its (admirable) restraint.

Debra Granik avoids telling us what happened to the father (Ben Foster) of Leave No Trace's main character. He's haunted and deeply troubled, but we know next to nothing about this. This is a deft avoidance of sentimentality and bad exposition, but this is a directorial dodge, not a directorial solution, and it stands in the way of the audience's understanding of and sympathy with Ben Foster's character.

But there is so much good in the movie. Thomasin McKenzie is flat out brilliant. The photography is gorgeous. Dale Dickey appears in a large role. And this is a portrait of America I hadn't known I needed.

First Reformed

First Reformed is a good movie. It's unsettling and interesting. It overtly references both Robert Bresson and Andrei Tarkovsky, and I was interested in the idea that the crisis of global warming might be somehow linked with Christianity in some way.

And then Paul Schrader's film ends abruptly and in a way that doesn't work – or at least didn't work for me. My flatmate and I  looked up some explanations of the film's ending, and they do sort of explain things, but it still doesn't work for me (and not because the ending is about redemption or salvation but because that redemption is achieved through romance).

As regards the acting: Philip Ettinger is great in his couple of scenes, and I loved seeing Cedric the Entertainer in a very different kind of role. That was really fun. But Ethan Hawke... I dunno. He feels like he's working really hard the whole time. I always feel this with Hawke. The effort he's expending to play his characters is more evident to me than the characters themselves. And this closes Hawke's characters off from me in a way that makes them difficult to believe or identify with.

First Reformed is certainly interesting. And I obviously think a film like this – that tries something strange – is much much better than a Hollywood by-the-book kind of thing like Bohemian Rhapsody, but I didn't love First Reformed, and for me its ending undermined a lot of what it attempted to achieve.

29 December 2018

2018 Animated Movie Roundup

I have been puzzling over which films might be nominated in the five slots for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. Last year you might remember that voters scraped the absolute bottom of the barrel. So few good animated movies came out that the members of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch unironically nominated The Boss Baby and Ferdinand as somehow equal in quality to Coco. Their hands were tied, though. According to the rules for this category, if a certain number of animated features is released in any given year, there will be five nominees. The threshold was reached in 2017, but the quality was not.

This year, however, we're in a different situation. Early in the year, Wes Anderson's gorgeous (if twee) Isle of Dogs came out, and in June Pixar/Disney released Incredibles 2 (which does have a really awesome sequence where a baby fights a racoon but which ends up being only just fine). And here we are in December and Spider-man: into the Spider-verse, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Mirai are all in theatres.

There are even two additional contenders for this category, as far as I can tell. Those are Nick Park's Early Man and Milorad Krstić's Ruben Brandt, Collector (which I want to see whether it gets nominated or not).
* * *
Through a stroke of sheer luck I managed to see Hosoda Mamoru's Mirai. It's playing in select cities (this week it's Oakland, Tucson, Vancouver, and a few others), and as soon as I heard about the movie I googled it and it was playing in Tallahassee, where I live. It screened twice only in one weekend via Fathom Events, and I secured myself a ticket knowing nothing about the movie.

...And it is one of my favorite things I saw this year. Mirai is the story of little two-year-old Kun, whose parents bring home a baby sister. The little boy is inevitably jealous, as his parents divert some of their attention to the little girl and away from him. In the world of Mirai, however, Kun is visited by a few impossible guests, including his sister as a middle-schooler. (The title of the movie, Mirai, is the girl's name, but it also means the future. In Japanese the title is a pun: 未来のミライ – Mirai from the Future.)

This is a magical, deeply moving film. It starts off simple, with the smallest of problems, but it becomes a gorgeous meditation on family connections, what we pass down through our familial lines, the histories of our ancestry, and the importance of letting small things go in favor of big relationships. I fell in love with this film and I can't recommend it enough.

* * *
And then there's the sequel to Wreck-it-Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet. The original film came out in 2012, so I have to confess to forgetting whether I liked it or not. This is actually why I keep a blog in the first place, because I can never remember why (or sometimes even whether) I liked a movie or not. In any case, I saw Ralph Breaks the Internet and thought it was very, very stupid.

It's worth saying, I think, that one of the reasons I really disliked this movie is that I think Sarah Silverman's acting is very bad. John C. Reilly is great – he's always great – and he plays his big, dumb character with sincerity and sensitivity. But Silverman is doing this phony little kid voice that a) doesn't sound like a little kid at all and b) sounds like an adult's commentary on a little kid. It's as though the entire performance is a kind of tongue-in-cheek critique of how stupid little kids are. (And I don't think kids are stupid at all, so I don't understand why this movie thinks they are.)

What annoyed me about it so much is that Ralph Breaks the Internet thinks its audience is stupid. The jokes are all stupid, the "lessons" it has to "teach" are all stupid, and although it purports to be a movie about the internet, it has nothing interesting to say about the internet at all. It is simply filled with a bunch of things we already know about the internet. Its plot is all clichés and its sentiments are all hackneyed. I haven't seen a lot of movies I've hated in 2018, but this is easily the worst thing I've seen all year. It doesn't even try to be a good movie.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a complete and total waste of time. (Oh, I finally looked to see whether or not I liked the original Wreck-it-Ralph. Turns out, I didn't. I ranked it 73 out of 87 in 2012. Right below The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey.)

* * *
But why keep trashing Ralph Breaks the Internet when I could be talking about how fucking awesome Spider-man: into the Spider-verse is?

This. Movie. Is. So. Cool. There are numerous things to say about this, and I think the plot is inventive and fun, but Into the Spider-verse is, after all, a superhero movie, and so you already know the plot. An evil bad guy with lots of money or lots of spunk has invented some insane device in order to do something or other and destroy the world in the process. There is one small way to stop him, and stop him we must! Save the world! As you can probably surmise, the world does not get destroyed and the villain does not succeed. But this is just the plot, and if you've come to Into the Spider-verse for the plot, you're here for the wrong reasons.

The importance here is on the visuals, which are the coolest I've seen in maybe the last five years. This film is endlessly inventive, totally bizarre, and completely delightful. It has an awesome soundtrack, but mostly it just looks so cool. Into the Spider-verse replicates the look of a comic book in fascinating ways, as though you're inside a moving comic book. I saw it in 3D and I think that's an absolute must. The movie uses several comic book devices as it tells its story, and it continued to surprise me, throughout its entire length, including during its (very cool) end credits sequence.

I can't recommend this movie enough. I've put it at #3 for the year – above most of the year's "best" movies, including Roma, A Star Is Born, BlacKkKlansman, and Black Panther.

28 December 2018

Outlaw/King & BlacKkKlansman

I am in Los Angeles, and I'm trying to see as many movies as I can, which means I'm way behind on writing about the movies I've seen. Here are two 2018 movies I saw last month.

I really liked Outlaw/King. The fight sequences are great and numerous. And this violence is excellently done. (Sidebar, for me, "well done" violence means violence that the audience can't quite enjoy, violence that doesn't lie about the anguish it causes or the destruction of bodies and lives that it wreaks. I honestly didn't find Outlaw/King to be much more than an action movie set in the early 14th century, but it does that action very well, and it's a gripping, intense, and enjoyable film with a solid group of performers and an engaging plot. David Mackenzie, who directed 2016's Hell or High Water (with Pine and Ben Foster), directed the movie.

The acting in Outlaw/King is uniformly fine. Chris Pine is strangely subdued here. His usual wicked dynamism seems placed in check either by the fact that he's playing Robert the Bruce or perhaps by his lack of interest in his female co-star. It's puzzling. Florence Pugh, who was utter perfection in last year's Lady Macbeth is good here, but seems as subdued, in many ways, as Pine. Maybe this was a directorial thing? I think of all three of the main actors (the other is Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as wild-card performers who often opt for the outrageous in their work, but all of the acting in Outlaw/King is played quite straight. For me the main bright spot was Billy Howle's beautiful performance as the Prince of Wales, Edward (who would become Edward II). Howle was very good in (the boring) On Chesil Beach earlier this year, and is even better here.

Should we talk about Pine's peen? Almost all of the press surrounding Outlaw/King involved discussion of the fact that Pine has a scene in which he goes full frontal. But it's an eye-roll of a scene: a tiny moment in the movie. Don't watch the movie for Chris Pine's genitals. Watch for the action. It's great.
* * *
BlacKkKlansman is also great. I know Spike Lee can be a hit-or-miss director, and often his films don't feel produced as well as they should be, but there's no dying that Lee has a characteristic, clever, ironic style. I always enjoy his approach to movie-making, and Klansman uses this style in some beautiful ways.

Klansman is – how could it not be with its plot? – frequently good, campy fun. Lee approaches the 1970s as a time filled with racism, when law enforcement ignored the terrorist activities of the KKK and didn't bother them, but this approach is... fun. Normally I would find this kind of an attitude toward a serious issue to be annoying, but Lee never allows the stakes to evaporate. Racist bigotry is absurd, and the Klansmen in the movie are idiots whose logic makes no sense. But they're still dangerous. They still have guns. They still want Jewish and Black folks to die. Lee never lets us forget the stakes that are in operation in the 1970s.

A side note on camp. Lee sets the tone of this movie with a cameo from Isiah Whitlock, (a Lee alum – he was also in 25th Hour, Chi-Raq, She Hate Me, etc.) doing his famous bit from The Wire, in which he says sheeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit for so long it begins to sound like an aria. I screamed with laughter when this happened. This is Whitlock's only scene, but it sets the tone of BlacKkKlansman perfectly.

The acting is pretty great across the board, and Klansman may even end up with two Oscar nominations. I think my favorite performance in the movie was Ryan Eggold's, but Laura Harrier, Adam Driver, John David Washington (Denzel's son), and Topher Grace (as David Duke) are all excellent.

Where Lee really hits his film out of the park, though, is with the film's ending. I don't think it's spoiling anything to tell you that the end of BlacKkKlansman jumps forward to the racist violence during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. There's the KKK again, doing what it's been doing since the 1970s, and... there's David Duke, speaking about "good white men" and Donald Trump in the same breath, forty years later. It's absolutely chilling, and if the movie has been funny and clever, and if we've been able to laugh derisively at the absurd racist antics of the Klan members in BlacKkKlansman, it's impossible to laugh at that same racism in 2017. It's a powerful movie.