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

31 January 2018

2017 in Review

LOVED
~ ~
1. Call Me by Your Name
2. A Ghost Story
3. The Square
4. Dunkirk
5. BPM (Beats per Minute)
6. Loveless
7. Frantz
8. Lady Macbeth
9. Phantom Thread
10. Coco
11. Princess Cyd

REALLY LIKED
~ ~
12. Raw
13. Lady Bird
14. Personal Shopper
15. Wind River
16. God's Own Country
17. Darkest Hour
18. Logan
19. Good Time
20. It Comes at Night
21. Kong: Skull Island
22. Blade Runner 2049
23. Nocturama
24. The Post
25. The Untamed
The Big Sick
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Wound
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Song to Song
The Beguiled
Super Dark Times

LIKED
~ ~
Wonderstruck
Baby Driver
Molly's Game
Stronger
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: Episode VIII - the Last Jedi
Their Finest

Félicité
Logan Lucky
The Fencer
Sweet Virginia
First They Killed My Father
Detroit
Handsome Devil
Beach Rats
Free Fire
The Ornithologist


LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
The Lost City of Z
Hostiles
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Birdboy: the Forgotten Children
Life
Staying Vertical
Get Out
I, Tonya
I Dream in Another Language
Marjorie Prime

A Quiet Passion
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Disaster Artist
Thelma
The Exception
Atomic Blonde
Sleight

The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent
War for the Planet of the Apes


BARELY LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
Mudbound
The Greatest Showman

Wonder
The Insult
Ferdinand
In the Fade
All the Money in the World
A Fantastic Woman
Victoria and Abdul
Sami Blood
Alien: Covenant
The Bad Batch
Queen of the Desert


DISLIKED
~ ~
The Boss Baby
The Florida Project
It's Only the End of the World
The Ardennes
The Death of Louis XIV

City of Tiny Lights

HATED
~ ~
Mother!

COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF TIME
~ ~
Beauty and the Beast

21 January 2018

Best Actress 2017

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 actresses whom I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.

MARYANA SPIVAK, Loveless (Нелюбовь)

KRISTEN STEWART, Personal Shopper

FLORENCE PUGH, Lady Macbeth

SAOIRSE RONAN, Lady Bird

FRANCES McDORMAND, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Also loved:
Simone Bucio, La Región Salvaje (The Untamed)
Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
Rooney Mara, Song to Song
Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu, Félicité 
Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion
Jessie Pinnick, Princess Cyd
Meryl Streep, The Post

Apologies to:
Annette Bening (Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool), Holly Hunter (Strange Weather), Isabelle Huppert (Happy End), Kim Min-hee (On the Beach at Night Alone), Mari Malek (The Nile Hilton Incident), and Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus), whose films I have not yet seen.

Related:
My Best Actress picks from past years (2004-2016)
My Best Actor picks from 2017
My Best Supporting Actress picks from 2017
My Best Supporting Actor picks from 2017

20 January 2018

Best Actor 2017

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.

HARRIS DICKINSON, Beach Rats

CLAES BANG, The Square

JEREMY RENNER, Wind River

TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET, Call Me by Your Name

GARY OLDMAN, Darkest Hour

Also loved:
Märt Avandi, Miekkailija (The Fencer)
Christian Bale, Hostiles
Sam Claflin, Their Finest
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, 120 Battements par Minute (Beats per Minute)
Aleksey Rozin, Loveless (Нелюбовь)
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Apologies to:
Lior Ashkenazi (Foxtrot), Jamie Bell (Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool), and John Cho (Columbus), whose films I have not yet seen.

Related:
My Best Actor picks from past years (2004-2016)
My Best Actress picks from 2017
My Best Supporting Actress picks from 2017
My Best Supporting Actor picks from 2017

19 January 2018

Best Supporting Actress 2017

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 actresses whom I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.

NAOMI ACKIE, Lady Macbeth

LOIS SMITH, Marjorie Prime

LESLEY MANVILLE, Phantom Thread

OCTAVIA SPENCER, The Shape of Water

LAURIE METCALF, Lady Bird

Also loved:
Joanna Bacon, A Quiet Passion
Mackenzie Davis, Blade Runner 2049
Jennifer Ehle, A Quiet Passion
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Elisabeth Moss, The Square
Michelle Pfeiffer, Mother!
Miranda Richardson, Stronger
Rachael Stirling, Their Finest

Related:
My Best Supporting Actress picks from past years (2004-2016)
My Best Actress picks from 2017 (TBA)
My Best Actor picks from 2017 (TBA)
My Best Supporting Actor picks from 2017

18 January 2018

Thelma

Thelma felt sort of cliché. I wanted to love it because I love Joachim Trier, but this movie seemed like a retread of X-Men and Raw, and not in a good way. It's basic message is that you have to kill your parents, and, like, I already know that, so I'm gonna need this film to come up with something better.

Also, maybe it is the atheism talking, but when I'm watching a character have an interior struggle that involves religion vs. queerness I get bored very quickly. This is because I know that if religion wins out your movie has a serious problem. And so I know that religion isn't going to win out. This isn't just a plot problem – although it is a plot problem, because there are not really any stakes – it's also a problem of my own interests. I am just not interested in religion: in queer people's religion, in straight people's religion, in Christianity, in Islam, in Judaism, in any of them. I just don't care. I know that a lot of people do care, but I am not one of them. If I had known Thelma was in the least bit about a young woman's struggle between queer desire and Christianity, I would have passed on it.

But, Joachim Trier, I still love you!

16 January 2018

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

There is a ton to say about The Killing of a Sacred Deer. In the first place, it's an old-school Greek tragedy, with a central daimon who enacts vengeance – what the Athenians called necessity – against someone, and by extension, his family. But, of course, this is Yorgos Lanthimos, so Sacred Deer is totally batshit.

The thing is, this film, by comparison to The Lobster and Dogtooth, actually isn't nearly as crazy. In many ways it is rather straightforward.

I was into it, anyway.

The film's best parts are the "normal" stuff, before the movie goes ancient on us. I loved the ancient tragedy stuff, too, don't get me wrong. But my favorite parts of any Lanthimos movie are his versions of normal, bourgeois behavior, where people speak in stilted ways and make slightly odd requests of one another.

The other great thing about Sacred Deer is the work of the actors. Colin Farrell is positively killing the game this year (he turns out great performances in this, in Roman J. Israel, and in The Beguiled) and every other year, if we are all honest. (Can you remember him giving a performance that wasn't good? I can't.) He is great in this. And Nicole Kidman has got to be the most fearless female movie star working right now. Do you know any other actress of her caliber who is willing to get naked and play a character this nuts for a film as small as Sacred Deer, a film that has zero awards ambitions? Kidman is doing the work. She isn't in it for the awards. She's making interesting film after interesting film and choosing them carefully.

And then there's Barry Keoghan, the film's strange minister of justice. He's good in Dunkirk, but he's electric in this. Creepy and sexy and compelling while also being totally terrifying. It's a really extraordinary performance.

I read one criticism of Sacred Deer that accused Lanthimos of being on autopilot – that this film just feels like a poor man's copy of his earlier stuff. This strikes me as unfair. Lanthimos is still getting stellar performances out of his actors; he's still creating strange worlds; he's still exploring bourgeois values and relationships. And this movie does all of those things in a slightly new way. It is definitely worth a watch. I found it totally enjoyable.

Best Supporting Actor 2017

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.

COSMO JARVIS, Lady Macbeth
 

BILL NIGHY, Their Finest

RORY COCHRANE, Hostiles

 BARRY KEOGHAN, The Killing of a Sacred Deer

MICHAEL STUHLBARG, Call Me by Your Name

Also loved:
Christopher Abbott, It Comes at Night
Vincent Cassel, Juste la Fin du Monde (It's Only the End of the World)
Timothée Chalamet, Lady Bird
Kevin Costner, Molly's Game
Kamel El Basha, The Insult (ضية رقم ٢٣)
Joonas Koff, Miekkailija (The Fencer)
Ben Mendelsohn, Darkest Hour
Jason Mitchell, Detroit
Rob Morgan, Mudbound
Benny Safdie, Good Time
Algee Smith, Detroit

Related:
My Best Actress picks from 2017 (TBA)
My Best Actor picks from 2017 (TBA)
My Best Supporting Actress picks from 2017 (TBA)

14 January 2018

The Last Jedi


I kinda liked this. I mean, I think Star Wars is sort of dumb, so I guess I am not the right audience, but it hit all the right buttons as far as I am concerned. It was way too fuckin' long, and, as always, it was self-important, but mostly I was into The Last Jedi.

It's Only the End of the World

A family screaming at one another for 90 minutes. Why? Vincent Cassel yells well, and I liked him, but otherwise I don't understand this film. Sometimes this happens with Xavier Dolan, and I feel like the movie is just people shrieking at each other (that Laurence Anyways was exactly like this, although this one was mercifully about an hour shorter than Laurence).

I love this cast: Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel. But what is this movie other than yelling? I have no interest in this kind of nonsense. It's like a bad play. No thanks.

Maybe Dolan is processing something, but I'm bored.

Victoria and Abdul

Yes, apparently people make movies like this. But I'm not really sure why. I know everyone needs movies; they can't all be made just for me to enjoy. But who is a movie like this for? In the first place, Victoria and Abdul is just a retread of Mrs Brown. That movie also starred Judi Dench. So, we've already had our let's-humanize-Queen-Victoria moment. In fact, The Young Victoria (also a ridiculous film) tried this as well. Why do we need to have another one of these?

Worse yet, this let's-humanize-Queen-Victoria movie has this entirely absurd colonialist apology as its basis. The whole point of Victoria and Abdul is to show us how much this Muslim Indian man loved Queen Victoria and was loyal to her, even after she died.

What is the point of this? So this man was loyal to the woman who was in charge of the imperial power that colonized his country and enslaved his people. This is a good thing? We are supposed to be moved / pleased / charmed that this man loved Queen Victoria and that they had some sort of friendship?

This movie would still be bad, of course, even if it hated colonialism, but I am not sure I understand why this movie loves colonialism. I just don't get it.

12 January 2018

This Won Best Drama at the Golden Globes, But...

I have to say I quite liked Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. And I think I liked it for an odd couple of reasons. What I mean is that the reasons that I was into the movie now feel sort of odd to me since it is getting so many accolades... and also now getting trashed by other folks. (Trashing a Best Picture winner is called backlash, of course, and all movies that move into the frontrunner position get trashed, so this is to be expected.)

The thing is, I don't like Martin McDonagh's work. (Or his brother's work, if I'm honest.) And I should like it, right? I mean, theatre people love Martin McDonagh, especially my students. They love his plays The Lieutenant of Inishmore and that one about child torture – what's that one called? – The Pillowman. My students (perpetually in their 20s) and many many other people seem to love McDonagh. And I have heard no one say a negative word about his film In Bruges, a movie that everyone seemed to love. But I find McDonagh (both McDonaghs) to be cynical and, well, ethically questionable. I find them frustrating in their treatment of violence as mostly funny. They take this amused point of view toward violence that makes it seem like getting punched in the face or falling down stairs or getting a drill pushed through a thumb is cause for laughter. I've complained about this before here (while talking about John Michael McDonagh's film Calvary) and here (while talking about 7 Psychopaths).

I love McDonagh's early play The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and his work began in the UK during a period I positively adore in the 1990s called In-Yer-Face theatre or New Brutalism – the time of Tracey Emin and the YBAs. This is a time period that is actually characterized by violence and drug use and onstage sex acts. But those plays almost always are very careful about the way they present violence. They're interested in asking the audience to think differently about the violence they're witnessing. The plays ask for a new ethics of violence or at least a rethinking of the ethics of violence to which we are accustomed. McDonagh's work doesn't do that (as far as I can tell).

Ok. But. I actually thought that Three Billboards sort of grabbed ahold of this and made it work. The film is an odd amalgam of violent images, cheap sentiment, and real ethical quandaries. And to my mind it worked much better than most McDonagh – including In Bruges and 7 Psychopaths – and it asked me to think about some interesting things.

The plot of Three Billboards is that a woman whose daughter has been raped and murdered and then burned until she is unrecognizable decides that the police haven't been doing anything, and so she needs to do something herself. She rents three billboards that call out the sheriff by name and then ask why he hasn't arrested anyone yet. It's an outstanding political move, but it quickly makes her an enemy of the people, as folks in Ebbing, Missouri side with the sheriff, begin to feel sorry for him, accuse this woman of hating the police, etc. People get distracted. They terrorize her; they shun her kid at school; they try destroy the billboards. The billboards rightly call out law enforcement for not having done their jobs, but people are more interested in accusing the woman of hating the police.

All I could think of for the entire movie was the Colin Kaepernick protests about the deaths of black men at the hands of police in the United States. Kaepernick kneels. He asks us to do something about the police killing unarmed black men. He attempts to call attention to something that is a real problem in the United States, a problem that has real, life-and-death consequences. ... And then all people want to talk about is the way he "disrespects" the United States flag. Right? Like, it is so difficult to talk about the issue of police killing unarmed black men and boys that we can't bear to talk about it, so instead we shift the discussion to "respect" for the stars and stripes. And I hear people say Well, he should have protested a different way, and all I can think is Well, we should stop supporting police who kill people, but I guess some folks think one problem is more important than the other.

This is how I understood the entirety of Three Billboards: as a lengthy meditation on Kaepernick and the hostility shown toward him and others who decided to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. (The outrage over this actually caught me a little off guard. I really don't understand why people are/were so angry at him.) What happens in Three Billboards is that people are in such a habit of siding with police, so invested in the pretense that "law and order" is functioning well in this country, that they are willing to support police officers who torture those they incarcerate and willing to turn against those who demonstrate that law and order isn't actually working the way that it should. The people in the film hate that someone is calling bullshit on law enforcement so they attack the person who is yelling bullshit instead of attacking the problem she is attempting to describe. For me, this aspect of the film works superbly, and I loved this part of it.

I recently read a piece arguing that Three Billboards is not smart about race. I suppose I don't really disagree. The movie's use of racial slurs for comedic purposes are typically McDonagh, and if they work in the UK context, they seemed stupid to me. But the piece also (intriguingly) makes the claim that the movie didn't need to be about race in the first place, arguing that McDonagh should just have left race out of his film, since his film isn't about race.  

Isn't about race? I submit that if a film is about prison or the police or the criminal justice system in the United States, then it is definitely a film about racism, even if it doesn't want to be.

Three Billboards is an uneven film. It tries to combine sentimentality, comedy, and a clever plot. But it can't really manage this combination. It simply isn't savage enough. There are long sequences where the film asks us to feel sorry for the policemen it criticizes – not in a serious way, but in a shallow oh-it's-hard-for-them-too kind of way – and these don't work. They made me want to check my watch and return to the main storyline. And McDonagh dwells in these areas for far longer even than make narrative sense.

When we left the theatre, Alexandrew, my companion, offered that (although he hated to say it) the movie would have been directed better by Tarantino. I have to (but not as reluctantly as Alex) agree. McDonagh wants to have sentimentality and brutality and comedy. We are supposed to say awwww when Frances McDormand doesn't want to have sex with Peter Dinklage, when Woody Harrelson writes a sappy letter to his wife, when we learn more about Sam Rockwell. But all of this sentimentality is awkward. It gets in the way of the film's real social analysis. It moves the film into cheap territory and away from the real thinking that I think Three Billboards had the potential to inspire.

08 January 2018

Lady Florence Pugh


Every performance in Lady Macbeth is perfectly calibrated and fascinating. This is a wonderfully directed feminist murder story that is easily one of the best movies of the year.

(Lady Macbeth honestly hasn't a thing to do with the eponymous Lady M.)

I loved it. It's compelling and sexy and everything The Beguiled wished it was. I can't recommend this enough. Everyone should see it.

Queen of Cannes as Queen of the Desert

Queen of the Desert is, perhaps, an interesting true story, if indeed it is true.


Gertrude Bell travels to the near East where she befriends and learns about the Bedouins and becomes a British agent who eventually divides up Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

Nicole Kidman is in full period-piece diva mode here. And she is fine in this tepid film. Robert Pattinson works very well as T.E. Lawrence. Oh and James Franco is in this. As Kidman's first love. I actually had forgotten he was in this – the film sort of forgets about him as we move along – and I saw this movie two months ago.

The problem is that if the true story of Gertrude Bell is interesting, and it very well might be, Werner Herzog's film isn't very interesting (Werner Herzog made this film??). It's more like a rather dull historical pageant flavored with two love stories to spice it up a bit.

07 January 2018

One of My Favorite Films of 2017

A Ghost Story is one of my favorite movies of the year. Right now I have it at #2. It's a beautiful film.

A Ghost Story is a haunting, mysterious fable about longevity, about what lives on after us, about letting go. It also manages to be whimsical in lots of ways, and to rethink what we even mean by a ghost. The image of the ghost with the sheet over its head and holes for eyes is a very old one – a child's image of a ghost, or perhaps a Hayao Miyazaki image of a ghost. This is childish or whimsical; it's even sort of silly. But it turns serious quite quickly, even haunting, and there is an extraordinary payoff to its sheet-over-the-head aesthetic.

David Lowery's film is a kind of fusion of Kelly Reichardt, Tsai Ming-Liang, Terrence Malick, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and it was just my cup of tea. The thing is, it doesn't feel derivative. It feels totally original and fascinating, and once you think you've figured it out, it goes further, into uncharted, strange territory.

(One warning. This is not a long movie at all, but it is a slow, contemplative film. If you don't like Reichardt, or Tsai or Weerasethakul, you will be annoyed by this movie's pace.)

The film's third act is my favorite section of the film. These parts of the film are about time and waiting and being. At one point we seem to project thousands of years into the future and then jump back another thousand and start again. A Ghost Story wonders what it means to live on, to live with, what it means to be in the first place. This meditation is about how people (or things?) haunt us – it is a ghost story, after all – but it is itself haunting, as we might think about how we are going to live on or what came before us or, indeed, what we are in the first place.

I loved this movie.

03 January 2018

The Oscars, the Golden Globes, and the Best Foreign Language Film

There are five nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes. They are:
  • Angelina Jolie's First They Killed My Father (មុនដំបូងខ្មែរក្រហមសម្លាប់ប៉ារបស់ខ្ញុំ), 
  • Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless (Нелюбовь), 
  • Sebastián Lelio's A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantastica)
  • Fatih Akın's In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts), and 
  • Ruben Östlund's The Square
All of these films have been released for at least a week in the U.S. so far, and I have managed to see them all. More on each in a bit.

Nominees for the Foreign Language category at the Globes work differently than nominees for that category at the Oscars. At the Globes, any foreign language film can be nominated as long as it qualifies (i.e. as long as it meets the U.S. release criteria). What's interesting here is that these are foreign (non-American) journalists choosing a "best foreign language film", that is, a best foreign-to-the-U.S. film. This strikes me as odd, but maybe that just looks weird to me today.

Nominees for the Foreign Language category at the Oscars need to be released not in the U.S. but in the country of origin. In this way, the Oscars are usually several months ahead of films released in the U.S. Many of the films nominated in this category at the Oscars will not yet have had U.S. release dates. Some will, of course, but many will not. Because the films are selected by the countries themselves, and because only one film can be selected by each country, films get left out. France selected Robin Campillo's 120 Beats per Minute this year instead of a number of other options, including one of my favorite films of the year, François Ozon's Frantz. A film like last year's Aquarius, which the Brazilian government felt was critical of its policies, will not get chosen. And a horror film, like Julia Doucournau's Raw (Grave) (another favorite of mine from this year), almost never has a chance to be chosen by a nation to represent it at the Oscars.

In fact, we already know that when the Oscar nominations come out on January 23rd they aren't going to match the Golden Globe list. AMPAS has released a shortlist of nine films from which they will choose their final five nominees. Those films are:
  • A Fantastic Woman,
  • Alain Gomis's Félicité,
  • Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט),
  • In the Fade,
  • Ziad Doueiri's The Insult (ضية رقم ٢٣),
  • Loveless,
  • Ildikó Enyedi's On Body and Soul (Testről és Lélekről),
  • The Square, and
  • John Trengove's The Wound (Inxeba).

These are films from Chile, Senegal, Israel, Germany, Lebanon, Russia, Hungary, Sweden, and South Africa. A fairly nice range, although the Academy has historically ignored films from East Asia, and this list certainly replicates that history of snubbing.

Snubbed Cantonese film Mad World
This also means that the Academy has already decided not to choose films that have been popular with critics, such as France's 120 Beats per Minute, Spain's Summer 1993, Cambodia's First They Killed My Father, Argentina's Zama, or a film I'm really excited about from Belgium, Racer and the Jailbird.

Lots of people complain about the way AMPAS runs this category. I am not one of those people. To my mind, the idiosyncratic way that the Academy deals with foreign language films just puts more films on my radar. See, I'm already planning to see the critically acclaimed films the Academy is ignoring. Zama, Racer and the Jailbird, 120 Beats, Thelma, Tom of Finland, A Ciambra, Happy End – these films are already on my list of movies to see. But On Body and Soul, Félicité, and The Wound certainly were not. ... And now they are. As I see it, the Academy's odd choices just give me more films to see, they direct me toward stuff I wasn't already paying attention to. I see this as just more of a good thing.

In any case, here is what I thought of the five Foreign Language nominees for the Golden Globes:

* * *
I thought First They Killed My Father was a giant leap forward for Angelina Jolie, and is definitely her best film to date. This movie was way, way better than I thought it was going to be. The film represents a marked, significant improvement from Unbroken. Jolie is still interested in characters who are unconquerable – survivors who make it through awful things – but this one is told with real intrigue and nuance. The plot centers around a young woman in Cambodia who is imprisoned in a child labor camp by the Khmer Rouge. We follow her and her troubles very closely, and the camera is intimately connected to our protagonist. Perhaps because it is about a child, Jolie's work diffuses from its normal insistent storytelling and focuses more on experience and fear rather than reportage. It's strong work.

Another thing that this film avoids because it is about a child are those formative "childhood years" sections of Unbroken, where we see some kind of insistent will to survive even as a child that then is later manifest in the adult who manages to deal with such terrible things. First They Killed My Father needs to find that courage in the child herself, and so it looks to the sequence of events that create courage or survival rather than attempting to locate some internal essence of unconquerability. In any case, this is a good film and well worth seeing.

Also, Netflix loves a film about child soldiers. (This is no Beasts of No Nation, to be sure, but it is good.)

* * *
Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev's even chillier follow-up to the already very chilly films Leviathan and Elena, is gorgeous. I absolutely loved this film. This is, I think, saying a lot because Loveless is, as you might imagine from its title, not exactly a lovable film. This film is an unflinching and even merciless exploration of one couple's lack of care for their twelve-year-old son. This movie is bleak, y'all.

But what is the point of it? my mother asked me, when I explained this movie to her.  

Loveless is a portrait of modern Russia, of course, but it is much more than that, and I found plenty with which to identify that looks familiar to this North American. Loveless is about the ways that the state has stopped caring about actual people and the issues they face; it's about the bureaucracies designed to assist people that end up getting in the way of helping them. It's also about human selfishness, about our contemporary cult of making ourselves happy – about finding ourselves, about being the best versions of ourselves – and about how those seemingly benign or even healthy ideas often conflict with taking care of the people in our lives, loving those in our orbit, making space for others.

In many ways, too, this is a movie about the horrors of modern progress – what it might look like to focus only on ourselves and our own desires and needs. As I said, this is a cold film. It's a tough portrait of modern life. I found it hard hitting and uncompromising, and I loved it.

* * *
Sebastián Lelio's most recent film, A Fantastic Woman, is a movie about a trans woman named Marina in Chile whose boyfriend dies. She then must grieve, while also dealing with police bureaucracy and the man's hostile family. I had high hopes for A Fantastic Woman, mostly because Lelio made the delightful film Gloria a couple of years ago, and I was so taken by the brilliant performance at the center of Gloria, by the superb actress Paulina García.

A Fantastic Woman is not even remotely comparable to Gloria. Of course, Gloria is a comedy and Fantastic Woman is a rather serious drama, but Lelio's gifts do not translate well to this tragedy. In fact (and paradoxically) the film is best when it is playing for laughs. There are, for example, some delightful sequences in which Marina and her sister banter, and the best sequence in A Fantastic Woman is a fantasy dance sequence, in which the queer club is portrayed as a place of freedom and fabulousness, a space of infinite possibility.

But the real trouble with A Fantastic Woman is that it doesn't have Paulina García in it. Marina is played by singer Daniela Vega, and the actress comes alive when she is singing, but for the entirety of the rest of the film, her performance felt wooden and uncomfortable. She seems to have absolutely no connection with her boyfriend in the movie, and the affectlessness that marked her performance left me bored for most of the movie's running time.

* * *
Honestly, I don't think there is much to say about Fatih Akın's movie In the Fade. It struck me as a fairly generic legal-crime thriller. Diane Krüger won Best Actress at Cannes for the movie, but the best performance in the movie is by Denis Moschitto, who plays her lawyer friend.

The truth is, I've never really loved a Fatih Akın movie. I keep watching them since he first broke through with Head-On, but I thought The Edge of Heaven and The Cut were both good but not great. And In the Fade doesn't break any new ground from the standard revenge drama. In fact, Akın's work is occasionally frustratingly over-the-top. When Krüger first loses her husband she weeps and thrashes at a level ten. When this first happens I thought, where are we supposed to go from here? Indeed, there isn't really anywhere to go, and Krüger weeps through the entirety of the movie.

It isn't that I don't sympathize. The woman is supposed to have lost her husband and son to neo-Nazi terrorist murderers. Fine. But with Krüger having all of the feelings, I didn't really feel invited to have any of my own.

In the Fade is, of course, not completely without merit. As I said, Moschitto's performance is excellent, and there are some great moments interrogating the terrorists' father and German complicity with anti-foreign sentiment and terrorism. But this film doesn't really have much going for it.

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And then there is The Square, which is easily one of my favorite movies of the year. Ruben Östlund, who directed this film, has made an absolutely hilarious satire of art and modernity and decadence. This is a superb, outrageous, jaw-dropping film, and I can't wait to see it again. It stars Claes Bang as a director of a museum, and it so. damn. funny. I can't recommend this movie enough.

The Square follows the dramaturgical structure that I have come to think of as an Asghar Farhadi structure, where some event that seems singular – or, perhaps remarkable but rather simple – begins to grow more and more complicated as more and different people respond to that event. In this way the movie is able to take up numerous perspectives not just on a single event, but also to show its audience where all kinds of different people are coming from, and in this way explore not only this event from numerous angles, but also explore numerous different life-worlds.

You might remember that Östlund's last movie was Force Majeure, which was in incisive exploration of masculinity using this same Farhadi structure. Östlund's new film is equally wise and equally clever, and it's brilliantly well made. The Square also stars Elizabeth Moss (hilarious) and Dominic West (equally hilarious). Watch the trailer and then go see this movie.