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

18 February 2018

The Untamed

Forget The Shape of Water. This is the real sex-with-sea-monsters movie. Except that La Región Salvaje (The Untamed) is creepy and troubling and also actually quite sexy. I am not sure I love the filmmaking here—it's a little flat sometimes—but this movie had lots of surprises in store for me. And I loved that. Also, this movie goes there. It waits until act three to really let us see what we've been imagining, but once we're in act three, The Untamed lets loose. Simone Bucio, the main actress in The Untamed, it should be noted, is excellent.

The Ornithologist

The Ornithologist is beautiful and creepy and strange and super gay and filled with religious imagery. (The photography that opens the movie is truly stunning.) This film is supposed to be a kind of travesty or perverse reading of the story of St. Anthony of Padua. I didn't really understand much of this St. Anthony stuff, and wikipedia was no help at all, but I still liked this. It's so fucking weird.

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 7 of 12 (Live-action Short Films)

Back to Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, or Part 6.

The Eleven O'clock
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Derin Seale
Cast: Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman, Jessica Donoghue, Eliza Logan

This is cute, and it;s the only comedic film in the bunch, so I don't really see how it can lose. The joke is that a psychiatrist has a patient who believes that he is a psychiatrist. Hilarity and confusion ensue. It's written like a clever little David Ives play, and its single joke works three or four times – if not the ten or twelve times that the filmmakers want it to work, but as I say, this is a successful little thing, if slight.
Will Win: Live-action Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #3 out of 5

The Silent Child
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Chris Overton
Cast: Rachel Shenton, Maisie Sly, Rachel Fielding, Anna Barry, Philip York, Sam Rees, Annie Cusselle

This is a very serious film about deaf children who are born to hearing parents and who are then left to fend for themselves at school, trained to read lips instead of learn sign language, etc. The filmmaking here is really excellent, and the acting is also quite good, but the film has something to say and so, while it promises intriguing plot developments at one point, The Silent Child ends up being a public service announcement that doesn't get under the skin and might as well be an essay or an article in the New York Times. This film has noble sentiments behind it, but as a film it's a clunker. Which obviously means, I think it is the runner up for the Oscar. It tugs at the heartstrings just enough to be the other real contender for the trophy on March 4.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #4 out of 5

Watu Wote: All of Us
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Katja Benrath
Cast: Adelyne Wairimu, Abdiwala Farrah, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Saada Mohammed, Mahad Ahmed, Charles Karumi

I liked this movie. This one, like The Silent Child, is trying to do a kind of public service announcement, bring-awareness-to-an-issue kind of thing. This is not good, but Watu Wote: All of Us is much more successful in doing what it's trying to do. Set on a bus between Nairobi and Somalia, the plot involves a Christian woman who hates Muslims and who learns a lesson when the bus is attacked by Al-Shabaab militiamen.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #2 out of 5

My Nephew Emmett
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Kevin Wilson Jr.
Cast: L.B Williams, Jasmine Guy, Dane Rhodes, Joshua Wright, Chris Steele, Ethan Leaverton, Dorian Davis

This is a movie about Emmett Till, but I wish it were also a good movie about Emmett Till. The filmmaker shoots the story beautifully, and he tries to give us a sense of the terror of life under Jim Crow, but instead My Nephew Emmett feels slow and, frankly, boring. Wilson knows we know what is about to happen, and so he spends time building up to the violent finish. This strikes me as an odd choice, especially considering the fracas surrounding the Dana Schutz painting at the Whitney Biennial this year. What many artists and other complained about, in regard to Schutz's (extraordinary) painting, is that reveling in black suffering and black pain is insensitive and perhaps unnecessary. I am not sure I agree in total with this line of thinking, but it was certainly running through my head as I watched Kathryn Bigelow's recent Detroit, and I was thinking about it again while I watched My Nephew Emmett. The main problem, however, with Wilson's film is that the lead actor, L.B. Williams, gives a decidedly odd performance, one that struck me as inept and just slightly off the entire time.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 5

DeKalb Elementary
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Reed Van Dyk
Cast: Shinelle Azoroh, Bo Mitchell, Del Hunter-White, Cain Thomas

This is definitely my favorite of the five films. DeKalb Elementary is about an active shooter situation at an elementary school in Georgia. This film is superbly made. It builds tension perfectly, and even though the story is mostly simple, Van Dyk scares us over and over again, and we feel the terror of the situation acutely. I watched this movie in rapt attention. And Shinelle Azoroh, who plays the film's main character, is excellent. I don't think this movie will win; it's too good, really, and too serious to compete with the more audience-friendly films on the list. But this one is the best of the five.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 out of 5

17 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 6 of 12

Back to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5.

1 Nomination
  • Adapted Screenplay: Scott Frank (Out of Sight) & Michael Green & James Mangold
Director: Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard E. Grant

The absolute best X-men movie we've ever had. I cannot believe this got an Oscar nomination, but goddammit it deserves this. The strongest component of Logan is, of course, its script, which is smart and poignant and (actually) quite moving. But the quality that makes Logan stand out from other X-men movies specifically and other superhero movies in general is that this superhero movie is rated R. The R rating made Logan into what it is. We've never seen Wolverine's claws wreak the bloody havoc they wreak in this movie. We've never seen the pain that Logan feels, the agony he experiences as bullets rip through his flesh, before. Mangold's willingness to do this, to go there – as well as Fox's willingness to allow this – elevates the level of the film to the level of something important. This isn't a stupid action movie where no one gets hurt. In this film, people are bodies. They get wounded, they hurt, they break apart. It's not only an ethical move for a superhero movie, it also makes for great storytelling. This is one of my favorite movies of the year.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #16 out of 81

The Big Sick
1 Nomination
  • Original Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Cast: Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Zoe Kazan, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, David Alan Grier

This is funny and romantic and I really liked it. I am really happy it got this nomination, too, because the entire enterprise is cute and very funny. Holly Hunter is also excellent in the movie. I can recommend this to everyone. I don't think there's anyone who won't like this movie. It isn't going to win the Oscar, but this nomination is great news for Nanjiani's career.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #23 out of 81

The Florida Project
1 Nomination
  • Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire, Platoon)
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Dafoe, Christopher Rivera, Aiden Malik, Valeria Cotto, Mela Murder, Josie Olivo, Caleb Landry Jones

Ugh. I have already detailed my experience with this film, which I so wanted to be good. But The Florida Project is not good, and I have, frankly, been completely baffled by the love that so many American critics have shown this shallow, meaningless movie. Sean Baker is a filmmaker that deliberately tries to avoid saying anything, and so his movies finally provide no insight into the characters he has created. I felt this with Tangerine and it is true again with The Florida Project. I am an empathetic person, and so I find this entire enterprise incredibly frustrating. It's just all so shallow, and actually it begins to feel sort of hostile after a while. The more that I think about how The Florida Project works, the more I feel as though it is contemptuous of its intriguing characters. But I guess I am supposed to be talking about Willem Dafoe... Dafoe is excellent in this movie, and not only because he is an actor among non-actors doing excellent work (he also has a superb scene with Caleb Landry Jones, who is an actor and is also in Three Billboards). Dafoe's characterization is beautiful and humane and I would be totally pleased if he won the Oscar for this. But fuck this movie.

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Supporting Actor
My Rating: #76 out of 81

All the Money in the World
1 Nomination
  • Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Last Station)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Plummer, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Timothy Hutton

This film is surprisingly slow, and I am not sure I understand what it is trying to do. I think that's because this movie isn't quite sure what it is trying to do. Is this a meditation on wealth and greed, and perhaps on how being totally greedy keeps one from having real feelings toward family or real relationships with those one supposedly loves? Or is this an action-movie-slash-heist-movie about a kidnapping and rescue. As it turns out, All the Money in the World does both of these things halfway, and doesn't do either of them very well. Michelle Williams spends the whole movie doing a kind of Natalie-Portman-in-Jackie accent that – even if it's accurate – sounds stilted and strange and made me doubt her sincerity. Mark Wahlberg is completely and totally miscast, like a bull in a strange china shop. And then there is the Kevin Spacey–Christopher Plummer debacle (or is it a saga?). Plummer is fine in the part, but the ghost of Kevin Spacey, who was fired while the movie was in post-production, haunts this whole enterprise. It would feel like more of a triumph if the movie were any good, but it's mostly not.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #68 out of 81

15 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 5 of 12

Back to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.

2 Nominations
  • Animated Feature
  • Song – "Remember Me": Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen) & Robert Lopez (Frozen)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Sigüenza

This is easily the best animated feature of the year (I'll talk more about the scraping of the bottom of the barrel that this year's nominations are in another post). But, don't let the lack of competition fool you. Coco is actually brilliant. It may look like a retread of The Book of Life; it's not. This movie is breathtakingly gorgeous, vividly imagined, and the story is told beautifully. The songs are lovely, the acting is wonderful, and I cried several times. There was a moment in the middle of the movie when Miguel, the young protagonist, has his guitar taken from him by his abuela, and I reacted so strongly and violently that I realized I was completely in love with Coco, and that was before little Miguel reached the land of the dead and I realized that this was going to be the most finely realized Pixar movie yet. The animation is stunning. This is in my top ten films of the year. It's better than The Shape of Water; it's better than Three Billboards; it's better than Lady Bird; it's better than Get Out. And it deserves to win both of the Oscars for which it is nominated.
Will Win: Animated Feature, Song
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #9 out of 80

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
1 Nomination
  • Actor: Denzel Washington (Fences, Flight, Training Day, The Hurricane, Malcolm X, Glory, Cry Freedom)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Washington, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell, Lynda Gravátt, Amanda Warren, Tony Plana, Hugo Armstrong, Amari Cheatom, DeRon Horton, Sam Gilroy, Ludwig Manukian

This isn't terrible, honestly. Denzel is quite excellent, and I'm glad he got nominated (especially since I pregamed this movie), but this movie has serious script problems. I rather liked it for much of its running time, and watching Washington make the acting moves he makes is very interesting. As I said in my longer review, he is constantly surprising, and the part is really different from parts he usually plays these days, but I think that is really the only selling point this movie might have. It is a clunkily told story about ethics in Los Angeles that can't quite ever seem to focus on its themes because it is too obsessed with its plot – a plot which is not as well thought-out as it might have been in the first place. Washington can't win this year, even though most people agree he was a close runner-up to last year's award. He'll need to be part of a movie more widely loved in order to win this trophy again, but this nomination is well-deserved.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #45 out of 80

Molly's Game
1 Nomination
  • Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, The Social Network)
Director: Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, Bill Camp, Angela Gots, Brian d'Arcy James, J.C. MacKenzie

I thought this worked really well and I liked it a lot. It moves quickly and with purpose, and it only gets slowed down twice. (There's a stupid sequence in which we learn about Molly using drugs and another slow sequence in which she heals from a violent attack. Both of these sequences break the contract the narrator and filmmaker have made with the audience.) But actually – and this surprised me – I thought Sorkin's direction was mostly great. This is perhaps not too surprising, and it is also true that this film might have been better with a more experienced director reining him in at certain times, but I confess that I like this snappy Sorkin dialogue, and if I wasn't completely on board with the film's ethical arguments (which quote Arthur Miller directly), I had fun at this movie. It felt like a window into something I know nothing about, and the lightness of the whole thing was amusing throughout.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #31 out of 80

The Disaster Artist
1 Nomination
  • Adapted Screenplay: Michael H. Weber & Scott Neustadter
Director: James Franco
Cast: Franco, Dave Franco, Zac Efron, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Ari Graynor, Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullally

I've written about this film and its drawbacks already, so I won't rehearse all that again. What I didn't say is that this film does feel like a kind of extension of Franco's work. I think Franco is building a kind of film directing oeuvre that makes sense, or at least he is making films that hang together in some way. The Disaster Artist is, in many ways, very similar to Interior. Leather Bar., for example. Mostly, though, I think The Disaster Artist falls short of what it could have been. It doesn't explore Tommy Wiseau deeply enough to be really interesting, and it is too busy laughing at him to get under his skin. Is Wiseau gay? Is Wiseau an obsessive? Is he clueless? In love? Terrified? Desperate? Who is this dude? It isn't enough to say "no one knows", but that is what this film chooses to do.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #55 out of 80

13 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 4 of 12

Back to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

Baby Driver
3 Nominations
  • Film Editing: Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jaime Foxx, Eiza González, CJ Jones, Jon Bernthal

This is the year's best musical – I think we can all agree on that – and it works very well and deserves all three of its nominations. Maybe it will even win one or two of them? The Academy has been much better about these categories lately, giving a very deserved film editing Oscar to Tom Cross for Whiplash just three years ago. The year after that the Oscar went to Mad Max: Fury Road, and last year it went, not to Moonlight or La La Land but to Hacksaw Ridge. So who knows. Maybe Baby Driver will win an Oscar. Somehow I don't think so, though. I don't think the movie will play well to most Academy voters (it's so young and hip and smug), and it also has the currently-anathema Kevin Spacey in a very large role.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
My Rating: #30 out of 79

The Post
2 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actress: Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins, Into the Woods, August: Osage County, The Iron Lady, Julie & Julia, Doubt, The Devil Wears Prada, Adaptation., Music of the Heart, One True Thing, The Bridges of Madison County, Postcards from the Edge, A Cry in the Dark, Ironweed, Out of Africa, Silkwood, Sophie's Choice, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Deer Hunter)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Cross

Sigh. Meryl Streep again. The Academy does this every year. This year, however, she deserves her nomination, even if she didn't deserve the last three. There is plenty to say about The Post, too. It's the Best Picture nominee with the least number of nominations, which means it was passed over in the Screenplay category, editing, other acting slots, and direction. I liked The Post a lot, but I think this is still the right decision. The film feels slightly unfinished, as though it was rushed into production and rushed (ahem) in post. It's a Spielberg picture, too, so it is mostly interested in feelings and not really invested in interrogating the material problems of the press's relationship with the U.S. government or the press's relationship to the public. Instead, Spielberg zooms in on his characters' emotional journeys, giving short shrift to intellectual exploration of any kind. And then he tacks on (as usual) an extra ending. The film can't just end once; it has to end a second time with an on-the-nose Watergate reference that anyone could see a mile away. Since this film has only two nominations, Best Picture and Best Actress, this is a good place to talk about something I noticed about this year's Best Picture nominees. Normally, commentators (correctly) note that Best Picture is generally linked very closely with Best Actor. But this year, the film's are split evenly: four films (Three Billboards, Lady Bird, Shape of Water, The Post) are nominated for both Best Picture and Best Actress, and four films (Phantom Thread, Get Out, Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour) are nominated for both Best Picture and Best Actor. No film shares a Best Actor and a Best Actress nominee this year. I am not sure this is a trend or anything, but I think it is worth noting.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #20 out of 79

Beauty and the Beast
2 Nominations
  • Production Design: Sarah Greenwood (Darkest Hour, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) & Katie Spencer (Darkest Hour, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice)
  • Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran (Darkest Hour, Mr. Turner, Anna Karenina, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice)
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan MacGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, Hattie Morahan

I hated at least six movies this year, and we could add to that another ten or eleven that I didn't like very much. But no movie this year was as useless as this Bill Condon mess, which is easily the year's worst musical while also being a complete waste of time. In the first place, this movie is simply a rehash of a film that is, if 25 years old, very very popular and widely remembered. In the second place, Condon brings absolutely nothing new to this remake. It is, to put it quite simply the same movie, with just a few things that are different – or rather they're out of place. I remember the original film so well, that anything that doesn't copy the original feels wrong, as though I am watching a nicely done but slightly off community theatre production of a play whose every word I've had memorized for twenty years. In the third place, they've treated Emma Watson's voice, which makes her singing sound strange and artificial. (What is the point of doing a live action movie if you're not going to let your actors sing?) In the fourth place, is this film even live action? Just like last year's Jungle Book, there's so much CGI in Beauty and the Beast that I can't imagine why anyone is bothering with this at all. (The number "Be Our Guest" is animated in its entirety, as far as I can tell.) The questions abound. Why is Audra McDonald using an Italian accent? Why is Lumiere's lover some kind of bird creature? Why is Emma Watson so bad in this? Why isn't Ewan McGregor Jerry Orbach? Why isn't Emma Thompson Angela Lansbury? (Thank goodness Céline Dion is still Céline Dion.) Poor Luke Evans, who I really really want to be in a good movie sometime soon, does a very good job trying to keep this movie afloat, but Beauty and the Beast sinks all the same. What a cynical, colossal waste of time!

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Production Design
My Rating: #79 out of 79

Victoria and Abdul
2 Nominations
  • Costume Design: Consolata Boyle (Florence Foster Jenkins, The Queen)
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Tim Piggot-Smith, Michael Gambon, Adeel Akhtar, Paul Higgins, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Badham, Robin Soans, Simon Callow, Ruth McCabe

The only thing I want to say about these two nominations is to brag about having successfully pregamed this movie. I don't think it can win either of these two Oscars and I don't think it should. I didn't think much of Victoria and Abdul, and I can't really figure out who likes things like this. I found the whole thing to be a kind of bizarre love letter to the British colonialism of India. But good for Consolata Boyle. I am glad she has gotten her third nomination, in any case.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #68 out of 79

08 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 3 of 12

Back to Part 1 or Part 2.

Call Me by Your Name
4 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actor: Timothée Chalamet 
  • Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory
  • Song – "Mystery of Love": Sufjan Stevens
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriola, Antonio Rimoldi

This is my favorite movie of the year. I love it unapologetically and unabashedly. One of my favorite things about it is that it is a deeply sensual film – like of all of Guadagnino's movies – but that when Elio falls in love with his idol Oliver, the film shows us this in ways other than the traditional male-gaze ways of doing this (normally the camera would focus on specific body parts and linger on them, and through this we would experience Elio's attraction to Oliver). But Guadagnino shows us that Elio sees Oliver not as a sex object but as a conquering hero, someone way cooler than him, someone free and unrestricted and confident, and it is this that attracts him. The novel on which this is based covers a great deal more area than this film; in the tradition of the coming-of-age movie, Guadagnino and Ivory's movie focuses on the one summer of Elio and Oliver's meeting, and only gestures toward the longterm effects of that summer. This is a choice that works well for the film. Movies need to cut down the plot elements in novels for time reasons (Mudbound ought to have taken a note about this). There is so much more to love about Call Me by Your Name. I think I loved every single scene. I found the whole thing deeply moving. I love this film, and so I also think it is ridiculous that it didn't get a best director nomination, that Michael Stuhlbarg didn't get a supporting actor nomination, that Walter Fasano isn't nominated for editing, and that Sayombu Mukdeeprom didn't get a cinematography nomination. Apparently this connected with Academy members fairly well, but they weren't as overwhelmed as I was. Oh well. As for winning Oscars, James Ivory is going to win. Although he has been nominated for directing A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day, this will be his first Oscar in his more-than-fifty-year career. I can't wait for his speech.
Will Win: Adapted Screenplay
Could Win: Actor, Song
My Rating: #1 out of 78

4 Nominations
  • Adapted Screenplay: Dee Rees & Virgil Williams
  • Supporting Actress: Mary J. Blige
  • Cinematography: Rachel Morrison
  • Song – "Mighty River": Mary J. Blige & Raphael Saadiq & Taura Stinson
Director: Rees
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Jonathan Banks, Kerry Cahill

This movie is a real disappointment, and I continue to be surprised that of all the Netflix movies that would actually break through, that it is this mess of a film that managed to do it. (Beasts of No Nation, which appeared only two years ago, easily deserved six nominations and got zero.) I guess what maybe is even more disappointing to me is that Dee Rees, whose first film was the lesbian coming-of-age drama Pariah made this rather boring movie that is mostly about straight white folks. I hope her next movie is a return to something interesting. I don't think I'll say anything more about the film; I've already written about how wooden I think Mary J. Blige is and what a mess the screenplay is, but I will say I recently saw Hostiles, and that film's cinematography is much, much, much better than the work in this movie. So now I'm annoyed about that nomination, too. Sigh. Who knows why the Academy likes what it likes.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Song
My Rating: #62 out of 78

Star Wars: Episode VIII – the Last Jedi
4 Nominations
  • Score: John Williams (Star Wars: Episode VII - the Force Awakens, The Book Thief, Lincoln, War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin, Munich, Memoirs of a Geisha, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Catch Me If You Can, Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Patriot, Angela's Ashes, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Sleepers, Nixon, Sabrina, Schindler's List, JFK, Home Alone, Born on the Fourth of July, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Accidental Tourist, Empire of the Sun, The Witches of Eastwick, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The River, Return of the Jedi, E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, The Towering Inferno, Tom Sawyer, Cinderella Liberty, Images, The Poseidon Adventure, Fiddler on the Roof, The Reivers, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Valley of the Dolls)
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Effects Editing
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hammill, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Serkis, Frank Oz, Lupita Nyong'o

Yesterday I listened to a friend of mine go on a rant about why this movie was not good, but his points were related to the plot choices that the series is making – not enough Skywalkers – and then also a discussion of the silliness of the movie, its irony about its own cheesiness. Obviously I am not really a fanboy of this series, and so it does not matter to me what they do plot-wise. And because I already think these movies are really cheesy, I rather like it better when a film admits to being silly, when it knows it is silly. As pertains to Oscar, I will say that I was actually sort of shocked that John Williams' score for this movie got nominated. The music branch will nominate Williams every single year – this is his 51st nomination. That certainly is no surprise, but it is odd to me that they didn't opt for his music for The Post instead of the recycled scoring in this movie. It's sort of embarrassing that they do this every year.
Will Win: Visual Effects
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #34 out of 78

I, Tonya
3 Nominations
  • Actress: Margot Robbie
  • Supporting Actress: Allison Janney
  • Film Editing: Tatiana S. Riegel
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Ricky Russert, Anthony Reynolds, Joshua Mikel

This movie was not for me. It was fun for everyone I saw it with, but I was rather annoyed with its single note, its almost complete lack of stakes, and its missed directing opportunities. I never knew what the stakes were at any given moment – if she wins this competition what happens? Does she get rich? Does she get an endorsement deal? Does she think she'll be happy? The movie never communicates any of this. This is partly because of the perspective that the film takes, where we're listening to interviews about something that happened a long time ago, but it is partly because the film doesn't script these things into what its doing and the direction is unclear. I liked Margot Robbie in the movie well enough, but Allison Janney plays the same scene again and again; I found this a bit exhausting, actually. The more I've thought about it, the more I think this movie would've been better if it had been a better sports movie.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Supporting Actress
My Rating: #50 out of 78

06 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 2 of 12

Back to Part 1.

Darkest Hour
6 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actor: Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
  • Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement), Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie))
  • Production Design: Sarah Greenwood (Beauty and the Beast, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) & Katie Spencer (Beauty and the Beast, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice)
  • Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran (Beauty and the Beast, Mr. Turner, Anna Karenina, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice)
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Nicholas Jones, Samuel West

This is the most traditional Oscar-bait movie of the year. It's a very good movie that is beautifully directed, gorgeously designed, and finely realized with some lovely performances. Early on in the year, it seemed poised to do very, very well with the Academy, but then most awards bodies ignored Darkest Hour with the exception of Gary Oldman's extraordinary central performance. But the Academy came through after all, and Joe Wright's excellent World War II drama got 6 nominations (a ton if you haven't been counting), including a Best Picture nomination. It deserves all of these nominations – I really liked this film – and will win two well-deserved Oscars.
Will Win: Actor, Makeup & Hairstyling
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #14 out of 78

Lady Bird
5 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Greta Gerwig
  • Actress: Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Atonement)
  • Original Screenplay: Greta Gerwig
  • Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf
Director: Gerwig
Cast: Ronan, Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Lois Smith, Stephen Henderson, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott, Odeya Rush, Jake McDorman, 

Lady Bird for the win! I think that of the most likely winners of the Best Picture Oscar – and it is still very much up in the air – I would be happiest with this one. Lady Bird is an absolute delight, and most importantly: this is a hilarious movie. Unlike most "comedies" that do well during awards season, this one is actually very funny. It also feels true and honest, and at times it becomes quite moving. Its cast is absolute perfection, and it boasts excellent, very very funny performances by the entire ensemble. It's also worth saying that this cast works as an ensemble rather than all simply being good in the movie. They are in tons of scenes together, and each actor manages to steal a scene or two. They are great together. To be honest, I wouldn't have nominated Greta Gerwig in the director category. I love her, but there were many directors who did stronger work than Gerwig this year (Luca Guadagnino, Ruben Östlund, Julia Ducournau). Still, I ain't mad about it.
Will Win: Supporting Actress
Could Win: Picture, Actress, Original Screenplay
My Rating: #11 out of 78

Blade Runner 2049
5 Nominations
  • Cinematography: Roger Deakins (Sicario, Unbroken, Prisoners, Skyfall, True Grit, The Reader, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Kundun, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption)
  • Production Design: Dennis Gassner (Into the Woods, The Golden Compass, Road to Perdition, Bugsy, Barton Fink)
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Effects Editing
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista, Lennie James, Edward James Olmos, Carla Juri, Hiam Abbas, Barkhad Abdi, Wood Harris

I really really liked this movie, and thought that mostly no one else did – it didn't do very well at the box office – but the Academy really liked it, and here it is with five below-the-line nominations. Compare that with several blockbusters like Wonder Woman or Thor: Ragnarok that didn't get any nominations. So I am very happy this showed so well. You can read my review here. Will Deakins finally win his Oscar? It is well deserved, certainly, but as it does every year, it rather seems unlikely again this year, even though I am going to bet on him. It doesn't much matter, I don't think. He will keep doing incredible work, and he will be nominated again in a year or two.

Will Win: Cinematography
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #19 out of 78

Get Out
4 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Jordan Peele
  • Actor: Daniel Kaluuya
  • Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Director: Peele
Cast: Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, LilRel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root

I was sort of baffled by all of the love this received. It's obviously clever, and it's fairly well made, and LilRel Howery is really really funny. But despite an extraordinarily awesome opening scene, I found myself underwhelmed by this movie, and I remain shocked at the way critics and the Academy have embraced it. This is a serviceable horror-comedy film. I liked it, but it also has lots of strange problems. My main take on this movie is that it is a kind of staging of the experience of black American paranoia around white people in chiefly white spaces. This fear is obviously justified – just turn on the news – but for me the movie never moves into really imaginative territory or past this initial bit of cleverness, and Get Out doesn't really have anything new to say about this experience. But that's just me, and I'm not interested in hating on a movie everyone loved. If you loved it, you go right ahead loving it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Original Screenplay
My Rating: #49 out of 78

04 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 1 of 12

Oscar nominations are here! Actually, they came out last week.

Every year I post about each of the films nominated for Oscars (this year there are 39 + 10 short films). I see all of them except for the documentaries (I am just not that interested in documentary film; I'm not sure why).

As always, a large number of the films in my own top 10 for the year were passed over (A Ghost Story, Frantz, Lady Macbeth, Raw), but some of them scored a nomination or two (Coco, The Square, Loveless), and three were nominated for Best Picture (Dunkirk, Phantom Thread, Call Me by Your Name). In other words, as there is every year, there is a lot for me to appreciate here, even if I am more impatient with the Academy's choices this year than usual.

My main complaint – and I am sure this will come up in my commentary in the following weeks – is that Academy voters (and guild voters, too) just don't see enough movies, especially films from other countries. A slate of nominees like the International Cinephile Society's list for 2018 is way better than the one that Oscar made. And I honestly think it's just that the voters in the ICS just see more movies. But I am done expecting the Academy to vote for really really good stuff. They will always skew toward the mediocre, I think. And that is just how it goes.

As usual with these posts, I will go film by film discussing each movie individually rather than discussing categories, beginning with the movies most beloved by the Academy this year. If the nominee has been nominated for Oscars previously, he or she will be listed next to his/her name in parentheses).

This year's nominees:

The Shape of Water
13 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Actress: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
  • Original Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro (El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth)) & Vanessa Taylor
  • Supporting Actor: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)
  • Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help)
  • Film Editing: Sidney Wolinsky
  • Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
  • Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry & Jeff Melvin & Shane Vieau
  • Score: Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Philomena, Argo, The King's Speech, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Queen)
  • Costume Design: Luis Sequeira
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Del Toro
Cast: Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones, Jenkins, Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Searcy, David Hewlett, Martin Roach, Morgan Kelly, Nigel Bennett

Well this is obviously the frontrunner, and I think everyone expected that it would be the frontrunner. In many ways, I have to concur with a large number of these nominations; as I said in my own review of this, for me, the design elements – the score, the production design, the costumes, the cinematography – took over the film, turning what might have been a Del Toro picture into something other than the monster movie I wanted it to be. (I love monster movies. Why can't this be one?) At first I was sort of annoyed that this got so many nominations, but looking at the list above, what you can see is that almost all of the nominees are first-time nominees. This makes me think of The Shape of Water as a little bit of an underdog, and it makes me happy for everyone nominated. No matter, everyone loves this movie, and it is going to take home its share of little gold dudes on the first Sunday of March. But not too many.
Will Win: Picture, Director, Production Design
Could Win: Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Cinematography, Score, Costume Design
My Rating: #32 out of 76

8 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Film Editing: Lee Smith (The Dark Knight, Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World)
  • Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
  • Production Design: Nathan Crowley (Interstellar, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) & Gary Fettis (Interstellar, Changeling, The Godfather: Part III)
  • Score: Hans Zimmer (Interstellar, Inception, Sherlock Holmes, Gladiator, The Thin Red Line, The Prince of Egypt, As Good as It Gets, The Preacher's Wife, The Lion King, Rain Man)
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Nolan
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan, Damien Bonnard, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy

I loved this movie. I do not normally care for Christopher Nolan movies – I tend to find them soulless and machine-like – but this film always chooses people over strategy, and I can't say enough good things about it. In the first place, Dunkirk is a gorgeous technical achievement. It follows three plots at three different time schemes (it wouldn't be a Nolan movie without a puzzle), and each of these plots is emotionally wrenching, powerful stuff. I was especially moved by the sequences in the boat with Mark Rylance, but each of the plots is great and each allows us to look differently at the others. What is especially wonderful about this film is the way that it gives us the story of Dunkirk from the perspective of those who lived through it on the mole (and in the air, and in the water). Darkest Hour, for example, gives us a story of Churchill and the political and military moves that Dunkirk represented for the British. But Dunkirk isn't interested in backroom politics or Hitler or even what the war might mean for the world. This film focuses on what it means to the young men who fought and lost their lives. It's deeply moving and it is, I think, Nolan's best film to date. I hope he keeps making movies like this one. The Academy does not usually like Nolan, and his nomination is a little bit of a surprise here. Expect Dunkirk to win in lots of technical categories.
Will Win: Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Could Win: Cinematography
My Rating: #4 out of 76

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
7 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actress: Frances McDormand (North Country, Almost Famous, Fargo, Mississippi Burning)
  • Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)
  • Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger, The People vs. Larry Flynt)
  • Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell
  • Film Editing: Jon Gregory
  • Score: Carter Burwell (Carol)
Director: McDonagh
Cast: McDormand, Harrelson, Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry-Jones, Sandy Martin, Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Amanda Warren

Well, this was the frontrunner for a while – the surprise frontrunner – and so it has gotten its share of backlash. I honestly can't fault too much of this backlash; the film is a very strange movie, and in its sentimentality, it throws forgiveness around a bit too easily perhaps. I really liked it on its own terms – I even liked it more than Shape of Water – but, then, I don't normally like McDonagh's work, so I am probably not liking it for the same reasons McDonagh fans like it. I guess the question now is: Can Three Billboards sustain its momentum through the end of February and pick up a ton of awards? This seems likely to a point. I expect it to win the two acting awards it has been winning (McDormand and Rockwell), and it managed to get a nomination from the film editors, too (seriously, guys???), but a lack of a Best Director nomination for McDonagh here (he didn't deserve one) seems to indicate that at least one branch of the Academy would rather give their top prize to Get Out or Lady Bird or Phantom Thread than to Three Billboards. Can't say I blame them.
Will Win: Actress, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor
Could Win: Picture
My Rating: #25 out of 76

Phantom Thread
6 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
  • Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot)
  • Supporting Actress: Lesley Manville
  • Score: Jonny Greenwood 
  • Costume Design: Mark Bridges (Inherent Vice, The Artist)
Director: Anderson
Cast: Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Manville, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson, Jane Perry, Harriet Sansom Harris

Love love love! And what a surprise that this got six nominations! I don't think anyone was expecting this, especially that Best Director nod. It is well deserved, and I am delighted that this has happened. This is one of my favorite films of the year. It's strange and creepy and a little bit sick, but it's also about the unicity of a particular relationship – how it might work to love someone who is very, very difficult. It's gorgeously made, of course, as PTA's films usually are. This is a film much closer in spirit to The Master and There Will Be Blood than to Inherent Vice or Boogie Nights. Other important surprises: the music branch finally nominated Jonny Greenwood for original score. His score for Phantom Thread is the most beautiful he has yet conceived: it's lush and beautiful and haunting and rich, and I've been listening to it for weeks. I think it is the best score of the year, and I also think it will win. Can Mark Bridges also win? That seems possible. The costumes here are high couture, and the Academy has had a preference for that lately. Perhaps the biggest, most welcome, surprise, though, is the nomination for Lesley Manville, who is a standout as Day-Lewis's sister. She was passed over for a nomination a couple years ago for the Mike Leigh film Another Year (the Academy ought to be embarrassed – and they ought to see more movies), but this is some kind of redemption. I will be happy with any and every Oscar this film takes home.
Will Win: Score, Costume Design
Could Win: Supporting Actress
My Rating: #8 out of 76

03 February 2018

Birdboy: the Forgotten Children

Psiconautas (which was released in the U.S. as Birdboy) is totally weird and imaginatively unique. I liked this and respected it but didn't totally connect with it, but then I am not into stories about children, these days.

Their Finest

Their Finest is charming. It's overly long, and it takes a couple of narrative turns that baffled me, but I quite liked it in spite of its flaws, and Bill Nighy gives a really genius, comic performance. I also really loved Sam Claflin and Rachael Stirling, but the Bill Nighy performance... it's a crime that more people aren't talking about it. He's wonderful.