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

30 January 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 2 of 11


Black Panther
7 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Production Design: Hannah Beachler & Jay Hart (Pleasantville, L.A. Confidential)
  • Costume Design: Ruth Carter
  • Score: Ludwig Goransson
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
  • Song – "All the Stars": Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Solana Rowe, Mark Spears & Anthony Tiffith
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Sterling K. Brown, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, John Kani.

This movie was cool. I was really into it. Mostly, of course, this was due to Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan and the great energy they bring to working together. Coogler is just so good at what he does. He takes a silly genre picture like this and makes it meaningful and resonant. For me, Black Panther really used this tired old Marvel formula to address important issues of blackness in the United States as well as larger class questions within Black America. This is a very interesting film, and if it is predictable because of its largely formulaic comic-book plot, it does everything that it does in interesting, exciting ways. This movie just won the SAG ensemble award, and it's hard to argue with an award like that. Half the movie, I found myself exclaiming John Kani is in this?! Forest Whitaker?! Angela Bassett?! This is awesome.
Will Win: Sound Editing
Could Win: Sound Mixing
My Rating: #18 out of 66

BlacKkKlansman
6 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Spike Lee
  • Adapted Screenplay: Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel & Kevin Willmott
  • Supporting Actor: Adam Driver
  • Film Editing: Barry Alexander Brown
  • Score: Terence Blanchard
Director: Lee
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Topher Grace, Michael Joseph Busemi, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ashlie Atkinson, Robert John Burke, Harry Belafonte, Corey Hawkins

I thought this movie was great. It is worth saying, first of all, that Spike Lee has never been nominated for best director and that this is only his second screenplay nomination. That is actually crazy. But this is also Lee's best movie in years. It's a brilliant analysis of contemporary policing and the connections between the KKK in the 1970s and the resurgence of white supremacist politics in the 2010s. And it's funny. Lee's frequent Brechtian techniques work beautifully here. This is an excellent film and it's one of my favorite of the year. I will say that BlacKkKlansman's popularity with Academy voters is a little surprising to me. This is a film that spends time with racism and takes a hard look at it. The Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the National Board of Review and plenty of other awards bodies looked more favorably on the milquetoast, candy-coated 1960s of Peter Farrelly's Green Book and mostly ignored the more racist and volatile 1970s in Lee's film. But here the Academy is, handing out more nominations to Lee's movie than to Farrelly's. This is good for everyone.
Will Win: Film Editing
Could Win: Director, Adapted Screenplay
My Rating: #13 out of 66

Green Book
5 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actor: Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic, Eastern Promises)
  • Original Screenplay: Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly & Nick Vallelonga
  • Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  • Film Editing: Patrick J. Don Vito
Director: Farrelly
Cast: Mortensen, Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco, Dimiter D. Marinov, Mike Hatton, Jon Michael Davis

I had a lot of problems with this. But I wasn't surprised that this movie got as much love with other awards bodies as it did here. Note that this film got a best film editing nomination. Usually those are linked with Best Picture, but Green Book, as you can see, is film #7 on the list this year. It probably wouldn't have gotten a best picture nomination if there were only five nominees. It looks as though most of the love that was shown to this film ahead of the Oscar nominations has begun to fade. Farrelly, who got a best director nomination in lots of places before January 22, did not (and rightly so) get a nomination here. Still, Nick Vallelonga, despite his recent racist comments on Twitter, got a screenplay nomination, and that editing nomination means that some people still really like Green Book. One thing everyone can agree on is that we love Mahershala Ali. It looks like he's going to win in the supporting actor category come February 24th. All good and well, but I do wish the Academy could think out of the box just a little more. Ali won the Oscar only a couple of years ago for Moonlight. He doesn't need another one. I don't see how giving him another one helps the industry or Ali's career.
Will Win: Supporting Actor
Could Win: Picture, Original Screenplay, Film Editing
My Rating: #44 out of 66

Bohemian Rhapsody
5 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actor: Rami Malek
  • Film Editing: John Ottman
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Aiden Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti, Priya Blackburn

Sigh. I get why this is as popular as it is, but it really is not a good movie. I've written about how homophobic I think this film is here, but also, I feel like Awards bodies are giving awards to this movie just to thumb their noses at the critical consensus around the movie, which had been very harsh. And that's not a good reason to give a movie awards. Most people I know who liked this movie have told me they liked it with an apologetic tone, as though they felt guilt for liking the movie as much as they did. I don't blame them, and I don't know why they're blaming themselves except that they know the movie isn't good, even if they did enjoy it. Will Rami Malek win best actor? I think that is insane – his performance cannot compare in any way with Bradley Cooper's brilliant work in A Star Is Born, but Malek has won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award now, so he is definitely the front runner. This is so crazy. So maybe I'm just ignoring the writing on the wall, but... I think the Screen Actors Guild skews toward television, and so what we're seeing is residual love for Mr. Robot, the show that Malek felt he got too big for. TV viewers love Malek. My thought is that the Academy, which watches a lot less TV, will vote for Bale instead.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Actor, Film Editing
My Rating: #53 out of 66

28 January 2019

Aquaman

This almost works. But it definitely doesn't. There is something about Aquaman that is interesting, though. I think it's the fact that Jason Momoa, unlike everyone else in the film, plays the whole thing with his tongue in his cheek. It's as though the Aquaman himself thinks the movie about him is a joke. And this way of looking at the movie makes the character charming as well as somehow above the movie of which he is the star. I think because we know the whole thing is ridiculous, he taps into that knowledge and identifies with us across the screen to say, yeah, this is dumb. I know. I'm here having fun with you guys.

If only the director could've understood that.

I loved Kym Barrett's costumes. (They're not as good as Black Panther's, though, and the Academy apparently didn't have room for more than one superhero movie in the costume category this year.)

There is also this subplot with a guy named Black Manta or something like that who keeps trying to kill the Aquaman. It's the worst part of the movie and doesn't make a damn bit of sense.

Oh Dolph Lundgren is also in this. He's fun. Lots of this is fun, to be honest. But then it can't pull itself back from being the overwrought mess that director James Wan insists it will be.

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 1 of 11

Every year I post about each of the films nominated for Oscars (this year there are 33 + 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 (Vazante, You Were Never Really Here, The Strange Ones, Lean on Pete), but some of them scored a nomination or two (Shoplifters, Into the Spider-verse, Mirai), and this year one was nominated for Best Picture (Roma). In other words, as there is every year, there is something for me to appreciate here, even as I am, as always, impatient with the Academy's choices.

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 2019 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:

Roma
10 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
  • Actress: Yalitza Aparicio
  • Original Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Y Tu Mamá También)
  • Supporting Actress: Marina de Tavira
  • Cinematography: Alfonso Cuarón
  • Production Design: Eugenio Caballero (Pan's Labyrinth) & Bárbara Enríquez
  • Foreign Language Picture: Mexico (Biutiful, Pan's Labyrinth, The Crime of Father Amaro, Amores Perros, Letters from Marusia, Tlayucan, The Important Man, Macario)
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Cuarón
Cast: Aparicio, Tavira, Nancy García García, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Verónica García, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Daniela Demesa, Marco Graf, Fernando Grediaga, Andy Cortés

I loved this movie. I loved the way that it was shot. I loved the way that it mostly relegated the bourgeois problems of its supporting characters to the background in order to focus on its main character's challenges of life, love, and work. The fact that Roma was made in both Spanish and Mixteco felt really special. But more than all of this, the filmmaking is just superb, and Roma is able to focus on the quotidian and the epic simultaneously, and even more importantly to place the quotidian within the epic with deftness and intelligence. I found Roma a little more intellectually satisfying than emotionally satisfying, but overall I loved it. As for what this movie will win come Oscar Sunday... Cuarón is a lock for director, but I think the amount of love this movie saw when nominations were announced (both acting nominations were real surprises) means that Academy members love this movie a lot more than your everyday Netflix subscriber does. And, I have to say, the Academy is getting this one right. Oh, also, when Cuarón wins Best Director on February 24th, he will be the fifth Mexican director to win in the last six year. The will be the first time Mexico has won the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
Will Win: Picture, Director, Cinematography, Production Design, Foreign Language Picture
Could Win: Original Screenplay
My Rating: #9 out of 66

The Favourite
10 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
  • Actress: Olivia Colman
  • Original Screenplay: Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
  • Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener)
  • Supporting Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land, Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
  • Film Editing: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
  • Production Design: Fiona Crombie & Alice Felton 
  • Costume Design: Sandy Powell (Mary Poppins Returns, Cinderella, Carol, Hugo, The Tempest, The Young Victoria, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Shakespeare in Love, Velvet Goldmine, The Wings of the Dove, Orlando)
Director: Lanthimos
Cast: Colan, Weisz, Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss

I reviewed this movie here. The Favourite is a hilariously bizarre Lanthimosic version of English history. What's brilliant about it is that it looks like it's a period film, and it is a period film – it's about England's Queen Annebut then it is also a Yorgos fucking Lanthimos movie, which means that it is also insane. This means that it is very very funny and people continuously behave in ways that surprise and shock the viewer. The worlds Lanthimos gives viewers access to make perfect sense, but they operate on their own internal logics. He's really an extraordinary filmmaker, and I can't wait to see what's next. The costumes simply must win. Powell has 3 Oscars already, but she hasn't won in 10 years, and anyway the Academy doesn't mind giving costume designers additional Oscars. Colleen Atwood won two years ago for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She's gonna win. Whether anything else can win here, I'm not quite sure, although I think The Favourite will also take home Original Screenplay.
Will Win: Original Screenplay, Costume Design
Could Win: Actress, Film Editing, Production Design
My Rating: #17 out of 66

Vice
8 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Adam McKay (The Big Short)
  • Actor: Christian Bale (The Big Short, American Hustle, The Fighter)
  • Original Screenplay: Adam McKay (The Big Short)
  • Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri)
  • Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (American Hustle, The Master, The Fighter, Doubt, Junebug)
  • Film Editing: Hank Corwin (The Big Short)
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: McKay
Cast: Bale, Adams, Steve Carrell, Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Allison Pill, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk, Tyler Perry, LisaGay Hamilton, Lily Rabe, Bill Camp

I really disliked Vice, a dislike I wrote about here. I'm not here to say Vice is a bad film, but it definitely was not for me. I am surprised that the Academy loved this as much as it did. Three acting nominations is a lot, and this is Adam McKay's second best director nomination in just a few years. It's quite impressive. The reason Vice doesn't work, to my mind, is that McKay tried to do the kind of Brechtian historical analysis he did with The Big Short but instead of analyzing a historical moment he tried (half-heartedly) to analyze a man. It didn't work. As for winning Oscars, it looks right now like Christian Bale will take home his second acting Oscar. I don't think he's very good in the movie, but that seems to be a minority opinion. But let's take a moment to talk about Amy Adams, who always seems to get outshone in these movies with Christian Bale. I am not sure I understand that. I feel like this woman – who is excellent in everything, as far as we can tell – should probably be directing movies by now. I have a feeling she can probably do anything. Let's give her a bunch of money and see what she'll do. Also, Vice should probably win makeup and hairstyling. It's the most high profile of the nominees in that category.
Will Win: Actor, Makeup & Hairstyling
Could Win: Original Screenplay, Film Editing
My Rating: #65 out of 66

A Star Is Born
8 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actor: Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Actress: Lady Gaga
  • Adapted Screenplay: Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters & Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Munich, The Insider, Forrest Gump)
  • Supporting Actor: Sam Elliott
  • Cinematography: Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)
  • Sound Mixing
  • Song – "Shallow": Lady Gaga (The Hunting Ground), Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando & Andrew Wyatt 
Director: Cooper
Cast: Cooper, Gaga, Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle, Drena De Niro, Barry Shabaka Henley, Michael D. Roberts, Michael J. Harney, Ron Rifkin, Greg Grunberg, D.J. Shangela Pierce, Willam Belli

I like this movie more now than I did when I saw it. Lady Gaga is a very good singer, and she is good in A Star Is Born whenever she is singing. Whenever she's not, I don't get it. As for Bradley Cooper, I'm actually mad that anyone is talking about any of these other actors. The idea that Cooper lost to Rami Malek at the Golden Globes is actually insane. And I don't understand how a beautiful, sensitive, heart-rending performance like his in this movie could be compared in any way to Bale's stoic cartoon of Dick Cheney. It's really absurd. Cooper is superb in this film. Some people are saying he was snubbed in the best director category... no. He's a brilliant actor and he should be awarded for that. I think A Star Is Born is not going to win Best Picture, although it certainly still might. I think its wins on the 24th will be in sound mixing (it wasn't nominated for sound editing) and best song. And the song is pretty fucking great, I have to say. But it's definitely insane that Hollywood has decided not to give Cooper any prizes for this movie which has made a ton of money and is actually really high quality. This is the most Hollywood of the top four movies this year. They really ought to give Cooper a little gold man.
Will Win: Sound Mixing, Song
Could Win: Picture, Actor, Actress
My Rating: #40 out of 66

25 January 2019

Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of J.K. Rowling

This thing was all over the fucking place. I liked the kelp monster. And I liked when the brothers hugged. And I liked when Dumbledore first showed up. Other than the three handsome boys in it*, I was mostly confused during this movie. It felt like it was filling in a lot of old questions I was supposed to have from the Potter books. (I either don't remember those questions or this movie is off the rails.)

And as for Dumbledore's homosexual desires for anyone. They are as absent in The Crimes of Grindelwald as they are in any of the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling can say that Dumbledore is gay all she wants, but I remain unconvinced. Dumbledore certainly isn't telling us he's gay. Right now it feels like she's accusing him of something he doesn't even know about.

Actually, wait. I thought I was done, but I'm not. This movie made no fucking sense. The thing I don't get is that Rowling keeps introducing new random elements into her world that no one has ever heard about before. Is it normal for a wizard to call a bunch of other wizards to a meeting by covering an entire city in fabric? Since when? I had never heard of that before, but this movie just treats it like it's a typical thing that we all know about. Rowling changes the parameters of her world so often that it's totally impossible to get one's footing. Like, since when can you see the recent past in a room by blowing magic gold dust around (magic gold dust that is apparently not difficult to acquire)? If we can do that, why didn't anyone do that when Dumbledore was murdered?

Honestly, maybe there are canonical explanations for these things and I am just ignorant of them (I'm no expert on the lore of this world), but when I'm watching my thought process is basically: Wait, what's happening now? I don't know what this is or what's going on. It seems to me that Rowling's basic screenwriting technique is that she jumps from introducing one new magical wonder to the next. This isn't plotting so much as it is a kind of medieval pageantry, and I wouldn't mind this so much except that the entire thing keeps telling us it's a mystery we should somehow be able to puzzle our way through. But who can do any puzzling when the rules keep changing?

Souvenir (2018)

Sadly, we have had to wait for this movie since 2016, when it first played on the festival circuit, but now here Souvenir is in the U.S. in 2018 and I am taken by it. Souvenir is a completely charming little fairy tale about an older woman and a younger man. It takes place in its own little world and wants nothing more than to stay there. I love Isabelle Huppert, obviously, and totally fell for Kévin Azaïs, too.
I thought this movie was adorable, and even, perhaps, more emotionally and intellectually affecting for its insularity and lack of desire to mean something serious.

21 January 2019

2018 in Review

LOVED
~ ~
1. Shoplifters
2. Vazante
3. You Were Never Really Here
4. Spider-man: into the Spider-verse
5. The Strange Ones
6. Mirai
7. Lean on Pete
8. The Cakemaker
9. Roma
10. Border
11. If Beale Street Could Talk
12. Summer 1993
13. A Ciambra
14. Burning
15. Double Lover

REALLY LIKED
~ ~
16. BlacKkKlansman
17. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
18. Happy as Lazzaro
19. I Am Not a Witch
20. Girl
21. The Favourite
22. Black Panther
23. Outlaw/King
24. Eighth Grade
25. A Prayer before Dawn
Zama
Journey's End
The Sisters Brothers
Capernaum
Isle of Dogs
Gabriel and the Mountain
Hereditary
Cold War
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Life and Nothing More
The Third Murder


LIKED
~ ~
Western
Mary Poppins Returns
Love, Simon
Souvenir
Never Look Away
The Guilty
Support the Girls
Incredibles 2
First Reformed
Boy Erased
A Quiet Place
Solo: a Star Wars Story
A Star Is Born
Leave No Trace
Tully
First Man
Green Book
Sorry to Bother You


LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
Night Comes On
Disobedience
The Wife
The Death of Stalin
At Eternity's Gate
The Rider
Annihilation
Aquaman
Bohemian Rhapsody
Thoroughbreds


BARELY LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
On Body and Soul
Widows
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Avengers: Infinity War
Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald


DISLIKED
~ ~
Mary Queen of Scots
Postcards from London
Ready Player One
On Chesil Beach
We the Animals
The Party


HATED
~ ~
Vice

COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF TIME
~ ~
Ralph Breaks the Internet

Hush... Hush, Sweet John Krasinski

A Quiet Place is nice and tight with a great score. I also loved Noah Jupe in it. Almost all of its running time is devoted to quoting other movies, but... I sort of didn't mind that too much and thought it worked well enough. The monster is especially cool. I will say that there are some ridiculously gaping plot holes, and some of what we see is patently absurd (the whiteboard in the basement is clearly there only so dim audience members will be able to follow along even if they haven't been paying attention – it couldn't possibly be of any use to the main character). Still, as I say, it's a tight little thing, and even if some of A Quiet Place's plot defies all logic, it's an inoffensive, fun little picture.

Here's the thing: as soon as the father and his boy went to the river I was like Right, there's no way they'll hear you at the river. So why didn't they just live at the goddamn river? Was there some sort of reason they needed to live in the middle of a fucking cornfield? Live near the river; give birth near the river; raise your kids by the river. It'll be great. No monsters will hear you and kill you.

Oh and you're telling me miss thing gave birth without making a sound? Consider me skeptical.

Girl (2018)

Girl was really, really strong and very intense. It also goes to places that most movies about trans experience are unwilling to go. In this way, I found Girl more engaging, more honest, and more brave than A Fantastic Woman or The Danish Girl or any other recent films about transitioning. Also the acting is phenomenal.

There are a couple more things to say about this really powerful movie – mostly because I want to respond, I guess, to the Los Angeles Times review of the film, which claims that Girl is exploitative, that the filmmaking lacks sensitivity, nuance and empathy, and that the camera's gaze is harsh and obsessive. I found every bit of this to be inaccurate and even to be a willful misreading of what the film is trying to do.

Girl is about a young woman named Lara (Victor Polster) who is unhappy with her body. From the very beginning it is hard to see Lara as anything other than a young woman. She isn't anything other than a young woman. Her psychiatrist asks her what is wrong early in the film and she says she doesn't see a young woman in the mirror, but her doctor responds that that is precisely what he sees, and it's impossible to watch the film and disagree with the doctor. Girl is also about a trans teenager who wants to be a ballerina. Ballet is a perfect lens with which to look at this experience of transitioning because ballet is so hard on the dancers' bodies and because young male ballet dancers don't dance en pointe but, of course, young female dancers do. So even if one were training in ballet as a small boy, one wouldn't have done the pre-pointe work that would allow one to be ready to transition to being a ballerina as a teenager.

The film is beautifully scripted, and the script prepares you perfectly for the places the film goes – and it goes to some very dark places. But Girl is always sensitive to the experience of this young woman. The Times review claims the film obsesses over the teenager's body, but we always see Lara's body from her perspective. She looks at her breasts and wills them to grow; she tapes down her genitals, wishing they would go away. These sequences are painful and very difficult to watch. The film anguishes over them. The film asks us to love Lara and she's intensely lovable, a model teenage girl, even. Girl even gives us an onscreen character who adores Lara – her father, played brilliantly by Arieh Worthalter.

Girl also shows us the numerous difficulties Lara experiences as a trans girl at the ballet school she attends. In one sequence – one that directly refutes the Times' reviewers claims of the camera's prurience – the other girls taunt Lara and force her to show them her genitals. The camera is interested only in Lara's experience of this bullying: we see nothing of what the girls see. Instead the camera is focused on Lara. We are not allowed – even if we wanted to – to identify with the bullies.

What I loved about Girl is that it is interested in the pain and the other emotional labor of transitioning. This is a film that is brave enough to visit the dark places inside our psyches. It looks at the experience of transitioning as complicated and worthy of exploration. It isn't satisfied with simple answers as to what is right and what is wrong, but it's a film that's willing to sit in the complexities of being in the middle of the transition, and it is interested in the toll that takes on a young woman's body and mind. It's a fascinating, powerful film that's gorgeously acted and beautifully made.

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


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), 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
Sam Claflin, Journey's End
Joe Cole, A Prayer before Dawn
Ryan Gosling, First Man
Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased
Tim Kalkhof, Der Kuchenmacher (The Cakemaker) (האופה-מברלין)
Meinhard Neumann, Western
Victor Polster, Girl
Yoo Ah0in Burning (버닝)

Apologies to:
Sam Claflin (Adrift), Lorenzo Ferro (The Angel), Jake Gyllenhaal (Wildlife), McCaul Lombardi (Sollers Point), Tom Schilling (Never Look Away), and Matthias Schoenaerts (Racer and the Jailbird), 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
Tom Sturridge, Journey's End
Ben Whishaw, Mary Poppins Returns
Arieh Worthalter, Girl

Apologies to:
Lucas Hedges (Mid90s) and Sebastian Koch (Never Look Away), 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.