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

07 May 2024

Alex Garland's Civil War


Civil War
is a movie about journalism—it is not a movie about politics or humanity. And, in fact, it follows most of the tropes of those movies, just without any serious emotional depth. I hated this movie, and mostly I hated it because this movie loves war and plays to the audience’s enjoyment of violence. 

There is a case to be made that Garland’s film tries to make a movie about journalism in a war-torn country while also avoiding the usual Orientalist or paternalist gaze that those movies turn toward the places where the stories are set. I think that’s probably true. The movie does avoid that.

But the movie still gets off on showing the audience a war zone and asking us to enjoy the thrill of destruction, murder, death, and wholesale slaughter. 

I did like the scene with Jesse Plemons. It’s taut and interesting, and it’s also politically sound, by which I mean that that sequence makes a smart anti-war case. The rest of the movie thinks guns are fun.

Also, have you all heard of Joe Dante's film The Second Civil War? It's much better than this business.

Challengers (2024)


Challengers
is the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross show. 

Actually, look, everyone in this is a star. And they’re all sexy as hell. And this is shot gorgeously. And the editing is fucking brilliant. And the script is just a silly sports melodrama, but it doesn’t matter because it’s so perfectly made and exquisitely directed. 

The fucking shot when everyone is turning their heads back and forth to watch the ball and Zendaya just is staring straight ahead??! Perfection.

I know not everyone will love the ending of this movie, but what I love about the ending is the way that Challengers moves into the realm of the metaphorical more and more steadily as the match goes on until it just exists purely as metaphor and refuses to go back to the real. It's so great.

The Fall Guy


This is a great time from start to finish. The jokes are funny and they’re delivered very well by an excellent cast. The fights are so much fun. Really the whole thing is just a blast. The thing is, Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling are fucking stars, and they just run the whole thing perfectly.

This is very much like David Leitch's last movie, Bullet Train, which I also thought was a very good time.

Mars Express


This movie is visually stunning with absolutely exquisite worldbuilding; this is a very smart movie about AI. It’s the kind of intelligent, generous, and humane exploration of AI that we need. But Mars Express is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants action–crime thriller that kept me guessing and surprised me constantly. Great stuff.

01 May 2024

Housekeeping for Beginners (2024)


Housekeeping for Beginners
(Домаќинство за Почетници) is good. Goran Stolevski is an interesting filmmaker who really has a way with writing characters. I wish this film surprised me a bit more, but although it started off with some twists that were very interesting it moved into more familiar territory in act two. Still, I liked this despite its rather conventional ending.

Monkey Man (2024)


I love Dev Patel. I think he’s beautiful and I think he has good ideas. I’m glad he got funding to make this very very expensive movie, and I’m glad he made this movie. I’m glad lots of people went to see this movie. But I did not like this movie. 

Monkey Man is so slooooow, and then all the revenge killing is fun and brutal and just kinda disgusting but definitely fun. Then it goes back to being so slooooow. The revenge plot was unclear, and I found the monkey man kind of hard to root for. I did root for him, don’t get me wrong, and like sure, cops are awful, but I do find it difficult to root for a man who will just kill literally anyone. The information about motivation for the revenge was given to us so slowly I just couldn’t get behind the force of it. And anyway why now? This guy looks about 30. What’s he been doing with his time?

Also, there's a little army of hijras? Who are like really violent and happy to kill people while wearing sequence gowns? I'm lost.

25 April 2024

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)


Holy shit! Looking for Mr. Goodbar is pretty incredible. It’s so intense and intriguing. It’s a fascinating character study and a pretty extraordinary portrait of female freedom amid a deeply misogynist world. It also has truly great performances from Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Tuesday Weld, William Atherton, and Tom Berenger. 

 The ending is… shocking and kind of insane and I feel completely stunned. 

 Honestly this is good. I know a movie like this could basically not be made today, but that’s what makes it so interesting. I am not at all sure why Goodbar is out of print, but you can't find it streaming anywhere and it's never been released on DVD.

Femme


Femme is an ancient Athenian tragedy disguised as a psychological thriller. It did some things very well. I was constantly afraid of violence erupting at any moment so it was very tense watching. I like this film’s point of view and politics, too. I thought it was pretty smart. Some of the plot is not really believable, though, if I’m being honest (you’re telling me this violently closeted man went to a bathhouse?), and Femme takes a bit too long to get where it is inevitably going.

29 March 2024

Godzilla x Kong: the New Empire


When I originally saw the trailer for Godzilla x Kong: the New Empire I thought Wait didn't we already see this movie? Everything in the trailer looked like something from Adam Wingard's 2021 offering Godzilla vs. Kong. As it turns out, this is a sequel to that movie, and it has new monsters if not new visuals.
 
I love monsters, so yes I went to see this movie, but I didn't like Godzilla vs. Kong, so I also went in knowing what I was going to get and expecting it to be nonsense. The monsters were cool. I was especially into the new pink Gojira and the Ice Princess Gojira. But y’all this movie is so dumb. The script, especially, is so. fucking. dumb. Honestly the most fun part of the movie was making jokes about it with my companion.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but Mothra shows up as a kind of hippy Grandmother Willow in act three, and Brian Tyree Henry’s explanations of the faux-Indigenous science and engineering in this movie are so stupid they make Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs seem like Oppenheimer by comparison. 

 One thing I did find cute: Godzilla curls up to sleep in the Coliseum. I guess we know how often he thinks of the Roman Empire.

08 March 2024

Oscar Nominations 2023: 9 of 9 (with Final Predictions)

I just barely squeezed through! Neon finally released Perfect Days for VOD on Tuesday, and so I was able to watch it last night. None of these movies will win on Sunday, but they are our last three:

Perfect Days

1 nomination
  • International Feature: Japan (Drive My Car, Shoplifters, Departures, The Twilight Samurai, Muddy River, Kagemusha: the Shadow Warrior, Sandakan No. 8, Dodes'ka-den, Portrait of Chieko, Woman in the Dunes, Kwaidon, Koto, Immortal Love, The Burmese Harp, Samurai 1: Musashi Miyamoto, Gate of Hell, Rashomon)
DirectorWim Wenders
Cast: Yakusho Kōji, Nakano Arisa, Yamada Aoi, Emoto Tokio, Asō Yumi, Ishikawa Sayuri, Miura Tomokazu, Tanaka Min

This is very good. It is a simple, quiet film (the main character, Hirayama, hardly speaks at all) about approaching each day with happiness. We do not know, really, what has happened to Hirayama before the film, and though we gradually learn a bit about his previous life, we mostly just spend time in the present. This, of course, is what the film is about, and Hirayama greets each day positively and richly. While I was watching this film, I felt like I got it, like the film's ideas made sense to me, but I think Perfect Days is better and better the more I think about it. It is sticking with me, and asking me to think more deeply about what it showed me. This is a very good movie.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #27 out of 82

Das Lehrerzimmer (The Teachers' Lounge)

1 nomination
  • International Feature: Germany (All Quiet on the Western Front, Never Look Away, Toni Erdmann, The White Ribbon, The Baader Meinhof Complex, The Lives of Others, Sophie Scholl: the Final Days, Downfall, Nowhere in Africa, Beyond Silence, Schtonk, The Nasty Girl)
Directorİlker Çatak
Cast: Leonie Benesch, Eva Löbau, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak, Sarah Bauerett, Kathrin Wehlisch, Leonard Stettnisch, Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Katharina M. Schubert, Uygar Tamer, Özgür Karadeniz, Tim Porath, Kersten Reimann

İlker Çatak’s film is a modern nightmare of right and wrong set in a middle school. It’s truly terrifying. We watch a young, righteous teacher navigate between moral choices but seemingly misunderstand the human beings in her community. The Teachers' Lounge is a tense, ticking time bomb of a movie structured like one of Asghar Farhadi’s films, where a seemingly small injustice spins the characters out of control and into a terrifying world. The Farhadi structure is important here, because the way İlker Çatak and Johannes Duncker's script works is really modeled after movies like A Separation and The Salesman, but I don't think Çatak works his way toward finality of any kind, and the end of The Teachers' Lounge is unsatisfying. It is an exciting ride, though, with its taut, horror-film score and its building tension. Good stuff.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #47 out of 82

Io Capitano

1 nomination
  • International Feature: Italy (The Hand of God, The Great Beauty, Don't Tell, Life Is Beautiful, The Starmaker, Mediterraneo, Open Doors, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, La Famiglia, Three Brothers, Dimenticare Venezia, The New Monsters, A Special Day, Seven Beauties, Scent of a Woman, Amarcord, Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, La Ragazza con la Pistola, The Battle of Algiers, Marriage Italian Style, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 8 1/2, The Four Days of Naples, La Grande Guerra, Kapò, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Nights of Cabiria, La Strada, The Bicycle Thief, The Walls of Malapaga, Shoeshine)
DirectorMatteo Garrone
Cast: Seydou Sarr, Moustapha Fall, Issaka Sawadogo, Hichem Yacoubi, Doodou Sagna, Khady Sy, Venus Gueye, Cheick Oumar Diaw, Joe Lassana, Mamadou Sani, Bamar Kane, Beatrice Gnonko, Flaure B.B. Kabore

This definitely tugged at my heartstrings, but it felt like an Italian movie from the 1990s. Très romantique! It has a kind of triumphal, soaring, beat-the-odds quality that I associate with a kind 1990s filmmaking. This is a grueling portrait of young men attempting to leave their home in Senegal for what they believe will be a better life in Italy. The odyssey from Senegal to Mali to Niger to Libya is insane and almost unimaginably dangerous. And then there's the boat ride to Italy, which is also nearly impossible. This is an extraordinary portrait of young men (and the many, many other people who the film pictures only briefly), who are not given the freedom to move through the world, who are restricted by government violence and militamen, who are exploited by grifters because governments do not let people move freely. Still, the movie didn't quite work for me because it treats all of these things rather like small obstacles for our main characters that don't need their own interrogation. The world these young men have to navigate has been created by irresponsible governments in all of these countries (including Italy), but because we focus on the boys – their wonder, their difficulties, their tenacity – Garrone's portrait of this world takes on a romantic hue. Io Capitano is very well made, but this kind of thing is not what I want from Matteo Garrone and his usual portraits of crime.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: 2024 release – unranked

My earlier Oscar posts for 2023:

My Predictions for Sunday:
  • Best Picture: Oppenheimer
  • Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer
  • Best Actor: Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer
  • Best Actress: Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, Barbie
  • Best Original Screenplay: David Hemingson, The Holdovers
  • Best Supporting Actor: Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer
  • Best Supporting Actress: Da'Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers
  • Best International Feature: United Kingdom, The Zone of Interest
  • Best Animated Feature: The Boy and the Heron
  • Best Documentary Feature: 20 Days in Mariupol
  • Best Film Editing: Jennifer Lame, Oppenheimer
  • Best Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema, Oppenheimer
  • Best Production Design: Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Barbie
  • Best Original Score: Robbie Robertson, Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Best Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran, Barbie
  • Best Sound: Johnnie Burn and Tarn Willers, The Zone of Interest
  • Best Visual Effects: Nojima Tatsuji, Shibuya Kiyoko, Takahashi Masaki, and Yamazaki Takashi, Godzilla Minus One
  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Mark Coulier, Nadia Stacey, and Josh Weston, Poor Things
  • Best Original Song: Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell, Barbie
  • Best Animated Short Film: War Is Over!
  • Best Documentary Short Film: The ABCs of Book Banning
  • Best Live-action Short Film: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

03 March 2024

Oscar Nominations 2023: 8 of 9 (Animated Shorts)

Here are the five animated short films. (I've decided to skip the documentary short films and the live-action short films – they're always so bad, and I've already suffered through Golda and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.)

War Is Over!

1 nomination
  • Animated Short Film
DirectorDave Mullins

This is a sweet fantasy in the realm of Joyeux Noël, where the soldiers from both sides in World War I have a relationship with one another and don't really want to kill one another, but the warlords and the ruling class push a war. In this little film, the men play chess by writing their moves on paper and then sending a pigeon to the other side (this is not actually possible, but for the sake of this fantasy, I guess we accept it). Anyway, this is sweet but very much a fantasy, which is why I guess I expect it to win.
Will win: Animated Short Film
Could win: N/A
My rating: #4 out of 5

Ninety-five Senses

1 nomination
  • Animated Short Film
DirectorJared HessJerusha Hess
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson

Easily the best film of the group, this beautiful movie is an exploration of the five senses by an older gentleman who tells us things he knows about the five senses. More is revealed about the man as the film progresses, and we learn about him and the choices that he has made – and about the choices he hasn't made but have been made for him. The film is a powerful, extraordinary description of human being, of bravery in the face of death, and of the terrible power of the state. I absolutely wept, and I loved this so much. It deserves to win, and maybe it will.
Will win: N/A
Could win: Animated Short Film
My rating: #1 out of 5

Pachyderme (Pachyderm)

1 nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Cast: Christa Théret

This is a story of a young girl staying with her grandmother and grandfather in the country. It's mysterious and scary, and takes us to unexpected places. The animation style is beautiful but slightly surreal, almost in a kind of art nouveau kind of way. We experience things with the young protagonist and aren't sure what's real or not. The film clarifies at the end, though, and we understand what has been happening and why the surrealism is there, as well. The movie moves in dream logic, and that logic is smart and well crafted and beautiful.
Will win: N/A
Could win: Animated Short Film
My rating: #2 out of 5

Letter to a Pig

1 nomination
  • Animated Short Film
DirectorTal Kantor
Cast: Alexander Peleg, Moriyah Meerson, Ayelet Margalit

I will have the most to say about this movie, perhaps. In Tal Kantor's movie, a survivor of the Shoah escaped from the Nazis and hid with pigs. The pigs protected him, and so he has written a letter to the pig, which he reads to a bunch of kids in a Jewish school. In the letter, however, he begins to spout racist hate, saying other people are no better than animals, and he seemingly forgets that he began by praising an animal. The children take this in with varying levels of boredom, but we move into a fantasy in which they find a pig and torture it. The film then shifts again and the pig gets younger and younger and younger until the protagonist – a young girl – pets the pig, snuggles with it, and then lets the pig go. In other words, the plot of Letter to a Pig is very interesting! But the film is not, actually, and I liked it the least of all of these. The reason for this is that the animation is startlingly ugly, and I'm not sure why. The people are partially drawn and drawn to be uglier than usual. There are parts of each body that move into a kind of beautiful realism, but those are frequently just a hand or a strand of hair. Mostly we're stuck with ugly drawings of people doing awful things. It's a film with a central idea that I really liked, but I just could not enjoy this. 
Will win: N/A
Could win: Animated Short
My rating: #5 out of 5

Our Uniform

1 nomination
  • Animated Short Film
DirectorYegane Moghaddam
Cast: Moghaddam

This is perhaps the simplest and most unassuming of the films. Yegane Moghaddam's movie is animated on clothes, which you can see in the still above. She tells the story of growing up in Iran and being required to cover her hair. Even more, the film is about the ways that we separate girls from boys, and transform them into "females" instead of people who might have a future and be anything they wish. This is not an exciting or bold movie in any way, but it is simple and clear and charming, and I enjoyed it.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #3 out of 5

More posts coming soon:

24 February 2024

Oscar Nominations 2023: 7 of 9

We are scraping the bottom of the barrel, nomination-wise, with these five films. These are traditionally the categories that include the worst films, but we will start with a movie that I think everyone liked:

G Minus One (
ゴジラ-1.0)

1 nomination
  • Visual Effects
DirectorYamazaki Takashi
Cast: Kamiki Ryūnosuke, Hamabe Minami, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Andō Sakura, Sasaki Kuranosuke, Yamada Yūki, Aoki Munetaka

This was pretty good. Godzilla looks really amazing in this—he’s a kind of perfect throwback to 1950s Gojira without looking too cheesy—and the script explicitly links the fight against G to Japanese national performance and postwar economics. I found the non-action sequences a little long though, and they telegraphed too much about the final showdown to the audience ahead of time, so it didn’t have the surprise it should have. But, look, I love Godzilla/Gojira (I love monster movies in general), so I enjoyed all of the time I got to spend with the big guy. It's just that Kamiki Ryūnosuke sure did spend a lot of time crying in this. So many tears!
Will win: N/A
Could win: Visual Effects
My rating: #38 out of 81

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

1 nomination
  • Visual Effects
DirectorJames Gunn
CastChris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Maria Bakalova, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone

I liked the plot of this. It’s smart for a while. But the third act really drags, and at one point I was like oh god there’s still another hour?? I’m into the film’s approach to animals, but at one point the whole thing just becomes too preposterous. And also I didn’t know who a good thirty percent of the characters were. There’s a dog that speaks English? A whistling dude? And they fly a kind of planet-ship with its own ecosystem and gravity? Who lives on this ship with them and why? I don’t know. The stakes of this were lost on me. I get that these Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are made for people who understand the lore a lot better than I do and who, I presume, have seen the other films more recently than I have (the last one came out literally 6 years ago—I’m supposed to remember it?), but I do wish this studio would make its films more accessible to people who aren’t steeped in their lore. But I do love Bradley Cooper. I love him in everything, and I love him in this.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #66 out of 81

Golda

1 nomination
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
DirectorGuy Nattiv
Cast: Helen Mirren, Camille Cottin, Liev Schreiber, Lior Ashkenazi, Rami Heuberger, Rotem Keinan, Dvir Benedek, Ellie Piercy, Henry Goodman, Ed Stoppard, Dominic Mafham, Ohad Knoller

Nope. Honestly, after Guy Nattiv won an Oscar for his horrible live-action short film Skin, I don't know why anyone would give him money to make a movie. Well, they didn't give him much—Golda was definitely made on the cheap—but still. This movie is awful. In many ways, this is basically the same movie as Rustin. It’s a kind of live-action Wikipedia entry with questionable filmmaking, a terrible screenplay, and famous actors in the roles of recognizable historical figures. Golda just has ultra conservative politics instead of Rustin’s vaguely left-of-center politics. What's almost totally insane about the movie is that it has no connection to soldiers or battles. This is a movie about a war that has no soldiers even as characters; instead, Nattiv gives us the battle sequences with blurry animated footage that is actually impossible to follow. At one point, we watch a battle in a windowless control room, and the score is completely gloom and doom, and we stare at Golda Meier, and she looks miserable, and I thought for sure that things were going very poorly for the Israeli military, but then everyone starts cheering and celebrating. Apparently I was supposed to understand the weird animated footage I had been watching to be a positive thing. It's a mess. There's no reason to watch this movie.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #81 out of 81

American Symphony

1 nomination
  • Original Song – "It Never Went Away": Jon Batiste (Soul) & Dan Wilson 
DirectorMatthew Heineman

This was not interesting. I think maybe it’s because the film really doesn’t give us access to Jon Batiste, the man at the movie's center at all. In many ways it’s a very cold look at Jon Batiste. Like, obviously the filmmaker loves him, but he doesn’t seem interested in getting any deeper into what makes him tick or what moves him and mostly just stays at the level of oh wow this man is very cool. I mostly feel like not very much happened in this movie, if I’m honest. I mean, sure, there were events, but they are transmitted to us more like news than a personal journey. Jon Batiste gets married, his wife has cancer, and the two of them cope with that together—and also frequently apart. He also works on composing his symphony, although we really don't see any of this process and don't know anything about the music or how he figures out what the music sounds like. I really just don't know anything about this guy after this movie. It feels really odd.
Will win: N/A
Could win: Original Song
My rating: Unranked

Flamin' Hot

1 nomination
  • Original Song – "The Fire Inside": Diane Warren (Tell It like a Woman, Four Good Days, The Life Ahead, Breakthrough, RBG, Marshall, The Hunting Ground, Beyond the Lights, Pearl Harbor, Music of the Heart, Armageddon, Con Air, Up Close & Personal, Mannequin)
DirectorEva Longoria
Cast: Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Emilio Rivera, Vanessa Martinez, Dennis Haysbert, Tony Shalhoub, Pepe Serna

This is a movie about a guy who came up with a brand so he could sell more chips. The brand succeeded, and so did he. We are in a very strange moment of capitalism in which viewers are expected to root for a brand. The issue with this movie, though, is simply that not one thing in it feels authentic. The acting is terrible, and the whole thing just feels completely fake. Flamin' Hot occasionally leans into its mythmaking silliness, but not enough. It believes its own story way too much to work. I did like the part where Montañez tells his father off; movies always want to tell us that family is the most important thing, so I appreciated that. I also thought that Montañez's little boy was super cute. We needed more of him. But mostly Eva Longoria's film is a flamin' hot mess. Of course, that doesn't much matter when Diane Warren has written a song for your movie. You're gonna get nominated anyway! Warren has been nominated nine out of the last ten years for the Original Song Oscar, and Flamin' Hot marks her fifteenth nomination. She has never won, and I'm beginning to suspect she never will. The music branch just nominates her every year. I expect to be writing the same thing next year. The reason she's never won, though, is that if you look at the movies she's been nominated for in the last ten years you also won't find anything good. The movies themselves are bad, and she has to know it. I find the Diane Warren nomination to be a very strange annual tradition.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #78 out of 81

More posts coming soon:

17 February 2024

Oscar Nominations 2023: 6 of 9 (Animated Features)

For some reason, each of the animated feature films only received one nomination. Usually one or two get an Original Score nomination or an Original Song nomination, and sometimes screenplay nominations or even Best Picture, but not this year. The other key thing about 2023 – and every year – is that you can generally expect the movies to be split between the studios. This is why there's almost always a random Netflix nominee you've never heard of, one nominee from Japan, and another nominee from Europe in addition to the big studio usual suspects from Disney–Pixar and Dreamworks. I assume this is because the Animation branch votes in blocs. Anyway, here are this year's five nominees.

Spider-man: across the Spider-verse

1 nomination
Cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Jason Schwartzman, Oscar Isaac, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Shea Whigham, Greta Lee, Amandla Stenberg, Jharrel Jerome, Andy Samberg, Jack Quaid, Rachel Dratch, Ziggy Marley, Jorma Taccone, Daniel Kaluuya, Mahershala Ali, J.K. Simmons, Donald Glover, Elizabeth Perkins, Kathryn Hahn, Ayo Edebiri, Nicole Delaney, Antonina Lentini, Atsuko Okatsuka, Peter Sohn

This is very very cool for all of its running time. It's unexpected and interesting, and it has more surprises up its sleeve than you can basically ever imagine. The animation for this film – as with the original – is inventive and almost shocking. It places different styles next to one another in such a brilliant way that it makes the totally incongruous seem natural. In many ways this is just a genius piece of moviemaking and more-than-worthy sequel to the first film, Into the Spider-verse. But... and this is a very large but... the ending drove me nuts. I went with a friend, and when it was over we looked at one another and said "shame about the ending". The filmmakers opt for a cliffhanger, but it feels inept, and because I wasn't expecting a cliffhanger, I was very disappointed by this choice. Still, this is a good movie, and I would say it's the favorite to win the Oscar (though it is not what I'm going to predict). Also, I have a question: when all of the spideys are in the world with all of the spideys instead of in their home-worlds, who's guarding the home worlds? They're just all hanging out in a different dimension and leaving their worlds to go to hell? I wouldn't mind this idea so much except that this Spider-man series sees the world as intensely dark and filled with peril. To take this series at its word, the world is on the absolute brink of ruin and evil. Anyway, it's something I've been wondering.
Will win: N/A
Could win: Animated Feature
My rating: #34 out of 78

The Boy and the Heron
(君たちはどう生きるか)

1 nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura, Takuya Kimura, Keiko Takeshita, Jun Fubuki, Sawako Agawa, Karen Takizawa

I really, really liked this and it's the highest ranking of the animated features for me this year. It's surreal and imaginative and beautiful and striking and magical. This is also an extraordinarily adorable take on the multiverse and the ways that grief fragments the experiences of our lives. I say adorable because this vision of the multiverse (and we had a few this year with Past Lives, The Boy and the Heron, Spider-man, and Robot Dreams) thinks about the different ways that loss affects us, and the different ways that those we love and lose can live on within us or around us. This is a film about family and legacies, but it's also about how we process the loss of a loved one. And it does that in typical, surreal, Miyazaki fashion, with goose-stepping parakeets and shattering castles and souls reborn. This is wonderful.
Will win: Animated Feature
Could win: N/A
My rating: #13 out of 78

Elemental

1 nomination
  • Animated Feature
DirectorPeter Sohn
Cast: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O'Hara, Mason Wertheimer

This is cute. It’s completely predictable in every imaginable way, but it’s kind of irresistible anyway. This is, first and foremost, a story of immigrants and growing up with immigrant parents, and although it would seem to indicate some kind of specific allegory for the immigrant experience of one group, it's trying to do something more inclusive and, perhaps (I'm not quite sure) more interesting. It's intensely clever in its world building, and I liked much of it, especially the world itself. It definitely has its problems, though. For one thing, the main character, "Ember", spends most of the film as an anxious ball of fire (if you will), and she's uptight and kind of annoying. The young water-man who loves her, "Wade", is perfect and understanding and does all of the right things. This makes for a movie that is off-kilter. She is hard to like and he is easy to like. I think it's just a kind of basic androcentric position that filmmakers often take. I think my other problem with movies like this (predictable romantic comedies, I mean... or maybe I mean animated movies that are aimed at young people) is that “doing the right thing” is so obvious. The audience knows what the right thing to do is way before the characters figure it out. This makes us feel good as viewers, of course – we are so much wiser than these fools/kids on the screen – but I find it very boring. And nothing like real life. And more often than not, parents are not quite as open to change as these narratives would like to imagine. But, hey, this is a fable about fire-people and water-people, so we can live in the fantasy.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #60 out of 78

Robot Dreams

1 nomination
  • Animated Feature
DirectorPablo Berger
Cast: Ivan Labanda, Tito Trifol, Rafa Calvo, José García Tos, José Luis Mediavilla, Graciela Molina, Esther Solans

This is much better than the cuteness of Elemental. Pablo Berger's film is a very cute story about coping with loneliness and meeting a friend instead. Or perhaps it's about falling in love instead of friendship. Actually, yes; it's about falling in love. There are several wonderful things about this. First, it's done as a film without dialogue; there's sound, of course, so it isn't a silent movie, but the whole thing is done without anyone talking. Second, this movie is called Robot Dreams, and it is quite literally that. It lives in the multi-verse world that so many of this year's films live in, where we are inside the dreams of a robot for some of the film's running time. These dreams are sweet and sad and sometimes wonderful. The whole thing is inventive and delightful, and then it takes a turn in the third act. This turn is nothing short of extraordinary, and because I wasn't expecting it, I still feel surprised by the wistful regret and wisdom that Robot Dreams offers its audience. It's a really lovely movie. Now, let's talk about release dates. I do not understand why a distributor would release a movie for a single week in theatres in December so that it can qualify for the Oscars and then not release the film in wider release during the six weeks it's nominated. Literally Robot Dreams will never be as popular as it is right this second, and yet Neon is planning to release the movie in May or June well after either The Boy and the Heron or Spider-man: across the Spider-verse will already have taken home the Animated Feature Oscar. Why? What is the logic here? It makes absolutely no sense to me. So, anyway, this is impossible to see on either a big screen or a streaming service right now, and actually it makes me kind of mad. (Mind you, I'm annoyed with the distributors of Io Capitano and Perfect Days, too; Cohen Media is doing this in addition to Neon.) And I really don't like bootlegging things – they actually deserve my money – but I got frustrated and found the movie here.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #49 out of 78

Nimona

1 nomination
  • Animated Feature
DirectorNick Bruno, Troy Quane
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Lorraine Toussaint, Beck Bennett, RuPaul, Indya Moore, Julio Torres

Oh dear. I wrote my thoughts on this already here. This is very gay, and I'm glad it's very gay, but it's also predictable and boring and has some "very important" lessons it's interested in teaching us. No thanks. As much as I like gay things, I would like them to be better than this.  I will say that I love Riz Ahmed and I love this very gay cast (except Chloë Grace Moretz; I haven't forgiven her for this really offensive act of outing she pulled in 2018), but Nimona is not a good movie. My friend Caleb says that the original graphic novel is very good, and he even mailed me a copy, so I'm gonna read that and hope it's better than this nonsense. I recommend that you do that too.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #76 out of 78

More posts coming soon:

13 February 2024

Silence Is a Falling Body (2017)

I wish Silence Is a Falling Body were better. It’s a home-video movie about the filmmaker’s father and his life as a gay man before he married the filmmaker's mother, but the director doesn’t have quite enough footage to fill out her exploration of her father’s life. To make matters more complex, she avoids two pieces of the narrative puzzle that would have made the film more intriguing and compelling: she doesn’t interview her mother and she doesn’t analyze her own gaze at all critically. What does she want to find looking at these images, sifting through these stories? Comedi never actually asks that question in the film. And that’s a let-down.

12 February 2024

Oscar Nominations 2023: 5 of 9

The rest of the movies that got Oscar nominations all got only one nomination. Some of these will be hidden gems (usually the International Feature nominees), and some of these will be completely abominable (usually the Original Song and Makeup & Hairstyling nominees), but I still watch them all. This post only has three films because the next post will have five:


The Color Purple

1 nomination
  • Supporting Actress: Danielle Brooks
DirectorBlitz Bazawule
Cast: Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Halle Bailey, Ciara, H.E.R., David Alan Grier, Deon Cole, Jon Batiste, Louis Gossett Jr.

I very nearly hated this. An entire fifth of my second book is about the novel–movie–musical adaptations of The Color Purple, so I had high hopes for what this movie could have been. It's nearly a complete failure, I think. You can read my objections to the new movie's complete removal of the musical's spiritual themes here, but my real objection is that this new movie is not a film adaptation of the stage musical. It is a musical adaptation of the 1985 movie. And that is just a bad choice all around. Now, listen, Danielle Brooks is obviously a highlight of this new movie that no one needed. She gets nominated for the role Oprah Winfrey was nominated for in 1986. It's hard to be mad at Brooks getting praised; who doesn't love Danielle Brooks? (She played the same role on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony there.) But this isn't winning anything, and it's the biggest missed opportunity of a film this year.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #69 out of 75

El Conde

1 nomination
  • Cinematography: Edward Lachman (Carol, Far from Heaven)
DirectorPablo Larraín
Cast: Jaime Vadell, Gloria Münchmeyer, Alfredo Castro, Paula Luchsinger, Stella Gonet, Catalina Guerra, Amparo Noguera, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle, Diego Muñoz, Clemente Rodríguez, Rosario Zamora

Pablo Larraín reimagines the Chilean dictator and war criminal Augusto Pinochet as a centuries-old vampire who faked his death in 2006 but is living on, feeding on the hearts of Chileans whenever he needs a boost. This is completely outrageous. "El Conde" is "The Count", which, apparently, Pinochet called himself, but it is also, of course, Dracula. El Conde is disgusting, satirical fun. I’ve never seen a world leader skewered in quite this way. This is a brazen, shocking comedy that loathes its central figure, but the film manages to enjoy itself, and consequently we do too, as it describes Pinochet’s many, many crimes against humanity. It's gorgeously shot by Todd Haynes' usual cinematographer (Lachman did not do May December). I am not sure how I feel about Larraín, though, honestly. I'm not sure what he's doing. I don't understand these projects of his. Spencer, Jackie, El Club, El Conde: What's going on?
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #33 out of 75

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

1 nomination
  • Original Score: John Williams (The Fabelmans, Star Wars: Episode IX – the Rise of Skywalker, Star Wars: Episode VIII – the Last Jedi, 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)
DirectorJames Mangold
Cast: Harrison Ford,  Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Boyd Holbrook, Olivier Richters, Ethann Isidore, Toby Jones, Antonio Banderas, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Thomas Kretschmann, Martin McDougall, Alaa Safi

Why did they even bother with this trash? I mean, I guess I hope Jez Butterworth and Mads Mikkelsen got paid well? This was so fucking stupid. And also I want to say that I do not enjoy this colonial trope where our “heroes” descend on some non-American city like Syracuse or Tangiers and then wreck a whole bunch of shit and steal people’s motorbikes so that they can chase bad guys. This is basically a staple of the James Bond movies and the Mission: Impossible movies, but I just don’t understand how I’m supposed to stop thinking about the random newly married couple whose car just got stolen before their honeymoon while Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Harrison Ford drive off in their honeymoon vehicle. Like, I know I’m supposed to be focusing on whatever McGuffin the script has provided, but that is not where my brain goes. This was nominated because the Music Branch is corrupt and ridiculous and they nominate John Williams every single year he has a score out. Mind you, three of the four previous Indiana Jones movies were also nominated for best "original" score, and they have found a way to nominate him for the most recent three Star Wars films as well. It's just so ridiculous when they could have finally given Joe Hisaishi a nomination for The Boy and the Heron or honored Michael Giacchino's gorgeous work on Society of the Snow. But no; the Music Branch is over here nominating John Williams for his fifty-fourth Oscar for a terrible fifth movie in a tired franchise. What a snooze.
Will win: N/A
Could win: N/A
My rating: #67 out of 75

More posts coming soon: