And the Nominees Are 2016: Round 5

School and work both started up this week, so it wasn’t quite the movie marathon I had been doing so far, but I did see some great stuff this week. (Particularly Mustang, just in case you don’t have time to read this whole post I wanted to make sure you know that movie is amazing.)

Grace of Monaco

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Did Lifetime recently get bought out? How are they affording a movie with a cast this good? Not just Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, but Tim Roth? Frank Langella? I know they didn’t finance it, but how could they afford it?

Anyway, the movie is pretty standard biopic fare, which means its excellent on the scale of Lifetime Movies, but not really anything to write home about. Kidman and Roth are capable and charming as the royal couple. The clothes are gorgeous, but the script is a mess. Love isn’t subjugation, Grace Kelly – debutante and Oscar winning actress – didn’t need a nobleman to teach her how to express emotion on her face.

In the end, my biggest takeaway was that monarchy is strange, and it’s hard to feel sorry for a Princess (especially one who chose it.)

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This. Movie. Is. Everything.

Sorry, that’s hyperbole, but this is a poetic little masterpiece about growing up a girl in a patriarchal world. The director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, masterfully shows us the bond between the 5 sisters out the beginning of the movie, the intimacy and ease with each other and the world around them and then bit by bit strips that away (through the vehicle of the conservative asshole uncle – played by Ayberk Pekcan). So you see the various ways women and even young girls are constrained by the fear that they may be beings with agency. I almost wrote sexual beings, because everything here is filtered through a rigidly traditionalist view of sexuality, but that fear is rooted in the idea that if women can have desire then there is a part of them you can’t control. No matter how many (literal) bars you put on the windows. I wish I could be more articulate about this, I wish it were showing more place. It’s breathtaking and depressing and exhilarating all at once. More like this please.

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What Happened, Miss Simone? 

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So, I haven’t seen Amy yet, but this (like that is said to do) had me thinking a lot about how success and fame puts such burdens on people. And if there’s any propensity to instability then I think that pressure will push you over the edge. At least, that’s certainly what seems to have happened to Miss Simone, which is so sad because her talent was other wordly and the early performance footage included here that had me dancing around my kitchen.

And she had a grit and power that she used so well in her activism. So it was just heartbreaking to watch her unable to cope with her, long undiagnosed, mental illness (and abusive husband) and crumple a bit.
I’m rambling. The doc is really great, uses archival footage brilliantly and includes her daughter and friends to honor its subject without making a hagiography. Well worth a watch.

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A Month of Adventure: Winter Break

So, I’m back at the ACC desk for my first evening shift of the year after attending my first class of my last (ah!) semester at UT. I realized this morning while getting myself organized for the craziness that is about to start up again that I never wrote a blog update about anything I did on my winter break. And I did a lot. I crossed a quadrant of the country. (Quadrants are how we measure these things right? Sorry, inside joke.) And saw a lot of my favorite people (and missed some others). I’m not going to try to write a play by play of nearly a month long trip, so instead here are pictures, with minimal captions (mostly just to attribute art to its creator.)

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I call this piece, “A Blur of Salt”

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Care packages from Portland

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Post-storm Paddock Lake, WI

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in the North Shore room

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Dancing in the New Year in my old neighborhood

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The Field Museum of Natural History

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From “The Greeks” exhibit at The Field Museum

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From the “Dionysos Unmasked” exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago

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“Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing

(This is one of my favorite pieces of contemporary art of all time. You should Google it to find out why. Or even better go see it.) 

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“Lifeboat” by Jeff Koons on view as part of the “Surrealism: The Conjured Life” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art

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Museum staff member in the “Run for President” installation by Kathryn Andrews also at the MCA

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Entrance to the “Pop Art Design” exhibit (where photos weren’t allowed) at the MCA

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Award Show Round Up: Critics’ Choice Awards 2016

Historically this is a second-tier award show (as evidenced by the fact that neither the Best Actress of Best Actor winners bothered to show to collect their trophies – though yay Brie and Leo!), but this year it was more entertaining than the Globes. This may have been because my expectations were lower, or because as much as some of host TJ Miller’s bits dragged on a bit too long, there were not questionably transphobic moments, and he even pointed out that Ricky Gervais had been so awkward that it made us feel bad for Mel Gibson, a feat I didn’t think possible. Also, Amy Schumer got drunk and rambled. So, it was a fun night.

And, much more importantly, Spotlight, won both Best Ensemble and Best Picture. And both times they seemed very unprepared for the moment, but hey there Brian D’Arcy James.

(Also, gotta love Helen Mirren’s little “Oh that’s us!” when they called Trumbo)

Sylvester Stallone is a class act:

As is Adam McKay:

So many of my favorite women won:

As I tweeted last night, they should really stop sitting her in the back of these ballrooms. Also, I’ve now completely caught up with her show it is amazing. And I love anyone who uses her platform to promote the American musical.

(She also got to get up again to accept for Ex Machina, which beat The Martian, so that’s cool.)

She’s so smart and cool and from Chicago and married to Tracy Letts and I just want to be her. Also, if I ever get married it may be in some version of that dress.

And Jacob Tremblay was more gracious and present that most of the adults that won:

Also good on Bradley James for the assist with the mic.

Also this happened:

Overall, a fun night, though I guess I need to watch Mad Max: Fury Road and Mr. Robot now.

It was a pretty tame night fashion wise, but there were some very pretty gowns:

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Krysten Ritter in Zuhair Murad (Photo Credit: GotCeleb)

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Shiri Appleby in Leanne Marshall (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

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Leslie Mann in Monique Lhuillier (Photo Credit: WENN.com)

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Constance Zimmer in Tracy Reese (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

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Jennifer Jason Leigh  (Photo Credit: GotCeleb)

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Saorise Ronan in Antonio Berardi (Photo Credit: CelebMafia)

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Constance Wu in  (Photo Credit: GotCeleb)

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Kirsten Dunst in Karl Largerfeld (Photo Credit: Harpers Bazaar UK)

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Mayim Bialik  (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Also her acceptance speech was pretty great:

And the Nominees Are 2016: Round 4

This was my last week before school starts up again so I took advantage and caught up with a bunch of movies. It was quite a diverse lineup, but some really thought provoking and moving (and downright silly) stuff.

Also, I realized I hadn’t yet blogged about Inside Out (I think maybe because I talked about it on the podcast, and that feels like a million years ago.)

Inside Out

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What an adorable little fable about emotion and growing up. I’ve read a few hyperbolic reviews about how it will revolutionize how we think about the brain, but I think what it will do is give kids (and adults) a way to articulate the mixed up way that our memories shape us and change over time.

Also, Phyllis Smith is an extraordinary Sadness – the rest of the cast is great, but as someone who lets sadness drive (maybe a little too much) it was lovely to see her come into her own as a necessary adult feeling. Truly beautiful.

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Concussion

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This is a pretty good movie. It suffers from what I would call Rush-syndrome (except that sounds gross.) Meaning, this is a movie – like the Ron Howard racing period piece Rush from a few years ago – that is well made and emotionally satisfying, with a great cast, but its also too conventional to actually be in contention for the major awards. (Though it’s some racist bullshit that Will Smith wasn’t at least nominated for the Oscar here.)

That being said, Smith delivers a nuances, moving performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian immigrant doctor who first discovered and named the brain damage that many (heartbreakingly many) former NFL players have suffered/died from.

It feels like an old fashioned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-type movie, complete with heavy handed preaching about what it means to be American. And I enjoyed it despite how much I feel implicated by its message. I’m a huge NFL fan and I’ve definitely played my small role in the machine that treats these human beings as animals meant to hit each other as hard as possible for my entertainment. I’m not sure how to reconcile my love of the tradition of the game (and the catharsis of its brutality) with its devastating impacts. Impacts dramatized here heartwrenchingly by David Morse as Mike Webster  who went from Hall of Famer to lasering himself to death in the back of his pickup truck.

I don’t have answers on what to do about this. And neither does the movie really, but it is another reminder (like The Big Short and Steve Jobs) that corporations are not civic institutions devoted to the public good. The NFL does not care about their players beyond their utility, let alone its fans.

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The Spoils Before Dying

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Full disclosure: I’ve never seen The Spoils of Babylon, which this is a sequel to (sort of), but you don’t have to see the first to get this. One, because they are both spoof miniseries supposedly based on unrelated novels by has been mid-century misogynist Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell)  who does TCM-style intros to each episode.

And two – if you’re coming to this for plot coherence, run the other way, quickly. Because this doesn’t make any kind of sense. Or, as our protagonist Rock Banyon (Michael Kenneth Williams aka Omar from The Wire) says at one point to the ghost of his lover Fresno Foxglove (Maya Rudolph):

“No sense is the only sense worth making in a world that’s predicated on nonsense.”

Look, this is a funny spoof of both pretentious art film (both French and American trying to be French) and film noir, and the fake jazz, especially Kristin Wiig belting out “Booze & Pills“, is pretty hilarious and the cameos endless. It’s worth checking out on Netflix f you like weird comedy (and I mean it, it’s really fucking weird.)

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Sisters 

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Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are my heroes. They are brassy and smart and unapologetic about their imperfections, but still seem like they are people you want to hand out with. Also, they are friends, and have been for decades, which is a beautiful thing to see (because fuck the media, women are awesome at being friends). I’m saying this, because this movie is a fine. it’s not bad, it’s not great. They could do better (but they didn’t write it.) The cast seems to be made up of their friends, meaning they all got to basically pretend to be at a party with each other for a month, which would be cool. I guess my final word – I want to hang out with Amy and Tina, and you can watch this on Netflix some Sunday when you’re hungover.

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Ex Machina

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Warning: this review gets spoilery.

The trailer for this movie freaked me out so much that I ignored the fact that it stars 3 of my top actors working right now (longtime love Alicia Vikander – I feel like such a hipster about her, Domnhall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac – actually I sort of feel like a hipster about all 3 of them.) But I don’t do scary, so, seeing this in the theaters was out. But, then it got nominated for stuff, so I reevaluated, read some reviews, and decided I could handle it.

And I could. It isn’t a horror movie. It’s not even really a thriller. It mostly just fucks with your head. Although I know this makes me sound like a Luddite, I’ve always been a firm ‘No’ on whether we should create AI and while Vikander is incredibly beguiling as Ava, this movie makes me even more confident in that viewpoint. But it gave me a new reason. The way our society is set up today (patriarchal, mega-capitalist), sentient machines will be designed by tech bros (excellently captured by Isaac’s ‘dude’ throwing, beer guzzling genius recluse). And, while they aren’t all evil of course, (Gleeson is a charming example of a ‘good kid’ coder) the ones with capital to create an actual being (shades of Frankenstein abound) will most likely create the kind of submissive sex doll Nathan does here. And while the ending can be read as a masterful act of liberation, why create more beings to oppress just to see they are capable of wanting freedom?

Clearly, I could write for hours about this. It’s  brilliant film, written and directed by Alex Garland, who also adapted Never Let Me Go, which covers similar thematic ground. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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Also this sequence is both amazing and will haunt me for the rest of my life. 

The Revenant

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Alright, I admit I went into this wanting to hate it. I’m still holding a Birdman vs. Boyhood  grudge from last year. But, this is a fucking great movie. It’s not an easy sit, there’s a lot of blood, and human suffering. And frankly by the end my main takeaway was men are awful, particularly if they are white, especially if they are French or Texan.

But seriously, this is a remarkable piece of art that somehow blends Terrence Malick-esque natural beauty (some shorts look straight out of The Tree of Life) and visceral realism. It’s gross at times, I don’t think I’ll ever be excited to sit down for a rewatch of Leo disembowling a horse to climb inside the carcass for warmth. (Oh my God, I can’t believe I even just wrote that sentence.) But, it works, because the emotional heart of the story is Leo’s grief for his wife (Grace Dove) and son (Forrest Goodluck). While there’s a bit of “dead-indigenous woman acts as spirit guide for white man” nonsense happening here, generally the performance and cinematography are so breathtaking that I turned my critical brain off after awhile and just got swept up in the story.

And while it is seriously not for the squeamish, all the violence serves the story and its consequences are clear and tragic. This is not blood for the fun of it. (Fun doesn’t really come into the picture here.) And Iñárritu uses the shots of natural world to give the audience a chance to breathe.

Also – Leo should get that Oscar now.

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Award Show Round Up: Golden Globes 2016

I’m not going to lie. Last night’s show felt way too long. Even for me. This may be because so many of the winners were people I just had never heard of, or because Ricky Gervais (whom I had been defending to my Mom on the phone earlier in the day) decided that transphobia was going to be theme of his comedy this year. (And it included Mel Gibson. I thought we, as a society, had decided we were pretty much against that now…)

That being said, there were some great winning moments and comedic bright spots. (And I guess I should start gearing up now for another year of Iñárritu worship – though I haven’t actually seen The Revenant yet, so I shouldn’t let my residual Birdman anger cloud my judgement.)

We started off with a truly shocked Kate Winslet being her charming self:

And then in the TV categories the HFPA surprised every one by awarding a bunch of shows no one watches. But it did get me to start Crazy Ex-Girlfriend last night, and it is worth it, and stars my Broadway boyfriend Santino Fontana, and I feel dumb for not watching it before (based on its horrible title). But look at star/creator Rachel Bloom, she’s my kind of people:

Also, my (and everyone on Twitter’s Star Wars boyfriend) Oscar Isaac won (for a special I haven’t seen yet, but I’m excited to, because Oscar and David Simon.)

There were some pretty great duo presenter moments here were my favs (not including Jason Statham stealing the intro for Spy like he did the movie, because I can’t find a clip of it):

I would be fine with any of these pairings hosting next year.

And, even though generally the show was not the most exciting ceremony I’ve ever watched, there were a couple of really moving moments. Both centering around legends receiving the honor they are due:

(And because he’s a legend they let him cut the music to thank Ryan Coogler, but viewers missed it.)

I’m happy for J. Law (the HFPA has always loved her, they even gave her Supporting Actress a few years ago over Lupita, which is insane.) But my Best Actress of the night was Brie Larson:

I love anyone that mentions thank you cards in an acceptance speech. (Full disclosure, I’m avoiding writing mine from Christmas by writing this blog post right now.)

A lot of the speeches last night were too long (I’m looking at you Gaga and Ridley Scott), but Leo managed to make the “Get Off the Stage” music sound like underscoring for his incredibly important point about indigenous communities. (The point stands, but also, he really is just pulling out all the stops to be our Brando isn’t he?)

But most importantly – Dresses!

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Taraji P. Henson in Stella McCartney (Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty)

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Brie Larson in Calvin Klein (Photo Credit: Getty/John Shearer)

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Jenna Dewan Tatum in Zuhair Murad (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

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Maura Tierney in Elizabeth Kennedy (and great glasses) (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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Amber Heard in Gucci (Photo Credit: Getty)

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Helen Mirren in Badgley Mischka (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

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Saoirse Ronan in Saint Laurent (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/ John Shearer/Getty Images)

And the Nominees Are 2016: Round 3

This is going to be another monster post. In past years I’ve tried to keep up with posting once a week everything I see this time of year, but with traveling I’ve now gone two, very movie filled, weeks without an update. (And I haven’t even updated my list with yesterday’s BAFTA nominations yet…) So bear with me, because I saw some great stuff.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief 

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I’m actually kind of shocked that I hadn’t written about this before. I watched it when it first aired on HBO, and (unsurprisingly given my fascination with alternative religious philosophies) found it compelling, and frankly terrifying. I had read the book over winter break last year, so I already knew a lot of the juicier revelations in this doc, but it was still a good watch. What I like most about the book and film is the way that Lawrence Wright sincerely wants to understand the motivations and mechanisms that attract members to Scientology and keep them there.

Scientology’s theology is easy to laugh at, but the abuses of power Wright and his collaborators describe are seriously scary. So it can boggle the mind how otherwise functional people allow themselves to be caught up in an obviously (at least to a detached observer) exploitative system. The stories the subjects share here aren’t necessarily relatable but they are much closer to it than anything else about the Church I’ve ever read or seen before.

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Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors 

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Here’s the thing. I love Dolly Parton. She’s a legend. This “movie” is terrible. It’s like those overly religious, gold-embossed Hallmark cards that take up way too much space on the rack at Walgreen’s. OK, that’s harsh. But, I couldn’t take the preachy schmaltz of this. Frankly, after about 10 minutes, I just had this on in the background and read my book. Jennifer Nettles is very pretty though. And Alyvia Alyn Lind is cute and spunky as a young Dolly, but do yourself a favor and skip this one.

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The Danish Girl

2015-12-29-1451404098-7547215-thedanishgirlThe first half of this movie is intimate I almost felt like a voyeur. The story of Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener) and her wife, fellow painter, Gerta Wegener, is historically important. (Elbe was one of the first patients to attempt full sex reassignment surgery.) But this movie illustrates well how deeply personal (rather than political) gender dysmorphia and transition is. And it was even more difficult for Elbe since she didn’t even have the modern context and language of the Trans Rights Movement to describe herself to herself (let alone her wife or anyone else.) Although the scenes of the psychologists misdiagnosing her are horrific, they also make sense, at times her attempts to describe how she’s feeling to sound almost schizophrenic.

I was able to think this deeply about these issues because my two loves Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander were both so raw and wonderful. It wasn’t my favorite movie of the season so far. (Brooklyn and Spotlight are vying for that spot right now), but it was beautiful, both visually and emotionally and it makes clear, not just the drama, of Lili and Gerda’s lives but their complexity. (Ben Whishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts – also great this year in Far From the Madding Crowd and Amber Heard were all also lovely.)

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The Intern

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-Parent TrapNancy Myers movie before*, which is pretty awful of me considering the fact that as a feminist I should be buying tickets to female directed movies (especially those that tell women’s stories) as often as possible, but somehow it never happened.

But, I liked this one enough that I’ll probably go back and watch her other ones. This is a pretty world filled with rich, pretty, well-dressed people, but sometimes you just want to live in a world where everyone in Brooklyn can afford a claw foot bathtub and a revolving tie rack.

This movie works because Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro can charm a stone. I especially loved DeNiro in this. I tend to think of him as an intimidating presence, but here he plays as a big softie. (Like my mom and I literally “awed” multiple times.)

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*Note: I have also seen The Holiday 

Joy

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I know that David O. Russell is insane, but I’m pretty excited that Jennifer Lawrence wants to work with him until one of them dies, because they make damn good movies together. This one may not be the most consistent (that’s probably American Hustle) but its rough edge match its subject matter and I found it incredibly watchable. I especially loved the strange soap opera sequences starring actual soap actors and the way the permeated the early story, because Joy (Lawrence)’s reality was so tough you almost (key word there) understood why her mother (the delightful Virginia Madsen) would rather stay in bed watching TV.

Lawrence carries the film wonderfully with chillingly great supporting turns from DeNiro, Elisabeth Rohm, Isabella Rossellini. Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have their same electric chemistry (channeled in a new direction) and Joy’s truly loveable ex-husband was played by my new discovery, Édgar Ramírez . It’s not a love fest, but there is love in the mess and inspiration in the chaos.

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Youth 

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I loved the trailer for this, but really hated the director‘s last (somehow Oscar winning)film The Great BeautySo I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this one. Well, it feels like a much improved 2nd draft of Beauty. It’s still an exploration of aging artists –  Michael Caine plays a composer and Harvey Keitel his film director friend – and their coming to terms with the proverbial gaps in life.

I don’t want to describe this too much it’s a surreal fever dream, but somehow also a very real investigation of relationships romantic, platonic and familial. But I really don’t think I can convey its strange tone. So, I’ll just say the performances, particularly Keitel and Paul Dano (as a disaffected Hollywood actor contemplating a role), are captivating and full. It’s a weird one, but ultimately moving.

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Carol

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I don’t know if this suffered from inflated expectations or what, but I didn’t find this as moving as I would have liked. That being said, it was visually gorgeous, the colors and lighting are mesmerizing, and the 1950s clothes and set dressing are impeccable.

I’m trying to figure out what held me back from buying into this. The performances were exceptional, from Sarah Paulson and Jake Lacey in great supporting turns to Kyle Chandler doing an excellent job of playing what could have been a villain – Carol (Cate Blanchett)’s estranged husband who can’t handle her sexuality – as an essentially good person who is acting out of fear, ignorance, and hurt.

Which brings me to the central duo. Rooney Mara is breathtaking, both like she’s beautiful and her performance is subtle and lovely. Blanchett, while obviously striking built a character that had so many layers of artiface that it took me a long time to like her. Not that likability should be the goal of a performance, but I kept thinking they way she talked was reminiscent of her Blue Jasmine turn, which as I said then, felt more like a caricature than character. So, maybe (and this feels like a confession I’ll get some flack for) I’m just not a big Cate Blanchett fan. She’s undoubtedly talented, but I can’t seem to connect to her.

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The Big Short

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I’m having trouble deciding how I want to write about The Big Short. On the one hand, it’s a technically interesting film – it combines montage and meta-narrative (voice overs, winks at the camera, Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining arcane economic instruments) to tell us about culture using the manic visual language of our culture.

And it’s also a large ensemble comedy (though it didn’t make me laugh much, but I’ll come back to that) starring great actors both famous (Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, etc.) and new to me (standouts include Jeremy Strong, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock), and a host of cameos (the pop culture junky in my lives for cameos.)

In other words, I wanted to love this, I wanted to be taken along on the ride and feel the righteous indignation director/co-writer Adam McKay wants us to about the crash. But in the end I felt indignant sure, but I mostly felt sad. Sad that we, as a country and a world, continually find new ways to exploit poor people. Sad at the way we (and I am completely including myself in this) seem to worship money and business as if wealth were some kind of self-justifying Good.

The movie attempts, in a roundabout ways to address this, but mostly it left me feeling like, you know what the whole thing (as in the economic system) is fucked anyway, may as well get what you can. This is probably my issue, not the movie’s but let’s just say I didn’t find it to be a laugh riot.

(Also, as Julia texted me, this is a total Bechdel fail.)

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Just a bunch of white dudes in oxfords fucking over the world…

Music for the New Year

Happy 2016 everyone! Sixteen has always been my lucky number so I have a good feeling about this year.

I’ve been on a bit of a whirlwind trip for the holidays, through Connecticut, Wisconsin, Chicago, (and a long drive through Pennsylvania) so I know I have some catch up blogging to do awards movie wise, but first here’s some music I’m loving right now/a few theme songs for 2016.

Out of the Woods – Taylor Swift

Perfect – One Direction 

I am sort of obsessed with the intertexuality between this and T. Swift’s “Style” video. (Yeah, I just used the term intertexuality to describe a One Direction video, don’t ever tell me my English degree didn’t lead to anything.)

The Boy in the Bubble – Paul Simon 

I Still Want a Little More – The Milk Carton Kids 

I Wanna Get Better – Bleachers 

I’m Alright – Jo Dee Messina 

Rattled – Traveling Wilburys 

Million Years Ago – Adele 

Because I’m sure I’ll need to cry at some point this year. And this song will help that.

Lost in My Mind – The Head and the Heart 

Country Road – James Taylor 

Because this lyric is one of my 2016 mantras:

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