Happy Awards Season everyone! The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced the Golden Globe nominations this morning, which longtime readers will know, is the official beginning of my favorite time of the year!
I have a lot of homework to do already (and we have 4 more sets of nominations still to come!), but I’ve made some progress. Here’s what I’ve seen so far:
I didn’t make notes for this after I saw it, which was dumb. I think I saw it in the midst of last awards season, or right after maybe, so I just wasn’t thinking about 2019 awards yet. But, it’s really good. I see a few Marvel movies a year (certainly not all of them), and this is easily the most discussion worthy I’ve ever seen. Ryan Coogler, plays within the rules of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and does his part to set the stage for the omnibus Infinity War while also crafting a compelling story with a distinctive style.
The cast is all great, and unlike a lot of Marvel movies, it has a compelling villain (played by the really wonderful Michael B. Jordan) with motivations which, while still very flawed and wrong, are understandable. (Usually Marvel villains thought process tends to read to me as “Give me power now, I don’t need a reason now.”) Anyway, I should probably watch this again.
You can read my poem for this movie here.
I have some questions for Bo Burnham, who somehow went from making piano-comedy specials I fell asleep to on Netflix to writing and directing the most emotionally true take on young adolescence I’ve ever seen. Mainly my questions boil down to – how did you know? How did you know with such heartbreaking detail what it’s like to be a 13 year old girl? How the pressures of peers and culture translate into pressure put on yourself (in the heart achingly relatable image of handwritten goal lists that include things like “get a boyfriend -> how to ‘be sexy'” and Post-Its on projecting confidence peeling off of bathroom mirrors)?
“Eighth grade is the worst,” an older friend tells Kayla (the astoundingly great Elsie Fisher) says at one point, and I’ve never met an American woman who wouldn’t agree. Burnham lets that fact be the central drama in his story, doesn’t invent a conflict that plays louder or more cinematically. He’s created a beautiful portrait of how hard it is to grapple with life, and I’m so grateful for it.
Crazy Rich Asians
Representation matters, and the historical importance of this movie (and its nominations) is sadly needed. And it is a really fun, over the top, romantic comedy, and we don’t get enough of those any more. But, um, I didn’t write notes, because I think it’s all very beautiful and pretty silly. But it’s fun! You should see it!
I may have waited a bit too long to write my notes about this one, but it’s hard because I didn’t feel like I could be coherent about it, even the day after seeing it (when I usually write my thoughts) because this movie is a lot to process.
I guess I’ll start by saying it’s great. And the pairing of filmmaker and content can’t get much more perfect than Spike Lee with the true story of a Black man that went undercover to take down the KKK. There are certain sequences in this that are gorgeous filmmaking on a purely aesthetic level. (I’m thinking particularly of the shots of the audiences’ faces during Kwame Ture – Corey Hawkins – speech at the Black Student Union.) The acting was all pretty great. John David Washington has a quiet strength that served the repressed Ron Stallworth well, but not to be all this SNL sketch about it, my favorite performance was from Adam Driver as the Jewish officer that plays Ron’s face to the Klan. The movie requires a really complex layer cake of a performance from him and he delivers.
Looking back at this I can’t figure out why I’m not gushing about this movie. It does an excellent job of displaying both the ridiculousness and dangerous nature of white supremacy and how we as a country got to the Donald Trump, Charlottesville era, and I was floored by the last 5 minutes, which included one of the best moments of editing I have ever seen on film (where the Klansman’s torches become the Charlotteville tiki torches) but something is keeping me from saying I love this.
A Star Is Born
Look, this movie was going to have to be a disaster for me to not love it. I mean, I was singing along with the trailer after seeing it twice, but it exceeded even my high expectations. It could have just been a ably made remake, showcasing Lady Gaga and that would have been worthy of awards attention, but Bradley Cooper is nothing is not an overachiever. And he made a truly great movie. And yes, Lady Gaga is a genius here, and always, but he is so heartbreakingly great here too. And the supporting characters, especially Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay (?!?) as the bystanders to the showbiz tragedy, are all so well drawn that the melodrama never slips into farce.
Also, the music is all great, I’m listening to the soundtrack for the 3rd time as I write these notes the day after seeing it last night. This matters because it grounds their story in real talent and art.
I could gush for a long while, but instead, I’ll just quote Tim’s Facebook post as we walked out of the theater, “It is that good.”
The Old Man & The Gun
David Lowery is one of my favorite filmmakers, I love the grainy, warmly lit worlds he creates for us. Casey Affleck is a supremely talented man who plays exhaustion better than anyone. (I know, I know – I paid my filmanthropy – see below.) Sissy Spacek is a luminous national treasure, but this movie belongs to Robert Redford. Apparently it is his swan song as an actor, and it feels consciously created with that in mind.
Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a man who robbed banks and escaped from prison as a vocation. The people he robbed describe him as a gentleman who was clearly happy to do what he loved. Obviously, this is a part Redford has played before and there are nods throughout to his roguish filmography, and don’t we all sort of think of Redford as a charming cad getting away with something? But we love him anyway, and this movie is a treatise on why. I highly recommend it.
I know Casey Affleck has a troubling history with sexual misconduct, but, unlike many other famous men with similar pasts, he has paid restitution, gone to rehab, and publicly acknowledged wrongdoing. Maybe not in the exact way we would like to hear, but as far as we know, in a way in keeping with his victim’s wishes. I think this is a good model of restorative justice in a #MeToo world. If you want to join me in supporting this, consider donating money to Time’s Up.
I’m struggling with my reaction to this movie. I went into it expecting it to be hard to watch, and it was at times, and to be emotionally wrecked, and I cried, but something about it left me cold. The two central performances, Steve Carell as Dave Sheff and Timothée Chalamet as his addict son are both strong and I’m sure Chalamet will get a lot of awards attention for the physicality and vulnerability of his performance, but this movie is really Carell’s and maybe that’s why I felt at a remove from its potential emotional heft.
David Sheff is a writer and he approached his son’s recovery the way he knew how, with love for sure, but also with research, but it’s very hard to dramatize research effectively. (I think maybe Spotlight is the only recent film that pulled it off.) Even a cameo from my eternal talent crush Timothy Hutton can’t make looking at brain scans as compelling as Chalamet’s face crumpling with pain. So, I guess my problem is primarily one of emphasis, this is Carell’s movie and I wish it wasn’t.
(Side note: Maura Tierney, whom I will love forever because she was Abby on “ER” and childhood obsessions never die is very good as a not at all wicked stepmother.)
I saw this in IMAX, which usually just gives me a headache (and it did here too), but the space flight sequences were really worth seeing on such a large screen. And I felt the jostling and panic on a visceral level. It also wasn’t a bad scale to look at Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy move their beautiful, talented faces. This is a sadder movie than I was expecting, taking on the personal tragedies of Neil Armstrong’s life and the very lethal toll of the Apollo space program.
Not to feed trolls, but I can kind of understand why right wing nationals hate this film. They do, of course, show the American flag on the moon, saying they don’t is absurd, and they certainly don’t take credit away from these fundamentally American men, who did a really brave, astounding thing. But, they also don’t just tell us the myth of American supremacy triumphant that is taught about the moon landing in schools. This was an expensive (both in money and lives) Cold War project that was not universally supported at the time and may not have been an unqualified good.
By focusing on Neil Armstrong, who, as portrayed here, was a fundamentally decent man, motivated more by math than glory, writer Josh Singer and director Damien Chazelle have made a personal rather than patriotic movie, and frankly that’s much more interesting to me.
Also, Claire Foy is fantastic and thank you to Singer for not only passing the Bechdel test in this very male environment, but giving her motivations beyond telling her husband not to go do “the brave thing.” She has a lovely, decent American pragmatism here that I just about fell in love with.
I’m announcing it here: Lucas Hedges has achieved official Talent Crush status (he joins Saoirse Ronan, Jack O’Connell, Colin Farrell, and Timothy Hutton in this strange, hard to explain honor.) He can do so much without saying a word. In this movie, which follows him into the depressing world of gay conversion “therapy,” gives him so much space to careen from vulnerability to anger to strength back to broken and I was captivated by his face with every shift.
Nicole Kidman, as his flamboyantly Southern mother, is as fantastic as she always is. The rest of the supporting cast (with the notable exception of Britton Sear as a fellow “patient” truly tortured by the process and Joe Alwyn and Théodore Pellerin as the boys who catch Hedges’s attention for worse and better respectively) are unfortunately not given a ton to do. Joel Edgerton (who also wrote and directed), as the leader of the program, could have been a compelling villain, or even a tragic figure, but instead lopes around carrying a football, vaguely menacing. Even more of a missed opportunity, Russell Crowe, Hedges’s pastor father’s motivations are hand waved off as “beliefs” never articulated. He’s given one good scene at the end, but it feels hard to connect to given the void he had been up to that point.
This is mostly a paint-by-numbers musician biopic, complete with dark spiral into decadence and triumphant return to the stage. Thankfully, the musicians involved ae Queen, so the soundtrack is fantastic. The casting director for this deserves some sort of honorary Oscar, because Rami Malek is great but more remarkably the supporting cast all look so incredibly like the real life people they are portraying its almost distracting. Also, they can act.
I could rattle on here about the controversy regarding Freddie’s sexuality, and the way it is portrayed here, but in the end, it’s a PG-13 mainstream movie with a male, bisexual lead character who is more than just his sex life, and that matters. But, the best parts of this movie are recreations, and while I don’t want to explicitly not recommend this, I will let you know that Queen’s Live Aid set is available on YouTube, and it’s exhilarating.
The original director of this film, Bryan Singer, is pretty much evil. With his alleged crimes in mind, I donated my filmanthropy money to RAINN. Click here to join me.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
This is a great movie. I want to, in honor of Lee Israel, the biographer-turned-forger played by Melissa McCarthy, think of some Dorothy Parker-esque quip to begin this blurb, but it’s not coming to me. But, I found this delightfully caustic yet humane. McCarthy is wonderful as the sad-sack inverse of the constant ball of upbeat energy we’ve come to know and love her for. But her performance doesn’t play as an Oscar-grab, it just feels painfully real. Same goes for Richard E. Grant as her drinking buddy turned accomplice. This is a crime movie with little danger, no chases, but high emotional stakes, and I loved it.
Also, it has strong female and queer representation without giving a thought to traditional likability, and thank you Marielle Heller for that.