It’s the most wonderful time of the year…awards season! I’ve seen a bunch of the SAG and Golden Globe nominees already, and have a pretty long break ahead of me to catch up on the rest.
Here’s what I’ve seen so far:
Love & Mercy
Based on the trailer, and my knowledge of Brian Wilson’s mental illness I was really worried that this was going to be crushing, but it wasn’t. Paul Dano (Golden Globe nominee) and John Cusack were excellent at inhabiting Wilson’s fragile genius. And what’s great is that because of the strength and grace of Wilson’s second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), you don’t leave feeling weighed down by the sadness of what Wilson had to endure. At least I didn’t, at least one person who I talked to found this overwhelmingly sad, which makes sense given that he had to deal with child abuse, mental illness, addiction, manipulation, and over medication. But the central love story left me with the feeling that the world is filled with more love and mercy that we often remember.
(Side note: I think “God Only Knows” is one of those songs that I’m convinced was transmitted by angels or aliens or something. It’s supernaturally good.)
If you listen to my podcast, then you know I had a lot of trouble with the excruciating level of technical detail in this book. (It suffers from what I refer to as Moby Dick syndrome – just tell. me. the. damn. story.) But, that’s exactly what the movie does. (Though, conversely, there is one time jump in the movie that I think leaves out entirely too much detail…but now I’m just being a Goldilocks.)
This is a good old fashioned, feel-good adventure story, it’s basically Robinson Crusoe without the racism. And it pulls that off beautifully.
In a really great way the effects, though handled well, don’t even really matter, this is a movie about characters and even the bit players (oh hey there, Donald Glover) are awesome. But let’s be real, you’re gonna love or hate this based on Matt Damon and he delivers. The movie doesn’t drag for a second and that is because he makes you care about Mark Watney (even if he is a nerdy UChicago smartass.)
Side Note: I also found it refreshing that they didn’t shoehorn in a romance for him, single people have just as much motivation to survive as married ones, but Hollywood doesn’t usually tell their stories well.
I take notes throughout the year on movies that I think will get nominations so that I’ll remember my impressions when I come to write this first post of awards season, but the Hollywood Foreign Press threw me for a loop by nominating actual broad comedies in the Comedy/Musical categories this year. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great, but I didn’t take notes on Spy, because I didn’t think I would be writing about it. Thankfully, Miró and I did talk about it on our Summer Movies episode of MttM, so I can direct you all there for more thoughts on it. But I will say I love Melissa McCarthy, and she and Rose Byrne had wonderful comic chemistry. It was delightful to see Miranda Hart in a Hollywood movie, and Jason Statham is excellent at self-parody.
Now this one (also discussed in the above mentioned podcast episode) I could have sworn I took notes on, but they are nowhere to be found. Suffice to say, this movie is pretty great. And though I don’t always agree with everything Amy Schumer says/does, I love her unapologetic spirit and the mix of bawdiness and vulnerability in this movie is perfect. Judd Apatow basically makes movies about people that are stuck in extended adolescence that need to grow up. I love that with this movie they showed that is not a distinctly male experience. Also, Bill Hader, believable as a romantic lead. Who woulda thunk it?
Side Note: LeBron James, great as a sidekick.
Right up front – I love The Social Network. I once got in a debate in my film criticism class senior year of college about why it definitely deserved to win Best Picture over The King’s Speech. (I also had a couple of very tense conversations with very good friends about this subject. For the record, I like The King’s Speech.) So I wanted to love Steve Jobs, because Aaron Sorkin and technology and people walking through tight hallways discussing inventing the world I grew up in.
And…well…I think the acting was phenomenal. Michael Fassbender made me forget what the real Steve Jobs even looked like by completely inhabiting this brilliant asshole. Kate Winslet was wonderful as Joanna Hoffman, though she seemed to be Benjamin Buttoning in terms of her age and accent.The real standouts for me were Seth Rogen (as Steve Wozniak) and Jeff Daniels (as John Sculley) who both play people arguably better at their jobs than Jobs, but lacking in vision.
Although I know, from having been alive, the happy ending and living mythology that Jobs enjoyed in the 21st century the movie ends at the brink of that. And I found myself wondering more about the people Steve left in the wake of his ambition than the man himself. Though I really enjoyed the line Sorkin gives to him inn his rooftop scene of reconciliation with his daughter – “I was made badly.” Yes, it could be about a product, but despite his claims otherwise, in many ways Jobs was his own product. We talk about him like he was a genius, partly because he told us he was one. And he was really good at designing and selling a story.
This isn’t really about the movie, which is structurally interesting and emotionally complex, but I left with this nagging feeling in my gut. In the last product launch we’re shown clips of “Think Different” icons from MLK to Muhammad Ali, and it’s not a big leap to think that we’re supposed to put Jobs in that pantheon. But, genius he may have been, Jobs was selling us a product. He was a businessman not a revolutionary, and it makes my skin crawl a bit to see him treated as a prophet.
The voice of this novel is so distinct that I was very worried when I heard they were adapting it into a movie. But then I saw that they had cast Brie Larson as Ma & I was in. And, I was right. Watiching this movie (like reading the book) is like getting repeatedly punched in the stomach. And it manages to both, hang on to the child’s eye story (through the almost luminescent Jacob Tremblay) by never leaving Jack’s side, and give me a fuller picture of Ma’s struggle to both provide what her child needs (safety, warmth, and fun) and a means to escape her captivity.
Actually seeing Sean Bridgers as ‘Old Nick,’ was a startling experience for me. I had turned him into a monster in my head while reading the book, (Because, of course, he is one) but seeing how remarkably normal he looks was a chilling reminder that evil, even building a hostage cell in your backyard level evil, comes in packages that can deceive us. Because he is a human, a terrible one, but a human and that’s fucking scary. (Also refreshing, they didn’t need to show us the rape scenes to make it clear that it was traumatic and awful.) This was a visceral experience for me, I cried a lot, and my heart raced, but it was worth it.
To end on a happier note, because the movie is ultimately hopeful- Joan Allen and (new to me) Tom McCamus were like rays of (tired) sunshine in this.
OK, so this book is one of my all time favorites (written by my favorite living writer.) So, I was worried when this was being adapted, but then I saw the trailer, and it is amazing. Like, my mental image of Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson) had brown hair, but other than that this basically exactly what I pictured.
And the movie itself, while obviously condensed, so perfectly captured the sweetness and melancholy of Eilis’s (Saorise Ronan) story of emigration from Ireland to Brooklyn in 1952. I’ve always loved this character because she feels like a real person that you don’t see often in books or movies. She’s careful without being boring and charming without being the life of the party. She’s something between a beauty queen and a wallflower, you know, like a real person.
Overall, the movie felt old fashioned, in a lovely way. Eilis meets her adorable love interest Tony (Emory Cohen) at a parish dance, but also in the way it is centered around an emotional story, which we don’t make big sweeping movies like this about that any more.
A family friend who we ran into at the theater called this a “woman’s movie” in a disparaging way. All I have to say to that is – it certainly is a movie about a woman, that takes the concerns of her life seriously and includes tragedy and love. And if that’s inherently dismissable to you, then I don’t know why you, then I don’t know why you’re reading this blog.
I was so worried during the first 15 minutes of this movie, it had been so built up for me, and at first it felt so…slow isn’t the right word. Quiet might be better. Or conventional, maybe. The acting was good and the story important, but I just didn’t think it could live up to the hype. And then it did.
It felt slow, because this story unfolded slowly (as a character remarks early on – “the Church thinks in centuries,” well this scandal worked in decades.)
Tom McCarthy (director and co-writer) makes the interesting choice of starting in the past (in 1976) with a snapshot of a priest walking out of a police precinct and lingering on the face of a desk sergeant realizing that this is how it works. The movie is really exceptional in that, despite being about a salacious scandal, it never stoops to tabloid cliché. Although the scenes depicting victims telling their stories are emotional gut punches they are straight forward and allowed to stand on their own without underscoring or other cinematic emotional manipulation.
And it also does a good job of making it clear that though blame for the abuse ultimately lies with the priests everyone else was turning a blind eye. The movie is really about the influence of the church in a city like Boston, but I also think it illustrates that people don’t want to believe this story could be true. Despite (or maybe because of) truly remarkable performances from the whole ensemble (particularly Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and my fellow Northwestern alum Brian d’Arcy James), this is a truly uncomfortable movie, even when you know what they are going to find watching the magnitude be uncovered is so sickening and heartbreaking. But it also feels important. Part of what the Spotlight team did was keep the story on the front page for over a year, and this movie will hopefully help do that again.
Bridge of Spies
I can’t lie, I wasn’t going to see this before Mark Rylance started getting nominated for it. I’m not sure why, I love Steven Spielberg, especially in combination with Tom Hanks, but the trailers for this just didn’t grab me. (And let’s be real that is a dumb movie title. I’ve seen this and liked it, and still ton’t think I want to see something called “Bridge of Spies.”)
Remember last year when I complained about how Unbroken felt old fashioned and propagandistic? Well so did this, but in a way I can totally get behind. It can be hard to be an informed liberal and still be proud to be an American, but stories like this (‘inspired by true events’) help me to remember how. As Hanks’s character James Donovan puts it, what makes us American is “the rulebook” (aka the Constitution) not any one race, religion, etc. and that means we use it (and the 4th Amendment protections it provides) for everyone even those who don’t believe in it/we don’t trust. Because no matter how scared we are, we can’t forget who we are, which seems depressingly relevant today.
Enough pontificating – Rylance is great as Hanks’s suspected Soviet spy client and the two of them have a great energy as scene partners. Overall, it’s a little over-grey toned at points, but visually interesting. And I appreciated that this shows espionage to be a lot of walking around and cryptic conversations rather than jumping out of places. It’s like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy without Le Carré’s crushing cynicism, because this is Spielberg after all.
A Very Murray Christmas
What a delightful little trifle (I’ve never used that phrase before I don’t think, but it really felt apt here.) It’s frankly hilarious to me that Bill Murray got a SAG nomination for this, not that he isn’t great, he is the quirky, mopey, lovable old mean drunk he’s convinced us all he is in the last 15 years or so, but this just doesn’t feel like something that would even get submitted to awards committees, but I’m glad it was because I watched it while baking cookies and it struck the perfect chord of cheer, melancholy and nostalgia.
There’s a great old-timey feel to the whole thing, and like all good classic variety specials it is carried by the cameos: Chris Rock and George Clooney are charming, Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones are adorable, Miley Cyrus is clothed and crazy talented. But my favorites have to be Jenny Lewis and Maya Rudolph.
While the dream sequence is great campy, fun, my favorite moment is this sing-a-long of a melancholy Christmas classic:
Side note: This is no tied with The Bling Ring for my favorite Sophia Coppola movie.
(This post was crazy long. If you made it this far – thank you!)