Awards Show Round Up: Emmys 2017

So with the notable (and frankly disturbing) exception of the inexplicable inclusion of Sean Spicer, last night’s Emmys were one of the best I can remember. Usually the show starts to drag around hour 3, but last night’s combination of skilled (but not overly intrusive) hosting and genuinely surprising/deserved wins made for a fun few hours. Here are my highlights:

I love a musical number and Stephen Colbert did not disappoint (love that Chance interlude too!):

(As always these videos will probably go away with copyright claims…)

I love John Lithgow, though I would have given this one to Ron Cephas Jones…

I want to give Kate McKinnon all of the awards always:

The SNL sweep continued, and I will never be surprised at Lorne Michaels’s ability to appear on the edge of falling asleep at all times:

(Also Anna Farris and Allison Janney are just the best.)

Also pretty happy to see this stunt casting lead to this:

I have always, and will always want to be these women when I grow up:

John Oliver is pretty great:

I LOVE ANN DOWD:

On a serious note,”Thanksgiving” is once of the best episodes of any show ever, and this speech was amazing:

Riz Ahmed is amazing:

Reese Witherspoon for entertainment president:

STERLING!!!!

It is BS that they played him off, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman (both of whom I love) talked forever…

And then right at the end there, Margaret Atwood was there:

Other notes: I really need to watch Atlanta; It’s time to put JLD in an Emmy pantheon and spread the comedy actress love around a bit. It was a fucking fantastic year for women. (I need to watch Big Little Lies too.

Fashion wise, it was a mixed bag. Weird flowy skirts over leotards and strange feather duster fringe bottoms, but there were some great looks:

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Jane Fonda in Brandon Maxwell (Photo Credit: Getty)

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Millie Bobby Brown in Calvin Klein (Photo Credit: Getty)

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Nicole Kidman in Calvin Klein (Photo Credit: Getty/Jason Merritt)

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Kate McKinnon in Narcisco Rodriguez (Photo Credit: Rob Latour/Variety/Shutterstock)

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Reed Marano (Photo Credit: Strauss/Invision/AP)

(BTW I may design my future wedding dress based on this gown. I’m in love with it.)

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Jessica Biel in Ralph & Russo Couture (Photo Credit: J. Merritt/Getty Images)

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Boss (Photo Credit: Getty/Frazer Harrison)

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Susan Kelechi Watson in Cristina Ottaviano (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Thing I Love – Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul

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I’ve been on a documentary kick lately, which luckily seems to be the genre of movie that Netflix has decided to continue paying to keep on their platform. The all knowing “you might like” algorithm got it completely right last night when it suggested that I watch Mad Dog with Soulwhich I had previously never heard of (apparently it’s going to air on Sky TV in Britain, I don’t know if it was produced for that purpose or what the deal it.)

Like any 90s child, I grew up knowing Joe Cocker’s voice from this:

And then a few years ago (while watching another documentary) I saw this clip of him singing “Space Captain” live on stage and I fell in love:

Many of the talking heads in this documentary talk about Cocker’s unique (to say the least) performance style. At least one referred to it as someone in a trance, and I’ve always felt listening to him sing that he is channeling something raw and beyond himself. I would be tempted to say it’s almost supernatural, but that would grandiose, and would also discount the deep humanity you can hear in that gravel (particularly in the ballads):

There’s nothing incredibly inventive about this as a film, or particularly revelatory about Cocker as an artist or a man. He was a kid form Sheffield England who fell in love with Ray Charles music, and skyrocketed to fame. Once there he was uncomfortable with the attention, and predictably found chemicals that could help him deal. (Though on the scale of rockstar excess he seemed to veer more to the side of “difficult to work with” rather than “force for destruction.”) But it is a lovely portrait of an incredibly talented man, who seems like he was, by nature, gentle and sensitive and dear. (There’s a long section about their life in Colorado, where he enjoyed gardening and hanging out at the local pool hall that I found particularly endearing.)

It’s mostly just an excuse to listen to him sing, which is a pretty great way to spend a Sunday evening:

Also this:

Awards Show Roundup: SAG Awards 2017

Even for an awards super fan like me, with all that’s going on in the world it felt a little weird to sit down and watch actors congratulate each other, but, my Hollywood coastal elite loves, took the platform and used it to speak out for good so, it was actually a really nice way to end the weekend.

Ashton Kutcher and Julia Louis-Dreyfus started the night out strong:

I don’t watch it any more, but I love that Orange is the New Black submits their entire 37 person ensemble, it’s always such a great moment:

To quote Denzel Washinton: Viola. Davis.

In case you haven’t taken my advice and watched Captain Fantastic yet, this might be some motivation now:

Power to the people, stick it to the man

Marhershala Ali made me cry, yes with his performance in Moonlight, but also with this speech:

I love Lily Tomlin, I want to be her when I grow up (and I’m glad I could find a video that didn’t include Dolly Parton’s boob joke filled introduction):

I really need to watch The Crown, because John Lithgow and Claire Foy are delights:

The kids from Stranger Things are adorable, still not watching that show though they did give the best speech ever:

Also, I just love Winona Ryder, she really went on a journey through this speech.

I think Natalie Portman should have won Best Actress, but I love Emma Stone, and I feel a real kinship with her, and this is the kind of speech I would give if ever called upon to:

I’m never going to complain about Denzel Washington winning an award, especially when he is genuinely surprised:

Look, I think Moonlight was robbed, but the Hidden Figures women gave a speech that made their win worth it:

And look, it was a weird night for fashion. Every time I thought, “Oh I like that dress,” and then it would have a strange flower applique, lace detail, or sheer panel. But here were some favorites:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Lela Rose (Photo Credit: Getty)

 

Annalise Basso in Bibhu Mohapatra (Photo Credit: Women’s Day)

Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Michelle Dockery in Elie Saab (Photo Credit: Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock)

Bryce Dallas Howard in Dress the Population (it’s off the rack!) (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) 

Rasida Jones in Vivienne Westwood (Photo Credit: Getty) 

Emily Blunt in Roberto Cavalli (Photo Credit: WENN)

Kirsten Dunst in Dior (Photo Credit: AP)

 

And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 5

BAFTA nominations came out this week! Which means that in addition to the movies I saw in the last week, I have a few catch up posts, and an even longer list of things to see! So this may be a bit of a long one, but there’s some great stuff.

Weiner

Note: I wrote this review this summer, before the latest round of investigations into Anthony Weiner and their devastating implications for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Instead of rewriting it, I’m sharing it here as a time capsule of my initial thoughts on this film.

 

I’ll admit I went to this basically because I wanted to go to the IFC Film Center, but I’m glad I wandered in. Look, Anthony Weiner seems like a difficult person, but I think he genuinely would had good policies as a mayor. Though one with an anger management problem. The real story here isn’t why he sexted (obviously that’s some combination of lust, ego and a maybe pathological need to be adored) but why that’s unforgivable when others things aren’t. And more importantly its about how amazing his wife Huma is. Not for putting up with his crap (how and why she did is her business. Note: Though I’m glad she’s gotten out now) but for creating boundaries for herself and sticking to them even when there’s a documentary crew in her house. She’s me new definition of grace under fire.

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

If you’ve read this blog, or ever talked to me, you probably know that the Harry Potter stories (I almost wrote universe, but I don’t like that. Maybe the Harry Potter mythology?) are incredibly important to me. In other words, this movie was made for me. And it was a delightful return to a world that I love. Plus Eddie Redmayne & Colin Farrell are 2 of my all time favorite actors, so I’m happy to watch them run around New York (including the museum I used to work at!) reducing it rubble.

The magical creatures are wonderfully rendered. I especially love the platypus like creature who collects gold in a pouch, which google tells me is a niffler. And I loved the sequences where Newt (Redmayne) walks his new, no-maj (aka muggle) friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) around his suitcase taking care of his animals. It was a lovely touch of warmth and whimsy.

Which honestly was needed, because the main plot of this movie is very dark, and the anti-magic Second Salem crusaders are super creepy. No spoilers, but until something towards the end becomes clearer about him, I found it very hard to watch Ezra Miller‘s character Creedance (and don’t get me started on his creepy little sister…)

But, as always, in J.K. Rowling’s world at least, there is hope in the darkness (and its usually in the form of a smart woman – I loved Katherine Waterston as Tina!)

And while I am not happy at all about the casting of a domestic abuser as the franchise’s new villain, I am happy to see where the story goes from here.

Divines

I wanted to like this movie so much. It tells the story of 2 French girls of color, one the daughter of an imam, growing up in the equivalent of the projects. At first it was giving me Fish Tank vibes and I was so in. But, I don’t know if it was the mood I was in or my over empathizing problem, but I could not get over my, ultimately justified, fear for these girls.

At every step along the way I wanted to save them from their self destructive decisions. I understand the point that writer-director Houda Benyamina, was making about the truly bone crushing stagnation of poverty, but I ultimately didn’t enjoy watching their naive attempt at escape (through the emulation of a local female drug dealer) grind them even further into despair.

That being said, the two actresses at the center here, Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumena were remarkable and Kevin Mischel added a lovely touch of romantic relief.

20th Century Women

I love the way Mike Mills tells stories. I loved Beginners and this felt like a true companion piece to that. Not just because Mills has said this is his love letter to his mom the way Beginners was to his Dad, but they feel cut from the same stylistic sloth. And I love that cloth.

It’s a mixture of collage, nonlinear storytelling and other technical tricks with real emotional depth and sly humor. Every character in this movie feels like a real, full person, even the ones that easily could have been jokes, like Billy Crudup‘s post-hippie handyman.

Annette Bening is quietly wonderful as the older, single mom of a 15 year old boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) who she feels unequipped to raise into a “good man,” (Because, “who even knows what that means any more?”) She enlists the help of his friend Julie (Elle Fanning), and renter Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and while her plan doesn’t quite work out they all do their best along with Crudup to form a family.

And its beautiful, and at times absurd, and I’m a little concerned about how much I want to wear all of Annette Bening’s costumes considering she’s  a fifty something women in this, but whatever, the 70s are in. Anyway, this is a beautiful film, filled with empathy, and you should all see it.

Don’t Think Twice

Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite artists in any medium, his stand up and radio stories are like comfort food to me. And this movie has a lot of the qualities that I about about his work: wry, observational comedy, self-deprecation that doesn’t wallow its way into self-pity, and a deep empathy for the frailty of its characters.

This movie, Birbiblia’s second as writer-director, follows an improv group that starts the move as a family of lovable losers and tracks the changes that occur hen one of them gets hired on a (very thinly veiled) stand in for Saturday Night Live. 

I find improv very hard to watch. (I get so nervous for the performers!) but the performance scenes here act as great illustrations of the group dynamic. The whole cast is great and the story is realistic, painful and warm, and brutal and lovely. It’s an insightful depiction of how people define success differently for themselves and how that can be impossible to describe.

A Monster Calls

I wasn’t going to see this. I feel like the darkness of the trailer made me think it was going to be creepy, but it wasn’t at all. It was a lovely little fable about anger and loss and love.

I bet it was probably a children’s book (it was!) and the movies felt like walking through a fairy tale. The young boy at the center (Lewis MacDougall) has a great “British orphan” face, even though he doesn’t play an orphan. What I mean is he looks like a kid out of a Dickens adaptation. And this feels like it will take its rightful place in the long tradition of British children’s stories.

And, like a lot of those stories, this is pretty bleak. Connor has had to grow up very quickly, because his mother (the always lovely Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, he’s bullied at school, and his dad, though generally kind, lives in a far away land (Los Angeles). His relief comes in the form of a Yew tree monster, delightfully voiced by Liam Neeson, who comes to help him come to terms with all of his conflicting emotions. It’s a tear jerker, and the animation is gorgeous. I feel like this isn’t getting the buzz it deserves. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

Julieta

Film nerd confession: until last night I don’t think I had ever actually seen a Pedro Almodóvar film. I knew all about him, knew I should probably watch Volver at some point, and had even seen the very underrated musical adaptation of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown during its brief Broadway run, but I hadn’t ever just sat down and watched one.

Well, I don’t know how Julieta fits in with his work obviously, but I can say that I liked it a great deal. Based on a few Alice Munro short stories, the film follows the title character backwards and forwards through her life, slowly solving the emotional mystery of how bright, young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) becomes the secretly sad, middle aged woman (Emma Suárez).

Almodóvar paces melodrama like a thriller, suspense heightening score by (Alberto Iglesias) and all. I love stories about complicated women that still feel real and this is a good one. I’m definitely going to catch up with more of his work now.

 

Award Show Round Up: Emmys 2016

Due to the fact that my commute is crazy long right now, and I wanted to eat dinner when I got home, approximately every person on the internet has already shared their thoughts on last night’s Emmy Awards, but whatever. I have thoughts.

The general consensus seems to be that the show was amazing, and at first I found this surprising. It was a good show, and there were some refreshing winners, but was it really that good? But then I thought, this is the Emmys, the bar is so low. The fact that they gave awards to more than one person of color (and 2 women directors!) and managed to pay tribute to people without turning it into a showbiz funeral, was all it really took to make it a success.

Here were my personal highlights:

Jeb! I like the Bushes when they have absolutely no power to over the government. And Jeb seems to have a sense of humor about himself which is nice:

I like Master of Nonebut I loved Alan Yang’s acceptance speech:

KATE MCKINNON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All speeches that end with “topple the patriarchy” will always be featured on this blog:

Look, I know people will be disappointed by this, but I still haven’t watched Transparent, (I know, I know), but Jeffrey Tambor has always given good acceptance speech:

I have no interest in rehashing the gruesome murder of an innocent woman and her friend, so I haven’t watched The People vs. OJ Simpson, but I’m a little bit in love with Sterling K. Brown after last night and I am A LOT in love with Sarah Paulson:

Patton Oswalt has been put through the wringer this year, so I was happy that he got this recognition.

(Also, would have been happy if any one in that category won.)

For no good reason, the fake rivalry between Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon makes me really happy.

And I’m always happy for a Good Will Hunting reference whenever.

As I tweeted last night, I’ve loved Rami Malek for a very long time. (Like since he was on a stupid sitcom with Michael Rappaport long time), but I am so happy the rest of you can see what a delightful weirdo he is.

And, like I said about Modern Family a few years ago, we get it, Game of Thrones is good, they don’t really need anymore Emmys.

Also, dresses! There were a lot of one shoulder looks with cutouts, some more memorable than others.

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Kerri Washington in Brandon Maxwell (Todd Williamson/WireImage)

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Constance Zimmer in Monique Lhuillier (Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

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Kristin Bell in Zuhair Murad (Photo Credit: Getty/Kevin Mazur)

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Mandy Moore in Prabal Gurung (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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Priyanka Chopra in Jason Wu (Photo Credit: AP)

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Tina Fey in Oscar de la Renta (Photo Credit: GotCeleb)

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Angela Bassett in Rene Caovilla (Photo Credit: Robyn Beck/Agence France Presse – Getty Images)

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Constance Wu in J. Mendel (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

And the Nominees Are 2016: Round 6

For some reason I thought I had a long list of nominees that I had seen but not blogged about yet. Mostly, I still have a long list of nominees that I haven’t seen (though I have seen most of the big ones. I’m still holding out on Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m not even sure if it’s worth attempting. I’ll probably just have to turn it off in the middle anyway because I am incredibly squeamish.) But I do have 3 to share with you today. (Including one I really think is great.)

Cartel Land

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First, I’ll admit I didn’t give this movie the attention it deserves. I had it playing on half of the screen, while I took notes on museum studies research for my Capstone. Or at least, I did until the scene where a very brave man yells at the absurdly named Mexican vigilante/probably cartel leader “Papa Smurf” that the people don’t need his protection. That what Mexicans want is peace and to get that that need to have faith in government institutions. It was chilling, and led to a much longer study break than I meant to take.

Even after watching the whole film, I’m not sure how naive that man was. I want to agree with him, because it’s what I want to yell at the American vigilantes also featured here. (Some of whom are just racist fuckheads, others who have a more nuanced, but in my opinion, still wrongheaded take on the situation.) But its so hard to know who is wrong and right when it comes to the criminal/government/drug dealer/addict/innocent bystander clusterfuck that has taken over much of Mexico. The director, Matthew Heineman, to his credit, doesn’t really take sides, but the rampant violence and almost gleeful torture he depicts (mostly non-graphically) left me longing for an unequivocal bad guy to hate. But, a lot of what’s causing the problem (from what I can tell) is the constant drawing of lines between “us” and “them,” “good” and “bad,” when it’s really a bunch of humans caught up in a system larger and more dangerous than they know (and I include the Americans buying the drugs in that too.) A tough watch, but one that puts faces to headlines for me in a really moving way.

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45 Years

 

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I love Weekend, director Andrew Haigh‘s last film (and first film ever reviewed on this blog, back when I didn’t know how to add images). I even like his, less universally praised, HBO show Looking (RIP). So, I was excited to see that he has a movie that was garnering awards buzz. But also worried, because what I love about his work is its scale. It’s small and personal and revealing. And those aren’t words often associated with Hollywood success, but there’s an undeniable power to Charlotte Rampling‘s performance that I’m glad caught the Academy’s attention.

Though this movie is focused on a different sort of person than Haigh’s usual milieu, aging middle class straight people instead of urban gay men, this still feels completely like his film. From the gray cinematography to the subtly brilliant sound design, to the almost respectful distance the camera keeps from the characters.

But, unlike Weekend, which, while powerful, feels almost sweet in the end,  45 Years is a gut punch. It tells the story of a couple grappling with revelations of things that happened before they met, but color everything when they come to light. What’s great is, this could easily have been a straightforward story of betrayal, but instead I could genuinely see both (heartbreaking) perspectives. And that’s down to the astonishingly full performances from Rampling and Tom Courtenay who are both just perfect as two people who are trying so hard to hold onto something. It made me think of Blue Valentine, it wasn’t quite the same level of hope-killing, but it resisted any east answers.

Side Note: Listen to the lyrics of your wedding song people, you don’t want to have to dance to this at your anniversary:

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Winter on Fire

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I knew, vaguely, about the protests in the Ukraine a couple of years ago. I don’t have cable so I don’t know exactly how it was portrayed on TV, but I’m sure it was nowhere near as personal as the depiction in this documentary (now on Netflix). It’s both inspiring to see the people all come together to stand up for their rights and heartbreaking to watch what their government did in response.

There’s a lot of really disturbing imagery of police/military brutality here. It was really hard to watch, and I can’t help but echo the words of one of the protesters about soldiers that fired live rounds into the crowd:

“I want to ask you, who gave birth to you? A mother or a wolf?”

Basically, this felt like a magical piece of journalism, the access was remarkable and the narrative unfurls well. It’s essentially the story of how a corrupt government took a protest and made a war. The old chant, “the whole world is watching,” needs to be more true.

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Award Show Round Up: SAG Awards 2016

Sorry, this post is a little late. I was going to do it yesterday, but then I had a “man-mosa” at brunch at Banger’s (those things are no joke). So I had to focus on getting my writing for school done. (Oh, and I had to watch Grease Live!, which was unexpectedly awesome. You can read my reaction to that on Twitter.)

Anyway, the SAG Awards were on Saturday night (which is a weird time to have an award show…), and they were pretty awesome. There weren’t a whole lot of surprising winners, but there was a lot of diversity up on that stage. And I couldn’t help but feel like the younger union members were sending a big F-you to the Academy. Not that any of these people weren’t completely worthy on their own merits, that’s my point. There are excellent performances coming from all kinds of people/portraying all kinds of people. And the exposure that these kinds of awards can bring will hopefully help push more diverse stories through the production pipeline. OK, preaching over, here were my highlights:

Jeffrey Tambor is the classiest act going:

I don’t even watch Orange Is The New Black anymore, but I love watching this group of women win awards:

I was also very happy for my love Alicia Vikander, though her actual acceptance speech got a little rambly.

And I would gladly have let Idris Elba give every speech of the night:

(also Ted Sarandos from Netflix got thanked so many times that I didn’t even have to Google to confirm that that’s his name…)

(Also, Jacob Tremblay is fantastic.)

But, we would have to take a break for Queen Latifah:

Lifetime Achievement Awards can derail the rhythm of an awards show, except when the honoree is Carol Burnett and they get these 2 to present:

(I know this clip is long, and will probably be taken down due to copyright concerns, but every second of it was wonderful and affirming.

Viola breaks down the BS idea of “likability”:

I love how much SAG still loves Downton Abbey, and how surprised the cast always seems by that:

I just feel like Brie Larsen and I would be best friends:

If nothing else, this awards season is letting me fall (back) in love with Leonardo Dicaprio. (And despite Amy’s joke, he actually deserves this award, not just because he climbed inside of a horse, but because he managed to make me care about someone in an Iñárritu film, which I didn’t think was possible*). Also, he gives good acceptance speech:

*Side Note: I have not seen Biutiful, it’s possible Javier Bardem could have achieved this as well.

And, the correct cast won best ensemble:

It was a good night for fashion as well, lots of colors and risks, which is cool to see. Here were my faves:

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Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: fashion sizzle)

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Nicole Kidman in Gucci (Photo Credit: Getty Images) 

(Side note: I rewatched Practical Magic this weekend with some friends. 2 things: 1. It holds up. 2. I’m glad to see her return to her redhead roots.)

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Laverne Cox in Prabal Gurung (Photo Credit: Getty Images) 

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Kate Winslet in Armani (Photo Credit: Jason Shearer/Getty)

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Saoirse Ronan in Michael Kors (Photo Credit: FashnBerry)

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Rachel McAdams in Elie Saab (Photo Credit: Getty) 

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Katie Lowes in Christian Siriano (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty) 

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Hannah Bagshawe and Eddie Redmayne in Dior (Photo Credit: WireImage)

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Hannah Murray (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

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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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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And the Nominees Are 2016: Round 1

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 

love2band2bmercy2bposter 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.)

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The Martian

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 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.

ng8zspcv4wubkb28zeyy Spy

mv5bnji5otq0mdqxm15bml5banbnxkftztgwmzcwnjmynte-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_ 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.

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Trainwreck

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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.

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 Steve Jobs 

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Right up front – I love The Social NetworkI 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.

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ROOM

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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.

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Brooklyn

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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.

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Spotlight 

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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.

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Bridge of Spies

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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.

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A Very Murray Christmas

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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!)