0

A Bunch of Reasons 2018 Was The Best Year of Movies I’ve Lived Through… – PART 3, THE TOP TEN

Part 1 and Part 2 are available here.

Finally. I’m not gonna waste your time with an intro, let’s just get to the ten movies I loved most in a movie year I loved most and finally close this motherfucker out so I can either start on 2019 or just disappear forever from writing about film. Either or.

mv5bzwfimgnhntkty2ixyy00odjmlwjlm2etndizzjc4ngflzdcyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi4ntixmje40._v1_sx1777_cr001777996_al_

  1. 24 Frames (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, Iran) – Watched at Coral Gables Art Cinema (Full Review Here)

We are close enough in proximity to remember what a fatal year 2016 was in more ways than one, most notably in how everyone’s favorite figures were dying. Muhammad Ali, a longtime childhood hero of mine, was the one that most wounded my heart but Abbas Kiarostami was not too far behind for the curious reason that I was just getting to expose myself to his unique sort of film language and it felt like the amount of cinematic surprises I was in for now had a limit.

Bless up for his very last word on his most prominent artistic medium other than poetry that left us to actually create the conversation out of just 24 meditative, sharp, and gorgeous images of forest and sea and domesticity, engaging the viewer to think about how we connect visuals and sounds (and for a movie named after a photographical concept, its command of sound design in order to bring us further into the landscapes it portrays – and sell either humor or tension in certain scenes – is just as deserving of our admiration as its imagery) into narrative and theme without pushing us in any real direction. It wants to stimulate our interest in the how and the why about the communicative power of the image, the very building block of the cinematic medium.

I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to finally watch 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami earlier this year as a final tribute on the late man as a human being, but I honestly think watching 24 Frames was enough of a lens to endear me further towards a personality in film who left us this hole: very humorous (even in a juvenile sense at one point with a scene involving lions), searching for the poetry in nature, patient and at home in the quiet.

images-w1400

  1. (dir. Johann Lurf, Austria) – Watched at Anthology Film Archives

I’ve had an interest in the celestial since I was a child and I think while I’ve been strangling that (like sadly most things I like) in my adult age, there still remain remnants of me that are fascinated by the cosmos thanks largely to a community that pleads for the general public’s imperative interest of what’s out there. Star is not necessarily about that but it already gets on my good side by appealing to that part of me as a movie that is basically nothing but archive footage of starry skies and nothing else.

More than that, it also appeals to me in what kind of pleasure there is looking to the night sky and how its been transformed in its representation in cinema since the nascency of the artform in itself. Part of it is a chronological history lesson in the growing polish of film, part of it is a game of “recognize this constellation? How about this one?”, and an even bigger part of it is a game of “recognize this movie clip? How about this one?”

It’s certainly not a movie you put on because you’re feeling like putting it on (it’s not a movie you put on at all… I’m assuming that Lurf has no intention of letting the movie screen anywhere without his knowledge and possible attendance), but it’s also a really undemanding and relaxed watch. I could easily see it as someone’s cool-down after a long rush of film festival screenings. And knowing that it’s going to continue as an ongoing project collecting every possible time we as a movie audience looked up to the stars to ponder or to dream or to explore… it makes me giddy with the possibility of one day running into the film again.

night_sap_0998

  1. Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (dir. Yuasa Masaaki, Japan) – Watched at The Metrograph (Full Review Here)

The first non-avant garde movie I can talk about here and it’s still kind of arthouse in the sense of being a foreign-language film. Except it’s also anime by possibly the greatest working anime director around, Yuasa Masaaki (on his SECOND release of 2018, after the almost as incredible children’s film Lu Over the Wall) and it radically demolishes limits – physical and aesthetic – that a cartoon can possibly go for. Brilliant bright colors (sometimes without even outlines for the shapes within like in the flashback sequences) and wobbly outrageous Avery-style line physics in the name of giving a visual anchor for anxieties and nervousness that only somebody right at the cusp of the rest of their life.

It is, for this, a song of youth and romance and how messy it is when the two collide, but what a brilliant mess it is in a night – despite the very title of the movie – appears to be neverending and sprawling with happenings in the perimeter of Kyodan. Drinking matches on giant boats, dances across town in totally uninhibited prostrations, spicy food endurance contests, book fairs silently derailed by imps, various celebrations or sober observances for different, with essentially two central climaxes in the form of explosive guerilla musicals pursued by cops and an all-consuming wellness-related twister (mirroring an internal storm of advocates and cowboys). All of this whiplashed through by Science Saru’s flexible animation and Makoto Ueda and Morimi Tomohiko’s piling incident and centered on two unnamed characters that couldn’t be more different and yet I wholly found a piece of myself in: the senior character’s aimless frustratingly incident-prone and anxiety driven chase in a mix of terrified romanticism for the junior character and the junior character’s interminable adventure-ready openness that leaves absolutely nobody able to actually keep up with her. If that makes any sense for me to relate to both of these stock ciphers.

In either case, it’s a movie that reminded me I’m not nearly as old as I feel (a ridiculous statement for a 26 year old but I also lived a life that was certain to end before 25). It was easily the most refreshing and revitalizing movie experience I had this year and it came about exactly at a moment where I was lacking direction and especially lacking momentum and I still felt energized wholly. It’s exactly the sort of movie where one walks out of the theater feeling the world is their oyster. I walked out of those theater doors and looked at the stars and couldn’t tell them any differently from the streets of Chinatown, Manhattan.

ce6f6277c001860b8fcce1a285d9df8014cb690d

  1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (dir. Christopher McQuarrie, USA) – Watched at AMC Sunset Place 24, Regal Kendall Village 16, Landmark Theatres at Merrick Park, and AMC Lincoln Square IMAX 13 (with some brief glances on the airplane screen on American Airlines Flight 1368).

I am a simple man. I just really am excited by the idea that Tom Cruise might one day die just to entertain me.

Nah, but contrary to what y’all would think, I’m not going to popcorn movies to be stimulated intellectually and sometimes not even emotionally. I’m just there for the spectacle and I particularly enjoy it most when the entirety of the movie is only devoted to facilitating that spectacle. And it is of the highest order when a spectacle action film leaves me feeling like I was physically propelled and I need to take a good breath because of how overwhelming the impressive feats were.

If Mission: Impossible – Fallout is not the best action movie of the decade – and I think Mad Max: Fury Road takes that title as a much more ambitious and thrilling experience (although we must give it up to a very good decade of action: the John Wick movies, the Raid movies, Atomic Blonde, the previous two Mission: Impossibles, Incredibles 2Snowpiercer, Edge of Tomorrow, and the Planet of the Apes prequels) – it certainly has the best action setpieces of the decade, devoted to utilizing the sparsest spy thriller screenplay to facilitate heartstopping stuntwork like a vertigo-inducing HALO dive, and complex multi-tiered chases and fight sequences that create symphonies of impact and urgency like a motorcycle racing from the police that occurs at the same time as an underwater prisoner extraction later transforming into a car evading the targets of an assassin, as though all in the same breath. I’m telling you, there’s not a single action scene here that doesn’t at least compete as the best of whatever category it falls under.

But the concept of them of watching this be willed by returning-to-make-a-fucking-statement director Christopher McQuarrie and his crew is not precisely what brings this to masterpiece level, but the dedication Tom Cruise has to actually perpetuating these eyepopping stunts that beg the hesitance of any sane man and how McQuarrie’s team meet Cruise at his batshit level. As opposed to something like The Revenant where the verisimilitude is mostly just to posture, Mission: Impossible – Fallout actually forces the audience in a one-of-a-kind form of experiential action cinema – the camera places you right there with Cruise falling over the skies of Paris with alarming velocity so that the camera operator can barely keep focus racked, speeding around the Arc du Triumph with blurs of cars zipping between you and Cruise, and just letting you wince as a bystander while a fistfight demolishes a pristine white bathroom into rubble. It’s ambition is beyond the scale of its action but the placement of the viewer in that scale.

Top that off with the tongue-in-cheek disregard of any “dark” gravitas which that continually teases (including its hilarious rug pull of a twist opening), something I grievously underrated on my first watch of the film, that ties extremely with the brisk spy thriller stringing it all along and the unexpected theme of putting oneself in the front to mitigate any sacrifice… and frankly that leaves a film that lands all these goliath production values with such a winking smile that I am stunned that the already generous praise hasn’t already canonized Mission: Impossible – Fallout as a new height for summer popcorn movies.

mv5bm2vlztmynwitmwm3ms00njy4lthmntetzjdhndhinzllyjm2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxroaxjklxbhcnr5lxzpzgvvlxvwzgf0zxi40._v1_cr045480270_al_ux477_cr00477268_al_

  1. PROTOTYPE (dir. Blake Williams, Canada) – Watched at the Museum of the Moving Image and Cornell Cinema.

I have no real knowledge of Texas itself, having only visited the state twice brief times in my life. And I’m obviously aware that while Blake Williams is very open to any readings a person might receive out of his 3-D avant-garde feature debut PROTOTYPE, he also insists on it being a film “without context”. But I’ve got to say it feels like a distinctly Texan sort of picture, which is wonderful to me. A movie that it’s easy to claim owes part of itself to (maybe) David Lynch and (definitely) Godard’s Goodbye to Language ideally needs something to distinguish it from such iconic company and its alt-space-age approach to the history of a city that no longer exists in hopes of a parallel future lost to a force of nature seems about right, in its embrace of cowboy imagery and Western-era photography.

Except I think it still didn’t even need that to distinguish itself, just as a thought process for the actual goods this movie delivers on. Williams has been open about the influence Goodbye to Language has on PROTOTYPE, but he’s also been working on 3D long before that movie’s premiere and his experience with the medium shows from frame one where he gives us a complete forest image but with subtle differences that connect into one image on each eye to alert us to how he’s going to play with our brain’s attempt to adjust receiving two slightly different signals and the sort of physical challenge that brings to registering what we’re seeing. Sometimes it’s through that method, sometimes it’s through the usage of alternating white and black on one surface so that we’re subconsciously assaulted by two very different visual tones fighting for dominance. Sometimes, it’s just by warping what we’re exploring so that it can practically engulf us, like the waterfall early in the feature.

In addition to that, this is the first time in a long while where the 3-dimensional nature of the film makes the image so textured as though I feel like I’m touching it without lifting my hand at all. The very grains of the photographs we’re examining (an area where Williams plays with our perception again by having the grains in individual lens), the depth of shadows in empty rooms, the glassy smoothness of tube televisions amplified by the light emitting from them so there’s a bent glow and the static feels like it’s breaking out. All of this giving a physicality to what I’m watching that is impossible to ignore, pressing the boundaries of the frame and of the medium of 3D and if I still happen to prefer Goodbye to Language (for playing with the sound more, for having quite the twisty premise and destructive tendencies to 3D, and because I am very much a fan of fart jokes, y’all), Williams still makes Godard look like a lazy old fart (pun unintended) by exploring sides of this medium Godard probably never even thought to check.

And again, this is without Williams even trying, y’all.

tjbwffs

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, & Rodney Rothman, USA) – Watched at Regal Kendall Village 16, AMC Classic Savannah 11, AMC Sunset Place 24, and Harkins Theatres Arizona Mills 25.

Notorious amongst my friends as the movie of 2018 that I have seen the most times in theaters – a whopping six, which I’m pretty sure is also the most I’ve seen a movie on its initial run ever in my life – but can you possibly blame me? I wish I had the opportunity to just watch this once with the eyes of a child, because I know it will inspire so many the way that the Raimi film inspired me when I was 9. And in all honesty, I think the kids who see this got the better movie.

It takes an inspirational character that I have loved since childhood like so many others had and presents a thesis on the malleability of both Spider-Man and the familiarity of the superhero template, an unsubtle but exciting one nevertheless: YOU can be Spider-Man. You can be a hero. No matter who you are, any race, any gender, anybody. And it delivers this message to your child’s heart in the most powerful way a movie can, in its visuals from repeated images going from failure to payoff and an energetic indulgence in variety.

The potential whiplash of its animation styles is something threatened towards us from the very opening logos, which refuse to sit still for more than a second and transform into different shapes and colors, and it’s a threat made good on by the versatility with which we see an at-first already impressive if straight-forward CG adaptation of cel principles that eagerly engage with the visual storytelling tools of a comic book – speech bubbles, multiple frames in one shot, speed lines, etc. – into a variety of shadow play, line thickness, frame rates, color palettes, and fluorescence based on which character is on-screen.

All of this to inform the story of young Miles Morales, finding himself imbued with this sense of responsibility and given a surprising amount of patience and nuance in his arc towards becoming the new friendly neighborhood webslinger, with an endearing mix between humor and heart animating his journey and propelled by constant repetitions in shot scales and character stances to double down on the growth of his heroic abilities and the realization of his true potential. At the end of it all, it wants you to understand the things Miles understands: that is no one way to do those things, that there is strength in your individuality, that it does not isolate you as a person and you’re not alone, that it takes time to be the best version of you and there’s no rush, and most of all, that you better put on that cape and fly.

I never even got to credit the chemistry between directors Bob Persichetti (the “Poet” according to producer Phil Lord), Peter Ramsey (the “action” guy), and Rodney Rothman (the “comedy” guy) because goddamn do they make it look way too easy. The strands between its workings as dynamic animation miracle and funny and endearing character study are practically invisible.

Back in high school, I was best friends with the only person I’ve known to be more obsessed with Spider-Man than yours truly (and even that was nothing compared to his obsession with Superman). He left this world before Miles, Spider-Gwen, and Noir were even in the comics but I like to imagine him being no less dazzled and slingshot into the air by the buoyancy of this motion picture, taking advantage of the limitless ness of animation and the rigors of comic books to supply perfect weightless popcorn movie alchemy. And if Night Is Short, Walk on Girl made me feel like the world was open and ready before me to explore, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse made me feel like the world was spinning beneath me as I float in the air and six viewings still haven’t been enough to bring me the fuck down.

zam-still-002

  1. Zama (dir. Lucrecia Martel, Argentina) – Watched at Miami Beach Cinematheque.

Probably the movie here I am the least emotionally tied to, but also one of the ones I am most impressed by.

Martel was obviously not biding her time for 9 years since The Headless Woman but struggling to get a project to stick (God, she almost made a Marvel Cinematic Universe film… what bloodsuckers!). But when she finally came back to the conversation, she made sure it was with a bang. One of the most handily literate films I’ve seen coming from one of the most literate filmmakers I can think of working today, it’s hard to pick out what’s most appealing about Zama.

It might be the way that Daniel Gimenez Cacho gives a very sorry and sad presence to the otherwise completely buffonish as the titular bureaucrat trapped in a Kafka nightmare by his own odiousness, with a bored straight face to his ordeals rivaling that of Buster Keaton. It might be how Martel marshalls all the forces of cinematic sound to turn the colonized environment – with its stuffings of so many out of places animals, eventually forcing their way into the very offices of power – into a loud makeshift laugh track for the character’s sufferings. It might be the brilliant surprise of the third act’s narrative collapse mirroring the psychological and social collapse of its putupon center, giving us the only post-Aguirre film to actually expound upon that earlier masterpiece’s observations on colonialism’s lack of any center, physical or abstract.

In any case, it is a movie that appeals gleefully to my absurdist side with a modern sense of humor most costume dramas can’t entirely get a grasp on (I’d argue that the same year’s The Favourite might have a better utilization of that modernity but Zama is just so much more focused and put together) and weaponizes it against a history of imperialism with a radical savagery that informs its very ragged and unpolished set and costume design, its narrative thrust, and its obnoxiously unbalanced audio ambience in a manner that could turn any man mad and yet all our Zama has to respond to it with is a tired look at his own doom.

chuck-norris-eye-for-an-eye-e1525457226861

  1. The Green Fog (dir. Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, & Galen Johnson, USA) – Watched through wholly illicit means due to its status as a barely released film that probably will not see home media in USA anytime soon.

Ah, yes, the “illegally” made movie that’s pretty much one long editing in-joke. In a year of shockingly funny movies, I think this might have been the one that had me bellowing like an idiot in my own bedroom.

It also taught me a lot about the power of the cut through the very same ways it tickled my funny bone.

Guy Maddin is always finding some new way to approach movies as an ephemeral spirit that can be bent into entirely different personalities. Ways that always make me leave the movie thinking “it never crossed my mind that movies could bend that way”. The concept “Vertigo as reconstructed by clips from San Francisco-set movies and tv shows” is probably novel enough to have been thought of several other people in the world, but Maddin just uses that premise as the launching pad of examining and inviting the audience to examine how we expect dialogue to fill in frustrating moments, what imposed silence brings to certain scenarios, how our brains will connect images with our own projected context, and so many more surprises.

And I know I already stated that Lurf’s film was a fun game of “catch that movie”, but The Green Fog is almost just as fun because sometimes just wondering “wait, what’s [insert name here] doing here?” and realizing that Maddin is using the project to completely utilize certain actors and performers in a manner much stronger than any of them had ever been used before just gets me right back to finding this the most fun you could make out a movie that functions as its own bit of film analysis.

And of course, as per its original intentions as a commission of the San Francisco Film Festival, it is a wonderful capsule of the age and change of the city itself, inadvertently capturing its different states by the unpresuming selection of the clips Maddin and company use. It brings out a lot of character and history in an incidental manner. It did a ridiculous job of making me really admire a city I had – at the time – never been to (I finally got a chance to visit the Bay Area for the first time in February).

 mandy_4

  1. Mandy (dir. Panos Cosmatos, Canada/USA) – Watched at United Artists Kaufman Astoria 14, IFC Center, and Syndicated Bar Theatre. (Full Review Here)

I have wholly exhausted all possible words spared for this movie. I am out of the ways that I can describe how overwhelming it is as a sensory experience, how relentlessly aggressive it feels, how absolutely fucking cool its stylized look is, how hilariously ridiculous and badass it feels at the same time.

I guess the only thing I can feel like I would say without repeating myself is that Panos Cosmatos – a filmmaker I’ve never met and highly doubt I will ever meet and who has only made two movies at this point in his life – fucking gets me.

He just gets me. He gets the exact aesthetic that I always wanted to bring out of movies or come out of movies experiencing… binaries of soft progression in music and bleeding vibrations shuddering its way between low tuned guitars, strong colors that engulf the entire sequence and nearly erase any sense of line or dimension, the action-packed setpieces of loud metallic melee against monstrous beings, meditative sequences of nature. The sort of philosophies I live by – a desire for solitude as if it’s the only place I can find peace, somewhere to forget, seeking the extremes of experiential aesthetic until it becomes a physical thing, rejection of religion in a pointed manner.

Most of all, he gets how I process grief, something that nobody approaches the same way (and look at the same year’s Hereditary for something different). He gets how easy anger is as an emotional kneejerk than anything else, especially if the only other possibility is devastating sadness. And how when somebody you hold dear is no longer in the world, the world (or at least how you see it) is going to transform in a harsh and aggressive manner. And he gets how you’re sometimes going to be seeing that person wherever you go and it’s going to drive you in places you don’t want to go.

It just speaks to me. In 25 years, I can easily this becoming my new favorite movie. For now, I’m restrained in my adoration but not too restrained to consider the best movie made in 2018.

Released in 2018 is another story…

other-side-of-the-wind-633x356

  1.         The Other Side of the Wind (dir. Orson Welles, USA/Iran/France) – Watched at Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Lincoln Center (for the New York Film Festival), at home via Netflix, and at the B.C. Cinema (name retracted deliberately).

Movies are fucking hard. They’re hard to make, they’re hard to write, they’re hard to write about, they’re hard for the maker to figure out, they’re hard for the audience to figure out. Honestly, if my burnt out writing schedule (and I’m not going to threaten the end of Motorbreath here but… don’t be surprised if I don’t come back) and tone is indicating anything, they’re getting harder and harder for me to watch (I have to automatically try to intellectualize everything and it is getting exhausting on my part).

Orson Welles does not need to be notified of this, having failed to complete many a hopeful production in his lifetime, including this one. That Netflix happened to foot the bill for the completion of The Other Side of the Wind does not change how frustrated it is with itself and a refusal to actually feel complete. Which is frankly fortunate because they happened to pick the exact movie where the movie’s lack of completion is kind of embedded in its own text. Insisted as not an autobiographical film, but still ostensibly including many of Welles’ condemnations of every possible facet of the filmmaking and filmwatching processes, with Bob Murawski continuing his unfinished post-production to maintain a sort of fracture presentation of a disastrously overmasculine birthday party for a sloppily overmasculine bully of a filmmaker (played by the perfectly cast John Huston), interspersing different shadows on the same old weary faces of Old Cinema while occasionally interrupting the party to showcase a movie-in-a-movie that is so deliberately oblique and pretentious it’s tough to imagine even Welles and his partner Oja Kodar knew entirely what he was aiming for it (besides “fuck Antonioni”).

But the fact that it aligns so well with my current mental state as a filmgoer is hardly the reason I consider it my favorite film of the best year for cinema I’ve lived through. No, I credit it to two things: first, its sense of humor is still full of wit (as one should expect from one of cinema’s greatest raconteurs) and amicable overall to me that it’s still fun to watch while maintaining its teeth and mean spirit.

And the other one is that this is literally a monument in its existence to how far cinema and cinema preservation has evolved. This is the equivalent of raising the Titanic where a movie that was all but certain to never exist (from my all-time favorite filmmaker) finally got willed into being by the collective efforts of certain men (Filip Jan Ryczma and Frank Marshall particularly should be noted for this most, Marshall having been producer since the movie actually was in production) despite what it must have taken from them.

Love the movie (which I obviously do) or hate it, I can’t see how you don’t consider that the crown achievement of cinema in 2018, if not the decade. And I hope the medium can somehow surpass this height in the years to come.

Advertisements
0

A Bunch of Reasons 2018 Was The Best Year of Movies I’ve Lived Through… – PART 2, the honorable mentions

OK, for the sake of time and the large amount of movies I will be listing (in alphabetical order) that I loved with all my heart but could not fit into a top 10, I will be giving each one only one (1) sentence explanations of why I loved them so much. Let’s do this.

021444fa-30cd-4409-a849-6a19196a1f7d

Agua Viva (dir. Alexa Lim Haas, USA) – Living up to its title by being made out of its cooling watercolors, Haas has crafted a compulsive translation of the visual detail that might go through one’s head when she does not have the means to communicate with the world around her.

Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland, UK/USA) – Cerebral body horror that presents decay in transfixing but threatening wonder, making its frustrating insolubility a boon to its haunted air.

Aquaman (dir. James Wan, USA) – Little more than a straight man’s underwater version of a Wachowskis movie (and so inferior to Wachowskis), but given the uncertain future for the Sisters in this industry I’m down for any big and bubbly “space” opera we can get, especially when it pulls the miraculous task of making Jason Momoa tolerable.

09db4b86-cd36-4fbb-ab09-385c13541dec

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (dir. the Coen brothers, USA) – An entertaining and comprehensive thesis on the Coen’s fatalistic worldview through a cast utilizing their dialogue like arrows and a genre they’ve always imitated but never directly tackled until now.

Bao (dir. Domee Shi, USA) – It’s easy to remember its “shock” moment over its touching core about a mother in an empty nest state of mind and its earned emotional catharsis once we see the reality and not the metaphor.

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales… (dir. Benjamin Renner & Patrick Imbert, France) – Not necessarily cinematic or any real revelation from their previous Ernest & Celestine, but Renner and Imbert’s comic children’s book style (adapted from Renner’s own literary work) proves apt for the approachable fable-esque quality of storytelling we see.

Black Sheep (dir. Ed Perkins, UK) – On top of telling a shocking true story of trying to survive in a racially hostile environment (arguably the same concept as the vile Oscar winner Skin but recognizing the opposite conclusion regarding pigmentation than that other boneheaded piece of shit did) through the voice of its victim, Perkins’ understanding of the human face to speak and betray Cornelius’ experiences and thoughts before the words can.

Blindspotting (dir. Carlos López Estrada, USA) – Shockingly deft in tackling the realest issues with a warm sense of humor and a desire to just see everyone ok in the end, Estrada and co-writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal have granted us with – if not the better Oakland-based movie of the year – definitely the fuller portrait of the city with brilliant nighttime city photography.

Blue (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France) – Joe finally tackles his familiar dream style in the most literal and artificial and patient way.

Breaking In (dir. James McTeigue, USA) – There is an inherent pleasure in watching Gabrielle Union coldly stare at her attackers in the few moments we see her before she turns full-on locked house predator and this movie stuffs itself with that and little else.

tl-horizontal_main

Cold War (dir. Paweł Pawelikowski, Poland/France/UK) – I feel like I’m setting myself up for pushback when I say it has the same narrative principles as Boyhood but applies them to a version of La La Land for depressed pragmatists, but that’s literally what made a fool for this film.

Deadpool 2 (dir. David Leitch, USA) – Improves significantly from a first movie I disliked on two fronts: a supporting cast capable of selling the emotional gravitas with levity and charm (namely Julian Dennison and Josh Brolin with returning Morena Baccarin and Stefan Kapčić – also big up to Zazie Beetz even if gravitas doesn’t apply to her character) and thereby giving Ryan Reynolds screen partners that make him look so good and a filmmaker whose whole career has been made of looking for visually creative ways to give us heavy combat.

The Death of Stalin (dir. Armando Iannucci, UK/France/Belgium) – Iannucci protects his title as the sharpest weapon of political black comedy around and begins presenting his hand in the aesthetic craft of his subjects beyond controlling a great cast, like the way things turn grim and serious at a harsh flick or nightmarish utilization of dark concrete and distant violence to imply the atrocities beneath these buffoons.

Destination Wedding (dir. Victor Levin, USA) – Frustratingly artless and dumb version of the Before films trying to be much more intelligent about misanthropy but sold by literally the two best actors to embody these attitudes: Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, welcome back to the 90s.

Dirty Computer (dir. Andrew Donoho & Chuck Lightning, USA) – The more glamorous and fun videos to come out of the albums I love, the better.

180214160420-the-animated-adventure-of-early-man-00003812-large-169

Early Man (dir. Nick Park, UK) – Aardman maintains itself as my comfort blanket animation, not even remotely challenging itself or I but providing pleasant animated handiwork and football-based comedy for me to just chill with.

El Mar la Mar (dir. J.P. Sniadecki & Joshua Bonnetta, USA) – Decidedly using aesthetic in a restrained and limited manner not to romanticize the situations it documents but instead to help the audience focus in on the minute sensory elements while insisting on areas where all the audience needs to do is listen to the people who have to endure the Sonoran Desert to escape to safety.

The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/USA) – Lanthimos continues his habit from The Killing of a Sacred Deer to supply the most nauseating visual experience in presentation of ostensible regality but devoid of actual dignity, making the fish-eyes and wide-angles turning shots into grotesqueries into an extension of the vile sharpness with which its characters abuse their powers over each other.

First Man (dir. Damien Chazelle, USA) – An instance where I feel like the criticism only reflect exactly the sort of things that made me most engaged with this story: the cold restraint of Ryan Gosling’s screen persona utilized to turn our protagonist into a frustration and the manner of which the scenes down on Earth make us antsy to get out only makes the escape into the stars more exhilarating and the emotional anguish Armstrong is trying to smother feel more vulnerable (in a year that ended with me stuck in Miami and seeking a way to get out before I explode, I wholly related to this in a year of a lot of movies I felt related or spoke to me).

First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader, USA) – For the first time, that fucking asshole made a movie that wasn’t just for fucking assholes and it shows a surprisingly introspective (if unsurprisingly Calvinist and devoid of any true originality) side of the man, utilizing Ethan Hawke giving the year’s best performance and the boxed-in manner of the Academy ratio (rivaling Cold War’s usage of it) to give us a room to writhe and twist with existential implications growing more and more pleading.

glucose_jeronbraxton-1280x600

Glucose (dir. Jeron Braxton, USA) – An exhausting dive into video game obsession represented by its colorful but throbbing portrayal of a blocky pixel world.

Grandpa Walrus (dir. Lucrèce Andreae, France) – Animation doesn’t make everything pleasant as this morosely grey short uses absurdesque body horror to tackle immense sadness.

Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster, USA) – A wholly unpleasant time to spend with an understandably wounded but frighteningly vicious ensemble stuck in a distant dollhouse we’re peering into as they’re unable to square with the ugliest side of pain and grief long before the actual horror genre elements come over to play.

Hotel Artemis (dir. Drew Pierce, USA) – A nice pulpish boiler (in a literal way considering the backdrop) with masculine amber tones painting the walls of its futuristic lounge-esque designs led by a dedicated Jodie Foster performance at her most-wired.

The Hurricane Heist (dir. Rob Cohen, USA) – Every year has to give at least one fun bad movie watch and this year it’s Cohen’s utopia of 2nd Amendment flaunting, climate change believing Southerners (played by literally nobody from America) interrupted by storm skulls.

maxresdefault

Incredibles 2 (dir. Brad Bird, USA) – I disagree with the consensus and consider this the superior to its predecessor in nearly every way, from its gung-ho approach to its characters’ shapes to its variety in lighting styles to the fact that it’s just plain funnier, y’all, stop hating.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (dir. J.A Bayona, USA) – Utterly stupid, but aware that stupidity has consequences and one of those is giving us a gleeful third-act haunted house monster movie.

Late Afternoon (Louise Bagnall, Ireland) – Cartoon Saloon adopts its style this time to its most fluid so as to take advantage of how it is to predict its ending but give its lines and colors such ephemeral sweep resembling the progressive regaining of memory that its we turn that prediction into a hope punctuated by emotional joy.

Lean on Pete (dir. Andrew Haigh, UK) – A movie that rejects all the idealistic comforts of its type of “boy and its horse” movie without feeling like a sardonic inversion and only slightly going into tiring miserablism, instead giving us the story of a boy trying his hardest to survive and find his place in a cold world.

Let the Corpses Tan (dir. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, France) – Using their gleeful understanding of the power of the cut and the sound mix, Cattet and Forzani dare to ask the question “What if Free Fire was good?”.

Lost & Found (dir. Andrew Goldsmith & Bradley Slabe, Australia) – Little more than an effective usage of the textures of its characters to give us peril and the cuteness of their design to give us hope but it’s effective enough to hurt my soul in the late “unraveling” moment.

Lu Over the Wall (dir. Yuasa Masaaki, Japan) – The first of two Yuasa US releases (and the first we’ll be talking about), a wonderful utilization of the flash animation style to give splashy greens and blues and bendy fluidity to accompany its wonderful soulful music and give us this aquatic symphony.

marguerite_2

Marguerite (dir. Marianne Farley, Canada) – The only nominee for this past year’s Live-Action Short Oscar that did not make me want to fucking die, by giving us a delicate and soft telling of a story of curiosity and melancholy.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (dir. Yonebayashi Hiromasu, Japan) – Promising us that we won’t feel so empty in the absence of Studio Ghibli, the disciples show they are capable of carrying on the principles of storytelling with wonder and animating with excitement.

Minding the Gap (dir. Bing Liu, USA) – It’s wonderful when films that are essentially amateur are full of surprises such as this and I don’t just mean that for the sort of way that the story shapes itself but also how Liu shapes himself as a visual storyteller, incising into every area of his community he can cut into.

Monrovia, Indiana (dir. Frederick Wiseman, USA) – And then there is the veteran looking into a community from the outside as Wiseman performs his reliably unintrusive observation onto a town that is shuffling despite its dying state without any awareness.

2018_09_05_53101_1536126414._large

The Nun (dir. Corin Hardy, USA) – OK, it’s not “good” since it’s a hollow franchise stepping stone but it’s got THE goods anyway: foggy cemeteries, dark and empty castles and churches, moving shadows, futile religiosity, ominous chants, and it all just helps it function as a shallow amusement park dark ride.

Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins, USA) – Jenkins shows her confidence in her cast (some at their career best) delivering a potentially volatile domestic situation in an intimately forgiving manner.

Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico/USA) – Cuarón crafting an intimate story in a large world utilizing the dreamy black-and-white stuff of memories.

screen-shot-2018-06-18-at-3-56-17-pm

Searching (dir. Aneesh Chaganty, USA) – Sure, it cheats hella out of its central conceit but that’s because it knows that it’s making a movie and Chaganty still makes it count that we’re essentially sitting alongside a never-better John Cho trying to piece together a daughter he hopes he knows and still gets to know through a world of screens, an effective and emotional thriller.

Shirkers (dir. Sandi Tan, Singapore) – One part a portrait on how exciting it feels to have something you’re passionate about like film and the subsequent crash when your dreams aren’t met, another part a self-inquiry on the true state of Tan’s relationship with her friends, overall a brave and wild ride.

Shoplifters (dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan) – The sort of movie you make when you just know you have nothing more to prove but the amount of warmth you can stuff in a single film despite all the shit than can be thrown in one family’s way.

A Simple Favor (dir. Paul Feig, USA) – The most pleasant surprise of the entire year as I prepared to write off yet another Paul Feig movie only to discover he’s capable of accomplishing a nice 60’s French style and a pleasantly sarcastic but not insincere tone when he actually tries.

Sorry to Bother You (dir. Boots Riley, USA) – The OTHER Oakland Sundance darling, Riley supplies us with a no-holds-barred leftist manifesto that takes hold of visuals, absurdism, music, and the kitchen sink all in the eagerness of showcasing the sort of inescapable curdled affect capitalism has on the soul of the individual and the world around him and fuck structure while we’re at it, narrative or otherwise.

Suspiria (dir. Luca Guadagnino, Italy/USA) – Speaking of unwieldy narratives, Guadagnino and David Kajganich don’t necessarily hit every target they aim for but there’s a lot of targets they swing for and it altogether coalesces into a hypnotic, experiential, and wholly unique approach to Dario Argento’s concept of a school of dancing witches, rejecting of the conceit that “imitation is the highest form of flattery”.

vl_1988.dng

Vox Lux (dir. Brady Corbet, USA) – I can’t exactly call it a version of A Star Is Born that doesn’t hate that jeans song, but it’s definitely the version that understands why the world needs jeans songs and significantly more aesthetically and narratively radical, bruh.

Weekends (dir. Trevor Jimenez, USA) – Wonderful usage of how sketches look like piles of lines and clutter to imply the sort of messy world that a child can only recognize in degrees, knowing shit’s wrong but not knowing how to identify it.

Widows (dir. Steve McQueen, UK/USA) – McQueen and Gillian Flynn use their clout to give us a TV serial fanfic and relaxedly imbue it with observations of how race and gender factor in a world of wolves with McQueen showing he’s just as deft with genre filmmaking as he is with arthouse.

You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay, UK/France/USA) – Movies about trauma are a dime a dozen in this day and age, Ramsay takes only the smallest strokes to have us experience Joe’s issues from the margins without trying to diagnose him, instead making it urgent and harsh and muted in a masculine way and ending up making me feel seen.

AND IN THE NEXT AND FINAL PART… MY TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2018…

0

A Bunch of Reasons 2018 Was The Best Year of Movies I’ve Lived Through… – PART 1, the small superlatives

roma_movies

You read it right in the title up there… 2018 was tough as hell in many ways, personally and socially, but when it came to movies they were keeping me afloat and alive through the all the waves. And it was a varied bag of experimental cinema, strong genre work, deep explorations, etc. Anyway, I’m really swamped between work and a flight I’m taking in less than an hour as I write this so let’s see if I’m able to convince y’all about this with a gargantuan 3-part writing exercise on the things I loved about this year in movies (and some of the things I hated).

Let’s just get to it.

WORST TITLE

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, where the choice to include a made-up name like Grindelwald that no newcomer to the series will know or care about and to compact the Fantastic Beasts title despite it no longer being a concern of the franchise seems to be the biggest crime of all.

BEST TITLE

Let the Corpses Tan, absolutely evocative and threatening in a manner just a little bit crossing between spaghetti western and giallo even if it doesn’t remotely fall into the latter category (but of course we know the directors have much experience with that).

(Close second goes to The Night Comes for Us for similar reasons)

BEST TITLE IN ITS ORIGINAL LANGUAGE

Un Beau Soleil Intérieur, translating to “A Beautiful Interior Sun” which is already clunky, but given the hallmarky name of Let the Sunshine In by its English release.

WORST LINE

“He’s been doing all sorts of drugs, but he’s addicted to crystal meth, which seems to be the worst of them all.” -David Sheff (Steve Carell) in Beautiful Boy, written by Luke Davies and Felix van Groeningen (directed by van Groeningen). No shit.

BEST LINE

We have here a tie between:

“I like it when she puts her tongue in me.” -Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) twisting the knife in The Favourite, written by Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

AND

“”She’s like having your own Disney villain, plus she won’t let you jerk off.” -Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, written by Desiree Akhavan & Cecilia Frugiele based on the book by Emily M. Danforth (directed by Akhavan).

WORST SONG

Congratulations to Pitbull for earning this title with two separate songs: “Amore” (written for Gotti) sounding like every possible stereotype you could have yoinked outta The Godfather and having Mr. 305 mumble over it about family honor or something.

And then there’s the hella laziness “Ocean to Ocean” (for Aquaman) displays in ripping Toto’s “Africa” without even bothering to change the chorus, just re-recording it with autotune.

BEST SONG

I am a very simple man who likes to judge a song simply by how it feels to walk on a night with it playing in your head and by god does Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s melancholy ode to dreams “All the Stars” (from Black Panther) fit snuggly into that sweater (bonus for it especially being great for walking alone in the snow at midnight).

The Black Panther soundtrack may be frankly my least favorite album Kendrick Lamar has made so far overall (hot take: I prefer the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack, which even has the superior Vince Staples song) but that was definitely in my top 5 songs of the year.

WORST TRAILER

I know I should be nice to Windows Movie Maker videos but I’ve had to watch Overcomer‘s teaser in front of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse too many fucking times for me not to rip on it for teasing the most depressing color correction and telling us literally nothing about its storyline except that a bunch of folks are upset for some reaosn. In any case, you know the Kendrick brothers are not very confident in this films’ merits when a third of it is clips from their previous movies like some version of the Marvel Studios logo.

(Honorable mention to Breakthrough, another trailer I’ve been seeing way too much of but has a much more promising cast. I just can’t watch that shit without thinking how it looks like the accidental origin story to a zombie apocalypse.)

BEST TRAILER

By this point in the decade, trailers have been clearly into making pop art out of tying highlights of their movie with popular music but Godzilla: King of the Monsters choice to tie in the destructive imagery and alarming scale of its monsters in solid hues of red and blue to “Clair de Lune” is just masterful work of selling the epic grandeur of what we’re about to witness and selling the potential annihilation of humanity as the most beautiful coup du grace nature could deal with us.

It is the best trailer I’ve seen since Mad Max: Fury Road‘s whole campaign.

WORST POSTER

So, when I went to see You Were Never Really Here, I couldn’t help overhearing the two high school boys next to me talking about cooking fools in Gears of War and getting pumped to watch Joaquin Phoenix kill some dudes. Obviously, I don’t need to tell anyone who saw the movie how disappointed they were. I wonder how they would have responded to this poster of The Old Man & The Gun and how disappointed they would have been that there were no explosions.

776f47a225241f0292ea7c98e7d9fda7

BEST POSTER(s COMBO)

So smartly, the marketers of Suspiria decided to throw us the most frustrating and unimpressive teaser poster they possibly could only…

255_suspiria_la_small

Oh, good for you, a fucking “S”. How n–

1_5

HOLY FUCKING SHIT. THIS SUM SHIT.

BEST CREATURE

Oh how can it not be that giant octopus that went drumming before Arthur and Orm did that traditional battle in Aquaman. Superior drummer to Ant-Man‘s drum machining giant ant. Beat them skins hard. Shut up.

BEST HORSE MOVIE

Sorry to Bother You. You’ll get it.

WORST MUSICAL MOMENT

Pick a moment from Peter Rabbit. Pick ANY fucking moment from Peter Rabbit, it all feels so fucking scared to actually burst into a legit number so we get these half-assed Greek choir birds rewriting a jukebox musical.

OK, it’s the “Remember the Name”. It felt like a Whitest Kids U’ Know skit except unironically.

a-place-called-slaughter-race-5-1024x431

BEST MUSICAL MOMENTS

It is pretty damn unfortunate that the three moments involving music that blew my mind (pun intended for one of the movies) are both spoilers so I’ll keep it short and sweet.

Suspiria‘s already a hell of a divisive movie and probably the most aggressive schism is regarding the deranged violence of its balletic third act climax (just after giving us a piece of information without giving us enough time to totally digest it as it turns into a full-on bloodbath) to the rising crescendo and delicate falsetto of Thom Yorke’s “Unmade”, a song that sounds so very unconvincingly like somebody trying to trap you and has an even more sinister bent in the context of that scene.

Meanwhile, we also have Night Is Short, Walk on Girl deciding at the halfway mark inning that “y’know what? We’re gonna be a musical!” and giving us guerilla pop-up musical numbers before ending with a grand finale that gives its story-within-a-story so many twists and turns and then has those twists and turns spill out into the actual film itself. It’s practically a soap opera at that moment and a compellingly watchable and hilarious one.

And then, possibly my favorite outright is Ralph Breaks the Internet paying off on one of its most annoying moments of self-congratulatory synergy where the Disney Princesses teach Vanelope about the “I Want” song and Vanelope finally discovers what her heart desires in the place you would not expect such a song to soar from. It is the only moment I enjoyed myself in that otherwise miserable movie.

BEST SCENE

You better know damn well that the helicopter scene in Mission: Impossible – Fallout is gonna come up again so I’m gonna just leave it for now.

BEST USE OF BRIAN TYREE HENRY

My dude has come up since The Book of Mormon and I’m so glad to see him show up in several of my favorite movies so it’s probably strange that the movie I felt used him best is the one good movie I was least in love with (if I successfully forget the trash White Boy Rick)…

Perhaps something that kept me a bit at a divide from If Beale Street Could Talk was how much it had to make its characters aware of the world they live in and MAKE US AWARE that THE CHARACTERS ARE AWARE rather than let the audience develop that connection, but Henry’s performance as Dan Carty for a brief stretch in the film functions brilliantly as a subtle microcosm of the sort of hardships that black men have to sit through and smile past despite what they’re doing.

(But really the answer is the “Woods” episode of Atlanta season 2 for using Henry’s real-life dealing with his mother’s death as a jumping point for how depression factors in how black men try to psychologically survive but obviously that’s a tv show and not a movie)

IBSCT_05520_RC

BEST CAST ON PAPER THAT FAILED US

Man, The Predator had some of the most Shane Black-iest casting choices and they all failed us except Trevante Rhodes. At least we got to see most of them gored up real good.

MOST IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE IN A MOVIE THEATER

A tie between realizing I forgot my hotel key just as Jackson Maine was searching for his in A Star Is Born or my screening of Green Book smelling entirely like fried chicken.

MOVIE I MOST REGRET NOT BEING ABLE TO SEE IN TIME

I Am Not a Witch. I’ve been desperate for an opportunity to see it ever since its trailer played in front of Madeline’s Madeline, but it was a long way from Queens to Union Square.

MOVIE I THINK I MIGHT RE-EVALUATE POSITIVELY IF I EVER REWATCH IT

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Particularly given how many people around me are just having a hell of a good time from that movie’s existence and I must admit it is a world of difference in quality between it and the wretched first movie, with its affinity for the ABBA deep cuts and decision to actually cast singers in the roles that rely most on the music. Maybe I can just loosen up a bit eventually dig it with the rest.

MOVIE I LOOK FORWARD MOST TO REVISITING

I’ve watched The Other Side of the Wind three times now and still only feel like my viewings were scratching the surface of this extremely dense work. But we’ll definitely get back to that.

Also, PROTOTYPE which I will be seeing for the second time at Cornell Cinema next week. It’s always great when I get to rewatch 3D movies given how limited the opportunity is.

WORST MOVIES

I won’t linger too long on them.

  1. The Death of a Nation – I punish myself D’Souza.
  2. Game Over, Man! – We let the wrong dude pick the Netflix movie one night.
  3. Proud Mary – Literally the sort of visual and audio handicraft that would get a D in film school.
  4. Life Itself – Y’all thinking This Is Us is really good but this has me wondering if dude ever read a book or met a people.
  5. Gotti – Eyyyyyy you won’t see a movie like this if you live to be fif thousan.

Aight, in the upcoming parts of this series – Honorable Mentions and My Top Ten Movies of the Year (including mini essays on how each one personally affected me)

0

Nominee Predictions for the 91st Academy Awards

I ain’t got much time to talk about them but I like guessing games and so I’m gonna guess on what gets announced in the next few days by the Academy with maybe occasional observations on why I’m making the least bold mostly safe predictions. All I’m gonna say is… for a miracle of a year that it was, I am definitely looking at a disappointing race.

BEST PICTURE
Black Panther
Blackkklansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
Green Book
The Favourite
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

I’m not married to idea that Vice will show up on this slate but it’s definitely being passed around as a major contender and it doesn’t do to fuck with consensus. If it shows up, though, it will definitely end up the worst nominee on that slate… beneath even the favorite to win, Green Book. Everything else is practically a lock.

BEST DIRECTOR
Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
Peter Farrelly – Green Book
Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
Spike Lee – Blackkklansman

Two things keep me from replacing the very weird Lanthimos with Adam McKay – 1. my uncertainty that Vice is a Best Picture nominee. 2. Sheer optimism.

And none for Bryan Singer, goodbye.

BEST ACTRESS
Glenn Close – The Wife
Olivia Colman – The Favourite
Viola Davis – Widows
Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Emily Blunt seems to be an apparent popular guess for the fifth spot of an otherwise closed-up slate, but I think Mary Poppins Returns lost a lot of awards momentum (even while Blunt stuck around) and that’s gonna be an anchor on her. It didn’t lose nearly as much momentum as Widows, but Viola Davis is an Oscar favorite.

BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale – Vice
Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
Ethan Hawke – First Reformed
Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

Literally zero surprises are in store here, let’s move on.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams – Vice
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Margot Robbie – Mary, Queen of Scots
Emma Stone – The Favourite
Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

Bitter category fraud going on with The Favourite but if it’s the way to get all three amazing leads some attention, so be it. Margot Robbie is shakiest of the bunch but I can’t think of anybody who is a major threat to her besides Claire Foy and boy did First Man dive harder than any other Oscar hopeful.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Timothee Chalamet – Beautiful Boy
Adam Driver – Blackkklansman
Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Boy, Oscar sure loves itself them true story movies. I mean, Chalamet is not a sure shot with Sam Rockwell’s Bush around the corner BUT Chalamet has been touring the precursors more.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bo Burnham – Eighth Grade
Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara – The Favourite
Adam McKay – Vice
Paul Schrader – First Reformed
Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayed Currie, & Peter Farrelly – Green Book

I wonder if the Oscars really care that Schrader is an idiot who won’t shut up. I doubt it. If Vallelonga is a lock (which he sooooooo is), Schrader has a shot and he’s been getting more precursor love. Pour one out for Sorry to Bother You‘s only Oscar opportunity.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole – Black Panther
Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth, & Will Fetters – A Star Is Born
Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, & Kevin Willmott – Blackkklansman

Seems safe and sturdy here. I particularly can’t imagine Black Panther making it to the Best Picture slate without a nomination in one of the big five unless the Academy wants to get slapped and here’s their best shot.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The usual suspects: Disney, popular movies, favorite auteurs, one GKids slot.

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War
(Poland)
The Guilty (Denmark)
Roma 
(Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Picking the five contenders that I have heard talked about most has never proven to get me a 100 on this category so I guess the real fun is which movie is gonna be absent. My money is on The Guilty.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
RBG
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Not feeling this slate much besides Gap.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
James Paxton – If Beale Street Could Talk
Robbie Ryan – The Favourite
Linus Sandgren – First Man
Lukasz Zal – Cold War

IDK. Roma and The Favourite are for sure, Beale Street and First Man are pretty enough. Cold War is the longshot but I would love to see it snag the nom.

BEST FILM EDITING
Barry Alexander Brown – Blackkklansman
Jay Cassidy – A Star Is Born
Hank Corwin – Vice
Tom Cross – First Man
John Ottman – Bohemian Rhapsody

Definitely the “Most” rule, no offense to Brown who did tremendous work on Blackkklansman. The rest of these folks are fine (Cross and Ottman) to blegh (fucking Corwin… once upon a time you worked with Malick).

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Hannah Beachler – Black Panther
Nelson Coates – Crazy Rich Asians
Nathan Crowley – First Man
Fiona Crombie – The Favourite
John Myrhe – Mary Poppins Returns

I am way too optimistic for Crazy Rich Asians to be recognized for the effective luxury porn it is.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Alexandra Byrne – Mary, Queen of Scots
Ruth E. Carter – Black Panther
Sandy Powell – The Favourite
Sandy Powell – Mary Poppins Returns
Mary E. Vogt – Crazy Rich Asians

I’d say I’m going with the “Most” rule except I legitimately think three of these movies have some of the best costume design I’ve seen all year and will definitely be sad if, say, Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t make the cut.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIR
Bohemian Rhapsody
Mary, Queen of Scots
Vice

Oscarbait.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexandre Desplat – Isle of Dogs
Terrence Blanchard – Blackkklansman
Nicholas Britell – If Beale Street Could Talk
Ludwig Goransson – Black Panther
Justin Hurwitz – First Man

The possibility of A Quiet Place taking a spot here offends me more than all the Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody nominations in the world.

BEST SOUND MIXING
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

A Star Is Born

Obvious ones.

BEST SOUND EDITING
Black Panther
First Man
Mission: Impossible – Fallout

A Quiet Place
A Star Is Born

Pls give Fallout one.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther
Ready Player One

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Welcome to Marwen

*shrug*

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“All the Stars” – Black Panther
“Girl in the Movies” – Dumplin’
“I’ll Fight” – RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow” – A Star Is Born

Pour one out for “Ashes” in Deadpool 2 and “Unmade” in Suspiria.

And I never know what I’m doing with the short categories so don’t grill me here.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
Lost & Found
One Small Step

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Endgame
My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes

A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.
Zion

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Chuchotage
Detainment

Fauve
Marguerite
Skin

0

The Princess Bride

2312

I would love to hide behind the fact that I am still – 7 months later – not ready to say goodbye to Takahata Isao as the excuse that I was sooooooooooo tardy with this retrospective and this final entry is last-minute. No, I shall be transparent about the fact that a mix between laziness with this site and an overwhelming amount of real-world responsibilities arresting me with anxiety was why this 5-film goal took way longer to complete than I intended.

But the fact IS that I am not ready to say goodbye to Takahata and it’s frustrating not just because of how long its been since his death, but because with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Takahata pretty much made the perfect film with which to say goodbye to the world. Even while Takahata worked until the very end (as he had later as artistic producer for The Red Turtle, the latest of Studio Ghibli’s releases), it’s hard to imagine him not being aware that his age at 78 when the film premiered in 2013 and the large 14-year gap in between his last two films spelt the end of his directorial career. So he made it count in more ways than one.

screen_shot_2014-12-19_at_4.41.48_pm

Let’s tackle The Tale of the Princess Kaguya outside of that context for a second, because it is an emotionally moving film even outside of that retrospect. Adapted by Takahata and Sakaguchi Riko from what is believed to be the oldest surviving Japanese prose monogatari “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”, a bamboo cutter (Chii Takeo) discovers a tiny baby girl residing in one of the stalks he cuts down (this resembles a sequence in My Neighbors the Yamadas so well that I expect Takahata was planning this film for longer than the 14 years between) and brings her home to his wife (Miyamoto Nobuko), believing the child to be of a divine presence. The baby’s accelerated growth into a child and the discovery of gold and silks within more bamboo only furthers this belief on the cutter’s part, so in no time they make for a life of nobility in the capital with the girl they have since named Hime (Asakura Asi). It is much to her dismay that she must leave behind the rest of the village children she had grown with, including the strong and mature Sutemaru (Kora Kengo), and learning the sort of restrictions and demands a life as a princess forces upon her only adds to Hime’s blues, later to be re-named Kaguya by a priest.

The 137 minutes that make up The Tale of the Princess Kaguya are certainly not of a brisk sort (particularly a middle sort involving numerous unappealing attempts at courting the then adult princess start to drag in a repetition of punchlines), but it is nevertheless one that recognizes the ephemeral sweep with which this girl must live her life: growing and going through stages with barely enough time to recognize and adore this world she’s been brought into with the sparse and direct nature of storytelling that folklore grants itself. At the same time, Takahata and Sakaguchi import a lot of contemporary depth via Kaguya’s feelings on her drafted princess-hood, the deft inherent talent she has at the position fighting against her desires to live a normal human outside back in peaceful rusticity. Likewise, her adoptive parents have their own emotions driving the story: the bamboo cutter’s desperate resentment at his previous poverty and the denied legitimacy of his ascension among the upper class and the wife’s attempts to help Kaguya feel comfortable with this life without willing to sacrifice their gained wealth.

tale-of-the-prince

This dichotomy and conflict is – as would be for any animated film, especially one by a master such as Takahata – a visual one just as much as it is a narrative one. Once again, Takahata’s valued minimalism where the image is just fading at the edges into white is utilized to shape the image into something like a painting, aided by the elegant and traditional hand-painting that makes up the animation style as though illustrations to a storybook. Moving illustrations with a vivid fluidity to them that rejects the formal roots of its aesthetic, particularly in a later sequence where we watch Kaguya zoom out of the palace and the city and into the field as a flurry of thick black lines in one direction, lifted by the romanticism Joe Hisaishi’s score elevates the tale to (shockingly his only collaboration with Takahata in their careers, even despite the fact that Takahata was the one who brought him to Studio Ghibli in the first place). Meanwhile, the forests are a very appealing bunch of watercolor greens and browns while the city goes for a muted white-based lack of personality that explains Kaguya’s lack of belonging in that place, without losing the grace of those hand-drawn lines that build up the image.

This is overall a scenario that affords a lot of different bittersweet observations about the human experience in such a limited time: the satisfaction of simple lives, the performative nature high-class society and its attempts to flaunt their wealth, the balancing act of parenthood where one must prove clairvoyent in knowing what’s best for their children, the certainty that things will mess up regardless, toxic men filling up more and more with hot air when they can not enamor a woman and going beyond their boundaries, women having no choice in their place in life and trying to make what they can out of the rapid changes thrown at them. All of these themes with wisdom and patience as the film scratches at them. Nothing within its observations on these matters is entirely positive, though it does afford a few respites of happiness where Kaguya can free herself an inch and it is heartbreaking when she must return to her princess status.

Princess_Kaguya_02-600x325

There is one final observation The Tale of the Princess Kaguya has to give us before it ends and, while I don’t want to spoil it in detail, I can only say it is one about how hard it is to say goodbye to the world and the people who make up your world. Introduced at the very last leg of the film is an indomitable conclusiveness to all of Kaguya’s worries that also means a lot of sadness and emptiness in the lives of the bamboo cutter, his wife, Sutemaru, and everyone else that Kaguya cared for in her very short time on Earth, only accentuated by this abrupt obstacle. The beauty with which this is carried out – looking and sounding akin to a festive celebration rather than anything else – gives the promise of things feeling right by what’s occurring but the emotions behind the characters having to go through this and the fact that they are the ones we’re familiar with makes it all the more devastating despite this. It entirely ties up the bittersweet nature of the writing and the comprehensive manner of its plot as a portrayal of life itself, ending the film and Takahata’s career with a poignant final shot that feels as much of a tearjerking comfort as the titular fireflies in Grave of the Fireflies.

And having that moment be the one that sees Takahata off as a filmmaker only makes things feel like he was setting us up for that goodbye. It only seems fair to deal with his departure in as graceful a manner as Kaguya suggests one can. But, for a filmmaker whom I’ve never met that lived in a country I’ve never been to and so could only admire from afar, it can just be so hard to have to deal with the fact that he’s not going to make any more art for one to admire. In any case, I’m forever grateful to Takahata for what he did leave us with and they will continue to be my comforts in the years to come as life goes on.

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 1.02.28 AM

29 October 1935 – 5 April 2018

Picture2B002

0

Yamada So Fat…

yamadas-8-1024x548

Around the final two films of Takahata Isao’s time with Studio Ghibli and his career overall* – with a Kubrick-ian 14 years in turnover time between them – the animation director finally opted to do entirely away with the refined manga-inspired cel animation style that was Studio Ghibli’s default mode. In his decision to adapt Ishii Hisaichi’s long-running comic strip series ののちゃん (Nono-chan) under its original title となりのやまだ君 – literally translated to My Neighbors the Yamadas – Takahata had decided to undertake a new more hand-drawn look to the pictures that would resemble the comic strip much further than if it were solid blocks and perfect color fills and full backgrounds. The result was a movie full of personality within its rough handiwork, something that implied a direct tangibility to the image that gave a beating involved heart to the film.

But also because Takahata was not crazy, this was the first entirely-computer animated film in Ghibli’s output. Which does a lot for flattening the image so that we buy the characters and whatever background they have being on the same dimensional plane without losing the sketched texture of the lines.

6757380b1773f28949282e9ea7fc0485c014fc7e_hq

Despite that strong dedication to depth, My Neighbor the Yamadas is indisputably the most cartoonish of Takahata’s films since his early television specials of Panda! Go, Panda! and that gives it a lot more of a pleasant aesthetic for viewers of any age. Particularly given that it seeks to make its viewers relate to its subject, the Yamada family – child daughter Nonoko (Uno Naomi) who is the namesake of the comic, teenage son Noboru (Isobata Hayato), matriarch housewife Matsuko (Asaoka Yukiii), patriarch breadwinner Takashi (Masuoka Touru), and Matsuko’s elderly mother Shige (Araki Masako). All of them as wacky and broad as the round designs on them which affords an endearment to the film as well as the easy faded colors that inhabit the line drawings of each shot. Not to mention the steps My Neighbors the Yamadas takes to ease us into its cartoon styles by having Nonoko casually explain away the shape of Shige’s by drawing a pair of cosmic objects and then filling it out with her beloved grandma’s features, helping us to quickly associate the simplicity of Yamadas‘s design with shapes.

Which works out wonders for the sort of broad comedy My Neighbors the Yamadas is attempting to do.

May as well not beat the bush any further about the loose structure Takahata’s screenplay has: there’s no plot to My Neighbor the Yamadas. It’s all vignettes of various length and the film does nothing to truly suggest a true logic to the arrangement of the segments, although it is easy to sense the beginning and the end as a viewer. It’s remarkably easy viewing in general for something lacking a story, none of the segues to the next vignette feel abrupt and a lot of it feels like vague association with something that came up in the last vignette. Like maybe dinner might be a large part of one vignette and that drives us to the next vignette or two sequences in a row where one of the male members of the family forgets something while rushing to work or school. Takahata has somehow just cracked a flow out of segments and I’m sure there was a logic to his choices but it’s not apparent to the viewer and I don’t think it should matter.

3-1

Though, if one actually sat down and noted the reasoning behind it, it could be remarked upon that the two major bookends involve a speech given by a character as affirmation and encouragement for a marriage, one of which hilariously remains fixed on the speaker as he fumbles and grasps for his forgotten words and his family watches in horror, the other giving way to a fantastical epic portraying the creation of a family as a Homeric adventure where the family is constructed through plants and fruits narrated warmly by an old woman (who I sadly cannot identify in the cast). That latter is the artistic peak of the film as it abandons the empty white spaces and fills the frame with depth and detail with pastel seas and stalks and fruits, but it’s not the only moment where Takahata decides to be ambitiously versatile: late in the film, a non-threatening but still tense moment of confrontation with a few juvenile bikers involves more lines and a darker palette with less (but impressively deliberate) lighting to knock the “fun” out of the moment without losing the cartoon aesthetic, followed by a kinetic “fantasy” action sequence akin to superhero movies.

But it must of course be constantly acknowledged that this is just as well aided by the fact that My Neighbors the Yamadas is gutbustingly funny in a very endearing and relentless sense with those above moments cushioning a familiarity with the family we have accomplished just by innocent and silly but wholly relatable incidents before tying it with a bow by a very celebratory musical number of “Que Sera, Sera” just to bring all its admiration of the Yamadas and how well they represent us right home as they laugh along into the sunset. It is near impossible to pick a “sweetest” moment in a film like this, but Takahata definitely selected quite a note to say goodbye to this family with.

Earlier this year, I’ve been privileged enough to rewatch the entire feature canon of Studio Ghibli (including the precursor Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and frustratingly excluding the Belgian co-production The Red Turtle) on the big-screen in the presence of an audience, most of whom (including my friend) were getting to experience this for the first time. My Neighbors the Yamadas was decidedly not the most packed house but it was possibly the most responsive I’ve seen the audience throughout the whole run. It is not as widely-seen (at least in the United States, I cannot speak to its popularity in Japan but I expect being based on beloved comics indicates commercial success), but I absolutely think this film deserves to be regarded as much of a crowd-pleaser as anything by Miyazaki. My Neighbors the Yamadas is certainly a gem of a picture that is infectiously affable and assuredly humorous in all its color and shape.

NB: I was finishing this essay on a flight to New York (after having a draft sitting here for months – sorry, readers) and I had playing in the background The Death of Stalin, where I recall a similar joke occurs as My Neighbor the Yamadas involving wearing pajamas underneath your suit.

NNB: LOL, that fucking NB was from an earlier attempt to complete this draft. If y’all ever want to hold me accountable for deadlines…

*Barring a single short segment made for the anthology film Winter Days, inspired by that favorite poet of Takahata’s to reference in his movies (including and especially this review’s subject), Bashō.

hohokekyo_tonari_no_yamada-kun

0

Isle of Good Boys

isle-of-dogs_1581_107669454

Isle of Dogs is the sort of movie that should have a first-class ticket into my heart (and indeed was one of the movies I was most looking forward to this year). It’s not just the new Wes Anderson film, it’s the new Wes Anderson film returning to his lovely animation style from Fantastic Mr. Fox focusing on bunch of dogs set in Japan, with whatever fears of problematic elements (confirmed, I have to admit and will elaborate on, to be worse than I expected) at least promising to deliver an affinity for the styles of Japanese cinema. All of which it delivers on, even if the callbacks to Japanese cinema do not go further than Kurosawa Akira or Ozu Yasujiro.

Far be it from me to claim that Isle of Dogs ended up a disappointment. Indeed, I walked away from it with a smile on my face but one that wanes with every passing season with the thought that it perhaps felt like I – the ideal viewer for this kind of movie – needed to meet it halfway more than I should have had to.

Not a good necessity to have when you are writing a parable about the sweet selflessness of friendship, much as Anderson did based on a story he developed with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura. That story is about a dystopian future in the Japanese city of Megasaki, where a threatening strain canine flu is the catalyst for Mayor Kobayashi Kenji (voiced by Nomura) to enact an order that all dogs be expelled to the nearby accurately-named Trash Island. He makes an example of this by having his son Atari’s (Rankin Koyu) guard-dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) be the first deportee.

53568874_max

Within six months, the inhabiting dogs of the island have now orbited into their own packs and one particular pack made of the previously-pampered Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray; my favorite just because he looks the most adorable in his little league Dragons jersey), and led by grizzled stray Chief (Bryan Cranston) witness a little plane crash-landing with young Atari (distressingly injured from the crash for the rest of the film including an alarming bit protruding out of his head), who subsequently attempts to discipline them using the Seven Samurai theme and recruits them in search of his beloved dog. Meanwhile, back in Megasaki, radical high school exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) investigates into the roots and endgoals of Mayor Kobayashi and his right-hand Major Domo (Takayama Akira)’s plan with the isle of dogs.

Did I say “parable”? Sorry, it gets more complex than that, but the center of the film is the growing bond between Akira and distrusting Chief (having suffered much as a stray in the metropolis) as they seek to reunite Akira with his best friend. Anyway, we may as well acknowledge the problematic elements out of the gate: the imposition of a white savior in Walker (who is a pretty annoying character), the stereotype of Asian mistreatment towards dogs (and caricatured design of Major Domo as some pale yellow fever grotesquerie), the overwhelming presence of non-Asian voices over Asian voice actors (and even though the Asian characters are voiced by Asian actors, much of their dialogue is talked over Frances “inclusion clause” McDormand – a frustrating matter when Anderson gives this movie’s title cards a lateral aesthetic that compliments its design), and especially a development in the third act that – I’m avoiding spoilers – recalls a horrifying atrocity the US commit against the Japanese in a manner that places the Japanese in the perpetrator role and brought me the closest to saying “fuck this”.

screen-shot-2017-09-21-at-9-45-14-pm

Anyway, if you can push past that (And it’s a lot. My privilege as a non-Asian viewer is showing, but Justin Chang and Jen Yamato have a great episode of their podcast The Reel that cuts deeper into these issues), you get a very busily designed movie that mostly pays off in an aesthetic sense. When we’re opened to an diorama look of Megasaki, it is certainly reminiscent of the wide shot introducing the titular Grand Budapest Hotel to us, with moving parts and lights, centralized by the bright red Town Hall and a looming volcano in the distance. And that’s just the start of the sort of an abidance by Japanese cinema and Noh theater that production designers Adam Stockhausen and Paul Harrod get to play with. Trash Island, made up mostly of blocks of garbage, gets to base its design on stacks or remnants of an old by-gone youthful world with its slides and theme park rides. And despite my complaint about Domo’s design, the rest of the humans are mostly made to look so unpersonable so that the dogs can be as scruffed up as they would be left to their own devices and still be entirely appealing in their bigs eyes (helped by a cast that mostly doesn’t have much to do as characters but still does it hella well; Tilda Swinton’s Oracle is hilarious in its facial expressions and Jeff Goldblum’s delivery of “I love gossip” is so Goldblum-y). More human than human, I’d claim the intention is.

The movement of all these pieces in a manner that mirrors the multiple pieces of narrative we have to work here with and the presentation with it via Anderson’ favorite horizontal camera movements (this time mirroring the sort of cinema he is trying to homage and thereby at the appropriate usage that this trademark has ever had in his filmography) and presents the most controlled aesthetic that Anderson has ever given us (indeed, animation does demand that control is held over by the filmmaker in every aspect). Something, people might argue, feels too controlled in a way that maybe a sincere tale about friendship should be left to organically. It’s maybe the first film where I actually understood people’s issues with Anderson’s characters being a bit distanced from you based on how aware you are of the film’s artifice.

1506063886_isle-dogs

I still think unfiltered feeling is still there in pockets: from the voice performance of Cranston beginning with a gruff guard slowly transforming into determined warmth, a sense of wounding given to Chief as the film moves on, flashback scenarios establishing Atari’s relationship with Spots, all of which cycle into a payoff by the third act. And of course, every single dog is as adorable looking as can be, whether patchy or pudgy, no matter how many vicious injuries they suffer (indeed Isle of Dogs really reminded me of how unexpectedly violent Anderson’s films can be, though the cartoon-esque scuffling in a ball of dust was amusing no less). But the more I look back on the times I’ve had within the Isle of Dogs, the more I’m left with memories of the first Anderson movie I liked but did not love despite all ingredients being my jam.

I don’t know, maybe Wes is more of a cat person. I mean, look what he made happen to poor Buckley.

1523038367-isleofdogs

0

Mai Waife

9

I’m gonna be mean.

The Wife is literally the type of movie that acts as a parody of arthouse cinema. It is literally the kind of drab and pretentious movie I imagine my friends and family conjure in their heads when they think of the “cultured” tastes of mine (those are scare quotes, lest one forgets one of my favorite movies of the year was the extended black metal music video with a chainsaw fight) when I halt for a moment before agreeing to see that Melissa McCarthy vehicles with them. I would much rather rewatch the last four Melissa McCarthy movies I saw* than suffer The Wife another time, even if it boasts a desperately powerhouse last gasp from Glenn Close for that Best Actress Oscar. At least, those films’ narrative histrionics are done for the sake of comedy. I’m not even sure Jane Anderson’s screenplay (based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, I do not know how close an adaptation it is, but I admit that the premise interests me more as literature than cinema) recognizes its wild motions through “shocker” revelations as melodramatic, let alone does director Björn Runge want to squeeze a self-awareness of melodrama out of it.

That introduction to Close’s performance sounded too mean, let’s start over. Indeed, Close’s performance here transparently leaps for her elusive career-long lack of awarding from the Academy and it has been the one major constant source of accolade for The Wife since it premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. But she earns it: she is the sole human presence in the film that seems grounded other than Christian Slater (a distant second in the cast who does not rise above merely fine) and she has a firm hand on all the complexities of resentment and resignation bubbling within her character of Joan Castleman, who for the duration of the film has to sit through and witness the process of her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) being awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. This is just as much an annoyance for their eldest child David (Max Irons) – their pregnant daughter Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) not accompanying them to Stockholm for obvious reasons – as it is for Joan, but in David’s case, it’s because Joe treats David’s aspiring writing career as condescendingly as one could.

81718-the-wife

In Joan’s case, Joe does a terrible job at hiding and denying his constant pursuit of affairs (indeed, their very relationship was born as an extramarital affair), but it’s not just that. Apparently, dogged biographer Nathaniel Bone (Slater) has done a great deal of research in the hopes of getting Joe’s authorization for a biography and that research has led to a trail that heavily implies that Joe’s writing has mostly been done by Joan herself (albeit inspired by Joe’s life), partly in an attempt to circumvent the misogynist dismissal she would have received during her own early pursuit of a writing career back in the 1950s (portrayed in flashback by Streep’s daughter Annie Starke) but partly as a result of Joe’s fragile and bullying inability to take criticism or work around his own flaws as a writer (portrayed in flashback by Harry Lloyd).

That we don’t exactly see or learn much about the differing writing styles of Joan, Joe, or David is a pretty frustrating element of this film that is ostensibly about writers. But in any case, the directions in which Joan’s development takes over these long few days where she witnesses her husband gets what she wants (and, the film argues convincingly, deserves) while she has to use platitude that sell the image of a happy, supportive couple and convince her clueless spouse are navigated through deftly by Close that regardless of the quality of the movie around her, I would certainly be less objecting to her winning of the Best Actress Oscar than the other major contender this season, Lady Gaga.

But the quality of the movie around her… oof.

980x

The complete funereal look to it afforded by Runge’s direction and cinematographer Ulf Brantås, with a lack of distinction in the fatigue of the 1993 sequence and the 1950s flashback that makes me wonder why bother making this a film and why not just make it a stageplay, to suggest tips its hand so far into artificial chilliness that it goes into sleepiness instead. But the real Achilles heel is Pryce’s performance, maybe the first performance he’s ever given that I find no redeeming qualities to and the biggest culprit at playing to the histrionics of the scenario in a manner that undercuts any attempt Lloyd makes at crafting the character as a subtle gaslighting manipulator.

For all that Anderson wants to portray a toxic masculine issue that is present (even if the observations never go much more than repetitions of “Joe complains about something and Joan breaks in half to make it stop”, topped off by an ending that feels like a deliberate cop-out), Pryce refuses to make Joe a flesh-and-blood human source of this issue so much as a stereotypical monster that The Wife can’t manage to contain with any sobriety it treats the rest of its aesthetic or narrative with. And that just ends up making all the misery this film puts forward feel like it’s for nothing.

*Life of the Party, The BossGhostbustersand Spy for the record, in order of recency. All of which are some level of enjoyable, to be frank, so I should maybe acknowledge that I don’t dodge her for her performances but for the directors attached (either Paul Feig or Ben Falcone). But this is no profile of Melissa McCarthy, much as I’d also rather do that than write about this film.
0

The Shallows

289084559-2

The full disclosure first: it is no-big-secret that Bradley Cooper’s 2018 directorial debut A Star Is Born happens to be the fourth version of that very same storyline told by that name, arguably the fifth version of that storyline told overall depending on how closely you think the 1932 George Cukor film What Price Hollywood?, which predates them all, hews closely to them*. I happened to see Cooper’s film after a back-to-back-to-back-to-back refresh of all four previous films and it may very well be the case that I might have been burnt out from that story by the time I reached Cooper’s telling. I highly doubt that and don’t see myself being in the mood to rewatch it and test that theory anytime soon: it might just as well be the case that I was simply unimpressed with a fairly average piece of artist’s struggle Oscarbait. Plus, when it comes to watching it shortly after enduring the godawful 1976 Barbra Streisand vanity piece, Cooper’s film has all the juxtapositional advantages it could possibly have and ends up looking rosy.

In fact, the subject matter of Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters‘ screenplay apparently tries to make right the new direction Frank Pierson‘s film tried to take: as opposed to the first three films’ focus on movie stars, the ’76 and ’18 versions of A Star Is Born focus on musicians now and both of them seem to choose country as the genre of choice. The beats are otherwise uniform all throughout and Cooper’s character, burnt-out substance abuser Jackson Maine, has regained the surname of all the previous iterations outside of the ’76 version. Maine randomly discovers the remarkable musical talent of Ally (Lady Gaga) and coaxes her into becoming a viral phenomenon after he arranges an impromptu duet performance of a song she wrote during one of his concerts. The two become very quickly enamored with each other while Ally’s star begins rising, Jackson is being shut out as a liability and it’s causing him to relapse into his vices in a manner poisonous towards himself and potentially Ally’s career.

124538

There’s another toxic side to Cooper‘s story that I feel might not be as intended but the film slips towards regardless: Ally’s rising fame lands her with a more pop-oriented image that Jackson transparently disapproves of, an attitude the movie doesn’t have as much objection to so much as the cruel fashion that he expresses it, particularly when he is at his drunkest. That this is absent from the previous films (in which the male lead is unconditionally supportive of what direction the female lead wishes to go) is, I think, no accident.

But enough of comparing Cooper’s film to its predecessors, for “maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”, as one of Maine’s songs (written by Jason Isbell, the soundtrack has a general revolving door of writers with Gaga being the major constant and the results being mostly mixed with “Maybe It’s Time” and the much-marketed “Shallow” being the best) go. What about A Star Is Re-re-reBorn as a film unto itself?

Well, for one thing, it looks almost exactly like the sort of film I imagine Clint Eastwood would have made (Cooper having worked with him on American Sniper and The Mule) with its classically worn look to itself whether against the blinding lights of the concert stage, the busy domesticity of Ally’s home (inhabited by characters that Woody Allen would have repeated his “standing out here with the cast of The Godfather” line towards headed by a sleepily against-type Andrew Dice Clay), the sterile white of a grocery store in the middle of the night. There’s one major exception to Cooper’s Eastwood influence: an early scene in a gay bar during a drag show, where the color red completely washes over the film but refusing to have sharply defined lines so as not to lose its faux-verite sense and one of the better scenes of the film for this fact. In general, there is very little about Cooper and his work with cinematographer Matthew Libatique that implies they don’t know their way towards giving a setting a lived-in feel but an overreliance towards the crutch of close-ups as the one major way to communicate our characters’ thoughts, though there is one moment where a close-up, on top of the one great cut by otherwise sluggish Jay Cassidy, is juxtaposed to another with a usage of focus that amplifies the spaced-out distance Maine is feeling towards Ally’s career trajectory. It sucks that such a moment is utilized in that objectionable manner, but it’s great to see the close-up used at least once in the movie to tell us something that one shot of an actor’s face couldn’t.

124536

And to be sure, the lead actors do a mighty fine job among them as well in conjuring a chemistry between themselves that sells a sincerity to their co-dependent relationship, even despite all the knowingly toxic and antagonistic elements. I wouldn’t call either performance great acting as individual elements (Gaga herself doesn’t have much of a path when she takes scenes emotionally from 0 to 100 and Cooper’s attempts at wounded masculine emotion is wildly overshadowed by Sam Elliot’s best work as Jackson’s older brother Bobby, making an otherwise fine performance look like cheap mimicry and having “Then why did you steal my voice?” as a line does not help). Perhaps another thing that Cooper took as a director from his previous collaborators was David O. Russell’s trust in actors to create their own rhythm and let the film be crafted around them, but it pays off enough to make A Star Is Born extremely interesting in the moments up until a boisterous early climax as Ally performs “Shallows” to a crowd with Jackson for the first time and at least maintain watchability up until the end.

Beyond that, the truth is the movie just wasn’t interesting to me. It doesn’t help that I happen to think Ally is a more interesting presence that Jackson and the movie seems to totally disagree with that (as it would when Cooper is star AND director). It maybe helps less that I’ve seen it all before done better and anything that this film tries to try anew just doesn’t compel me as melodrama. It certainly helps the least that the last half of the film is filled with bet-hedging towards its judgments with Ally’s musical style (including songs that I’d swear were deliberately written to sound bad if one of the writers didn’t deny this) and the amount of random strands that are picked up and dropped often (like Dave Chappelle’s character or Maine’s hearing issues). If it weren’t for the certainty of this movie’s presence in the awards race, I’d have no trouble forgetting about it. But it’s hard to deny that it shows promise for Cooper and Gaga in their respective newfound roles as filmmaker and movie star. This just ain’t it yet.

*It is this writer’s opinion that is very close.

lady-gaga-and-bradley-cooper-in-a-star-is-born

0

It Practically Gallops

knynjls

There is obviously a line between contempt for your characters and apathy for your characters and I think writer-director Ari Aster’s debut feature horror film Hereditary has found the thinnest element of that line. It is a movie that is aware of the ugly aspect of what its central family is doing to each other and wants us to be aware too. It is a movie that validates the devastating feelings within these people that is making them react and hurt each other this way, knowing that they are entitled to feel the way they feel and refusing to judge them for it. Only judging them for the toxic manner in which they inflict those feelings on each other. And despite this, it is a movie that does not care what happens to them and knows that the results are of their own devices for the most part.

Hereditary’s happens to be quite a movie that it is easy to spoil by discussing its premise, so I hope it suffices simply to acknowledge that it all begins with a death in the Graham family: Ellen Leigh’s (a character we see in photos that, last I checked, were uncredited) obituary is the first thing that greets us in a chillingly neutral tone. She is survived by her daughter Annie (Toni Collette), Annie’s husband Steven (Gabriel Byrne), their teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff), and child daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and their responses to her death is complex, to say the least. Annie had a toxically antagonistic relationship with her mother amplified by mental illness issues between Annie’s father and brother while by all accounts Ellen took a special interest towards Charlie.

In any case, having to deal with a death in the family is a tough experience and very soon Hereditary proves that to only be the beginning of their troubles, with an incident that irreparably tears a conflict between a slowly deteriorating Annie and an increasingly vulnerable Peter. And between the two of those are the heightened poles of Hereditary’s miseries: Collette embodies an inability to compartmentalize between her hate, her grief, and her trauma, spitefully lashing out at everyone’s who is even slightly at fault for her losing herself. While Wolff goes through a downward spiral of muting out any of his emotions and letting himself get eaten more and more. Indeed, his big showcase is a moment where he stares at an unseen thing in the backseat of a car and stares out trying to comprehend what just occurred, refusing to frown or scream or anything except let a solitary tear run down his cheek. Meanwhile, Byrne makes a useless character feel even more like a clueless slump (which I wholly mean as a compliment) and Shapiro gives Charlie a melancholy loneliness at losing the family member she most interacted with that plays very well with the other weird ambiance she gives to her presence.

tumblr_pdzd9njcpg1s9pkdp_1280

And they have a lot of time to do it. Hereditary knows full well what happens when you have the worst feelings a person could possibly be experiencing embodied in four different people and left to simmer in four walls for weeks at a time (2 hours in runtime paced incredibly well by Jennifer Lame and Lucian Johnston), mixed around by Charlie Dahan’s deep doomy vibrations of a score. Hereditary IS a horror movie of the supernatural sort (I do not think this is a spoiler though of course explaining how would be), but the real horrifying aspect comes for what this family is putting each other through simply for the fact that they don’t know how to process this or because they don’t feel like they’re allowed to.

The near-invisible delicacy with which Aster condemns the Graham family with only slivers of sympathy despite a loyalty to wide shots of funereal domesticity that give its central drama an empty dollhouse look to it (something Aster wants us to recognize by way of Annie‘s career as a diorama artist and indeed the very first shot after that obituary is a long close-up from an open dollhouse into a 2nd floor bedroom that happens to be Peter’s) and close-ups that accent exactly how ugly it looks for a human being to emotionally collapse. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski uses the wide shots as an opportunity to give the rooms and their inhabitants a subtle wooden brown implying how artificial anything that was holding this home together was while using the close-ups to give shadows (and aided by sweaty makeup) that make the characters look gaunt and their heads facing downwards. Collette is the best aide to this: it feels insulting to call what she’s doing mugging, because there’s so much deeper internalizing than that but she puts on a consistent exhausted frown, escalated in a dinner scene gone wrong where she can’t help ripping Peter apart verbally. She looks like if Shelly Duvall got fucking sick of Jack Nicholson’s shit and decided she didn’t an axe to murder him, just a glare.

It is so effective as chamber-esque thriller and as exercise in ruining the viewer’s day that when Hereditary takes a very-very-late turn to glibness, it is jarring in an unfortunate way (it is not the only time – there is one cutaway shot against a character’s haunting screams that feels a little beyond the pale in cruelty). It also happens to be a moment that utilizes “explain-the-plot” in the worst kind of way, at a point where we are very clear on what has went on unless we weren’t paying attention. That it is the final note in Hereditary does not particularly stain my memory of it, because when you do it right moodiness is going to linger long enough to really mess up any good feelings you could possible grasp.

NB: Good ol’ Dancin’ Daniel Bayer has suggested that you see this movie with an audience and I sure wish I could agree with that if some 305 dickhead didn’t shout “DE PINGA!” at the screen during one of the most silent-inducing moments after an hour of clicking his tongue. Still, I can’t imagine this isn’t a movie where a crowd would be synchronized emotionally so I’d say it see it… with people you know and trust.

253438876-2