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Keanu Dig It?

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Lately I’ve been finding myself over excited for the possibility of Chad Stahelski adapting Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, a series that was a personal guilty pleasure read back in my undergrad years. This excitement was verbalized shortly after seeing his latest feature John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the third in the John Wick franchise that saw him make the move for Hollywood stuntman to action film director, where I realized that this franchise and the Sandman Slim series had a lot of things in common that Stahelski has proven a boon to: (under)world-building, a story of romance-based vengeance, a protagonist who is evidently the best at the violent thing he does, but the biggest element that Parabellum indicates (and that I should have known from the first John Wick) is a love for movies and eagerness for references that is shared by Kadrey’s books.

Within the first three minutes, Buster Keaton clips are projected in the background off of a Times Square building (this was also done in John Wick: Chapter 2 within the first three SHOTS). Within 30 minutes, the titular assassin John Wick (Reeves) seeks refuge in the Tarkovsky Theatre*. And then there’s the casting, which is obviously not the first thing I’d expect to praise John Wick for, but as the best ensemble of the whole franchise to date, a lot of the actors feel very much winking to their past careers. Mark Dacascos is introduced running a sushi shop, Jerome Flynn (in a heinous accent) finally lives Bronn’s dream of having a castle, Boban Marjanovic’s cameo appearance feels reminiscent of fellow basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Bruce Lee vehicle Game of Death, and in a franchise full of flexes, no bigger flex is made than having Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman – Mad Dog and The Assassin themselves – mark over getting to fight John Wick himself! Not unexpected coming from a franchise that knowingly reunited Laurence Fishburne with his Matrix co-star but to the degree that this third entry indulges in… wow.

Needless to say, the ensemble is only one of every single aspect of the John Wick films that Parabellum has amped up. Following in the style of the later Mission: Impossible films, Chad Stahelski and his team’s response to continuing the tales of their grieving assassin is to just bring out “more”. More elaborate fights, more elaborate sets, more elaborate world-building, and on and on. The note that Chapter 2 left Wick on was the promise of the entire underworld of Assassins – centralized by the international chain of hotels called The Continental – coming down on Wick, so there wasn’t much to demand of writer Derek Kolstad and yet he finds a way to add a layer to that threat in the form of the confident and poised official Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). The Adjudicator’s sights expand beyond Wick to the hands of anybody who aided or aids Wick in his escape from repercussions, including New York City’s Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane) and Bowery King (Fishburne), and this allows more sketching of the hierarchies and traditions of this murderous culture while Wick has to deal with end-to-end would-be killers trying to get his head.

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More than anything, this unrelenting hunt that Wick is at the center of introduces a wide variety of combat styles stemming from the otherwise mundane locations Wick has to escape from alive – from having to deal with the cramped rows of the New York Public Library to a vintage Chinatown warehouse filled with knives to evading motorcycles under the L train on horseback – bringing out the full creativity of the stunt coordinators trying to escalate each fight to a climax and the full ability of the stunt team to use their bodies as spectacle. And their humor too as this turns out to be the most self-aware of the John Wick films to date with moments like Wick weaponizing a notorious joke from Blart Blart: Mall Blart 2 and recreating Tuco’s revolver-building sequence from The Good, the Bad, the Ugly as a ticking timeclock sequence. Dacascos himself seems eager to jump in on the good humor of the franchise, his shinobi master Zero being all too eager to make pals with Wick while still stressing the inevitability of him killing Wick as hired by The Adjudicator as their primary instrument. And it’s a cheeky attitude that fills every facet of Parabellum as a work of art, most notoriously when production designer Kevin Kavanaugh includes – amongst his sleek, flowing luxury Berber tents in the Sahara and finely-aged historic ballet auditoriums – a set made out of glass designed to visualize the video game-like boss levels Wick must elevate in the climax as well as facilitate an absurdly hilarious moment where he just keeps getting kicked over and over by Zero’s ninjas into sugarglass pillars with no time to catch his breath.

John’s inability to ever catch his breath seems evermore present in this installment, making us more aware then ever that everything John is going through during this trilogy took place in very close chronological proximity (Parabellum opens less than an hour after Chapter 2 closed) and after Kolstad practically ignoring John’s widow-ship in the last movie, it’s brought forward once more for John to answer the query: “My son, how did you come to be so lost? Never seen a man fight so hard to end up back where he started.” Indeed, embodying frustrated exhaustion turns out to be yet another effective utilization of Reeves’ acting limits, where his laconic nature pushes against all the blood and sweat and sand all around him to be more focused in its viciousness than ever.

But really this is all just a pretext for designing fashion like violence. A very dedicated pretext mind you that certain viewers might understandably not find as gloriously pulpish as I do (indeed, a backstory scene between Wick and Halle Berry’s Sofia feels like the weakest moment in the franchise while still maintaining this film being the best work either actor has performed yet), but the pretext is able to step out of the way quick enough to return to the chase for Wick and the constantly escalating danger (paced impeccably by Evan Schiff so that each battle feels like an individual short film) in an ever-more florid array of Metropolitan color provided by Dan Laustsen (this film might include my favorite cinematic depiction of Manhattan’s Chinatown, presented in such overwhelming rain that the lights become blurry circles in the alleys interrupting the blue with imperfect circles of yellow and red).

It’s such an overwhelming amount of visual stimuli, overwrought dramatic epic (with a 30s serial-esque quest into the golden Sahara desert taking place in the middle), and breathtaking body movements (so aware of action movie’s function as cinematic ballet that it intercuts a violent slaughter with a ballet sequence) outdoing its predecessors that answering John Wick: Chapter 4‘s demand for “more” seems an impossible task for Stahelski, but I’m excited nevertheless for how they meet that need head-on. I mean, we have MORE DOGS in this film even and they munch on their enemy’s nuts! Deez Nutz!

*Which in turn brings one to remember Atomic Blonde – directed by John Wick‘s uncredited co-director David Leitch – featuring a fight scene set behind a movie screen playing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

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DR. JONATHAN HEMLOCK’S ARTSY-FARTSY, HISTORICAL-SCHMISTORICAL SANCTIONISTIC SUMMER VACATION MOVIE QUIZ

Yeah, I get it… June has past now and the only review I’ve put down was Raiders of the Lost Ark. In my defense, I was having a pretty swell past two weeks and might even discuss a certain movie-related aspect of it later on in a post.

Nevertheless, I still intend to pop in every now and again and finish writing reviews for the other favorites I named in that post over time plus whatever else I’m feeling in future (I’m potentially feeling Ari Aster’s short films + Midsommar and also possibly doing the other three Indiana Jones movies). I just am not rushing myself.

Meanwhile, I often forget and then remind myself what fun it is to see the latest movie quiz out of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and take a swing at it to revitalize my movie shit-talking voice so here I go with the new one:

1) Name a musician who never starred in a movie who you feel could have been a movie star or at least had a compelling cinematic presence.

This is a lot harder of a question than I expected because many of my major choices (Vince Staples, Dave Grohl, Gene Simmons, Lemmy, Janelle Monae, Dave Brockie) HAVE acted in movies, just not in a major enough sense but still with enough credits to disqualify them.

I will give this up to Tobias Forge, either in character Cardinal Copia (a la Unknown Hinson’s credit in Squidbillies) or as himself. Being the frontman and creator behind the theatrics of Ghost – a band of people basically acting while playing – already implies he has a leaning toward performance (and in addition to the silly YouTube videos he’s been making on the hijinks of “The Church”, there was an interview recently where he suggested an interest in making a Ghost-centric feature film). In particular, I think he could bring some absurdity to certain films by playing Cardinal Copia playing a role like a priest in an indie horror film but also utilizing his own charm and charisma (which I expect is not that different from his live performances except maybe less puerile) for other non-Horror movie projects.

2) Akira or Ghost in the Shell.

Ghost in the Shell and its honestly not all that close. Much as it is futile to pretend Akira didn’t light a goddamn fire in the filmgoing world recognizing not only that there are non-US-centric animation industries but also that animation can be used as a medium to portray adult properties or discuss adult themes, and especially much as Akira was an animated tour de force in design and fluidity, I think Ghost in the Shell took the things Akira started and ran with them to further places. Plus Ghost in the Shell feels much more complete and direct of a narrative in talking about the fluid nature of all facets of identity and what a world of artificiality means about extending or changing that identity.

Still, I did buy myself the Kaneda Capsules jacket earlier this year since it is now 2019.

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3) Charles Lee Ray or Freddy Krueger?

You know, Freddy Krueger defined my childhood and was practically my gateway to horror cinema (and in my tweens, just looking at him scared me). And I honestly find Robert Englund to be quite charming as an actor who embraces his horror cult fandom and takes any creepy indie horror role with much relish. But Freddy Krueger as a character only got worse and worse as the franchise went on. There are frankly three movies total where Krueger is scary: OG Nightmare on Elm StreetFreddy’s Revenge and New Nightmare. The rest he’s an obnoxious clown who ought to shut the fuck up please.

Chucky? He’s consistent. He’s actually funny in a way that adds to the pictures he’s in. And Brad Dourif is one of the most gifted character actors among us, so even when the movies suck (and at this point the only one I feel strongly negative towards is Child’s Play 3), Dourif keeps Chucky’s frustrated and animalistic anguish at being made a toy that has to work twice as hard to murder people firing at all cylinders. And I know this is kind of cheating, but the moment he gets a new screen partner in the form of Jennifer Tilly playing his girlfriend Tiffany, I’m in movie character heaven.

So yeah, maybe like 10 or 15 years ago, I’d have said Freddy Krueger but now it’s Chucky all the way.

4) Most excruciating moment/scene you’ve ever sat through in a film.

In theaters? Probably the moment in Purple Rain where the Kid slaps Appollonia and the entire theatre laughed.

At home? My mom walked in one time on a sequence from The Great Beauty where a naked woman ran her head into a stone wall until it was bleeding as a performance art piece.

In general, as in the scene was fucking terrible? The mom on pot brownies in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, followed by the dogs humping in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, followed by “I am beneath the enemy’s scrotum” in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

5) Henry Cavill or Armie Hammer?

Hammer. Doesn’t need a minute’s thought.

Armie Hammer is actually a talented actor (his performance in Call Me by Your Name outdoes his co-stars) and Henry Cavill is the new Keanu Reeves, a one-expression fella who is getting parts he’s wildly underqualified for (though I think like Reeves having roles that benefit from that, Cavill’s frozen chiseled face aid his Superman and Mission: Impossible – Fallout quite a bit).

Cavill can’t even shave his moustache.

6) Name a movie you introduced to a young person, one which was out of their expressed line of interest or experience, which they came to either appreciate or flat-out love.

I don’t really talk to young people these days (unless I count as young people at age 27 which I think is pushing it) but I can talk about either the time back in 2006 when I asked my cousin if he wanted to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest when it came out and lent him The Curse of the Black Pearl so he could be aware of what was up in the story beforehand and his immediate adoration of the movies, possibly opening him up to fantasy movies later on when he first dismissed them for lack of realism.

Or the random point that my sister joined me to see Blade Runner in theaters about 4 years ago just to have something to do on a Saturday night and ended up talking about it the whole car ride home.

7) Second favorite Robert Rossellini film

I mean, Rome Open City is my favorite so I guess this answer is Journey to Italy because I’m a sucker for a good Ingrid Bergman vehicle.

8) What movie shaped your perceptions of New York City, Los Angeles and/or Chicago before you ever went there and experienced the cities for yourself.

I got a very lucky chance last year to tell martial artist Taimak that The Last Dragon by Berry Gordy really shaped my idea and expectations of New York City long before I stepped foot in that place. Which is funny given how The Last Dragon portrays an evidently pre-Giuliani version of NYC that does not resemble the city I ended up living in at the time.

Los Angeles has several movies. A part of me wants to say Drive in that fantastical neon city synthwave manner or Repo Man for the grimey attitude of the whole place, but my first time in LA was 2007, well before I saw those movies. So I guess I’ll go with the cool busy city of night lights shown to us in Michael Mann’s Collateral. Or I can just stop pretending to be cool and say Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

And Chicago, which I went to for the first time earlier this year, was probably most familiarized to me through The Dark Knight. Which is silly given how I complain that that movie isn’t really set in Gotham but I guess that lack of disguise to Chicago made me recognize many of the downtown areas that I spent much of my time in there.

9) Name another movie that shaped, for better or worse, another city or location that you eventually visited or came to know well.

I spent a lot of time in the past few months in Philadelphia for work and hokey as it may be, watching the Rocky movies certainly prepared me for what kind of city I was gonna be looking at.

10) Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?

Lugosi Bela is one of my guilty pleasure favorite actors based on his iconic nature, but Christopher Lee has just got a refined charm in spades and certainly gives the more vicious Dracula performance between the two of them so Lee.

11) Elizabeth Debicki or Alicia Vikander?

Ooooohhh this is a tough one. I might go with Debicki because I’ve been enjoying more of the movies I’ve seen her in than Vikander and feel that my favorite Debicki movie (Widows) is better than my favorite Vikander movie (Ex Machina).

elizabeth_debicki_victoria_vinciguerra-xlarge-770x47012) The last movie you saw theatrically? The last on physical media? Via streaming?

Theatrically: Spider-Man: Far from Home, which was so vile that it broke my heart.

On physical media: Duck Dodgers of the 24 1/2 Century, but if we want to disqualify short films then the terrible 4th of July creature feature Frogs.

Via streaming: Blake Edwards’ bank heist thriller Experiment in Terror just before it and the rest of Criterion Channel’s Columbia Noir collection left the service.

13) Who are the actors, classic and contemporary you are always glad to see?

Classic: Myrna Loy is often a surprising bit of fun, even beyond her Thin Man performances.

Contemporary: Awkwafina lately, for the similar reasons of her being fun as hell.

14) Second favorite Federico Fellini film

8 1/2 being among my top 20 movies of all time, I’ll lay it out on Nights of Cabiria. Or La Strada. Either way, Giulietta Masina is the greatest.

15) Tessa Thompson or Danai Gurira

Not nearly as hard as I expected to firmly state I prefer Danai Gurira (Mother of George is just that good and her work in Black Panther is probably my favorite performance in a popcorn cinema flick of the decade), though I think it’s important to point out that both actors are giving some of the best performances I’ve seen lately. 100% behind both of them.

16) The Black Bird or The Two Jakes?

I have not seen The Black Bird but I have seen The Two Jakes and disliked it, so Black Bird is de facto winner.

17) Your favorite movie title.

Twitch of the motherfuckin’ Death Nerve. Please remove the profanity for the full title. Shamefully not the more popular title of the Mario Bava giallo film but still… it’s the best one.

18) Second favorite Luchino Visconti film

The Leopard, in second place to The Damned.

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19) Given the recent trend, what’s the movie that seems like an all-too-obvious candidate for a splashy adaptation to Broadway?

The Greatest Showman is so very much the easiest choice but like… that’s for a reason. It’s literally made with songs written by Pasek and Paul and shit.

20) Name a director you feel is consistently misunderstood.

First of all, Lee Daniels has so much more sympathy for his characters than y’all are giving him credit for. Secondly, other than the two Oscarbait films with Precious (which is great) and The Butler (which is ok), he’s been making pretty evident camp trash cinema and y’all just don’t like fun.

Also, Paul W.S. Anderson has been reliably giving us the best and most joyful video game cinema forever.

21) Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth?

Hemsworth is only good when his role has a comedic bend, Evans is has been funny before in Not Another Teen Movie and even the Fantastic Four films and has been reliably great since 2012. Evans, it is.

22) What’s the film that most unexpectedly grew in your estimation from trivial, or unworthy, or simply enjoyable, to a true favorite with some actual meat on its bones?

Probably Battleship Potemkin, which started as “the other 1925 Eisenstein film” to me realizing “Oh there actually ARE things this movie brought to the way cutting functions as storytelling these days!”

23) I Am Curious (Yellow), yes or no?

It is shamefully one of my movie gaps. I gotta check if it’s on Criterion Channel or summat.

24) Second favorite Lucio Fulci film

Zombi 2 and while I love it very much, the gap between it and The Beyond (my favorite Fulci) is very wide.

25) Are the movies as we now know them coming to an end? (http://collider.com/will-streaming-kill-movies/)

Yes and no. Cinema is dead, but cinema’s been dead since the 1920s. Stop putting stuff in my movies, they’re all bad. It’ll get better and worse and whatnot.

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More notes on Raiders of the Lost Ark

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Getting the feel of writing again means I’m gonna have to figure out the triage on what to fit into the structure of my posts and what not to. But given that I am writing about some of my favorite movies of all time where I have a plethora of feelings and thoughts about, y’all should probably get used to the idea of me doing this for the next few months after each review:

Also SPOILERS

  • I feel like I highly undermined George Lucas’ part in the creation of this film (especially since he conceived of the character himself and put together most of the production elements and oversaw the filming) so that I could have a thesis on what animated Spielberg’s directing style. Spielberg has long maintained that the Indiana Jones movies are work-for-hires for him and they’re pretty much Lucas’ baby. I’m hoping if I find time to ever write about the subsequent three movies, I can course correct and present Lucas as the central auteur of the series that he is. Certainly I’d have more to say about Lucas than Spielberg with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
  • “Besides you know what a cautious fellow I am”, Indy says as he fucking tosses a pistol across the room into an open suitcase. No firearm care or caution.
  • Also him saying he doesn’t believe in superstition kind of fails in the context of Temple of Doom being a prequel set before this movie.
  • Spielberg’s desire to make a straight on horror movie shows in the climax of the film with ghostly effects and the outrageous amount of grisly carnage happening in this adventure matinee. In fact, the imagery of the villains’ heads violently shrinking, melting, and exploding is the very first scene of the movie I ever saw and never realized it wasn’t a horror movie until I watched it in context years later (it was specifically playing on the screen of a Costco when I was a child and I assumed it was like… Creepshow or something).
  • Speaking of carnage, the bloodletting in the Nepal fight is pretty brutal as well and relatively jarring when alongside the moments of logs exploding on heads like cartoons. Still I absolutely love the moment with its “moment” by “moment” comic book strip style of framing and cutting, favoring background shadowplay in the light of fire and particularly the way that Indy escapes the flaming bar from immolating his face is where I learned to keep all elements of an action in each shot to creature sequence.
  • While we’re in Nepal, let’s talk about what a great one-shot that introduction of Marion is: functioning as gag (the drinking stamina game with a great physical punchline), tease (the focus on our characters’ hands and glasses), establishing shot (showing us the scope and space of the bar), character moment (Marion proving she can hold her own with the boys). If only the rest of the movie hadn’t fucked her over.
  • While we’re talking over flaws of the movie, which I feel are very few, I may as well address that Raiders of the Lost Ark is pretty damn Orientalist (among other things) and it’s probably my admiration of this film from an early age that got me already set on compartmentalizing problematic movies that still have my heart. Sucks that Spielberg and Lucas had, in their joy for 1930s adventure serials, also ended up taking up the ugly elements of them. Nevertheless, it’s nothing compared to the sort of shit that Indian people probably have to suffer with Temple of Doom from 3 years later (the only Indiana Jones movie that doesn’t actually have an issue with race I’d say is The Last Crusade and it’s still not… the best). In any case, if you want to hear a bunch of white men say the sort of shit you should have expected white men to say, read the transcript of Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan’s story conference.
  • Finding out that John Williams wrote “The Raiders March” to the rhythm of saying “To the rescue… Doctor Jones… to the rescue… Indiana Jones!” still warms me up inside. I’d like to find out the lyrics he wrote his other famous themes to possible one day.
  • Cutting from Indy saying “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go along…” to him busting through on a white motherfucking horse to chase down the Nazi truck is one of my favorite cuts in all of cinema because I’m basic like that.
  • Much like Jurassic Park suddenly had a drop beyond the T-Rex gate, Raiders of the Lost Ark has a sudden cliff for a Nazi and his truck to fall off of once Indy fucks him up… and I honestly just don’t care because it’s still fun and cool and Nazi Punks Fuck Off.
  • I kind of feel bad for Pat Roach (even if he was in brownface during the scene in question) being unable to show off his swordfight choreography for that famous shootdown scene, but also y’know, not only is it a hilarious character moment in Indy… it’s also a great moment that shows how Spielberg – in his rush to get the movie made – cared for the well-being of his actors and crew and didn’t want to overwork them so boom! Sudden miracle of a gag!
  • That stunt where Indy goes under the truck is still one of my all-time favorite stunts. And I also kind of like the slapstick of the bystander being on the windshield of the chase and then flying off, then Indy and the driver share a laugh until Indy punches him in the face and kicks him out the car because Fuck You, Nazi.
  • Most importantly, that moment in the U-Boat where Indy hits a Nazi guy who fell below the frame and somehow that punch made the Nazi bitch’s cap fly up so Indy could put it on as a disguise is also a great gag.
  • People like to point out that if Indy had done nothing, Hitler would have been killed by the Ark probably. I respond to them with the words of the Dude: “You’re not wrong (well, you kind of are wrong since if Indy had done nothing, they would have never reached the Ark in the first place as they didn’t have the right location), you’re just a fucking asshole.”

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It’s Not the Years, Honey. It’s the Mileage…

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By the 1980s, Steven Spielberg had a reputation but not necessarily the one that you all are probably familiar with. Certainly, he had that one in a marginal way: he was already the golden boy young success story off of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, utilizing his New Hollywood background to perfect the populist blockbuster he essentially created with his big-time shark movie. But within the industry itself, he had another reputation as somebody who couldn’t really keep a budget or schedule. While Jaws and Close Encounters had made enough money to put in the mouths of any producers who might have taken issue with their notoriously overinflated production expenses and on-set issues, 1979 saw the release of 1941 – Spielberg’s first commercial and critical flop. So when he and the other New Hollywood Populist Traitor George Lucas were on vacation conjuring up a character they’d like to bring to the screen as a response to that globe-trotting action hero James Bond, Spielberg set in mind an idea that he was going to get this film made as a producer’s dream: under budget, ahead of schedule, period. This is of course humorous to think back on in the modern era where Spielberg now constantly has several projects on pre-production and is often able to quickly prepare a movie well in-advance of its slated release*, but I digress.

The film that resulted is, by most accounts, Lucas’ baby as producer and co-writer facilitating Spielberg’s entry into the director’s seat. But to my mind, Spielberg’s dead-set deliberate efficiency is – to my mind –  the core of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark, that very project that Spielberg and Lucas conceived of and released in the early summer of 1981, one of if not the best action movie of all time (or at the very least, my favorite). It is what informs Michael Kahn’s sharp cutting in between moments to get out of a scene exactly when the point is made and to keep any setpieces with a forward momentum that matches the sort of urgent running or riding that Raiders’ famous protagonist must go through. It is what informs Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay frontloading the majority of its exposition in an early college meeting so that we have pretty much all the information we need to get going, it is what informs that scene being preceded by a continuous setpiece seamlessly moving from the jungle to a temple back to the jungle without making us realize we were watching entirely separate sequences (again, credit to Kahn’s work). Hell, that very resolution was at the root of the famous scene where an epic swordfight is teased and shot down in a hilariously sardonic manner.

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If I may betray that momentum for a moment to backtrack regarding that exposition: Raiders of the Lost Ark was of course the movie that introduced us to that favorite of everyman action heroes Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford) but I’ll get back to him shortly as well. No, what I completely skipped over is the setting of the pieces of this story: As the FBI approaches Indy after a semi-failed expedition, he is recruited for his knowledge on the Biblical Art of the Covenant in which Moses carried the tablets containing the Ten Commandments to retrieve it before the Nazis could do so and utilize whatever power lives inside the artifact to rule the world. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy’s former lover and daughter of his late mentor Abner Ravenwood, recruits herself from Nepal into Indy’s journey to Egypt as she proves to be invaluable in the absence of her dad. And in the meantime, Indy’s inscrutable rival René Belloq (Paul Freeman) is guiding the Nazis to finding the location of the Ark, though guided by his own personal obsession with witnessing a means to possibly contact God. All of this information given in fewer scenes than can count on your hand and 98% of it before the 30 minute mark.

That leaves more than enough space for Spielberg to indulge instead in the inherent sweep of an adventure yarn, inspired by the 1930s serials where some plucky hero roams to exotic lands from the leafy hills of Peru to the snowy exile of Nepal to the hot cooking sands of Cairo and beyond. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe enhances the scope of these already exciting and distinct foreign lands with a smart usage of the immortal anamorphic frame as well as giving a horizontal read to all the action. Imagine that infamous swordfight joke working without the frame letting us read from Indy shooting the swordsman at the left and the swordsman falling to the right accentuating that the vast space is in the middle of them rather than above them. Or the car chase having nearly as much drive without such an aggressively directional frame. Not to ignore the sort of propulsion these setpieces get simply from the sounds: the characteristic comic book impact Ben Burtt gives to punches and whipcracks (for real, whipCRACKS!) and the famous peppy march to adventure that John Williams notches into his belt of iconic scores.

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On top of those tropes, we also have the beautiful ingénue in tow (although one also has to regret how Marion goes from an impressive heroine with a tough and funny introduction to a damsel in distress in a white dress before the halfway mark, despite the best efforts of Allen’s performance) and the artifact all the players seek dripping with mystique, taking full advantage of the advent of color and light to give the golden Ark all that shine and shimmer. But in any case, the seeking of that Ark is just as animated by that “need to get to the point” efficiency that drove Spielberg and spilled out into Kasdan and Kahn and Williams’ results: a movie that is constantly on the move. The same smooth segue that glides us from cutting through the jungle to cautiously traipsing past traps to escaping from a tumbling rock is what brings Raiders of the Lost Ark barrelling through its runtime from a dig to a trap to a brawl, occasionally allowing Spielberg and Kahn to wink at how ludicrously speedy we’ve gone out of the fire and into the frying pan.

And yet, the core of all of Raiders‘ charms beyond being an impeccably-crafted piece of nostalgic cinema is Ford, whose modern rough attitude feels like more clownish than downer. From the way he whines about having to go through “snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” to the exhausted way he shoots down swordsmen to the way his body crumbles to the ground like bricks as Pat Roach hits him, Jones is just as important an ingredient to having somebody fun to go on an adventure with as Raiders focuses on being an adventure fun to go on. Surrounded by lively stock types embodied by character actors, Ford’s bitter sarcasm and complaining (particularly the complaining – Indy’s indulgence in remarking about every goddamn thing that’s happening to him as a severe inconvenience) grounds the adventure as exhausting in its sweep before he wows us with leaping to his survival or bursting on a white horse. It was highly impressionable to me as a child and probably impelled a desire for real adventure, a disappointment at how hard that is, and a hatred for Nazis (informing me that “Nazi” equals “punching bag” more than that viral video of Richard Spencer getting socked).

It’s funny how a movie inspired by nostalgia for an classical way of storytelling ended up embodying a new idea of “classical” storytelling despite its DNA being seen in much of modern popcorn cinema. Like how no shark movie post-Jaws can avoid being seen as a “Jaws rip-off”, I can’t think of a single post-Raiders adventure film that doesn’t owe every element of its existence to Raiders. Perfection just bears imitators and it is a fruitless task to capture lightning in a bottle more than once (including this film’s sequels, though I have no small love for the entire franchise). Maybe they’re just digging in the wrong place.

*I’m thinking specifically of the minute amount of time in which The Post went from script to Oscar campaign smack in between filming and post-production of Ready Player One these past few years. This also mirrors the production cycle of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s Listas well as The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Amistad, as well as War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. And I’m probably forgetting other movies.

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The Shape of Things to Come

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I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep, so please do not take this as one.

While I have obviously been deliberately taking an extremely comfortable break from writing about movies, both on account of my exhaustion and my lack of time with work, I find myself with a sudden amount of free time that might allow me to jump back just for a moment and I’m going to maybe take this moment to discuss some of my favorite movies of all time that I have not had an opportunity to write about. Just so I’m not wasting time with movies I know I don’t like.

I won’t pretend that ALL of what I want to write about will be written before I decide it’s time to go back to hibernation again. In addition to that, I have to admit that I was looking to have them all written by my birthday 25 June again but at this point, there’s no way that’s happening.

In any case, I shall put it down in writing the movies I would like to have done before I disappear again:

  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • Apollo 13 (1995)
  • Contempt (1963)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Eagleman Stag (2011)
  • Goodbye to Language (2014)
  • His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Johnny Guitar (1954)
  • The Lady Eve (1947)
  • Playtime (1967)
  • Le Million (1931)
  • Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • Nashville (1975)
  • North by Northwest (1959)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • The Rules of the Game (1939)
  • Run Lola Run (1998)
  • Suspiria (1977) – those who know me are aware that I have been very dissatisfied with the review I did put down for the film and was looking for a window of opportunity to fix that.
  • The Tree of Life (2011)
  • Vampyr (1932)
  • The Wicker Man (1973)

In the meantime while I get to those, enjoy reviews already up of movies that also line-up as my all-time favorites in case you forgot how bad I am as a writer:

Don’t call it a comeback.

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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.

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  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.

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  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.  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.

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  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 could feel.

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 – that 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 occasions, 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 streetlights of Manhattan’s Chinatown.

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  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 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 premise 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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).

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  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…

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  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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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…

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

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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.

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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…

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

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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29 October 1935 – 5 April 2018

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