March 4, 2018

2018 Oscar Predictions

It's been a bad year. Not necessarily movies-wise, but my ability to watch them all. It seems like every year gets harder. This, in turn, makes my predictions a lot less reliable and more March Madness-ish, where I choose based on uniform colors or something.

I will fully admit, I purposely skipped a few of these. One of them being The Disaster Artist. The other being Get Out. I trust the friends of mine who have seen it and loved it, but considering I still jump out of my skin when the Hans pop out of the snow after the avalanche in Mulan, I don't think I'm equipped to watch even a mock horror movie. I am rooting for it, though, knowing how much it meant to people and what it represents for the future of movie making.

So after I log these picks, I can just sit back, relax, and hope Jimmy Kimmel doesn't make racist Asian jokes again this year.

Best Picture predicted winner: The Shape of Water

  • Call Me By Your Name: This will have a much better shot in the screenplay category. I have a feeling voters are going to do the whole "we did this last year" thing and vote for something else.
  • Darkest Hour: Let's be honest. This wasn't going to win anyway. I'm ok with having missed it. 
  • Dunkirk: Because we couldn't possibly go one year without a WWII movie *eyeroll*
  • Get Out: Judging from those "anonymous Hollywood ballots," voters didn't "get" this movie. Or didn't try to. Or didn't care to. But it all adds up to no win.
  • Lady Bird: This was my favorite of the year, but I have a feeling voters are going to feel like the life of a teenage girl isn't "deep" enough to win top honors.
  • Phantom Thread: Ugh. Quintessential Oscar movie the vast majority of people wouldn't even like.
  • The Post: Intention is important, sure, but so is execution. And the execution of this movie left a lot to be desired.
  • The Shape of Water: I enjoyed it, but it was certainly weird. But I think it represents a "safe" middle ground for voters between the far-flung artsy and the outright political.

Best Actor predicted winner: Timothée Chalamet

I actually think this is one of the tougher categories to pick, with breakout star Timothée Chalamet up against Daniel Day Lewis' proclaimed "last performance." Will he (or Daniel Kaluuya) prevail when the Academy tends to reward "lifetime achievement" instead of actual individual performances? Not to say Day Lewis wasn't excellent. He was. But was he the best of the year?

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name: I think the new shininess of his performance and the buzz this movie generated will be enough to get him the win. At least I hope so.
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out: I wish I had more to weigh in on this.
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour: I don't feel sorry I don't have to weigh in on a rosy Winston Churchill performance.
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq: Nice to see a deviation from the usual parts Denzel plays, but I don't think it's enough to get him the win.

Best Actress predicted winner: Frances McDormand

I actually think this is the most hotly contested race this year, with excellent performances from everyone (except Meryl, who basically is just a permanent fixture here whether she deserves it or not, *cough cough* Iron Lady). However, I think age, opportunity, and subject matter all factor in for voters (which it shouldn't but it does), which tips the scales in favor of the veteran actress.

  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water: Excellent performance, but she won't win. She just won't.
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards: She will win. I don't think it's even a question.
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya: Robbie actually had my favorite performance of the year
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird: So, so good. Much better than when she was nominated for Brooklyn.

Best Supporting Actor predicted winner: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards

  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards: Entertaining, but not even the best supporting actor in the movie. They didn't need to nominate both him and Sam Rockwell.
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water: Without the sane voice (and narration) of Jenkins, this movie could have been an incoherent mess.
  • Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World: Kevin Spacey really took the momentum out of this movie. I don't see it winning anything.
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards: I don't think it's even going to be close in the voting.

Best Supporting Actress predicted winner: Allison Janney

I think we all know it's going to be a showdown between Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney, which leaves me completely torn. They both played excellent, complicated mothers in equally excellent, complicated movies. Everyone else in the category needs to be satisfied with just being nominated this year.

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound: Yet another movie I didn't get to.
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya: I don't know why we live in a world where Allison Janey doesn't have an Oscar but we need to remedy that.
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread: I liked her even better than Daniel Day Lewis.
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird: I loved her. I really loved her. But did I love her more than I loved Allison Janney?

    Best Original Screenplay predicted winner: Get Out

    Obviously these categories are balanced where the Best Picture probably won't also win Best Screenplay so voters can spread the awards around a little, so my picks are based on the assumption that The Shape of Water will win the big one.

    • Get Out: I think it was between Get Out and Lady Bird, but ultimately I think voters will see this as a more creative story.
    • Lady Bird: I've made no secret of my love for this movie. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.
    • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Popularity is waning for this story and while I think the actors in it will still be recognized, I think McDonough being left off the Best Director nominees was a signal this movie will go empty-handed in this category.

    Best Adapted Screenplay predicted winner: Call Me By Your Name

    • Call Me By Your Name: I think this is a much more sparsely populated category, giving this movie the easy win.
    • The Disaster Artist: Please, God. No.
    • Logan: Apparently I'm the only person in the entire country who wasn't swooning over this movie. It's big news that a superhero movie made it in, but I'm surprised it was this one.
    • Molly's Game: I thought this story was excellently executed, especially given the wacky nature of it. But I am definitely biased when it comes to Aaron Sorkin.
    • Mudbound: Netflix is getting closer and closer to actually winning something. And then, the movie industry is going to change.

      As usual, I only predicted the categories I care about/feel like I can reasonably predict. So with so many movies gone unseen, I can't even begin to touch categories like Visual Effects and Sound Mixing and the like. Make sure to check out the Oscars Page to find my reviews on other Oscar-nominated movies like Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Coco.

      Phantom Thread (2017)

      Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day Lewis, Lesley Manville

      Romance means different things to different people, I suppose. For instance, this movie. Or Fifty Shades of Grey. Both are classified as romances, and yet...

      Yes, I compared the Best Picture Oscar-nominated Daniel Day Lewis/Paul Thomas Anderson British "romance" with the Twilight fan fic that fetishizes BDSM. And I say it with a completely straight face.

      They are both about abusive relationships. In both movies, at least one of the participants is controlling, manipulative, and coercive to the other. Yet we are expected to watch one of them and declare it romantic and wonderful and worthy of the title of Best Picture of the Year. Why? Because it stars the great Daniel Day Lewis? Because it has beautiful costume design? Because it is set to an incredible score? Nope, nope, nope.

      Perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to make a statement about toxic relationships. And if that's the case, I don't think the statement was clear enough. It had a Gone Girl quality to it and not in a good way. Both people in the relationship were extremely damaged and I'm not sure what message I'm supposed to be getting out of their interactions with each other. Literally the only semi-likable person in the entire movie is Lesley Manville, who gives the least bothersome performance as Reynold's sister, Cyril.

      All in all, this movie felt like it was trying to hard to be deep--flanked by the score, design, and big-name actors--with only the thinnest of plots to back it up. It's all fluff, peppered by a few contentious scenes. In thinking about my reaction to another Paul Thomas Anderson movie, The Master (not to mention Punch Drunk Love and Magnolia), I wonder how I ever enjoyed There Will Be Blood. It seems like every single one of his movies is exactly like this. Which I guess is convenient, since I know now to avoid them in the future.

      Final word: The window dressing on this is beautiful, just don't try to look inside.

      March 1, 2018

      Lady Bird (2017)

      Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf

      Everyone has a favorite genre. Whether it's sci-fi, historical dramas, or horror, our inclination to seek out these types of movies also generally biases our opinion in favor of movies that conform to our preferences. Obviously.

      So in my coming of age-loving heart, this movie was flawless. I would not change one single thing about it. Not the casting. Not the wardrobe. Not the choppy way it jumps from scene to scene, sometimes skipping chunks of time. Not even the ending, which was decidedly more sappy than I expected.

      Of course, I only watched it once and again, I have a heavy bias toward stories that revolve around high school girls. But still. It is such a realistic portrayal of that age, without romanticizing it or condescending to those of that age. It is a perfectly relatable story that's frankly, nothing remarkable, yet manages to have such impact. Nothing is too heavy or too light, no scene drags on for too long, nor are we ever left with the sense that we've missed something. It is perfection.

      As an aside, I had an exceptionally terrible viewing experience (read my entire tweet thread here), and yet I still walked out of the theater totally in love. (I'm not exaggerating about the circumstances. Read my thread.) Who knew a 23 yr old (Ronan) and a 34 yr old (Gerwig) could so thoroughly immerse us in the high school experience?

      All of this makes me think back to my review last week of The Florida Project, in which I complained that nothing happened in the movie. I didn't connect with the characters, nor did I care much about their journey. I understand all the ways in which that movie and this one are similar, and yet I loved one and didn't care for the other. Personal journeys are both commonplace and unique and perhaps because of my background and experiences, this one resonated with me. That's what took it from "great directing and great acting" to "perfection." Because like The Florida Project, I can recognize a well done movie even if it's not my taste. And this one is. It just also happens to be exactly what I love.

      Final word: *hearts-as-eyes emojis*

      February 27, 2018

      Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

      Denzel Washington

      Hey remember when Denzel made that movie about holding a hospital hostage to try and get his son medical care? It pretended to be an action movie, but was really a commentary on the messed up health care system of the US. This is kind of like that.

      This movie has been panned pretty thoroughly by every avid movie watcher I know, and understandably so. It's not really a movie. It is, technically, of course, but it's so laden with morality speeches and over-the-top scenarios to demonstrate said morality that it feels more like something you show a high school class to provoke discussion. It's also really slow.

      On the other hand, I didn't hate it. Maybe it's my bias toward social justice issues, especially those regarding the legal system and how it disproportionately affects low-income defendants and people of color, but the movie definitely hits those points without confusion. The plot arc is clear and Denzel you know, does his Denzel thing. His performance of the socially awkward (autistic?) but torch-carrying activist, though not necessarily consistent all the way through, makes the movie worth watching.

      At the end of the day, I'm usually pleased I've watched movies like this. They are not the most entertaining, nor are they the type of movie I'd necessarily recommend to others. But it's not part of a blockbuster franchise and it made me think--a rarity these days. So while this movie is guaranteed not to actually win anything at the Oscars, I'm glad movies that try to convey a message are still being made and getting attention called to them. Maybe one of these days someone will actually make a "social issues thriller" that hits the mainstream.

      Final word: John Q but for the legal system.

      February 26, 2018

      Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

      Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, et al

      It's a Catch-22. I can't imagine anyone would watch this sequel without watching the first Guardians of the Galaxy, yet anyone watching this sequel after watching the first one must invariably be disappointed. It's not the writer's fault, I suppose. It's almost impossible to follow up a well-loved original. You have to retain everything people loved about the first movie while somehow trying to create new development.

      What generally makes a movie successful is one (or more) of three basic things: good character development, exciting plot points, or some kind of twist the audience didn't anticipate. The first Guardians of the Galaxy had all three: we liked each of the characters (though none more than Groot, really), exciting adventures, and a lot of humor thrown in at just the right time. This second movie tried hard on points #1 and #2, but the element of surprise humor was sorely lacking. Instead, it seemed like we got a paler version of the first movie. A lot paler.

      There was a giant gaping hole in the form of Groot. Sure sure, he's a baby tree now and he's adorable, but that only goes so far. And they stretched it much further than he could handle. Babies are cute; they can't serve as half the jokes in a movie. This isn't Look Who's Talking. And while the addition of Nebula added some dimension to Gamora's character, the addition of Ego seemed to do the opposite for Peter. Chris Pratt lost most of the charm he spent the first movie building up and when you're the main character, that's a blow to the entire movie. He was completely shown up by the supporting characters--I found myself wishing they'd cut away from his storyline so I could see more of Drax and Mantis.

      In my review of the first movie, I mentioned that I'm able to overlook a predictable plot and cliche scenes when the rest of the movie is good enough. The rest of this movie was not good enough to warrant the same graciousness. Even Kurt Russell couldn't change that.

      Final word: This is our life now. Franchises of mediocre movies that provide just enough entertainment to keep the masses from boycotting and demanding better quality storytelling.

      February 23, 2018

      The Florida Project (2017)

      Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe


      Where to start? Where to end? Does it really matter?

      This movie is reminiscent of Beasts of the Southern Wild. It hinges on the acting ability of a small child (who does an excellent job, by the way) and shows an intimate portrait of the day-to-day life of those living in poverty. And like Beasts of the Southern Wild, I found it mostly boring and kind of pointless.

      Like, yes, they are poor. They have problems. I have both sympathy and judgment. But what else? Why should I care about these characters? Just because one is a child?

      I don't mean to sound overly contemptuous. I tend to enjoy dramas that focus on the harsh realities of life. This one just didn't click for me. It was a series of events about people I never grew to care about, without an easily identifiable story arc. It's almost like a reality show, but with a lot less cursing.

      It's not a bad movie, but I am confused about how it caught the attention of the Academy. I'm not sure what makes it stand out more than the average indie film, other than having Willem Dafoe in it. Who, by the way, is perfectly pleasant to watch but I'm not sure I would count it as one of the top five supporting roles of the year.

      I just-- *head shaking* *shrug emoji* *question mark*

      Final word: Not. For. Me.

      February 21, 2018

      Black Panther (2018)

      Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan

      This is a movie that has been celebrated with a jubilation I haven't seen since Star Wars was resurrected, and rightly so. It is a huge barrier breaker, with an all-black cast, a black director, and an all around celebration of black culture, beauty, and power. It broke $400M opening weekend ($242M of which was domestic)--more than Justice League earned in its entire domestic run. To say this movie is having a moment would be an understatement.

      There is so much to love about Black Panther. The costumes and setting are both beautiful and vibrant. Seeing a movie set in Africa without the usual signs of abject poverty and/or wild animals is both refreshing and sadly rare. The tech gadgets dreamt up rival that of a Bond movie. And Danai Gurira's portrayal of the warrior Okoye is so badass I briefly considered shaving my head while watching the movie.
      But it's the overall message of the movie that is winning over audiences. This idea of a magical, peaceful kingdom in Africa--untouched by colonizers and a history of slavery--run by powerful black role models is something we have sorely needed. Even the prerogative of the villain, Killmonger (whose hair we really need to talk about), complicated with a thread of truth and morality, had to be overly violent just to make sure audiences knew he was supposed to be the bad guy.

      So it is with all of these glowing compliments that I hesitantly say: I didn't love it. I loved a lot of the components of it (as cited above), but not necessarily the sum total. For one thing, the action sequences weren't the most exciting. Maybe I've been binge watching too much Vikings, but it's hard for me to see anyone a fearless warrior if they're holding anything more powerful than two hatchets. In all seriousness, how is it exciting to watch someone fight in an impenetrable suit that absorbs the power of a freaking grenade? Like, how can you even die? Where's the suspense? (Though at the same time, the conception of that suit is amazing. I want it.) For another, it was terribly predictable. I know, I know, superhero movie--maybe I'm asking too much, but considering how much else the movie got right, it would have been nice to have had at least one surprise in the thing.

      I love that this movie was made and I am happy I supported it in going (on opening weekend, no less!). The joy it has brought people of color, I imagine, is similar to how I felt in watching the opening sequence of Wonder Woman. Representation matters. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter that this movie didn't blow me away. It wasn't made with me in mind. And that's ok.

      Final word: This movie was long overdue and a moment of reckoning for Hollywood's long-held  stereotypes of people of color.

      February 7, 2018

      Dunkirk (2017)

      *string of shrug emojis*

      I don't know the official numbers but my guess would be that WWII would be one of the most covered subjects in the history of film. It's understandable. Everyone learns about it in school, it has easily defined "good guys" and "bad guys," and oh yeah, we get to be the good guys.

      The problem is, in such a crowded field of memorable WWII movies, it's difficult to stand out. What story hasn't been told by now? Enter: the battle of Dunkirk. It's an amazing true story, about an insane attempted rescue of soldiers stranded on the coast of France and surrounded by German soldiers. But if I learned anything from last year's Hacksaw Ridge, it's that a good story in real life doesn't not necessarily make for a good 2 hour movie.

      For one thing, I couldn't tell anyone apart in this movie. Seriously. That's always a risk when you have a bunch of actors who aren't super prominent, but when they're all dressed in the same uniform, barely speaking, and covered in dirt and oil? If the camera hadn't zoomed in with intensity every couple minutes, I would have literally no idea what happened to individual characters.

      Then there's the matter of Tom Hardy. It's not that I have a positive or negative view of him, but there was no point of casting him in the movie other than listing his name on the movie poster. He wears a pilot mask the entire time and you can barely even make out his voice, let alone words through the thing. The part could have been played by a mannequin and a voice over and I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. It just seemed like a colossal waste of his time.

      But even setting aside the casting issues, this movie is just dull. I can get behind a silent movie. I even liked The Artist. But this movie felt like it was trying to be much deeper and more meaningful than it was by going the limited-dialogue-route. It's just a bunch of events strung together by a bunch of guys that look the same. The only thing that makes it dramatic is the score. And I guess knowing it's a war movie so you know, bombs and stuff? Of course terrible things happen during war (because again, WAR), but it started to feel like Gravity all over again where it's like, how many terrible things can happen to one person in the span of a few hours? But at least this didn't have Sandra Bullock's panicked voice. Or really any voice, for that matter.

      I don't want to say the movie was terrible because I made it all the way through without rolling my eyes, so that's something I guess. But it was such a pedestrian take on a story, dressed up as something deeper and more artsy, that the whole thing left me sort of annoyed. At the end of the movie I found myself saying aloud, "That's it?" And that's a perfect summary for it.

      Final word: If more people read history books movies like this wouldn't have to be made and I wouldn't have to sit through them.

      February 1, 2018

      Molly's Game (2017)

      Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

      It takes all of about fifteen seconds in to know this is an Aaron Sorkin movie. The fast dialogue, rapid cut scenes, tone balanced between serious and snarky--they're a dead giveaway. Of course, there are the random few crazies out there who don't care for Sorkin (I assume they exist, I've never actually met any), but for everyone else, this is a terrific return to form after the disappointing Steve Jobs two years ago. 

      I try not to know a lot about movies going in so I don't place false expectations on them, but I will say I wasn't necessarily excited to see this one. For one thing, it has a really stupid title. I understand it's a biography and has the same name as Molly Bloom's real book, but that doesn't make it any better. Also, the previews do not do it justice.

      First of all, this story is wild. Even more so than I, Tonya, which is really saying something. Of course I Googled the fact vs fiction immediately after watching the movie and was stunned to see how much of it was actually true. This woman has had a crazy life. Two crazy lives. And she's only 39.

      Also, she is my new hero. Yeah, yeah, I realize there's the whole "she broke the law and was addicted to drugs" part but I'm willing to look past them because holy sh*t is Molly Bloom is a go-getter. She is the driven, successful person we all think we could be, if only we weren't so lazy. My husband and I always joke about how we hate people who are successful in more than one arena (like she's brilliant and an Olympic-level athlete and not hideous? Bitch!), but it actually makes sense since they probably work harder at everything they do than 99% of the population. Or they started out rich. Either or.

      What makes this movie successful is Sorkin's ability to weave various elements, people, and timelines together in a coherent way that keeps the story fast-paced without confusing people with flashbacks and flash forwards. This movie nails just about every detail, right down to the tiny portions of fiction needed to hold the story together. Literally the only gripe I have about this movie was the unnecessary reappearance of Kevin Costner to have him mansplain Chastain's entire life. This movie shows so much female-empowered kick-ass-ness (yes I said it) that to add that scene felt like an annoying concession to keep the movie from getting too feminist or something.

      I have a feeling this movie is going to be overlooked come Oscar time because on its face, a story about an underground poker game doesn't seem to have the gravitas of sexual identity or journalistic integrity or a mixed species love story set to French music, but that would be the voter's mistake. This has been my favorite movie of the season thus far. Then again, maybe it's just Sorkin.

      Final word: At a minimum, this movie will make you finally remember who the hell Jessica Chastain is.

      You should also know going in that "Player X" is Tobey Maguire in real life. I feel completely vindicated that I've hated him all these years. If I'd had a psychologist as a father, he'd tell me I subconsciously knew he was a terrible person all these years and my mocking the Spiderman movies was just a manifestation of those feelings. Ha!

      January 29, 2018

      Coco (2017)

      Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, et al

      A few years ago I ragged on The Book of Life for not being Mexican enough. Despite the Dia de los Muertos theme, the colors, etc etc etc, it felt like a shallow interpretation of Mexican culture. Coco felt like redemption. (Yes, I realize it's a different studio making it.)

      This movie is Mexico. (Don't worry, I approved this statement from an actual Mexican.) It is absolutely dripping with all the right details--the music, the costumes, the historical figures, the way families interact, even the Spanish slang! And when I say details, I mean details. The old movies of Ernesto de la Cruz even have famous Mexican actors drawn into their backgrounds. Every voice actor is Latino (minus John Ratzenberger, but they obviously had to work him in somewhere). Basically, no Channing Tatum or Ice Cube here.

      But going in, I knew Pixar would nail the details. They always do. What I was worried about was being disappointed in yet another Dia de los Muertos story (do people not know anything else about Mexican culture?!?) that had been overhyped by people impressed by any movie not named The Emoji Movie. Maybe I have too little faith in people.

      This movie was incredible.

      It is everything a movie should be, animated or not. It transitions beautifully between funny and sad, heartfelt and fun. The musical interludes (while I'll admit, were not my favorite part despite being sort of the basis for the movie--I wish at least some of them had been in Spanish) all made sense, timing wise, and didn't drag. And the voices were perfect. I'll say it again: perfect. The accents were all spot on and not one voice was recognizable enough to detract from the story. Perfection! (A special shout out to Anthony Gonzalez, who is my new favorite child actor because of this movie.)

      I will say, as one small caveat, that this movie was a little darker than most Pixar movies. It's not just the skeletons, but the message about dying and being forgotten is pretty depressing, especially for those of us nearing middle-age. (Wah!!!)

      Final word: It really is as good as everyone claims it is.

      January 25, 2018

      The Post (2017)

      Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep

      Somehow it seems this awards season the more I'm looking forward to a movie is inversely proportional to how much I will enjoy it.

      So. Tom Hanks. Meryl Streep. In a movie about journalistic integrity. It checks all the boxes. 

      The problem is it doesn't do much more than that. First of all, the beginning 30 minutes or so is complete chaos. I mean, scattered conversation, people running around, and an audience left scrambling to try and figure out who is who and what the hell is going on. I didn't live through the Vietnam War, so while I'm familiar with the broad strokes of this story, I can't immediately identify characters and remember exactly what their role was. I can't imagine what the beginning of this movie would be like for those are aren't familiar with the story. (And before you become over-righteously indignant about the lack of historical knowledge in this country, first ask yourself if you've supported politicians gutting arts and social studies in favor of STEM subjects because it will "help our country.")

      After a chaotic beginning, the story picks up and there is a lot of excitement surrounding the acquisition of the Pentagon Papers (no, not those Pentagon Papers), what they contained, and the stakes for publishing the information inside of them. The story itself is fascinating. The movie about it is less so.

      It's hard to pinpoint where exactly the movie went wrong in portraying such an important (and timely) story, but maybe somewhere in the third rousing monologue from Hanks about the importance of freedom of the press? Don't get me wrong, I think the freedom of the press is probably our most precious freedom, but do we need a speech to understand that? Er, several speeches?

      This movie just sort of hits you over the head with its points. Yes, it was a monumental decision to publish those papers, made by the only female owner of a newspaper. And though I'm glad Sarah Paulson's character took fifteen seconds to explain why it was so monumental, it felt like yet another explanation of why this movie was important. Telling, not showing, so to speak.

      Lastly, I take issue with Meryl Streep. Not her performance, which is fine. But the recognition of it as something award-worthy. It's not. There are some performances that feel tailor-made for her, but this role felt like it could have been played by literally any accomplished actress over the age of 50. And Tom Hanks, bless his heart, takes on a very odd accent that disappears any time he yells. So it feels like this movie is only being recognized because Hanks and Streep are in it, though I think it may have been better off without them. Maybe it would have felt more like a collaborative ensemble of bravery than a movie about two people I'd never heard of before today. More Spotlight, less this.

      Final word: It's no Spotlight, that's for sure.

      January 23, 2018

      The Shape of Water (2017)

      Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones

      I've tried, unsuccessfully, to start this review half a dozen times. I simply cannot come up with a coherent response to it. I literally don't know how I feel about it. So if you can bear with me, I'm going to work through my feelings about it in a messy, hopefully somewhat legible way.

      It's weird. It's really fucking weird. No one should be surprised by this if you've ever watched anything by Guillermo del Toro, but it still weirded me out. I have no doubt that was part of the point, but even 24 hours later, the initial shock of the movie hasn't really worn off.

      Pluses: The acting is excellent. My favorite character is probably Richard Jenkins, who keeps the movie from veering too far into the artsy side and whose voice I could listen to all day. Him providing the opening and closing narration of the film give it an extra boost. Octavia Spencer, as usual, is delightful to watch. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN WE GET THIS WOMAN A STARRING ROLE IN SOMETHING? It would really great to see her in something where she's NOT forced into some servile role because of her race/class. And Michael Shannon, as usual, looks like the guy you're going to hate from the moment he steps on screen. He just has that kind of face to play the role.

      Now, let's talk Sally Hawkins' character. I love the fact that she is a differently-abled person here (in this case, someone who is mute) and the embrace of that. The script doesn't try to change her or improve her and those around her simply accept her as she is. I love that she has friends, a job, and leads a relatively normal (albeit stark) life, despite this "condition." As we talk about representation in media, it's important to remember that includes more than just people of different races. The ability to seamlessly integrate this aspect of her character into the movie without relying on it for jokes or climax or change--she simply IS this way--is pretty amazing when you think about it. 

      Then of course, there's the fish/merman/whatever he's supposed to be. I never watched del Toro's Hellboy, but I have seen pictures of the makeup and it's incredible. This movie is no different. The intricate detail on his costume (is that the right word?), his eyes - everything - is really cool. There's not really another word to describe it. The fish-man is cool. Which helps since, you know, it's a love story and though attractiveness is a relative concept, there are some things that are truly too ugly to love. (see: Chinese hairless dogs)

      In all seriousness, this really is as beautiful a film as everyone keeps saying it is. It might not seem like it on first watch, but the more I think about it, the more I remember I like about it. It has its flaws, for sure (some very questionable decisions on the part of Hawkins' character, to name a few), but the overall arc of the story is tidy and just tense enough to edge out the weirdness. It was also far less dark than I imagined, which was a pleasant surprise. While I thought Pan's Labyrinth was brilliant, it also creeped me out to the point I had to cover my eyes sometimes because I was certain something terrible was going to happen. This movie was far less disturbing. (But of course it was, how do you compete with Nazis?)

      So when I break it all down and think about the different pieces, I realize what a brilliant movie it was. When it think about my experience watching it and trying to talk about it afterward, all I can say it it was weird.

      Final word: It was really weird. But in a good way. 

      January 21, 2018

      I, Tonya (2017)

      Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney

      Before I even wade into the controversy (is there a nominated movie this year that doesn't have any??) of the movie itself, can we talk about Margot Robbie's physical transformation?? No offense to Tonya, but Margot is stunning and to see her here, you would not know it. I honestly had to Google a photo of Robbie mid-movie just to reassure myself that she is, in fact, beautiful in real life. It's not really Tonya's fault or that's she's ugly--the 80's was tough on almost everyone. Kids today will have no idea of the struggle through those awkward years. Now they have filters on their phones. It was a different world.

      Ok, getting back to the movie. Ah, controversy. It wouldn't be awards season without it. A lot of people are up in arms about this movie somehow glorifying Tonya Harding. I don't see it. It definitely takes a very sympathetic look at her, but that is not the same as glorifying her. And while some may feel it's too soon to forgive her for her role in the Nancy Kerrigan "incident" (as they kept referring to it in the movie), I don't think you have to in order to enjoy this movie. It is just a movie, after all.

      This movie, a biopic that centers a large portion on "the incident," is exactly the movie I criticized The Battle of the Sexes for not being. It not only gave a thorough backstory, culminating in the point we were all waiting for, but did so in a highly inventive way so as to show the varying accounts and viewpoints of what happened. The interviews cut throughout are completely wacky and knowing these people exist as they've been portrayed makes it even more amazing. The whole movie is somehow quirky--a term usually reserved for offbeat romances and lighthearted fare--while being completely serious.

      And at the epicenter of it is the incredible performance by Margot Robbie. Beyond the physical transformation, Robbie manages to embody the attitude of Harding, which was her defining feature. To her, it wasn't just about skating; it was about the elitist world of figure skating and the Harding's unlikely triumph in it. Even as a kid, I understood the dichotomy between Harding's raw athleticism and Kerrigan's natural grace and how the sport favored the latter. I understood the unfairness of the system and while Harding was never my favorite skater to cheer for (hi, Kristi Yamaguchi!), I did always sense a rigged system and one in which a powerful skater that was not liked could not triumph. This movie manages to encapsulate all of that without painting Harding as a passive victim to it, which I think is doubly impressive because making a biopic while the subject is still alive means she has to sign off on your portrayal of her. 

      So regardless of what you think of Tonya Harding, this movie is so well done it's worth watching. Oh, and the skating scenes are friggin seamless. Kudos to whoever spliced those. Seriously.

      Final word: A new chapter for the most-remembered event of my childhood (I cared way more about this than OJ Simpson when I was a kid).

      January 16, 2018

      Call Me By Your Name (2017)

      Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet

      In the era of backlash to supposed "PC-culture," where just being gay or mentioning the fact that you're black is somehow a political statement, some people are getting the impression that Call Me By Your Name's critical acclaim is somehow riding off the societal coattails of last year's Moonlight. (See this thread about it from film critic and Oscar voter Mark Harris)

      But just like every coming-of-age film is unique in its own way, gay coming-of-age movies are unique too! This one takes place over 6 weeks in 1980's Italy and half the movie is in a foreign language. So you know, slightly different from a story about a bullied black boy growing up on the gritty streets of Miami. But gay romance and gay romance, right? *insert eye roll*


      If you judge this movie solely from Timothée Chalamet's point of view, it's beautiful. The story is touching, poignant, dramatic, full of tension, and superbly acted. The little dialogue there is vacillates between Italian, French, and English, and Chalamet switches between them seamlessly and without any awkwardness. He embodies the uncertainty of youth, the desire of new experiences, and the sorrow of heartbreak. Gay, straight, or anything in between, anyone should be able to relate to the emotions he pours out on screen.

      Enter: my issues with the story. Namely, the fact that he is a child and Armie Hammer's character is a full-fledged adult. After watching the movie I looked up how old Hammer's character was supposed to be because honestly, I was so upset about the whole thing. Allegedly 24. Except that Armie Hammer is 31 and looks it. (Chalamet, on the other hand, is 22 but actually looks 17.) So the whole movie very much as the feel of an adult/child relationship. So no, sorry, I couldn't get on board with it being a "beautiful love story" from that point of view. Whether it was legal or socially acceptable in 1980's Italy for such an age discrepancy to exist, it rankled me to see what felt like an adult entering into a sexual relationship with a confused child. It just feels like a power imbalance and yes, I tell my 30-something friends the same thing about dating 19-year-olds of the opposite sex. You can't have a mature relationship with a teenager and frankly, an adult should know that. Even at 24 (which Hammer again, is clearly not).

      My other issue is with Armie Hammer himself. He feels like someone created and propped up by Hollywood executives who have a "leading man look" in mind. He's like a poor man's Bradley Cooper, who himself is mostly just a great head of hair. But in a movie filled with loooooooooong stretches of silence (seriously. this movie has more silent stretches than a Terrence Malik film.), every word uttered and every meaningful look needs to count. And so often, I was left confused by his portrayal. Is he confused? Angry? Sad? I literally can't tell from his acting. He's basically a cardboard cutout of an Abercrombie model.

      So my verdict on the movie is pretty divided. On one hand, I love it for the story it tells us of Elio, Chalamet's character. I love the score, the scenery, and even the gentle loving relationship Elio has with his parents. It is such a positive film and not one we see very often.

      On the other hand, this movie would have been a million times better with someone else in the role of Oliver. Almost anyone else. Bradley Cooper, even. (Though really, someone who is actually in their early twenties. And can act.) Hollywood: stop trying to make Armie Hammer happen.

      Final word: The teenager in me loved it. The adult in me did not.

      P.S. One more thing. I think the name of the movie is stupid. /Fin

      January 11, 2018

      Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

      Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson

      This movie is nothing if not divisive. Some love it, some hate--both with good reason.

      First, let's address the elephant in the room: the undercurrent of racism that flows through this movie but isn't ever really addressed. There is a racial slur used as a punchline to a joke and more than a little humanizing on the part of the most blatant racist cop. The fact that the few black characters in the movie are essentially used as props also does not help matters. So I think the backlash against this movie by people of color is not only understandable, but also justified. Intentionally showing the humanity of racist people, especially those who have exploited their positions of power to inflict harm because of those racist beliefs, is a slap in the face to those who have experienced it in real life. It is a slap in the face to stories of marginalized people who haven't been given the opportunity to tell their stories because stories like these are dominating the narrative.

      In spite of all that, I found myself enjoying the movie. It is, actually, a really well done movie. It portrays Frances McDormand in all her glorious, weird, unforgiving self and makes us uneasy about whether we want to root for her or whether we are terrified of her. It explores moral gray areas, including (yes), the humanity of racists. And it makes us question how far we'd go to get what we feel is justice for the death of a loved one. It's something, I think, everyone can relate to, even if they are not a rural white hick who has the privilege of brushing off blatant racism. (Though it is hard to ignore the fact that a black woman doing what McDormand did in that town would more certainly have been arrested, beaten, or killed the moment she put up those billboards.)

      Now, for my controversial take. I like the nuance in this movie. I like that no one is all good or all bad and yes, that includes the character played by Sam Rockwell, who, by the way, is absolutely brilliant in the film. I like moral gray areas. And while I understand people's desire not to see any redemption in a racist cop, I don't think the movie absolves him, just like it doesn't paint McDormand as a hero. Everyone is just stumbling through this incident, making some good and some terrible decisions, some worse than others. I like complicated. I like something that is thought-provoking, even if some of those thoughts are "why are we glossing over the terrible crimes committed by this particular character?" And though it doesn't make it right, I do think that blatant racism is simply a part of some rural towns. Showing it as such doesn't equate to an endorsement of it, only the privilege that comes from white characters being able to ignore it as background noise.

      So ultimately, I think this movie deserves both the accolades and the intense scrutiny it's receiving. It is a fantastic portrayal of grief, anger, and complicated relationships (not to mention the fantastic acting, engaging plot twists, and clever pacing). It is also a reminder to Hollywood that there is a desire from audiences to see stories that are more diverse and more attuned to the prejudices faced by millions.

      Final word: See it so you can talk about it.

      January 9, 2018

      Battle of the Sexes (2017)

      Emma Stone, Steve Carell

      In the realm of sports movies, tennis has been woefully neglected. Aside from Match Point and Wimbledon, there haven't really been any major movies on the subject. (I'm ignoring the random ones you've never heard of that pop up when you Google "tennis movies") And the tennis in those is, to put it mildly, hideous. So to see a "real" movie about the sport, about a legend like Billie Jean King, getting Awards buzz?


      It's a worthy subject, the Billie Jean King match versus Bobby Riggs in 1973. It was a huge moment for the women's movement and something most female athletes are acutely aware of. King herself is also a worthy subject, having been a trailblazer for female professional athletes, women, and the LGBT community. Some people were surprised when the USTA Center in Flushing Meadows (aka where the US Open is held) declined selling the naming rights to the complex and instead named it after Billie Jean King. I'm surprised more things aren't named after her, frankly. Her contributions to tennis and sports in general are not even remotely recognized enough.

      That being said, this movie is sort of meh. I wanted to like it far more than I actually did. Far and away the best part is Stone herself, and any reader of this blog knows how I feel about her, so that took a lot for me to say. She does a really good job and somehow even manages to look like Billie Jean. Steve Carell also does a commendable job as Riggs, so it's really not the actor's fault this movie falls flat. They even took pains to hire proper stunt doubles so the tennis sequences aren't embarrassing to watch. Instead, it was the decision to split the movie into half a biography of King and half a movie about the match itself.

      Like I said previously, King is a very worthy subject of a biography. The fact that she is an LGBT icon and the issues she had to deal with at that time, trying to discover her sexuality without being able to be open about it, is obviously terrible and a solid storyline. The problem is that this movie is fundamentally set up as a sports movie. It's titled after a particular match and it's pinnacle point is the match itself. So to integrate King's personal journey with her marriage and sexuality, to me, was too much to cover.

      As I see it, the movie should have gone one of two routes. Either:

      1. It's a biopic of King herself. Her rise to the top of tennis, the creation of the tour and its struggles, the discovery of her sexuality, and the aftermath of that famous match. I want more detail about the struggle to start the tour. The struggle of living on the road and the toll it took on her marriage. The opinions of other women on tour on how it was going or what they thought of King (other than Margaret Court's numerous side eye glances). Even naming the other women who left the LPTA to start the tour would have been a start. Or,

      2. A match more strictly about the event itself. When I think about an excellent sports movie about a true event, I think of Miracle. What that movie did so well was show all the events leading up to, including the general environment, before the event itself. While some might argue that's what this movie did, I found it lacking. Yes, the movie showed the creation of the tour to give us the backstory that it had to do with female athletes demanding respect, but it didn't show the general atmosphere of the US at that time. How did people feel about the sport? About what King was doing? How aware was the general public? What did it mean for women at home to watch her win? What happened to Jack Kramer? What changed as a result of this? The movie tried to build up to this climax of the match, but ended abruptly after it was over as if it was washing its hands and going home. Bobby's backstory also felt rushed. It would have been nice to have clips of his days on tour, so viewers got a fuller picture of the type of player he was. Why was this senior tour player, at 55, able to command an audience with these top women? And what was up with those vitamins? This movie felt more like it was checking the boxes on showing particular events of pieces of the story instead of diving into them to tell a richer story.

      I think the movie tried to split the difference and give recognition to King while trying to make the movie more "mainstream" by marketing it as a traditional sports movie and it suffered as a result. So if any other director ever decides to make a proper movie about Billie Jean King, I look forward to watching it. In the meantime, however, I pray Emma Stone doesn't win a second Oscar for yet another mediocre movie.

      Final word: Though I love the attention being paid to tennis and Billie Jean King, the movie itself doesn't hold up to the buzz.