February 26, 2017

2017 Oscar predictions

It's that time of the year again - when we all sit around and bitch about what was or was not nominated for awards. But no matter what does or doesn't win, we can all agree to complain about the host, right? That's the one constant. But FWIW, I don't mind Jimmy Kimmel. He wouldn't be my first choice, but he can't possibly be worse than Seth McFarlane or that year they let James Franco up there.

As for the picks, I'm torn between voting for what I want to win and what I think will win. But as much as I want to take a stance against voting for movies like The Revenant, I like winning more. So here are my picks: feel free to challenge me with your own. I'm undefeated 3 years running. :)

Best Picture predicted winner: La La Land

I'm fairly certain it's a two-way race between La La Land and Moonlight at this point, so it could go either way. But Hollywood so loves movies about itself, and nostalgia, so in a f*cked year for real life, I can imagine voters are swayed by the promise of escapism and Making Hollywood Great Again. Just kidding.

  • Arrival: The most thoughtful and inventive of the bunch, but judging by its low tally of nominations, will probably walk away empty-handed across all categories.
  • Fences: It was impactful, but not the best or even the most memorable.
  • Hacksaw Ridge: I honestly don't know what this movie is doing in this category.
  • Hidden Figures: This was my favorite, but probably not "dramatic" enough to win it. The Academy loves melodrama.
  • La La Land: The more people rave about it, the less I like it. It was mostly enjoyable, but it's not the second coming of Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers.
  • Lion: This movie impacted me the most, but is too far off the radar for most people.
  • Moonlight: I can't believe I didn't see this before the big day.

Best Actor predicted winner: Denzel Washington, Fences

Casey Affleck had all the momentum for awhile, but I think the sexual assault allegations against him are finally catching up and swaying voters towards Denzel, who is a perennial favorite and probably hasn't gotten as much recognition throughout his career as he deserves. And we all know how the Academy doesn't necessarily judge only on the current year.

  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land: I haven't disliked Ryan this much since The Place Beyond the Pines.
  • Denzel Washington, Fences: Classic Denzel performance.

Best Actress predicted winner: Isabelle Hupper, Elle

I'll be honest. I'm not really that confident Isabelle will win, but I can't stand the thought of Emma Stone winning for La La Land. I just can't choose her. If it were up to me, Taraji P. Henson would be nominated in her place. 
  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle: I'm counting on the Academy not to make the same mistake as 4 years ago with Emmanuelle Riva in Amour.
  • Ruth Negga, Loving: She did a good job, but there is approximately zero chance of her winning.
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie: Didn't quite make it to this one, but the movie didn't really garner enough interest for Portman to win.
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins: It can sometimes feel like nominating Meryl has become reflexive for the Academy, but she earned this one.

Best Supporting Actor predicted winner: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Setting aside the fact that Mahershala Ali is a slam dunk for the win, this category was full of missed opportunities. Sunny Pawar from Lion and George MacKay from Captain Fantastic should have been nominated, while Lucas Hedge and Jeff Bridges could have easily eliminated. I would have even been happy giving a nod to Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins for his first role in which he didn't play a womanizing cad.
  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight: From everything I've heard, there is no betting against him on this one.
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water: Everything I said about Meryl Streep above, before the comma.
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea: This movie, while decent, got a lot more nods than it should have. This is one of those.
  • Dev Patel, Lion: I would have nominated Sunny Pawar over Dev Patel, but I loved this movie so much it's hard to resent any of its nominations.
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals: No comment.

Best Supporting Actress predicted winner: Viola Davis, Fences

  • Viola Davis, Fences: I think this is pretty much a shoo-in.
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight: No comment.
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion: Great movie, she wasn't necessarily a key component of that.
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures: I loved this movie, but not sure I could say she was more deserving of a nomination than Taraji.
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea: The bright spot of an otherwise bleak movie, but her limited screen time can't compete with Viola Davis' powerhouse performance.

    Best Original Screenplay predicted winner: La La Land

    Sigh. Hollywood so loves to congratulate itself on making movies about Hollywood it's hard to imagine any other movie taking home the prize, no matter how much more they deserved it.

    • La La Land: I wouldn't mind this winning this category if I didn't feel it was also going to win so many other categories. It doesn't deserve 14 nominations, but screenplay is one it does deserve. It's a solid enough story.
    • The Lobster: Wanted to see it, didn't quite get to it. But glad to see the resurgence of Colin Farrell.
    • Manchester by the Sea: This movie may not have been my favorite, but I thought the plot was certainly more original than many of the others in this category.
    • 20th Century Women: Another missed opportunity, but considering how many people had never heard of this movie, I'm surprised it even got nominated.

    Best Adapted Screenplay predicted winner: Moonlight

    I think category is much more of a toss-up. If Moonlight  comes away with the Best Picture win, my guess is this category goes to Hidden Figures, but since I'm predicting La La Land for the big win, I think Moonlight will take it here.
    • Arrival: Certainly the most inventive story of the bunch, but I think more of a fan favorite than voter darling.
    • Fences: Good adaptation, but would probably still be more impactful as a play.
    • Hidden Figures: Love! And stayed impressively true to the original story, which doesn't happen often in Hollywood.
    • Lion: Amazing story, but up against a stacked category this year.
    • Moonlight: Nothing but positive buzz surrounding it.

    Best Animated Feature predicted winner: Zootopia

    I thought things would swing Moana's way because it's much more "classic Disney," but the awards leading up to the Oscars have convinced me otherwise. Either way, Disney wins.
    • Moana: An excellent addition to any family's Disney collection.
    • My Life As A Zucchini: Not yet released in the States, though I heard it's sort of depressing.
    • The Red Turtle: I'll definitely see this soon.
    • Zootopia: My favorite of the bunch, and my kids's. 

    As usual, I only predicted the categories I feel like I can reasonably predict based on the movies I was able to watch. So make sure to check out the Oscars Page to find my reviews on other Oscar nominated movies that weren't nominated in categories I cared about, like Allied, Trolls, and 13th.

    Captain Fantastic (2016)

    Viggo Mortensen

    I'm just going to say it. Viggo Mortensen scares me. I don't know if it's the roles he chooses, or if his face is somehow inherently threatening, but he is like a non-mobster version of Ray Liotta.

    I mention this because he manages to morph into a more compassionate figure as the single father of six kids. He's still super intense, as an anarchist of sorts, who trains his kids to "fight the power and stick it to the man." And he is completely believable as an "off the grid" type who hunts and grows his own food and refuses medical treatment for anything short of imminent death. These people exist. And now they will always look like Viggo Mortensen in my mind. (Not a terrible thing)

    This movie is weird. The best way I can describe it is "the opposite of Little Miss Sunshine." The both feature a kooky family and a road trip, but while Little Miss Sunshine was meant to be uplifting and funny, Captain Fantastic is dark and sort of depressing. The family is almost like a cult with their strict adherence to schedule and eschewing of anything mainstream. Yet they are kind of so awesome you want them to stay that way forever. I mean, who doesn't want to have family rock climbing excursions and the ability to tell your kids the unvarnished truth? Sure, it's uncomfortable to watch Mortensen tell his eight-year-old exactly how sex works and why people do it, but isn't that actually more honest than lying and telling your kid he came from a stork? Is it really so crazy to treat kids as capable of independent analysis and complex thought?

    Though the movie is much deeper than the seemingly ridiculous setup, the quirks of the family are what make the movie. Without their weirdness bonding them together, there would be no vehicle to showcase Mortensen's compassionate side, his kids' self-consciousness, or their fight against everything considered to be "normal" in this world. Their kookiness isn't just there for laughs, and that's what makes the whole movie worth watching.

    Final word: One of the best "weird" movies.

    P.S. Viggo goes full frontal in the movie. You see his penis. Twice. I just thought you should you be prepared for that.

    February 25, 2017

    Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

    Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant

    There is a reason people adore Meryl Streep. She really can play anything.

    Take this movie: on its face, it sounds absurdly stupid. A wealthy woman stages concerts for herself to star in, except she is a terrible singer. It's American Idol, if William Hung were rich and rigged the contest for himself. I'll fully admit I went into this planning to hate-watch the entire movie.

    But it's not stupid at all. It's not even a little stupid (though I really could have with less of Streep actually singing). Instead of being about her singing, it's actually about her relationship with Hugh Grant, the complexities of supporting your partner, and the audacity of dreams. Move over, Emma Stone, this movie is a far better representation of someone who relentlessly pursues her artistic dream.

    The movie shouldn't work, really. The pairing of Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep seems weird, but they are both so wonderful in it that you forget about the visible age gap. Hugh Grant plays such a supportive, loving, devoted husband that it completely sells them as a couple. You actually like him so much you almost don't mind he's having an affair. But then again, that's what Hugh Grant does best--play a lovable cad.

    As for Streep, I couldn't help but wonder how much work it was to purposely sing off key. She starred in Mamma Mia, so we know she has an actual ability to sing. Then again, opera is so difficult and high pitched that even decent singers would probably sound horrific attempting it.

    Final word: Unexpectedly charming. 

    Hidden Figures (2016)

    Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle MonĂ¡e

    Contrary to how movies often portray racism and oppression, it's not always burning crosses on a lawn or being physically attacked on a bus or in a restaurant. And until recently, much of the everyday racism had been buried in small, everyday slights. Not everyone takes up the charge of fighting racism or sexism on a sweeping level; rather, most people just try to get through their lives the best they can.

    This movie is so relatable because it shows three women, simply trying to do the best they can for themselves. They have already achieved remarkable things, working at NASA as black women in a time of segregation, but instead of being content with what they were given, they fought for what they deserved. They didn't do it for the sake of being pioneers or some sweeping vision of equality for all, but for themselves, in that moment. That is what most of us do.

    So often, movies that represent people fighting against a stacked system are heavy and depressing. We are shown nothing but struggles and the hateful people around them. Those are, of course, important stories to tell as well, but people shouldn't be filled with a sense of dread every time a Civil Rights-era movie comes out.

    Hidden Figures, on the other hand, highlights the many triumphs. It is an easy watch, and inspiring all the way through. Much of that, of course, is due to the fact that these women accomplished amazing feats in their lives. But an incredible story is not a guarantee for an equally incredible movie (ahem, Hacksaw Ridge). So the fact that the writers/directors managed to simultaneously portray THREE different stories in an accurate manner is really nothing short of a miracle, frankly.

    It seems a little strange to call a story about black women in segregation a "feel good" movie, but that's exactly what it is. I haven't felt this good walking out of a movie in ages.

    Final word: I dare anyone to not like this movie.

    February 20, 2017

    Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

    Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn

    There have been so many WWII movies made that for one to stand out, it had better be exceptional. In this day and age, to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, it had better be a groundbreaking story.

    This is a groundbreaking story.

    The story of Desmond Doss, a religious contentious objector who enlists in the Army but refuses to carry a weapon, is an incredible story. Extraordinary. It's so unbelievable I can't help but wonder what the hell took so long to tell people about it.

    But what makes the movie so interesting is also what makes it so ridiculous. The story is amazing on its own. Desmond Doss' journey through the Army and his experiences on the battlefield is the stuff of legends. It doesn't need to be Hollywood-ized. But alas, it is. The story, which could have stood firmly on its own merit, is saturated with cheesy moment after cheesy moment. The score swells with emotional music as action unfolds in slow-motion across the battlefield. He has a heart-to-heart with his rival-turned-friend late at night in a foxhole. And of course, his single-handed heroics in swatting away not one, but two grenades in quick succession (which of course, there is no record of ever actually happening). It's just so unfortunate.

    The first half of the movie isn't all bad. It's a slow build, showing Desmond's upbringing, his character, and what leads him to enlist in the first place. It's slow and Andrew Garfield isn't quite charming enough for me to want to root for him to succeed (or even survive), but there's nothing terribly offensive or noteworthy about it.

    But then he arrives at boot camp, where we are greeted by a shouting Vince Vaughn who isn't quite unlikeable enough to be screaming at the soldiers the way he does. Eventually, the troops step on the battlefield, where the movie suddenly becomes wall-to-wall bullets for the next 30+ minutes. So on one hand, it's a nice reminder that this is, in fact, a war movie; on the other, it's sort of a weird departure from the rest of the very mild movie. Because the war scenes are brutal. As all war scenes are, I suppose. But we're talking heads being chopped off, bodies being blown up, and rats feasting on spilled innards as soldiers step over them. I suppose they really wanted to highlight to violence of war to contrast with the fact that Private Doss refused to carry a weapon.

    The whole movie is just bizarre. If it hadn't been a true story, I think most everyone in the theater would have walked out laughing at the theatrics of it.

    Final word: People should probably just watch the documentary on Desmond Doss.

    P.S. The movie poster cracks me up in that they refuse to just name Mel Gibson as the director. If his name is such a detriment, why have him direct at all? Everyone knows who he is, and not as "the director of Braveheart."

    February 19, 2017

    Hell or High Water (2016)

    Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

    You know how people are always screaming for more diversity in Oscar nominees and those against it yell about how it would inevitably lead to affirmative action and that everything should be judged on merit? Do you think those same people would argue that Hell or High Water was a recipient of that forced diversity? Because I sure as hell would.

    Look, I appreciate the attempt to incorporate something other than war dramas or movies about social issues into the Best Picture category. But anyone who watched this movie and thought to themselves, that was the best movie of the year! must have literally not watched any other movies during the year. In fact, I'm convinced the only reason this movie got any recognition is because Jeff Bridges is in it and Academy voters thought to themselves, "Jeff Bridges acting like a cranky old man? That seems new!" completely forgetting about the time they nominated him for Crazy Heart. And True Grit. It's as if Clint Eastwood's retirement from acting has left this void of angry old men that Hollywood seems desperate to fill with Jeff Bridges.

    The funny thing is, there is good acting in the movie and it doesn't necessarily come from Jeff Bridges. It doesn't really come from Chris Pine either, who looks surprisingly at home with greasy hair and a handlebar mustache. The best acting in the movie actually comes from Ben Foster, who manages the cliched role of "bad-seed brother with a good heart" with a good balance of smarm and charm.

    The movie is a little hard to watch because not only is it terribly predictable, but it's not even particularly interesting. The brothers are exceedingly stupid and reckless, to the point where I almost couldn't decide if I wanted them to actually get away with all the robberies. Except that would mean Jeff Bridges' character would win, and well, he's pretty unlikable with all the racist jokes he tells.

    When you think of a Best Picture nominee, you imagine a movie with an exciting characters and a plot that grips you and stays with you long after the movie has ended. This movie, while perfectly adequate in terms of plot and acting, falls well short of that "best picture" bar. But here it is, chosen as one of the best movies of the year. And that really sums up 2016.

    Final word: Forgettable.

    February 18, 2017

    Trolls (2016)

    Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake

    I can't help but point out the fact that the entire premise of this movie is horrifying. The only way the bergens can feel happiness is by eating the trolls, so they keep the trolls in a caged tree in the center of town and make a ritual of cooking and eating one each year. That's some dystopian sh*t for a kid's movie if you really stop to think about it.

    Aside from that, the rest of the movie is totally adorable. From the overly happy dance sequences to the wild parties and glitter everywhere, the movie is nonstop fun. Even during the "serious-ish" parts. The trolls and their propensity to sing and hug can't help but make you smile.

    The movie is clever in that it mixes both familiar popular music with a couple of original tracks, making the musical interludes easier to watch the first time. Instead of having to decide whether or not you like each song, you know already know most of them, including the best song ever, True Colors. And honestly, Anna Kendrick's singing voice does not get enough credit. It's clear and precise and it sounds young and perky enough match the cuteness of her troll character. Because it's not enough to have a good voice (I'm talking to you, Idina Menzel) - it has to make sense with the story.

    On that note, I'm a little disappointed at the casting of Justin Timberlake. I get the desire to have the same actor do both the talking and singing for simplicity's sake, but he's not the most pleasant person to listen to. He's not terrible or anything, I'm just perplexed at his continued presence in movies. I was hoping it was a phase.

    Either way, the movie is wholly enjoyable for both kids and adults. It's just clever enough to keep grown-ups laughing, while maintaining enough action and seizure-inducing color for kid's short attention spans.

    Final word: I challenge you to find a kid who doesn't like this movie.

    February 16, 2017

    La La Land (2016)

    Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

    The polarization of this movie is interesting, in that half the population seems crazy about it, while the other half seems completely unimpressed by it, some of which is probably attributable to the fact that people are going crazy over it in the first place. And for that, I blame whoever is responsible for trying to make this movie so appealing in the first place.

    Let me back up.

    Classic musicals, like Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris, after which this movie is clearly modeled, are pretty divisive themselves. Many loves them, while many others hate musicals on their face. That's fine. There's a genre out there for everyone. What I think went wrong in this movie, however, was the attempt to appeal to everyone, even those who don't classify themselves as fans of musicals.

    Here, they created a throwback to a classic musical, but tried to modernize it by setting it in the current time, lessen the amount of musical and dance numbers, and starred popular actors, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. But here's the thing: neither of them can really sing or dance. They're not terrible, of course, though Gosling sings in such a quiet, muffled voice you wonder if he's trying to cover up the fact that he can't really sing. (Though frankly, his acting here wasn't much better. I'm not sure he could have showed less personality and charm than he did. And I'm one of those people who adores Ryan Gosling.) And by limiting the amount of songs, it feels less like a full fledged musical and more like a whimsical romance that happens to have some singing in it. There are two big dance numbers, one at the beginning and one at the end, but the rest of the movie feels rather like an ordinary romance-drama.

    The story itself is perfectly fine, and in fact, preferable to the "musical" parts, which is why the second half of the movie is a lot more engaging than the first half, as it finally dives into the relationship and more complex issues of the plot. But it also leaves the movie feeling disjointed, as the whimsy of the movie comes to an abrupt stop, only to appear again at the close. It's as if someone simply mashed two movies with similar plots together into one movie. By trying to make the movie both a serious relationship drama and a dreamy musical, it achieved neither.

    I wrote recently about the integrity of the movie Arrival and how it seemed not to care if anyone liked it. This movie felt like it wanted everyone to like it, which is what made so many people not. If you're going to do a big musical, do a big musical. Make the big dance sequences, put a lot of songs in, and staff it with the best damn singers and dancers you can find, neither of which include Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Then, people like me won't spend the entire movie wondering how much better it would have been had it starred Ewan McGregor and Amanda Seyfried.

    Final word: Just a very gray version of what was promised.

    P.S. Someone on Twitter tried to say Emma & Ryan were the new Kate & Leo. Don't ever make this comparison again. I'm serious. 

    February 14, 2017

    Arrival (2016)

    Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

    Remember when Amy Adams was Hollywood's new It Girl? She was in everything and got Oscar nominations for all of them, and people went to movies because she was in them and we respected her decisions.

    But then we sat through Trouble With the Curve. And Man of Steel. And suddenly, people [ME] started to doubt Amy's choices. We felt we could no longer trust her to lead us to quality movies.

    Then we watched Arrival and were like, "Amy, we're sorry we doubted you!"

    This movie is unexpectedly awesome. Unexpected, because in my (admittedly limited) experience with sci-fi, it often falls into one of two camps: action-packed and full of explosives (like Guardians of the Galaxy or the Star Trek movies), or creepy/scary where aliens try to suck out our organs or something. And for some reason, the aliens always look exactly like humans, but with extra eyes or arms. Oh, and they can always speak English somehow.

    Arrival is different on every count. It is an unexpected look at extraterrestrial life and how it reflects our culture. It is not scary, it is not funny, and it has very little action. Instead, it is a measured - and often sad - look at humans and the lives we lead. The presence of "the other," while central to the plot, isn't actually the point of the movie at all. They are simply there to provide us insight into what we already are and have. It's brilliant.

    It's difficult to discuss the movie any further without spoiling the whole thing, so I'll just say this: it is rare to find a movie that is thoughtful, well acted, and not about a historical event. This movie isn't targeting a certain demographic or appealing to the masses with a simple story and special effects. It is for everyone and no one, both at the same time. The writer of this story obviously had a message to tell and didn't water it down for mass appeal. And for that, I give the utmost respect.

    Final word: Like Contact. But better. And shorter.

    February 9, 2017

    Fences (2016)

    Denzel Washington, Viola Davis

    Fresh off my viewing of Elle and my rant on the lack of complicated characters for women, I watched Denzel in all his tortured glory in this big screen adaptation of Fences. And if there is one thing Denzel does well, it's playing a guy who is neither all good nor all bad.

    Here, he is a man in mid-life, worn down from the prejudices of growing up in the early 1900's and the gruel of hard work and a hard life. He is angry, he is bitter, but he is doing the best he can. Or so he claims.

    I can buy into the fact that he is a complicated man. As the story unfolds, we learn about the hardships he has faced, and considering the story takes place in the 1950's, I can only imagine the additional barriers a black man would encounter. He has a lot of reason to be bitter and angry. And for awhile, I pondered the generational tensions at play, with his desire to protect his son from the racial prejudices of society, played against the youthful optimism of a boy who only sees things getting better. And the timing of a story like this, set immediately before the Civil Rights Movement, gave an additional dimension of relevance to the present day.

    Where the story lost me was in the reverence of Washington's character. Was he interesting? Yes. Was he captivating? Yes. Was he ultimately a good man who was trying his best? Hmmm. If the movie hadn't tried so hard to push the narrative of an obviously flawed and selfish man as someone worthy of appreciation, I might not have had anything negative to say about it at all.

    The performances, of course, are paramount. Based on a play, the dialogue-driven drama would be nothing without the acting prowess of Washington and Davis as married couple Troy and Rose. They are both believable in the roles, as well as believable as a couple. And it's great that while Washington commands much of the screen time as the loud, angry, and overbearing presence, Viola Davis was honored with an Oscar nomination for her part as the stifled and overshadowed housewife. The dynamic between the two is what makes the movie work and both should be equally recognized. Even the lesser-seen characters like, Stephen Henderson (Troy's friend Bono) and Mykelti Williamson (Troy's brother Gabe), are excellent. Literally the only thing I can complain about in the performance department is Viola Davis' nose when she's crying. I mean, would it kill the woman to use a tissue?!? She is the grossest crier I have ever seen.

    It can be difficult to translate a stage play into a movie because it can lack the intensity of an enclosed set, but I think it was successful here. I also think that due to the powerful performances of its stars, this movie will hold up well over time. It will never stop being relevant, and when Denzel finally retires, critics will point to this performance as one that highlights perfectly his strengths as an actor. If only the ending had been different.

    Final word: Flawed, but powerful - just like the characters in the movie.

    February 6, 2017

    Elle (2016)

    Isabelle Huppert

    You know how people like to throw out the words "trigger warning" as some kind of insult to what they perceive as snowflake babies who can't handle information they disagree with? There's a reason trigger warnings were invented and it's not because people are crybabies. It's because far too many people have experienced horrible acts of violence and watching or reading about similar events can cause them to re-live their painful experiences, causing further trauma. This movie should have a trigger warning.

    The movie opens on a woman being raped. I was going to say "sexually assaulted" because, well, rape sounds so brutal. But it is rape. And it is brutal. And softening the terminology isn't going to make it any less so. And frankly, it doesn't do anyone any favors to soften the description of something so terrible. 

    So this woman is raped. And when it's over, she gets up and moves on with life. Except she can't. Because, well, does it really need an explanation why? So we watch her trudge through life, scarred from this attack, and wonder how we'd react in the same situation.

    As the movie progresses, we learn more about her, and the reasons for her behavior become clearer. But you never quite like her. And that is what makes the movie remarkable. It is a movie centered around a strong, but rather unlikable woman, who deals with a traumatic event in a way that defies most people's logic. 

    Maybe that doesn't sound remarkable, but really, how many movies center around strong, unlikable women? I don't think it's groundbreaking to announce that while men have been getting leading roles with complex men, women have been largely relegated to predictable tropes like "the bitch," "the good girl," etc, or everyone's favorite, "manic pixie dream girl." To see a movie about a woman who is so complex you can't decide if you hate her or want to give her a fucking medal for succeeding in the face of such obstacles, well, I call that remarkable. And it's in French, because honestly, I can't imagine a US studio producing anything remotely this controversial.

    Like pretty much every other French film I've ever watched, it's weird. And dark. And extremely difficult to sit through. But I love that it's out there and that it's getting so much exposure. I can only hope that this signals a future with more complicated leading roles for women.

    Final word: Agony.

    February 2, 2017

    Allied (2016)

    Marion Cotillard, Brad Pitt

    I recently heard someone say Brad Pitt was "an excellent character actor trapped in a leading actor's body." That comment really stuck with me, as I've never quite been able to put my finger on why I wasn't more enthusiastic about him. Sure, he's good looking. I don't think there is anyone out there who can deny that. But his acting is spotty. For each brilliant performance like Mickey in Snatch, there are a handful of very dull ones, like Achilles in Troy (and yes, I know it was bad movie regardless of his performance). He seems to be at his best when portraying an eccentric personality with limited screen time.

    Fast forward to this movie, a WWII romantic drama about spies that should be sizzling with unspoken tension, that is instead filled with dead looks from a rapidly aging leading man. [Note: I am not simply criticizing Pitt for aging, as that happens to everyone, but the fact that he seems to often be cast *for* his looks, which are no longer sufficient to overlook a poor performance.] To say he lacks emotion and range in this movie would be an understatement. I really think a cardboard cutout of his younger self may have been more effective in the role.

    It's not all his fault, of course. The plot, while promising early on, fizzles about 45 minutes in when the action ceases. From there, it turns into a weird cheesy romance mixed with a poorly done spy thriller. It had potential, but never quite materialized.

    It wasn't all a waste of time, however. Marion Cotillard single-handedly keeps the movie afloat, with her charming personality and her ability to keep viewers guessing as to her true motives. (For the record, I called out the ending immediately. I have to, or my husband accuses me of pretending to know.) If it hadn't been such a disappointing movie, I think she could have gotten a lot more recognition for her work.

    Final word: Sometimes the awards shows get it right when they pass over movies.