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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Review: All the Money in the World (2017)

* * *

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer

In the long run All the Money in the World may never quite get out from under the shadow that looms over it, destined perhaps to be best remembered as the answer to a trivia question, even though it has a lot more going for it than the behind the scenes saga about how it managed to come to the screen. It has a fantastic performance from Michelle Williams, for one thing, and a great one from Christopher Plummer, and both are just as impressive as director Ridley Scott's ambitious/crazy plan to reshoot parts of the film in order to excise original star Kevin Spacey but keep the film's original release date (the film was released right on schedule December 18th, despite reshoots taking place during the week of American Thanksgiving). This isn't to suggest that the fact that Scott actually pulled this off doesn't make for a grand technical achievement (not to mention one hell of a story itself), I just want to make sure to emphasize that the end result is more than just an exercise in trying to achieve what should be impossible on such a tight deadline.

Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

* * *

Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas

Even once you've taken into account all of the elements that Darkest Hour has on its side before you've even watched it - the natural conflict, drama, and emotion that arose from the decision of the British government to oppose rather than appease Hitler and a larger than life protagonist in the form of Winston Churchill - it still manages to be an effective film. Conventional, yes. Crowd pleasing, certainly. But effective, nevertheless, because it knows what it has and how to use it. Built around a towering performance from Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour never becomes more than just what you expect it to be, but delivers exactly what it promises, which is a rousing historical drama that moves with clockwork precision through classical narrative beats. Nothing more, but nothing less, either.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

* * 1/2

Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

I don't understand the amount of vitriol that has come from people who think The Last Jedi is the worst movie in the Star Wars franchise (is Attack of the Clones still a movie? Because no movie with the words "Star Wars" attached to it will ever be worse than that), but I have to confess that I also don't understand the amount of love it's received from people who think it's one of the best movies in the Star Wars franchise. It's a perfectly fine movie, one which left me largely entertained while also leaving me with some reservations, one which should not be inspiring people to make Change.org petitions (though whomever started the Porg one is a comedic genius whose time was well spent), but which shouldn't be inspiring people to bend over backwards with praise either. I didn't think it was great, I didn't think it was terrible, and my overall emotional response to it was pretty muted.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Florida, Nevada, and Online Film Critics Award Winners

Catching up with some of the awards given out over the holidays, here are the winners from the Florida, Nevada, and Online Film Critics:

Florida Film Critics Circle

Best Picture: Dunkirk

Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Best Actor: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Best Actress: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Ensemble: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Original Screenplay: Get Out

Best Adapted Screenplay: Call Me By Your Name

Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049

Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

Best Art Direction/Production Design: Blade Runner 2049

Best Score: Blade Runner 2049

Best Documentary: Jane

Best Foreign Language Film: BPM

Best Animated Film: Coco

Best First Film: Get Out

Saturday, December 23, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Carol (2015)

Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara
Country: United States/United Kingdom

Carol is a film that opens with an image of rigid uniformity, then tells a story about two women discovering their capacity to break away from the social conformity that surrounds them. Directed by Todd Haynes, Carol is a film of great restraint - told in passages of coded language and moments and as a story unfolding beneath a public facade - and incredible emotional resonance. One of the unlikeliest cult movies of recent years, Carol is an endlessly rewatchable piece of work that, despite its specificity of time and place, tells a profoundly human story about loneliness, desire, and love. Anchored by fantastic performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, this is a beautiful film that easily qualifies as one of the best not just of the last decade, but of the century so far.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: Get Out (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener

Better late than never. At a time of the year when movie pundits debate which film best encapsulated the cultural feeling of 2017, Get Out seems to have the edge on claims of capturing the zeitgeist, though it may have an uphill battle in terms of gaining actual industry recognition, given that Hollywood is a very conservative industry that just happens to be full of prominent liberals who represent the exact kind of "white liberalism" that this film so perfectly skewers. Even when the industry does embrace it, a la the film's two Golden Globe nominations (though the Hollywood Foreign Press Association may better be described as "industry adjacent"), it does so in a way that suggests it doesn't really get it. I mean, Musical or Comedy? Get Out's final dialogue exchange is actually pretty hilarious, but there's really nothing funny about what Get Out has to say about race and violence.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Seattle, Vancouver, St. Louis, and Indiana Film Critics Award Winners

The critics out of Seattle, Vancouver, St. Louis, and Indiana weighed in today. Their winners:

Seattle Film Critics Society
Best Picture: Get Out
Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Best Ensemble: Get Out
Best Screenplay: Lady Bird
Best Animated Feature: Coco
Best Documentary Feature: Faces Places
Best Foreign Language Film: Raw
Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049
Best Costume Design: Phantom Thread
Best Film Editing: Dunkirk
Best Original Score: Phantom Thread
Best Production Design: Blade Runner 2049
Best Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes
Best Youth Performance: Brooklyn Prince, The Florida Project

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Chicago, Atlanta, San Diego, Kansas City, and African American Film Critics Awards

The critics out of Chicago, Atlanta, and San Diego, along with the association of African American Film Critics, announced their winners over the course of the last week, with Get Out the big winner. Update: the Kansas City Film Critics also weighed in this evening and also went for Get Out. All of their picks:

Kansas City Film Critics
Best Picture: Get Out
Robert Altman Award for Best Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Best Actor: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Best Original Screenplay: Get Out
Best Adapted Screenplay: Call Me By Your Name and Logan (tie)
Best Animated Feature: Coco
Best Documentary: Jane
Best Foreign Language Film: In the Fade
Tom Poe Award for Best LGBT Film: Call Me By Your Name
Vince Koehler Award for Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror Film: Get Out

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Screen Actors Guild Nominations

The nominees are:

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel Esq

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Outstanding Performance by Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
Baby Driver
War For the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco

Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make

What The Disaster Artist accomplishes seems almost impossible. It could easily have been a very mean spirited movie in which a bunch of very rich, very successful people ruthlessly mocked the efforts of a bunch of not rich and unsuccessful people. Instead it's a film that manages to mine a grandiose personality for humor while still acknowledging that it's a very courageous thing to pursue an artistic ambition and open yourself up to the kind of ridicule that, in fact, met the film at the center of this "making of" story. The Disaster Artist is a film made with affection and it's one of the best, funniest comedies I've seen all year.

Golden Globe Nominees

The nominees are:

Best Motion Picture - Drama:
Call Me By Your Name
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy:
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Golden Globe Nominee Predictions

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announces its nominations tomorrow morning. My predictions:

Best Motion Picture - Drama:
Call Me By Your Name
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy:
The Big Sick
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Washington, Boston Online, Toronto, San Francisco, New York Online, Philadelphia, and Boston Society of Film Critics Awards

A slew of critics groups gave out awards this weekend, spreading the love in most categories but creating frontrunners in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories. Here's the rundown:

Philadelphia Film Critics

Best Picture: Get Out

Best Director: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Script: Get Out

Best Foreign Language Film: Graduation

Best Documentary: Jane

Best Directorial Debut: Get Out

Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049

Best Score: Coco

Best Breakthrough Performance: Brooklyn Prince, The Florida Project

Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

* * *

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer

You know the story. It's the one about the man whose heart needs to be more open and receives three spectral visitors who make him see the error of his ways. You may never have read A Christmas Carol, but you've doubtless seen a version of it as it has been adapted to pretty much every performance medium from film to television to stage plays to opera to ballet and even a mime production staring Marcel Marceau in 1973. A Christmas Carol is proof positive that a story well told is one that can be told over and over again. The Man Who Invented Christmas is about the writing of A Christmas Carol, borrowing from the structure and plot of the story to map out its own narrative, and it's a movie as light as a small breeze. It's sweet, but in a way that doesn't feel too cute and in a way that works best the less you know about Dickens going into it (its warm and fuzzy vision of the Dickens' home life would make it a terrible companion to the 2013 film The Invisible Woman).

Saturday, December 9, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Eastern Promises (2007)

Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Country: United Kingdom/Canada/United States

David Cronenberg is a filmmaker who is no stranger to the theme of duality - people who aren't who they appear to be, people who physically become something they aren't meant to; people who are, essentially, two beings in one - and in the mid-2000's he made two films, both starring Viggo Mortensen, that function as mirrors of each other in the way that they tackle the theme. The first was A History of Violence, a film about a bad guy who is masquerading as a good guy to escape his past. The second was Eastern Promises, a film about a good guy who is masquerading as a bad guy in order to secure a foothold for information for the future. Both are violent, both are brilliant, and both examine components of our society that are at once venerated as essential to society's survival while also being at the root of so much destruction in that same society. The two films make wonderful companion pieces, but they are also very much capable of standing on their own. To watch them both is especially enriching, but to watch just one is still exceptional cinematic experience.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Critics' Choice Award nominees

The Broadcast Film Critics Association announced their nominees for the Critics' Choice Awards this morning. The awards will be handed out January 11th. The nominees:

Best Picture
The Big Sick
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Review: Free Fire (2017)

* 1/2

Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer

There's a line in Frances Ha, where the best friend of the title character walks into the home of two hipster guys and declares that the apartment is "very aware of itself." Free Fire is like that apartment; it's very aware of itself. The problem is that it's trying very hard to be cool, and one of the key components of coolness is a lack of visible effort. Reservoir Dogs, the film this one very much wants to be, is such an enduring work of cinematic cool in part because it doesn't feel like Quentin Tarantino is trying to impress anyone with it; Tarantino, as ever, does things in a way that will entertain himself and if others are also entertained by it, all the better. Free Fire, by contrast, works very hard to engineer the kinds of moments and dialogue exchanges that become touchstones to a cult following. The result is that it all feels very manufactured, which isn't aided by the fact that 90% of the cast members look exactly the same with their facial hair and generally unkempt '70s styling. If you're in the mood for what amounts to a 70 minute shoot out, Free Fire might appeal to you, but be forewarned that the film runs out of ideas to make that shoot out interesting after about 20 minutes.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: Table 19 (2017)

* *

Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Starring: Anna Kendrick

At times Table 19 feels like nothing more than a premise - an evening spent at "the losers" table at a wedding reception - barely elaborated upon. Its characters are little more than sketches and its plot turns tend to rely on one character figuring something out about another based on almost nothing. Running at a quick 87 minutes, during which its handful of characters each has and neatly resolves a crisis, it's light and fluffy and almost instantly forgettable. Yet despite this, and largely because the film has the great good fortune of Anna Kendrick in the lead, it's not without its charms. It's empty calories, but so are cupcakes and sometimes you just want something that's not good for you but that gives you a short-lived buzz. Basically, if you have an hour and a half to spare, you could do worse than spend it with Table 19.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Los Angeles Film Critics Winners

The Los Angeles Film Critics weighed in today, with Call Me By Your Name taking the big prize. Their winners:

Best Picture: Call Me By Your Name

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Best Actor: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Cinematography: Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

Best Music/Score: Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread

Best Production Design: Dennis Gassner, Blade Runner 2049

Best Editing: Lee Smith, Dunkirk

Best Foreign Language Film: BPM and Loveless

Best Animated Film: The Breadwinner

Best Documentary: Faces Places

Douglas Edwards Experimental Film Award: Lee Ann Schmidtt, Purge This Land

Thursday, November 30, 2017

New York Film Critics Circle Award Winners

The New York Film Critics Circle announced their winners earlier today. Their picks:

Best Film: Lady Bird

Best Director: Sean Baker, The Florida Project

Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Actor: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Best Supporting Actress: Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip

Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Best Cinematography: Rachel Morrison, Mudbound

Best Animated Film: Coco

Best Documentary: Face Places

Best Foreign Language Film: BPM (Beats Per Minute)

Best First Film: Get Out

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: Justice League (2017)

* * 1/2

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher

You know what? It's not terrible. That's not just lowered expectations speaking, either, because I had low expectations when I saw Batman v Superman and that movie still managed to sail right under the low bar my mind had set. It's not a great movie - it's got the problems you would expect not only from a film that had to be significantly re-shot but also from a project driven by the impatience of those who are guiding it to the screen - but it's pretty entertaining in a silly, weightless kind of way. Which is why it's so unfortunate that audiences, having been burned by 2 of DC's last 3 movies, seem to be staying away. I mean, Justice League doesn't deserve to make Wonder Woman level money, but it definitely deserves to make more than Batman v Superman and to not be the movie that fails to make enough money to render its critical reception moot.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

National Board of Review Winners

And so it begins. Award season kicks off with the selections of the National Board of Review, which fell hard for Steven Spielberg's forthcoming The Post. The full list of winners:

Best Film: The Post

Best Director: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Best Actor: Tom Hanks, The Post

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Post

Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Best Foreign Language Film: Foxtrot

Best Documentary: Jane

Best Ensemble: Get Out

Breakthrough Performance: Timothee Calamet, Call Me By Your Name

Best Directorial Debut: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Spotlight Award: Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot

Freedom of Expression Award: First They Killed My Father and Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992

Top Films: Baby Driver, Call My By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Downsizing, Dunkirk, The Florida Project, Get Out, Lady Bird, Logan, Phantom Thread

Top 5 Foreign Language Films: A Fantastic Woman, Frantz, Loveless, Summer 1993, The Square

Top 5 Documentaries: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Brimstone & Glory, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, Faces Place, Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS

Top 10 Independent Films: Beatriz at Dinner, Brigsby Bear, A Ghost Story, Lady Macbeth, Logan Lucky, Loving Vincent, Menashe, Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Patti Cake$, Wind River

Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

* * * *

Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson

We are living in an extraordinarily angry time (or maybe it just seems that way because the internet makes that anger inescapable) and Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri functions like a snapshot of that overriding cultural emotion. It's a film about people who are angry about circumstances they cannot change and who, without any productive outlet for that emotion, have nothing but the violence and pain they're capable of inflicting so that the outside world is as chaotic as they feel inside. If you're familiar with McDonagh's previous features In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, you'll be prepared for the violence of Three Billboards and for the fact that the film often finds a comedic beat or two in the midst of that violence, but what sets this film slightly apart from those previous two is how deeply felt it is on an emotional level. It's angry and then that anger begins to fade into despair and it just leaves you feeling wrecked in the best possible way.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: Lady Bird (2017)

* * * *

Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan

Lady Bird is the movie that most coming of age movies wish they were. It's funny and sharp and sweet, its characters are so well-realized that you want to both hug them and smack them, and its performances are so great that it's hard to pick which one is best, though Saoirse Ronan might get the edge by virtue of being the film's star and the focus of nearly every scene. As an actress, Greta Gerwig has long-since established herself as a darling of indie film, and as a writer she has established herself as a keen comedic observer of Millennial anxiety. Now she begins to make the case for herself as a director to be reckoned with, one capable of making the absolutely ordinary into something exceptionally compelling. Lady Bird is easily one of the best movies of the year and one of the best films of its type.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Ida (2014)

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Agata Kluesza, Agata Trzbuchowska
Country: Poland/Denmark/France/United Kingdom

Ida is the story of a young woman preparing to become a nun with production elements as austere as the life its protagonist is considering entering into. It’s filmed in stark black and white, free of a musical score for most of its running time, and the story has been pared down to its most basic elements, played out primarily between just two women over a brisk 80 minute running time. But as reserved as it may seem, it’s a thematically rich and deeply moving film about two women who bond as they grapple with the tragedy in their family’s past. It’s a haunting film about trauma and the savagery that human beings are capable of inflicting on each other, but it’s also a sometimes surprisingly funny movie about two opposites trying to find common ground and work together towards a shared goal. It’s a marvelous piece of work that has the timeless quality and endless re-watchability of the greatest of films.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: Mudbound (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: Dee Rees
Starring: Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan

Societies are built on bodies. This fact isn't exclusive to the United States, though it may sometimes feel that way because the legacy of those bodies continues to echo so resoundingly through its contemporary social and political climate. Dee Rees' historical epic Mudbound opens by acknowledging this through two of its characters digging a hole and turning up a set of chains followed by the remains of a slave, and then builds by demonstrating how the condition of slavery is perpetuated in spirit if not in name as it explores the relationship between two families, one black and one white, in the years just prior to and just after World War II. It's a great achievement, a period film that does not just have the look of something important, but actually is important, speaking not only to the past but also to the present. It's a vital, brutal, and engrossing movie.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

* * *

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad

Murder on the Orient Express is a delightfully old fashioned movie. This isn't just because it's based on a novel from 1934, but because it feels like a throwback to the era when studios would throw all their top flight contract players into an elegantly rendered, dialogue-heavy production, and because it is filmed in a very classic style and fashion. I've never seen the other adaptations of the novel, so I have no opinion on how this one stacks up against them, but I can say that I enjoyed this one immensely. It's an easy movie to enjoy - filled with stars, turning on a plot that's luridly engaging without being too complex, and it looks great - and it's a pleasure to watch a high profile movie that doesn't feel like it's aimed at appealing to men aged 14 to 25 first and everyone else well afterwards.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

* * *

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo

Thor: Ragnarok isn't the best movie I've seen all year, it's not even the best superhero movie I've seen all year, but I'd be hard pressed to name a movie that I had more fun watching this year. There are a lot of things about Ragnarok that can be described as "awesome," from the delicious camp of Cate Blanchett's performance to the scene stealing of director Taika Waititi's performance as soft spoken rock creature Korg to the film's use of "Immigrant Song" in the climax to the relaxed chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston that leads to some of the film's funniest moments to Tessa Thompson's hard drinking, hard fighting Valkyrie. But the best thing about it, from my perspective, is the simple fact that I don't think a movie like this could have been made even as little as five years ago, and certainly not with a budget of almost $200 million. It is weird and silly, like some marvelous fever dream guided by someone who's love of comic books, science fiction, and the '80s has converged into one sprawling and delightfully bizarre vision. So thank you to Guardians of the Galaxy and its surprise success in 2014 for paving the way for this anything goes superhero adventure.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: The Florida Project (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite

It's kind of funny, but my reaction to Sean Baker's The Florida Project is sort of the opposite to my reaction to his last film, 2015's Tangerine. That film I felt was overall a decent movie with a great ending; this one I felt was a nearly great movie with a bad ending. Both films are about disenfranchised people living on the fringes of society and both stories are told in a way that manages to be non-judgmental, even when the characters are doing objectively terrible/harmful things, with Baker's objective being to explore rather than criticize how people get by when they have next to nothing and exist in that societal space that is essentially invisible. They're both films that are strong in character moments, with The Florida Project being the more free-floating of the two - though its casual, slice of life approach to storytelling shouldn't be mistaken for plotlessness. It's a skillfully made movie, often visually arresting, and centers on a performance that is likely to be talked about a lot as we head into awards season.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

* * 1/2

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman

"It's a metaphor." Flesh for flesh. He's not saying it's right, necessarily, but it's the only way he can see to balance the books and make them both whole. Yorgos Lanthimos' latest film is built around a long standoff between a teenage boy driven by righteous certainty and a middle-aged man who thinks he can put off the inevitable, with three other lives caught in the middle. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is neither as bonkers as 2009's Dogtooth nor as darkly delightful as last year's The Lobster. In truth it's a little bit of a slog, relentless in its brutality and building little narrative momentum as it puts its characters through the paces of psychological torture. I wouldn't say that I hated it, and I certainly wouldn't say that it isn't a skilled piece of work, but by the time it was finished I was definitely ready for it to be over. If you're going to see it I recommend seeing it cold and knowing as little about the plot as possible, so consider this a spoiler warning.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

* * *

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling

At the risk of losing my movie nerd cred, I have to admit that I don't particularly care for the original Blade Runner. I can't remember which version it was that I saw (I know it wasn't the one with the voice-over, but that still leaves six other versions), but I remember find it overall... boring. That makes me both the worst and the best possible audience for the late-coming sequel Blade Runner 2049. The worst because it took a lot to get me to the theater to see it (the nearly 3 hour running time didn't help), the best because I didn't watch it while gnashing my teeth over the ways that it departs from/doesn't live up to the original. I liked it - mostly. There are some elements that I had issue with, but I never felt less than engaged with the movie and I think that it's a solid (and breathtakingly beautiful looking) science fiction drama.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Primer (2004)

Director: Shane Carruth
Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan
Country: United States

Shane Carruth’s time travel drama Primer is one of the least accessible movies I’ve ever watched, but it's also one of the most fascinating. In both content and production it's a DIY affair, with a plot that centers on two guys doing science in a garage, made on a shoestring budget (reportedly just $7,000) with Carruth doing just about everything himself (he's the writer/director/co-star, but he's also credited as producer, editor, production designer, and as part of the sound department and for the musical score). In an era when the market is flooded with content because anyone with an iPhone and a computer can make a movie and can probably sell it, too, thanks to the number of platforms in search of content to fill out their libraries, Primer is an example of a film that makes a case for this democratization of filmmaking by demonstrating that a lack of resources isn't the same as a lack of talent, imagination, or ability. Primer is a great movie. I’m still not sure I can entirely wrap my mind around the mechanics of the its science, but I’m in awe of Carruth’s ambition as well as the artistry necessary to make a story this dry and opaque so incredible engaging.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #10 - 1

#10: Blue Valentine (2010)

You always hurt the one you love. A story divided between love at its first blush and love on its last legs, Blue Valentine is a fascinating study of a relationship in which the very things that draw its lovers together will undermine their bond like a structural rot. On one side of the relationship is Ryan Gosling's Dean, a man given to impulsive and dramatic displays of emotion that play out as grand gestures of love when he's happy and violence and self-harm when he's not; on the other side is Cindy, a woman who is tired of not being listened to and mistakes Dean's attention for understanding. As time marches on, she becomes restless and feels like she's been held back by the life she's made with Dean, while he has turned to alcohol to drown out his feelings of inadequacy and his fear that he's destined to be a failure. A portrait of disappointment and frustration, Blue Valentine is nevertheless also surprisingly funny, drawing humor from even its darkest passages. This emotional balancing act is made possible both by the performances of its stars and by how deeply realized it is as a character study.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #20 - 11

#20: Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

This is a movie that should be hard to like because by all rights its protagonist should come across as annoying as hell. Instead this woman, a relentless force of positivity played marvelously by Sally Hawkins, is enormously endearing and the film itself rises to match her very high spirits. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, who excels in the kind of "slice of life" storytelling that drives this film, Happy-Go-Lucky pits this joyful, optimistic woman against a horribly miserable man (played by Eddie Marsan as someone whose desperation for some kind of affection and frustration that he can't seem to attain it turns him into a ticking time bomb of rage), testing the extent of her empathy and allowing Hawkins to explore the deeper, trickier depths of her character's personality. Happy-Go-Lucky is an extraordinary movie that flows from Leigh's greatest strengths as a filmmaker and showcases the incredible talent of Hawkins.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #30 - 21

#30: Under the Skin (2014)

This isn't just a disturbing movie, it's a movie that unsettles on such a deep and durable level that you might never be able to fully shake it. Literally, it's a story about aliens who have come to the planet to slaughter and harvest humans. Figuratively, it's about the experience of being a woman in a world that is so hostile to femininity that it seems to be on an endless mission to debase and destroy it. The figure at the center of the story is played by Scarlett Johansson, who shifts from predator in the film's first half, during which the body she's occupying registers as nothing more than a uniform, to prey in the second, after she begins to develop an awareness of the body she's occupying as that of a woman and what that signifies to the world around her. Under the Skin is a cold and detached film, it's brutal and not very accessible, but it's also graceful, hypnotic, and genius in its dramatization of how the world is experienced differently by men and women.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #40 - 31

#40: Animal Kingdom (2010)

Ben Michod's crime drama begins with startling scene that is effective precisely for how low-key it is and then slow burns its way from there, proceeding at a very deliberate pace where the momentum of the story matches the level of awareness of the character at the center of it. The opening stretch of the film matches his detachment and isolation, while the later parts shift to match his growing sense of agency and active participation in what's going on around him as he grows aware of exactly why his mother chose to raise him cut off from her family, which is full of criminals of varying levels of ruthlessness. The most ruthless is the seemingly sweet matriarch played by Jacki Weaver in the performance that earned her an Oscar nomination and launched her into Hollywood crossover success. In this carefully etched portrait of dysfunction and brutality where everyone is reduced to the animal principle of eat or be eaten, she holds court as the kingdom's Queen.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #50 - 41

#50: The Immigrant (2014)

James Gray makes beautiful films. The way that his films play with light and shadow, the way that he captures movement, the way that he frames his characters all work to create a visual tapestry that's as rich as the narratives he's unfolding. The Immigrant, in particular, is painterly in the way that it's photographed, like a moving Caravaggio that heightens the emotional intensity of everything that's going on in this story of a woman who comes to America to escape post-WWI Poland and becomes trapped by her lack of resources, making her the perfect target for exploitation. Built around masterful performances by Marion Cotillard as the woman seeking a better life and Joaquin Phoenix as the man who takes advantage of her lack of power, The Immigrant is an ambitious and commanding film about the hardship, desperation, and hope of that most American of stories: the immigrant story.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #60 - 51

#60: The Ghost Writer (2010)

There are two ghosts in The Ghost Writer. The first is never seen onscreen but is a presence that's felt throughout the story and who, in some ways, guides it (I don't believe that any film has ever used a GPS device more usefully or effectively). The second is the ghost writer hired to re-draft the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, taking over from the previous ghost writer who has died under mysterious circumstances. Arriving in Martha's Vineyard to begin work, the Ghost (Ewan McGregor) finds himself drawn not only into a mystery, but into an international conspiracy. A sharply written work of expert mood setting, in which a feeling of menace underscores virtually everything (particularly those things involving Olivia Williams, chilling in her performance as the Prime Minister's wife), The Ghost Writer is a creepy and enthralling thriller that boasts one of the single most perfect endings seen in film in the last ten years.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #70 - 61

#70: Wall-E (2008)

700 years in the future, Earth is a giant garbage dump, its horizon dotted by skyscrapers of trash, its population reduced to one waste disposal robot working to make the planet inhabitable once again, compacting trash into tiny cubes but also salvaging items of interest, treasured items that alleviate an otherwise lonely existence. One day a drone appears and our hero, Wall-E, is instantly smitten, so much so that he goes beyond the ends of the Earth for her. However this is not merely a movie about an adorable robot in love, but one which casts a critical eye on our treatment of the environment, our embrace of the artificial at the expense of the real (is it just ironic or is the film making a point when it makes Wall-E feel more human than the actual human characters?), and our increasingly disposable culture. Heartfelt and splendidly animated, Wall-E remains one of Pixar's best films.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #80 - 71

#80: Drive (2011)

He's a man of few words who's just there to get a job done. There's nothing new in the movies about that and yet Drive never feels derivative; it feels vital and alive and like it's doing something different, even when it's not. Starring Ryan Gosling as the Driver (no name needed), stuntman by day, getaway driver by night, and Carey Mulligan as the woman who briefly brings a patch of light into the darkness of his existence, Drive is as relentlessly violent as it is dreamily romantic, a seemingly dysfunctional combination that filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn finds a way to bring together in harmony. A film with style to burn - it's not just a dynamic looking film, but one that moves to its own particular beats - it's a work of restrained emotions that might feel artificial were it not for the way that Refn, Gosling, and Mulligan are able to suggest the wellspring of emotion hiding just beneath the surface. It's a work as beautiful as it is brutal.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #90 - 81

#90: Man on Wire (2008)

The story is almost too crazy to be true: In 1974 a man not only managed to sneak into the World Trade Center, but managed to string a wire between the towers and walk across - going back and forth for 45 minutes. Using a combination of news and home video footage, recreations, and talking head interviews, director James Marsh creates a documentary that plays like a heist movie: it's got a scheme that's impossible, means that are improbable, and a ringleader so charismatic that it's no wonder he managed to rope several other people into it. Man on Wire is a movie that's entertaining as hell to watch, but more than that it's a movie that really resonates. Approaching the subject in a deceptively lighthearted way, Marsh captures Philippe Petit's astonishing feat in all its majesty and wonder and when you see the footage of his walk, you feel not unlike the security guard who appears in news footage, awestruck at having witnessed something incredible.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Flick Chick 100: #100 - 91

#100: Trigger (2010)

Running just 83 minutes, Trigger is a very short work, but that doesn't make it sight. It's just a movie that gets the job done quickly. It centers on two women, each one-half of a band that broke up ten years earlier. They're brought back together by a benefit/tribute show that one has secretly put together and which the other isn't even sure she's actually going to attend because the music scene is so tied up in all of her experiences as an addict that she doubts she can set foot back into it without falling back down the rabbit hole. Unfolding as several long, dialogue heavy scenes in which the film maps the landscape of the duo's history, Trigger is basically just a story about two women who know each other so well that they don't even have to work at it to push each other's buttons and who remain tightly bonded even though they've spent a decade apart. A work that has a particular feeling of urgency for being co-star Tracy Wright's final film, Trigger is a brisk but engrossing movie.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Flick Chick Turns Ten

Ten years ago today I planted a flag in my little corner of the internet by publishing my first post on a blog I decided to call The Flick Chick. Since then I've written over 2,000 posts, seen a staggering number of movies, and written more words about movies than I can count. To commemorate the occasion I'm going to be counting down my picks for the 100 best movies released between October 21, 2007 and October 21, 2017.

Since release dates can be kind of nebulous due to the various kinds of wide and limited release schedules distributors use and the fact that movies get released in North America and elsewhere at different times, I'm narrowing consideration for my start date to movies that hit theaters in North America on or after October 21, 2007 (meaning foreign films that played in their countries of origin earlier but didn't play here until after that date are eligible) and my end date to movies that are playing in wide release today (meaning that anything that's only in limited release in North America as of this weekend isn't eligible).

The countdown starts Monday, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: Victoria & Abdul (2017)

* * *

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal

To be taken with several grains of salt, I'm sure. Stephen Frears' Victoria & Abdul is an enjoyable movie, even though it feels like the sort of movie you're not supposed to be able to enjoy anymore. I suppose that what saves it is that it seems to know that it's that kind of movie and takes steps, however imperfectly, to try to address head-on the elements that might be used to designate it as "problematic" generally and as an undiscerning colonialist fantasy specifically. As I said, take it all with a grain of salt, but as lightweight period pieces - where the emphasis is as much on the lavish costumes and production design as on the marquee performance - go, Victoria & Abdul is pleasantly entertaining.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

* * *

Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman

The last week and a half has been a pretty horrifying one in terms of the barrage of sexual harassment (and assault and rape) stories that have come out of Hollywood. It's been so depressing that on Friday I was very much looking forward to watching Noah Baumbach's new comedy, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), just for a bit of escapism and to have a few good laughs. I did, in fact, have several good laughs while watching it, but then mid-way through the movie one of the female characters tells a story about how when she was a teenager she went swimming and then afterwards was rinsing herself off in an outdoor shower only to turn around and discover one of her father's friends watching her while masturbating and it was like, "Is there no escape from these stories?" This isn't in any way to suggest that we shouldn't be paying attention to these stories and demanding better behavior from those who are privileged to wield power; it's just that it would have been nice to experience 2 solid hours without being confronted with a story about a dude luxuriating in garbage behavior towards a woman just because he feels that his penis entitles him to it. The Meyerwotiz Stories is a good movie, by the way, but God.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Mountain Between Us (2017)

* *

Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba

I'll answer the two most important questions first: Yes, the dog lives. As a matter of fact, I left the theater convinced that the dog is immortal because nothing takes him down, but try telling that to Kate Winslet's character, who sends Idris Elba's to look for the dog each time it runs off. Second, yes, they do it. How often does a movie put two people that attractive together and not have them get into bed? Now that you know that, you can probably skip it at the theater and catch it when it shows up on your preferred streaming service or when it ends up on TV. It's not a bad movie, but it's definitely the kind of movie that probably plays best when it's raining outside and you have nothing else to keep yourself entertained with.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

* * *

Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell

In the words of the film: "Times change. You should know. You just changed them." In the words of Hemingway: "Isn't it pretty to think so?" In 1973 Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played a match dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes" that was aired on television in prime time. It was a ratings success for ABC. I'm not sure how much of an effect it had on anything else, at least directly, but symbolism can be a powerful thing and sometimes what something means matters less than what it feels like it means. Battle of the Sexes, written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), presents an awfully rose-colored view of things, but that presentation is nevertheless awfully entertaining.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: David France

History is written by the victors, which means that it's written by those in power. Even when the history in question is the history of a marginalized group, it tends to be written from the perspective of those members who most closely align with the majority in power, which is why the history of the gay rights movement often seems like the history of gay white men. Just look at the controversy surrounding last year's Stonewall, which failed to gain the support of the wider LGBTQ community due to its displacement of trans women of color in favor of giving ownership of the story of a white, middle class young man. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is about two of those women that Stonewall displaced, one of whom gives the film its title, the other of whom emerges as the documentary's most fascinating figure. Although not quite as focused as director David France's previous film, the brilliant and wrenching How to Survive a Plague, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is an urgent and moving film about a segment of the population that is so often disregarded.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Director: Michael Moore
Country: United States

There are few people in the film industry more widely disliked by the general public than Michael Moore. Even people whose politics align with his own have a tendency to dislike him. He's smug, he's aggressive, and he loves to put himself center-stage in his work, making it particularly difficult to separate the art from the artist for those who like his films but not his personality since to a large extent his films are his personality. As a personality I find Moore hard to take at times (but I tend to have a very Canadian reaction to abrasiveness), but over the past several months I've come to find him weirdly refreshing. He's still smug, aggressive, and PT Barnum-esque in his approach, but at least you know where he stands and he never waters his opinions down in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible - and that's something that stands the test of time. Before seeing it again two weeks ago, I hadn't seen Bowling for Columbine since it's original release and I found that it remains thought-provoking, entertaining, and so sadly relevant.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: American Made (2017)

* * *

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise

The story told by American Made is the type for which the phrase "only in America" was invented, a tale of daring and ambition and corruption fueled by the enterprising nature of the "American Dream," a story about flying too close to the sun and then bursting into flames. I don't know how much of it is actually true, but it certainly seems like the kind of story where the truth is even crazier than what ends up on screen because there are limits to how much you can expect the audience to believe. Directed by Doug Liman, American Made a greatly entertaining movie that makes the most of Tom Cruise's movie star charms as well as the audience's fondness for protagonists that do the wrong things while winking conspiratorially and making it look like a damn lot of fun - at least until a cartel gets pissed off, then the fun stops pretty quick.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review: Band Aid (2017)

* * *

Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Starring: Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally

The hardest thing about living with someone is living with someone. Everyone is kind of annoying if you spend enough time with them, and certain household issues are built to be fought over. Bathrooms, laundry, dishes - these are wars that will always be won by the person most willing to go nuclear, because the person who cares the most that the bathroom isn't clean or that the laundry or dishes haven't been done is always going to be the one to break and do it themselves. The problems at the heart of the relationship in Band Aid ultimately run deeper than the sink full of dirty dishes but... it's not not about the dishes, either. A romantic comedy about the "ever after" part of the story, Band Aid is a sharp and funny portrait of a marriage.