Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

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.