The Favourite is 18th century royalty as only director Yorgos Lanthimos could present it, and by surrounding himself with incredible women from the page to the screen, they have all crafted a scathingly hilarious comedy of personal and political backstabbing. The story follows one powerful woman – Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) – and two others vying for her affection, gaining and losing power based on their own machinations and the whims of the bratty monarch. Traditional female stereotypes of backstabbing, gossiping, and whining are turned around as conscious weapons these women wield to manipulate each other while lesser, dolled-up men play the role of pitiful tools: used and discarded or kept in waiting until necessary. Overflowing with intelligence, emotion, beauty, and ruthlessness, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) juggle power through increasingly hilarious and cruel means. Occasionally cold – in service of the story – but still overflowing with intelligence, beauty, and ruthlessness, The Favourite will keep you laughing hysterically from beginning to end.
Before it even started, Roma was unlike any film I had ever seen. There was the usual festival hype and awards talks, but it was in Spanish, black & white, and had no familiar faces in front of the camera. Mostly though, there was a very familiar red and white logo up on the screen. Netflix deserves a lot of credit for being the place that gave Alfonso Cuaron the opportunity to make exactly the film he wanted to, sharing a deeply personal journey with the world. I’m disappointed that most people will not have the chance to see this film in a theater, but it's a very small price to pay to ensure this film exists at all, and it wouldn’t without a company like Netflix. When you watch it at home, stay off your phone, turn off the lights, and just soak it in. If you do, you will find one of the most rewarding emotional journeys put to film in a very long time.
Throughout Roma we follow Cleo, the nanny/housekeeper to a family of four children, as well as their mother, grandmother and mostly absent father, in Mexico in the early 1970’s. While the pacing is certainly slower than the average film of this scale, it always keeps you engaged, even if the stakes initially feel minor. We observe how important each of these relationships is, which ones might be taken for granted, and how quickly they can go from familial to seemingly tenuous. There are multiple moments of beautiful bonding, like when Cleo plays dead with the youngest child after his older brother abandons their game or when she does small exercises with the family’s cook Adela in their tiny room. A few brief mentions of Cleo's mother make it clear she has left her a rural home for a far different life in the city, but she appreciates what her life has become. Yet from the moment the film starts there is an underlying sense that this routine is at risk and everyone is walking on eggshells despite the clear affection for each other.
I am not a comic aficionado, so I am coming at this from a purely movie nerd standpoint, engrossed in all-things cinema from news to reviews, including a love for recent superhero movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe fascinates me on many levels, and one of the key things I love is that they consistently surprise people, managing to blow through what fans on the internet expect. When the MCU started, the bar was so incredibly low that just being good was enough, regardless of strict loyalty to existing material. The general consensus seems to be that they take a lot of liberties with characters and evolving stories, but the fanboy community has grown to trust them – and with that trust comes an acceptance of change. With Venom, I believe a lack of trust caused a unique take on the character to be altered to fit what fans expected, causing the tonal mash-up currently in theaters.
After the best picture presentation debacle (but great outcome) last year, it’s inevitable that the Academy Award show will be less exciting than 2017. But for those of us who pay too much attention to this stuff, it’s already one of the most interesting and competitive film awards years ever, and the finale should continue that trend. I’m a big fan of a lot of the key contenders as well, which always makes it more fun. So no matter what wins – even as, like I say every year, it doesn’t really matter outside of a conduit for conversation and promotion – I’ll be happy with the list.
While many of the “big” awards seem set-in-stone, the best picture race is unlike anything I have ever seen, with 3-4 legitimate contenders to win it. Plus, there’s a lot of deserving winners in most categories that seem like locks. For anyone taking bets (literally or figuratively) the below-the-line categories will provide a lot of tension to keep you entertained.
Perhaps more than ever, politics will cast a shadow over the whole show. With the #MeToo movement, gun control, and a vast array of other issues top of mind, expect a political lens on everything, for better or worse.
As always, I am trying to predict, but when there's a toss-up I go with the one I want to win, which usully hurts my accuracy. So without further ado, my kind-of, maybe somewhat accurate, but almost certainly wrong Oscar predictions for 2018!
Annihilation does not make it easy for the viewer. It is purposefully confounding and unclear, allowing individuals to interpret what they will from its presentation of ideas. The film follows a group of scientists/doctors who go into a growing area known as The Shimmer, which is an unexplained, slowly expanding, ecological dome that sprouted on the Florida coast. While the characters are unaware, the film starts with a meteorite striking a lighthouse at the center of this area, presumably the extraterrestrial seed from which the Shimmer grew. Prior to the current expedition, the government has sent in groups of soldiers for 2 years, only one of whom has returned, in very poor condition. Given this failure and the risk of continued growth, they are now sending in a research group, hoping a new approach will prove successful.
As the group moves forward in The Shimmer, they encounter biological amalgamations (horrific, dangerous, beautiful) and conclude that it’s essentially a prism: reorganizing and reinterpreting DNA to create something new. The film can be viewed in this way as well, bringing together inspirations from horror, sci-fi, fantasy and more: a sure-handed interpretation of Aronofsky, Carpenter, Soderbergh, Fincher, and Cameron, with some moments of Del Toro’s beautifully grotesque creatures. But it manages to take all of these somewhat disparate pieces to create something new and fascinating - focusing on how the characters react to these horrors and why they’re there in the first place. Writer/Director Alex Garland has cemented his place as one of the great sci-fi auteurs with this follow-up to his debut feature Ex Machina.
Another week, another awards show. The Screen Actors Guild Awards are poised to be a little more entertaining than usual this year, as Kristen Bell becomes the first host of the ceremony, and there will be exclusively female presenters. It probably can't be as political as the Golden Globes, but it seems poised to continue to shine a light on the need for progress while the film industry congratulates itself.
The SAG awards are always a little different than other awards since there are around 100,000 members from all over the country, leading to much more populist choices, and generally favoring films that were released a little earlier (notice that The Post was not nominated for anything despite the presence of Meryl Streep & Tom Hanks, plus an ensemble filled to the brim with stellar character actors). There's also a huge television contingent, so familiar faces who have gotten a big break can have a leg up. Hopefully it’s an exciting evening, but it’s more likely to solidify a few frontrunners right before Oscar nominations are announced on Tuesday morning. This is also a great chance for some new television winners on the comedy side.
2017 was a very weird year for a variety of reasons, both macro & micro. But a variety of circumstances let me spend more time in a movie theater than I ever have before. While it’s human nature to see current events and personal matters reflected in the art we consume, it seemed more difficult than ever to separate my own experiences, and what was happening in the world around us. This list is always a very personal interpretation, and I can’t stress enough that when doing this, I do not look for the best, just simply my favorites. In some cases they may align, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to share my opinion and some great viewing experiences with others.
Having said all that, I did notice that a certain crop of films so clearly rose above the rest, that it was pretty easy to choose what made the list. With a few exceptions the order is more arbitrary than ever, as once you get into that top tier, the quality is stellar across the board. Now please enjoy my overly long and hopefully entertaining list of favorite films released in 2017.
Tonight marks the real beginning of 2018’s ‘awards season’ with the Golden Globes. While I’ve always been interested in which films or tv shows will win, starting the year with a basically anonymous group of less than 100 foreign journalists - who have proven to have some different perspectives on quality in the past - is a nice reminder that ultimately none of that matters.
However, this year may be a reminder that while winning is superficial, the actual shows themselves can become a powerful platform. Last year, it was all about Meryl Streep’s fiery speech against Trump, but ultimately she had the platform without a unique point of view due to personal experience. In 2018, Trump will almost certainly have a place at Hollywood awards shows, but the big story will be different, as the industry has become a focal point for the sexual harassment/assault reckoning, and so far has provided a good example of how to start purging an industry of the problem. The sad reality is that many actresses (and, it seems, almost every woman), has been personally affected by this, and now have a platform to push other industries to make change, and other victims to feel supported. I don’t want the ceremony to get uselessly political, but if it offers a chance to talk about meaningful change, I’m happy to lose some of the usual drunken jokes.
With all that said, I am not in any position to speak further about that issue, so I’ll defer to the victims. The good news is that even though the awards are superficial, the nominees this year offer plenty of chances to reward stories about anyone other than straight, white men. In fact, the actress races as a whole are far more difficult to predict due to a wealth of stories about strong women. So, without further ado, some totally subjective, and likely incorrect predictions for the winners!
By their nature, all films are voyeuristic, but the really good ones pull us into the world as we feel a desire to know as much as possible and become a part of the story. “Call Me By Your Name” brings this voyeurism to life in Elio (Timothee Chalamet), as he initially judges & observes his family’s American guest Oliver (Armie Hammer). As the film moves along it delicately evolves this relationship while Elio realizes his true feelings, and the fact that he wants to be a part of Oliver’s story. At its core this is a pretty standard love story, and aside from the performances, it takes a while to elevate it beyond that. However, the final act really brings it all together not because of a wonderful plot turn, but as the characters take time to reflect.
The film is set in northern Italy during the summer of 1983, as Elio’s family vacations at their home there. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an academic/researcher who mentors a student each year during the break. This year that student is Oliver, and Elio is critical of him before the guy even arrives. As an incredibly intelligent 17 year old and talented musician, you can just imagine Elio’s expectations for this summer, like coming back to camp and showing off to all the women from last year (at the very least, it’s clear he plans to lose his virginity). In those circumstances, who wouldn’t be jealous of the American who comes in and immediately gets the attention of all those women, especially when that man is a rare intellectual equal.
“The Last Jedi” is the best-made film in the entire Star Wars saga by a significant margin, and as of right now it's also my favorite. Whether it will be your favorite entry is a different question, but I believe wholeheartedly that the direction, acting, and risky storytelling decisions (that mostly pay off) are the best they have ever been.
“The Force Awakens” was exactly the type of story episode VII needed to be - returning us to a world we love, introducing compelling new characters, and starting a new chapter, while also treading in familiar territory. JJ Abrams was the perfect guy to come in and do that, as he was able to echo what had come before, while updating it with a modern vision. Rian Johnson was the perfect guy to come in for Episode VIII to prove this world can still subvert expectations and evolve in surprising ways. He takes a lot of chances with the script, nailing about 92% of it (a very calculated number, I promise). While there are a few things I did not love, I appreciated the fact that this film does not rest on its laurels and play it safe as “The Force Awakens” did. It is also the most interestingly directed of the bunch, which isn’t that surprising considering Johnson’s existing work compared to that of previous franchise directors.