This comedy written by Mindy Kaling was bought by Amazon at Sundance for a hefty $10 million price tag and is now coming out June 7th. It looks very reminiscent of a movie like The Devil Wears Prada, but this trailer is short on the laughs it wants. Actually, there’s something off about the whole premise to me. I don’t recognize it. I guess the joke is that Emma Thompson’s talk show host is too old, white and out of touch, so hiring a non-white writer brings in diversity and culture clash, etc., But in the real world there has NEVER been a female late night talk show host on the major networks, so just seeing Emma Thompson as this supposed David Letterman-esque figure feels utterly unfamiliar to me. I’m guessing this is supposed to be topical, but if the whole idea of the film is already taking place in a bit of a fantasy world, who are they supposed to be satirizing?
I originally thought this comedic take on Shazam might be interesting, if they did a Big-esque story, but this new trailer just makes it look kinda stupid. DC movies are a crapshoot as it is, so I no longer have any curiosity about it. Maybe the movie is better than the trailer, but expectations are always at rock bottom for WB’s superhero movies. Plus I think they should have just done the full Big thing and had him be a teen in an adult body- I don’t get why he’s a separate entity from the kid.
I thought the first trailer for this made it look like it could be amusing, but this new one is mostly a bunch of CGI mess. Ick. The Guillermo del Toro ones were good because they weren’t just your typical action heavy comic book movies- they were sort of quirky and eccentric and had real character to them. This one doesn’t look like that so much. Too bad.
After being delayed a whole year for reshoots and now having filmed almost two years ago, Dark Phoenix is finally scheduled to come out in June, but this does not look very good to me. I don’t think making Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey the main character and villain is a smart move at all (was anyone invested in her after X-Men: Apocalypse?), and it’s now kind of absurd that having yet another ten year time jump makes it 30 years that are supposed to have passed between this movie and 2011’s First Class. I’m sorry, 30 years? They haven’t even tried making them look older. Professor X and Magneto are literally supposed to be about 60 years old here. I don’t have a good feeling about this one.
Ugh! Well, I’m not gonna lie. This was a really big disappointment for me, given how mediocre I thought this movie was. But the preferential ballot strikes again and the PGA continues to be the most important guild of the big three because of it. I also had a bad feeling after Green Book won screenplay and then Congressman John Lewis was brought out to introduce the clip from the movie, which was the last Best Picture nominee announced. I see what you did there, AMPAS. As for the show itself, it moved pretty smoothly without a host, actually. It was relatively speedy (for the Oscars), at 3 hours and 15 minutes, no unnecessary montages or annoying host bits needed to waste time. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” was my favorite moment of the night, followed closely by Olivia Colman’s huge surprise win for Best Actress and her adorably frazzled speech (poor Glenn! I doubt she’ll get another shot now).
2019 OSCAR WINNERS
BEST PICTURE: Green Book
BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
BEST ACTRESS: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
BEST ACTOR: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: BlacKkKlansman
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Green Book
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roma
BEST EDITING: Bohemian Rhapsody
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Black Panther
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Shallow,” A Star is Born
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Black Panther
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Black Panther
BEST SOUND MIXING: Bohemian Rhapsody
BEST SOUND EDITING: Bohemian Rhapsody
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING: Vice
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: First Man
BEST DOCUMENTARY: Free Solo
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM: Roma
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Period. End of Sentence.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT: Skin
BEST ANIMATED SHORT: Bao
I went 18/24 in my predictions, not such a great year for me. My risk in supporting actress did not pay off, as the votes for The Favourite went into the Best Actress category instead, which I did not see coming. It was a year with a lot of diversity in the winners- women, the first Arab-American in Best Actor, a record number of African-American winners all across the board, with firsts in production design, costume design and animated feature, and Spike Lee finally got his long overdue Oscar. That was a great moment as well, but of course the year that he finally wins is the year that Green Book, or Driving Miss Daisy redux (and even that’s a better movie, by the way!) has to take Best Picture. I say get rid of the preferential ballot and go back to five nominees, but maybe keep the no host thing going. The show moved quickly and didn’t drag- and that’s a plus.
Here it is! Finally, my top ten favorite films of last year. You should watch every one.
3. BLACK PANTHER
4. THE DEATH OF STALIN
5. FIRST MAN
6. A STAR IS BORN
8. MINDING THE GAP
9. ISLE OF DOGS
10. FIRST REFORMED
5 HONORABLE MENTIONS: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE; THE SISTERS BROTHERS; IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK; PRIVATE LIFE; BURNING
In a nice alternative to Oscar night tomorrow, the Indie Spirits took place this afternoon, as usual in its tent on the beach, this time with Aubrey Plaza hosting. They went with the opposite of Oscar, showering Beale Street with love, as well as Eighth Grade, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Can You Ever Forgive Me? Ethan Hawke and Glenn Close won the lead acting awards, while Regina King and Richard E. Grant got the supporting trophies.
2019 INDIE SPIRIT WINNERS
BEST FEATURE: If Beale Street Could Talk
BEST DIRECTOR: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
BEST FEMALE LEAD: Glenn Close, The Wife
BEST MALE LEAD: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
BEST SUPPORTING MALE: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
BEST SCREENPLAY: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM: Roma
BEST FIRST FEATURE: Sorry to Bother You
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY: Eighth Grade
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Suspiria
BEST EDITING: You Were Never Really Here
BEST DOCUMENTARY: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Stanley Donen died today at the age of 94. One of Old Hollywood’s most prominent directors, associated in particular with the golden age of movie musicals, but who also made films in every genre (dramas, comedies, thrillers), was responsible for a litany of classics, including On the Town (1949), Royal Wedding (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954), It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), Funny Face (1957), The Pajama Game (1957), Charade (1963), Two for the Road (1967), and Bedazzled (1967). His longtime collaboration with frequent co-director Gene Kelly (right) produced some of the great movies ever made, like Singin’ in the Rain, but he was also the choreographer for films like Cover Girl (1944) and Anchors Aweigh (1945) before becoming a director. He started out his career in the chorus line on Broadway in the 1940’s (where he met Kelly), before moving to Hollywood to become a choreographer, then filmmaker. He won a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1998, but amazingly, was never nominated for a competitive one in his career. The movies are better today because of his contribution to them.
Trailer for Singin’ in the Rain:
Trailer for Funny Face (one of his favorite actresses was Audrey Hepburn, who starred in three different genres of films for him- this, Charade and Two For the Road):
Donen’s Honorary Oscar acceptance speech:
On this Oscar weekend, the Razzie winners were announced, with Holmes & Watson taking Worst Picture and Director, while Donald Trump collects a couple Razzies for being himself in two documentaries. Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy probably won’t win on Sunday, but she’ll have a Razzie for Worst Actress to take home with her at least (pretty sure this happened to Sandra Bullock the year she was up for The Blind Side too- her Razzie winner was All About Steve. Remember that one?)
2019 RAZZIE WINNERS
Worst Picture: Holmes & Watson
Worst Actress: Melissa McCarthy, The Happytime Murders & Life of the Party
Worst Actor: Donald Trump, Death of a Nation & Fahrenheit 11/9
Worst Supporting Actor: John C. Reilly, Holmes & Watson
Worst Supporting Actress: Kellyanne Conway, Fahrenheit 11/9
Worst Screen Combo: Donald Trump and his self-perpetuating pettiness, Death of a Nation & Fahrenheit 11/9
Worst Remake, Ripoff or Sequel: Holmes & Watson
Worst Director: Etan Cohen, Holmes & Watson
Worst Screenplay: Fifty Shades Freed
Here we go- the big ones. Read on for my picks.
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay, Vice
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Alfonso Cuaron has swept the entire season, so he should pretty easily pick up his second directing Oscar in five years. You could make a case for Spike Lee though- his first ever directing nomination in a thirty year career could make people want to vote for him (he’d also be the first black director to win this- that’s something that still hasn’t happened, believe it or not). I do think though that Roma is seen as an undeniable cinematic achievement that must be rewarded, especially for its directing, so this is Cuaron’s. He also won the DGA, which is pretty much always the winner in Best Director.
Winner: Alfonso Cuaron
Alternate: Spike Lee
A Star is Born
Okay, so here we go. Best Picture. Everyone thinks it should be Green Book vs. Roma. The PGA winner (which has matched Oscar the most ever since they started using the same kind of ranked ballot voting system, something that is only done for Best Picture and no other category) versus the DGA and BAFTA winner. It all comes down to two things- the preferential ballot and whether the Academy’s new membership (a third of its members have been added in the last five years and they’re mostly younger, international and much more ethnically diverse, since the Academy was made up of 90% older white men for most of its existence until recently) makes enough of a difference for the result to differ from the PGA winner. I’m honestly not sure. The movie that tends to benefit from the preferential ballot is one that’s not divisive, one that can garner a lot of #2 and #3 votes. Green Book seems to fit that profile- well liked, accessible, middlebrow, unchallenging. That’s obviously how it won the PGA. Roma being black and white, foreign-language (it would make history, since no Foreign Film has ever won Best Picture), and a Netflix movie could mean it’s more divisive- it could get a lot of #1 votes but also rank last on a lot of ballots.
As for a case for any of the other nominees- it’s certainly possible, especially this year. The crazy thing about this year is that every single major guild- the DGA, PGA, SAG, ACE and WGA, went to completely different movies, which is an unprecedented occurrence. DGA= Roma, PGA= Green Book, SAG= Black Panther, ACE= Bohemian Rhapsody, and WGA= Eighth Grade and Can You Ever Forgive Me? And once we’re talking about a new Academy membership that doesn’t match the demos of any of the guilds anymore, we’re really in uncharted territory. Theoretically, anything could happen on this ballot. I can see a case being made for BlacKkKlansman, which has all the requisite stats going into the night, with nods for picture, director, screenplay, acting, and editing. It was nominated for DGA, SAG and BAFTA, so even the Brits like it. It could be a consensus choice, placing high on a lot of ballots, with lots of #2 and #3 votes across the board. But… it hasn’t won a single guild award going into Oscar night.
The other option is Black Panther- that was the SAG winner, so it’s got the actors behind it, and that’s normally huge, especially in split years. The actors branch is the largest branch in the Academy. The only issue there is that it does not come into the night with support in the other most important categories like directing, acting or writing. And it didn’t get a DGA nomination or many nominations at all at BAFTA. As for any other movie, I suppose there could still be a chance that A Star is Born will place high on multiple ballots, but the movie seems to have faded so much over the season, failing to win anything besides some awards for its music. And The Favourite was strong with the British Academy, but was also not nominated at DGA or SAG for ensemble, while Vice feels like an also ran, and Bohemian Rhapsody was lucky to be nominated at all, given the bad reviews and the scandal surrounding its disgraced director Bryan Singer (although passion for that movie is pretty high, I admit). But my instinct is telling me that Roma is going to make history and take the top award.
Alternate: Green Book (I’m actually shaky on this placement, but the PGA winner can never be considered a dark horse)
Dark Horse: Black Panther (It’s still the SAG winner, and the new membership could help it rise on the ballot over even Green Book- we’ll see what happens)
Yay, I’m done! Well, sort of. I’ve now officially seen as many movies as I needed to to make my top ten of 2018, which will be coming on Saturday. At the end of March I’ll be posting one more official batch of movie reviews from last year, but none of them made my top ten, so it’s just to finish things off (I’m a completist). Thank you for reading!
BORDER * * * (Dir. Ali Abbasi)
If you’ve ever wondered how the mythology of trolls would manifest itself in the grounded, real world that we live in, this dark fantasy is your chance to find out. A very unsettling, strange yet intriguing journey of self-discovery is at its heart, as Tina, a woman who appears to have some kind of facial deformity or physical condition, works as a security guard on the Swedish border. She’s good at her job because she can literally smell if someone has something hidden- not just drugs or illegal goods but the shame, guilt and rage that swells inside a person. She puts her unusual and very handy skills to use in helping the police track down pedophiles, but one day she meets someone coming into the country whom she’s instantly drawn to. His name is Vore, and he’s just like her, a man who seems to have the same condition, who also likes to eat insects and can intrinsically communicate with wild animals. Tina has felt alone all her life, but no longer. Vore teaches her what she really is and how she really fits into this world- and even though it’s nothing she’d imagined, somehow she’s always known. This movie glides at a slow enough pace so that you can wonder what it’s all about and where it’s going, maintaining a mysterious, slightly surreal atmosphere that reaches its peak in one of the wildest sex scenes you’ve ever seen on film. It’s not a frightening movie though- it is in fact, sympathetic as you grow to identify with Tina, who is a highly original female character, a heroine you can even imagine in other settings. I can picture it now- the troll who helps cops find crooks could be a great pilot in this age where any idea can be adapted into a series.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS * * 1/2 (Dir. Josie Rourke)
As costume dramas go, you could do worse than Mary, Queen of Scots. It has a very somber, grave tone, yet doesn’t dwell too much on politics and takes the history seriously. It also benefits from a spirited performance from Saoirse Ronan as the fiery, 18-year-old queen who had it in her to challenge her cousin Elizabeth to the throne of England and never regretted it, even as she went to her death. But it also feels a bit flat and drab, unfortunately draped with a dark, rusty color palette that may be intended to evoke the dreariness of 16th century Scotland but feels more like we’re trapped in a series of rooms filtered through a dirty window. Despite strong performances and an entertaining battle of wills, this isn’t a film that really sticks with you after it’s over- there are not enough memorable scenes or gripping moments in Mary’s life as depicted (one exception may be the brutal execution of her male chamber attendant, but even that scene goes on a bit too long, as if director Josie Rourke knew this was the most lively scene in the movie and wanted to milk the gore). Margot Robbie is mostly fine as Elizabeth, but let’s talk about the makeup for a second. For some reason, every scene piles on an increasingly distracting makeup job (smallpox, then the smallpox scars, then the powdered face/wig, terrible haircut, etc.) that holds her back from disappearing into the role like those who came before her (Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett in particular). Instead, you keep wondering if this was their way of de-beautifying Robbie as much as possible. In the end, the message of the film is that these two fierce queens could have had it all if the hapless men around them hadn’t gotten in their way so much and derailed their plans for greatness. Isn’t that always the way of it.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE * * * 1/2 (Dir. Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman)
For anyone who’s wanted an American animated film to actually look, feel and sound different from the consistent Disney/Pixar corporate model of family fun, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse comes as an exuberant, joyful surprise. In fact, it’s the first good Spider-Man movie Sony has released since Spider-Man 2 in 2004. From a story and screenplay by Phil Lord, of Lego Movie fame, this movie is a vibrant visual experience that looks like nothing else you’ve seen in the world of animation for a long time. The screen is painted by a comic book inspired aesthetic filled with colors that pop and a schematic that sees characters move around and interact in different rhythms. Side-swipes and air bubbles pop up to denote inner thoughts and the pace, while quick, is not so Lego Movie frantic as that franchise, leaving room for an emotional story with fully realized characters. The lead is teenager Miles Morales, who lives in a world where Spider-Man has been at his job for long while. When the hero dies suddenly, and Miles himself is bitten by a radioactive spider, he must figure out how to take over the mantle, but he has a lot of help, thanks to an inter-dimensional breach that brings alternate universe Spider-Men (and women) into his world to help him save the day and face the challenges of his own origin story. Such a creative and innovative vision that this movie presents is paired with an original idea that finally puts a real spin on the standard superhero origin and makes a joke out of it. There are a myriad of obscure comic book references but not an overload of Lord and Miller humor, thanks to sharp direction (from three directors) and a commitment to Miles as a real kid with feelings and a desire to do his best by his new powers and his family (we know the credo by now). My favorite alt-Spider-Man is an over the hill Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), who steals the show as a laconic mentor type, but he’s almost shown up by Nicolas Cage as “Spider-Noir,” in a hilarious sight gag that makes the most of Cage’s famous eccentric energy. American animators are rarely allowed by the studios to take the kinds of chances this movie does, both visually and storywise, but it all pays off beautifully in the pure dynamic pop art creation that resulted from the risks.
EVERYBODY KNOWS * * 1/2 (Dir. Asghar Farhadi)
Asghar Farhadi can weave a web of human drama like nobody’s business. The characters and the family situations he sets up in his films and then strips down to their core always make for a fascinating, intriguing mix of mystery, revelation and the questioning of human nature. Everybody Knows is his first Spanish-language film, starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem as just two of the people caught up in a criminal incident that occurs at a family wedding in a small town in Spain. The event in question leads to a pretty straightforward whodunit involving a large ensemble cast and various potential suspects in a family where long buried resentments and issues rise to the surface in the wake of crisis. The actors bring their A-game (as they usually do for Farhadi), but this time, the resulting conclusion is a bit underwhelming compared to his recent films. Cruz and Bardem are compelling as always, but a crucial reveal towards the end of the movie is fairly predictable, and the tidy result of this mystery leaves you wondering, was that it? Farhadi usually has deeper themes lying in wait under the surface of his family dramas that keep them from being lurid or overly melodramatic, but those deeper issues seem absent from this one, which leads me to think that in the absence of a larger meaning, the mystery itself needed to be more melodramatic in order to carry more weight as a thriller. The story is interesting as you watch it, but you’re left waiting for a dramatic punch that never quite comes.
So after the incredible success of Bohemian Rhapsody, are we in for a wave of musical biopics about 70’s rock stars? The next one up is Rocketman, which looks like it’s pretty much following the Bohemian formula (it’s also from director Dexter Fletcher, the guy who finished up the movie after Bryan Singer was fired). But apparently this one will have big fantasy musical numbers in it, and I do appreciate that Taron Egerton does his own singing (he sounds good!). It’s coming out May 31st.