What I Watched This Week: 13 Jan 2019

True Detective
“The Great War and Modern Memory” (B+) / season premiere
“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (B+)
The show will never be as transporting as that first season was, when there wasn’t much on TV like it. Still, Mahershala Ali is tremendous, and the case is already more compelling and more focused than it was in its first season, with less pontificating about the nature of existence.

This Is Us – “The Last Seven Weeks” (B+)
A pretty amazing feat for a show to course-correct within its own episode. But I could feel the Big Three acting like assholes, only for them to realize what they weren’t talking to their partners about and figuring it out in time for a mostly happy ending for everyone.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Hitchcock & Scully” (A-)
The show’s most reliable background source of laughter gets a surprisingly rich and strange backstory. While I’m still not crazy about the overcrowded office/feud with the chief storyline, the show is as warm and in its groove as ever.

The Good Place – “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife” (B+)
Would have been a solid finale, but I’m excited to see how everything goes awry in next week’s aptly titled “Pandemonium.”

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Things I Wrote: Fall 2018

As per usual, I am terrible at updating and linking to the pieces I write. See those below:

All About Nina (Fresh Fiction)
Bohemian Rhapsody (College Movie Review)
First Man (Central Track)
Galveston (Fresh Fiction)
Halloween (Central Track)
The Hate U Give (Central Track)
Liyana (College Movie Review)
Love, Gilda (Fresh Fiction)
Overlord (College Movie Review)
A Private War (College Movie Review)
A Simple Favor (College Movie Review)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (College Movie Review)
Unlovable (Fresh Fiction)
Vice (College Movie Review)
Welcome to Marwen (College Movie Review)

LISTS (for Central Track)
Best of 2018

ARTICLES (for Central Track)
Coming Attractions – September 2018
Coming Attractions – October 2018
Coming Attractions – November 2018
Coming Attractions – December 2018

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Final Oscar Picks 2019

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book
Black Klansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born

Dark Horse: Crazy Rich Asians
Long Shot: First Man
Total Shock: If Beale Street Could Talk

The skinny: This season has been wild, and not necessarily in a fun way. A Star Is Born seemed to have this all locked up. Then Green Book came along to win the People’s Choice Award at Toronto (a strong precursor for a nominee, if not a winner), endured some backlash, then won numerous prizes (including Best Picture – Comedy at both the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards), then had two really gross things from its director’s and writer’s past resurface. So if it’s not quite your front runner anymore, it’s still a contender because it’s the old guard’s favorite movie. Roma is certainly formidable, but had almost all its oxygen sucked up by Bird Box of all things. Still, a foreign language film has never won Best Picture, despite being nominated three times in the last 21 years. I don’t see anything expanding this beyond this field of eight. Crazy Rich Asians could pick up a courtesy nod. (It’s already gotten ensemble notices from SAG and PGA.) But that would likely be its only nomination, which doesn’t bode well. Early on, I thought we’d have another showdown between Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle, but that appears to be a pipe dream, despite both of them making exceptional films. It’s a toss-up as to whether either breaks through, though First Man has had a stronger campaign, and will be one of the most nominated films of the year, even without a Best Picture.

Alfonso Cuarón on the set of Roma
Spike Lee, Black Klansman
Peter Farrelly, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Adam McKay, Vice

Dark Horse: Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Long Shot: Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Total Shock: Marielle Heller, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The skinny: Even as a fan of Kingpin, I would be shocked and appalled if one half of the Farrelly Brothers got nominated for this. He already has a DGA nom, and their slate never matches up perfectly with the Oscars. So if anyone takes him down, it would be Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek freak finally getting his due for his most accessible film. But don’t count out Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski either. He picked up a BAFTA nod even though Cold War wasn’t up for Best Picture. It would have been nice if they could have nominated another woman this year, but it’s not happening. Marielle Heller is the only one who has a shot, but Can You Ever Forgive Me? seems to have fallen back to its initial three nods.

Christian Bale in Vice
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Dark Horse: John David Washington, Black Klansman
Long Shot: Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Total Shock: Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here or The Sisters Brothers or Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

The skinny: There’s plenty of great work this year, but this crop of nominees actually seems a little boring. A lot of people are already predicting Hawke misses here, but who would replace him, honestly? I like John David Washington, and he’s got a good body of work this year to go along with his star turn in Black Klansman (which I refuse to write as styled on the poster), but it doesn’t feel like his year yet. Willem Dafoe was just nominated last year, but even fewer people saw his Vincent Van Gogh biopic than did The Florida Project. And Joaquin Phoenix was excellent in three different films this year, but he’s not playing the “game,” so he won’t be honored.

Glenn Close in The Wife
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Dark Horse: Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns
Long Shot: Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Total Shock: Toni Collette, Hereditary

The skinny: As the Critics’ Choice Awards showed us with their tie, it really is down to Glenn Close and Lady Gaga. And while I have yet to see The Wife, an award for Glenn Close is long overdue. I’m, ahem, gaga for the rest of these women, but Close is a living legend, who’s been nominated six times before with nothing to show for it. Emily Blunt could take Aparicio’s spot, but I’m pretty confident Mary Poppins Returns will be relegated to technical categories. If there was any additional room, honoring newcomer Elsie Fisher would be great. But that only could have happened if A24 had upped their game, but they failed her and Toni Collette, who gave arguably her best performance ever in the terrifying Hereditary.

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What I Watched This Week: 6 Jan 2019

76th Golden Globe Awards (C)
The very definition of a mixed bag. The show itself went on too long, but did have time for some great speeches (Christian Bale, Glenn Close) and some bad ones (Peter Farrelly). But mostly it’s marked by the baffling decision to name Green Book the best comedy of the year and Bohemian Rhapsody the best drama of the year. Seriously, what the hell?

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Honeymoon” (A) / season premiere
It’s been a very long seven months without our colleagues at the Nine-Nine. While the antics at the precinct were pretty pat, every scene at the tropical resort had me in stitches. It’s so good to have this crew back. Still, I’m not sure if we need to have a big season-long conflict either.

The Good Place – “The Book of Dougs” (A-)
Blowing everything up once more, our Soul Squad learns that part of the problem with the Good Place is they’re too nice, leading to a never-ending bureaucracy that doesn’t allow for swift action. But its big reveal of the reason behind the challenge of anyone getting into the Good Place is just brilliant, relevant writing. Luckily, we already know there will be more time to figure out our complicated world with a previously announced fourth season.

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2018 in Review: Box Office Report

SURE-FIRE HITS – The Kings of the Box Office
Black Panther ($700 million)
Avengers: Infinity War ($678.8 million)
Incredibles 2 ($608.5 million)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($416.7 million)

SURPRISE SUCCESSES – They got there through word-of-mouth or succeeded where others failed
A Quiet Place ($188 million)
*Crazy Rich Asians ($174 million)
Book Club ($68.5 million)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? ($22.6 million)

CONSOLATION PRIZES – Didn’t do so hot here, but made up for it overseas
Ready Player One ($137 million) – made $445.2 million outside North America
Skyscraper ($67.7 million) – made $236.3 million outside North America
Tomb Raider ($57.4 million) – made $216.4 million outside North America
Detective Chinatown 2 ($1.9 million) – made $542 million outside North America

DISAPPOINTMENTS – Movies that should have done better
Solo: A Star Wars Story ($213.7 million) – all three previous entries were the biggest movies of their respective years; in fact, no previous Star Wars movie had ever finished worse than No. 3 for the year. This barely finished in the top 10.
*Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($156.7 million) – previous film made $234 million
Pacific Rim: Uprising ($59.5 million) – previous film made $101.8 million
Paddington 2 ($40.4 million) – previous film made $76.2 million

FLOPPIEST FLOPS – These cost a lot and didn’t come close to returning their investment
*The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($54.5 million) – cost $120 million
The Predator ($51 million) – cost $88 million
*Mortal Engines ($14.8 million) – cost $100 million
*The Girl in the Spider’s Web ($14.8 million) – cost $43 million

LOW BUDGET VICTORIES – Low-cost, high-yield successes
*Halloween ($159.3 million) – cost $10 million
I Can Only Imagine ($83.4 million) – cost $7 million
Breaking In ($46.5 million) – cost $6 million
Truth or Dare ($41.2 million) – cost $3.5 million

SADDEST STATISTIC – Death Wish made more than Annihilation.

(all grosses through Dec. 31, 2018)
*still in release

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2018 in Review: The Best Performances – Film

Last year had few all-time great performances. This year, there’s an abundance. The choices in the drama categories are especially staggering. 2018 also featured my favorite comedy performance of recent times, an absolutely perfect deadpan turn from Jesse Plemons in Game Night, which is such an embarrassment of riches, I had to mention it twice. Many of these characters are desperate – for money, for justice, for acceptance – which is part of why they’re so compelling.

Ensemble in a Drama

The cast of Widows
Steve McQueen’s all-female heist didn’t get near the attention of Ocean’s 8, but its crew is both more believable and more interesting than the Instagram-ready thieves in the fashion-obsessed reboot. Still, it’s not surprising to see why the latter was more successful. The women of Widows are prickly, desperate and aren’t exactly #friendshipgoals. But, aside from Viola Davis, they’re all (Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo and Michelle Rodriguez) doing the best work of their careers thus far. The men are no less impressive, with Colin Farrell and Brian Tyree Henry’s alderman candidates mirroring each other, trying to keep their volatile family members (Robert Duvall and Daniel Kaluuya) in check. Widows has been unjustly ignored, but its incredible cast will keep people coming back for years.

Actor in a Drama

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
The former Gen X heartthrob has become a model actor: acting in questionable genre fare in order to finance truly independent work in front of and behind the camera. But he’s at the top of his game here as a priest sleepwalking through life until environmental catastrophe snaps him awake. He’s right in his motivations and wrong in his actions, hoping to act as God’s vengeful hand. But so rarely has a crisis of faith felt so palpable.

Actress in a Drama

Rosamund Pike in A Private War
Rosamund Pike, A Private War
Rosamund Pike’s performance as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl remains a high-water mark for acting this decade. So the fact that I’m even questioning if she’s even better here speaks to how good this turn is. In her turn as Marie Colvin, a dedicated-but-damaged war reporter killed in Syria, Pike plays her without an ounce of pity. The movie is a major bummer, but both women are worth celebrating.

Supporting Actor in a Drama

Steven Yeun in Burning
Steven Yeun, Burning
The trickiest role of the year, the former Walking Dead star plays an insufferable yuppie who maybe – just maybe – is also a serial killer. He has to be charming enough for us to believe Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) would fall for him, disturbing enough for us to believe Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) suspects him, and mysterious enough for us to not have any clear answers at the end. He pulls it off so well, he makes a yawn unsettling.

Supporting Actress in a Drama

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
The beating heart of Barry Jenkins’ achingly sad adaptation, King proves again why she’s one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses. Depending on the situation, she can be a peacekeeper, a viper, a nurse and a negotiator. There are no lengths she won’t go to for the sake of her daughter, while still being her own person. All this puts her in the pantheon of movie moms.

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2018 in Review: The Best and Worst Movies

Another incredible year for film, even if there’s a lot more “very good” and less “great” than years past. If there was an overarching theme in 2018’s movies, it was the struggle to hold onto one’s identity. Your surroundings might change, your circumstances might change, even your DNA and the very fabric of reality might change. Trying to retain what makes you you? That’s easier said than done.

Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs in Blindspotting
10. Blindspotting (dir. Carlos López Estrada)
Of the many excellent films about race relations in the U.S. (and particularly among African-American civilians and white police officers), Blindspotting still remains the best and most startlingly original of the bunch. Longtime best friends and co-stars Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs have written a harsh love letter to their rapidly gentrifying hometown of Oakland, while also unleashing a primal scream of pent-up rage at the senseless deaths of so many. But perhaps even more impressively, this movie tackles heavy topics while also being wildly funny. For first-time writers (and first-time director Carlos López Estrada) to pull off such a tricky mesh of tones proves they’ve got long careers ahead of them.

Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther
The Spider-People of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
9. Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler) | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)
If we must be subject to superhero movies every other weekend, may they all be as colorful and thematically resonant as these two films.

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
8. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)
Paul Schrader is back from wandering in the wilderness and he’s pissed. Ethan Hawke gives a career-best performance as a priest going through the motions at a church that gets more visitors for history lessons than sermons. But a visit with a suicidal parishioner jolts him awake, reigniting his passion, hungry for justice against the children of God who have destroyed the home He made for us. But like Schrader’s protagonist in Taxi Driver, his methods are horribly wrong. And like Taxi Driver, the film’s ambiguous ending is in the eye of the beholder.

Henry Cavill, Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Fallout
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
At a time when it seems like all we get at the theater is spectacle, at least there are still some actors and directors who put a lot of thought into the spectacle. Too many big-ticket movies feel like product or content, so thank God for Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie, making the sixth entry in this franchise feel fresh, or at least operating at such a high level that the clichés don’t show. This is breathtaking action filmmaking, something Americans haven’t been so hot at in the last decade.

The cast of Annihilation
6. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
Sadly, if you’re outside North America, this was probably relegated to the endless scroll of your Netflix feed. Alex Garland’s mesmerizing adaptation of Jeff VanDerMeer’s sci-fi novel certainly isn’t for everyone (possibly including fans of the novel), but if you’re on its wavelength, you’ll be enthralled and horrified, often at the same time. Part of its terror is literal – especially during the second bear attack, the most unsettling scene of the year – but most of it is existential. If you survive the unexplainable, are you still the same person?

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2018 in Review: The Best Songs

Sometimes, making my best albums list can feel like a chore. There’s so much music out there, and narrowing it down to my 10 favorites sometimes feels pointless. But I often feel like my best songs list is better representative of my taste. There’s a lot more stuff to dance to, for one, and it usually just comes down to one criterion: Did I enjoy listening to this? So while there are definitely plenty of songs that represent America in 2018 (“This Is America” to name but one), there are just as many songs that don’t really mean anything. Enjoy.

The 1975 – “Love It If We Made It”
Antarctigo Vespucci – “Freakin’ U Out”
James Bay – “Pink Lemonade”
Leon Bridges – “Forgive You”
Chance the Rapper – “Work Out”
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Christine and the Queens – “Comme Si”
Chromeo (feat. The-Dream) – “Bedroom Calling, Pt. 2”
CHVRCHES – “Get Out”
The Coup (feat. LaKeith Stanfield) – “OYAHYTT”
Lucy Dacus – “Pillar of Truth”
Keegan DeWitt and Kiersey Clemons – “Hearts Beat Loud”
Disclosure – “Love Can Be So Hard”
DJ Koze – “Pick Up”
Drake – “Nice for What”
Duke Dumont (feat. Ebenezer) – “Inhale”
Empress Of – “When I’m with Him”
Fall Out Boy – “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)”
Father John Misty – “Please Don’t Die”
Gallant – “Doesn’t Matter”
Greta Van Fleet – “When the Curtain Falls”
Kimbra – “Right Direction”
The Knocks – “Shades”
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – “Shallow”
Kendrick Lamar (feat. SZA) – “All the Stars”
Let’s Eat Grandma – “Falling into Me”
Little Dragon – “Best Friends”
Ella Mai – “Boo’d Up”
Manchester Orchestra – “No Hard Feelings”
Bruno Mars (feat. Cardi B) – “Finesse (Remix)”
Andy Mineo (feat. Lecrae) – “Coming in Hot”
Mitski – “Two Slow Dancers”
Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”
harunemuri – “kick in the world”
Anderson .Paak – “Bubblin’”
Robyn – “Missing U”
Amy Shark – “Adore”
Troye Sivan – “My My My!”
Snail Mail – “Pristine”
Sons of Kemet – “My Queen Is Harriet Tubman”
St. Vincent – “Fast Slow Disco”
The Struts – “In Love with a Camera”
Titus Andronicus – “Above the Bodega (Local Business)”
Twin Shadow (feat. HAIM) – “Saturdays”
The Weeknd (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – “Pray for Me”
Kanye West (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR) – “Ghost Town”
“Weird Al” Yankovic – “The Hamilton Polka”
Thom Yorke – “Suspirium”
Yuno – “No Going Back”

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2018 in Review: The Best Albums

Everything I’ve previously said about not overdoing it with new albums has yet to hold true. With so much at my fingertips, I’m voraciously consuming as much music as I can, yet it’s hard for a lot to stick out. It’s entirely feasible my top 10 would look different with another month to catch up on new stuff and re-listen to some favorites. So with that caveat (and a note that anything below No. 4, including my Honorable Mentions, could easily be switched around in the remaining spots), here are my top 10 albums of 2018.

The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
10. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
When the 1975 first appeared in 2013, I thought “Chocolate” was a fun song. When they followed that up with one of the most eye-rolling album titles of all time, I was already exhausted. So I was leery when critics were calling it one of the most insightful albums of the year, even comparing it (bafflingly) to OK Computer. But they were (mostly) right. This album absolutely nails the paradoxical mix of connection and alienation of the social media age, while turning those feelings into some of the catchiest songs of the year. Yes, “The Man Who Married a Robot” is an absolute embarrassment. But whom amongst us hasn’t shared something with the world they wish they could take back?

9. Lucy Dacus – Historian
For the last few years, there’s been a tremendous takeover in indie rock of both girl groups and solo female artists. Frankly, they’ve been kicking the dudes’ asses. An album that’s all about fear and uncertainty – while not despairing – was fitting for a year that saw a lot of personal and international tumult. “Forgive my descendants/For they know not who You are/And they know not what to do,” she sang on “Pillar of Truth.” Couldn’t have summed up 2018 better myself.

Justin Hurwitz - First Man
8. Justin Hurwitz – First Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
First Man
was a big step up for director Damien Chazelle. Taking an equally impressive leap was his go-to composer Justin Hurwitz. (I say this as someone who put both the movie and the soundtrack to La La Land in his Top 10 two years ago.) Hurwitz’s Space Age score for an often difficult movie always fit perfectly, whether it was the chaos of a capsule spinning out of control, the sheer magnificence of standing on the moon or the unbearable weight of losing so many people you care about.

Beach House - 7
7. Beach House – 7
Without realizing it, Beach House became one of the most consistent bands of this decade. As critic Steven Hyden has noted, it’s hard to write about a group that regularly churns out good to great albums. Their fifth studio album of the 2010s is yet another collection of ’80s-influenced goth-pop jams. They wear their influences on their black sleeves, nowhere more obvious than “Pay No Mind.”

Leon Bridges - Good Thing
6. Leon Bridges – Good Thing
I did the same thing in 2015. “That kid is super talented,” I thought to myself. Then after a few more listens, I realized it was more than that. This Fort Worth native is one of the best singers alive. Bridges could have made another solid throwback to the soul records he grew up on, but Good Thing expands its horizons, dipping into jazz, country and dance. This album is not just a good thing, but a great thing.

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2018 in Review: The Best Performances – Television

While some performers could have held their titles from last year, I’m opting not to do any repeats. Better to spread the love.

Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman in Ozark
Jason Bateman, Ozark
The king of snark isn’t really showing a new gear in Netflix’s addictive drama. All he’s doing is applying his particular set of skills to it. Part of what keeps the show from feeling too similar to Breaking Bad (and other prestige dramas) is that Bateman’s Marty Byrde never drops his sarcastic veneer, even when mobsters and rednecks are threatening the lives of the people he cares about.

Actress in a Drama Series

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
While most awards-giving bodies have opted only to honor Sandra Oh, I simply can’t leave off Jodie Comer here. Both are equally great in vastly different roles. The show wouldn’t work if they both weren’t doing their own things exceedingly well. Comer is the most vibrant villain in years. We don’t have to see her agonize over her bad deeds; she revels in them. Oh finally gets a character whose flaws seem real and not picked off a dartboard. Together, they’re the best pair on TV.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Noah Emmerich in The Americans

Noah Emmerich, The Americans
In the parlance of our times, Stan is a cuck. No, his wife isn’t cheating on him. But for five seasons, he’s been duped by his best friend and neighbor. He’s spent most of his career trying to root out a couple of Soviet spies and they were living across the street the entire time. When he realizes that late into The Americans’ final season, the betrayal feels palpable. No wonder his confrontation of the Jennings’ in the finale is year’s best moment.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale
In the first season, Serena had a tendency to be a one-note bitch, an icy foil for Offred and nothing more. In its often stellar second season, the show not only offered empathy for Serena, but exposed her role in the foundation of Gilead. While this revealed how much she bought into the group’s lies, it also showed how the monster she helped create came back to bite her. People who enable oppression never think it will be used against them. But used against her it was, as her one small act of rebellion had devastating consequences.

Ensemble in a Drama Series

The cast of This Is Us
This Is Us
This is not a show that will ever make the leap to truly great television. It is not a show that will be among the best of the decade. But I will continue to watch it because its ensemble is so strong and so real, they make even the most preposterous turns of events feel believable.

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