What I Watched This Week: 4 Mar 2018

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “Roast Battle” (A-) / season finale
I knew exactly where it was going from the jump, yet it was still devastating when it got there. I hope Jamie Lee returns in Season 3, because she was incredible. But this is and always has been Pete’s journey, and while he came out of his shell a little bit, he’s still got a lot of growing up to do. This was also the funniest episode of the season, with a ton of great jokes during the actual battles, especially Pete’s clean jabs (“I’ll go first. Unlike the women here, I’m OK with you following me.”)

This Is Us – “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life” (A)
I was already rolling my eyes when I saw the title of this episode. But that all melted away when I saw this brilliantly executed, devastating hour that revealed how Deja ended up sleeping in a car with her mom. It’s a heart-wrenching episode that gives a lot more depth to her mother and shows just how easy it can be to slip into homelessness even when you’re trying to do the right thing.

A.P. Bio – “Dating Toledoans” (B+)
Another winning, heart-warming episode that shows Jack is finally warming up to the people around him, however lame they might be.

Atlanta – “Sportin’ Waves” (B+)
Every scene in the show can is fraught with both the Robbin’ Season of this season’s subtitle, but also the casual and explicit racism the characters face on a regular basis, whether in a meeting with a white marketing executive trying to be hip, to the interview Tracy attends. We know that Tracy is a fraudulent thief who would probably be a terrible employee, but his super-white boss doesn’t. That doesn’t also mean this episode isn’t also hilarious.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 25 Feb 2018

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “NACA” (A)
In just 30 minutes, it pulls off the extreme difficulty of making really bad jokes be really funny, as well as staging just an incredible fight between Pete and Ali about not just their relationship, but about whether degrading your art for success is worth it. And it all ends with a series of Matthew McConaughey impressions.

This Is Us – “Vegas, Baby” (C)
A bit of much-needed levity, but many of the fights its characters have during what’s supposed to be a fun getaway rang hollow for me.

Waco – “Day 51” (A) / series finale
The tragic ending we all knew was coming. Dozens of people were murdered by the government. While the show didn’t as deeply explore its themes of the terrifying militarization of law enforcement, it still made its point. The performances were strong, even when the writing and direction wasn’t as stellar.

A.P. Bio – “Overachieving Virgins” (B+)
A mini-Election tribute is the basis of this solid episode that manages to be extremely funny, while being a little less adult in nature than the previous episodes. The pyramid scheme subplot is relatable, but could have been grafted onto any episode.

Atlanta – “Alligator Man” (A) / season premiere
What a joy it is to have this show back, and not just because I spotted two locations in my neighborhood – the Mrs. Winners and the Checkers – where Hiro Murai filmed. The show can still be anything it wants, as a side trip to the house of Earn’s uncle (played wonderfully by Katt Williams) turns into a standoff with police, complete with Schrödinger’s alligator.

CURRENT SHOWS
Waco – “Stalling for Time” (A-)
The best episode since the premiere, as the standoff drags on for weeks. It also ends with the most wonderfully ridiculous moment of the year.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Dream Oscar Ballot 2018

For the first time ever, I’d seen every nominee in all eight major categories by the time of awards ceremony. But as per usual, I was way behind on documentaries, foreign language films and animated features (not to mention shorts), so below, find my picks for everything else.

BEST PICTURE
The Big Sick
Call Me by Your Name
Dunkirk
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
mother!
Mudbound
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water

BEST DIRECTOR
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Darren Aronofsky, mother!
Dee Rees, Mudbound
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Robert Pattinson, Good Time

BEST ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
Jennifer Lawrence, mother!
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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
Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Carla Juri, Blade Runner 2049
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Film, Oscars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oscar Guide 2018

Guys, I just don’t know. With a real lack of consensus around this year’s crop of nominees, there’s no one film you can point to and say: “That’s the one to beat.” So what’s going to happen Sunday night? Sure, The Shape of Water could sweep most of its categories (although I’m writing off Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress) in an historic night. Or it could mirror the BAFTAs exactly and it will be a big night for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which would require keeping sharp objects and Molotov cocktails away from Film Twitter). But while I’m not confident in many of these picks, I am fairly certain with this many great nominees, voters will spread the love, and we’ll have another year where the Best Picture winner isn’t the movie with the most overall awards at the end of the night. Read on, and on Monday you’ll know if I’m a moron or a visionary.

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
BEST PICTURE
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will win: Lady Bird
Could win: The Shape of Water
Should win: Dunkirk
Should have been here: The Big Sick

The skinny: Had Three Billboards scored a nomination for Best Director, this would clearly be a race between that film and The Shape of Water. And maybe it is. But those are two extremely polarizing movies that even its fans (I count myself among them) admit have some flaws. The latest rumors have the battle coming down to Dunkirk vs. Get Out. (We should be so lucky.) But with the preferential ballot – which requires re-voting until one film gets more than 50 percent of the vote – I think the most likely winner is the one with the best reviews: Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Now, I know the Producers Guild of America also uses a preferential ballot, and gave its award to The Shape of Water. But they also have more than triple the membership. So since the expansion of the category, Best Picture has tended to go to a movie everyone likes, but maybe doesn’t love. And while there is definitely a contingent of voters who think Lady Bird is the best movie of the year, I think there’s an even larger group of people who are charmed by it. They might not have it as No. 1, but they probably have it in their top 5. It’s a movie seemingly everyone can relate to and has positive feelings for. Is that enough to win? Maybe not. But with no real road map this year, your guess is as good as mine.

Guillermo del Toro of The Shape of Water
BEST DIRECTOR
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Will win: Guillermo del Toro
Could and should win: Christopher Nolan
Should have been here: Dee Rees, Mudbound

The skinny: While this is an impressive slate of directors, with no duds like Morten Tyldum or head-scratchers like Mel Gibson gumming up the works, this one seems less of a competition. Guillermo del Toro has one nearly all the precursory directing awards. This is his first nomination, but his films are all admired, and this feels like the culmination of his fascination with monsters, outsiders and period settings. It may not be as big a night as its 13 nominations suggest, but this feels like the closest thing to a lock outside the acting categories.

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour
BEST ACTOR
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Will win: Gary Oldman
Could win: Timothée Chalamet
Should win: Daniel Kaluuya
Should have been here: Robert Pattinson, Good Time

The skinny: I know people are going to bring up Gary Oldman’s violent past as reasons not to honor him, but Academy voters are simply not going to care (at least not enough to give it to someone else). His performance as Winston Churchill is the best thing about the film, and it’s the type of hammy performance of a real-life person that the Academy honors on auto-pilot. There’s far more interesting work being done here, but I think most voters will say it’s too soon for the 22-year-old Chalamet and the 28-year-old Kaluuya, and they’ve already honored Daniel Day-Lewis three times. Denzel Washington could have won last year, but he is absolutely not going to get a second Best Actor trophy for a movie as idiosyncratic and underseen as Roman J. Israel, Esq. So it’s Oldman all the way.

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
BEST ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

Will and should win: Frances McDormand
Could win: Sally Hawkins
Should have been here: Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread

The skinny: Whatever your thoughts on Three Billboards and its controversial script, no one seems to deny the great acting by the trio of nominated performers. This is McDormand’s movie through and through and she is absolutely phenomenal. And while the other ladies are quite good, I’m still a little dumbfounded that Vicky Krieps isn’t nominated for Phantom Thread. The Luxembourgian unknown went toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis and won. That would be the most interesting race, but alas the only person who could beat McDormand is Hawkins. She’s been nominated once before and is also the lead in a Best Picture nominee. She’s also playing a strong, independent woman, living boldly with her disability, which can’t be discounted. McDormand won for Fargo (one of the best and most-deserved wins of all time), but that was 21 years ago, so I doubt it will play a factor.

Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will win: Sam Rockwell
Could and should win: Willem Dafoe
Should have been here: Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name

The skinny: Sam Rockwell has been one of the most beloved character actors for nearly two decades, popping up in everything from Galaxy Quest to The Green Mile, Iron Man 2 to Frost/Nixon. And while the character he plays is reprehensible, I imagine many people will just pretend he’s won for one of any number of stellar supporting turns he’s given over the years. But I could say the same for Willem Dafoe, playing a good guy for one of the only times in his career. As the caretaker of the Magic Castle (and the film’s only nominee), he is both watchful guardian and rule enforcer, protecting his guests but also laying down the law. He’s something of a revelation to watch, given his great villainous turns in Wild at Heart, Shadow of the Vampire and Spider-Man. But all these performances pale in comparison to the turn Michael Stuhlbarg – appearing in three Best Picture nominees – gives in Call Me by Your Name. As Elio’s wise father, he has the year’s best monologue. But nature has a cunning way of finding our weakest spot.

Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Will and should win: Laurie Metcalf
Could win: Allison Janney
Should have been here: Holly Hunter, The Big Sick

The skinny: This category is the Year of Moms. Unfortunately, they forgot my favorite mom: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick. So it comes down to two performances: one nuanced and lovely, the other caustic and a little schticky. I love both Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney, but when it comes to acting, the former is miles ahead of the latter. So I think (and pray) the Academy is not so easily amused with cutting remarks, bad parenting and a parakeet on the shoulder. More than just completing her Triple Crown of Acting, Metcalf deserves this because her performance is by far the most lived-in of any in this category. All the challenges she’s faced, all the sacrifices she’s made, all the love she feels is right there in every scene.

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Film, Oscars, Previews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oscar Re-Do: 1997

Now that I’m far enough away from the years when I was growing up (*gulp*), I figured this would be a good year to stretch back from the years before 2000, when I started my annual re-do column. 1997 was the first year’s Oscars I remember watching part of, and while I didn’t know most of the nominees at the time, I’ve definitely become acquainted with most of them in recent years. So starting this year, and continuing for the next two years, you’ll get a little bonus to go along with my annual column. Winners in bold, then we’ll break it down.

My favorite film of 1997 is definitely Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. While it was nominated in only one category, it deserved attention in just about every single one. So to avoid repeating myself, I’ll simply reserve my outrage for the two categories where its omission is most baffling.

Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in L.A. Confidential
BEST PICTURE
As Good as It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential
Titanic

Should have won: L.A. Confidential
Not even nominated: Boogie Nights

While I was initially wowed by Titanic (and, let’s be honest, Kate Winslet) when I first saw it as a 10-year-old, I’d grown way too dismissive of it in recent years. And while I still wouldn’t call it a favorite, it’s much more accomplished than I give it credit for. But compared to L.A. Confidential? Please. Morally complex, loaded with twists and often bitingly funny, this was the rare time the Academy should have honored a movie about its own town.

In fact, they should have had room for one more. Though it received three well-deserved nominations, Boogie Nights should have gotten well beyond that, starting with Best Picture. Though P.T. Anderson was viewed as something of a disruptor, a young hotshot with final cut on his sprawling movies, he was as talented as his reputation suggested. More on this later.

Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio and James Cameron on the set of Titanic
BEST DIRECTOR
Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty
Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting
Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential
Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter
James Cameron, Titanic

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: David Fincher, The Game

While I prefer L.A. Confidential, I can’t deny the achievement of Titanic. One of the most expensive movies ever made, James Cameron handled the technical craft with aplomb, but also made a disaster movie and a romance that set the world on fire. A win for Hanson would have been a footnote: a John G. Avildsen or Tom Hooper. A who? He deserved better than that, but the rest of his resumé doesn’t scream “Academy Award-winner.” Cameron, however, had been building to this, even if he hasn’t done much since (well, except for making the biggest movie of all time).

So swap out the head-scratching inclusion of Peter Cattaneo for David Fincher’s intentionally head-scratching The Game, which drops you into a crazy world and keeps you guessing until the final frame.

Robert Duvall in The Apostle
BEST ACTOR
Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting
Robert Duvall, The Apostle
Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold
Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog
Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets

Should have won: Robert Duvall
Not even nominated: Nicolas Cage, Face/Off and Con Air

While Nicholson is quite good in As Good as It Gets, giving a morally repugnant character a joie de vivre and delivering zingers left and right, Robert Duvall is giving a far more interesting performance as the Apostle E.F., a charismatic (in both senses of the word) preacher who rebuilds his life in a small Louisiana town while on the run from Texas police. The film as a whole doesn’t quite work, but it’s a true labor of love, one that rests entirely on Duvall’s shoulders.

And while you’re probably chuckling to yourself or looking up memes, Nicolas Cage was just beginning his insanely over-the-top phase, with his two best action movie performances to date. His John Travolta impression isn’t as good as Travolta’s Cage impression, but he’s delightfully unhinged in Face/Off‘s first half. In Con Air, he’s one of the few noble men on a plane full of convicts, who just wants his bunny back.

Greg Kinnear and Helen Hunt in As Good as It Gets
BEST ACTRESS
Helena Bonham Carter, The Wings of the Dove
Julie Christie, Afterglow
Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown
Helen Hunt, As Good as It Gets
Kate Winslet, Titanic

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Pam Grier, Jackie Brown

While she’s not thought of as highly as she should be today, 1998 was the peak of Helen Hunt’s massive charm. She was wonderful on Mad About You, winning three consecutive Emmys. And she’s frustrated but still alive and beautiful and fighting for everything she’s got in As Good as It Gets. It’s obviously a lighter movie compared to some of the other nominees, but she’s ultimately what makes it work so well.

But come on. The best female performance of the year wasn’t even nominated. Pam Grier had worked her way through the blaxploitation scene of the ’70s and popped up in random comedies and action flicks after that. But Quentin Tarantino adapted Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch completely around her, playing the sad, barely-scraping-by version of the slick drug runners and divas of her heyday. She is absolutely astonishing, from first scene to last, and her omission is the biggest crime related to a movie all about crime. Sadly, that great role only resulted in parts in two Showtime series, one of which is all but lost to time.

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Film, Oscars, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Streaming Picks: March 2018

FILMS
Top Pick
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Amazon and Hulu 3/1
One of the funniest comedies of the ’80s, with Steve Martin as a low-level American con artist learning the ropes from British sophisticate Michael Caine. But they meet their match when they both fall for the same woman (the late Glenne Headly).

Recent Selections
The Square – Hulu 3/1 (Academy Award nominee)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Amazon 3/1
Brad’s Status – Amazon 3/2
The Nut Job 2 – Amazon 3/3
Aftermath – Amazon and Hulu 3/8
Power Rangers – Amazon and Hulu 3/9
Wolf Warrior 2 – Hulu 3/12
Bitter Harvest – Hulu 3/13 and Amazon 3/31
Tommy’s Honour – Amazon and Hulu 3/14
Blade of the Immortal – Hulu 3/15
Crooked House – Amazon 3/17
Almost Friends – Hulu 3/18
Love and Saucers – Hulu 3/19
Let There Be Light – Amazon 3/26
The Little Hours – Amazon and Hulu 3/27
A Suitable Girl – Amazon 3/31
Closing Gambit – Hulu 3/31
The Departure – Amazon 3/31
EuroTrump – Hulu 3/31
Flames – Amazon 3/31
The Ghoul – Hulu 3/31
Habit – Hulu 3/31
Ice Mother – Amazon 3/31
Imperium – Amazon 3/31
Project Eden – Hulu 3/31
Thirst Street – Amazon 3/31

Originals
Les Affamés – Netflix 3/2
Ladies First – Netflix 3/8
The Outsider – Netflix 3/9
Septiembre: Un Llanto en Silencio – Netflix 3/10
Benji – Netflix 3/16
The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter – Netflix 3/18
In Search of Fellini – Netflix 3/19
Game Over, Man! – Netflix 3/23
Layla M. – Netflix 3/23
Roxanne Roxanne – Netflix 3/23
March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step – Hulu 3/23
First Match – Netflix 3/30
Happy Anniversary – Netflix 3/30
The Titan – Netflix 3/30

NEW SHOWS & SPECIALS
Top Pick
Wild Wild Country – Netflix 3/16
If you’re like me, you share a strange fascination with cults. This documentary series, produced by the Duplass Brothers, tells the story of a rural Oregon town’s showdown with a self-proclaimed Indian guru and his commune of followers. Color me intrigued.

Originals
21 Thunder (Season 1) – Netflix 3/1
The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (Season 1) – Amazon 3/1
B: The Beginning (Season 1) – Netflix 3/2
Flint Town (Season 1) – Netflix 3/2
Girls Incarcerated (Season 1) – Netflix 3/2
Voltron: Legendary Defender (Season 5) – Netflix 3/2
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes (Season 1) – Netflix 3/5
Borderliner (Season 1) – Netflix 3/6
Hard Sun (Season 1) – Hulu 3/7
Bad Guys: Vile City (Season 1) – Netflix 3/8
Jessica Jones (Season 2) – Netflix 3/8
A.I.C.O. Incarnation (Season 1) – Netflix 3/9
Collateral – Netflix 3/9
Love (Season 3) – Netflix 3/9
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman: Malala Yousafzai – Netflix 3/9
Nailed It (Season 1) – Netflix 3/9
The Remix (Season 1) – Amazon 3/9
Sneaky Pete (Season 2) – Amazon 3/9
Trolls: The Beat Goes On! (Season 2) – Netflix 3/9
Children of the Whales (Season 1) – Netflix 3/10
Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout – Netflix 3/14
Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Part 1) – Netflix 3/14
Power Rangers Ninja Steel (Season 1) – Netflix 3/15
Tabula Rasa (Season 1) – Netflix 3/15
Edha (Season 1) – Netflix 3/16
On My Block (Season 1) – Netflix 3/16
Spirit: Riding Free (Season 4) – Netflix 3/16
Alexa & Katie (Season 1) – Netflix 3/23
Dinotrux Supercharged (Season 2) – Netflix 3/23
The Mechanism (Season 1) – Netflix 3/23
Requiem (Season 1) – Netflix 3/23
Santa Clarita Diet (Season 2) – Netflix 3/23
SWORDGAI: The Animation (Part 1) – Netflix 3/23
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (Season 2, Part 1) – Netflix 3/30
Rapture (Season 1) – Netflix 3/30
Reboot: The Guardian Code (Season 1) – Netflix 3/30
A Series of Unfortunate Events (Season 2) – Netflix 3/30
Trailer Park Boys (Season 12) – Netflix 3/30
Trump: An American Dream (Season 1) – Netflix 3/30

OLD SHOWS
The Color of Magic – Amazon 3/1
Human Trafficking – Amazon 3/1
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Season 18) – Netflix 3/1
The Odyssey – Amazon 3/1
This Old House (Seasons 11-12) – Hulu 3/1
Veni Vidi Vici (Season 1) – Hulu 3/1
K.C. Undercover (Season 3) – Hulu 3/4
The Amazing World of Gumball (Season 5) – Hulu 3/5
The Tunnel (Season 2) – Amazon 3/9
Angie Tribeca (Season 3) – Hulu 3/10
Food Wars! (Season 2) – Hulu 3/13
The Bridge (Season 4) – Hulu 3/15
The Son (Season 1) – Hulu 3/15
The Durrels in Corfu (Season 2) – Amazon 3/26

COMEDY SPECIALS
Top Pick
The Standups (Season 2) – Netflix 3/20
The second season of Netflix’s half-hour stand-up showcase features great comedians like Aparna Nancherla and Joe List.

Other Specials
Adel Karam: Live from Beirut – Netflix 3/1
Malena Pichot: Estupidez Compleja – Netflix 3/2
Natalia Valdebenito: El Especial – Netflix 3/2
Gad Elmaleh: American Dream – Netflix 3/6
Ricky Gervais: Humanity – Netflix 3/13
Sofía Niño de Rivera: Selección Natural – Netflix 3/30

Posted in Film, Previews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oscar Re-Do: 2007

You know the drill: Winners in bold, then we break it down.

no_country_for_old_men-jones
BEST PICTURE
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Zodiac

The debate still rages whether No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood is the better film in what may be the best single year for cinema of the 21st Century. Both were based on difficult novels. Both were made by master filmmakers. Both contain one of cinema’s greatest performances. Both had Oscar-nominated cinematography. Both were shot in Marfa, Texas. Both slightly disappointed me on initial viewings but I eventually grew to see them as essential works. A decade removed, I’m still a little torn. But I think I have to give the slight edge to No Country. A meditation on evil hidden in a gripping crime thriller, this is the darkest effort the Coens ever produced, though still filled with a great bit of humor.

But left out of that “best of the best” debate was the actual best movie of 2007: David Fincher’s Zodiac. Like No Country, it’s also a meditation on evil hidden in a crime thriller that’s notable precisely for how little resolution it has. While it certainly projects the slayings onto its chief suspect, it doesn’t have a big showdown with Jake Gyllenhaal (in a performance I’ll defend) catching the killer. It’s essentially two movies in one: the first half is the police investigation, with Mark Ruffalo’s Dave Toschi doing his best to follow by the rules to catch a killer who’s following no rules. The second half follows Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist carrying up the mantle years after the trail went cold. While people talk about the final, chilling scenes of both There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, they’ve got nothing on the interrogation of Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch). Even at nearly three hours, Zodiac flies by.

Ethan and Joel Coen on the set of No Country for Old Men
BEST DIRECTOR
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd

While No Country isn’t even my favorite Coen Brothers movie (or even my favorite Coens drama), this award honors a great career for the best filmmaking duo of all time, and rectifies their (technically Joel’s) loss for Fargo. Both this and True Grit are their most accomplished films, and P.T. Anderson will win one someday. But the Coens, idiosyncratic as they are, might not even be nominated again.

And while he’s a punchline now, Sweeney Todd was the last time Tim Burton seemed to give a shit. It was a perfect marriage of director and material, and a nomination would have been a long time coming. Now, of course, he’s content to repeat himself and indulge his eccentricities with big budgets. But this was a step up to prestige that deserved some acclaim. Maybe if that had happened, we wouldn’t have gotten the likes of Alice in Wonderland.

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
BEST ACTOR
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: John C. Reilly, Walk Hard

This is a line-up for the ages, with many of the actors reaching the peak of their powers. But it was absolutely no contest. Daniel Plainview is one of the most fascinating, terrifying characters in modern cinema and Daniel Day-Lewis was never better.

While a theoretical sixth slot could have gone to either Denzel Washington or Russell Crowe (both fantastic in American Gangster), I wish John C. Reilly could have been honored for playing Dewey Cox in Walk Hard. I’m absolutely not kidding. That movie brilliant skewers the musical biopic that the Oscars had fawned over in recent years (particularly Ray and Walk the Line), and Reilly is truly brilliant, playing the gifted musician from age 14 into his 80s, singing soul covers (“You Got to Love Your Negro Man”) to protest songs (“Dear Mr. President”) to his career capper (“Beautiful Ride”). It’s an incredible comic performance, even when he slips into “a dark fucking period.”

Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent in Away from Her
BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Should have won: Julie Christie
Not even nominated: Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray

Is Marion Cotillard good or is she just French? That’s the jokey debate Film Twitter likes to engage in occasionally. For the record, she’s good, and she’s by far the best part of La Vie en Rose, which ticks off every biopic cliché imaginable. The far more challenging role was played by Julie Christie. While playing a person with disease can also lead to an actor overselling it, Away from Her doesn’t have time for any of that nonsense. It’s one of the most realistic and humane depictions of having a sick loved one that I’ve ever seen. She’s simply tremendous as Fiona, a vibrant woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

And while most people are still upset that Amy Adams wasn’t nominated for Enchanted, I figured I’d spotlight another actress in a musical who hasn’t received five nominations already. Nikki Blonsky is the plucky soul of the musical adaptation of John Waters’ Hairspray, which also deserved several below-the-line nominations. Sadly, she hasn’t been offered anything as profile or deserving of her talents since. Where are the great roles for our plus-size ladies, Hollywood?!

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Film, Oscars, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 18 Feb 2018

NEW SHOWS
The Joel McHale Show – “Pickler, Pebbles, Pillows and Priestley” / series premiere (B+)
Literally everything you loved/hated about The Soup, just with fewer S&P restrictions. There’s even a mini-Community reunion, though Gillian Jacobs was curiously absent.

Crashing – “Artie” (A-)
A bittersweet episode, as Pete learns that Artie is still an addict, and any proclamations about wanting to do better don’t mean shit. It’s arguably the toughest episode this show has done, because Pete has to learn the uncomfortable truth, but not because of his naivete for once.

The Tick – Season 1, Part 2 (B+ average)
A little bit more like your standard superhero show than the first half of the season, but with way more eccentricities than any network would allow. My biggest issue is that Jackie Earle Haley plays the big bad, but then disappears for half the season. It slightly undercuts the finale. Still, I’m really glad this show exists and that we’re getting a second season (hopefully one without a huge break in the middle).

CURRENT SHOWS
Waco
“Operation Showtime” (B+)
“Of Milk and Men” (B+)
Solid episodes that show the stand-off spiraling out of control, because both inside and outside the house, there are people undermining the authority of the two leaders. Though I’m sure much of this is fictionalized, it’s no wonder the situation ended so badly.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 11 Feb 2018

NEW SHOWS & SPECIALS
Crashing – “Too Good” (A)
The best episode of the season thus far, though I may have said that before. This one takes place over the course of one eventful night (and I am such an easy mark for episodes like that), with Pete reconnecting with Ali, crashing her tour of New York’s hippest comedy venues, ruining her night and then saving it, leading them back into bed together. I hope this one works because they have genuine chemistry, even if Pete is clumsy in the ways of modern dating.

Chris Rock: Tamborine (A-)
Rock’s first special in years doesn’t have a Dave Chappelle problem: it’s not outrageous because of pettiness or for the sake of being outrageous. Every bit has a point, and he’s as sharp, profane and brutally honest as ever.

CURRENT SHOWS
Waco – “Operation Showtime” (TBD)
Tried to watch this, but it was the day of the Parkland school shooting, and seeing this much gun violence was too much to handle. It remains to be seen if I’ll go back to finish the series.

BINGEING
Grace and Frankie – Season 4 (B+)
Another solid season as both pairs get in new predicaments and explore new options, only to find a comfortable balance of the new and old. Season 5 will guest star RuPaul, and the only problem with that is that it won’t premiere until 2019.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 4 Feb 2018

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “Porter Got HBO” (A-)
The funniest and most important episode of the season, with Pete finally realizing he’s stuck in an insanity spiral: doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. He’s leaving behind hope of reconciliation with his ex-wife and his hope of getting an HBO-sized big break.

This Is Us
“Super Bowl Sunday” (A)
“The Car” (B)
A big-time dramatic episode, with some of Mandy Moore’s best acting ever. Then they follow that up with a time-marking all-flashback episode that features a great Gerald McRaney cameo but not much else.

OLD SHOWS
Community (Season 2) — “Early 21st Century Romanticism” (A)
This is how good the show was in Season Two: this episode didn’t feature the dean at all, had an “accidentally assumed to be gay” storyline and ended on a heart-stopping cliffhanger. Yet every single bit works, including the study group’s defense of Barenaked Ladies. “They’re triple platinum, are you?!”

Happy Endings (Season 2) — “The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre” (A)
One of the series’ best episodes. It packs in its laughs by directly referencing Friends and making one of the show’s more disgusting off-handed jokes. Then, it slaps you upside the head with one of its sweetest moments. If only James Wolk hadn’t been so in demand, and we could have gotten more Grant.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment