What I Watched This Week: 9 May 2021

Mare of Easttown – “Poor Sisyphus” (B+)
A bit overstuffed, but it’s still rich with deeply human emotion and moments of levity. Enid Graham makes a play for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series with a subplot that seemed a little too ridiculous at first but resolved in a deeply sad way.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Chicago” (B-)
The show seems stuck in a weird pattern where former handmaids are getting picked off one by one, yet things keep going back to normal in Gilead, usually by someone blackmailing Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). It’s making it harder to be invested in the show, though that may change since this is clearly a pivot episode.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Season 2 (A-)
The show somehow got even better, and the parallels in the back half of the season to the Iraq War are unmistakable.

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What I Watched This Week: 2 May 2021

Mare of Easttown – “Enter Number Two” (A-)
Mare’s self-destructive tendencies catch up with her, with damaging results. But those results are less than she deserves. In this town, everyone covers for each other, which might be why there are two unsolved murders.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Milk” (B)
A thoroughly unpleasant episode, but one that gives Rita and Madeline the attention they deserve. The former gets to move on, while the latter’s flashbacks reveal someone who’s not just a fuck-up.

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The Optimist’s Summer Movie Preview 2021

The pandemic robbed us of not just a summer movie season, but a year’s worth of theatrical experiences. But with more than 100 million vaccinated and many theaters reopening – even if not at full capacity – it’s time to once again to load up on popcorn and soda and let the images wash over us.

Wrath of Man (May 7)
Starring Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan
Screenplay by Guy Ritchie & Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson
Directed by Guy Ritchie
After a decade of diminishing returns with IP, Guy Ritchie got back to his roots with The Gentlemen, which featured all the best and worst qualities of a Guy Ritchie film. Here, he reunites with Statham, who plays an mob boss who goes undercover as an armored truck driver to find out who killed his son. If theaters hadn’t been closed, this absolutely would have been a “dumped in January” film, but a movie this low-rent being the summer opener is fitting.

Those Who Wish Me Dead (May 14)
Starring Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Finn Little
Screenplay by Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt and Taylor Sheridan
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
A lot of people seem to absolutely despise Taylor Sheridan, but his movies have worked for me, except for that horrendous Sicario sequel. This is his second directorial effort, after the underrated Wind River. It marks the return of Angelina Jolie, action star. She plays a fire tower watcher forced into a life-or-death situation when she comes across a boy on the run from assassins.

A Quiet Place Part II (May 28)
Starring Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy
Written and directed by John Krasinski
The first film was an incredible in-theater experience, but it didn’t hold up on repeat viewings. That script was pretty bad and relied on some maudlin parental sacrifice stuff. But this sequel ditches Krasinski (who appears only in flashbacks) and expands the scope as the family looks for other survivors.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (June 4)
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Julian Hilliard
Story by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & James Wan
Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Directed by Michael Chaves
Losing James Wan as director means there’s no way this will be as good as the first two films. But there’s still a chance this will offer some serious scares.

In the Heights (June 11)
Starring Anthony Ramos, Jimmy Smits, Dascha Polanco, Stephanie Beatriz
Screenplay by Quaiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Lin Manuel-Miranda’s first musical phenomenon gets the big-screen treatment, almost a year after it was originally supposed to hit theaters. Not only is this our first major musical since Christmas 2018 (when The Greatest Showman opened), it’s actually directed by someone with serious dance and musical experience. This should be the non-superhero film of the summer.

The Sparks Brothers (June 18)
Directed by Edgar Wright
The Maels have been crafting endlessly clever pop music for more than 50 years, but are widely unknown to all but the biggest music nerds in the U.S. Thankfully, superfan Edgar Wright dedicated months to putting out a definitive documentary, interviewing dozens of collaborators and fans, including Beck, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Patton Oswalt.

Zola (June 30)
Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun
Screenplay by Janicza Bravo & Jeremy O. Harris
Directed by Janicza Bravo
The first, and to date I believe the only, film based off a Twitter thread, Zola is the wild semi-true story of the titular woman (Taylour Paige) and the crazy trip through Florida’s underbelly she took with Stefani (Riley Keough). Will it live up to the original story? Reviews from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival suggest it does.

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What I Watched This Week: 25 Apr 2021

93rd Annual Academy Awards (B-)
There were some interesting new directions with pacing and structure. No songs and only one bit of banter that resulted in eight-time nominee Glenn Close putting that backfield in motion. But then they whiffed the ending. Moving Best Picture was a big mistake, and ending on an award where the expected posthumous winner lost, and the actual winner was MIA was an outright disaster.

Mare of Easttown – “Fathers” (A)
Basically on par with the tremendous premiere, only now there’s an even more potent mix of humor and dread. We’ve got a new partner (Evan Peters, finally getting to work on a miniseries that has an idea of where it’s going), a stalker (the parent of an especially nasty girl who assaulted the murder victim) and another possible homicide (courtesy of the father of the dead girl). Oh, and a potentially horrifying revelation about the father of the dead girl’s baby.

The Handmaid’s Tale
“Pigs” (B) / season premiere
“Nightshade” (B+)
“The Crossing” (A-)
Takes a while to get going, but it all culminates in an intense third episode. It would get an A were it not for the last-second killing of two characters that came out of nowhere and felt cruelly unnecessary.

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Streaming Picks: May 2021

Top Picks
Robot & Frank – Prime and Hulu 5/9
Those Who Wish Me Dead – HBO Max 5/14
The Woman in the Window – Netflix 5/14
Cruella – Disney+ 5/24

This month we’ve got a hidden gem and three originals that have an increasing level of risk of being awful.

Robot & Frank is a delightful soft sci-fi adventure about a retired jewel thief (Frank Langella) who uses his robot companion as his accomplice in a new series of crimes.

Those Who Wish Me Dead heralds the return of Angelina Jolie, action star. She plays a fire tower watchwoman who takes in a boy on the run from contract killers (Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillan) and a raging forest fire. Aside from a disastrous and unnecessary sequel to Sicario, I’m all in on Taylor Sheridan, but I know there are a lot of people who can’t stand anything he puts his name on.

The Woman in the Window has had a frankly concerning journey to its release. Filming wrapped on Joe Wright’s adaptation in 2018, then Tony Gilroy was brought in for rewrites and reshoots, then it was delayed after test audiences didn’t respond. Then COVID hit and Fox eventually sold the film to Netflix. It should be a slam dunk: a hit mystery novel with an incredible cast (including Amy Adams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, Brian Tyree Henry and Gary Oldman) and a script by Tracy Letts. But who knows? After waiting so long, it might be perfectly suited for the low stakes of firing up Netflix on a Friday night.

Finally we get to the movie that’s most likely to be terrible, but it was slim pickings on Disney+ this month. There’s absolutely no reason for a film like Cruella to exist. We didn’t need an origin story for the villain from 101 Dalmatians, and we already have an iconic live-action performance from Glenn Close. But the script is by Tony McNamara, who made The Favourite and The Great, two of my most enjoyed pieces of entertainment of the last few years. Between that and the outstanding costumes, that might be enough.

Recent Selections
The Legend of Baron To’a – Hulu 5/3
Love Sarah – Hulu 5/4
Shadow in the Cloud – Hulu 5/5
Little Fish – Hulu 5/7
Greenland – HBO Max 5/8
Wander Darkly – Hulu 5/10
Saint Maud – Prime and Hulu 5/13
Some Kind of Heaven – Hulu 5/13
Wonder Woman 1984 – HBO Max 5/13
MLK/FBI – Hulu 5/14
Cowboys – Hulu 5/15
Good Kisser – Hulu 5/15
The Personal History of David Copperfield – HBO Max 5/15
Breach – Prime 5/17
Supernova – Hulu 5/18
The Vigil – Hulu 5/21
Sam Smith: Love Goes Live at Abbey Road Studios – Netflix 5/22
The Donut King – Hulu 5/31
The World to Come – Hulu 5/31
Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir – Netflix TBD

Generation Por Que? – HBO Max 5/1
Para Rosa – HBO Max 5/1
The Boy from Medellín – Prime 5/7
La Boda de Rosa – HBO Max 5/7
Milestone – Netflix 5/7
Monster – Netflix 5/7
Mine – Netflix 5/8
Dance of the Forty One – Netflix 5/12
Oxygen – Netflix 5/12
Ferry – Netflix 5/14
I Am All Girls – Netflix 5/14
The Strange House – Netflix 5/14
Sardar Ka Grandson – Netflix 5/18
Territorio – HBO Max 5/20
Army of the Dead – Netflix 5/21
Pink: All I Know So Far – Prime 5/21
Baggio: The Divine Ponytail – Netflix 5/26
Plan B – Hulu 5/28

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My Dream Oscar Ballot 2021

Once again, I’m going off the Academy’s eligibility lists, so several movies I would have considered for some awards aren’t represented here. I’ve also seen too few foreign language films to fill out those categories, so I’m abstaining. So enjoy my much-improved lists from the Academy’s nominees.

Another Round
The Assistant
Da 5 Bloods
First Cow
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
One Night in Miami…
Promising Young Woman

Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods
Kelly Reichardt, First Cow
David Fincher, Mank
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Regina King, One Night in Miami…

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Steven Yeun, Minari

Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Julia Garner, The Assistant
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Elisabeth Moss, The Invisible Man
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Orion Lee, First Cow
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Mark Rylance, The Trial of the Chicago 7
David Strathairn, Nomadland

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Olivia Colman, The Father
Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari

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What I Watched This Week: 18 Apr 2021

The Simpsons – “Panic on the Streets of Springfield” (B)
Homer getting a big truck has already been done better in the show’s post-peak, but Lisa getting really into a Morrissey stand-in called Quilloughby was hilarious, and provoked the ire of the real Morrissey, who can’t believe the show would dare call him an irrelevant racist, which is what he is. The songs by Bret McKenzie are the real highlight.

Mare of Easttown – “Miss Lady Hawk Herself” (A) / limited series premiere
One of the best pilots I’ve seen in a very long time. The detective stuff feels lived-in and not grafted on or needlessly grim, but the domestic stuff is where the show really shines. Winslet is effortlessly terrific and nails the Pennsylvania accent.

Search Party – Season 4 (A- average)
There were times early on where the show felt like it was really getting away from itself. But then in the back half everything clicked together and became another stellar season.

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Oscar Re-Do: 2010

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

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Should have won: The Social Network
Not even nominated: Shutter Island

It felt wrong in the moment and feels even more wrong now. While The King’s Speech is exactly the kind of uplifting and historical film the Academy usually goes for, it’s at or near the bottom of this group of nominees. Especially when you’ve got an all-timer like The Social Network. I’ve written about this film a lot for this site (which launched in 2010), and there’s no reason to rehash all that here. The King’s Speech is a totally decent film, but it pales in comparison to a masterpiece like The Social Network.

So swap it (or The Kids Are All Right) for the expert chills of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which was a massive hit but fell prey to to the Academy’s strong aversion to horror. It’s on a very short list of Scorsese films that weren’t nominated for a single Oscar.

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
David Fincher, The Social Network
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

Should have won: David Fincher
Not even nominated: Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

If losing to The King’s Speech was bad, this was an outright insult. Tom Hooper has made only one great film (his soccer drama The Damned United) and several doozies. Fincher is one of the greatest living filmmakers, and this should have been his in a walk.

So adios to the winner of this category, and hello to the endlessly inventive Edgar Wright. Scott Pilgrim isn’t his best movie (that’s either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz), but it was his chance to play in an enormous sandbox. The effects budget alone eclipsed some of his previous efforts, but his sense of play wasn’t hindered one bit.

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Should have won: Jesse Eisenberg
Not even nominated: Robert Duvall, Get Low

As I mentioned last year, for most of the decade I wished Bridges and Firth had swapped wins. But while I remain a fan of both actors, they both got showed up by the new kid on the block. Eisenberg, who had really only broken through the previous year with Zombieland and Adventureland, turned in a flawless performance as Mark Zuckerberg. He’s an asshole from the get-go, condescending to his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, memorable in just two scenes). He gets revenge for her dumping him in a way that combines his misogyny and technical prowess, creating the Facebook. But no matter how many levels of success he attains, this version of Zuck is motivated solely by how he felt mistreated or overlooked in college. He’s a technical genius but an emotional monster. Knowing what we know now, and how Facebook has only had a bigger influence in the last decade, The Social Network went easy on him.

As stellar as this line-up is, I’d have swapped one previous winner for another. Bardem is the best part of the overwrought Biutiful, but it actually hampers his gifts by giving him a lot of Oscar-friendly tropes (suffering from a disease, a big cry scene and a big yelling scene). Instead, I’d prefer the fifth slot go to Robert Duvall’s more jovial dying man, a hermit who plans his funeral while he’s still alive.

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Emma Stone, Easy A

While four of the five women here are giving astonishing performances, Portman stands above them. Black Swan works as well as it does because she delivers on the madness inherent in Nina well before she goes off the deep end for her art.

To this day, I do not understand how The Kids Are All Right got four Oscar nominations. It’s a film that just didn’t work for me. So as much as I love Annette Bening, she’s absent now, replaced with Emma Stone, who anchors the classic high school comedy Easy A. Riffing on both John Hughes and Nathaniel Hawthorne, she delivers the perfect combination of cleverness, sass and vulnerability.

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Oscar Guide 2021

While the extended season offered plenty of pros and cons, there are still a few races that don’t seem quite over. So here’s what should and will win, but remember that you shouldn’t be putting money based on my picks.

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Will and should win: Nomadland
Could win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Should have been here: First Cow

The skinny: After the dust settled, the front-runner for at least a year is still the front-runner. That’s just fine with me, since it’s also my favorite movie of the year. There’s an outside chance The Trial of the Chicago 7 repeats its SAG win here, but absolutely no one wants that, including me (a defender of the film). If Aaron Sorkin’s film pulls off some upsets in the technical categories on Sunday, then it’s a threat here.

Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Will and should win: Chloé Zhao
Could win: David Fincher
Should have been here: Regina King, One Night in Miami…

The skinny: There’s even less suspense here. Zhao will become just the second woman and first POC to win in this category. That’s a lock, and cause for celebration.

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari

Will win: Chadwick Boseman
Could win: Anthony Hopkins
Should win: Riz Ahmed
Should have been here: Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

The skinny: If you swap Oldman for Delroy Lindo, this is one of greatest Best Actor line-ups of all time. Still, four out of the five are giving some of the best performances of their careers. Hopkins has surged in recent weeks, especially after a BAFTA win. But this is the first and only time the Academy has nominated Boseman, and it will be more than just a posthumous award. His performance represents everything that made him great. I prefer Riz Ahmed, but he will get more chances to shine.

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Will win: Viola Davis
Could and should win: Frances McDormand
Should have been here: Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things

The skinny: This category has been absolute chaos all season long. Kirby’s the only nominee not to pick up a major award. She’s the best part of a weak movie, but there’s a long list of actresses who did better work in better films. (Jessie Buckley chief among them.) While I think McDormand is extraordinary, she did just win three years ago for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which we will not be relitigating). As someone pointed out on Twitter (and I wish I could remember who), any time Best Actress has been close in the last 20 years, the Oscar has always gone to the woman playing a real person. That’s not surprising, but historically disappointing. So for now I’m going with Davis, who did win four years ago in a controversially placed Supporting Actress. She deserved it regardless, but she’s a lead in Fences. And now we have the inverse. As the powerful singer, she’s arguably a supporting character, given how little screen time she has. But I think she’ll finally claim the top award she should have won nine years ago for The Help. Then again, there’s an outside chance that Andra Day could also win for playing a powerful singer, albeit in a much less heralded movie.

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami…
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

Will win: Daniel Kaluuya
Could win: Lakeith Stanfield
Should win: Paul Raci
Should have been here: Orion Lee, First Cow

The skinny: There are only two valid perspectives: Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are co-leads in Judas and the Black Messiah, or Stanfield is the lead and Kaluuya is supporting. But in no possible sense are they both supporting performances. No matter. Kaluuya will win, and he’s tremendous as Fred Hampton. I prefer Paul Raci, who is the platonic ideal of a supporting performance. But Kaluuya should have won for Get Out, so this is still a beautiful outcome.

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Yuh-jung Youn, Minari

Will win: Yuh-jung Youn
Could and should win: Maria Bakalova
Should have been here: Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

The skinny: Make no mistake: I will be thrilled when Yuh-jung Youn picks up her Oscar. She gave one of my favorite performances of the year. But the Academy still can’t seem to bring themselves to award a comedy. Yes, the surprise Borat sequel picked up two nominations. But it’s highly unlikely they’ll give this award to the fearless Bakalova, who stormed in and stole the film from Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s disappointing, but not surprising.

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What I Watched This Week: 11 Apr 2021

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Season 1 (A- average)
Astonishing. Manages to blend its kiddie elements and its adult themes without ever getting too dark or too light.

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