It is one hell of a week in home entertainment, people. Oscar nominees aplenty! No reason to leave home even one time this week. Woot!
Click the film title for a full review.
Rarely is the Oscar ticket quite so easy to fill out. This year’s set of nominees offers more clear-cut front runners across the board than most previous broadcasts, but the other aspect of note is that the actual quality of the work is tighter than in years past. In nearly every category, the likely winner is fairly simple to predict, but category after category we find ourselves saying that we’d be pretty pleased no matter the outcome.
The talent and work being recognized this year is that impressive.
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 win: Frances McDormand
Should win: McDormand. Sally Hawkins, always wonderful, was amazing in The Shape of Water. We’re so happy Margot Robbie got the notice she deserves for I, Tonya. Saoirse Ronan will certainly win an Oscar or two at some point in her phenomenal career. Meryl Street—is Meryl Streep. But there is no denying McDormand’s fiery, fearless Mildred Hayes. The performance is a career high for one of the most talented and formidable performers working today.
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 Darkest Hour
Should win: Timothee Chalamet. Or Oldman. Either way, we’re good. We’d take Daniel Kaluuya, to be honest. And you can never go wrong with Denzel Washington or Daniel Day-Lewis. No, this is an impressive set of performances right here, and while Oldman is a near shoe-in (for good reason, after a long and impressive career, for an impeccable performance), Chalamet’s turn announces a breathtaking talent and he may have outperformed them all.
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Will win: Allison Janney I, Tonya
Should win: Laurie Metcalf, although we will not weep when Janney takes the Oscar. Janney is a veteran character actor, one who leaves a mark on every single film, whether drama or comedy. She should have won at least one Oscar by now. But if, by chance (and it’s a long shot at best), Metcalf takes this one home for her fearless and faultless work as a piece-of-work mother in Greta Gerwig’s astonishing Lady Bird, well, we’ll be cool with that.
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 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should win (GW): Rockwell
Should win (HM): Willem Dafoe. Too close to call for us, really, between Rockwell and Dafoe, two astonishing and under-appreciated American actors who should have several Oscars between them at this point. Rockwell’s racist volcano of a redeemable small-town cop gave the actor hundreds of opportunities to shine, but Dafoe’s understated, caring motel manager offers an emotional center of gravity for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project and we’d love to see him recognized.
The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out, Jordan Peele
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh
Will win: Martin McDonagh Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should win: Pick ’em. Honestly, whether this award goes go McDonagh and his sharp observation on anger and compassion, or whether it goes to Greta Gerwig’s pitch-perfect coming of age tale Lady Bird, or Jordan Peele’s epic piece of social commentary Get Out, or Emily B. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s revelatory romantic comedy The Big Sick, or Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s monster love story The Shape of Water, there can be no complaint.
Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory
The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
Will win: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name
Should win: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name. Although we would cheer if the under-appreciated Mudbound picked this one up, there’s no denying the powerful storytelling in Ivory’s script and the way it drove Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous direction.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
Faces Places, JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
Icarus, Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
Last Men in Aleppo, Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
Strong Island, Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes
Will win: Faces Places
Should win: Of the nominees, Faces Places, but this year’s biggest snubs are in the documentary category. No love for either Whose Streets? or Jane? Wow.
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)
Will win: The Square
Should win: The Square, by an eyelash over A Fantastic Woman.
The Boss Baby, Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
The Breadwinner, Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
Coco, Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
Ferdinand, Carlos Saldanha
Loving Vincent, Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman
Will win: Coco
Should win: Coco. It’s a pretty weak year in animated features, to be honest, so—like so many categories this year—the likely winner is pretty clear. Both Loving Vincent and Breadwinner are strong contenders, though no one saw either. Both Ferdinand and The Boss Baby are unworthy of the nomination. Coco is not Pixar’s strongest, and that can sometimes weigh too heavily on a film. You can’t put out a Toy Story or Up! every time, and Coco offers a touching, vibrant, skeleton-filled cultural extravaganza that is joyous to behold.
Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan
Get Out, Jordan Peele
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig
Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson
The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro
Will win: Guillermo del Toro
Should win (GW): Jordan Peele
Should win (HM): Any of them. This is the most gorgeous set of nominees we have possibly ever seen. We will celebrate no matter who wins because we adore every single one of these names: del Toro, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan. In a wild variety of efforts—from taut, ensemble-driven war to period character studies to horror—the style, tone and detail in every one of these films showcases a master at the helm. Yes, it is a weird turn that Martin McDonagh didn’t get a nomination, but we wouldn’t drop anyone from this group.
Call Me by Your Name
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Will win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In a dogfight with The Shape of Water, we think the compromise will be a director/film split decision.
Should win: So many great ones here, but we’ll say Dunkirk. (Or Get Out, or Lady Bird, or…)
The Academy Awards — again hosted by Jimmy Kimmel — will air live on ABC on this Sunday, March 4.
Some laughs and some gasps, but a trio of fine films to choose from this weekend: Annihilation, Game Night and In the Fade. Plus, we talk through the good, bad and adorable available in home entertainment. LISTEN HERE.
by George Wolf
Alex Garland’s work as both a writer (28 Days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) and a writer/director (Ex Machina) has shown a visionary talent for molding the other-worldly and the familiar. Annihilation unveils Garland at his most existential, becoming an utterly absorbing sci-fi thriller where each answer begs more questions.
A strange force of nature dubbed “The Shimmer” has enveloped the land near a remote lighthouse, and is spreading. Years of expeditions inside it have yielded only missing persons – including Kane (Oscar Issac). When Kane suddenly returns home and almost immediately falls prey to a life-threatening illness, his wife Lena (Natalie Portman, perfectly nailing a desperate curiosity) is detained for questioning by the military.
Lena, a biology professor with years of Army training, volunteers to join the new, all-female exhibition into “Area X,” hoping to find any shred of information that could save her husband’s life.
Adapting the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy,” Garland has found a perfect scratch for his psychological itch.
Garland builds the film in wonderful symmetry with the hybrid life forms influenced by The Shimmer. Taking root as a strange mystery, it offers satisfying surprises amid an ambitious narrative flow full of intermittent tension, scares, and blood – and a constant sense of wonder.
Just his second feature as a director, Annihilation proves Ex Machina was no fluke. Garland is pondering similar themes—creation, self-destruction, extinction—on an even deeper level, streamlining the source material into an Earthbound cousin to 2001.
Utilizing wonderfully strategic splashes of color, and a shifting timeline that drops purposeful breadcrumbs, Garland gives us a mystifying new world from the comforts of our own. Annihilation is the work of a top-tier genre filmmaker, and a challenging journey offering many rewards for those with no appetite for spoon feedings.
by Christie Robb
Imagine a world in which Bergman’s Seventh Seal made it with Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and you kinda get a sense of Rainer Sarnet’s November.
Based on the Estonian novel Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk, the movie is set in a sort of fairy-tale-ish undefined time period. Estonian peasants scrape out a substance-level existence while German aristocracy exploits their labor and flaunts an unattainably extravagant lifestyle before them.
Not surprising, then, that some of them strike a deal with the devil.
You see, the peasants can manufacture a kratt to do manual labor for them and steal treasure. A kratt is a creature made out of bones, sticks, and bits of rusty household implements, brought to life by giving drops of blood to the devil. (And in this movie, kratts talk and are charmingly bananas and look an awful lot like they were designed by Vincent Price’s character in Edward Scissorhands.)
At the center of the film lies the unrequited love of two peasants. Liina (Rea Lest) is hopelessly in love with Hans (Jörgen Liik). Hans has the hots for the daughter of the local German baron. Lina and Hans each try to capture the attention of their beloved while communing with ghosts, employing the services of kratts and witches, managing lycanthropy, evading the plague, circumventing arranged marriages, and avoiding starvation during the impending long winter.
The movie is a mismatch of comedy, romance, fantasy, political theory, and philosophy all shot in exquisite black and white. Somehow it comes together, like the kratts, in a way that seems fresh, bizarre, and interesting.
by Hope Madden
Nobody does dry, self-deprecating humor as well as Jason Bateman. He’s such a natural as the put-upon husband/brother at the center of the Game Night tension, he becomes the action/comedy’s effortless center of gravity.
And the way this story orbits, circles back, veers around and comes back again, gravity is important.
Bateman plays Max who, with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), hosts a weekly game night at his house. But Max’s super cool brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) wants to host this week, and Max’s creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons, creepy perfection) wants to come. Well, things are spinning out of control, aren’t they?
A tight script by Mark Perez gives a game cast (see what I did there?) plenty of opportunity to riff on each other and nerd up the place. The chemistry onscreen, particularly between couples—each of which is given the chance to create believable unions—elevates the hijinks.
McAdams steals scenes with comic charm, reminding us again of her spot-on timing and ability to generate plausible relationship backstory with anybody. Meanwhile, funny bits from Sharon Horgan and Lamorne Morris, in particular, keep the larger Game Night ensemble from letting the storyline lag.
The easy humor spilling from this cast pulls the film away from absurd comedy and turns it into something more comfortable. Because, even though there may or may not (or may?) have been a kidnapping and they may or may not (or may?) be making things worse, they have actually trained for this moment for years.
Because what is it that will help these couples live through the bizarre and twisted mess their game night has become?
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation) keep the action low key. This allows the entire effort to indulge in the “so this is happening right now, then? Ok, let’s deal with that” kind of humor that is so characteristically Bateman. The comedy is upbeat and fun (though sometimes surprisingly violent) and true to the characters and their relationships.
It’s consistently fun and ultimately forgettable. Like a game night.
by George Wolf
Director Fatih Akin returns to an overtly political palette with In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts), and leans on a powerhouse lead performance from Diane Kruger to keep the film above standard thriller fare.
Kruger, starring in the first German language film of her career, is Katja, a German woman whose Turkish husband, Nuri, (Numan Acar) has rehabilitated himself after a stint in prison for dealing drugs.
On the way to meet a friend one morning, Katja visits Nuri’s office to drop off their young son, and never sees them alive again. They are the only casualties in what appears to be a targeted homemade bombing, and Katja’s recollections of a random woman she saw outside Nuri’s office become key in the trial of a neo-Nazi couple accused of the murders.
After his coming-of-age tale Goodbye Berlin two years ago, Akin is back on the socially conscious ground where he seems most comfortable. Most of In the Fade is anchored in a somber look at the toll of xenophobic hate, where human souls can come to be viewed as “no longer people.”
As a grieving mother looking for justice, Kruger delivers a masterful turn, making the weight of emotional turmoil feel achingly real. Katja struggles to exist in the haze of her heartbreak, juggling grief, bickering family members and a growing need for revenge. Kruger draws us in immediately, so much so that we feel the release when her quiet resolve finally erupts in emotional outburst.
The film’s third act, “The Sea,” has trouble delivering on the promise of all that Akin has cultivated in the first two (“The Family” and “Justice”). Events begin to follow a more conventional path, and though the outcome is striking, anyone familiar with Hollywood thrillers may find the narrative choices curious.
Worth seeing? Absolutely, and Kruger’s performance will likely linger even when the film’s voice does not.
I had a dream last night. It was about a poor wise man who changes the city.
Yes, among the very worst and most embarrassing (for us as a people) films Same Kind of Different as Me is available for home “entertainment” this week, but fear not. So are tons of other things: a colorfully adorable superhero flick, a couple of solid horror flicks, and one bad comedy. Though it not as bad—or as funny—as Same Kind…
Click the link for the full review.
It’s here! Black Panther has arrived, and we are thrilled to get to give a no-spoiler review of this amazing film, along with the other flicks to be seen in theaters this week: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Samson, Early Man and The Female Brain. We also talk through the best and the worst in new home entertainment.
by Hope Madden
There is something adorably British about Nick Parks’s latest plasticine adventure, Early Man.
No I am not being condescending. It’s animated. It’s supposed to be adorable.
This Aardman export—the Brit animation studio responsible for the Wallace & Gromit classics, among others—pits dunder-headed but lovable cave dwellers against greedy Bronze Age Euro-trash as it spoofs sports flicks.
We open at the dawn of time, when dinosaurs and cave men and giant, toothy mallards roamed the earth outside Manchester, England. Around lunchtime.
It’s silly. And sweet. And basically a 90-minute mash note to Manchester United.
When those posh bullies from the Bronze Age (led by Tom Hiddleston’s Lord Nooth) push Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his nincompoopy cavemen friends out of their fertile valley, Dug devises a challenge to regain his beloved home.
Like all great sports films, Early Man pushes the underdog narrative to epitomize more than simple foot-to-ball competition. Plus, you really do want these earnest faces, overbites and all, to learn to believe in themselves.
And why can’t a pig play soccer?
Dug’s quick trip into town square offers opportunities for the Aardman Easter eggs—be sure to scan the vendor booths for hilarious names. With voice talent to spare (Timothy Spall and Rob Brydon are among those with smaller roles), you’re assured the intentionally silly jokes are delivered expertly.
The problem is that Early Man would have made for a really hilarious short.
The story doesn’t benefit from a 90-minute stretch. The setting—mainly an imposing landscape littered with enormous rib bones—doesn’t offer enough opportunity for visual distraction and the characters are not memorable enough to keep your attention for the full run time.
Expect much of the familiar: googly eyes, enormous teeth, simple characters and kind-hearted laughter. CGI mixes with the stop-action to rob the film of some character, but Early Man has charm to spare.