I keep a notebook on me at all times and I pull it out occasionally to write down whatever genius single sentence I may glean from someone else’s conversation. Strangers, friends, talking to me, not talking to me—doesn’t matter. I don’t add context, just the brilliant phrase. At the end of the year, I pull these together and use them for something. This year, I saw a lot of themes and decided to go with a poem.
by Hope Madden
The porn star was first.
He’s the top Nathan.
He was the lead singer for a Led zeppelin cover band.
Wild rumpus is a great name for a band.
I profoundly love barbershop and always have.
It’s a disco party I can’t turn off.
Flashbacks of mace and urine and GWAR goo
Who bled on the couch?
I have 3 on menstruation.
My favorite book title: Will you please stop masturbating so I can euthanize you?
Hot girls in booty shorts who are covered in blood from feeding rapists to their cars
Extreme cinema means penises and buttholes.
Cat shit and banana peels
I think 1979 would have a banana seat.
You know my feelings on unannounced raisins.
I would egg my own house for that.
The word is out on me: full of beans.
We’d like to send them a biscuit mix.
Isn’t that just a hot donut?
This hot sour cream juice isn’t going to drink itself.
Meatboat is a good word.
Neck Tattoo really loaded me up on meat today.
She has big, meaty feet.
His teeth are not just UK bad. They’re workhouse bad.
Stop saying scabies.
I had ringworm once. I got it from a horse.
If alligators could fly I would never go outside.
Narwhals are fat murder pillows.
This is going to look so nice on my kaiju jacket.
You would make a great puppet.
Are you asking if Inspector Gadget fucked?
Tornado Warning Jim is my favorite. Glad he could show up today.
I’ve gotten mainly out of the habit of hating myself so now when self-loathing hits, it hurts more for lack of practice.
Make better decisions. Make Captain America decisions.
Nominees for the 18th annual Columbus Film Critics Association awards
(Columbus, December 29, 2019) The Columbus Film Critics Association is pleased to announce the nominees for its 18th annual awards. Winners will be announced on the evening of January 2rd, 2020.
Founded in 2002, the Columbus Film Critics Association is comprised of film critics based in Columbus, Ohio and its surrounding areas. Its membership consists of 28 print, radio, television, and online critics. COFCA’s official website at www.cofca.org contains links to member reviews and past award winners.
The 2019 Columbus Film Critics Association awards nominees are:
–Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
-Bong Joon -ho, Parasite (Gisaengchung)
-Greta Gerwig, Little Women
-Sam Mendes, 1917
-Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
-Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
-Robert De Niro, The Irishman
-Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
-Adam Driver, Marriage Story
-Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
-Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
-Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
-Awkwafina, The Farewell
-Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
-Lupita Nyong’o, Us
-Florence Pugh, Midsommar
-Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Best Supporting Actor
-Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
-Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
-Al Pacino, The Irishman
-Joe Pesci, The Irishman
-Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress
-Laura Dern, Marriage Story
-Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
-Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
-Florence Pugh, Little Women
-Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
–Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
-Adam Driver (The Dead Don’t Die, Marriage Story, The Report, and Star Wars: Episode IX – The
Rise of Skywalker)
-Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Luce and Waves)
-Scarlett Johansson (Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Jojo Rabbit, and Marriage Story)
-Brad Pitt (Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
-Florence Pugh (Fighting with My Family, Little Women, and Midsommar)
Breakthrough Film Artist
-Rowan Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit – (for acting)
-Julia Fox, Uncut Gems – (for acting)
-Florence Pugh, Fighting with My Family, Little Women, and Midsommar – (for acting)
-Honor Swinton Byrne, The Souvenir – (for acting)
-Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco – (for directing, producing, and screenwriting)
-Lulu Wang, The Farewell – (for directing, producing and screenwriting)
-Olivia Wilde, Booksmart – (for directing)
-Jarin Blaschke, The Lighthouse
-Roger Deakins, 1917
-Hong Kyung-pyo, Parasite (Gisaengchung)
-Pawel Pogorzelski, Midsommar
-Robert Richardson, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
-Hoyte Van Hoytema, Ad Astra
Best Film Editing
-Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie, Uncut Gems
-Bob Ducsay, Knives Out
-Fred Raskin, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
-Lee Smith, 1917
-Yang Jin-mo, Parasite (Gisaengchung)
Best Adapted Screenplay
-Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
-Greta Gerwig, Little Women
-Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers
-Taiki Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
-Steve Zaillian, The Irishman
Best Original Screenplay
-Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
-Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite (Gisaengchung)
-Rian Johnson, Knives Out
-Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
-Lulu Wang, The Farewell
-Michael Abels, Us
-Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
-Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker
-Randy Newman, Marriage Story
-Thomas Newman, 1917
–One Child Nation
Best Foreign Language Film
– Les Misérables
–Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)
– Parasite (Gisaengchung)
– Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)
It’s time! The year has come to its end and we need to sift through all the glorious horror 2019 had to offer and put it in some kind of order. Four of the most promising names in horror— Peele, Eggers, Kent and Aster—join some bold newcomers including Jennifer Reeder, Issa Lopez, Lane and Ruckus Skye to lead a pack of unforgettable horrors.
Truth is, there were an awful lot of great films that we had to leave off this list. But that just means the actual list is that strong. Here you go:
10. Ready or Not
At midnight on Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex’s (Mark O’Brien) wedding night, everyone assembles in the Le Domas family game room: Mom and Dad (Andie MacDowell and Henry Czerny), Aunt Helene (Nicky Guardagni), other siblings and in-laws. It’s a ritual. Just one quick game of hide and seek. What could go wrong?
The inky black comedy plays like a game of Clue gone mad
with arterial spray, the film’s comic moments coinciding most often with the
accidental slaughter of servants.
The filmmakers take advantage of Weaving’s grit and comic timing, skipping from one bloody comic set up to the next. The plot and the chase move quickly enough to keep you from dwelling on the shorthand character development, the errant plot hole and the occasional convenience. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s a bloody mess.
Hey, club kids, it’s a Gaspar Noe dance party!
Noe’s usual reliance on extended takes, stationary cameras and overhead shots makes the dance sequences utterly intoxicating, the performers’ energy creating exciting visual beauty and a palpable exuberance for their art. These seductive odes to dance are interspersed with sometimes graphically sexual conversations between the dancers, sharpening character edges and laying down an interpersonal framework that will soon be turned on its head.
What spurred this sea change, and who is to blame? Noe turns that mystery into a greater conversation about the opportunity of birth, the impossibility of life and the extraordinary experience of death, and as is his wont, batters your senses while doing it.
Welcome to Reckoning, Lane and Ruckus Skye’s lyrical backwoods epic, grounded in a lived-in world most of us never knew existed. One of the most tightly written thrillers in recent memory, Reckoning peoples the hills of Appalachia with true characters, not a forgettable villain or cliched rube among them. The sense of danger is palpable and Danielle Deadwyler’s commitment to communicating her character’s low key tenacity is a thing of beauty.
Reckoning remains true to these fascinating souls, reveling in the well-worn but idiosyncratic nature of their individual relationships—a tone matched by sly performances across the board. And just when you think you’ve settled into a scene or a relationship, Reckoning shocks you with a turn of events that is equal parts surprising and inevitable.
It’s a stunning film, and a rare gem that treats Appalachians not as clichés, but certainly not as people to be messed with.
7. One Cut of the Dead
For about 37 minutes, you may feel like Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead delivers, cleverly enough, on a very familiar promise.
One Cut opens as a micro-budget zombie movie, which soon reveals itself to be a film within a film when real zombies show up on set. As the bullying egomaniac director continues filming, ecstatic over the authenticity, Ueda appears to deconstruct cinema.
And though that may sound intriguing on the surface, the
truth is that what transpires after that 37 minute mark officially defines Ueda
as an inventive, gleeful master of chaos and lover of the magic of nuts and
6. Knives and Skin
Falling somewhere between David Lynch and Anna Biller in the under-charted area where the boldly surreal meets the colorfully feminist, writer/director Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin offers a hypnotic look at Midwestern high school life.
Knives and Skin’s pulpy noir package lets Reeder explore what it means to navigate the world as a female. As tempting as it is to pigeonhole the film as Lynchian, Reeder’s metaphors, while fluid and eccentric, are far more pointed than anything you’ll find in Twin Peaks.
And everyone sings impossibly appropriate Eighties alt hits acapella. Even the dead.
5. The Nightingale
The Nightingale is as expansive and epic a film as Kent’s incandescent feature debut The Babadook was claustrophobic and internal. In it she follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict sentenced to service in the UK’s territory in Tasmania.
What happens to Clare at the hands of Leftenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), the British officer to whom she is in service, is as brutal and horrifying as anything you’re likely to see onscreen this year. It’s the catalyst for a revenge picture, but The Nightingale is far more than just that.
Kent’s fury fuels her film, but does not overtake it. She never stoops to sentimentality or sloppy caricature. She doesn’t need to. Her clear-eyed take on this especially ugly slice of history finds more power in authenticity than in drama.
4. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Lopez’s fable of children and war brandishes the same themes as Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, but grounds the magic with a rugged street style.
Tigers follows Estrella, a child studying fairy tales—or, she was until her school is temporarily closed due to the stray bullets that make it unsafe for students. As Estrella and her classmates hide beneath desks to avoid gunfire, her teacher hands her three broken pieces of chalk and tells her these are her three wishes.
But wishes never turn out the way you want them to.
3. The Lighthouse
Director/co-writer Robert Eggers follows The Witch, his incandescent 2015 feature debut, with another painstakingly crafted, moody period piece. The Lighthouse strands you, along with two wickies (Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson), on the unforgiving island home of one lonely 1890s New England lighthouse.
For everything Eggers brings to bear, from the Bergmanesque lighting and spiritual undertones to the haunting score to the scrupulous set design to images suitable for framing in a maritime museum – not to mention the script itself – The Lighthouse works because of two breathtaking performances.
This is thrilling cinema. Let it in, and it will consume you to the point of nearly missing the deft gothic storytelling at work. The film is other-worldly, surreal, meticulous and consistently creepy.
In Midsommar, we are as desperate to claw our way out of this soul-crushing grief as Dani (Florence Pugh). Mainly to avoid being alone, Dani insinuates herself into her anthropology student boyfriend Christian’s (Jack Reynor) trip to rural Sweden with his buds.
Little does she know they are all headed straight for a modern riff on The Wicker Man.
Like a Bergman inspired homage to bad breakups, this terror is deeply-rooted in the psyche, always taking less care to scare you than to keep you unsettled and on edge.
From a Santa Cruz carnival to a hall of mirrors to a wall of rabbits in cages—setting each to its own insidious sound, whether the whistle of Itsy Bitsy Spider or Gregorian chanting— writer/director Jordan Peele draws on moods and images from horror’s collective unconscious and blends them into something hypnotic and almost primal.
Loosely based on an old episode of Twilight Zone, Us is a tale full of tension and fright, told with precision and a moral center not as easily identifiable as Get Out‘s brilliant takedown of “post racial America.”
While it’s fun to be scared stiff, scared smart is even better, a fact Jordan Peele has clearly known for years.
This has been a fascinating year for movies. While we had some
great sequels and superhero adventures, 2019 has offered a beautiful abundance
of original films and this may have been the single best year for documentaries
since ever. Favorites returned to form while new voices pushed the artform in
gorgeously necessary directions.
Here are our 25 favorite films of 2019.
Every time you think you’ve pinned this film
down—who’s doing what to whom, who is or is not a parasite—you learn writer/director/master
craftsman Joon-ho Bong has perpetrated an impeccably executed sleight of hand.
Just when you think Bong’s metaphoric title is merely surface deep, a
succession of delicious power shifts begins to emerge.
As the Kims insinuate themselves into the daily
lives of the very wealthy Parks, Bong expands and deepens a story full of
surprising tenderness, consistent laughter and wise commentary on not only the
capitalist economy, but the infecting nature of money.
2. Toy Story 4
Talents new and veteran gel to combine the history and character
so beautifully articulated over a quarter century with some really fresh and
very funny ideas. Toy Story 4 offers more bust-a-gut laughs than the
last three combined, and while it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of TS3 (what
does?!), it hits more of those notes than you might expect.
Between Forky’s confounded sense of self and Woody’s own
existential crisis, TS4 swims some heady waters. These themes are brilliantly,
quietly addressed in a number of conversations about loyalty, devotion and
love. To its endless credit, TS4 finds new ideas to explore and fresh but
organic ways to break our hearts.
3. Apollo 11
A majestic and inspirational marriage of the historic and the
cutting edge, Apollo 11 is a monumental achievement from director
Todd Douglas Miller, one full of startling immediacy and stirring heroics.
There is no flowery writing or voiceover narration, just the
words and pictures of July 1969, when Americans walked on the moon and returned
home safely. This is living, breathing history you’re soaking in. And damn is
4. Jojo Rabbit
Brazen, hilarious, heartbreaking, historical and alarmingly
timely—Taika Waititi’s Nazi satire is a unique piece of cinema. As we follow
the coming of age tale, would-be Nazi youth Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis, amazing)
uses his imaginary friend, Hitler (Waititi, hilarious) to bolster his flagging
Waititi uses the story of Jojo, his imaginary friend, his deeply
loving and supportive mother (Scarlett Johansson, perfect) and the Jewish girl
hiding in the closet (Thomasin McKenzie, a star in the making) to ask how we
can undo all the hate and fear society feeds us. The answer is tender, funny,
clever and one of easily the best films of 2019.
5. The Irishman
The 3 ½ hour running time opens patiently
enough as Rodrigo Prieto’s camera winds its way through the halls of a nursing
home, establishing a pattern. We will be meandering likewise through the life
and memories of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), “house painter.”
Martin Scorsese’s sly delivery suggests that
he’s interested in what might have happened to Hoffa, sure, but he’s more
intrigued by memory, regret and revisionism in the cold glare of time. The
result is sometimes surprisingly funny, with a wistful, lived-in humor that
more than suits the film’s greying perspective. De Niro’s longtime partnership
with Scorsese makes it even easier to view Sheeran as an extension of the
director himself, taking stock of his legacy in film.
6. Marriage Story
For years, Noah Baumbach’s films have probed characters struggling to live up to an image of themselves. It’s what he does, and now Baumbach has written and directed his masterpiece, a bravely personal and beautifully heartbreaking deconstruction of a marriage falling apart.
Tremendous performances from Scarlett Johansson
and Adam Driver cement our immersion into the lives of two people valiantly
trying to retain some control over the process of splitting up. Will you need
tissues? Oh yes. The story of Nicole and Charlie’s marriage will put you
through the wringer. And every frame is absolutely worth it.
7. Amazing Grace
Already a living legend in January
of 1972, Aretha Franklin wanted her next album to be a return to her gospel
roots. Over two nights at the New Temple Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Aretha
recorded live with the Reverend James Cleveland’s Southern California Community
Choir as director Sydney Pollack rolled cameras for a possible TV special.
To see Franklin here is to see her
at the absolute apex of her powers. taking that voice-of-a-lifetime wherever
she pleases with an ease that simply astounds. Even with the recording session
stop/starts that Elliot includes for proper context, Aretha’s hold on the
congregation (which include the Stones’ Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts) is a
8. The Souvenir
The Souvenir rests at the hypnotic intersection of art
and inspiration, an almost shockingly self-aware narrative from filmmaker
Joanna Hogg that dares you to label its high level of artistry as pretense.
The Souvenir is finely crafted as a different kind of
gain from pain, one that benefits both filmmaker and audience. It is artful and
cinematic in its love for art and cinema, honest and forgiving in its
acceptance, and beautifully appreciative of how life shapes us.
The danger in crafting a film with one extended
take – or the illusion of it – lies in the final cut existing as little more
than a gimmick, spurring a ‘spot the edit’ challenge that eclipses the
narrative. With 1917, Sam Mendes jumps that hurdle in the first five
It is WWI, and two young corporals (Dean Charles-Chapman and George MacKay) are tasked with traveling deep into enemy territory to deliver a message that will keep thousands of soldiers, including one messenger’s brother, from certain death. Mendes’s effort is absolutely thrilling and completely immersive, with ballet-worthy camerawork and pristine cinematography (Roger Deakins, natch) that never seems to blink. You won’t want to either, it’s unforgettable.
Todd Phillips offers an origin story that sees mental illness, childhood trauma, adult alienation and societal disregard as the ingredients that form a singular villain—a man who cannot come into his own until he embraces his inner sinister clown.
Joaquin Phoenix is a god among actors. His
scenes of transformation, his scenes alone, his mesmerizing command of physicality,
and in particular his unerringly unnerving chemistry with other actors are
haunting. Remember when we thought Nicholson could never be topped? Then Ledger
did it. And now Phoenix makes this the darkest, most in-the-moment Joker we’ve
11. The Farewell
Writer/director Lulu Wang finds poignant truths in an elaborate lie, speaking the universal language of “family crazy” while crafting an engaging cultural prism. As our window into this push and pull of tradition in the modern world, Awkwafina makes her “Billi” a nuanced, relatable soul.
Wang’s script is sharp and insightful, her assured tone is even more
beneficial. Even as the film feels effortlessly lived in, it never quite goes
in directions you think it might. Wang doesn’t stoop to going maudlin among all
the whiffs of death, infusing The Farewell with
an endless charm that’s both revealing and familiar.
Funny, too. No lie.
12. Uncut Gems
In what amounts to a two+ hour panic attack, Benny and Josh Safdie
do more than clarify Adam Sandler’s acting prowess. Uncut Gems articulates the
dizzying, exhausting, terrifying and exhilarating cycle of addiction in a way
few films have ever been able to.
It’s also an incredibly potent character study. Sandler’s NYC jeweler and gambler is a live wire, and Sandler’s particular gift is not only to articulate that quest for the thrill, but to underscore it with a tenderness that feels achingly sincere. If you’ve seen Punch Drunk Love, Spanglish or Funny People, you are among the few who realized Sandler could act. But did any of us know he had this in him?
13. Little Women
Just when you think, “They’re making this movie again?” Greta Gerwig steps in and gives this beloved story a fresh, frustrated perspective. Self-discovery, camaraderie and empathy still drive the piece, but Jo’s fiery independence has more meaning, Marmie’s self-sacrifice contains welcome bitterness, Aunt March’s disappointment feels more seeped in wisdom, and spoiled Amy is an outright revelation.
Gerwig’s writing, respectfully confident, brings conflicts more
sharply to the surface in ways that reflect the characters’ bristling against
unfair constraints with a clear eye. But her real strength seems to be in
casting. Lady Bird’s Saoirse Ronan is impeccable as ever, as are Timothee
Chalamet, Tracy Lett and Meryl Streep (naturally). But it’s Florence Pugh,
having a banner year with Fighting with my
Family and Midsommar in her rear view, who entirely reimagines bratty Amy,
turning her into the character we can most understand. In all, this remarkable
filmmaker and her enviable cast make this retelling maybe the most necessary
Us is far more than a riff on some old favorites. A masterful
storyteller, writer/director Jordan Peele weaves together moments of
inspiration not simply to homage greatness but to illustrate a larger, deeper
nightmare. It’s as if Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland turned into a plague on
Do the evil twins in the story
represent the darkest parts of ourselves that we fight to keep hidden? The
fragile nature of identity? “One nation” bitterly divided? You could make a
case for these and more, but when Peele unveils his coup de grace moment (which
would make Rod Serling proud), it ultimately feels like an open-ended
invitation to revisit and discuss, much like he undoubtedly did for so many
While it’s fun to be scared stiff,
scared smart is even better, a fact Jordan Peele has clearly known for years.
15. The Lighthouse
Director/co-writer Robert Eggers follows The Witch, his incandescent 2015 feature debut, with
another painstakingly crafted, moody period piece. The Lighthouse strands you, along with two wickies
(Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, both mad geniuses at work), on the
unforgiving island home of one lonely 1890s New England lighthouse.
This is thrilling cinema. Let it in, and it will consume you to
the point of nearly missing the deft gothic storytelling at work. The film is
other-worldly, surreal, meticulous and consistently creepy. And we’ll tell you
what The Lighthouse is not. It is not a film ye
will soon forget.
16. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
More than just a story of gentrification, The Last Black
Man in San Francisco is a multi-layered visionary feature debut for
director/co-writer Joe Talbot. Set against the changing face of a city and the
nature of male friendship, we follow along with lifelong friends Mont (Montgomery
Allen) and Jimmie (Jimmie Fails, Talbot’s longtime collaborator whose story is
the basis for the film) as they stake a claim for the majestic home where
Jimmie was raised.
Funny and touching with a knack for keenly unique observations, TLBMISF seems to exist in its very own time and space, intent to lay bare a melancholy but endlessly loving soul.
Just two features into filmmaker
Ari Aster’s genre takeover and already you can detect a pattern. First, he
introduces a near-unfathomable amount of grief. Then, he drags you so far
inside it you won’t fully emerge for days.
In Midsommar, we are as desperate to claw our way out of this soul-crushing grief as Dani (Florence Pugh). Mainly to avoid being alone, Dani insinuates herself into her anthropology student boyfriend Christian’s (Jack Reynor) trip to rural Sweden with his buds. Little does she know they are all headed straight for a modern riff on The Wicker Man.
Like a Bergman inspired homage to bad breakups,
this terror is deeply-rooted in the psyche, always taking less care to scare
you than to keep you unsettled and on edge.
On a mountaintop that rests among the clouds,
eight child soldiers guard an American hostage and a conscripted milk cow. Yes,
you’ll find parallels to Lord of the Flies,
even Apocalypse Now, but filmmaker Alejandro Landes
continually upends your assumptions by tossing aside any common rulebooks on
Landes never gives us the chance to feel
confident about anything we think we know, as the powerful score from Mica Levi
(Under the Skin, Jackie) and an impeccable sound design
totally immerse us in an atmosphere of often breathless tension and wanton
violence. In just his second narrative feature, Landes crafts
a primal experience of alienation and survival, with a strange and savage
beauty that may shake you.
19. Knives Out
Knives Out is
writer/director Rian Johnson’s Agatha Christie-style take on the general
uselessness of the 1%. And it is a riot. As it is a whodunnit, little should be
spilled about the film except these names: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis,
Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, Toni Collegge, Jaeden
Martel and Don Johnson. Wow!
Johnson proves that you can poke fun without
abandoning compassion. More than that, he reminds us that, as a writer, he’s
shooting on all cylinders: wry, clever, meticulously crafted, socially aware
and tons of fun.
20. Little Woods
Nia DaCosta’s feature directorial
debut, which she also wrote, is an independent drama of the most unusual
sort—the sort that situates itself unapologetically inside American poverty.
This is less a film about the complicated pull of illegal activity and more a
film about the obstacles the American poor face—many of them created by a
healthcare system that serves anyone but our own ill and injured.
But politically savvy filmmaking is not the main reason to
see Little Woods. See it because Tessa Thompson and Lily James
are amazing, or because the story is stirring and unpredictable.
See it because it’s what America
actually looks like.
21. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
It’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s clearest love letter to cinema both great and trashy. Spilling with nostalgia and packing more sentiment than his previous 8 films combined, Hollywood is the auteur’s most heartfelt film.
Not that it isn’t bloody. Once it hits its
stride the film packs Reservoir Dogs-level
brutality into a climax that’s as nervy as anything Tarantino’s ever filmed.
But leading up to that, as the filmmaker asks us to look with a mixture of
fondness and sadness at two lives twisting toward the inevitable, he’s actually
almost sweet. In strokes stylish and self-indulgent, Tarantino is bidding adieu
to halcyon days of both flower power innocence and the Hollywood studio
22. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Celine Sciamma follows up the vitally of-the-moment indie Girlhood with this breathy, painterly period romance only to clarify that she is a filmmaker with no identifiable bounds. In the 1790s on a forbidding island in Brittany, Marianne (Noemie Merlant) arrives to paint the wedding portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel), but since Heloise is not marrying voluntarily, she will not sit for a painter. So, a ruse is developed: Marianne pretends to be simply a companion as she steals glances then sketches from memory into the night.
What develops along with the startlingly beautiful intimacy
between the women is a thoughtful rumination on memory and on art, on the
melancholic but no less romantic notion that the memory, though lonesome, is
permanent and perfect.
Driven by a wonderfully layered
performance from Taron Egerton – who also handles his vocal duties just fine –
the film eschews the standard biopic playbook for a splendid rock and roll
Writer Lee Hall penned Billy Elliot and
Dexter Fletcher is fresh off co-directing Bohemian Rhapsody. Their
vision draws from both to land somewhere between the enigmatic Dylan
biopic I’m Not There and the effervescent ABBA glitter
bomb Mamma Mia. In the world of Rocketman, anything
is possible. And even with all the eccentric flights of fancy, the film holds
true to an ultimately touching honesty about the life story it’s telling.
24. Ad Astra
Daddy issues in zero gravity? There’s that, but there’s plenty more, as a never-better Brad Pitt and bold strokes from writer/director James Gray deliver an emotional and often breathless spectacle of sound and vision.
The film’s mainly meditative nature is
punctured by bursts of suspense, excitement and even outright terror. Gray
commands a complete mastery of tone and teams with acclaimed cinematographer
Hoyte Van Hoytema for immersive, IMAX-worthy visuals that astound with
subtlety, never seeming overly showy.
25. Dolemite Is My Name
“Dolemite” was the brainchild of Rudy Ray
Moore, who created the character for his standup comedy act in the early 70s,
where cheering crowds led to the urge to take Dolemite to the big screen.
Leading a terrific ensemble that
includes Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, Kodi Smit-McPhee and a priceless
Wesley Snipes as the “real” actor among these amateurs, Eddie Murphy owns every
frame. This film wouldn’t work unless we see a separation between Moore and his
character. Murphy toes this line with electric charisma, setting up the feels
when Moore’s dogged belief in himself is finally rewarded.
Dolemite Is My Name tells a personal and often hilarious story, but it’s one that’s universal to dreamers everywhere.
Honorable mentions: High Life, Pain & Glory, Waves, Hustlers, Honeyland, Ford v Ferrari
The Christmastime animated feature Spies in Disguise (based on a short called Pigeon: Impossible, which is an altogether superior title) is a mash note to science, weirdos and peace. I can get behind that.
Will Smith is the voice of Lance Sterling, America’s top
spy. Lance is cool. He’s daring. He’s unstoppable. And he flies solo.
But when an evil nemesis (the always welcome Ben Mendelsohn)
outwits him, he turns reluctantly to nerdy gadget officer Walter (Tom Holland)
Walter turns him into a pigeon. Naturally.
The ensuing fish out of water (pigeon out of air?) comedy is
clever enough to keep your attention. It’s equal parts fun, good natured and funny
without becoming overly sentimental.
Besides Smith, Holland and Mendelsohn, Spies boasts
impressive and interesting vocal talent choices: Reba McEntire as the head of
the agency, Rashida Jones as the lead investigator and Karen Gillan as another
techy in the agency named Eyes.
The movie looks good. In fact, in certain scenes—particularly
those in Venice—the film looks great. It also carries with it a healthy
message, one that writers Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor articulate without preaching.
The film is more charming than outright funny, relying on
its leads’ natural charisma and fun chemistry, but it does offer more than a
handful of chuckles. The wee ones at our screening laughed a good deal, while
the slightly older tots laughed on occasion but seemed entertained throughout.
It’s also a film that won’t make parents want to wait in the lobby.
Just when you think They’re making Little Women again? Greta Gerwig steps in and gives this beloved story a fresh, frustrated perspective.
tosses sentimentality to the wayside, thankfully. The vibrant retelling brims
with empathy, energy and laughter as well as those prickly emotions that dwell
within a family.
In fact, settling into
those very petty realities of sisterhood is a conscious choice Gerwig makes
with her retelling. Those who’ve always controlled what we see may see nothing
of value in so mundane a story as that of four somewhat coddled, routinely
bickering sisters on the precipice of adulthood, but who says those men are
Gerwig understands and illustrates the political, economic and often lonesome choices to be made, couching those in the equally honest tensions of disappointing your sisters when you choose.
Gerwig’s writing, respectfully confident, brings conflicts more sharply to the surface in clear-eyed ways that reflect the characters’ bristling against unfair constraints and expectations.
Self-discovery and camaraderie
still drive the piece, but Jo’s fiery independence has more meaning, Marmie’s
self-sacrifice contains welcome bitterness, Aunt March’s disappointment feels
more seeped in wisdom, and spoiled Amy is an outright revelation.
Saoirse Ronan, Gerwig’s
avatar in the brilliant Lady
Bird, is impeccable as ever. It’s her sometimes frenetic, sometimes
quiet performance that delivers Louisa May Alcott’s own sense of lonesome
Ronan’s flanked by superb supporting work including that of Timothee Chalamet, Tracy Letts and Meryl Streep (naturally). But it’s Florence Pugh, having a banner year with Fighting with my Family and Midsommar in her rear view, who entirely reimagines bratty Amy, turning her character into the sister we can best understand.
In all, this remarkable filmmaker and her enviable cast make this retelling maybe the most necessary version yet.
There’s something acutely familiar right now about watching
a consummate New York macher unable to help himself as he pursues more and more
wealth, drawing everyone around him into his increasingly unstable house of
cards until it all collapses.
But Uncut Gems, the latest panic attack from the
Safide brothers (Josh and Benny, who also co-wrote the script with frequent
collaborator Ronald Bronstein), captures so much more than our current moment.
For one, there’s the career-great performance from Adam Sandler. His take on Howard
“Howie” Ratner buzzes seamlessly from typical Sandler ease to pathetic
helplessness to manic moments of triumph.
Howie is a fonfer extraordinaire—a bullshit artist whose
jewelry business in the Diamond District functions to help him continually feed
his sports betting debts and keep his mistress (Julia Fox) happy with a
Manhattan love nest. Whatever scant love and money are left over go to Howie’s
family on Long Island (a point that sets up maybe the greatest music cue of the
year, and one of the funniest moments in a movie that’s full of them).
When Howie gets caught up in his latest round of juggling debts,
family drama and especially a rare Ethiopian black opal—a mysterious MacGuffin
that transfixes anyone who sees it—the race is on to come up with enough money
to appease his debtors while chasing the high of that one big score.
As Uncut Gems takes place in the long-ago days of
2012, that score revolves around a Celtics playoffs run. The Safdies throw a
bone to New York sports with a Mike Francesa cameo, but it’s Kevin Garnett
playing himself who almost steals the movie as one of Howie’s more fateful customers.
Celebrity and proximity to power infuse Howie’s life almost as much as
gambling—the Weeknd also puts in a memorable turn as an important buyer, and
lends his moody, drug-fueled R&B to the soundtrack as well.
That prevailing mood is a defining feature of Uncut Gems.
There’s the nonstop anxiety, but the Safdies and Sandler punctuate it with
plenty of humor—and pathos. The Safdies are in a class of their own when it
comes to drawing you in and making you care deeply about terrible people. Howie
might be enjoying more outward success than Connie from the Safdies’ last movie
Good Time, but it’s just as illusory. All debts must be paid.
And as with Good Time, the Safdies serve up subtle (and not-so-subtle) reminders that our actions have consequences, even for those who seem to have put together a successful life around assiduously evading them.
The film opens with a scene of misery thousands of miles
away from Howie’s cocooned suburban Long Island life. It’s a non-sequitur
worthy of the Coen brothers, our other great chroniclers of anxiety and
But the threat goes from menace to promise that none of us are immune from consequence, and the Potemkin lifestyles of the elite are built on shaky foundations. It doesn’t take much for it all to come crashing down.
In examining the world of poaching, director Jon Kasbe has
crafted a very personal story with his documentary, When Lambs Become Lions.
At the heart of Kasbe’s film is ‘X’, a poacher whose trade is
ivory. Working with a small team, X hunts elephants, hoping to harvest the
ivory before he is discovered by rangers whose job is to protect the area
wildlife. If caught, the rangers will have no mercy. The punishment for
poaching is death, and it might be a brutal one.
Wisely, Kasbe doesn’t show the more barbarous aspects of
poaching. In this way, he lets the human element of the story take center
stage. However, the natural world infuses the documentary with life. When a
unit of rangers comes across a lone bull elephant feeding in the trees, it’s
hard not to be infected by the same wonder that infuses the rangers. The
elephant is oblivious to the war that wages around him, even though he and his
kind are at the center.
On the opposite end of the poaching spectrum is Asan, X’s cousin, and a ranger. The rangers’ line of work is grueling and dangerous. Though heavily armed, they run the risk of being ambushed and murdered. They spend their time patrolling the vast landscape, hunting for poachers. On top of these dangers, we learn Asan and his unit of rangers haven’t been paid in months. With a pregnant wife and son at home, the situation for Asan is becoming desperate.
It’s impossible not to sympathize with Asan’s plight, and
Kasbe wants the audience to understand why people make the choices they do when
tough decisions are in front of them. In this way, he helps us to understand
that poaching may be reprehensible, even vile, but the situation is far from
ideal. If the rangers were paid on time, if the market for ivory dried up,
there might be a situation in which the battle for the natural world would no
longer need to be waged.
Kasbe lets the story unfold without judgment. We follow X and
Asan as they interact with their families, there are a few particularly
touching moments between the men and their sons, and as their jobs take them
into the wilds of Kenya. The parallels between the two men are not lost on
Kasbe. Both strive to take care of their families, and it’s easy to see why a
person might turn to poaching when the venture is more lucrative than the
As Asan’s wife hopes, perhaps our children will be better educated, giving us a future where these choices will no longer need to be made.