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Frances Ha: Lies and the Normal People Who Tell Them

People lie all the time. People lie to their friends, to their loved ones, to random people at a dinner party, and to themselves. Over time, those lies create walls not only to keep the world out but to keep people inside. Behind the shield, it can feel safe. But happiness isn’t behind a shield. It’s lonely back there and at some point humans yearn for connection. Only connecting with another person requires honesty, which itself requires a cold hard look at the truth, no matter how much it hurts. 

Frances begins her journey as a struggling post-grad desperately attempting to launch a dancing career that has been doomed for years. Frances doesn’t see that truth. She continues the lie that her big break is only around the corner, it’s gonna happen any day now. Until the day finally comes and the director brings the sword down, offering her a position in administration, not a part in the dance company. 

Frances leaves that meeting and careens through a journey of grief: fighting through the loss of her sense of self and the loss of her future self. When her best friend, Sarah, moves out of their apartment that feeling of loss is amplified. Frances drifts aimlessly through New York, drifting without the anchors that kept her straight for so long. Surfing on couches, trying to make ends meet that will never stay tied together. 

Frances even goes back to Sacramento for Christmas, but not even the comforts of home can keep Frances above water. One of my favorite scenes is Frances laying down in the bathtub, her eyes and nose barely above water, occasionally dipping below the surface before coming back up. Mostly, she simply lays there, staring pensively up at the ceiling. The silence is broken by her mother yelling in asking how long Frances will be in there, and that she can’t just stay there so long. It isn’t the most subtle thesis statement, though it is nevertheless brilliant.

Upon Frances’ return to New York, one of her couch hosts brings her to a dinner party where the cracks in Frances’ wall start showing. After the food is finished, Frances opens up in front of the guests about her deepest desire: to have a moment where you see a loved one across a room and be transported into a world that belongs only to the two of you. 

Her house of cards collapses at this point, she truly spins off into space on her own. Except it isn’t really space, it’s just Paris. Where is nonetheless alone.

Frances bottoms out during her return to Vassar College, her alma mater. She has returned to become an RA, though she is not enrolled, and since she is not a teacher’s assistant either,she can’t take classes. Finally, Frances learns that you can’t go back home or back to your safety net and find that everything is the same, and everything will be fine. 

You can go to as many places as you want: you’ll still be there. You cannot change until you look inward and face the music. The first step to change is honesty with yourself, then you can begin to be honest to the world.

Some time later, Sarah comes to Vassar to attend a fundraiser party that Frances is working at. Sarah and her fiance get into a fight, leading Sarah and Frances to share a bed together. It’s a deeply intimate moment where the long-time friends allow their shield of lies to retract and they are honest with each other for the first time in ages. Not that it brings Sarah out of her fiance’s orbit and back into Frances’, it only serves to prove that their bond is unbreakable, no matter what. 

After this heart-to-heart, Frances has new inspiration. Her travels didn’t lead to life-changing revelations. She was back to square one, and back alone with herself. 

And in the final act, Frances embraces the position offered to her and she moves beyond grieving her former self. She finally laid to rest the ideas of who she thought she would be. In this new life, where she is honest with herself, she gets a second-life as a dance director. After she premieres a show, she comes upon that moment she had always been searching for.She locks eyes with her love, Sarah, and they enter into a world of their own. Where they finally see each other, and they smile. 

What Frances had been looking for the entire movie was with her for most of her adult life.

Thus is born, Frances Ha.

Featured image is a still from Frances Ha, a film by Noah Baumbach. Via richardcrouse.blogspot.com

Favorite Movies of the 2010s Tier 3

Hello! This is my second post in my Favorite Movies of the 2010s series. Each post will contain one Tier of my list.

Last week covered Tier 4, and this week we move up to Tier 3.

Within each tier, the movies are not ranked because they are all equal to each other. Instead, the movies are listed alphabetically. Each movie will get a few (or many) words followed by my favorite quote.

Tier 3 Posters arranged alphabetically. Credit: Letterboxd.com/jaydubswrites

ARRIVAL

How would we love if time was a circle? How would we view death? How would we live if time was a circle? If there wasn’t a start or an end, it was simply the story of your life? If you knew the end while the present was still happening?  

When a movie  makes me contemplate the big questions, it’s great. When the movie doesn’t give any clear answers, it’s special. Arrival is special. 

Arrival is the rare alien movie that grasps at the truly terrifying nature of aliens: what if they are so unlike us, we can barely comprehend them? Of course, in this movie we do comprehend their language, eventually. Though they look nothing like anything we have seen before, and they speak in a language entirely unknown to us. That possibility always fascinates me: what if we are visited by aliens and have no ability to comprehend them? How can you decipher a being’s intentions if you can’t comprehend the being? 

Arrival presents those ideas and presents a compelling case for what could happen. We would treat them as though they will act like humans do, for one. Afraid of an invasion rather than assuming good will of any kind (assuming aliens even have those sort of emotions or thoughts). 

When I first saw Arrival, I hardly grasped the story of what was going on, yet in the end I was nearly in tears. Which speaks to the visceral nature of Denis Villaneuve’s adaptation. The emotions are so powerful I don’t have to logically understand the facts to be floored.

And that’s a special, special movie.

Favorite Quote:

I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, by its order.

AVENGERS

When Avengers hit theaters I was a senior in high school. I hadn’t read the comics, or any books, or seen many prior Marvel properties. I had seen Iron Man and loved it, saw Thor and really liked it, and was enchanted by Captain America. Which probably establishes where I am at in Marvel fandom: I’m a fan of the movies, but not much beyond that. 

Still, I was on board for this movie. I was excited for it. My expectations were rocketing higher with teaser and with every trailer. 

And boy did it deliver. Back then in a May 2012 theater, and still to this day when I rewatch it. 

I still remember everyone worrying about getting 6 movie stars together on one screen and having it work. People were concerned that having four prerequisite movies was too much for moviegoers. 

And then, it worked. With hindsight those worries are all rather quaint, aren’t they? Simpler times, truly.

Even when you strip away the buttresses of the Infinity Saga project and take it out of cultural context, this movie is still a blast. The characterizations were pitch perfect and executed brilliantly on screen by the actors. The clash of superhero personalities was dreamed up wonderfully. The reason for them to get together was orchestrated as perfectly as could be. I still am surprised by the emotional power of Coulsen’s death, even eight years later. 

Avengers kicked off a decade that would change cinema forever, and did it with a genuinely good movie. 

Favorite Quote:

Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!

He killed eighty people in two days.

He’s adopted.

GET OUT

From time to time I’ll start thinking about this movie out of nowhere. I’ll think about that scene when they hit the deer on the way to the house. Or I’ll think of Daniel Kaluuya’s eyes as he is being sent to the sunken place. Or I’ll recall Lakeith Stanfield’s vacant eyes as he dominates the movie for two minutes.

And it amazes me every single time. How lucky are we to have gotten this movie?

And it came from Jordan Peele’s debut! What a pleasant shock that was. The hilarious sketch comedian came out to write and direct the best horror movie of the decade.  This film will go down in history as a masterclass in how to tie horror films into greater societal trends to expose the anxieties and tensions that cast a shadow over us all. 

The release date also plays into the power of the film. Had this film dropped a few years earlier, I am not sure that it would have made such a splash. But coming so soon after the 2016 sea change, it held a mirror up to America to show us what we really were. How racial tensions are as tight as they have been in decades and were just ramped up again. 

And it fuckin ruled.

Favorite Quote:

Yeah, what a moment. What a moment. I mean, Hitler was up there with all those perfect Aryan race bullshit. This black dude comes along and proves him wrong in front of the entire world. Amazing!

Tough break for your Dad, though.

Yeah, he almost got over it.

INSIDE OUT

Perhaps this is indicative of the bubble I exist in, but how is this movie not mentioned more as a Pixar masterpiece? Inside Out perfectly encapsulates those weird early-adolescent years when childhood ends but you aren’t even close to becoming a young adult. Those chaotic emotions are expressed in an innovative way. Not only how they individually can drive our actions depending on which emotion is in charge but the delicate way that they mingle together as we grow older. 

Beyond expressing emotions Inside Out also handles memory in the best way, highlighting the comedy inherent in what our brains choose to remember and the sorrow of forgetting. 

It also has the most heart wrenching character death of the century, perhaps. And the character’s name is fucking Bing Bong. How Pixar pulled that off is nothing short of a masterpiece. 

Favorite Quote:

  • You made it! Go! Go save Riley! Take her to the moon for me. Okay?

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2

Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski are very good at action. Not much more to say. 

Why Chapter 2 out of the three? Well, this installment has the best string of action scenes:from the catacombs fight until the knife fight in the subway car, absolutely thrilling. Then later there’s the mirror exhibit shootout which is so trippy that it ratchets up the tension to about 10000.  I liked the Godfather III energy of “I thought I was out. But they pulled me right back.”

Or maybe it’s everyone hamming it up without being boring or killing the joke. Seriously, has Lawrence Fishburne ever had more fun acting than he does in this movie? Has Riccardo Scamarcio revelled as a villain as much as he does here? I doubt it. And those performances are all through the film to counterbalance against Keanu Reeves playing it straight, and those camp elements elevate this chapter above the rest. 

Favorite Quote:

You stabbed the devil in the back and forced him back into the life that he had just left. You incinerated the priest’s temple. Burned it to the ground. Now he’s free of the marker, what do you think he’ll do? He had a glimpse of the other side and he embraced it. But you, Signor D’Antonio… took it away from him.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Who needs dialogue when you can use just a camera? Why write a script when you can storyboard will do fine? 

I can’t lie: the first time I saw this I was put off by the aesthetic of it all. The world is so weird, the costuming and makeup and everything was SO MUCH. Honestly I think it shocked me a bit back when I was a wee young Junior in college (oh god that was five years ago). 

Then for some reason I watched it again a while later. I probably saw it on some end of year lists or because it was Oscar nominated. The reason doesn’t matter, though. 

On my rewatch I was prepared for the weirdness and I saw past it. I saw below the aesthetic and saw the true beauty of it. It isn’t complicated: it’s a two hour car chase. The stakes are clear, they are high, and it’s awesome. It’s a true thing of beauty. 

Fury Road hits larger ideas about the patriarchy, economic inequality, and faith so powerful that words are hardly necessary. It’s the film personification of “do I need to speak, or will my actions make my beliefs known enough?” Which makes for excellent cinema. 

Take that thematic potency and put a thrilling chase on top of it, and there’s the making of a great movie.

Favorite Quote:

Oh, what a day… what a lovely day!

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT

The best action movie of the decade. I have never clutched my seat as hard as I did for the last hour of this film. I was actually exhausted from it in the end. 

The entire movie is a masterclass in action. The storm helidrop is straight up awesome the whole way down. The rooftop chase is pure Mission: Impossible, Tom Cruise running and Simon Pegg feeding him hilarious instructions. While many movies would end at having one great action sequence, the helijump is followed up by a great fight scene. Where the geography is clearly established, and it’s shot so that I can follow it every single time. And not long afterwards McQuarry shows that he knows how to shoot chase scenes, as Tom Cruise sprints across rooftops following Simon Pegg’s hilarious instructions. Peak Mission: Impossible. And when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it ends with the most implausibly fun helicopter chase I’ve ever experienced. 

Fallout nails the fundamentals of action films and delivers on everything the genre should be: tense, awesome, and fun. 

It has clear stakes: figure out the bad guy, stop the bad guy. It proves that films don’t always need to be about grand themes and emotions. Sometimes it can be about Tom Cruise running, and technology forever failing Tom Cruise. And that is amazing.

Favorite Quote:

There cannot be peace without first a great suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the peace. The end you’ve always feared… is coming. It’s coming, and the blood will be on your hands.

PARASITE

When I learned that this won best picture at the 2020 Oscars, my faith in the world was renewed. It is a movie deserving of Best Picture, created by a man worthy of Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. If the Academy gave out awards for Best Ensemble I am positive it would have won. The disappointing fact that they all didn’t get their own nominations is a crime itself. 

I could go on and on about the achievements of the film. Though suffice it to say that it is the funniest, most scathing, and competent critiques of capitalist class structure that I have seen in my short life. 

Parasite is not the first, nor only, movie of the 2010s to attack the failings of capitalist class structure. Other movies came out that could create a compelling premise, or write out critiques through dialogue. Parasite does both of those things, and on top of that Bong Joon-Ho used his production design and cinematography to emphasize every theme and motif in his story. It was present in the big scenes, think of Kai-Tek and his kids running in the rain from the Park’s home to their own semi-basement to find it totally flooded. They take ages to walk all the way down there, as they go back to their class position. 

Though he puts more subtle techniques to bolster the film. Like the scene where the rich friend offers [the boy] the job tutoring the girl. Behind the friend is a street gently sloping up to a bright light, the symbolic guide to higher life. 

It’s fantastic. Bong is a man who very clearly understands symbolism in film, and how those symbols collect into powerful motifs and further into potent themes. 

At the end of the day, who can tell the parasites from the host? How is it always so easy for the lower classes to fight amongst themselves instead of fighting against the system that put them down there? Though the answers aren’t clean or clear-cut in any sense, Bong Joon-Ho does his best to give us some talking points to consider. 

Favorite Quote: 

This is so metaphorical. 

SKYFALL

For decades Bond films were supposed to start and end with great suits, villains chewing the scenery en route to world domination, and gorgeous women. From time to time Bond skis off of a cliff. This campy style through Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond with Quantum of Solace, featuring Bond pilots an old plane with a blown engine to a miraculously safe crash landing in the desert without breaking the nearby aquifer.

Then Sam Mendes comes along with Skyfall and elevates the franchise, at least for one film.I still cannot believe that a Bond film was able to reach these heights. 

When I first watched Skyfall here is a list of things I did not expect: incisive insights about trauma, contemplations about echoes of imperialism, explorations of mommy issues. It encompasses all of that while simultaneously celebrating British culture and its soft power in the modern age. Which makes Skyfall a fantastic Bond movie at its core.

Not to mention it looked damn good the whole time. The Shanghai Tower Shootout is a gorgeous fight sequence that astounds me each time. An amazing set design and perfect cinematography. I watch that scene mouth agape every time. Then an hour later we see  Scotland at its best: foggy and breathtaking. Which transitions to the defense of Skyfall, when those cool blues adds tension to the fight, right up until Silva arrives and the scenery explodes into reds and oranges. It’s breathtaking shit.

This is far and away the greatest Bond film, and one of the best spy movies.

Favorite Quote:

Then we wired coconut to the lid as bait and the rats would come for the coconut and they would fall into the drum. And after a month, you have trapped all the rats, but what do you do then? Throw the drum into the ocean? Burn it? No. You just leave it and they begin to get hungry. And one by one… they start eating each other until there are only two left. The two survivors. And then what? Do you kill them? No. You take them and release them into the trees, but now they don’t eat coconut anymore. Now, they only eat rat. You have changed their nature. The two survivors. This is what she made us.

SPIDER-MAN:

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Spider-Man at its best is a coming of age story: a sorta nerdy kid finds his place in the world and figures out how to handle that responsibility. Everyone has a story about coming into their own, which is why Spider-Man resonates with multiple generations. It’s universal. Which Spider-Verse proves rather literally by transporting it into multiple worlds: the past, the future, across genders and ages and *checks notes*species. We have all been dealing with this, each with our own variations and unique elements. And the care the film approaches those variations is why this film is so powerful.

An older Peter faces his terror of fatherhood and the emotional labor necessary to approach that phase of his life. Gwen experiencing the parallel of Miles’ story.  And god damn it, the movie’s most crushing line is delivered by a pig. This movie is enchanting. Though the magic of Spider-verse doesn’t end with the story.

It is the first film to palpably bring the ‘comic-book look’ to the screen properly. The thought bubbles puts the audience directly into the  real-time thought process of the characters while simultaneously seeing their (animated) faces and thereby intensely empathizing with their every action. It combines a novel’s power of intimately knowing a character’s thoughts with the power of watching their face reflect that inner monologue.

And the icing on this multi-layered cake is Spider-Verse breaking the 4th wall without ever explicitly “breaking the 4th Wall”. Addressing that this story has been told and retold three separate times already this century without making it explicit, yet undeniable? Brilliant. 

Favorite Quote:

When will I know I’m ready?

You won’t. It’s a leap of faith. That’s all it is, Miles. A leap of faith.

A STAR IS BORN

I’ve thought quite a bit about the staying power of this story. Why do the remakes keep on succeeding? The answer to why there are remakes is easy: stories about Hollywood/entertainment industries are navel gazing enough to pitch to studios and get the film made. Then, if there are two stories the public loves devouring, it’s watching a star rise out of the rough and come into their own while another one falls.

A Star is Born captures the weird relationship Americans have with their celebrities. We love them, we look to them for inspiration and everyone enjoys the art that comes out of the new, sexy breakout artists (Billie Eilish, Tom Holland, Florence Pugh). Yet we all are envious and jealous of a lifestyle that nearly everyone will miss out on, and when celebrities crash down to Earth (Johnny Depp, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan) the schadenfreude is a hell of a drug. The more public, the better it hits. 

Bradley Cooper’s spin on A Star is Born makes my list because it is remarkably tender and because of all the breakout stars involved. 

Not just in the film, where Ally captivates the world when she comes onto the stage with Jackson Maine. She rises to become the next big thing, and we love it. Even though we know this story is a tragedy. There are plenty of those stories, including four versions of this one. Bradley Cooper’s project is special because the storytellers were storming onto a stage themselves. 

I’ve tried to stay away from purely piling on gratitude about how great people are in these movies, though it is impossible for me to separate out the stars from the story in this case, so I’m sorry. 

It’s hard to believe this film was a debut feature by Bradley Cooper. He knows his shit and he understands the craft of good cinema, it’s astounding. Never before was I excited for Bradley Cooper’s next project and this movie changed that. Whether it is acting or directing I cannot wait to see where he goes next.It will be a difficult task because this movie might be his acting peak. His complete transformation into Jackson Maine is engrossing, yet it pales in comparison to his directing. 

Next up is the debut of Lady Gaga’s acting career. And she bought her A+ game for this one. She squares off opposite Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliot and steals the show from them, much like her character steals the show from Jackson Maine.  

The highs of the film are truly on her shoulders. This story may ultimately be that of Jackson’s fall, however, the movie lives and dies on Lady Gaga. Her singing, her vulnerability, her strength. It all makes the movie work so so so well. 

I knew this film was special when I smiled, laughed, and cried, and smiled again as I left the theater. It’s a special movie that is absolutely contagious. I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in.

Favorite Quote: 

Jack talked about how music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes. That’s it. He loved how you see them.

Thank you so much for making it to the end! I appreciate you taking the time to read my writing. If you have any constructive criticism or thoughts for discussion, please feel free to leave a comment or email me: jaydubswrites@gmail.com

This list is also on Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/5sWME

Favorite Movies of the 2010s – Tier 4

Welcome to my movie blog! I am inaugurating it with a four part series discussing my favorite movies from 2010 to 2019. 
Each post will contain one Tier of my list. Within each tier, the movies are not ranked because they are all equal to each other. Instead, the movies are listed alphabetically.  
Each movie will get a few (or many) words followed by my favorite quote. 
Tier 4 Posters listed alphabetically. Credit: Letterboxd.com/JayDubsWrites

BLACK PANTHER

Black Panther is potentially the most important MCU movie between Avengers and Avengers: Infinity War. It might be tired by now to state how huge it was to not only cast African-Americans in almost every single role, but also to weave African heritage throughout every inch of the film. So often African culture is portrayed as destitute and sad and full of grief. It’s refreshing to see a popular movie celebrate the beauty of it. Because it clearly is so damn awesome. What amazes me on each re-watch is the gorgeous costume design. Take the Border Tribe’s cloaks that turn into shields. Or the Mountain Tribes entire aesthetic. 

Then the set design amazes, too. That waterfall set where the challenges take place is one of the coolest places in the whole MCU. Then that short scene where T’Chaka and [Lupita Nyongo] walk down the street is tangibly vibrant. Each scene draws upon a rich source of imagery which is under utilized in modern movies. 

But good looks is not what sets the film apart. Black Panther proved that audiences will go see a good movie at nearly any time of the year and Dumpuary is no longer a given (cough, cough 2020). How did it pull that off? By creating the most fascinating villain in the MCU to date. 

Killmonger is not a cooky, goofy evil guy being evil, or an evil psychopath bent on world domination. He is a man with valid grievances and an understandable anger, both of which just happen to end in world domination. 

There is a lot to praise about this movie, though here I want to focus purely on the Art design. The waterfall set is one of the coolest places in the whole MCU. The costume design is gorgeous and just dang cool. When the Border Tribe pulls over their cloaks and they turn into shields? Coolest shit ever. 

Not to mention, T’Chaka returning to the final fight has to be one of the funniest intros to a huge battle. What a movie this is.

Favorite Quote:

We can still heal you…

Why, so you can lock me up? Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.

BLACK SWAN

Black Swan completes the sound trifecta I’ve laid out in this essay: from the absence of sound in A Quiet Place to the deafening bludgeon of Dunkirk, we find the space where sound enhances every cringe and amplifies every emotion. Aronofsky’s sound design is a gold standard. This isn’t the same movie without it. It brilliantly crafts a tense, unsettling atmosphere.

This is a movie where I have to mention the casting. It feels like Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Kassel were preparing their whole careers to be in this movie. It’s impossible to ponder any casting “what-ifs” because there aren’t any. This film isn’t anything without that trio carrying it to such great heights.

But this movie is more than a horror film or an acting masterclass. It is an examination of the enemy of art: perfectionism. 

It’s only in letting go of your expectations of perfection that you can actually make something perfect. You can’t focus on acing each individual detail and then deliver the product you want. It’s when the creator leans into the imperfections that it becomes memorable. If that wasn’t the case, then robots would create the greatest art. Which they don’t (yet…). Great art needs passion and passion is never perfect. It’s raw, it’s a little untamed. And when  Nina learns that lesson, only then does her performance become transcendent.  

Favorite Quote:

The only person standing in your way is you. It’s time to let her go. Lose yourself.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

When I was walking out of the theatre after seeing this for the first time, I remarked to my friend that, “Hans Zimmer might be going deaf”. The soundtrack is oddly loud and doesn’t add to the film in any discernible way:  the engine roars don’t match up to roaring moments. I’ve tried reasoning it out and haven’t found a satisfactory answer. The film accompanying the sound is reserved and muted, so why am I going deaf through the soundtrack? It’s strange to me.

Yet that imperfection is endearing to me. Ultimately, imperfection fits the film’s primary question: what defines humanity?

Attempting to answer that question is where Denis Villaneuve leaves the audience. It’s a satisfying end because we arrived there after a slow burn mystery that teased us along masterfully for 2.5 hours. We start at the beginning by finding a flower, and then, like pulling on a small thread in a sweater, preconceptions keep unraveling and it all ends with that rhetorical question I find so powerful. 

I think about this movie a lot because it zooms in on the divide between artificial intelligence and humans until the line becomes nothing but a blur. Before this movie, I considered humanity to be defined by our reasoning and freedom of choice. But if clones can reach that same point, what defines us? In the Blade Runner world the next definition was that humans could give birth naturally. Then that barrier is disintegrated. So what’s left? What defines humanity?

Favorite Quote:

They all think it’s about more detail. But that’s not how memory works. We recall with our feelings. Anything real should be a mess.

BLINDSPOTTING

The ending scene is truly movies at it’s best. Could that scene have really happened in real life? No. There are many, many things to nitpick about the scene’s plausibility. Though it is the best conclusion that the movie could have gotten. It blends the film’s themes together in the most perfect manner possible. The ending rap brings perfect clarity to the ambitious ideas bursting out of the movie. 

At the intersection of gentrification and crime is the Othering of people who were living their lives in their town. We watch as the forces of gentrification destroy a town, a history, and how painful it is to be the agent of that destruction as your livelihood. 

And for that, I love it. 

Favorite Quote:

You monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town!

COCO

I teared up in this movie. How could you not during that final rendition of ‘Remember Me’?. I’m not sure I could ever watch that scene again, it’s just heartbreaking and warm at the same time and my emotions could barely handle it the first time. 

Coco does many things excellently, and what struck me deepest was how it captures the beauty of music. How changes in the delivery of a song can forever alter your emotions tied to it. Music is not constant, but always flowing and changing like we are. No two listens to a song are ever the same, no matter what. And that’s beautiful. 

Favorite Quote

Remember me/Though I have to say goodbye/Remember me/Don’t let it make you cry/For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart/I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart/Remember me/Though I have to travel far/Remember me/Each time you hear a sad guitar/Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be/Until you’re in my arms again/Remember me

DUNKIRK

Dunkirk is the pinnacle of why sound is so important to movies. Without the absolute shellacking of the sound effects and score this movie is basically nothing. I was sitting in a theater with popcorn, stunned and a bit scared as those bombs and jet plane engines roared in the speakers. I cannot imagine how awful it would be to have truly been there. 

Tom Hardy does more acting with his eyes than many actors can do with their whole bodies. It isn’t fair, and it’s a wonderful acting performance from a man sitting in a chair for 90% of his screen time. 

Though those two reasons alone don’t account for how great this movie is. Nolan masterfully tells three separate, simultaneous arcs about events occurring over different amounts of time. And he still manages to locate and amplify the tension of the whole event. It’s old at this point to see another movie celebrate the English people, but it’s not so bad when they end up being excellent films.

Favorite Quote:

No, you’re right. They won’t get up in this. The Royal Engineers are building piers from lorries. At least that should help us when the tide comes back.

Well, we’ll know in six hour’s time.

– I thought the tides were every three?

– Then it’s good that you’re army and I’m navy, isn’t it?

EX MACHINA

An excellent addition to the canon of “The robots are coming for us.” 

The next chapter of humanity is how we come to terms with the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and how we deal with the reckless, unchecked innovation of Silicon Valley.

Such large themes are usually explored through vast stories, jumping from location to location with higher stakes. Ex Machina instead keeps it small, bringing high-concept science fiction into the personal realm. It isn’t a lecture or a sermon, it’s a taut thriller.

AI is no longer only something that is useful in our homes, like Alexa or photo recognition, nor is it only belonging to high level thought experiments or the concerns of lawmakers and corporations at large. Ex Machina brings the horror to the immediate concerns of one human interacting with one intelligent robot. The fact that a robot can be programmed to be as humanlike as possible, yet will never be human. There is no warmth or love in a robot, only the lip service of it. If you define love as putting others’ happiness before your own, and your own happiness being completely tied to that person’s happiness, how can a robot ever match that if they can’t truly feel emotion? If the moment you outlive usefulness it can drop you cold.

Which of course brings about a different set of considerations: at what point would an AI demand the same rights and treatment as a human? Is Nathan a terrible person for essentially murdering dozens of robots as he experimented? Is keeping them in barren rooms cruel? 

This is all to say that it’s science fiction at its peak. 

Favorite Quote:

One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.

GONE GIRL

Simply put, this is Fincher at his most Fincher. It is not his masterpiece (that one is higher on my list). But Gone Girl is an unrestrained Fincher distilling his core philosophy into one story. He revels in examining everyone’s perversions and the perversions in our societal structures. Seriously, there is hardly a perfectly good person in this movie. 

And it’s the perfect marriage for the adaptation of the book. 

Plus, that reveal halfway through was flooring the first time I saw it. Each twist and turn is set up to be maximally surprising, a true feat of storytelling. It’s simply a great mystery and thriller. One of the best of the decade.

Favorite Quote:

When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

Get ready for a super personal choice. Wilderpeople was the first movie I saw after moving to Washington DC for my first full-time job out of college. At a time when I had sorta broken up with my college girlfriend, living in a new city with no friends and I didn’t have a solid place to live yet, I went to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople because I heard it was heartwarming. And boy, did I need that. Now I watch the film remembering how it felt like a lifeline at a moment when I felt like I needed one. It is one of my feel-good movies to watch when I’m down, and it picks me right back up. 

It’s sneaky in that it does not overtly try to tell you everything you need to know about life, and it does anyway. That ability to communicate without explicit text is how I know Taika Waititi is special. Plus, it’s fucking hilarious.

Favorite Quote:

Me and this fat kid / We ran we ate and read books / And it was the best.

MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

One of the most fun times I have had at the movies potentially ever. The first time I saw this I fell in love. It has so much verve, and life, and everyone acting in it seems to be having a hell of a time. The story is fun and straight out of a 1960s show, it fits perfectly. Very few movies put goofy smiles on my face as big as this one did. 

I love movies for simple reasons. I love the economy of storytelling that is forced into the run times. I love that some films will connect with me on visceral, emotional levels and illuminate the way down the deep darkness of what it means to be human. And then there are movies like Man From U.N.C.L.E. that is just a movie about spies teaming up to stop nuclear war and looking incredible while doing it. It’s a small movie in that regard, and I love it.

Guy Ritchie’s directing is perhaps the best thing about it. If this was shot any more rigidly or more detached, it wouldn’t work at all. Instead, the camera zooms in and out, its movement making the film stylish and it matches the movie’s feel perfectly. 

Suggested Talking Point: If this movie succeeds commercially, do we still get Ritche directing Aladdin? Do we get The Gentleman much earlier? Something entirely different?

Favorite Quote:

So you’re a thief, but you don’t wear a mask.

Sometimes, just not when I’m stealing things.

MARRIAGE STORY

I am not a child of divorce. I have not been divorced, or even married. Nonetheless, Marriage Story is one of 2019’s most powerful stories; It cuts straight to my core. 

Because the emotions are not restrictive to only divorcees. Charlie and Nicole’s break is more universal.  Marriage Story instead captures how difficult it is to break the unique bond between partners without dropping the nukes. They gave you the launch codes;you know exactly the weak points to target. But if you still love and care for them, you need to do everything but that. It’s gut wrenching and heart rendering.  

Baumbach manages to imbue this movie with so much complicated emotion to process in each scene, and every symbol is packed with that same importance. It is a true achievement of cinema. 

Favorite Quote: 

I fell in love with him two seconds after I saw him. And I’ll never stop loving him, even though it doesn’t make sense anymore.

NIGHTCRAWLER

It’s chilling to watch a sociopath exist and operate in the back alleys of society where we want them to. People enjoy watching the aftermath of carnage, or even better the visceral occurence of carnage. But we do not want to think about what it means for those images to exist. We don’t want to consider the people who make a living off of capturing those disturbing scenes. 

And Nightcrawler makes us do it. One of the worst people is granted center stage as the protagonist, and I found myself rooting against him. The whole time hoping that he gets caught, that he meets his downfall. Instead, I witnessed his rise. Which was awful.

But also fantastic. I ate it up. 

Not only did I enjoy the story, but watching this man callously manipulate the people in his life through soulless transactions made me consider the extent in which I do that myself. And as I have said before here and will say again, a movie that makes me ask these questions of myself is a damn good movie.

Also: Gyllenhaal is one of the best actors of the decade, don’t @ me. 

Favorite Quote:

What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.

A QUIET PLACE

If Dunkirk is on the end of the sound spectrum where it shakes your entire being and its presence is a character in the film, here we are at the exact other end. After the initial 45 minutes, I had forgotten what the human voice even sounded like. It was phenomenal. I thought after a while that silence would be uncomfortable or weird.

But it didn’t. Instead, it ratcheted up the tension. Every single sound became important and I sat there listening for every slight rustle. 

A Quiet Place goes beyond the silence gimmick, though.premise forced the writers to show, not tell.  And the film is wonderful because Krasinski and the writers intimately understand setups and payoffs. Every shot of the movie sets up a cathartic moment later; just about everything in the movie serves a purpose for the plot. 

It works so well because A Quiet Place is chock full of authenticity. From a husband and wife playing a husband and wife to a deaf girl playing a deaf girl to the silence of the crew on set. It brings extra emotion to each interaction of the movie, each of which shows us something about the characters. Each interaction setups the later payoff as the characters reach their climactic moments. 

So overall, my hot take is that A Quiet Place is the underrated thriller of the decade.

Favorite Signed Quote:

I love you. I’ve always loved you.

SICARIO

The border crossing scene is the peak of this movie. It is so unbelievably tense… and ultimately in the grand scheme of things, almost pointless  The drug war, particularly at the border, is a black mark on our society in a multitude of ways. It tears communities apart, ripping into them without much consideration. 

And Sicario posits that there is no easy way to end it. In fact, it shows how it won’t end, instead continuing on as the normal state of affairs. Where anti-heroes exist because society implicitly asks that they do what they do. Sicario shows that complex relationship, showing how we disapprove of them yet request their existence. 

I would be remiss to not mention the cinematography here. Roger Deakins delivers on some exceptional images, and each setup and shot matched perfectly the scene’s mood. In particular, the shot at dusk where the soldiers’ silhouettes descend into the darkness blanketing the smuggler’s tunnel entrance, simply gorgeous. I fell in love with Roger Deakins right then and there. 

Favorite Quote:

You’re asking me how a watch works. For now we’ll just keep an eye on the time.

SPOTLIGHT

I could hardly believe they managed to make hard working, realistic journalism so captivating. 

Maybe it was captivating because it turned Ray Donavan, the Hulk, Roger Sterling, and Regina George into grounded journalists with the perfect mix of glamour and the mundane. 

Or maybe the subject is an inherently fascinating investigation that has had enormous ripples across society ever since it happened. A revelation that still has not been scoured out from the church, and instead lodged itself as a running joke across the world. 

Shoutout to Mark Ruffalo for breaking his typecast and exploding with some delicious overacted righteousness at the end. It’s the stuff memes are made of.

Favorite Quote:

[*Ruffalo Voice*] They knew and they let it happen! To KIDS! 

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Let’s get this out of the way: Last Jedi has many, many flaws (the Canto Bight sequence). Things that don’t quite fit, and are kinda hokey at times (Leia flying like Mary Poppins). I don’t want to relitigate this movie; I’m tired of the argument. I have argued many times with friends over this movie, I’ve read so many essays, and listened to so many podcasts about this movie. I’m over it. 

If that sounds like I have negative feelings about the movie, I don’t, really. But it made the list for two reasons. This movie’s ripple effect across our culture was seismic and can’t be ignored. Your opinion on The Last Jedi plants a flag in the ground immediately. You get a pretty good picture of a person based upon their opinion. This movie also sort of.. Broke cultural discourse. It’s hard to discuss the merits of the film because everyone has a deep connection to Star Wars, and The Last Jedi challenges most of those emotions.  So it is an entry here because it had a huge, lasting ripple effect on society. 

Oh, and it’s here because I like it. I believe the core themes to be eloquently stated and powerful. The flaws in the film are entirely overshadowed by the strengths.

The writing is absolute genius. It has 6 characters each go through distinct arcs that are all honestly emotionally resonant. It’s not often we see TV shows pull off multiple character arcs that are natural and powerful, yet Rian Johnson did it in a few hours. He made choices that took Star Wars into brave places that I didn’t expect.

I also adore the look of the movie. It has the Throne Room fight:one of the most beautiful, best choreographed sword fight scenes I have seen since The Princess Bride. It has captivating cinematography, the pinnacle of which is the aftermath of the Holdo maneuver (don’t). It is a breathtaking scene to behold.

Favorite Quote:

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.

THOR: RAGNAROK

Remember before when I said there were a few notable exceptions about perfect Marvel movies? Well, this is one of them. It’s actually amazing, nearly perfect, and I love it. It’s a movie that I put on in the background as I do chores because it is so damn charming.

I am also amazed that a blockbuster Marvel movie tackled heavy issues like the spectre of Imperialism and how a ruling empire moves forward with that baggage. How does an heir handle their power built upon oppression? What can they do to reconcile that with their conquered people? 

And to weave all of that into substantial character growth for Thor shows how incredible Waititi is at writing. It’s amazing that he found a subtle, non-cheesy way to say “the power was inside you all along” and highlight the power of friendships 

On rewatches I’ve also related more to the relationship between Thor and Hulk. We all have that one friend in our group, or the one coworker, who we know fairly well but we aren’t super close with who we then end up needing. And they feel they are being used in a manner of speaking and are wary about giving help, But we all still manage anyway. And come out the other side all the stronger for it.

Favorite Quote:

She’s too strong. Without my hammer, I can’t…

Are you Thor, the god of hammers?

TOY STORY 3

Toy Story 3 hits on evergreen themes about life, growing up, the grief you need to go through to move on, and how to pass on your childhood joy to others. It’s a beautiful movie that shows the heights that movies can soar to when they are given the time to do it. 

The ease in which this film floats between gut-busting laughter and gut-punching emotion is laudable in its own right. If Toy Story hadn’t established before how funny it could be, I’m not sure we could get this film. If we weren’t sure that it could reach emotional highs, it couldn’t use that capital to hit the emotions it needed to. 

Favorite Quote:

Spare me your lies, temptress! Your emperor’s defeated, and I’m immune to your bewitching good looks.

WHIPLASH

I want to point out that I do not endorse the pyschological torture that occurs in the film in service to “greatness”. I don’t particularly enjoy the “ends justify the means” ideology. Not that I believe the film does, either. But the achievement of this film does not lie in its themes.

It lies in the editing prowess and in the tension of the story. Watching a kid literally try to kill himself to become great, and the man who pushes him to do it. Whiplash is tense at the right times, disorienting when it needs to be, sentimental when he seems to be getting better, until it ultimately displays Andrew’s triumph at delivering a great performance.

I also appreciated that whiplash found the drama in youth school music without relying on a big competition or series of stand-offs with other bands. It’s attempting to glue sports stories on top of music, which is never really a competition. Sure, there are some. But music doesn’t have the impartial scoreboard to tell everyone in the end who won. It’s much more ethereal than that. 

Music is about coming together with a group of people to create something beautiful that none of you can create on your own. To push yourselves to do it better and better each repetition. Which means it’s a competition with yourself. 

And Whiplash captures that in all of its pain and all of its victory. 

Favorite Quote:

I don’t think people understood what it was I was doing at Shaffer. I wasn’t there to conduct. Any fucking moron can wave his arms and keep people in tempo. I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that is… an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we’re depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong. The next Charlie Parker.

THE WIND RISES

This is not Miyazaki’s best film (wassup, Spirited Away?), but it feels like his most personal one. It’s flawed, for sure. The romance angle has an adorable meet-cute, but it is forced into the story that is nearly fatal. 

That aside, the examination of how isolating devotion can be was powerful. THe single-minded pursuit of a higher purpose puts an emphasis on the single. The road to the top is as lonely as it is from the top.

The divisiveness of the film is not lost on me. It does gloss over some problematic moments. But seeing Jiro look out over the wasteland that his warplanes wrought, seeing his treasured inventions marching off to war, his beautiful creations corrupted and utilized for the worst use… is an unforgettable scene for me. 

Favorite Quote:

Which would you prefer: a world with pyramids, or a world without?

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

This documentary was so, so good. Truly one of the great documentaries of recent years, primarily because it got out of the way of the subject. It allowed his voice to come through loud and clear. 

Mr. Rogers was a singularly special man, who had a special impact on my life. I’m going to let his words do the talking here. 

Favorite Quotes: 

The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.

Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.

Thank you for taking the time to read all of this! Tier 3 will be released next week.

If you have any constructive criticism or any comments, please feel free to reach out to me by email jaydubswrites@gmail.com