I believe Romantic Comedies like Crazy, stupid, Love are often responsible for the genre getting a bad rap. There are plenty of good things, but nothing is great, and there’s some troubling narrative choices.
First, the good things. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have amazing chemistry on screen, though, unfortunately, we don’t get enough of them. The twenty minutes we do get are magic. Their banter is great right off the bat, as though they live on the same wavelengths. They take fairly pedestrian dialogue and turn it into entertaining scenes loaded with sexual tension. These actor pairings are what make romcoms wonderful.
The notable portion of the film is the big backyard reveal scene. From Steve Carell taking Julianne Moore back to their first date, to discovering that Emma Stone is their daughter and dating Ryan Gosling, to the [troubling] babysitter reveal. They clashed together superbly, and it is one of the few things the script did well. No question it is the best scene of the film.
Which brings us to what doesn’t work.
Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore did not work for me. In a way, it makes sense that they don’t have any chemistry at all. It fits the story that they got married way too young and it wasn’t meant for that long term. That doesn’t entirely excuse their performances, though. The major issue with Carrell is that it doesn’t feel like it’s Cal in the movie. It feels like Michael Scott going by a different name, which describes his typecasting. Which is unfortunate. Carrell has some range and can act well.
Though we come up to the inexcusable part of the movie: the entire babysitter storyline. Crazy, Stupid, Love is a prime example of why older man/young girl love plotlines are predatory, creepy, and gross. These stories teach young kids all the wrong lessons about love and normalize problematic ideas around mature dating.
The kid chases after the babysitter the whole movie, glorifying her and putting her on a pedestal. He only professes his love and never gives her any reason to love him back. He doesn’t grow because of the rejection, in fact he doesn’t change at all. Despite all that, he is rewarded by her in the end with her naked photos child pornography! That is the wildest way to conclude that plot.
First, she didn’t learn she was doing something wrong by taking those photos. The film itself never even questions that what she did was inappropriate, nor does any character. Instead, she is repeatedly objectified and sexualized. I’m going to sit in my Psychology Armchair and guess that Dan Fogelman wanted to have his own babysitter give him nude photos, therefore in his movie the kid gets exactly that.
That whole plot is disturbing, from its bankrupt morality to the bad writing. It’s a stain on the film, ruining what otherwise could have been a nice RomCom romp.
Welcome to the Backlog! A series where I post untimely reviews of movies.
I always figured it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.
I love movies that fill me with a deep yearning for traveling. After watching The Talented Mr. Ripley,I looked at tickets to visit Italy and pondered constructing a time machine to go back to 1950s Italy. It seems like a blast. The cars are amazing, the waters are pristine. The beaches are lively yet not overcrowded. Rome is busy yet not jammed up.
Murder also appears to be the easiest fucking thing to get away. To be clear, I would not commit murder if I went to the 1950s. I’m merely pointing out that many of these murders seemed super easy to figure out and yet Tom escapes them.
With the fun comments done, we can move onto the magic of the film. The fun lies in the film’s glamorous veneer which, like it’s protagonist, is a mask to something entirely different. Instead of a dark, rotten core there is instead a fascinating contemplation of love.
Can an imposter truly love someone that sees only their mask? Can that person love an imposter’s mask? Peter sees all these wonderful qualities in Tom because he hasn’t seen behind the curtain to the dark core of Tom Ripley. And if he does, does it negate the loving parts of Tom Ripley?
For me, anything built on a foundation of lies is destined to rot and eventually collapse. Unless, apparently, you kill the person. And so I wished for Tom’s world to collapse. Because he violated multiple moral codes and lied to his loved ones. Yet, it doesn’t collapse.
Part of me was glad that he got away with it. That part of me that was enchanted by the mask and by the dazzle and charm of Tom Ripley. It’s nice to love the 2-dimensional mask put up by an imposter, because it’s so easy to hope that it’s true.
I started off this blog with a ranking of my favorite movies from the 2010s. A sweeping ranking list allowed me to toss out my thoughts on 35 movies at once. It introduced my Tiered Ranking system. There are a few thoughts I have about this choice.
First,rankings teach me broader trends about my cinematic taste. It isn’t the most scientific method, but as I wrote, the flow of words became my guide for ranking the movies. As words poured out of me to celebrate Inside Out and Lady Bird, I knew where they would go. I knew as I sat and stared at my blinking cursor to write about Get Out and John Wick: Chapter 2 that they could only go so high. When I finished writing about M:I – Fallout and A Star is Born did I realize that there were four movies that I felt more strongly about. And in the end, I found a common theme in all the movies: personal change at the center of the story. Inception wasn’t only a heist movie, but a fable about finally facing grief. Lady Bird perfectly bottled up the angsts of senior year to knock me on the ground. Annihilation is a magnifying glass examining guilt and moving beyond it without self-destructing. And The Social Network focuses on an unlikeable protagonist who changes as the years go by, and as his power grows he becomes the harbinger of seismic cultural change.
Which says quite a bit about who I am, and how I view movies and how I digest them.
But I also contributed to the destructive practice of assigning objective worth to pieces of art.
Ranking art is of little inherent value. Declaring one film to be in another Tier than another doesn’t do much. I draw an arbitrary line in the sand for the qualifications of art and what makes it worthwhile as if I am the judge of that. Clearly, I am not, and should not be.
Pretending to be places me in a crowd of white, middle-class, and heteronormative men who have dominated conversations around art for centuries. They’re an unnecessary class of gatekeepers that don’t promote beauty in the world, but limit it. To assign binary worth to art is to silence the creative voices of people considered less than for the most superficial and despicable of reasons.
Piling on to that destruction, reading a ranking isn’t interesting. I see the list, get the gist of who the person is and probably get rankled or soothed by where they place my favorite movies. I may breeze through their writing, though I don’t truly care for it.
And that likely happened with my own ranking series. What interesting things did I say in that entire piece? I joined the masses in declaring The Social Networkand masterpiece. I joined in the zeitgeist by slotting in three MCU films. I planted a flag on a culture way hill by placing The Last Jedi in the list. The same as many, many other people.
I imagine there will be a Future Jay Dubs who looks back on all of these lists and rankings with distaste. I hope there is. I hope I grow enough to free myself of ranking and assigning value to things which are indefinable.
For now, though, I find that rankings help. Not because they are sexy right now, but because I find value in defending and discussing and debating films. I do not fully buy into the Kumbaya feeling of avoiding rankings. I still find it more interesting to stir the pot a little bit, only enough to get discussions going.
I recall writing a history paper in college, a final for a class, about United Fruit and the Guatemalan Coup of the 1950s. In it, I argue quite forcefully that United Fruit pushed the country into revolution. I argue that United Fruit was behind just about everything to do with the coup: from exploiting a country to enticing the CIA to intervene in a Communist coup. My history professor docked me a half grade because I put too much of the blame on United Fruit, and as a historian I should be careful about assigning so much responsibility to one party.
The reaction I still have to this day about that is “Well, isn’t it more interesting that I did?”
I firmly believe that planting a flag proudly on a hill is better than watering down the message to appease the academics, or the crowd, or whomever. Essays are meant to provoke, not to pander. Hopefully the essays provoke more thought and respectful discussion than emotions and fights, but nonetheless essays are about constructing an argument and arguments are provocations.
Personally, I don’t fully believe everything I wrote in that paper. But I do believe that my paper was more interesting because I took an aggressive stance. In daily life I hold much more nuanced, and centrist thoughts about most things. When I write an essay, I am making an argument, and writing a centrist, middle of the pack argument isn’t evocative or interesting.
And yet, that’s the genesis of my blog. Followed up by a self-indulgent post examining my own posts. Which, honestly, if you have gotten this far I truly appreciate you and how amazing you are.
I look forward to watching each of these movies, writing about them, and looking at my past entries to see how I have changed.
And I hope in many ways that I don’t agree with those original posts.
Hail and well met! Welcome to my blog. This week is the penultimate post of my Favorite Movies of the 2010s series. Next week, we come to the end with my Tier 1 post. It’ll be a shorter read, I promise.
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 whole bunch of words followed by my favorite quote.
It is thanks to this movie that I am here writing all of this.
My childhood was full of movies. My family watched them almost every week. My Dad would make the popcorn, and we would sit down to watch a movie that my sister and I had picked out. We saw the classics, some new movies, and some pretty weird ones. Midnight premieres were a regular occurrence. I remember how happy I was to see the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before my sister had seen it. It was the first time I beat my sister to the theatrical release of a movie we both were excited for.
For 20 years, movies were entertainment that my family bonded over. Then, in 2018, Annihilation came out.
When I saw Annihilation for the first time, I was thrilled. I went home to immediately solve the puzzle in the movie. I sat and attempted to figure out what the Shimmer was, figure out what happened in there, trying to make sense of it.
A few hours deep into my research, I found Film Crit Hulk’s article about the movie, and my view of movies was upended. I began thinking deeper about semiotics, I began assembling the tools to discuss cinematography: why the camera is showing what it is showing, or critically what it is not showing. I learned enough to know that I knew so, so little about movies. After this deep dive, I saw the movie again and had an even stronger emotional reaction to it.
Annihilation isfunctionally about a group of scientists investigating an alien phenomenon. Really, though, it’s about change, about self-destruction and the paths that both can lead you down. When the film cuts to black it doesn’t matter if it is the same Lena that entered the Shimmer or her Shimmer doppelganger. Her transformation and rebirth during her journey in the Shimmer, and how she shed her guilt enough to continue living, that is what matters. The Lena at the end of the film isn’t the same Lena, but I mean that in the emotional sense. Not the physical, literal one.
I will be the first to admit that the film isn’t perfect. The first 30 minutes are all awkward, clunky exposition and at times the dialogue is pretty pedestrian (Shepherd and Lena in the canoe, particularly).
Through all of those flaws, I love it. The cinematography and art design is fantastic; the Shimmer is entrancing. Natalie Portman’s performance is compelling and heart-wrenching. The Nightmare Bear to this day terrifies me, and that scene is one of the most horrific scenes I have sat through in a long, long time. And at the end, I found it’s main thesis to be particularly poignant.
From then on movies became an obsession for me. With my MoviePass (RIP) I went on to watch over 50 new movies, and nearly double that in rewatches. In 2019, I saw nearly 90 movies in total and wrote some kind of review for 80 of them. I bought tomes of Pauline Kael reviews and her biography, I read books about editing and devoured Film Crit Hulk’s entire oeuvre.
All of this because I saw Annihilation on a rainy day with a friend. This film has lots of significance in my life and this list could never exist without it.
Then, as a psychologist, I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct. In some way, in some part of our lives. We drink, or we smoke, we destabilize the good job… and a happy marriage. But these aren’t decisions, they’re… they’re impulses. In fact … [i]sn’t the self-destruction coded into us? Programmed into each cell?
Many people more eloquent than me have written about the MCU dominance of the 2010s The rise of Marvel is the story of the decade for my own life, too.I have seen every single Marvel movie that has been released to this day. I saw every movie opening weekend in theatres up until Spider-Man: Far From Home. I skipped on that one (for a few weeks, at least)because I’ve grown tired of the movies. After multiple rewatches of the MCU, the formula is too apparent for me to ignore. The flaws of the franchise as a whole are too much. Why doesn’t anyone fuck? I mean that half-flippantly, half-seriously. Now that the Infinity Saga is over, I see more clearly that these stories don’t focus on emotional storytelling, but reshuffling the cards to keep the machine rolling and audiences buying. They are very successful at that, and I am not devaluing that. It has a time and place. You bet that on lazy Sundays or when I am sick that I turn on Thor: Ragnarok or I replay Civil War.
Walking out of Endgame was emotional for me on multiple counts. Ten years,24 movies, and over 3000 minutes of my life spent basking in the MCU and loving the characters. Now, I can look back on these movies with nostalgia and love. As I watched the movie, I could feel that building up inside me. It made everything so much more resonant as I began bawling alongside a hundred other people in that movie theater on opening night.
These movies were hardly ever the perfect movies. Though for me, they were all special in their own way.
Endgame is a watershed movie for me. A chapter of my life closed with Endgame, it feels like a rite of passage, in a way. I struggled through my teenage years with the help of Marvel movies, and now in the new decade I’m moving on. I’ll still put on Ragnarok when I vacuum, but I won’t be rushing out to see Guardians 3 on opening night.
And that’s okay.
Every time I watch this film I am amazed over and over again. Not only because of a super fun plot, but the exquisite craft that went into the writing. Few movies have ever made exposition so much fun and injected so much verve into each scene and each act without sacrificing the heart or emotion of the entire movie.
It’s a joy watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy flirt the whole movie. It’s fun watching Ellen Paige mess with physics in the dream world. Joseph Gordon-Levitt fights in a rotating hallway! It’s awesome.
Through all those good times, Christopher Nolan sneaks in a devastating movie about grief and emotional closure. Inception is a cautionary tale about ignoring your inner turmoil. When you don’t tie up your emotional loose ends you endanger everyone around you. It makes you think less clearly. You act guarded when you need to be vulnerable; it makes you build walls to keep people out when you most need to welcome them inside.
Mixed in with this emotional resonance is the moral quandary of the film’s climax where Cillian Murphy learns that his father did love him, he simply despised that his son wasn’t making a name for himself. Which was all a lie. A man’s life changing moment was entirely orchestrated and set up to achieve one outcome. Which makes it all more emotionally devastating to watch. It makes me consider how many of my life-changing moments were ‘lies’, as it were. How many times did my life change because of an event I misunderstood?
Then I watched it again and found an allegory for creating movies. You can find real-world parallels in each character, depicting the complex nature of how a movie comes together.
And in the end, the creator (Cobb) vocalizes the tough lesson about movies: they never depict real life. A movie can be overflowing with rich characters that are complex to deal with. And no matter how much someone tries, they will never amount to more than a mirage of reality. You can do your best and it won’t be good enough to recreate the real world.
That is why Inception is rewatchable for me. There is a lot to unpack about the movie, throughlines that you can’t find the first time and themes that don’t surface until the third viewing. Which you’re gonna do, because above all of that it’s a hell of a good heist movie.
I can’t stay with her anymore because she doesn’t exist.
I’m the only thing you do believe in anymore.
I wish. I wish more than anything. But I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.
I’ll come out hot: Lady Bird is a perfect movie.
Every single facet of this movie is top notch. Greta Gerwig’s direction is impeccable. Every scene is set up in the exact precise way to communicate the subtext needed for the story. I was never once bored or ever wondered why the hell a scene was there or what I was watching. Because every single scene was shot perfectly. Where characters were on the actual screen related to their importance in Lady Bird’s life at that moment. Or the bookend car scenes, where at the start Lady Bird and her mom are at the edges of the frame desperate to get out, complemented in the end by all three of them staring off into the sunlight as Lady Bird begins her next chapter.
Lastly, the movie is edited so wonderfully. Every cut lands on the exact moment that is indescribably the only place a perfect cut could have occurred. Right up until the end when Lady Bird takes a deep breath in and we cut to black, because when she breathes out it’s the start of a new story. It’s incredible. It’s a perfect movie.
The common critique I heard about the movie is that Lady Bird isn’t likeable. Which is something I fundamentally disagree with on two fronts. First, in general protagonists do not need to be likeable for a film to be good, or for the film to be worthwhile. Often, the unlikable protagonist is more captivating than the likable one. Forgive the diversion outside of cinema, but take Breaking Bad for an example. We can understand and empathize with Walt and his journey. Though he is the villain, no doubt. As the film progresses, he does not become more likable. He hardly was likable at the start. Yet it is one of the greatest TV series of the decade, and perhaps all time.
Secondly, we come to this particular example. Lady Bird being a little prick of a teenager is exactly what makes the movie so incredible. Gerwig strikes at the essence of being a teenager who doesn’t like their hometown, who is aching to escape, and lashes out because all of that emotion is too big a burden. Then in the instant they leave, and they realize they’ve left home and can never go back… you realize how truly special it all is.
Lady Bird captures senior year in ways few other movies do. It doesn’t glamorize the efforts of making the final year epic, nor does it glamorize the goodbyes (notably we don’t see her graduation ceremony. Lady Bird instead dives into the tumult of senior year at home, where the messiest of emotions are found.
It floored me.
I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
What if this is the best version?
Thank you for making it to the end of this post! I appreciate you taking the time to read it.
If you have any constructive criticism or want to discuss any of the films, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at email@example.com
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
You monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town!
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.
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 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.
– 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
So you’re a thief, but you don’t wear a mask.
Sometimes, just not when I’m stealing things.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You’re asking me how a watch works. For now we’ll just keep an eye on the time.
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.
[*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.
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.
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.
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.
Spare me your lies, temptress! Your emperor’s defeated, and I’m immune to your bewitching good looks.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org