Friday, April 12, 2024

The Intense Impact of A24’s CIVIL WAR Comes From Its All-Too-Real Feel

Opening today at a multiplex near us all:

CIVIL WAR (Dir. Alex Garland, 2024)

Alex Garland’s fourth film as director (and eighth as screenwriter), after an impressive run that includes EX MACHINA, ANNIHILATION, and MEN; is the fillmmaker’s most intense, and impactful work yet in its depiction of a lawless, ravaged country that has been torn apart by the destructive divisions that we’re all very aware, and frightened of right now. 

 

Yes, it’s a familiar dystopian future scenario, but without sci-fi tinges as it appears to happen in the very near future under the reign of a nameless fascist three-term president played by Nick Offerman (who will always be Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation to me). 

 

The film follows Kirsten Dunst as a tough as nails war photographer (it’s mentioned that her coverage of the Antifa Massacre broke her career), Wagner Moura as her journalist friend, Stephen McKinley Henderson as an elder New York Times reporter, and Cailee Spaeny as a young aspiring photojournalist, as they travel from the Big Apple to Washington DC to get an interview with the president because as Moura says, “it’s the last story out there.”

 

Driving in a white SUV through threatening territory, the ragtag crew encounter violence in the form of open country, and urban shoot-outs; and a militia group headed by a grim, camouflaged Jesse Plemmons (Dunst’s real-life husband) who interrogates our protagonists standing over a mass grave of bloody bodies in the movie’s scariest, edgiest scene.

 

The raw look of the film adds to its authenticity as cinematographer Rob Hardy, who had worked on Garland’s previous films, aims to illustrate what the photographer characters capture on their cameras with gritty still shots effectively being presented throughout. CIVIL WAR itself was shot on a new camera, the digital handheld DJI Ronin 4D, which self stabilizes, decreasing vertical shake.

 

While I was left with some questions about the crumbling nation Garland presents, CIVIL WAR is a compellingly executed narrative about a road trip from hell that culminates in a fiery, bombastic White House climax that will stick in your head for days. Its grounded by the sharp performances of Dunst, in a distinctively different role than she’s ever played before, and Spaeny, whose investment here made me forget pretty quickly that her breakthrough roles was portraying Elvis Presley’s all-too-young wife in Sofia Coppola’s PRISCILLA last year.

 

With his latest offering for what’s arguably American’s hippest film production company, A24, Garland again gives us a thoughtful, fearless, and abrasive take on compromised, and cornered human nature. It’s also a tribute to journalism, and the crucial place the press have in our democracy. Dunst and her fellow scrappy newshounds never spout out any opinions about anything that went down or lament where they are currently in all the chaos; they just do their jobs without bias, only wanting the best in-the-moment documentation. 


However, my cynicism at times made me think these people wouldnt get as far as they did in these treacherous badlands with a vehicle with the large letters denoting PRESS” on its front doors.


CIVIL WAR can be a disturbing, and often jarring, experience, but what makes it really scary is how real it feels as it’s a harsh warning about what really could be coming in our future considering, well, everything.


More later...

Thursday, April 11, 2024

That Time The Travelling Wilburys Stole A Line From An ‘80s Melanie Griffith Movie

That’s right, the rock supergroup made up of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty (Roy Orbison was a member, but passed after their first record’s release) lifted a line (and twisted it), from Mike Nichols’ 1988 Melanie Griffith comedy WORKING GIRL, and it’s a doozy.

At a party scene, Griffith’s ambitious Tess McGill schmoozes with a colleague she’s just met, played by Harrison Ford at his ‘80s prime, and says (after a few tequila shots):

 

“I’ve got a head for business, and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?”



Cut to the first single off of the Travelling Wilburys second album in 1990, jokingly entitled Vol. 3, “She’s My Baby,” featuring this couplet that comically reverses the line:

 

“She’s got a body for business, got a head for sin/She knocks me over like a bowling pin”


The line is sung by George Harrison on the single (the same version of which kicks off the record), but there is a demo of the song that has Dylan singing the entire song so it’s safe to assume that he’s the one that had the idea to co-opt Griffith’s line, which came from WORKING GIRL screenwriter Kevin Wade. 

 

Lynne said in a Rolling Stone interview at the time of Vol. 3, the band heavily relied on Dylan for their lyrics: “We all throw in ideas and words, but when you’ve got a lyricist like Bob Dylan — well, what are you gonna do?” So it’s highly likely that it was Dylan, who has a history of quoting without credit from movies, Civil War-era poetry, and even an episode of Star Trek, that thought it was a line worth stealing, and toying with.

 

Dylan didn’t have to have seen the movie either to have been exposed to the dialogue; it was featured in the trailer, and in TV spots that ran throughout the film’s successful release in late December 1988 through the next year, in which it was nominated for six Oscars (it only won one, Carly Simon for her song “Let the River Run”).

 

So I’ll again quote His Bobness, “Steal a little and they throw you in jail/steal a lot and they make you king,” and leave you with the rousing video from the song in question - “She’s My Baby”:



More later...


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Full Frame 2024: Part Two


My second day at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham was my busiest day of watching films on the big screen in a long while. And the whole day was spent in Fletcher Hall, the main stage at the Carolina Theater, with its 1,048 seats and two balconies. 

Saturday morning, I attended the Remembering Nancy Buirski event, in which a host of the Full Frame founders colleague friends, including Co-Festival Director Sadie Tillery, filmmakers Yance Ford, Chris Hegedus, and Sam Pollard; Center for Documentary Studies Director Tom Rankin, and Buirskis sister, Judy Cohen, gave really touching, really emotional testimonies to the recently passed Full Frame founder and filmmaker.

POWER (Dir. Yance Ford, 2024)


Ford’s follow-up to his excellent Oscar nominated doc, STRONG ISLAND (which I called “one of the strongest documentary documentary debuts I’ve ever seen,” when it screened at Full Frame 2017), is a fascinating thesis on the history of policing in America. In a thorough effort to find the roots and cause of where we are now, Ford calls upon writers, scholars, and most dominatingly, Minneapolis Police Inspector Charles Adams, to put into perspective the issues that result in extreme brutality through the dawn of the first forces to the modern day tragedies of Rodney King and George Floyd. This compelling, and often disturbing, doc will premiere on Netflix later this year.

UNION (Dirs. Stephen Maing & Brett Story, 2024)

“We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space because while he was up there we were signing people up.” - Chris Smalls, President of the Amazon Labor Union

The struggle of current and former Amazon employees in Staten Island fighting for their rights against Jeff Bezos’ mega corporation is captured with grit in this scrappy yet vivid doc. The story is largely headed by the strong-minded Chris Smalls, who was fired for protesting work conditions from the company’s New York warehouse in 2020, and founded the ALU. We follow Smalls as he mans a stand across from the ginormous fulfillment center (shot so ominously it comes off like the Watergate in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN), and urges passing workers to unionize. The friction between Smalls, and his colleagues is palpable at moments, but the sense of community is undeniable especially when times get tight. UNION is a crowd pleaser of a impactful doc that should be sought out when it, with hope, opens wide after its run on the festival circuit. 

ENO (Dir. Gary Hustwit, 2024)

At past Full Frames, Saturday night was often when a music documentary, or rockumentary, was given the spotlight with previous years featuring such illuminairies as Arcade Fire, the Avett Brothers, Nick Cave, the Magnetic Fields, the National, and Pussy Riot, so I was elated to see that this year’s subject is one of my favorite figures in modern music: Brian Eno. 

Though he’s more known as a producer (U2, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Devo, lovers of art rock well know his performing chops as shown here in rare live footage of his tenure in Roxy Music, and in the studio working on his seminal ambient solo work (one of his early albums is actually called Ambient 1: Music for Airports).

Thing is, this experimental film, billed as “the world’s first generative cinematic documentary,” is presented from a code via custom made software that determines different routes in which to assemble the scenes so it’s different every time. In a Q & A following the screening, director Hustwit said that the version that was shown at Sundance had a lot more Laurie Anderson cues in it. So it’s kind of a Choose Your Own Adventure-style kind of doc presentation. That’s fine and all, but I just want to know if there’s a version that has more Devo.

As a fan, I’d like to see multiple takes on this material, so I’m sure I'll be revisiting this in the future. Hustwit’s ENO gives hope that more music-themed docs will attempt anti-Wikipedia-type run downs of careers, and mix it up a bit. But even without the flashy packaging, Mr. Eno is more than enough of an engaging artist to spend time with, and this doc is at its best when it cools it with the code, and just hangs with him.

More later...

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Full Frame 2024: Part One


After years of being a virtual only event, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival returned to the Carolina Theater, and Convention Center in downtown Durham, N.C. this last weekend. Despite not being as robustly attended as in the pre-pandemic days, there was a healthy roster of films with 50 titles including 35 features and 15 short films from 22 countries, and a lot of familiar faces piling in to take in the four day run of primo infotainment.


The shadows of Full Frame founder Nancy Buirski, and documentary filmmaker god D.A. Pennebaker, who both passed since the last in-person Full Frame in 2019, loomed large over this year’s recovened proceedings, and were lovingly celebrated this festival with screenings of their work, and tribute panels featuring remembrances from colleagues.

Having missed the first day of Full Frame 2024, I kicked off my Friday at the fest with Buirski's final film:

DESPERATE SOULS, THE DARK CITY, AND THE LEGEND OF MIDNIGHT COWBOY 
(Dir. Nancy Buirski, 2022)


Nobody whos ever seen John Schlesinger’s 1969 classic, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, the gritty X-rated counterculture drama that won the Best Picture Oscar in 1970, will ever forget it. I say that because it's been decades since I've seen it on VHS, but its scuzzy depiction of the friendship between two hustlers, Jon Voights Texan rube, Joe Buck, and Dustin Hoffmans sleazy schemer Ratso Rizzo is permanently burned into by brain.

Inspired by Glenn Frankels 2021 book, Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic, Buirski examines the complicated feelings, and tumultuous times behind the amorously questionable adaptation of James Leo Herlihys 1965 novel, and offers a lot of tasty context to take in, especially in its exploration of the gay cowboy motif, which, of course, leads to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN comparisons (and use of clips).

Voight appears in tight close-up to give his side of the story, happily with no right-wing nuttiness, while co-star Hoffman appears only in archival interviews, alongside insights provided by actors Bob Balaban (whose first film this was), Brenda Vaccaro, Jennifer Salt (daughter of screenwriter Waldo Salt); and critics Charles Kaiser, J. Hoberman, and Lucy Sante.

Buirski’s superb film effectively breaks down of Schelishers unforgettable film in thought provoking moment after moment, leaving one to reevaluate MIDNIGHT COWBOY’S place in film history, queer cinema, and pop culture overall. Having seen several other of the Pulitzer Prize winning woman's other films having gotten spotlights at previous Full Frames like THE LOVING STORY, BY SIDNEY LUMET, and THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR, with her in attendance, and participating in Q & As afterwards, it was quite moving to take in her latest, but extremely sad to not have her there at the end this time to discuss it.

Next up, I finished off my Friday night with a ragged rock doc:

A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON (Dir. Les Blank, 1974)


Going in, I was expecting to learn something about the life of legendary Tulsa musician Leon Russell, but this curious, ramshackle doc that was shot 50 years ago, but shelved until 2015, doesn’t aim to educate - just entertain. The film is split between weird, quirky footage from over a three-year period (‘72-‘74) filmed at Russell’s studio on Grand Lake in Oklahoma, and rowdy concert sequences that show Russell at the top of his game mesmerizing packed audiences.

There are also fascinating time capsule-worthy appearances by George Jones, Willie Nelson, and the lesser-known singer-songwriter Eric Anderson, who seems to clash a bit with Russell in the studio. So I didn't learn anything about Russells background, catalogue, or what makes him tick, but I did learn that he was a glorious crowd-pleasing showman with a killer voice, and grand piano chops. And despite this relics disjointed, dated approach, that was all I needed.

Stay tuned for Part Two for more Full Frame 2024 coverage.

More later...

Thursday, April 04, 2024

The Greatest Moment In Pop Culture History: William Shatner Covering Elton John’s “Rocket Man”


After much deliberation through many studies, countless sleepless nights, and endless arguing with colleagues (i.e. my cats), I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that William Shatner’s cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” is the single greatest moment in pop culture history.

The incredible event went down on January 14, 1978 at the 5th Saturn Awards (broadcast as The Science Fiction Awards on January 21, 1978), which the Star Trek star co-hosted with actress Karen Black. At one point during the awards ceremony (in which STAR WARS unsurprisingly swept), famous lyricist Bernie Taupin, best known for his songwriting collaborations with Elton John; came on stage to introduce the very special number.

 

The sunglasses-wearing, white-gloved, tuxedoed Taupin addressed the audience: 

 

“In 1972, when Elton John and I wrote ‘Rocket Man,’ it became very popular among the listeners. Due to the interest in the meaning of the song, now in 1978 at the Science Fiction Film Awards, I’m trying proud to once again present my ‘Rocket Man,’ as interpreted by our host, William Shatner. Thank you.’

 

As dripping with gravitas as that intro was, it did little to truly prepare the crowd for the intense interpretation they were about to experience. Watch the clip:

 


Chills, huh? The concept is very clear: a man pondering his existence in the early evening over a cigarette is encountered by his other selves, from as the night drunkenly progresses. When one Shatner (in a big close-up projection) statically states, ‘Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,’ to which the original early evening Bill responds, ‘in fact, it’s cold as hell,’ it hits you right in the feels.

 

Then the song climaxes with the drunkest, most late night vision of Shatner, tie-undone, slurring supremely, and dancing in a fists-clenched manner that strongly resembles Donald Trump’s dance moves, appearing to take the tune home. 

 

The over-whelmingly power performance concludes with each of the three Shatners (maybe this concept was inspired by there being multiple Star Trek episodes with Captain Kirk doubles?) reciting the song’s dramatic last line ‘And I think it's gonna be a long, long time,’ separately, then together until they merge as one.

 

When watching this amazing video, I can’t believe how the audience was able to keep from laughing (I think you can hear some gasps though) because this shit is hilarious AF. In the pre-YouTube era, or pre-internet era in general, this was a very rare video that one might hear talk of, but not actually see.

 

I remember seeing the late, great SNL legend Phil Hartman bring it up on a late night talk show sometime in the late ‘80s-early ‘90s, saying there was a videotape of it being passed around through his comedy buddies, but it didn’t gain real notoriety until another comedy legend (that thankfully is still with us) Chris Elliot parodied Shatner’s spoken word spectacle on an episode of Late Night with David Letterman on June 12, 1992:

 


Since then it’s also been targeted by Beck (from the 1997 video for “Where it’s At”):



And Family Guy (“And the Wiener is...” S3E5, broadcast on August 8, 2001:



What’s funny about these takes is that none of them really satirizes what Shatner did in his immaculate presentation of the iconic pop classic, they just do what he did as it can’t *be* parodied, only imitated. 

 

It’s also funny that Shatner has re-framed the performance, claiming it wasn’t meant to be seen by anyone but the audience at the Saturn Awards show (although it was broadcast less than a week after its taping on network TV, and that he meant it as a joke.

 

“I thought how funny, amusing, interesting – all those words - it would be if I did Frank Sinatra doing that song,” Shatner reflected in a 2019 interview. “He loosened the collar, he puffed out a cigarette, and then what I thought, ‘Well, if I try to do anything different, it’s [in monotone] ‘Rocket man,’ that’s Captain Kirk, and then there’s ‘Rock it, man!’ like a rock ‘n roll guy, I thought that was another interpretation, and then there was a third interpretation, three ways, three layers that I could do it. I was trying to be amusing in front of a 100 people.”


In a 2022 interview with Chris Wallace on CNN, Shatner is again confronted with the clip, and again re-inforces his view that he was “just kidding around, I didn’t know they were recording it,” even going on to say “I’m front of an audience, I’m doing this thing; we’re all laughing, we’re all having fun,” when the clip contains no laughter from said audience. That’s one of the things that makes it so funny now, is how seriously it’s taken.

 

Not my finest moment,” he confessed to Wallace. “But I re-recorded it on another album the way I thought it should go.” What Shatner is referring to having released a new version of the song for his album Seeking Major Tom in 2011. 

 

Also, this new version of “Rocket Man” was released on a limited edition seven inch single in 2022 with this nifty picture sleeve:


Since Shatner actually became a rocket man in real life, via a brief trip into space on a capsule piloted by Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin in 2021, his cover has much more resonance, which makes it even funnier.


If this post is your first time seeing the greatest moment in pop culture history, I think it's gonna be a long, long time before you ever forget it. 


Just as Shatner recites whispering with incredible drama: A long...long...time.


More later...

Monday, April 01, 2024

Movie Of The Week: THE MOSQUITO COAST

And now, another entry in this year’s new series:


Movie of the Week: Peter Weir’s THE MOSQUITO COAST (1988).

Between Indiana Jones sequels in the mid to late 80s, Harrison Ford was on an interesting roll with WITNESS (his only Oscar nom), FRANTIC, and WORKING GIRL, but this role as a idealistically delusional guy who pulls his family, including wife Helen Mirren and son River Phoenix (leading the way for his crucial part in INDY 3), away from society to futilely build a new civilization in Central America might be his most invested performance ever. It also may be Ford’s most loathsome character this side of WHAT LIES BENEATH, but the message that lies beneath this forgotten gem can't be denied: get over yourself.

Author’s Note: I’ve not seen the Apple TV series adaptation (2021-2023) of Paul Theroux’s book the 88 film was based on starring his nephew Justin Theroux. Should I?

More later...

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

R.I.P. M. Emmet Walsh (1935-2024)


R.I.P. M. Emmet Walsh

True movie and TV fans know this guy as he has well over 200 credits mostly in small parts (mostly as corrupt cops or middle men), but he owned his starring part in the Coen brothers’ 1984 debut BLOOD SIMPLE. From his first film role in ALICE'S RESTAURANT through appearances in everything from PLANET OF THE APES and AIRPORT sequels to classics like SLAP SHOT, THE JERK (the madman that shoots at Steve Martin’s Navin R. Johnson!), BLADE RUNNER, and SERPICO the guy put in memorably crusty work. Film critic legend, Roger Ebert once wrote, “No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” Amen.

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Friday, March 15, 2024

ONE LIFE: An Anthony Hopkins WWII Drama That Will Get You In The End

Opening wide today at a theater, multiplex, or likewise venue near you:

ONE LIFE (Dir. James Hawes, 2023)

The first half of this film, the feature film debut by television director James Hawes (Doctor Who, Inside Story), is well-made (and well-meaning), and very watchable, but a fairly standard World War II story about fleeing the Nazis, and escaping the holocaust.

 

But, via the strong performances of Anthony Hopkins as the elder version of the British banker, Nicholas Winton, a humanitarian stockbroker who helped hundreds of Czechoslovakian children to escape from Prague; and Johnny Flynn, who portrays the younger Winton, the film grows more and more compelling until its very satisfying ending.

 

Hawes’ film, based on the book, If It’s Not Impossible…The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton by Barbara Winton, and scripted by Lucinda Coxon, and Nick Drake (not the folk singer of “Pink Moon” fame), begins with Hopkins’ Winton cleaning his study in 1987, and reflecting on a scrapbook he kept with information about the many Jewish children that he took part in relocating in 1938.

 

This leads to heavy flashbacks in which we see Flynn’s noble, determined Winton work with his co-workers (including Romola Garai as Doreen Warriner, and Alex Sharp as Trevor Chadwickof) of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, and his posh mother, Babi (Helena Bonham Carter, who gets one sharp, effective speech) to help scores of scared kids to board trains to the safety of foster families in England. These scenes are the movie’s most tense moments, you know because of grim, paper-checking Nazis.

 

Hawes cuts back and forth from the two time periods, maybe a bit too hastily as some shots and scenes aren’t given much room to breathe, but it’s Hopkins’ narrative, which involves the retiree trying to figure out what to do with his documents (donate them to the Holocaust Museum? Try for a newspaper retrospective?) that shines the brightest as it finds our hero being celebrated on the BBC series, That’s Life (which Winton’s wife, played superbly by Lena Olin calls “a very silly show”), and meeting a number of the people, and their families, who owe their life to the humble humanitarian. 

 

ONE LIFE, which takes its title from the expression, “If you can save just one life, it's worth it,” would’ve probably been celebrated much more greatly itself in a different era, as there’s been so many WWII films (and so many Anthony Hopkins historical dramas), but it’s such an earnest, and straightforward tale of humanity at its best while the world is at its worst, that it shouldn’t be dismissed. 

 

Its conclusion is so emotionally well-executed that if you don’t well up at least a little while viewing it, you might not be hooked up right. But if it doesn’t get anywhere near pulling your heart-strings, maybe one can at least see that it brilliantly shows what benefits may come when you de-clutter your office.


More later... 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Movie Of The Week: THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN

 Another entry in this years new series:

Movie of the Week: Despite being a modest success, Danny Devito’s theatrical directorial debut, THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, wasn’t really appreciated by audiences or critics in its original release, but the 1987 comedy thriller is really ripe for re-evaluation. It’s a riff on Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN that has inspired witty writing (by sitcom scribe Stu Silver), great cinematography (Barry Sonnenfeld, back when he was shooting Coen brothers classics), and Devito’s most touching character ever, Owen, as seen here in the above clip (my favorite scene) showing his coin collection off to Billy Crystal’s tortured novelist protagonist, Larry.

More later...

Monday, March 11, 2024

2024 Oscar® Recap: “I’d Like To Thank My Terrible Childhood And The Academy”

Last night’s 96th Academy Awards was one of the most well produced, entertaining, and incident-free (no violence!) Oscar ceremonies in recent memory. Jimmy Kimmel did a solid job as host, the past winners saluting the new nominees device was touching, and Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” big number from BARBIE brought the house down with the feeling of everyone in the room being blown away being gloriously palpable.



I was happy to see the well predicted OPPENHEIMER sweep go down. Christopher Nolan’s epic is a movie’s movie that’s got old fashioned majesty with modern polish, and it well deserved to win the seven Oscars it did (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (Yay to Robery Downey Jr., the first former SNL cast member to ever win an Oscar - the quote in this post’s headline comes from his speech), Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score).

 

My score of 18 out of the 23 categories was far from my best (22 out of 24, back when Sound was split into Sound Editing and Sound Mixing), but better than my worst, 13 out of 24.

 

Here’s what I got wrong:

 

BEST ACTRESS: Lily Gladstone, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

 

I, like many, thought it was Gladstone’s Oscar year as she had won the Golden Gl0bes, the Screen Actors Guild, and many critic association awards, but noooooo as Belushi would say (dated reference lost on younger readers), Emma Stone is now a two-time Academy Award winner for POOR THINGS. 

 

But Stone’s emotional acceptance speech was wonderful, featuring this funny moment:



“My dress is broken! I’m pretty sure it happened during ‘I’m Just Ken.’”

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Kazu Hiro, Kay Georgiou and Lori McCoy-Bell, MAESTRO

 

Another POOR THINGS miss. I should’ve known MAESTRO would go home empty handed.

 

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: THE ABCS OF BOOK BANNING (Dirs. Sheila Nevins and Trish Adlesic)

 

This was a stab in the dark, as I hadn’t seen any of the Documentary Shorts. Now I’ll definitely seek out THE LAST REPAIR SHOP, which was the winner of this oft overlooked category.

 

SOUND: Jonathan Glazer, OPPENHEIMER

 

This was one I was glad to get wrong, because the sound in Jonathan Glazer’s THE ZONE OF INTEREST is such a major element of that movie, which deservedly won Best International Picture (I got that one right). OPPENHEIMER won everything else anyway.


ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDERVERSE

 

Simply, I thought the more commercial, and more massively popular film would nab this award like usual, but I’m satisfied that Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki’s THE BOY AND THE HERON went home with the gold. 

 

Okay, so that’s my bout with Oscars 2024. You can now go about your day.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Hey Kids! Funtime 2023 Oscar® Predictions!


I haven’t been Film Babbling lately because I’ve been deep into working on a big book project (more on that later), but I felt like I just had to weigh in on the 96th Academy Awards®, which is going down this Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles with Jimmy Kimmel returning to host for his fourth time. 

As I said in my Favorite Films of 2023 post, this last year was a much better one for film than the last several so there are a number of nominations that I’m seriously rooting for, but as we know with these predictions, one shouldn’t play favorites.

So here are my highly anticipated, not-thrown-together-at-all predictions:

1. BEST PICTURE: OPPENHEIMER

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan, OPPENHEIMER

3. BEST ACTOR: Cillian Murphy, OPPENHEIMER

Yeah, an OPPENHEIMER sweep seems to be incredibly imminent. It will be surprising (but maybe more fun) if there are some upsets. Still don’t think BARBIE will win anything but best song though.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Lily Gladstone, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Robert Downey Jr., OPPENHEIMER

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, THE HOLDOVERS

7. PRODUCTION DESIGN: James Price, Shona Heath, Zsuzsa Mihalek, 
POOR THINGS

The upset could be BARBIE, but this should really go to the vivid imagery in Yorgos Lanthimos’ weird ass erotic black comedy.


8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Hoyte van Hoytema, OPPENHEIMER

9. COSTUME DESIGN: Holly Waddington, POOR THINGS Again, take that BARBIE! (Kidding, I might’ve actually enjoyed BARBIE more than POOR THINGS).

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL (Dirs. Mstyslav Chernov, Michelle Mizner, and Raney Aronson-Rath)

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: THE ABCS OF BOOK BANNING (Dirs. Sheila Nevins and Trish Adlesic)

12. FILM EDITING: Jennifer Lame, OPPENHEIMER

13. MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Kazu Hiro, Kay Georgiou and Lori McCoy-Bell, MAESTRO

Yeah, I’m predicting that 5-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper won’t win, and his MAESTRO will only win this category. That’s right.


14. VISUAL EFFECTS: Takashi Yamazaki, Kiyoko Shibuya, Masaki Takahashi, and Tatsuji Nojima, GODZILLA MINUS ONE

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Robbie Robertson, OPPENHEIMER

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “What Was I Made For?”, Billie Eilish (The one bone the Academy will throw to BARBIE)

17. ANIMATED SHORT: WAR IS OVER! INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC OF JOHN & YOKO

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF HENRY SUGAR (Dir. Wes Anderson)

19. SOUND: Jonathan Glazer, OPPENHEIMER

20. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, ANATOMY OF A FALL

21. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Cord Jefferson, AMERICAN FICTION

22. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDERVERSE (Dir. 

23. BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM: THE ZONE OF INTEREST (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

As I usually say, tune in Monday morning to see how many I got wrong.

More later...

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Movie Of The Week: MARRIED TO THE MOB

Happy Valentine’s day with this '80s gem:

Movie of the Week: For some reason, Jonathan Demme’s MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988) popped into my head hole the other day and I had to post about it. It’s got Michelle Pfeiffer as a gangster’s widow trying to start anew in NY, but on her back is the FBI by way of an agent played by Matthew Modine, and her past mafia connections headed by Dean Stockwell’s best performance ever as Tony "The Tiger" Russo. Mercedes Ruehl, Alec Baldwin, and a killer soundtrack featuring Sinéad O'Connor, New Order, Chris Isaak, The Feelies, and Brian Eno make it a must see too.

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Friday, February 09, 2024

Movie Of The Week: I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND

This weeks film celebrates a major historic occasion:

Movie of the Week: Since today is the 60th Anniversary of the Beatles’ world changing appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, I thought I’d highlight Robert Zemeckis’ first film, I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978), about a group of New Jersey teens who amusingly attempt to crash the Fab Four’s historic American debut in NYC. Nancy Allen (who I had a big crush on way back then), as the fangirl who actually gets into the Beatles’ hotel room, heads the cast that has many familiar faces, but no stars, and that’s part of its charm. With its period piece parody, smartly zany screenplay by Zemeckis, and Bob Gale plus the presence of Marc McClure and Wendie Jo Sperber; herein lies the roots of BACK TO THE FUTURE.

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Thursday, February 01, 2024

Movie Of The Week: DEFINDING YOUR LIFE

Movie of the Week: Because my Top 10 films of 2023 includes Rob Reiner’s funny, warm biopic, ALBERT BROOKS: DEFENDING MY LIFE, today I am blurbing about the movie that inspired its title, Brook’s 1991 comedy, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, which is one of my favorite films ever. It’s a charmer that’s a parody of purgatory with Brooks’ character having to stand trial for the mistakes he made during his glib, yuppie life. Rip Torn, in a role that led to his stint on The Larry Sanders Show, gruffly plays his defender, with Lee Grant as his rival prosecutor, and there's a brief but amusing turn by Buck Henry too. It’s also the best Meryl Streep rom com ever.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Finally, Film Babble Blog’s Favorite Films Of 2023!

As s it’s almost February, and the Oscar noms have been announced (and I finally got around to watching PLEASE DON’T DESTROY: THE TREASURE OF FOGGY MOUNTAIN), I’m finally posting my 10 Top movies (and some spillover) from 2023.

This has been a much better year for film than any of the last several, since before the Pandemic actually, so it was an easier time making these picks. Like a number of my choices, the first one was a movie that surprised me with how much I liked it. 

 

1. DREAM SCENARIO (Dir. Kristoffer Borgli) Nicholas Cage’s 11,875th film is one of his best, featuring an timely, inventive premise in which Cage’s schlubby college professor starts showing up in many people’s dreams, giving a new layer to going viral. It’s a profoundly cringy experience that I bet will stay with me longer than most of the other movies on this list. Read my review: When Nicholas Cage Dreams Become Nicholas Cage Nightmares (11/30/23).


2 KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON (Dir. Martin Scorsese) 


Master movie-maker Marty made a corker of a three and a half-hour thriller about the Osage Reign of Terror in early 1920’s Oklahoma set to the late, great Robbie Robertson’s superbly subtle, bluesy score, which should get him a posthumous Oscar (I'm not going to predict anything yet though). And the powerful film features a career best Leonardo DiCaprio, and a more invested than he has been lately, Robert De Niro together again, for the very first time (they worked together before in A BOY’S LIFE, but this is their first film under Scorsese’s direction together (DiCaprio has been in six Scorsese films; De Niro’s tally is 10). Read the Film Blog Review (10/19/23).

 

3. OPPENHEIMER (Dir. David Nolan)



Nolan’s epic biopic of nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphywowed the world in the wake of the crazy BARBENHEIMER movement by being a three-hour biopic about a scientist that grossed $955 million. Robert Downey Jr. is a lock for his portrayal of a political rival of our rail thin lead is a lock for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, but with 13 noms, this film has a good chance of sweeping. Read my review: Christopher Nolan's OPPENHEIMER Is Kind Of A Big Deal (7/19/23)

 

4. THE HOLDOVERS (Dir. Alexander Payne)


Payne rebounds from the disappointing DOWNSIZING, with this charming, and very amusing early ‘70s-set dramedy with Paul Giamatti (for his second collaboration with Paybe after the superb SIDEWAYS) as a classics professor at a New England boarding school that has to baby-sit a few students (mostly the talented newcomer Dominic Sessa) who are stuck on campus during the holidays. Da’vine Joy Randolph definitely deserves her Supporting Actress nom for work here as school’s head cook, who’s grieving over son who just died in Vietnam, and the other four noms are worthy too, so this is one I hope more people seek out.

 

5. ANATOMY OF A FALL (Dir. Justine Triet)


The DVD screener of the first film I watched on New Year's Day, 2024


Oscar Best Acrtress nominee Sandra Hüller did double duty this last year in two majorly recognized films as she’s in this French courtroom drama, and Jonathan Glazer’s excellent THE ZONE OF INTEREST. Here she nails her role as a stressed writer trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death, and the screenplay by Triet, and Arthur Harari keeps us guessing as it goes through gripping court proceedings. Like #4, this also got five Oscar noms, and shouldn’t be missed.

 

6. GODZILLA MINUS ONE (Dir. Takashi Yamazaki)


Now this was a complete surprise as another Godzilla movie was not the most enticing prospect, but the 37th entry in the series that started 70 years ago, is an amazing, gripping action adventure motion picture that won me over early on with its engaging drama about Japan recovering from World War II, and having to band together to fight this nuclear-radiation created reptilian monster that is more convincingly depicted (thanks to state-of-the-art CGI) than ever before. I certainly agree with Keven Smith that it’s the best Godzilla movie ever. 


7. MAY DECEMBER (Dir. Todd Haynes)



This immaculately-made duel of a drama between Julianne Moore, as a woman who did time for the second-degree rape of a 13-year old, but 20 years later is married to the man who was that boy; and Natalie Portman as an actress who is visiting the couple at their lavish Savannah, Georgia home, for research for a film where she’ll play Moore’s character. The compelling narrative, with its tasty twists and all, helps it stand with Haynes finest work including VELVERT GOLDMINE, I’M NOT THERE, and CAROL.


8. PAST LIVES (Dir. Celine Song)



Another surprise here as a Oscar Best Picture contender, and as a movie that I liked enough to make the list, as this a small movie about a relationship between two childhood friends from South Korean who contain their spark, mostly online as they live far away from each other into adulthood. It’s a of unrequited love with naturalistic performances by Greta Lee, and Teo Yoo, with John Magaro putting in a nicely sensitive side character to the couple as Lee’s understanding husband. However, I doubt this will win anything Oscar-wise other than many viewers hearts.

 

9. BEAU IS AFRAID (Dir. Ari Aster) 



My placing of this weird ass A24 surrealist tragicomedy horror film (that’s what Wikipedia’s calling it so let’s go with that) shouldn’t be read as a recommendation or a warning or well, anything but that I couldn’t deny its hold on my troubled soul. It’s a grotesque, stressful, and just plain f-ed up story about Joaquinn Phoenix of a man living a hellish existence, who is going on a trip to his mother’s, but chaotic circumstances make his journey a nightmare. If you’re only going to see one Joaquin Phoenix 2023 movie, make sure it’s this and not NAPOLEON.

 

10. ALBERT BROOKS: DEFENDING MY LIFE (Dir. Rob Reiner) 



The life, and career of one of my all-time comedians, Albert Brooks, is explored over lunch with his best friend, Rob Reiner in this HBO biodoc that is so packed with great footage of Brooks’ legendary variety, and talk show appearances from the late ‘60s-‘70s that it should be mandatory viewing for aspiring comics. Brook’s classic comedies (like REAL LIFE, MODERN ROMANCE, and LOST IN AMERICA) are insightfully given discussion, with one of its best segments being about the film that inspired this film’s title, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE . A stand out moment, is when Brook's wife since 1997, Kimberly, says of her first wanting to meet him because of that movie, “This man, wrote, directed, and starred in this? That’s the kid of guy I want to marry. I swear to God I said that.” Touching stuff indeed.


Spillover:


THE ZONE OF INTEREST (Dir. Jonathan Glaser)


AMERICAN FICTION (Dir. Cord Jefferson)


TALK TO ME (Dirs. Danny and Michael Philippou)


Some franchise films I thought were better than okay:


SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (Dirs. Joaquim Dos Santos,Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson)



JOHN WICK 4 (Dir. Chad Stahelski) 


MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) This film's title really needs a colon.


And finally, yes, it’s far from a great movie, but it’s still one of the most notable, and memorable films of 2023:


BARBIE (Dir. Greta Gerwig)


Okay, I’m done. 


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