THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED
I’m so happy I get to include this movie in this list, not that anything has ever stopped me from including completely non-awardsy movies if I choose to. But this is nominated for the Oscar for Best Makeup so there. Based on the joyously entertaining book of the same name by Jonas Jonasson (has to be a fake name, right? Dr. Robert Bobby?), this movie was just as enjoyable to watch as the book was to read, which is a big accomplishment. “The 100 Year Old…” was one of those books that you never want to put down, but not so much in order to find out what happens next but just to spend more time in its kooky, lovable universe.
The story is in the mold of “Forrest Gump”, with its main character reflecting on his full life that somehow intertwined him in important historical moments all over the world, without his really trying. But instead of being serious and dramatic like Gump, with his time in Vietnam not exactly a party and AIDS being the downer it is (“it’s when your WHOLE body goes, ‘ohh boyyyy’”), this hero Allan Karlsson seems to take everything thrown at him with an aloof ‘eh’, making the best of situations and having a detached faith that he’ll always make it out okay. Or that if he doesn’t, that’s fine too. In present day, Allan is 100 years old – it’s actually his birthday when we begin the movie. He lives in a retirement home, put there after he blew up too much stuff in his backyard and I guess neighbors said enough is enough. But he doesn’t want to live any longer in this boring home, so right before the nurses and co. bring his birthday cake in and sing, he climbs out his ground floor room window and patters away to the town center in his little home-issued slippers with his name on the backs. He goes to the train station, naturally, and asks where he can go with the change in his pocket. His affordable destination is the middle of nowhere, which is fine by him. A scary looking gangster thug like man with a huge suitcase is trying to use the bathroom but his luggage won’t fit, so he yells at the old man to hold onto it for him. So yeah, he’s 100 and maybe a little dotty, so when his bus arrived and the thug was still in the bathroom, Allan gets on his bus with the suitcase. The guy did tell him to hold onto it, so he’s not wrong.
Allan gets off at his stop, in the middle of nowhere, and meets a nice man who lives in the station house. Together, they drink, eat a little, drink more, and drink more (Allan’s favorite thing besides blowing stuff up, it seems) before opening the suitcase and finding it full of 50 million euros. Oops. The thug finds out where the old man went from the station’s ticket seller, and finds the little house. Confrontation ensues, and the two old men get the thug locked up in a meat freezer to calm him down a bit. Obviously they forget he’s in there and he freezes to death. Thus begins a chase away from a serious criminal syndicate as the two old men pick up random new friends along the way and somehow escape danger from every single direction. The whole time, of course, the nursing home and the local police are trying to track down the 100 year old man who is somehow eluding everyone.
Meanwhile, the present day story is intercut with tales from Allan’s previous 100 years of life. His love of blowing things up as a child may have inadvertently killed a few hapless wanderers, but it gets him into Spanish civil war helping some revolutionaries blow up bridges and buildings and stuff. After his annoyingly talkative Spanish friend gets killed, Allan decides he’s tired of blowing stuff up for now, so he leaves his last undetonated bomb near a bridge and walks down the road. But a car is approaching, so Allan stops it just in time for all parties to see the bridge explode. Who’s in the car, whose life Allan just saved? General Franco! (HE RAN SPAIN.) So Allan gets invited to big parties and is considered a hero and a friend to Franco, so much so that Franco gives Allan his most treasured gun. (THE COUNTRY, HE RAN IT. IT WAS HIS JOB.) Allan of course shoots the pistol into the air and freaks out all the partiers, but Franco’s like, no no he cool bro he cool, be chill. Next, we see Allan building skyscrapers in Manhattan during World War II, where he’s enlisted to help a man named Oppenheimer on a certain project. He’s there in a nonessential position, but soon makes his expertise in blowing shit up known, and comes up with the ideas that make the bomb work. But then he’s sort of maybe kidnapped by Russian spies to help them build their bomb turn, but he mentions how he’s friends with Franco so they send him to the gulag, along with Albert Einstein’s brother, who was of no help to them either. After a long time of hard labor, the two escape in extremely fortuitous and destructive circumstances, onto the next adventure, which includes being a double agent for the CIA and the KGB, blowing up more stuff, and of course fleeing from a Swedish gang with some strangers and a circus elephant, who helps in disposing a gang member.
It’s entirely fantastical nonsense but it’s so much fun. It doesn’t matter that it’s unrealistic fancy; it’s imaginative and engaging. The book has some extra parts that the movie had to leave out, like Allan’s entire time in China with Mao, but that’s to be expected in adaptations. The important part is that the movie kept the spirit of the novel, as quirky and ridiculous as it should be. Oh and the makeup is pretty remarkable. Gold star.
Even if you aren’t an Amy Winehouse fan (which I don’t understand because she was wonderful), this documentary about the late singer will hurt you to your core and make you grieve for how tragic her short life was. A raw and dark look at the destruction of fame, especially when coupled with the greed and ignorance of those who are supposed to care for you, “Amy” shows how Amy never had a chance to escape what the universe and all the shitholes in her life made sure was coming.
We see lots of home movie footage of her and her careless family when she was maybe 10 years old, and already you could tell these were parents who should not have been allowed to talk to, let alone raise, children. Even in the snippets of this footage, young Amy acts in a textbook fashion of a child pushing boundaries because she wants her parents to actually set some, to show that they care. Instead, they let her grow up too fast and continue trying to get her parents’ attention in all sorts of ways, but they never seem to care or do the right thing. This trend continued as Amy became famous, and clearly needed help. Instead of sending her to a decent rehab until she recovered and surrounding her with good, caring people, her parents (mostly her father) hired awful shit vampire people and never made her get help. We see so much footage (backstage videos, interviews, friends’ videos) of Amy desperately in need of help at the same time that ‘Rehab’ was climbing the charts. It’s heartbreaking to realize just how sad a song that actually is, because it’s literally what was happening. Her horrible, greedy father pushed her into concerts she should never have done, partnerships she should never have been a part of, to get his cut, instead of making his doomed daughter get a fighting chance at survival. Even in her final days, when she looked like walking death and knew she needed to rest, her father made her do interviews and told paparazzi where she was vacationing. What a horrible scumbag.
Blake, Incarcerated (as he’s known), her long-time troubled love, was the absolute worst. He got her hooked on all kinds of drugs and was an equally troubled addict, never seeming to care about Amy in the slightest or giving a shit if she was suffering as long as he got his. Poor Amy really never had a chance. The good people in her life were pushed aside by the shitty ones who sneaked in closer. People always blame addicts for what happens to them, and sometimes that’s valid, but really it’s a disease that needs to be caught and treated by whoever is able to see what’s happening, and that person is rarely the addict herself. It’s infuriating to watch so many people in this film ignore her suffering and subsequently cause her death.
The documentary is really well made, with home movies mixed well with television and concert footage and present-day interviews with friends. The decent friends from Amy’s childhood were heartbreaking, crying throughout as they relived how they tried to help but were pushed aside and didn’t know what else they could do. I definitely appreciate her music more after seeing “Amy”, and I really hate when I hear techno-remixes of ‘Rehab’ that people dance to in clubs or some shit like that.
BEASTS OF NO NATION
Civil war is raging in an African country, and it’s unlike any war we could imagine. Men shooting women and children indiscriminately, destroying entire villages without knowing or really caring who is in there. Our protagonist, Agu (the incredible Abraham Attah) is a young boy of about 10 or so, and seems to have a good life despite all the turmoil surrounding him. His attentive, warm mother and his kind father do the best job they can possibly do in these unstable times, and his older brother pesters him in the exact way older brothers do. But when the local government collapses, the already troubled village is thrown into even further calamity, and the town elders decide to send as many women and children into the city as possible, while the men stay to defend their land. The number of cars that can go to the city are limited, however, and when Agu’s mother and baby sister get placed into one car, he gets pushed out and left behind with the men. Of course rebels soon invade and decimate every man they find left in the town, including Agu’s father. Agu and his brother flee the executioners, but the brother doesn’t make it. Agu, the only one left of his family, escapes to the jungle and wanders hungry and distraught for days before being captured by a militia of mostly young boys.
These boys, forced out of childhood and into a life of such extreme violence, take Agu to their leader, the Commandant (Idris Elba). This petrifying man, acting as father figure to all of these lost children while scaring the shit out of them, accepts Agu into his charge after an initiation process that doesn’t let every initiate survive. Our sweet little Agu swiftly accepts the rules of his new life, murdering innocent people left and right as part of his Commandant’s regime while praying internally to god as he tries to make sense of this new life. It’s as harrowing and painful a movie as you could ever imagine, as there’s no solution to this type of violence currently raging in the world. We see the anguish through Agu’s eyes, these formerly innocent eyes that so quickly turned into the eyes of a cold-blooded killer, and feel as lost and hopeless as he does that humans can ever get their blood rage under control.
The film is a little long, and it’s extremely hard to watch, but the subject matter deserves a good deal of time. No one with a short attention span would be choosing this movie anyway. Abraham deserves so much more attention for his moving performance than he’s getting. While in the majority of the movie, he seems unfeeling and slight, his acting really comes alive in the last section, especially his heartbreaking final scene. Idris Elba gives a superb and bloodcurdling performance as the Commandant, a performance that is the crux of the Oscars boycott. His performance was good enough for a Golden Globe nomination and a SAG award win, but the Oscar whiteout took him in its wake. He for sure deserved a nomination for this staggering role in this awfully disturbing movie. Both his performance and Attah’s will stay with you for a while after the film ends.
THE BIG SHORT
The scariest movie I saw all year (dramatic statement yes but not really exaggerated – I do not see actual horror movies, not since middle school sleepovers jfc) wasn’t about demons or murderers. It didn’t have guns, and no one died onscreen. No, the horror came from the 2008 crash of our financial system via the housing market, after years of terrible people making terrible decisions that really only affect poor people who don’t have any say in the decisions. And we already knew what was going to happen because it already happened, in real life. How f-ing terrifying is that? “The Big Short” actually made me nervous about what was going to happen next, even though I knew. Adam McKay (genius behind ‘Stepbrothers’) showed us how the entire financial world – every bank, every analyst and stockbroker, everybody in positions of power – laughed hysterically at the few people who predicted the downfall of the housing market.
Christian Bale plays Dr. Michael Burry, an eccentric genius managing a lot of money, who figured it all out early, and whose social awkwardness prevented him from effectively convincing other people. For most, Dr. Burry’s predictions were hilarious, laughable opportunities to bilk him out of millions of dollars, not expecting that in the end he would be the one getting paid (when his bets against the market paid off). Not even incredible asshat Tracy Letts (he always plays incredible asshats just incredibly), playing the managerish of Burry’s fund, believed him, not until the crash netted him half a billion dollars. Dr. Burry spends millions (possibly a billion?) of dollars that his investors entrusted him with, buying credit default swaps on the bet that the subprime (shitty) housing loans propping up the entire industry would default. Everyone laughs at him and happily sells this swaps to him, short-sightedly thinking that this lunatic was just giving them free money, and lots of it. Ryan Gosling’s character Jared, a slick kind of douchey banker, gets wind of what Dr. Burry is doing and gets in on it, selling the idea of buying credit default swaps to a hedge fund captained by Steve Carell’s Mark Baum. All of these men get us on their side, fighting against the idiots who don’t believe or who don’t want to believe the truth of the impending doom. There’s two aspects of genius to McKay’s filmmaking at play: One, he actually gets us to almost feel glad for these characters when they are proven right, because so many doubted and laughed at them. We’re like, yay you’ve been validated, before realizing that that means we were sort of rooting for the market collapse during the movie so these billionaire white men would smile. That is sick, and clever. Two, as part of that, we forget until the end that these men, our supposed heroes, aren’t fighting to get regulators to do their job or making the impending collapse known to the public in any way that could help the millions of poor people about to have their lives destroyed. They didn’t do anything like that – they just bet that it would happen and made shittonnes of money off of these bets. Now, there wasn’t much they could do to stop it, but they could have done a hell of a lot more than they did to warn the public. It might have made them look crazy early on, but at least they might have a clear conscience. As it stands, they just took advantage of and profited off of the misery of most of the country. And they had us feeling bad for them!!
In almost violently perfect casting news, Max Greenfield (Schmidt from New Girl) and Billy Magnussen (Tony nom for being a bro, “Into the Woods” bro-prince) as two skeezy, sleazy Miami real estate agents made me giggle incessantly even though their characters didn’t give a hootenanny about what they were doing to contribute to the crisis. They got hoes in different area codes! They ‘ont curr!
“The Big Short” was so well done, it made me sadder and angrier than my usual state of sadness and anger at the government and at banks and at corrupt people in positions of power. Somehow, it had a light tone, and the cutaways to real-life celebrities to cleverly and effectively explain really complicated financial terms seems weird as a concept, but it actually worked. My favorite was Anthony Bourdain, cutting up fish in his kitchen (okay I didn’t like that part obvs) to explain what CDOs are, the most effective and memorable explanation ever. And Selena Gomez (I know but still) in a casino explaining synthetic CDOs made more sense than several law school classes that tried. That’s a big gamble for a movie like this but it paid off. Kind of like the swaps! Everything about it, especially the true parts, will have you writhing in frustration and fury that none of the criminals responsible for what happened and what continues to happen in the financial sector faced any sort of punishment. You get reminded that the bailout helped pay for some CEOs flabbergasting bonuses. It’s pretty much a 2-hour ad for Bernie. The most depressing part – well, aside from the brief clips of the people rendered homeless by the collapse, the real tragedy of the whole mess that the movie doesn’t really focus on – was the coda with the textual summary of what happened next. The final message summarizes what Dr. Burry, the first person to predict what was going to happen, has been working on since – just one commodity, water. It’s f-ing petrifying because we’re already starting to see that he was right about that too.
The only thing that discolored my view of this movie is director Adam McKay’s recent response to the movie’s lack of diversity. He said he had to use mostly just white men because that’s who the book is about and that’s who was involved in real life. That kind of feigned need to reflect one certain detail from real life just doesn’t hold water any more. Not while George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison can be played excellently by black actors and no one with a brain is bothered by it. If actual presidents during slavery can today be played by black actors and it doesn’t hurt the story at all, there’s no reason why a few real people who worked in the financial industry needed their skin tone represented above all else. And if it was to show viewers that Wall Street is a white boys club, I’m pretty sure everyone knows that, and one movie with more than one nonwhite person wouldn’t have convinced us otherwise.
BRIDGE OF SPIES
Even though it could never top Jimmy Fallon’s Kid Theater versions, when he and Tom Hanks acted out scripts written by little kids who were just guessing what the movie was about based on the title, “Bridge of Spies” was still more captivating and well done than I expected. While no one was crossing an actual bridge made of spies, Tom Hanks led a solid film about real person Rudolf Abel, Russian spy (the truly inimitable Mark Rylance, not like Aaron Burr who just thinks he is), who was captured by the FBI in the late 1950s. Hanks plays standup attorney James Donovan, a regular Joe insurance lawyer hired to defend Abel so the trial looks fair.
Although Abel never had a chance, Donovan Hanks takes the case extremely seriously and defends him to the best of his ability, as all lawyers are supposed to do. That’s the job. That’s what it means. But the whole country thinks Donovan is a traitor and these old biddies on the bus give him dirty looks because they think he’s like being anti-patriotic even though what he is doing is one of the most important parts of our government system so really these idiots who rail about patriotism are usually the ones who have no f-ing clue what they are talking about (*cough* Republicans *cough*). Anyway, Donovan and Abel strike up an odd sort of respectful friendship, as both are despised outcasts in America, and they kind of see that the other is the only person who understands what they are going through.
But then the FBI wants to send Donovan to East Berlin to negotiate a prisoner swap, Abel for downed & captured U.S. pilot Francis Powers. Donovan has no government ties and is a good lawyer, so he is the perfect person to conduct these fragile talks. Also, ain’t no one can say no to Tom Hanks. He nice boy. While in Germany, the super untrustworthy (my opinion) FBI guys mention that a young American economics student was captured by the Stasi, but that Donovan should focus only on swapping Abel for Powers. Because Donovan/Hanks is not an asshole, he does his darnedest (without a winter coat because German thieves) to make sure the U.S. gets both men back. I mean, if they didn’t want him to try to get the student back too, they shouldn’t have told him about it. Who in their right mind would not even try to get the most innocent person back, stupid as he may have been for trying to cross the wall? I mean also why would someone be studying over there during the Cold War…maybe there’s more to him than appears but still, worth a try to rescue him. Worth a try.
Everything that happens in Berlin (like, most of the movie) was suuuper stressful, in a good way that careful and methodical spy movies should be, without getting super cringey. The always-good Hanks was just as good as he always is in this movie. It’s too bad he will never get nominated for acting awards again, because everyone has known how great he is for a while now, and he’s always at that level, it’s like his base level is greatness, so it just seems ho-hum because it is a base level, even though it’s greatness. You know what I mean. It’s unfair but he does have two Oscars so let’s not cry about him. Mark Rylance, though, is a new name to most unfortunate people, but I hope will become the household name and Oscar-winning (but for future things) actor he should be. Amy Ryan is underused but well cast (because she was cast) as Donovan’s wife, who thinks he’s on a work trip the whole time until she sees reports of what her husband accomplished on the freaking news, so that was pretty emotional. Alan Alda does what he does best, seem like your friend but then turn into a real douche. He’s not better than he was in ‘Tower Heist’ here, but he never could be. Throughout the whole thing, Rylance, GOAT, is calm and collected and deadpans the funniest parts of the film in his subtly excellent manner. Abel’s fully aware of what is going to happen to him if the swap is successful – in his words, the Russian operatives who collect him will either shake his hand or put him in the back seat of the car. It’s a testament to Rylance’s superb acting ability that we felt heartbroken for a freaking Soviet spy when he gets put in the backseat. Luckily, I did a little research, and he was not imprisoned or tortured or killed once he got back in Russia. In fact, real Abel (though not his real name, actually) spoke at universities and wrote and did all kinds of stuff for the few years he was back before he died of lung cancer. So, you can stop feeling conflicted about how sad you felt for a Russian spy now. Anyway, it was a very good movie, not best picture of the year, but a good solid movie and hooray for that.
Remember Leo, Debra Messing’s godawful teenage son on “Smash” whom everyone hated almost as much as we hated Jeremy Jordan’s character, which is a big thing to accomplish considering how terrible Jeremy Jordan’s character was (which was itself a big accomplishment considering how amazing JJ is in real life)? He’s the romantic lead in Brooklyn and he’s amaaazing. How things can change!
Brooklyn is the sweet and touching tale of a young Irish girl (Saorsie Ronan, young Irish girl) who gets a one-way ticket of leave to immigrate to America with the help of all these nice priests. She leaves behind her mother and her older sister as she embarks on this life-changing life change. Nicest priest ever Jim Broadbent gets her a visa and puts her up in a boarding house in Brooklyn full of young girls (not a brothel) where she makes some bitchy friends and gets on the good side of the matron Mamma Morton. The bitchy girls and Saorsie (WHICH I LOVE SAYING) go to the church’s dance every Friday night or something equally heartbreakingly depressing, and the first or second time there, Sarshie meets eye-tahyen boy Tony (duh) Fiorello (double duh) and they make googly eyes. Actually, Tony makes googly eyes. Sarshie is notably reserved, probably because she’s Irish, but they fall in love and she meets his amazing eye tal family and his incredible little brother who opens up conversation with, “So, I gotta tell ya, we don’t like Irish people.” But she wins them all over with her very careful spaghetti eating and it’s all just kind of lovely and nice. Everything seems peachy except how bad I bet the streets smelled back then; they smell bad enough today.
But then Slasher’s sister dies! What! So sudden! And so sad! Even though she’s the terrible awful no good lady from “Indian Summers” and we want her to die on that show but we don’t want her to die on this one! So sad! Shoshanna has to go back to mourn with her mother, but Tony is scared she won’t return to Murka once she is back home in Ireland. It’s so pretty and green there. So Tony insists they get married so she has to return, which is pretty ridic because that’s a bad reason to get married, but they do love each other so they marry at city hall, which seems rushed and crazy since they’re only 20 or so but then you realize it’s during a time when the life expectancy was only like 42. So these cats get married, Sashay Shontay goes to Ireland, and then for some reason she doesn’t stop what seems like the entire town’s matchmaking of her and the equally ginger boy from Harry Potter. Oh it’s Bill Weasley. She starts dating Bill Weasley even though she MARRIED. Is Bill the one that marries Fleur de la Coeur, girl with best name ever? How do these goofy looking Weasley boys nab the hottest girls?
This is when the movie got real agitating, because you’re like yelling at the screen at Soothsayer that she has a husband in Brooklyn so stop letting Bill and the whole town talk about your impending ENGAGEMENT to another Weasley ffs! She doesn’t even let on that this is troubling her or that she ever wants to get back to her husband. I’m not sure I buy the acting choices going on here. Seersucker was just completely stoic, with every emotion internalized or, ya know, not there. It was a weird way to play the character because I didn’t understand any of her motivations. But then all of a sudden, after her friend gets married and the town is like, ‘oh Shamwow and Bill, you’re up next!’, she decides she has to return to Brooklyn on the very next train and boat to get to her husband. She tells her mother this news, that she has to immediately return because she has a husband p.s., and mother is like bye Felicia have a nice life, but it might not actually be mean because that’s just how Irish people talk. Anyway, she goes back and Tony is so happy and that’s all. It’s a very enjoyable sweet movie but if I met Sanjay’s character in real life I would prob slap her. If I met Tony omg we’d talk about “Smash” ALL DAY SON ALL DAY.
My family watched ‘Carol’ over the holidays (not me) and everyone reported that they were kind of ‘meh’ about it. I thought ‘but but but it’s Cate Blanchett and a good story and a Mara sister and everyone keeps thinking that they are good at acting and casting them in stuff so they must be right and it has to be more than meh!’ So I went to the theatre myself and saw it and it was just meh.
It’s the story of a wealthy old lady in 1950s New York who happens to be named Carol and happens to be a lesbian, said with a hard ‘s’ like Debbie Reynolds in ‘In & Out’. Carol has an ex-husband who used to coach football at East Dillon High but who quit after he finally won an Emmy. He probably should have stayed coaching, however, because he has some serious anger issues about his ex-wife’s being a lesbian, which he knew about before but tries now to use against her to take full custody of their little girl. It’s very sad and this story alone, about mean old drunk and angry football man trying to bar a mother from seeing her daughter based on her ‘sexual deviancy’, could have made a poignant and extremely (awfully, still) pertinent movie that might have deserved a best picture nom or more. But instead, this movie is mostly about how, in the midst of the custody battle, old lady covered in gross fur goes to a department store to buy her daughter a doll and instead buys herself a young girl wearing a Santa hat and teaches her the ways of lesbianing. It’s hard to root for them as a couple or really care at all when neither seems like a great person and the aforementioned more important matters are at hand. Regardless, Little Miss Santa Hat is like, ‘hey old lady, maybe my discontent in life is not due to my being a languid bore speaking in a dull monotone but due to my being a hidden lesbian! Maybe being with you will solve all my personality problems and make me interesting and happy!’ So the movie becomes yet another look into an older person taking a young novice under wing but instead of a creepy old man in a Woody Allen movie where Woody is using the creepy old man as a stand in for himself as per yoozh, it’s a creepy old lady and you’re just like okay why are you reminding me of Woody Allen when you are awesome in real life. Like they made Cate Blanchett unappealing and kind of unlikable and for that I cannot forgive.
Never has a movie so inspired me to do one-armed pushups. Despite being from Philly, land of the Rocky statue, I was never super into the Rocky movies. I get that they are great but I was not even born when the good ones came out so they were just like, old good movies to me, not the gospel of being a Philadelphian or a human. I even felt a stronger connection to the widely panned but highly enjoyable “Rocky the Musical” on Broadway a few years ago, but that could be because it starred the great Andy Karl and was my friend Okierete’s last Broadway show before ‘Hamilton’. But ‘Creed’, wonderful, moving, exciting ‘Creed’, reminded me how awesome the Rocky mythology is and how important those movies are to film history, even if they do happen to be about a really revolting sport where people just beat the shit out of each other and win millions of dollars while scary white people scream and cheer for more blood.
Michael B. Jordan is the perfectly cast son of champion Apollo Creed, named Adonis, so ya know what a family for names. He never met his father (or his grandfather Zeus, I imagine), and before Phylicia Rashad adopted him as a way to distract her from all the shit her former tv-husband pulled, he was in the juvy system and foster homes and stuff. He grew up hard and quick to fight, resulting in a somewhat sullen adult who just wants to be worthy of his last name, which is also the name of the movie, so you have to cheer or take a drink a lot in this one. He moves to Philly to train for the big times, because the only person he knows who could help him and understand what he’s feeling is his father’s old friend and main rival, Rocky Balboa, or Sylvester Stallone with cotton in his cheek pockets. Adonis calls Rocky ‘Unc’ for uncle and it’s really adorable and Rocky cannot resist that adorableness so agrees to train him, although it seems like he’s really just providing moral support and a father figure. Their relationship becomes really quite sweet, as both are missing this sort of relationship – Rocky estranged from his son and Adonis never meeting his father. Also, Adrian died of cancer, which I wasn’t aware of because I didn’t see Rocky 11, 12, or 13 and I don’t think I’m okay with this because all I see in my mind is Margo Seibert singing “Raining”, the best song from the musical, and I’ma cry so sad for poor Rocky man.
So Adonis starts training and getting so strong that he does the aforementioned one-armed pushups real nice, and Rocky seems reinvigorated by this new project and new quasi family member. In the midst of this enjoyment it seemed like a really unnecessary melodramatic piece of dogshit that Rocky gets diagnosed with cancer himself and refuses to get treatment. But it didn’t veer off course too much, I guess because the whole thing is kind of melodramatic anyway; it is a boxing movie at the core. Luckily, that storyline didn’t get out of control as I feared it would, and instead was used as best it could be. Sylvester Stallone is so good here, and so beloved as this character, that he should definitely win the Oscar that he is the frontrunner for. He just is Rocky and it’s really a treat to see him play the role again. A treaty treat. Michael B. Jordan (how necessary is that B! what’s it stand for? basketball?) is a great addition and I would happily see Adonis’s next movie, even though it will be about boxing. He is such a great actor, and even though this role wasn’t as awards-worthy as I hoped it would be so I could yell about how he was robbed, it was still a tremendous effort and job well done all around. If you like liking things, I think you will like this movie.
THE DANISH GIRL
One of the most beautiful actresses in contention for awards this year is Eddie Redmayne. On The Graham Norton Show this year, he and Jennifer Lawrence made fun of their early modeling careers, and we saw some incredibly embarrassing pictures of Eddie in knit-it-yourself sweaters and stuff. So awful! But who knew the problem was that he should have been modeling as a woman? SO PRETTY! So delicate! Such wow!
As Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery (in 1920s Copenhagen), Eddie convincingly shows the distress and sorrow she stifled while still presenting as Einar, a male artist married to Gerda. Both painters, Gerda asks Einar to pose as one of her models who failed to show up, and as Einar puts on the stockings and skirts it reignites the part of himself he has tried all his life to smother. A lot of people watching this were all “IT WAS THE WIFE’S FAULT ALL ALONG!” but that’s just because people like to blame women for all their issues, and if you listened closely to the movie Lily even assures a guilty Gerda (GUILTY GERDA GUILTY GERDA) that she merely uncovered what he knew was always there. Stop blaming women for all your problems. Anyway, so little by little Einar lets go of the hold he held over Lili his whole life and lets her emerge as his true self. Her true self. Gerda is a star of a spouse, supporting the husband she loves so much even as doing so means she’ll no longer have a husband. She is assisted by Einar’s childhood friend Hans, played by the MVP of every movie he’s in, Matthias Schoenaerts, which I say even though I only saw him elevate a few scenes of Far From the Madding Crowd which from my airplane seat seemed to be a strong way to drive crowds mad in the first place. Boring movie.
So, Lili goes to tons of doctors for help with her ‘problem’, all kinds of doctors, doctors who want to do electric shock therapy, doctors who just think he’s just homosexual, doctor-playing devils who want to lock her away in a straightjacket (thank goodness she escapes). Finally, one doctor tells her about a new thing he’s trying which would be the first gender reassignment surgery if successful, which is highly unlikely. But Lili knows that this is the right path for her, even if it will kill her, and that she must try. It’s all very sad and very heartbreaking when you realize the same thing is happening today, with trans people not taken seriously and not given adequate medical care, but risking so much to be able to live as their true selves.
Most of the criticism of this movie is directed at the casting of the beautiful Eddie, because he’s a cis man and not trans, and there are tons of trans actors who could have played Einar/Lili. That’s true, and it is wonderful when trans actors can actually play trans characters, like Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black. But, a few things: One, the movie would never have gotten made with a name less than Eddie Redmayne’s, and there are no equally famous trans actors, unfortunately. The script was written like 12 years ago and took this long to come to life, with actors, directors, and studios tossing it around like a hot potato. Two, a lot of this movie shows Einar before he fully becomes Lili, so it is still a man we are seeing onscreen for most of it. I don’t know, I’m obviously not a good voice for these issues but I think it worked as best it could with Eddie taking us on this journey.
As for Alicia Vikander, it’s hard to believe that her role as Gerda originally was given to Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, even Uma Thurman. They old. Alicia is a sort of newcomer to Hollywood but is taking it by storm, with this and Ex Machina, and she had little roles in the so boring Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair. She is magnificent here, and if she loses the Oscar to Kate Winslet doing a shitty Polish accent and saying like 3 good lines to Michael Fassbender in that horribly unnecessary Steve Jobs movie, then it will be a travesty. Not even Fassbender wants Kate Winslet to win even though it would be the only win for his movie…but that’s because he dating co-European import Vikander, if you can believe it. Anyway, this movie might be a little slow, but it’s a moving story (and a moving picture!), and it’s so beautifully done that it looks like a painting at every shot (an old Renaissance or impressionist painting, not the kooky and modern art that every shot of a Wes Anderson movie looks like).
The crazy new Coen brothers movie is a crazy Coen brothers movie as we’ve come to expect. It’s not an Oscar movie but I saw it during Oscar season so I added it to this list because that’s how I do. It had like 8 different plots going on at once that never really intersected, half of which were clearly unnecessary but there to bring in their favorite famous actor friends to play with on set. Coen bros movies are the film equivalent of the Golden Globes nominating famous people in ‘comedy’ categories just so they can get them to come to their party. There was so much nonsense, and so much serious stuff (like the beginning of communist-related blacklisting in Hollywood) that was left adrift, robbed of its storytelling potential, that it all just kind of melded together into an enjoyable, super random clip show.
What was great about this movie? Two things: my neighbor Ralph Fiennes (or at least he eats oysters across the street) and my dance partner Channing Tatum. Ralph is absolutely hilarious as the super serious stiff-upper-lip high-brow director, helming a film with a lead actor in his first truly speaking role. His patience with his ill-suited leading man is everlasting but it’s all in vain, and his continued efforts to get this guy to just say one line how he wants is hysterical. This one line, repeated ad nauseum, is almost worth watching the whole movie for. Oh Ralph.
Add that to Channing Tatum’s big scene, and you have maybe 5 minutes worth of absolute magic. He’s a big movie star playing a big movie star, and we see him taping his big scene in his next big movie. And it’s a musical number. Oh lordy lord, it’s the most fun, ridiculous musical number we’ve ever seen Channing do, because he is singing. He can carry a tune and dance like the wind! Please get him into a full-fledged musical soon! That is the takeaway from this film. That, and the lesson that it’s not always a great financial move to give favored directors zero limitations.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Didn’t see it. My dad says it was the worst movie he’s seen in a long time. He exaggerates but like I do so yeah.
Last fall, husband and I waited a few weeks too long to see the greatest animated movie of the year (stop-motion not counted, because I haven’t seen Anomalisa yet), so one weekend our only choice was to see it in 3-D in a huge fancy theatre in central London. It cost I think 18 pounds each (that is like $64. just kidding but not really). That extreme cost may have colored my view a little – there’s no way any movie could live up to that price tag – but despite this, I still cried a great deal and thought this movie was exceptionally creative and well done.
In case you somehow didn’t see this fantastic film, ‘Inside Out’ tells the story of a little girl, maybe 12 years old, through the five personified emotions responsible for her personality. The fivesome is the most perfectly cast group in ages – Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Lewis Black as Anger (YASSS), Bill Hader as Fear, Phyllis from The Office as Sadness (omg sooo sad poor Phyllis!), and the perfect Amy Poehler as Joy. My goodness I love this crew. So as our girl Riley navigates childhood and a new school, her emotions struggle to keep her balanced while maintaining her core personality traits and memories. It proves harder than it sounds, because little kids are going through a helluva lot! And, also, the whole situation going on insider her head is hella complicated! Joy gets sucked out of Headquarters with Sadness, and they have to go dumpster-diving through the remnants of Riley’s old memories and forgotten thoughts, which is kind of like an entire state’s worth of space.
Like I said, it’s incredibly creative, but at parts it feels like a ball of anxiety and apprehension, way more than most kids watching could handle, I assume, if I was having trouble handling it. As the mission proves harder and harder to accomplish and Joy and Sadness struggle to get back while the three remaining emotions lose control of Riley’s mainframe, the movie actually stops being enjoyable, instead being really stressful! The saddest part of the whole thing (well, aside from the actual child at issue being extraordinarily depressed and no one realizing or helping) is when we unearth Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong, voiced by a perfectly cast Uncle Richard Kind. So perfect. Bing Bong misses Riley but knows that she has outgrown him, and he sacrifices everything to help Joy and Sadness get back to her, when he admits Riley needs them more than she ever needed him. It’s the most moving part of a very touching, wonderful movie. As a whole, however, it’s not the flawless masterpiece beyond all masterpieces that so many claim it was. I mean, it’s no “Up”.
Jennifer Lawrence invents a mop and Bradley Cooper is all like you have to sell this yourself! Don’t let a white man be the face of it on tv just because you feel inferior because you’re a poor woman, because guess what, you are going to be a millionaire! And she’s like really? Well then start paying me the same amount you guys get in all these movies where *I* am actually the draw for the audience, you sexist motherf**ers. Three stars.
What happens to filmmakers when they shut themselves indoors for years, never to see the light of day again, staring at their computers, Netflix but no chill, eating expired boxes of cereal that never really expire because it’s cereal, reenacting famous lines from movies in their bathroom mirrors? They write movies like ‘The Lobster’.
When I saw the trailer for ‘The Lobster’, an indie movie with a stellar cast and a super interesting premise, I got so excited, thinking ‘this is the creative, truly unique film I’ve been waiting to blow my mind.’ It takes place in a world where coupling is mandatory, and people who don’t find a mate by a certain age (or who lose theirs in later life, given no mourning period) are sent to a hotel retreat where they have 45 days to mingle with the other singles and find someone to spend the rest of their lives with. To add more days to their stay, they go on hunts at night and try to catch singles, called Loners, who fled from this crazy dystopian society, living on the outskirts as outlaws in the woods. Each captured Loner adds another day to the captor’s stay, another day for them to try to find a partner. If they fail to couple up by the end of their stay, they get turned into an animal of their choice. Colin Firth, our protagonist with a way too thick Ron Swanson mustache and a stilted, formal speech pattern to match every other character, chooses a lobster. “Excellent choice”, says the hotel manager, played by England’s beloved Olivia Colman.
During his stay, Colin makes sort-of-friends with a lisping, kind of pitiful John C. Reilly and a limping Ben Whishaw. They try to meet women with whom they have something obvious in common, as that seems to be one of the only ways people in this society can prove the legitimacy of their relationships. For instance, Olivia Colman and her husband both have ‘nice singing voices’. That’s about all they share. Ben Whishaw starts faking nosebleeds by literally smashing his face into furniture so he could have something in common with a pretty young woman who has natural nosebleeds. It works. It’s so freaking weird, how these superficial things are enough to forge the kind of bond that matters here, and, more importantly, to convince the officials that their match is legitimate. There’s no real love.
Colin for some reason thinks it’s a good idea to trick the scariest, coldest-bloodedest woman in the history of the world into a relationship by pretending to be equally psychopathic and uncaring, but when she discovers he was lying about wanting to murder people and other insanely horrifying stuff, she attacks him, kills his brother who was turned into a dog after his failed hotel stay, and is ready to report Colin to the authorities, but instead he sends her to the animal-changing room and escapes to the woods, where he meets the woods-people led by a rull skirry Lea Seydoux. He quickly learns that this outlaw society has just as little freedom as the one he fled, with fewer safeguards. Lea Seydoux, seriously damaged by her experience with Bond, is a power-mad lunatic who forbids her followers from loving anyone or displaying affection, to horrific ends. She also orders them to dig their own graves. Pure sunshine. Colin falls in whatever kind of thing is standing in for love here, with fellow Loner Rachel Weisz, because he sees her eating rabbits and stuff and is like, cool, okay. Lea no like this. It gets weird, guys. Like obviously it’s a weird movie and it’s all very strange and thought-provoking, but then it got eyes-bugging-out-of-the-head emoji weird. In the third act, I started looking around the movie theatre to see if I was being punked. I imagine the screenwriters were so immersed in this imagined world for so long that it no longer seemed weird to them so they kept having to up their game, the game being akin to playing mini golf with human eyeballs or something. Side note, there’s a shit ton of animal cruelty in this movie. Some stuff I don’t want to talk about because it was tremendously upsetting, some that you get somewhat sensitized too, all of it sucky and worth a warning. Also worth a warning? How ludichristmasly insane this movie was.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Such violence. Much feminism. But a Best Picture Oscar nomination? Really?
“I always thought Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he’s rocking the shit in this one.” Paul Rudd’s magnificent words have never been truer than in “The Martian”. 2015 was the year of Matt winning over Ben in the constant debate, especially since Ben and poor Jenny Garner split up, bless her heart. Damon is so likeable in this movie, fighting to survive on a desolate planet, sciencing the shit out of everything, and growing potatoes so he can be plantstrong.
Anyone who knows me knows that I fear space. I went to NASA last week and it was fun getting a secret tour of the next big things being sent up into space, but while I was thinking how cool all the tech aspects were, I was simultaneously thinking PLEASE DON’T EVER SEND ME TO SPACE AHHH I WILL FALL OUT OF IT. I am scared of space. How do you just not float away for ever and ever and omg I’m gonna throw up.
But even so, ‘The Martian’ was so enjoyable I watched it multiple times. Well not the end part where Matt is SITTING IN A CHAIR IN THE SKY with nothing around him, I mean I’m not a psychopath, I can’t watch that more than once. But the rest of it was so fun. Matt proves himself a true star as he makes almost all of his lines funny. I mean the Golden Globes were an absolute joke awarding this Best Comedy when it’s such a serious movie, but you can’t entirely fault them when Matt is as funny as this. He plays an astronaut left behind on Mars when his crew believes him dead, and he sciences so hard to survive, starting with getting word somehow to NASA that he’s alive (satellites!) and going to unearthing an old Rover to establish communication. It’s really a wonderful, engaging, smart movie that is one of the few here I’m happy to rewatch. I also really liked that Jessica Chastain, Ginger Lady, was the captain of the ship even though she’s a Lady, and even though she’s a Ginger.
Maybe the most surprising movie on this list, ‘Mistress America’ was one I really didn’t want to see. I love Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach and I love their movies (notably the flawless ‘Frances Ha’), but this looked like it was them on steroids, too much of what makes them great in a quantity that would induce vomiting. However, it was available on a plane, so I watched it, and I loved it. And if you love something on a plane, it means you’d love it even more in real life.
The movie tells the story of a college freshman in NYC who has some trouble making friends and getting used to what college is, so decides to call her soon-to-be sister-in-law (parents marrying) who lives in the city. Brooke is older, actually probably twice Tracy’s age, but acts so youthful and fun that the two quickly bond. Brooke lives an exciting life, with a seemingly endless list of jobs, prospects, lovers, and goals, but Tracy, intelligent though naïve, quickly catches on that Brooke’s quirky full life might be full of shit. Tracy comments that Brooke’s was that rare kind of beauty that made you want to look more like yourself, a line I absolutely adore. Although she loves and idolizes Brooke in a certain way, Tracy also evidences a sort of disgust or disdain for her. She writes a scathing piece based on Brooke for her school’s literary magazine, and while it is critically great, it shows a bad side of the writer for having little regard for this woman she’s eviscerating. This relationship between a teenager and a flailing woman in her mid-to-late thirties is complicated and raw and somehow lovely and real, and it’s really gripping.
Meanwhile, the plotlines surrounding the growth of this sisterhood are so ridiculous that it’s fun. Tracy’s new friend Tony, who sort of likes her but not really enough to date her instead of his new quickly-super-serious girlfriend Nicholette (played by Jasmine Cephas-Jones; yes I screamed on the plane going IT’S PEGGY IT’S PEGGY!), somehow gets roped into driving the girls to Connecticut to confront Brooke’s ex-boyfriend’s new wife with a business proposal that is as inane as it is funny, and somehow all the characters being cooped up in this wife’s mansion is fun to watch instead of annoying in its absurdity.
Overall, this movie is another in the Gerwig cannon that absolutely nails the mood of her demographic, privileged urban-dwelling 30-somethings with tons of potential but no idea how to harness it properly. She gives a speech at the end that cuts to the core, admitting how she spends her hours and hours staring at the computer or the tv and then spending time trying not to do that, and then lying to herself about doing that, and falling in love with everything she sees and knows about and all the while not knowing how to make herself work in the world. It’s really moving and an accurate representation of this group that no one in their right mind would feel sorry for, but you still do.
I put this movie off the longest. I knew it was rough, I knew it was long, (I knew that I was poor, I knew it was the only way to rise up) I knew it was from the team behind ‘Birdman’ and hot damn, that’s enough to put off eating vegan ice cream let alone a long trudging revenge movie chockfull of animal cruelty. But you know what? ‘The Revenant’ was so much better than I expected. Although I wouldn’t be voting for Leo to win Best Actor or for the film to win Best Picture, I’m totally okay with the former winning (inevitable) and probably wouldn’t think it’s the worst thing ever if the latter wins (probable but ‘Spotlight’ really should). All this to say, it’s a very good movie, although I never want to see it again.
It helps to know what the title means. A revenant is a person who returns from the dead, pretty much, but not as a zombie. The film begins with an incredibly harrowing scene. A group of trappers, led by freaking Bill Weasley who is EVERYDAMNWHERE this season (seriously, is a British ginger so necessary in all of these movies? there’s no one else who could have played the captain of a group of hardscrabble trappers, you needed someone trying to hide his British accent? does he have dirt on everyone in Hollywood or something?) gets attacked by unseen Indians in the middle parts of America under siege, seemingly smack in the middle of the time when white people were destroying the native people’s lives and futures. Even though decent people will be secretly rooting for the Indians, it’s hard not to be terrified for the white people, especially Leo because he has a half-Indian son with him and you just tend to root for families. Most of the men are killed, but Leo and son escape to the boats with the movie’s big awful horrible villain, Tom Hardy. I seriously hated him more than anyone in any movie this year, and that is a huge thing. Did you see the part above about ‘Beasts of No Nation’? Even so, Tom Hardy still was the worst character ever.
This frightening, jaw-dropping opening sequence sets the mood for the rest of the 4 hour film. Or so it felt. The violence and the killing never ends, whether with Indians, with fellow whites, or with bears. The famous bear scene really was something. I usually root for animals to win in these situations but I was pretty scared of it here and didn’t really want to befriend it. I’m kidding, it was absolutely terrifying. This bear just grabbed hold of Leo with its teeth and threw him about, over and over and over, even when you thought the attack was over. Holy crap it was difficult to watch.
And then it just kept going! Every scene had me covering one eye, then covering half the remaining eye, then resolving to watch the movie through a stretched piece of t-shirt. That kind of thing. It never let up, not even at the very ‘Birdman’-like ending when it feels like resolution or peace but may have come at the price of death. But somehow all this violence and horror formed a very solid, gripping, epic movie, and Lubezki’s cinematography really stood out as being the best of its kind. Leo gives a very strong performance, though I don’t know if it’s the best of the year of all actors. It’s not that it was mostly physical and not verbal, because that shouldn’t matter. It was something else, like it was all fighting and trudging and glaring and more fighting and stuff like that, I don’t know. People turned on Naomi Watts’ performance in “The Impossible”, initially hailed as the best of the year, for not being Best Actress worthy because she was mostly lying on a gurney sick in a hospital, not giving Oscar-worthy speeches and other crap like that. She was amazing in that. That Leo isn’t getting the same kind of scrutiny for a much less emotional performance reeks of either sexism or favoritism. Considering how hard he’s campaigning and how much everyone wants him to win so he can finally stop campaigning, I’d say…both.
Never has a trailer forced all the breath out of me to such an extent that I had to remind myself to breathe. Well okay that’s not true; when I first saw some footage of ‘Gravity’ I had to put my head in my lap to stop hyperventilating. But like I said before, I fear space. This was different. ‘Room’ felt personal, real, just like all the brutal, pitiful stories we hear of brutal men who hold victims captive in their basements for years and years because humanity is a godforsaken mess. To be shown full on the terror that such victims have faced, to not be able to turn away from what they are experiencing, made for a very empathetic movie-going experience, like none other this year.
Brie Larson plays Joy, a captive in a horrible man’s shed for 7 years. During that time of never leaving these four walls, she has had a son named Jack, now 5 years old. They live in this squalor they simply call Room, and it’s all Jack knows of the world. It’s too hard for Joy to explain to him that there’s a whole world out there, so for a while she lets him believe that Room is all there is, and what they see on television is from other planets. But eventually Joy reaches her breaking point and knows that she has to somehow get her son out of this hell and into the world. She plans for him to fake being sick to get to a hospital, then to fake being dead so their captor will remove him from Room (wrapped in a carpet) so he can tell someone, anyone, what’s going on. The entire section with the escape practice and execution could match any movie in terms of stress, trauma, and breathlessness. If you aren’t gripping your armrests and hyperventilating while watching this part, then you weren’t watching.
The second part of the film, the reintroduction of Joy to the real world and the realization that the world really does exist for Jack, is almost as difficult. No one understands what they’ve gone through, and it’s hard for mother and son to help each other when they had such different experiences. Everyone wants them to acclimate quickly, but it’s impossible, especially for Joy. The media camped out on their lawn makes everything worse, as they do, because they are f-ing monsters.
Brie Larson gives a raw, affecting performance that will earn her a Best Actress Oscar, but she really owes that award to Jacob Tremblay, playing her little son. For me, Jacob was this entire movie. He was the Sydney Lucas of Hollywood this year, a child actor way too talented than he should be and responsible for how superb this film was. ‘Fun Home’ and ‘Room’ are both outstanding pieces of art as written and as performed, but Sydney and Jacob raised their respective productions just that little bit more as only extremely special actors could. That he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar is the biggest snub this season. This film will move you even more than you think it will, and most of that is due to Jacob’s tremendous performance. What a fantastic film.
I had such high hopes for this movie, especially after the early word last fall about how great Emily Blunt was in it. But I finally saw it, and I didn’t like it. Not that it wasn’t well done or anything; I just don’t get why I needed to watch it. I didn’t see the point. I actively disliked watching it, which is something that is hard to accomplish for me. Usually, I enjoy this or that but can see how it’s not objectively good (see “Hail Caesar” above). This was a rare case where it was the opposite. And Emily Blunt seemed to be so focused on hiding her British accent that there didn’t seem to be any acting going on. As my cousin brilliantly said, “It seems like how I would act if cast in this. So confused like omg I’m in a movie.” Exactly.
Sicario gives a look at the unwinnable drug wars in Mexico and how nothing is as it seems and all of it is just terrible and everyone is bad but maybe trying to do good things but by being bad and what is bad and what is good and everyone’s shooting and ugh it was just horrible to watch. Not my kind of movie. I don’t particularly like being reminded that the world is horrible and sad and at a complete loss when there isn’t even one sympathetic character to root for. You gotta have a sympathetic character or else it’s just rubbing our noses in the worst aspects of society for the sole purpose of getting them dirty.
My vote for Best Picture, ‘Spotlight’ is the best kind of movie. Like so many movies on this list (like so many movies that people find worth making), it shows part of the dark, horrifying underbelly of society, but unlike a lot of those movies, this actually shows how some good people fight against it and bring the horrible people to justice.
A stellar cast of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark “Because I Like It” Ruffalo, my Broadway manneray Brian D’Arcy James, my maybe cousin Liev Schreiber, and everyone’s favorite Stanley Tucci play the handful of people living in Boston in 2001 who want to uncover the truth about the Catholic church’s sexual abuse of children. A new editor has the Spotlight team of the Boston Globe, the country’s oldest investigative journalism team and one of the last bastions of actual journalism left in this godforsaken mess of a supershitty-media-consuming society, take on this story. They’re hesitant at first, because people have tried before and failed, and on top of that, the city, the church, and almost all Catholic people want them to mind their own business, because that’s how good religious people do, or something sickening about how decent Catholics just trust priests to do whatever is god’s will.
We get a look at the lengths people were willing to go to in order to shield the church from any attacks or even ill will, and how willing they were to let the poor victims of these terrible men go without help, all in order to protect the institution of Catholicism. So much of what we see is disgusting, from lawyers taking deals to bury the lawsuits some of the victims would bring, to politicians and even school officials asking investigators to just let it go. At first, the team thinks they are investigating just one priest in Boston, but as they go deeper and deeper into the story, the number of guilty priests grows and grows, to numbers beyond what anyone of them ever predicted. Their work unearths the enormity of the scandal and reveals how high up the coverup went, all the way to Cardinal Law at the very least. Ninety priests in Boston were implicated in Boston alone, with more found in almost every city and town in America and the rest of the world.
The film does an excellent job of showing how difficult every step of the investigation was, and how slow and painstaking the slog was to make any headway. But the decent people never gave up and never stopped fighting. The acting is solid all around, with McAdams and Ruffalo getting the Oscar nominations to represent the cast. Ruffalo is always good, but he always puts on a weird characterization to distinguish his performances, and how he speaks in this movie is kind of like how Christian Bale speaks in ‘The Big Short’, just all nerves and off-kilter cadence and anxiety and energy. Pretty effective though. You’ll be on edge the whole time, wondering how people could do this to children or turn a blind eye to it, and, considering Cardinal Law was transferred to Rome after the scandal was blown open, whether the entire Vatican knew what was going on and didn’t care (yes). Their investigative process is depicted well, with the incremental achievements and setbacks coming seemingly simultaneously. You’ll be incredibly upset to remember how awful people can be, but you’ll be somewhat uplifted that there are still some decent people willing to fight for what’s right. Everyone should see this important film.
One of the funniest movies of the year, ‘Spy’ proves how invaluable Melissa McCarthy is to the film industry. There’s nothing wrong with this film, and when Britain’s beloved comedian Miranda Hart is the least funny part of a movie, you know you’ve got something highly enjoyable. McCarthy plays the Vaughan to Jude Law’s Sydney Bristow (Alias reference), but when Jude gets killed (OR DOES HE), Melissa has to go into the field and finish the job. She is a terrible mess at first, but obviously gets her shit together and is amazing. She befriends evil heiress Rose Byrne in an attempt to get her to lead to evil badass Bobby Cannavale, she teams up with superspy Jason Statham (what a cast!), and tries to stop illegal sale of illegal nukes and all kinds of stuff and it’s ridiculous but it’s so damn funny. Amazing airplane slash TBS movie.
STAR WARS: NEW ONE
I’m about to do the movie equivalent of what I despise most in reviews of vegetarian restaurants, and I apologize for it, but there’s no stopping it now. Just as these punk ass reviewers think it helpful to begin by saying ‘I love meat, I’m not a vegetarian, give me all the meat, bacon tho yum yay ancestors and canines…but this restaurant was good,’ I feel the need to say I’m not a Stars Wars fanatic, I didn’t even remember the original movies, and I never really understood why the Natalie Portman era was so awful. Yet, I freaking loved this movie. It was so much fun! Even leaving aside the Star Wars mythology, it was an impressively captivating action movie. I loved the new lead characters: We Daisy Ridley, a girl Jedi, how amazing is that. We have John Boyega, whom I love, and who is black, equally awesome to make this franchise more relevant for today. We all win. We have Adam Driver, current super It boy or something but who is always nice to see. And we have Oscar Isaac in the first movie I haven’t despised him in. Yippee! What a great new cast! (We also have Bill freaking Weasley AGAIN, because he was in 90% of the movies on this list.) But even the most casual of watchers, like me, could recognize how momentous it was when Harrison Ford and Chewy and Carrie Fisher showed up, making a very strong movie mean so much more. It also had cantina music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which you couldn’t really hear enough to appreciate but you can sense that it’s coolest. I also like that Daisy can deadlift like 200 pounds in real life. What a fun movie!
Aaron Sorkin nearly out-Sorkinned himself with this one. You hear Michael Fassbender anad Kate Winslet in a new movie with a Sorkin script and you think, oh man, this should be good. But then you remember that Sorkin is never as good as the West Wing was. Oh and then you realize what the movie is about: It’s another one about Steve Jobs. Yes, he was a genius and he gave us all these factories in China making us iPhones and stuff, but seriously, do we need to make art about him every year, so soon after he died? I mean, there’s even a Broadway show due this season about him and Bill Gates. I’m sick of it.
Even so, I was eager for this movie, but it still disappointed me. Steve Jobs is portrayed as (and probably was) a terribly cold, unfeeling person, focused on his business success to the detriment of anyone who tried to get close to him. Maybe that’s how it had to be for him to create all the technology he created but that doesn’t make him a good or sympathetic person. Fassy plays him as a total dick, and when the lead character in your movie is a total dick, I’m not going to care about any of it. Why should I be invested in this guy’s story? I already know what he created for me, and it’s great, but a) we don’t see any of that and b) he’s still a dick. I don’t see the merit in continuing to try to tell Jobs’ story better than the last guy, when it’s just all the same.
There’s a popular defense of the movie that Sorkin and team wrote it to be extraordinarily aloof and chilly to reflect the man it’s about, and that absolutely feels true. The whole movie feels detached, just as we’re supposed to recognize Jobs is from his personal life. However, having the format and mood of the film reflect the man at its (cold dead) heart doesn’t make the movie good. Okay, so, similarly, the new Broadway musical adaptation of ‘American Psycho’ just released video clips of some of the songs. They are very bad. They mostly sound like terrible ‘80s electro-pop with dumbed down lyrics and uninspired melodies. Defenses of this by pseudo-intellectuals say that, well, this is actually brilliant, because that’s the time period the show is about, so the music is reflecting the characters and how they would be acting and what they would be listening actually perfectly. Okay, that might be true, but it doesn’t make it good or enjoyable to us, and isn’t that important too?
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
I thought this was one of the most exciting films of last year, and not just because I found the balls to walk over to people in my theatre and make them shut their phones off. So at least that made it exciting for the people I was with. “Straight Outta Compton” tells the origin story of NWA, the pioneering rap group that included Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E that set the pace for the era of gangsta rap to come. We see their violent upbringing in Compton, when they tested boundaries in local clubs while they tried to avoid gang life. Then, as they get more and more successful, we see them fall victim to the same things that hit every successful artist – not knowing how to manage fame or wealth, getting taken advantage of by record execs, infighting with the people they came up with. It’s all very dramatic, very scary, and very much what makes good movies.
Afterwards, what stuck with me so much was the performances, especially Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, and O’Shea Jackson, Jr.’s performance as Ice Cube. I could not get over how much the latter looked like the real Ice Cube. I was raving about that for weeks until finally I raved about it to my dad and he was like, ‘are you kidding me you don’t know that was Ice Cube’s son playing him?’ oopsy.
Erma p gerd, if you aren’t an enormous fan of Amy Schumer than I don’t know if you have a sense of humor or maybe you are just a raving misogynist. She is incredible. This movie lets her show off slightly more audience-friendly ways. It’s not her brilliantly cutting social commentary that we get treated to on her tv show, but it’s much more accessible and enjoyable to a larger audience, especially of women or people who don’t hate women. Amy plays a magazine editor because in her imagined world they still have those, and her boss is Tilda Swinton. Can we talk about Tilda? I didn’t realize till after the movie that it was her. Tilda plays such crazy characters and is such a chameleon for every role that when she is just dressed as a normal woman, maybe how she actually looks, it’s actually the hardest to recognize her. Hiding in plain sight. She was freaking stunning too.
Amy drinks and lot and smokes a lot and dates a lot and is super hilarious about it all in ways I don’t really want to get into because tee hee. She gets assigned a story covering this hugely successful sports medicine doctor who treats all these famous athletes like LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire, both of whom are in the film. In fact, LeBron is like the best friend of Aaron (the doctor) (Bill Hader I love him), and their relationship is hilarious, like how LeBron tries to work out who owes what for lunch or forgets his wallet and Aaron is like, are you kidding, you made $30 million last year, you are paying for my lunch. I liked that. I’m a socialist. And when Aaron tells him that he and Amy had sex, LeBron yells excitedly, in a restaurant, “My boy got intimate!” It’s so funny. John Cena is also hilarious in it, playing a beefcake who is only able to talk about protein and working out, even in bed, and it’s so funny that it made me a fan. I’m always happy to see people make fun of themselves.
So Amy and Doctor Aaron start to fall for each other, but Amy has some serious issues about dating, probably dating back to her childhood with her super messed up father (a great Colin Quinn) when he made his young children repeat after him that ‘monogamy isn’t realistic’ to excuse his infidelity. Amy’s colleague played by Vanessa Brayer is given some of the funniest parts, like the most widely shown clip in commercials when the two girls say Aaron must be a murderer or something if he is calling her the next day and stuff. Tilda’s treatment of Vanessa is also amazingly mean and funny, since Vanessa smiles when she is nervous, Tilda makes her nervous, and Tilda yells at her to stop smiling. Soon-to-be Academy Award winner Brie Larson plays Amy’s domesticated sister, and their scenes, especially the later ones, are surprisingly moving. They actually made me cry even on repeat viewings. Brie’s husband is played by Mike Birbiglia, and Amy’s homeless man friend is Dave Attell, so this cast is chockfull of great comedians. Dave Attell has some of the best lines, like when Amy does the walk of shame one morning in a sequined miniskirt and he goes, “Did church let out early?” There are some unnecessary parts, like everything with Ezra Miller (although it was cool that he was in another movie with Tilda in such different roles from ‘Kevin’), and I’m still not sure how I feel about the cheerleader-dance ending. But it was so funny and enjoyable, and it’s so nice to have another strong female voice out there in a time when we sadly can still point to and count individual female voices we have in the conversation.
I’m most surprised about Trumbo this year. It was a flawless movie to me, and one of the year’s best, yet it feels like no one knew about it at all, flying almost completely under the radar. Dalton Trumbo was a Hollywood screenwriter who was a Communist, and so was blacklisted in the 1950s during the ridiculously scary and stupid era of Communist fear and civil rights violations. Trumbo, played by the truly wonderful Bryan Cranston, was a member of the Hollywood 10, a group of accomplished screenwriters who were considered to have communist ties. One of these co-commie friends was played by Louis C.K. (yes, Louis as a real big commie in a serious movie). They were called to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and refused. Trumbo was thus held in contempt of Congress and imprisoned.
Once released from prison, Trumbo was unable to get work in Hollywood as the Blacklist grew and grew to cover anyone who looked at the horrible awful Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren, hateful) in the wrong way. Instead, he started writing his scripts but letting friends who were not tarnished by the blacklist sell them with their names on them. In this way, his friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) is listed as the writer of the great ‘Roman Holiday’, and wins the Oscar for it, for Trumbo’s writing. From there, Trumbo and all his blacklisted friends start ghostwriting scripts for King Brothers Productions, a low-budget B-movie company that churns out crappy films but pays. Trumbo gets his whole family, including wife Diane Lane and daughter Elle Fanning, involved in running his house as a script factory. With all these amazing writers suddenly on staff, King Brothers movies start doing a lot better and being of a much higher quality, and Trumbo’s “The Brave One”, obviously produced under a pseudonym, wins another Oscar he cannot claim. Hollywood starts catching on that Trumbo and these commie writers are behind all these current movies even though they aren’t supposed to be working, but the head of King Bros. is the lovable and always great John Goodman, who ain’t scared of Hedda Hopper or her awful cronies. John Goodman gets to threaten one of these a-hats with a baseball bat and it’s just glorious.
As time goes on and public support for what HUAC, Hopper, and John Wayne and other would-be Trump supporters are doing starts to wane, more people start speaking out against the blacklist and supporting Trumbo. Actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger come to Trumbo directly to have him write screenplays for them, “Spartacus” for the former and “Exodus” for the latter, and the wall of secrecy and fear surrounding Hollywood and the country starts to crumble. Later in his life, Trumbo finally gets the acclaim he missed out on, and gives a fantastic and relevant speech about how persecuting people for their principles results in everyone losing.
Bryan Cranston, as we know from his Emmy-winning amazingness in ‘Breaking Bad’, his Tony-winning amazingness in “All the Way”, and his years on “Malcolm in the Middle”, can do no wrong. He is in perfect form here, and would have had my vote for Best Actor if people let me vote. The whole cast is top notch. But Hedda Hopper was such a terrible awful no good person that her character can make you hate Helen Mirren, which is crazy. She was featured in the musical “Chaplin”, too, and she made you hate the lovely Jenn Colella. Damn Hedda was really a horrible person. Trumbo, on the other hand, seemed pretty great, a person in history we can look up to for standing up for what was right against an increasingly wrong government and society.
Remember what I said above about ‘The Lobster’? That balls-to-the-wall crazy mess of a movie? This was on the same level, except harder to understand what they were going for. Harder to understand. Than ‘The Lobster’. That’s a big thing to accomplish.
Given what I just said, it’s hard to explain what this movie was about because I’m not sure. But it’s on this list because so many critics raved about it. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are old men staying in their favorite Swiss pseudo-resort pseudo-sanitarium with like massages and fancy dinners but also doctors’ exams and probably colonoscopies and other weirdness. Rachel Weisz (GREAT MOVIES YOU CHOSE THIS YEAR, RACHEL) is Michael’s daughter who was just dumped by her husband, who was actually Harvey’s son. Aw so the old men are in-laws. Cute. Oh so the husband dumped Rachel for Paloma Faith. Like, the rock star, playing herself. The husband is just like, I’m leaving you for Paloma Faith. And then Paloma Faith is there and is like heyyyy, I stole your husband and I’m a rock star. So weird.
So Michael was once the world’s greatest conductor, but he’s retired. The Queen’s lackey comes to the resort to ask him to perform for Prince Philip’s something, at the Queen’s behest. But Michael says NO! I will NOT play for the Queen! I am retired! Also, they want him to play these famous songs he wrote, but he won’t play them for a soprano other than his wife, who died. So that’s really quite moving and is the only aspect of the movie that will make you feel an emotion. And Harvey meanwhile is making the weirdest sounding movie (popular) with a crew of youngins, and he needs it to be his greatest movie ever but all of their ideas sound terrible. Harvey gets frustrated a lot with these children. When they finally finish the movie, Harvey seems pretty proud. Jane Fonda comes at the end, playing an actress whom Harvey made famous with his earlier movies, to discuss whether she will do this new one. She breaks it to Harvey that this movie is a p.o.s. and won’t do it, and that he lost his touch. She real mean. Afterwards, Harvey and Michael are in a room and Harvey just walks off a balcony and Michael doesn’t react. I didn’t even realize there was a balcony or that he died until much later. It’s so nothingness. Like. Why.
Meanwhile, Paul Dano is also in the resort, and he’s a very famous actor, more famous than Paul Dano is. One day he goes to dinner dressed up like Hitler, maybe in research for a role, maybe to push buttons, maybe to add another weird ass scene to this movie. There are several other weird ass scenes when Michael Caine is conducting a field of cows and hearing music through all their cow bells and the wind and stuff. What a movie.
(what I want to happen, colored in part by what will happen but not predictions)
MY TOP FIVE
(the Oscars should be back to five, as I say every year)
SPOTLIGHT (my winner)
THE BIG SHORT or BRIDGE OF SPIES (something with three words, two of which start with B and S)
Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant, but I’d have voted for Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Best Supporting Actor: Sylvestor Stallone, Creed
Best Original Song: anything but that horrendous Sam Smith bullshit from Spectre.