Oscar Winner Predictions 2019!

parasiteBP

You know how this goes…

Best Picture

  • 1917 
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • Marriage Story
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Parasite

Smart money is on World War I epic 1917 taking home the big prize, as it has won the Golden Globe, Producers Guild Award, and BAFTA. However, there is a major grounswell of support for Parasite – the first South Korean movie to be nominated for any Oscars, and an unlikely crowd-pleasing hit – to become the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. Statistically, it’s not the most likely scenario, but are voters really going to deny us the most historical and exciting Best Picture win since Moonlight?
Will Win: Parasite
Should Win: Parasite 

Director

  • Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)
  • Sam Mendes (1917)
  • Todd Phillips (Joker)
  • Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

In the last decade, the Best Director category has become a sort of technical achievement prize, usually going to the director whose movie seems the most difficult to shoot. Impressive long takes and pyrotechnics explain recent wins for Alfonso Cuarón, Ang Lee, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. This year’s equivalent is Sam Mendes, for the “all in one take” showiness of 1917. That Mendes will win a second Oscar when nominated against Scorsese and Tarantino seems surreal, but that’s the Oscars for you.
Will Win: Sam Mendes
Should Win: Bong Joon-ho

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
  • Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
  • Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)
  • Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
  • Renée Zellweger (Judy)

Renée Zellweger’s impending comeback win for Judy feels a lot like Glenn Close’s impending win for The Wife last year: it looks like the obvious choice until it is taken away at the last minute. But there are two important differences: 1. unlike last year’s Olivia Colman, there is no clear challenger to Renée’s win, and 2. people seem to have actually watched Judy. 
Will Win: Renée Zellweger
Should Win: Saoirse Ronan

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
  • Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
  • Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
  • Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

It would be an understatement to say I’m not the biggest fan of Joker, but I do love Joaquin Phoenix as an actor. There are about a million performances he’s given I’d rather have seen him win the Oscar for, but I’m willing to look at this as a career achievement prize. I’ll just pretend he’s winning for Two Lovers, or The Master, or We Own the Night, or Inherent Vice, or The Immigrant, or… You get the picture.
Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Should Win: Antonio Banderas

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
  • Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
  • Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
  • Florence Pugh (Little Women)
  • Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

I love Laura Dern as much as the next guy, but I can’t really spend too much thinking of this category without becoming absolutely furious at the fact that Jennifer Lopez wasn’t nominated for her career-best work in Hustlers. 
Will Win:
Laura Dern
Should Win: Florence Pugh

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
  • Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
  • Al Pacino (The Irishman)
  • Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
  • Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Brad Pitt is a sure thing for the win at this point, but let’s take a moment to be grateful for the fact that he’s winning for a performance that embraces his impossible good looks, movie star charisma, and comedic chops rather than a weepy Oscarbaity movie in which he plays Thomas Jefferson or some such bullshit.
Will Win: Brad Pitt
Should Win: Brad Pitt

Original Screenplay

  • 1917 (Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns)
  • Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
  • Marriage Story (Noach Baumbach)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
  • Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won-han)

Much to Quentin Tarantino’s chagrin, this very much feels like the most likely place to give Parasite an award other than the International Film Oscar it is practically assured to win. You won’t see me complaining, it’s an incredible screenplay.
Will Win: Parasite
Should Win: Parasite 

Adapted Screenplay

  • The Irishman (Steven Zaillian)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)
  • Joker (Todd Phillips, Scott Silver)
  • Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
  • The Two Popes (Anthony McCarten)

This one’s a bit of a toss-up. Taika Waititi has won both the WGA and BAFTA for his Jojo Rabbit, which would make him an automatic win… except that there’s been a lot said about female directors being underrepresented in this Oscar race, and some people might still regret not having given Greta Gerwig any Oscars for Lady Bird. At the end of the day, it’s worthwhile remembering that some things never change, that Green Book won Best Picture last year, and that Jojo fits right in with the kind of insufferable bullshit the Academy loves to reward. 
Will Win:
Jojo Rabbit
Should Win: Little Women 

Animated Feature

  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • I Lost My Body
  • Klaus 
  • Missing Link
  • Toy Story 4

In a really weak year for this category, it seemed like Toy Story 4 would sail to a default win, but Netflix’s Klaus has surprised by winning the Annie Award and the BAFTA. It is, in my opinion, easily the best movie in this lot, and the animation branch is not particularly fond of rewarding sequels, which makes me think it has a chance.
Will Win: Klaus
Should Win: Klaus 

International Film

  • Corpus Christi (Poland)
  • Honeyland (North Macedonia)
  • Les Misérables (France)
  • Pain and Glory (Spain)
  • Parasite (South Korea)

A win for Parasite is almost a given, which seems surreal considering no South Korean movie had ever been nominated before despite the wealth of amazing movies that came out of that country in the past two decades: Oldboy, Burning, Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother, Secret Sunshine, The Handmaiden, Poetry, the list goes on and on…
Will Win: Parasite
Should Win: Parasite 

Cinematography

  • 1917 (Roger Deakins)
  • The Irishman (Rodrigo Prieto)
  • Joker (Lawrence Sher)
  • The Lighthouse (Jaren Blachske)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Robert Richardson)

Maybe the biggest lock of the night. This is a no-brainer for Roger Deakins and the one-take gimmickry of 1917. I don’t begrudge the man, he had to wait more than twenty years of nominations until he finally won, and I’ll gladly hand him a second win.
Will Win: 1917
Should Win: The Lighthouse 

Costume Design

  • The Irishman (Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Mayes C. Rubio)
  • Joker (Mark Bridges)
  • Little Women (Jacqueline Durran)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Arianne Phillips)

The usual rule of thumb is that the movie with the most period gowns takes the win. This year, that would be Little Women. A second Oscar for the super talented Jacqueline Durran? I’d be down for that, even if I’d be equally excited for Arianne Phillips, who also seems like a possibility.
Will Win: Little Women
Should Win: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood 

Film Editing

  • Ford v. Ferrari (Michael McCusker)
  • The Irishman (Thelma Schoonmaker)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Tom Eagles)
  • Joker (Jeff Groth)
  • Parasite (Jinmo Yang)

This is a free-for-all, which makes me think Parasite, which has the most Best Picture buzz out of these nominees will be able to pull it off.
Will Win: Parasite
Should Win: Parasite 

Makeup and Hair

  • 1917 
  • Bombshell
  • Joker
  • Judy
  • Maleficent: Mistress of Evil 

The obvious choice seems to be Charlize Theron’s transformation into Megyn Kelly in Bombshell, but the movie’s buzz has pretty much disappeared. It makes me think this might be another place where voters default to Joker, even if I don’t see much make-up achievement in that movie beyond face paint.
Will Win: Bombshell
Should Win: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil 

Production Design

  • 1917 (Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales)
  • The Irishman (Bob Shaw, Regina Graves)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Ra Vincent, Nora Sopkova)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh)
  • Parasite (Lee Ha-jun, Cho Won Woo)

1917 is a thread here, and I would love nothing more than to see the incredible upstairs-downstairs design of Parasite take the win, but something tells me Once Upon a Time‘s recreation of sixties Hollywood is going to be too nostalgic for the Academy to resist.
Will Win: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Should Win: Parasite 

Original Score

  • 1917 (Thomas Newman)
  • Joker (Hildur Gudnadottir)
  • Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
  • Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

Seeing 1917 do as well as it has, I was convinced this would be the year of Thomas Newman’s overdue win (he’s been nominated 15 times with no wins), but for reasons I don’t quite grasp, the consensus has built around Joker as the best score of the year. Composer Hildur Gudnadottir has won the Globe, the BAFTA, and even a Grammy. The latter one was for her work on HBO’s Chernobyl, but I don’t see how that would hurt.
Will Win: Joker
Should Win: Marriage Story 

Original Song

  • “I Can’t Let Your Throw Yourself Away” (Toy Story 4)
  • “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (Rocketman)
  • “I’m Standing with You” (Breakthrough)
  • “Into the Unknown” (Frozen II)
  • “Stand Up” (Harriet)

What an absolute dog of a category. In this company, Taylor Swift’s much maligned song from Cats looks like a masterpiece. I have no idea where this will go, my first thought it’s this is a way to reward Elton John, but Rocketman didn’t get any other nominations, signaling a lack of support in the Academy. I could easily see this going to Harriet, since nominated star Cynthia Erivo is one of the songwriters. Bottom line, this is anyone’s game.
Will Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” 
Should Win: I’ll abstain.

Sound Mixing

  • 1917 
  • Ad Astra 
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • Joker
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

The sound categories seem like an obvious place for 1917 to rack up some more awards. The only other option, I think, is if the Academy decides they want to give something to Ford v. Ferrari, in which case one (or both) of the sounds would be the place to go.
Will Win: 1917
Should Win: Ad Astra

Sound Editing

  • 1917 
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • Joker
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Same as Sound Mixing, pretty much…
Will Win: 1917
Should Win: 1917 

Visual Effects

  • 1917
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • The Irishman 
  • The Lion King
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 

This is the toughest category of the year for me. I go back and forth between three winners. Usually, if a Best Picture nominee is represented here, they take the prize. But this year has two such movies, and the last time more than one Best Picture contender was nominated here it ended with a bizarre (but very much deserved) win for Ex Machina. My gut tells me 1917 does not have enough CGI to win here, and The Irishman feels like it’s lost all momentum, which leaves me with The Lion King. This category loves to reward CGI animals (Life of Pi, The Golden Compass, The Jungle Book), so that might give the “not animated” lions the edge.
Will Win: The Lion King
Should Win: Alita: Battle Angel… wait, what? 

Documentary (Feature)

  • American Factory
  • The Cave
  • The Edge of Democracy
  • For Sama
  • Honeyland

Will Win: American Factory   

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • In the Absence
  • Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (If You’re a Girl)
  • Life Overtakes Me
  • St. Louis Superman
  • Walk Run Cha-Cha 

Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (If You’re a Girl)

Short Film (Animated)

  • Daughter
  • Hair Love
  • Kitbull
  • Memorable
  • Sister

Will Win: Hair Love

Short Film (Live Action)

  • Brotherhood
  • Nefta Football Club
  • The Neighbor’s Window
  • Saria
  • A Sister

Will Win: The Neighbor’s Window 

Predictions for the 2019 Oscar Nominations

2488029 - ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I am doing some wishful thinking here, I think, but whatever. No further commentary, this is simply for the record.

Best Picture

  • 1917
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • Marriage Story
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Parasite 

Director

  • Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)
  • Greta Gerwig (Little Women)
  • Sam Mendes (1917)
  • Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
  • Lupita Nyong’o (Us)
  • Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)
  • Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
  • Renée Zellweger (Judy)

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
  • Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
  • Taron Egerton (Rocketman)
  • Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
  • Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)
  • Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
  • Florence Pugh (Little Women)
  • Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
  • Al Pacino (The Irishman)
  • Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
  • Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
  • Song Kang-ho (Parasite)

Original Screenplay

  • The Farewell (Lulu Wang)
  • Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
  • Marriage Story (Noach Baumbach)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
  • Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won-han)

Adapted Screenplay

  • The Irishman (Steven Zaillian)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)
  • Joker (Todd Phillips, Scott Silver)
  • Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
  • The Two Popes (Anthony McCarten)

Animated Feature

  • Frozen II
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • I Lost My Body
  • Missing Link
  • Toy Story 4

International Feature

  • Atlantics (Senegal)
  • Beanpole (Russia)
  • Les Miserables (France)
  • Pain & Glory (Spain)
  • Parasite (South Korea)

Documentary Feature

  • American Factory
  • For Sama 
  • Honeyland
  • Midnight Family 
  • One Child Nation 

Cinematography

  • 1917 (Roger Deakins)
  • The Irishman (Rodrigo Prieto)
  • Joker (Lawrence Sher)
  • The Lighthouse (Jaren Blachske)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Robert Richardson)

Costume Design

  • 1917 (Jacqueline Durran, David Crossman)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Mayes C. Rubio)
  • Little Women (Jacqueline Durran)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Arianne Phillips)
  • Rocketman (Julian Day)

Film Editing

  • Ford v. Ferrari (Michael McCusker)
  • The Irishman (Thelma Schoonmaker)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Tom Eagles)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Fred Raskin)
  • Parasite (Jinmo Yang)

Makeup and Hair

  • Bombshell
  • Joker
  • Judy
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Rocketman 

Production Design

  • 1917 (Dennis Gassner)
  • Jojo Rabbit (Ra Vincent)
  • Joker (Mark Friedberg)
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh)
  • Parasite (Lee Ha-jun)

Original Score

  • 1917 (Thomas Newman)
  • Joker (Hildur Gudnadottir)
  • Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
  • Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

Original Song

  • “Glasgow” (Wild Rose)
  • “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” (Rocketman)
  • “Into the Unknown” (Frozen II)
  • “Spirit” (The Lion King)
  • “Stand Up” (Harriet)

Sound Mixing

  • 1917 
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • Joker
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Rocketman

Sound Editing

  • 1917 
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Joker
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Visual Effects

  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • The Irishman 
  • The Lion King
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 

The Best Movies of 2019

parasitetop10

Some of you will say I shouldn’t have written “Movies” in the title, but any classification of what is and isn’t cinema that searches to narrow the definition – even if it comes from Martin Scorsese – is not appealing to me. The following list is comprised of moving images, all of which made me feel, think, or experience something special. There are three “ties” because I like to make connections between the things I watch and to spread the wealth. You can take it or leave it. After all, there is no objectivity in ranking art. This is just a way for me to recommend the good stuff that I hold dear.

little women11. Little Women
(dir. Greta Gerwig / 134 min. / USA)

“Who will be interested in a story of domestic struggles and joys? It doesn’t have any real importance” says Jo, the struggling writer. Her younger sister Amy replies with “Maybe we don’t see those things as important because people don’t write about them.” In this moment, which comes near the end, Little Women argues for itself as a piece of art. It’s not like the movie needs to do this. By this point, the grace with which writer-director Greta Gerwig and her many, talented collaborators capture the profound emotion of daily life has spoken for itself. Actually, Gerwig’s great gamble to restructure Louisa May Alcott’s source novel – first introducing Jo as a struggling writer in New York, then flashing back to her childhood with her sisters – is essential to the movie’s success. After all, the struggles and joys of domestic life only acquire their profundity when looked back as memories. With that in mind, one could think of the quoted exchange between Jo and Amy as the unnecessary gilding of a perfectly fine lily. One could… if it weren’t for two reasons. The first: There are some people – in this year of our Lord 2019, believe it or not – who are turning their nose at this movie because it is based on source material that is most popular with – gasp – pre-adolescent girls, so a bit of blunt self-preservation might not be a totally worthless idea. The second, and most important: having this small piece of wisdom be delivered by Amy – not only the youngest of the little women, but the one who’s historically been portrayed as the selfish, unlikable one – exemplifies the generosity with which Gerwig approaches this adaptation. I wrote a lot about generosity when praising Lady Bird, Gerwig’s previous feature. Somehow, this generosity has grown even stronger in the follow-up. I can hardly think of a character in this movie who is not given a moment of grace. And I can hardly think of a more generous approach to literary adaptation – one that is so tied to the director’s personal bond to the source material, that it ends up becoming the most infallible argument for its greatness. 

(Little Women is playing in movie theaters nation-wide.)

claireba2. Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Starburst
(featuring Claire Saffitz / 40 min. / USA)

This video, in which pastry chef Claire Saffitz attempts to make a “gourmet” version of Starburst from scratch, is meant to be a representative not only for “Gourmet Makes”, the series in which it is an entry, but for the whole network of videos available on Bon Appetit’s Youtube channel. Through these videos, Bon Appetit has created a cinematic universe so rich, so delightful, and so full of endearing characters it puts the Marvel franchise machine to shame. Within this vast universe, the Starburst video stands out as the best example of the channel’s ability to capture pure human drama. Claire Saffitz is an extremely accomplished chef in her own right, but the pleasure of watching her videos relies largely on seeing her struggle, quite transparently, to achieve the task she set out for herself. The way in which the Starburst video in particular captures, with complete honesty, Claire as she deals with the immense stress she is experiencing due to her own perfectionism is emblematic of what makes her a perfect avatar for the struggles of her generation. To paraphrase my wife, “there is nothing more millennial than having the impulse to make homemade junk food, but being absolutely miserable while doing it.” I don’t want o minimize the talent and charisma of the many other “characters” in the BA universe, but there is something extremely cathartic, almost sublime, in seeing Claire repeatedly experience the excitement, anguish, and release of her sisyphean task. I didn’t feel a thing when Iron Man died, but may have never felt as devastated as when after many, many tries, Claire just couldn’t replicate the texture of a Starburst.

(All Bon Appetit videos are available on Youtube, and you can watch the Starburst one right here.)

Film Title: Us3. The “Upstairs Downstairs” Double Feature 

Parasite
(dir. Bong Joon-ho / 132 min. / South Korea)

Us
(dir. Jordan Peele / 116 min. / USA)

I am by no means the first person to compare these two. The great Amy Taubin, in particular, has pointed out the thematic similarities in these parables about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Beyond theme, the movies share an interest in thrill-inducing, crowd-pleasing filmmaking, which not only argues for them as a dynamite double-feature, but as a rebuttal to the notion that audiences will only show up for numb, apolitical, and repetitive franchise spectacles. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho – who has directed two international co-productions, Snowpiercer and Okja – has said he was initially surprised by the international success of what is a very Korean story, but has come to understand that “we all live in the same country called capitalism.”

How much of an anti-capitalist story is Parasite? Well, it is the story of a piss-poor family whose only chance at upward mobility is to con their way into a job at a wealthy family’s home. Revealing much more about the plot would be a disservice to Bong’s meticulous story structure, but rest assured part of the reason this Palme D’Or winner has caught on with audiences are the many twists and turns of its second half. Not as talked about as its anti-capitalist sentiment has been Parasite‘s anti-American critiques. The fact that the wealthy family in the movie is fascinated with American culture might seem at first like a critique of South Korean upper classes, but it’s worth stepping back and wondering what capitalist machinations have persuaded these crazy rich Asians to adopt such an obsessive relationship to this country.

Us can also be seen as a critique of American society. An auto-critique, in this case, and one that packs a particular kind of sting due to its specificity. I’m going to invoke Amy Taubin, again, because she has repeatedly referred to an anecdote about Jordan Peele’s inspiration: apparently, back when he was a student at Sarah Lawrence University, Peele was walking thought a tunnel when he found himself suddenly stalked by his own shadow. He later understood the presence he felt to be not himself, but the less privileged kids in his community who were not afforded the same opportunities as he. In this way, the movie provides a complimentary p.o.v. to Parasite, as it focuses on a middle class family whose vacation is ruined by the menacing embodiments of social consciousness. Those who view Us as a less polished movie than Parasite, must not have felt the visceral intensity I did while watching the movie – like the relentless doppelgänger so astonishingly played by Lupita Nyong’o, the movie is willing to strain whatever voice it can muster in order to be heard.

(Us is available to stream on Amazon Prime, Parasite is still in theaters.)

uncutgems4. Uncut Gems
(dir. Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie / 130 min. / USA)

For Howard Ratner, the diamond district dealer played by Adam Sandler, it’s never a matter of solving a problem, it’s a matter of winning. After dragging us through a rough night white privilege run amok in Good Timethe Safdie brothers shift their gaze to a different kind of destructive force: male competitiveness. Doesn’t it seem, sometimes, as if straight men have built society to be one big competition? Uncut Gems is the embodiment of capitalism as a male force. But this is not a sterile movie about big ideas, this is one of the most nerve-racking against-the-clock thrillers of the year. The Safdies are committed to making the experience of watching their movies as extreme as possible, which is more than appropriate when dealing with the kind of problematic characters they are often interested in following. I will steal something my friend Abie texted me after watching the movie, that the Safdies’ commitment to visceral emotion allows the movie to capture addiction (to gambling, to winning) in an unprecedented way. The risk created by Howard’s betting is so incredibly high that you can’t help but feel like you’re about to explode. Similarly the relief when things pay off is so incredibly high, we right up there with him.

(Uncut Gems should be playing in theaters in most major cities.)

hustlers85. The “Female Gaze” Double Feature

Hustlers
(dir. Lorene Scafaria / 110 min. / USA)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire
(dir. Céline Sciamma / 119 min. / France)

For Hustlers, comparisons to Goodfellas are inescapable, and honestly, warranted. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria calls her shot by quoting direct styles and images from Scorsese’s mobster saga, and it turns out that positioning her movie in direct conversation with one of the sacred texts of film bro culture pays off handsomely. In matters of taste there can be no dispute, but I for one find the circumstances that make these former strippers turn to crime at the very least more layered and complex than Henry Hill’s macho dude desire to be a gangster. The ensemble, led by an underrated Constance Wu, a hilarious Keke Palmer, and a never-shined-brighter Jennifer López delivers on the bang-for-your-buck entertainment promised by the trailer, and surprises by poignantly balancing the selfish darkness and sisterly bond that fuel the characters’ actions. Enormous credit is due to the meeting of Scafaria’s careful hand and J-Lo’s incomparable star-power, the combination of which, among many achievements, convincingly argues for a strip routine as its own kind of empowered feat.

And yet, no director was more explicit in their quest to subvert the traditional male gaze of cinema than Céline Sciamma, whose Portrait of a Lady on Fire tells the story of an 18th Century painter who is summoned to a remote island to paint the portrait of the would-be wife of a Milanese aristocrat. The portrait is to be sent to the Milanese so can see if he wants to marry the woman at all, but the subject of the picture is profoundly against the idea of being sent off to marriage. Thus begins a game in which the painter pretends to be a companion to the woman during the day, while trying to paint her from memory at night. As the game of glances and memories develop, the women begin to fall in love. Sciamma’s world is full of symbolism, bright colors and dreamy textures. The movie is constantly and explicitly asking us to consider who is being observed when, and Sciamma has a wonderful time playing with what is and isn’t seen within her frames. Images – and expectations – morph right in front of us, building to some of the most hear-pounding moments of this year in film.

(Hustlers is available to rent on most platforms. After a one-week run this December, Portrait of a Lady on Fire will start its theatrical run on Valentine’s Day.)

atlantics6. Atlantics
(dir. Mati Diop / 106 min. / Senegal)

“Unbelievable sight, indescribable feeling.” What does it mean, that in my pursuit to say something worthwhile about Mati Diop’s beautiful feature debut, I couldn’t come up with anything better than this hokey musical quote? I suppose I’m being honest in comparing my experience to that of Princess Jasmine on her magic carpet ride. I too was taken on a journey I simply couldn’t see coming. Social and magical realism blend together in Atlantics, which is part coming-of-age, part ghost story, and somehow much more than that. If the experience of watching this movie is most aptly compared to the je ne sais quoi of a magic carpet ride, it’s because it seems to be somehow connected to some sort of transcendental, immense feeling. As immense as the ocean, which plays a key role in the separation of our teenage protagonist and the lover who has been forced to leave Senegal in the hopes of finding a better life in Europe. And yet, it would be a crime to look at a movie this thoroughly accomplished and chalk up its power to some sort of mystical connection. The truth is that Mati Diop and her collaborators are putting in the work. Cinematographer Claire Mathon creates perfectly composed images that reflect the relationship between the main character and her surroundings. The unique score by Fatima Al Qadiri reflects a similar tension between electronic sounds and more traditional rhythms. And the sound design, also perfect, keeps circling back to remind us of the overwhelming presence of the ocean, which occupies this woman’s mind and haunts her as its own kind of spirit. If there are certain convenient coincidences in the plot, they serve to plant one of the movie’s foot firmly in the realm of legend. With the other foot planted in the world of politically-minded cinematic rigor, the movie achieves a power all its own.   

(Atlantics is available to stream on Netflix.)

deadwood57. Deadwood: The Movie
(dir. David Minahan / 110 min. / USA)

In 2006, HBO announced it was cancelling its western television series Deadwood on the eve of the premiere of its third season. It was known that series creator David Milch had a specific ending planned for the show, and that the third season finale was not it. Through the years, fans like me came to terms with the idea that Deadwood would forever be an incomplete series, and would spend equal amounts of time proselytizing the show’s virtues and decrying the fact that its non-ending had prevented it from entering its rightful place in the pantheon of great television dramas. For just as many years, the rumors of a movie that would tie up the loose ends circulated the internet, but us fans were too smart to give in to such improbable wishful thinking. Well guess what motherfuckers? Somehow the planets aligned, and made it so that more than ten years after the show’s cancellation, and shortly after he was diagnosed with alzheimer’s, Milch was able to write the last chapter of his story. A chapter that stands out as the perfect mix of nostalgia for past creations and a sobering look at death and the end of all things in a year in which big names such as Tarantino, Scorsese, and Almodóvar all delivered similarly retrospective projects. I wouldn’t expect this movie to have the impact it had on me on any viewer who is not familiar with the three seasons of television that preceded it, which makes it the perfect excuse for catching up with this incredible show and its beautiful, belated last chapter.

(Deadwood, both show and movie, are available to stream on HBO.)

sisternight8. Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”
(dir. Stephen Williams / 60 min. / USA)

I am as shocked as you are. You’d be hard pressed two things I’ve complained about on Twitter more incessantly and more annoyingly than superhero movies and television dramas. Watchmen, a sequel series to the revolutionary comic book of the same name is, in both cases, the exception that proves the rule. Back in the eighties, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, used their 12-issue series to explore comic book reader’s obsession with superheroes in the context of the Cold War and the looming thread of nuclear extinction. Thirty years later, with superheroes have saturated the culture not in comic book pages, but on the screen. That we, as a culture, are obsessed with following the adventures of what are essentially fascist supercops at a time of massive protest against racism, misconduct, and brutality in the police force is kind of unbelievable. This is where Watchmen comes in. Created by Damon Lindelof (in collaboration with many black artists, including the “consultation” of celebrated playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins), the shows announced its intentions from the very beginning. The first episode of the show opened with a harrowing recreation of the real-life 1921 Tulsa massacre, in which a thriving black community was annihilated by white racists and ended with a grotesque image that suggested a friendly, white, police officer had been hanged by a mysterious black man. Things, obviously, were not what they appeared, but the fact that the show was willing to close its first episode with a moment that was so ripe for misinterpretation is an example of the kind of risky story-telling that make it stand out in the landscape of prestige television. Where most hour-long dramas – be they populated by dragons or meth dealers – try as hard as they can to avoid saying anything relevant or alienating, Watchmen couldn’t be more interested in diving right into the most relevant (and routinely ignored) questions of its genre. Take, for instance, the episode I’ve decided to single out for this list: “This Extraordinary Being” is built around a hallucinatory memory, shot in black and white, that shows us the origin story of “Hooded Justice,” a character that appears in the original comic, but is re-contextualized for the series, which intrinsically links his status as the first superhero to America’s racist past, present, and future. This is just the kind of exciting, risky, and entertaining stuff that I needed. And it came right when I was ready to give up on television dramas once and for all.

(Watchmen is available to stream on HBO.)

hanxrogers

9. The “Preschool for Adults” Double Feature

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
(dir. Marielle Heller / 109 min. / USA)

John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch
(dir. Rhys Thomas / 70 min. / USA)

I grew up not knowing who Fred Rogers was – let alone watching his television show – and while I gather that he was a very nice man, I am not particularly interested in the nostalgia around him. When I heard Tom Hanks – a great actor, but one who has a somewhat questionable predilection for playing American Heroes™ – had taken Rogers as his next role, I prepared for the worst. Imagine my surprise when A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood turned out to be one of the most formally exciting movies of the year! Choosing to focus on the value that Fred Rogers’s brought to the world rather than his own life was a smart enough choice, but I wouldn’t have expected it to come with the even riskier gamble of presenting the movie as an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood – only one aimed at adults. Men’s inability to grow out of their boyish traumas and deal with the effects of toxic masculinity, makes for the perfect subject to be analyzed through the prism of Mr. Rogers’s figure. Every gutsy choice in this screenplay – and there are many! – could have fallen completely flat without the pitch-perfect direction of Marielle Heller. Still, at the end of the day, the biggest value – of this movie, of Rogers himself – is a complete honesty in understanding that being a good person requires a lot of work. Enlightenment is not something you reach, but something you constantly strive toward.

A similarly audacious formal experiment at re-visiting childhood nostalgia came in the Netflix special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch, which is either a spoof, an homage or a completely unique recreation of educational children’s television of the eighties and nineties. The special itself opens with comedian John Mulaney surrounded by a bunch of kids who ask him what the tone of the show is supposed to be. “Is this a joke?” they ask. “Well, if it fails, then yeah. We meant it as a joke” responds Mulaney, before adding that “if it succeeds, we’ll say that we worked really hard on it.” It’s not that this thing hasn’t figured out what audience it’s trying to aim for, but that it is purposely blurring the lines between nostalgia, irony and sincerity. Somewhat improbably, The Sack Lunch Bunch has emerged as the perfect artifact to close off a decade in which children’s entertainment has been endlessly re-packaged for adult nostalgia by explicitly pointing out the ways in which children’s and adult entertainment have morphed into the same thing. Even if you don’t find the comedy of this thing hilarious (which I certainly do), you will be surprised at what an odd and specific artifact it is and how well it plays as a companion to Heller’s sincere look at adult responsibility.

(A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is still playing in theaters, John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch is available on Netflix.)

queen6810. The Queen
(dir. Frank Simon / 68 min. / USA)

Why put a movie made in 1968 on this list? Well, for one, the movie was re-released in theaters this year in a beautifully restored version by Kino Lorber. Second, it might have been fifty years ago, but The Queen seemed far more relevant than most “new” movies I saw this year. One of my household’s most delightful obsessions is the reality-competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which contestants compete to become “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” The Queen – a documentary that chronicles the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant (basically an underground drag version of Miss America) – not only plays like a precursor to Drag Race, but illustrates the many ways in which our culture’s perceptions about identity, race, and gender have (and have not) changed in the last fifty years. The climax of the documentary is a quite famous clip in which contestant Crystal LaBeija confronts the judges of the contest arguing that the winner did not deserve the crown, with the underlying tension being that the winner is white and Crystal is not. While Crystal went on to found the House of Labeija and become a pioneer of “Drag Ball” culture, her rant against the judges sounds eerily familiar to anyone who’s paid attention at how the demographics of Drag Race’s winners has changed as the show has become more and more popular.

(Low-fi versions of this documentary are often found on Youtube, but you can find ways to see, buy, or rent the beautiful restoration of The Queen on the Kino Lorber website.)

To end, I would like to share with you my Favorite Films of the Decade. Or, at least, the ten movies I just can’t stop thinking about:

For Tarantino, this time is personal

OUATIH

This article contains spoilers for ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.’ Proceed with caution if you care about being spoiled.

The advertising for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood proudly announce it as “the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino.” This kind of marketing is the result of a career that has been built as much on cultural relevance as it has on quality cinema. A lot has changed in the film world since Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, benefitting form the independent film boom of the nineties, became a cultural sensation and turned the second-time director into the most talked-about man in Hollywood. The impact was so huge – calling Pulp Fiction the most important film of the nineties is like saying Obama was the first black President. It’s just a fact – that Tarantino has been able to build a unique career out of it. He is one of the very few filmmakers who will get close to a hundred million dollars from a big studio to make whatever movie he wants, on the promise that the Tarantino brand is strong enough to make bank at the box office. But this isn’t just another Tarantino movie. After decades of wild passion projects – kung fu epics, indulgent westerns, Nazi capers – Hollywood sees him do something completely unexpected: Tarantino’s gotten personal.

Running the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I am willing to say Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the most exciting movie in Tarantino’s career.  This might be a weird thing to say about a movie that operates for most of its two-hour-and-forty-minute run time as a comedy about good friends going about their day, but such low-stake vibes come off as refreshingly relaxed when in contrast to the director’s past work. Because Tarantino arrived fully formed, his movies have always seemed like the product of the same, incredibly talented, but inert artist. That is until now. This is the first Tarantino movie that feels like it takes place not in a cinematic real of the director’s design, but in the real world. Where the facts of history don’t only provide the setting for revenge fantasies, but the specifics of the situation. This is the first Tarantino movie to offer a glimpse not just at the director’s obsessions – movies, music, pop culture –  but at his inner psyche. Tarantino, who is nearing his sixties, is no longer an enfant terrible. He is an elder statesman, an institution, and it seems that with age, he is starting to interrogate himself and his cinema.

Let’s get specific. The movie takes place in 1969 Los Angeles, the year that saw the horrific murders in which members of the Manson Family killed five people, including actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child. This already differentiates the movie from Tarantino’s other historical epics, in that it is dealing with a specific fact of history rather than a narrative creation. While the “Operation Kino” that is meant to kill Hitler and his cabinet in Inglourious Basterds is a product of Tarantino’s imagination, the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends is pointedly not. Most of the movie, however, takes place six months before the tragedy, and focuses on the comings and goings of people in the film industry. Tarantino, who was six years old in ’69, recreates the Los Angeles of his youth with enormous care and wonderful detail (for this fact, he has called this film “his Roma“). And while two of the main characters are fictional, the third is Sharon Tate herself, making her the first real life protagonist of a Tarantino movie. The degree to which Tarantino is interested in following Tate in the seeming mundanity of her day-to-day life not only situates the movie squarely in our reality, (or closer to it than any other of his films), but provides the most tender reason for the movie’s existence: to focus on the life of a person who is mostly remembered for her death.

While Sharon Tate (played lovingly by Margot Robbie) reflects the movie’s interest in the historical record, the two fictional protagonists of the movie reflect Tarantino’s more personal interests in making this movie. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a television star past his prime, while Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, Dalton’s stunt double and loyal sidekick. It’s in these two characters that I see Tarantino interrogating himself. He’s created plenty of great characters before, but never have they felt like they were part of his inner psyche in the way these two struck me as two sides of Tarantino’s own self-reflection. Cliff, the tough guy stunt man, seems to me a manifestation of Tarantino’s cinema: impossibly cool (Pitt, at 56, has improbably never looked better), capable of extreme violence, and with a problematic past. It is revealed halfway through the movie that Cliff might have been responsible for his wife’s murder. It’s not hard to make the connection to Tarantino’s past work, which is full of controversy – be it the liberal use of the n-word in his early movies, his decades-long collaboration with Harvey Weinstein, or the reports of endangering Uma Thurman on set while shooting Kill Bill. 

Meanwhile, Rick Dalton represents Tarantino as a person. He is an artist who has had great success in the past, but is now growing old in an industry that seems to be leaving him behind. As Rick, DiCaprio provides the best work of his career since he played the haunted conman of Catch Me If You Can. He has always been best at playing people who are out of their element and build a flashy persona to hide their uncontrollable fear of it all crashing down. Rick is a ball of insecurities, an actor obsessed with the idea that he might become yesterday’s news, not unlike the image-obsessed Tarantino, who has claimed he will retire after making only ten movies in order to preserve his legacy. The younger generations that threaten to take Rick’s place come in two groups: the murderous hippies of Manson’s commune, and the up-and-coming Sharon Tate and her group of friends. While the former group is portrayed with intense (perhaps justified?) contempt, Sharon and her friends represent a bright and loving future for Hollywood. Tellingly, Sharon’s friend group is made up of artists and performers, while the Manson zealots complaint about phony actors and violent television.

With all of this going on around him, Rick stands by his buddy Cliff despite his possibly murderous past the way Tarantino can’t help but stand by the potentially problematic thrills of his own cinema. It’s no surprise that Tarantino rejects the moralizing hippies in order to stand with the electrifying experience of cinema, but what does it mean in the context of the last section of the movie? As the brilliant Tim Brayton has pointed out, when the movie’s third act flashes forward to August 1969, Tarantino abandons the more “realistic” hang-outs the movie’s been inhabiting for his usual M.O., starting with a Kurt Russell voice-over recap and ending in an explosively violent climax. As Rick and Cliff band together against the hippies, Tarantino uses the fantasy of cinema to, once again, change history. Sharon Tate gets to live, cinema’s own violent tendencies become a force for good. The implications of such a climax can be deeply problematic, but have we ever seen Tarantino be this introspective before? This movie is the result of a man who is truly considering his relationship to his own art. For the first time, Tarantino isn’t just showing us the things he loves, but reckoning with them. Is such a departure a signal that Tarantino is growing as a person? Who knows. A signal that he is growing as an artist when we least expected it? That’s for damn sure.

 

2019 Summer Box Office Predictions

2019 Box Office

I’ve been (wrongly) predicting the biggest box office hits of the summer ever since this blog started, and for the last three years, the predictions have been accompanied by a podcast recording with my friend Rachel, in which she joins me in trying to figure out what movies will make the most money. You’ll find my predictions below, and if you want to find out what Rachel thinks will be a hit, then listen to our conversation (also below). Being wrong is part of the fun, keep that in mind.

A note on what “summer” means: Box Office Mojo considers May 1-Aug 31 to be the summer movie season, and that’s what we are going with. That means Avengers: Edgame, which comes out the last week of April, is not eligible for our lists. Whether or not you consider it a summer movie is up to you, we just have to draw the line at some point. Never mind the fact that “actual summer” doesn’t start until June 21.

A second note: These predictions are for the domestic box office (U.S. and Canada), by the way, mainly because keeping track of when movies open in foreign markets is too much work.

1. The Lion King
Release Date: July 19
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 800 Million
Are you good at math? Hear me out. If you adjust for inflation, the live action Beauty and the Beast did 1.87 times as much money as the animated version. If you apply the same logic to The Lion King, then the live action remake would make $996 million, making it the highest grossing movie of all time. Given that we’re dealing with one of the most beloved properties out there, I think such a massive haul is a possibility. Still, a Disney remake being the highest grossing movie of all time doesn’t seem quite right, so I’m going on a half-assed limb at 800 million (which would still make this second highest grossing after The Force Awakens). In any case, I will go out on a limb to predict this makes more than Avengers: Endgame. 

[Update: In the time since writing this, and posting the podcast, Avengers: Endgame had by far the biggest opening weekend of all time, making upwards of 300 million. The likelihood of The Lion King outgrossing it seems quite unlikely, though I stand by what I said.]

2. Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Release Date: May 10
Studio: Warner Bros.
Predicted Box Office: 400 Million
This is my big bet. When it was announced, Detective Pikachu seemed like a joke. But if  the summer of Pokémon Go taught us anything, is not to underestimate this franchise. The trailers have been a total success, pushing the nostalgia buttons so perfectly that even I -who, sure, grew up with Pokémon but hasn’t thought about the creatures in a long ass time- excited for this movie. Kids will go. Young adults will go. There is something in the air about this one. I can feel it.

3. Toy Story 4
Release Date: June 21
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 375 Million
The Toy Story movies are big money-makers, but I don’t see a lot of excitement for this one. Toy Story 3 was such a perfect cap to the series, a lot of people (myself included) are wondering what’s the point of yet another sequel. Unless the reviews are ecstatic and this ends up being some sort of unexpected masterpiece, I can’t imagine it surpassing Finding Dory and/or Incredibles 2 in the pantheon of Pixar sequels.

4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Release Date: July 5
Studio: Sony
Predicted Box Office: 340 Million
The MCU is a safe bet, people seem to be into this new version of Spider-Man. Spider-Verse and Endgame should be able to gather enthusiasm for this sequel, which should make about as well as its predecessor (330M.)

5. Aladdin
Release Date: May 24
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 230 Million
This one could go any other way. People really don’t like the look of the trailers, especially the blue CGI work done on Will Smith’s genie. However, this is a nostalgic property so it should be able to make enough bank to not be a complete disaster.

6. The Secret Life of Pets 2
Release Date: June 7
Studio: Universal
Predicted Box Office: 225 Million
The numbers Rachel pulled out while recording the podcast made me think I’m terribly underrating this one. People love their pets, they need things to take children to, and they do love those Illumination Studios movies, no matter how bad they look to me. I’m sticking with a number 6 spot, hoping that the release of Toy Story 4 a couple weeks after will take some of this movie’s momentum.

7. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Release Date: August 2
Studio: Universal
Predicted Box Office: 190 Million
The Rock and Jason Stathan in an action extravaganza. Their movies don’t always make as much as they’re supposed to, but attachment to the Fast and Furious franchise should provide enough money to come close to 200 million.

8. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Release Date: May 31
Studio: Warner Bros.
Predicted Box Office: 180 Million
I see a lot of people online excited for this movie, but out in the real world? I could be totally wrong, but I think a crowded summer might make this an underperformer.

9. Men in Black: International
Release Date: June 14
Studio: Sony
Predicted Box Office: 175 Million
I thought the idea of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in a Men in Black reboot was a winning ticket, but the buzz around the movie is apparently really bad. Like most comedies, this will live or die on whether it is funny, and there’s really no way of knowing until the movie actually opens.

10. Dark Phoenix
Release Date: June 7
Studio: 20th Century Fox Disney
Predicted Box Office: 
150 Million
Disney seems to be dropping this one now that they’ve acquired 20th Century Fox. They want to do their own version of the X-Men, one that can interact with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so they just need the current series to wrap up as soon as possible. The buzz online is really bad, the trailers look bad, and most people are excited for the series to end than for this new movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t even crack a hundred, but superhero movies are insanely popular. At least enough for a top ten finish.

Cannes 2019 Preview

dead dont die

It’s time for Cannes! Even if it’s unlikely that I’ll ever travel to the Croisette to attend the most prestigious film festival in the world, I cannot wait to hear about all the movies that play there. Hearing what’s coming down the pike from some of cinema’s most respected auteurs is one of the delights of the cinematic year. These are all the movies I get to look forward to for the rest of the year! This year I’ve decided to do something a little different, and list the movies in order of how excited I am to see them (with the caveat that the order will probably change after the movies premiere and we have actual reviews to guide my interest).

Overall, the line-up seems pretty much in line with the kind of movies (and directors) that premiere at Cannes. The biggest surprise was the absence of Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodthe latest from Quentin Tarantino, which was expected to premiere at Cannes on May 21 (the day that Pulp Fiction premiered twenty-five years ago before winning the Palme D’Or). The movie is still in post-production, and although it wasn’t part of the announcement today, will probably be added to the competition in the weeks to come. With four films, this is the line-up with the most female-directed movies in the history of the festival, thought I’ll let you decide if 4 out of 19 is a number to be excited about. 

The 2019 Cannes Competition (in order of Personal Excitement): 

Pain & Glory (directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
Focusing on a director who reflects on his life at a critical point in his career, this movie sounds like Almodóvar is making his version of 8 1/2 and All That Jazz. I absolutely love Almodóvar, and would watch any movie he directs, but what makes me extra excited is that this one has already opened in Spain, and the reviews have been fantastic. Some are starting to think this could be the movie that finally wins the Palme D’Or for Pedro. The movie stars Antonio Banderas, and features Almodóvar veterans Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, as well as the acting debut of pop singer Rosalía.

The Dead Don’t Die (directed by Jim Jarmusch)
The festival’s opener is the latest from offbeat director Jim Jarmusch. Advertised as “the greatest zombie cast ever dissasembled,” the movie stars Bill Murray and Adam Driver as a sheriff and deputy who must protect their small town from a zombie outbreak. They are joined, among others, by Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez and Tilda Swinton. Jarmusch is a Cannes veteran, but has never won the Palme D’Or. This movie, which looks very comedic from the trailer, might not look like the one that finally gives him the win, but it does look quite delightful. I will follow Jarmusch anywhere after the wonderful Paterson, so I’m glad this one has a U.S. release set for June 14.  

Bacurau (directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles)
Mendonça’s Aquarius was one of the ver best movies of 2016, and featured a powerhouse performance by Brazilian legend Sonia Braga. His new movie, translated as Nighthawk on IMDb, sees the director reuniting with Braga. I don’t know much about the plot, but honestly, I don’t need to. I would be incredibly excited for Mendonça’s latest no matter the subject or star.

Parasite (directed by Bong Joon-ho)
After Mother, Snowpiercerand Okjathere is no doubting Bong as a master of genre cinema from me. No one can balance forward momentum, extreme violence, and dark comedy the way he can, often jumping from one to the other in the very same scene. Re-teaming with leading man Kang-ho Song, his latest movie focuses on a family in hardship whose illegal activities take them down a very dark road. I expect a top-notch, unique mystery.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (directed by Celine Sciamma)
Celine Sciamma is the director of Girlhooda fabulous movie that, if nothing else, features one of the very best scenes I’ve seen in a movie this decade. Sciamma has had success in Cannes sidebars in the past, but this is her debut in the competition. It’s a 18th Century period piece about a young female painter being forced to paint a wedding portrait for another young woman. I’ve been waiting for a while for Sciamma’s follow-up to Girlhood, so color me very excited.

It Must Be Heaven (directed by Elia Suleiman)
I must admit I’m not familiar with Suleiman’s previous Cannes entry –The Time That Remains– but everything I’ve heard about the director makes this sound like a fascinating project. Apparently, Suleiman’s style combines silent slapstick with melancholic introspection (already up my alley). This is the story of a man who escapes from Palestine to discover that the country follows his wherever he goes. I am very intrigued.

Atlantique (directed by Mati Diop)
If you are me, then you will recognize Mati Diop as the young girl from 35 Shots of Rum, or one of the foreign artists in the wonderful Hermia & HelenaThis is her first feature-length film as a director, which makes Diop the first black female director to have a film in the Main Competition. This seems to be a story about African migration to Europe, focusing on one woman who is left behind in Senegal. Despite being a debut, the buzz around this movie is really strong. Many outlets and insiders are claiming this is will go down as the emergence of a new major filmmaker. I’m really excited.

Frankie (directed by Ira Sachs)
Director Ira Sachs, who’s directed lovely American indies such as Love is Strange and Little Men, makes his Cannes debut with this story about three generations of a family working out their personal conflicts while on vacation in Portugal. When Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei headline the cast, one simply cannot ask for more.

Little Joe (directed by Jessica Hausner)
Hausner’s last movie, Amour Fouis a very unconventional period piece. The Austrian director makes her English-language debut with this science fiction story about a group of scientist trying to figure out a mysterious plant that seems to change the personalities of those who come in contact with it. The lovely Ben Whishaw plays one of the lead roles.

The Whistlers (directed by Corneliu Porumboiu)
This movie sees Porumboiu revisit a character from his ten year-old Police, Adjective, as Romanian mainstay Vlad Ivanov plays a police officer who tries to use a secret whistling language in order to pull off a heist. I expect a slow and dryly funny movie in the style of most Romanian New Wave films, which when done right, can do wonders for me.

The Wild Goose Lake (directed by Yinan Diao)
There almost no information about this movie, but Diao’s last, Black Coal, Thin Icewon the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. There was a bit of controversy earlier this year regarding the Chinese government not allowing certain titles to compete at Cannes this year. This seems to have been the one exception. I am not familiar with Diao’s work, so I’m placing it near the middle expectations-wise.

A Hidden Life (directed by Terrence Malick)
Oh, Terrence Malick, the suddenly prolific American auteur returns with a three hour epic set during World War II. It’s supposed to be the story of a conscientious objector who refuses to fight for the Nazis, but knowing Malick, there will probably a lot of philosophical detours taken along the way. Malick isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I do love The New Worldso while I wouldn’t count on it, here’s hoping I can connect with this one in the same way.

The Traitor (directed by Marco Bellocchio)
I’ve never seen a movie by Bellocchio before, though I’ve heard quite good things about his Mussollini biopic VincereThis one is also a biopic, albeit of the less well-known Tommaso Buscetta, known as the “boss of the two worlds”, who apparently became the first mafia informant in 1980s Sicily. The trailer below is just a teaser, so it’s hard to know what’s going on, though I expected the typical darkness, violence, and excess of a gangster/mafia movie.

Oh Mercy! (directed by Arnaud Desplechin)
Despelchin is another Cannes favorite. This is about a detective trying to solve the brutal murder of a young woman. The wonderful Lea Seydoux is the top billed actress, though I’m not sure if she is the detective or the victim… or neither. Murder mysteries are not my favorite genre, and I’m constantly disappointed by contemporary French cinema, so I’m waiting for reviews to see if I gather any excitement.

Sybil (directed by Justine Triet)
The final female-directed film in the competition is a story about a “jaded therapist who returns to her first love of writing” and obsesses over a young actress. Female obsession is always an interesting genre, though my spotty history with contemporary French cinema keeps me from getting excited about this one.

Matthias & Maxime (directed by Xavier Dolan)
The prolific and opinionated Xavier Dolan has a particularly thorny history with Cannes. His last movie to play in Competition, It’s Only the End of the World, won the Grand Prix in 2016 despite being totally eviscerated by critics (a situation so hostile that Dolan claims he got eczema from it). But now he’s back with his latest movie, apparently an ensemble drama about relationships. I’ve only seen a couple of his movies, and haven’t been truly into them. Reviews for his latest stuff has been mostly bad. So my excitement is definitely low.

Les Miserables (directed by Ladj Ly)
This is Ly’s directorial debut, and it’s always exciting to see a filmmaker debut in Cannes Competition, but watching the clip that is available on IMDb lowered my expectations quite a bit. This movie seems “gritty” and “masculine” in a way that is always unappealing to me. The descriptions says it’s about a group of anti-crime brigade operating in a poor French neighborhood.

Sorry We Missed You (directed by Ken Loach)
Loach is one of those people who are extremely prolific and well liked at Cannes, which means that his movies are always in the competition. I personally don’t tend to connect with his particular brand of social realism. Not even his Palme D’Or-winning work can get me very excited, so unless reviews are truly ecstatic, I will probably skip this one.

Young Ahmed (directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
I am not the biggest fan of the Dardenne brothers’ hyper-realist miserablism to begin with, so this would be a tough sell for me no matter what. But the log-line “A Belgian teenager hatches a plot to kill his teacher after embracing an extremist interpretation of the Quran” sounds like exactly the kind of movie that I have zero interesting in seeing, especially coming from two white Europeans. They are Cannes favorites, though, so their movies are always in the line-up. 

Podcast: The Best Movies of 2009

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It’s become a tradition. Every year, I go on my friend Rachel’s podcast and we talk about our favorite movies form ten (and sometimes twenty) years ago. This time around, it’s 2009, so give a listen to the podcast below (which is also available on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts). Conversation topics include my distaste for Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, Rachel’s unexpected experience with Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, and the wonderful surprise I had when I revisited Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Other Podcasts on this Series: 2007, 2008, 1998

Other “Best of…” Retrospectives: 1992, 1995, 2005, 2006