Uncut Gems

byuotes026p31

Making movies requires talent, but so does watching them. As of this writing, Uncut Gems holds a C+ Cinemascore. For the uninitiated, Cinemascore is the holy grail of movie ratings. Beyond IMDB, beyond Letterboxd or Rotten Tomatoes audience score, Cinemascore adheres a letter grading to every wide release weekly. It does this by polling the most average joes and janes they can find the minute they walk out of the cinema, providing the most honest insight I’ve ever seen about what regular people like and dislike. It’s actually a bit amazing, and you should check out their screening process and everything. It’s also super disheartening.

Cats, that diabolical abomination that’s more joke than actual movie, also holds a C+ Cinemascore. I should not be so upset, as this happens every other week, but by God, Uncut Gems is terrific. Filmmaking of the highest order, the camera frenetically swooping around, the throbbing score getting into your system, Uncut Gems is a nightmare inducing frenzy of a picture.

A+

Little Women

little-women-movie-poster

Like Keira Knightley before her, Saoirse Ronan appears to have been typecast. While Knightley shone in period pieces, a vision in lavish costumes, Ronan is but a couple of centuries ahead of her. A reason for this might be her face. Saoirse Ronan has sad eyes, eyes that tell you a thousand tales by just staring at you. Her face projects weary innocence and unexpressed dreams. Maybe that’s why she keeps appearing in films about early America and Britain: she’s the personification of those countries during those periods of time. Where everything seemed possible if we could but put the past behind us.

In Little Women, she’s as good as always. There’s a moment in which she delivers a heartfelt protestation on the expectations of women, while mourning her own loneliness, that is deeply genuine and so sad.

A-

Best Films 2019

My mom watches movies in segments. She divides her attention between her phone, the screen, the kitchen, the weather and the neighbor’s dog. It takes her literal days to finish watching movies sometimes. My dad watches one movie every month, sometimes every two months. I joke with them by asking how I can possibly be related to them when our movie watching habits are so dissimilar. But sometimes I don’t joke. Rather, I look Godwards in gratitude. Surely I’ve done nothing radically different from my parents that would cause me to live cinema in a way that breathes vigor to my bones. Yet here I am again with the yearly list of the best films watched in 2019. 160 they were, a surprisingly high number considering I spent many months traveling. There must have been some nights in which I watched more than one, more than two. I recall these moments very, very fondly. And the following films even more so. 

 

HARRY POTTER SAGA

harry-potter-all-posters2

Simultaneously a tender look at being a teenager and a parable of the biblical story of Jesus and Satan, the Harry Potter series is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Watched over the course of four spellbinding days, the level of engagement it stirred within me is unparalleled. Unmatched too are the echoes of the Gospel story present throughout, from the Messiah-like Harry to the astute ways the evil one assails our commitment to the cause. I won’t soon forget the night in which, after finishing my dinner, I rushed to my bedroom to watch Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. I sat in bed for five hours, bewitched by every little thing. The next day I told my mom that I was going to finish watching Harry Potter that night, and she apologized for not allowing me to watch them years before. I told her there was no need for an apology because it had turned out to be for the best. I discovered Harry Potter at just the right moment in life. 

THE FOUNTAIN

maxresdefault

Here’s something I’d never done before. Once the credits started to roll, I hit play and watched The Fountain all over again. A feast for the senses, The Fountain is a tragedy of lost love. It is also a triumphant reminder that one need not be crippled by the fear of death, for together we will live forever.

THE IRISHMAN

lead_720_405

The most elegiac film of Martin Scorsese’s storied career, The Irishman mourns the lives that are lived in service of all that is ultimately inconsequential. Subverting the expectations created three decades ago with his masterpiece Goodfellas, in which crime was glamorized and life was fast paced, The Irishman is a film only an old man could make. Rueful, wise, patient. Scorsese, pushing 80, has never shied away from his faith. The confession scene is not only for his protagonists, not only for his audience, but also for himself.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

2008-synecdoche_new_york-2

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved.”

MARRIAGE STORY

marriage-story

2019 delivered some of the best acting by men I’ve seen in a while. You couldn’t take your eyes off Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Robert DeNiro was phenomenal in The Irishman. And Adam Driver was absolutely superb, the best he has ever been, in Marriage Story. You watch him slowly disintegrate as the film progresses. The scene in which he pretends he’s fine after cutting himself by accident is a marvel. 

LISTEN TO ME MARLON

marlon-clip-videosixteenbynine1050

Ten months ago, reviewing this documentary for the first time, I wrote that “Brando’s story is our story, the small details varying but the overall picture looking the same: a life in a world with pain as its principal currency, with every soul aching for a more permanent release than wealth, or family, or sex”. No more needs to be said.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

inglourious_basterds-1024x570-1

His films tend to be fun and easy to watch, but Tarantino outdid himself with this one.

COLUMBUS

columbus-02

It happens, almost imperceptibly and not to everybody, but it happens. The moment you discover your parents, the people who were meant to nourish and see you thrive, are suffocating you. They don’t do it out of any ill will; they love you, after all. And you love them, and now you’re compelled to see them thrive, compelled to nourish them. It’s a reversal of the natural order, and it hurts your little heart. But it cannot be this way forever for you are young and you must leave them behind. This hurts your little heart some more. Columbus is a perfect distillation of this. 

SET IT UP

set-it-up-glen-powell

In an age in which the rom-com is all but dead, here comes Zooey Deutsch to breathe new life into it and make it soar, soar, soar. 

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

https3a2f2fblogs-images.forbes.com2fdanidiplacido2ffiles2f20182f122fspiderman-into-the-spider-verse-1200x800-1

To call this the best superhero movie I’ve seen might be faint praise, considering my slight indifference towards most movies of its ilk. But it is anything but. Into the Spider-Verse is a colorful, hilarious, inventive and strangely moving picture about the hero’s journey. One, it turns out, we’re all in. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

812wfdtteol._sy679_

The word “fan”, short for “fanatic”, is derived from the Latin “fanaticus”, meaning insanely but divinely inspired. No wonder then, that the most common use of the word is associated with religion. Indeed, “fanaticus” originally pertained to a place of worship, a temple, places marked by intense, uncritical devotion.

To be a fan is no bad thing. We should all be so lucky to have something or someone we deem worthy of our loyalty. History shows certain fans’s troubling behavior towards others, albeit usually in a small scale. Fandoms, general wisdom goes, are pretty harmless. It is not until the advent of the internet when cracks begin to crumble the facade.

I’ve written elsewhere how the internet has exacerbated virulent behavior in our species, but I now wish to revise that statement. By itself, the internet is a wonderful tool. Bullying, harassment, threats and violence are the result of our own failings, not some coding problem within the system. There’s a quote that goes something like, if you give a man enough power to do whatever he wants, and he ends up using that power for evil, then you’ll know evil is what he’s always wanted to do.

At this point you might be wondering, what does Latin, the internet and moral failings have to do with Star Wars?

Reddit and Twitter run the world. Perhaps one of the most baffling turn of events in this young century has been the capitulation of corporate America to the tumult of the internet. No sooner has a user lifted a complaint about anything, and there go multi billion dollar companies vowing to do better next time, swearing to make them happy in just the exact way they demand. There is no accountability in this process, just an endless litany of requests. This reveals corporations as spineless and amoral, breathing just to make a buck, and users as grandstanding self-appointed arbiters of good taste.

The Rise of Skywalker illustrates just how pathetic this new order we inhabit really is. Disney has destroyed every good thing that was built by The Last Jedi, not because it was bad but because some people kept making Reddit threads about how their immaculate childhood had been obliterated by a movie. Film insiders chose to appeal to angry people rather than continuing the threads of a good story. This movie means nothing, it stands for nothing, it is vacuous and soulless, a monument to cowardice. Any redeeming value it might have comes in the form of a warning. Today it was a movie that was dictated by the whims of social media. What’s it going to be tomorrow?

C

Bombshell

mv5bzjlhowe3yjkty2mzoc00zmq1lwiwnjgtzmvhzmfjzgexmzgyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymda4nzmyoa4040._v1_

A Lifetime flick were it not for the quality of the performances, Bombshell does not understand nuance. There’s a scene in which the heroine, assailed by the dilemma of speaking out against her boss, sits in a car in a traffic jam. There is not one, but two separate shots of a construction sign that reads STAY IN YOUR LANE.

It begins as didactic entertainment, and it would have stayed that way if it adhered to the one thing this does well: show the inner workings of a massive corporation like Fox. By the end, however, it’s about how tragic it is that men harass women at the workplace. Yes, but why portray the happenings of rich, famous white women? Women whom the film is not brave enough to ever question. There’s only a faint introduction of the idea “these women are famous only because of Fox”, and it’s uttered by another woman whom we’re supposed to take as the villain.

There’s an important, urgent film to be made about the power men wield over women in the workplace, but this is not it.

B-

Ford v Ferrari

ford-v-ferrari-poster-1-600x391

A few days ago I watched Matt Damon play the pathetic and deceitful Mark Whitacre in The Informant!It was a very good performance, Damon never over acting either of his phases: the noble informant, nor the sleazy scam artist. The transformation occurs very slowly, but when it happens you realize Damon had provided subtle hints all along.

He outshines that performance in Ford V Ferrari, a sports movie that follows the template set by every other sports movie ever. It feels like a 90s film, perhaps the definition of what old people mean when they say “they don’t make them like they used to”. I’m indifferent towards it, but Matt Damon’s performance is really, really good.

B

The Informant

informant_keyart

Steven Soderbergh is one of my favorite filmmakers. I haven’t fallen in love with any of his material the way I have other directors, but I really admire his ability to take any story, whether intimate or vast in scope, and consistently make it entertaining. There’s a joyful quality to his work, and one cannot help but laugh at the way his characters behave, or the predicaments they find themselves in.

The Informant! is a super breezy and funny story about an awful guy. Had this been helmed by another director, it might have emphasized suspense above all else, or really milked that twist near the end. But Soderbergh just plays it straight. It makes for easier connection with the main character, as he’s taken not as some sort of American hero befelled by greed, but as just another average joe who can’t say no to temptation.

B+

On Chesil Beach

on_chesil_beach

If cinema works primarily as escapism, then sad endings are a horrible idea. Entertainment is meant to take your mind off things, to unburden your heart for a minute, to tickle your desires. Indeed, blockbusters are primarily entertainment.

If, on the other hand, cinema functions primarily as an art form, then endings that shatter your heart are not only appropriate, but vital. We relate to art by what it brings to the world, but also by what it takes from it. The experiences that lead artists to create are full of sorrow and regret. We appreciate art for the beauty it’s able to bring in the midst of an ugly world. It’s a deliciously ironic juxtaposition: true beauty is forged in the fires of the nastiest misery. Sad endings are completely logical here.

On Chesil Beach is a slow moving picture. At times, it feels like reading a novel. But this approach is effective in its own right, as when the emotionally devastating climax arrives, you have no idea when you got there. You just wish everybody could turn back time and make different choices. Some that wouldn’t condemn them to their miserable fates.

B

Motherless Brooklyn

mv5bnzq0mjk1yjitnwi1ny00nwe2lwflytatyjviy2yzmtvlogvmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_

Were it not for the gorgeous photography, Motherless Brooklyn would just be another detective story aiming for resonance that gets lost in its own yarn. Actually, the photography here is so striking-there’s even a shot of wheat a la Malick!-that it hurts the picture. It sets such a delicate canvas that the movie’s story cannot possibly color appropriately, hence giving the impression that it fails on more levels than it really does.

B