Nomadland

She flinty.

* * * 1/2

Chloé Zhao‘s third feature, Nomadland, is an exercise in extreme compassion. What it lacks in narrative drive it makes up for in total empathy for its myriad characters. If it wins the Oscar this year for Best Film (it is currently the clear favourite) it will stand in stark contrast to last year’s winner, Parasite, which displayed masterful screenwriting and virtuosic filmmaking in every frame. Nomadland, by contrast, feels cobbled together on a wing and a prayer, written far more on set and in the edit suite than at the keyboard, and appealing entirely to the heart rather than the head.

What is virtuosic is Frances McDormand’s central performance as Fern, an itinerant American mid-western ‘nomad’, living out of her van and picking up seasonal blue-collar work. The Oscar race for Best Actress seems to be between her and Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman, giving voters a choice between apples and oranges. Mulligan’s work reflects her film’s heightened stylisation. McDormand’s is textbook naturalism. Indeed, given half of her scenes are with non-actors telling their own true stories, any deviation from a purely realistic approach would stand out like a Christmas tree on Mars and upset the film’s delicate, and rather unique, fabric.

Those non-actors are the film’s soul; around them, McDormand’s Fern is as empathetic and compassionate as Zhao. Against the professional actors, such as David Strathairn and Linda May, brought in to give the film at least some sense of narrative, she is allowed to be flintier, and ‘flinty’ may well be McDormand’s middle name. It is a perfect role for her unique essence, and, I dare say, may well end up her signature performance.

Although the film is about America’s mid-western (very white) dispossessed, it feels strangely apolitical. It’s not angry, per se, nor is it blatantly an origin story of Trump’s weirdly self-defeating voting base, although one cannot help make the connection as a viewer (a lot of the film takes place in South Dakota, now infamous for being one of the most mask-resistant, lockdown-resistant, Covid-blasé places on Earth, with infection numbers to match). What it is, relentlessly, is American. If you’re sick of hearing Americans talk about themselves, this film will be your poison. If you can stomach a few more twangy voices, they are presented here with grace, beauty, and, yes, compassion.

Sound Of Metal

Can Paul enter the Oscar ‘Raci’?

* * * 1/2

Paul Raci makes a massive impression in Sound of Metal, the debut directorial feature from screenwriter Darius Marder (The Place Beyond The Pines). The film is featuring heavily in ‘awards chatter’ for lead actor Riz Ahmed, who plays a heavy-metal drummer who rather suddenly loses his hearing, but mark my words, Raci is going to start – pardon the pun – making noise. His performance is an apt use of that critical cliché, a ‘revelation’.

The film itself mashes up two pretty conventional sub-genres – those of ‘dealing with sudden disability’ and ‘rehab’ – without subverting either nor adding anything fantastically new, except a highly specific sound design that strives mightily to give us a simulacrum of what Ahmed’s character, Ruben, is hearing and experiencing. That sound design is the other element of the film being talked about for big awards, but again, I’m laying my money on Raci to step forth and start scooping up Supporting Actor statues. He plays the cultish leader of a community for deaf addicts (Ruben’s a four-year clean junkie) with absolute authority, compassion, empathy and integrity. Since, despite having a true ‘character actor’ face, Raci is simply not that well known (and wasn’t to me), he comes across as one hundred percent the real deal, as though Marder had found this actual man and had him play himself. Raci was raised by deaf parents so his signing is unassailable, even as he himself is not deaf. It’s perfect casting resulting in a perfect performance.

An indie film with wide appeal, Sound of Metal hardly re-invents the wheel, but it’s got a lot of integrity and heart, and is well worth your two hours. Ahmed is indeed very, very good, as is Olivia Cooke in an underwritten role as his girlfriend; late in the film, a major international star makes an appearance that’ll make your eyes pop wide open.

Oscar Nominations 2019 / 2020 Immediate Thoughts

Here are the Oscar nominations with some of my immediate thoughts below each nomination. Overall, this could tilt a lot Quentin’s way (which I’d be very happy with), a lot Bong’s way (which would be deserved, and a win for World Cinema) or 1917 could come along and hijack things like GREEN BOOK did…

Performance by an actor in a leading role nominees:

Antonio Banderas in PAIN AND GLORY

Leonardo DiCaprio in ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Adam Driver in MARRIAGE STORY

Joaquin Phoenix in JOKER

Jonathan Pryce in THE TWO POPES

Nice to see Antonio in there; total bummer Adam Sandler isn’t in there for UNCUT GEMS; race is between Joaquin and Adam Driver.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role nominees:

Tom Hanks in A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Anthony Hopkins in THE TWO POPES

Al Pacino in THE IRISHMAN

Joe Pesci in THE IRISHMAN

Brad Pitt in ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

This is Brad’s all the way.

Performance by an actress in a leading role nominees:

Cynthia Erivo in HARRIET

Scarlett Johansson in MARRIAGE STORY

Saoirse Ronan in LITTLE WOMEN

Charlize Theron in BOMBSHELL

Renée Zellweger in JUDY

I’m still assuming Renée takes it.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role nominees:

Kathy Bates in RICHARD JEWELL

Laura Dern in MARRIAGE STORY

Scarlett Johansson in JOJO RABBIT

Florence Pugh in LITTLE WOMEN

Margot Robbie in BOMBSHELL

This is definitely going to Laura Dern.

Best animated feature film of the year nominees:

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis and Bonnie Arnold

I LOST MY BODY

Jérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice

KLAUS

Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh and Marisa Román

MISSING LINK

Chris Butler, Arianne Sutner and Travis Knight

TOY STORY 4

Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera

Let’s take a swing and say it’s going to I LOST MY BODY, since FROZEN 2 isn’t even nominated. Of course, MISSING LINK won the Globe (weirdly).

Achievement in cinematography nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER

Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Jarin Blaschke

1917

Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Robert Richardson

This is going to Roger Deakins. The best thing about 1917 – the only thing, really – is the cinematography.

Achievement in costume design nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT

Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER

Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN

Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Arianne Phillips

Wide open. Could be a sneaky win for JOJO?

Achievement in directing nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese

JOKER

Todd Phillips

1917

Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE

Bong Joon Ho

Quentin or Bong.

Best documentary feature nominees:

AMERICAN FACTORY

Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and Jeff Reichert

THE CAVE

Feras Fayyad, Kirstine Barfod and Sigrid Dyekjær

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY

Petra Costa, Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan

FOR SAMA

Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts

HONEYLAND

Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska and Atanas Georgiev

It should go to FOR SAMA or THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY but could go to AMERICAN FACTORY.

Best documentary short subject nominees:

IN THE ABSENCE

Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL)

Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan

WALK RUN CHA-CHA

Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Achievement in film editing nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN

Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT

Tom Eagles

JOKER

Jeff Groth

PARASITE

Yang Jinmo

PARASITE? JOKER? Hard to say. THE IRISHMAN? Can a three and a half hour picture win Best Editing? It’s nuts and sad that ONCE UPON A TIME isn’t in here. They’ll probably give it to the cars (FORD V FERRARI).

Best international feature film of the year nominees:

CORPUS CHRISTI

Poland

Directed by Jan Komasa

HONEYLAND

North Macedonia

Directed by Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevksa

LES MISÉRABLES

France

Directed by Ladj Ly

PAIN AND GLORY

Spain

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

PARASITE

South Korea

Directed by Bong Joon Ho

PARASITE, obviously. This is ROMA all over again, except maybe, just maybe, this year PARASITE also takes Best Picture…

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling nominees:

BOMBSHELL

Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker

JOKER

Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou

JUDY

Jeremy Woodhead

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White

1917

Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole

What is 1917 doing in there? Anyway, it has to be BOMBSHELL, right? But maybe JOKER.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score) nominees:

JOKER

Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN

Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY

Randy Newman

1917

Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

John Williams

This is going to the world’s coolest Icelander, Hildur Guðnadóttir, for JOKER.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song) nominees:

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from TOY STORY 4

Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from ROCKETMAN

Music by Elton John

Lyric by Bernie Taupin

“I’m Standing With You” from BREAKTHROUGH

Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“Into The Unknown” from FROZEN II

Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“Stand Up” from HARRIET

Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

They’re gonna give it to Elton and Bernie because they’re ELTON AND BERNIE.

Best motion picture of the year nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT

Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER

Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN

Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY

Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917

Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE

Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME or PARASITE. I’m happy with either but as a lifelong Quentin devotee I would love him to win this. It’s his ‘personal’ film, it’s the one that everyone can enjoy, I’ve come to understand why the violence at the end is as it is… this film is brilliant and worthy and I’d love it to win.

I do believe PARASITE has a shot because of the preferential ballot. I suspect PARASITE will be up there among the 1s and 2s on a lot of voting forms while Quentin, who does have some detractors, may be down the list on some, and the preferential ballot favours generally loved films over polarising ones.

UNCUT GEMS should have been here, certainly instead of FORD V FERRARI and JOJO RABBIT and 1917 (but the latter could have a weird sweep, which would be a crying shame, because it’s empty spectacle).

If 1917 takes it, that’s “a GREEN BOOK” as far as I’m concerned.

Achievement in production design nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Production Design: Bob Shaw

Set Decoration: Regina Graves

JOJO RABBIT

Production Design: Ra Vincent

Set Decoration: Nora Sopková

1917

Production Design: Dennis Gassner

Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Production Design: Barbara Ling

Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

PARASITE

Production Design: Lee Ha Jun

Set Decoration: Cho Won Woo

Wow. Great category. 1917, ONCE UPON A TIME, PARASITE, THE IRISHMAN… all contenders.

Best animated short film nominees:

DCERA (DAUGHTER)

Daria Kashcheeva

HAIR LOVE

Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver

KITBULL

Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson

MEMORABLE

Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre

SISTER

Siqi Song

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Best live action short film nominees:

BROTHERHOOD

Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB

Yves Piat and Damien Megherbi

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW

Marshall Curry

SARIA

Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre

A SISTER

Delphine Girard

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Achievement in sound editing nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Donald Sylvester

JOKER

Alan Robert Murray

1917

Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Wylie Stateman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Matthew Wood and David Acord

FORD V FERRARI, right? The cars, right?

Achievement in sound mixing nominees:

AD ASTRA

Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano

FORD V FERRARI

Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow

JOKER

Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland

1917

Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

1917, right? Because it’s “immersive”?

Achievement in visual effects nominees:

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick

THE IRISHMAN

Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli

THE LION KING

Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman

1917

Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy

If they give this to THE IRISHMAN – for the “de-aging” – that’ll be a laugh. It kind of has to go to THE LION KING, right? But maybe they give it to Marvel (AVENGERS: ENDGAME).

Adapted screenplay nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT

Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER

Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN

Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES

Written by Anthony McCarten

If they give this to JOJO it’ll be a shame, but they might, because it’s got a lot of nominations. It really should go to Steven Zaillian (IRISHMAN) or Greta Gerwig (LITTLE WOMEN).

Original screenplay nominees:

KNIVES OUT

Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY

Written by Noah Baumbach

1917

Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE

Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won

Story by Bong Joon Ho

This is Quentin’s.

Feel free to comment.

CJ

Cold War

* * * *

A grand romantic drama, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War won the Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. There are many movies to get through at Cannes, and Pawlikowski’s superbly crafted film clocks in at only eighty-eight minutes, covering fifteen years and four nations. It’s a lot of movie, and represents tremendous value if your time is tight.

Should you be lucky enough to have oodles of time up your sleeve, Cold War’s brevity might count against it. It’s so good, and so engaging, that you feel a little cheated when it ends. It’s the kind of sweeping European love story that in the past has sustained epic cinema, and Pawlikowski’s decisions to keep it so tight – he also constrains the image, shooting in the boxy “Academy Ratio” and in black and white – seem like a defiant, almost petulant, flight of fancy. Obviously not a cheap production, Pawlikowski seems determined to not put all the money on the screen.

But that’s his aesthetic, and we should be grateful for it. Anyone can shoot a movie in black and white, or in Academy Ratio, but not everyone will do so with such purpose and rigor. He restrained himself similarly with his last film, Ida (2014), and the two films complement each other in other ways. They’re both concerned with post-war Europe, with devotion, with sacrifice, and, here especially, with love. Ida was austere, whereas Cold War is lush and highly populated, but the sharp contrast of the black and white cinematography – Lukasz Zal shot both films – keep the vibe forever wintry, the mood ever melancholy, like a meal for one in a quiet Paris bistro at twilight on Christmas Eve.

Cold War’s love story, of two musicians destined to continually be drawn together and pulled apart by the Iron Curtain and their own internal conflicts, is such a good one – such a blatantly effective story – that it verges on the preposterous. It’s not. It’s based on Pawlikowski’s own parents, and that tips it over into the miraculous. One of the films of the year.

Oscars 2018 Preview and Predictions!

CJ and Jim go through most of the categories. We have ideas, opinions and predictions. We make a financial bet over Best Original Screenplay. And at the end, we apply the Preferential Ballot System of voting to our own ballots and come up with a BOLD PREDICTION FOR BEST PICTURE! Your comments welcome and appreciated. Happy Oscars 2018!




Lady Bird

Lady Bird

* * * *

It’s been terrific to watch, and be surprised by, Greta Gerwig’s evolution as a film artist. Having missed her entire early career as the leading lady of the mumblecore movement from 2006 to 2011, I finally became aware of her goofy charms in Greenberg (2010). For a while, I frankly thought she was a one-trick pony, her voice and physicality being so distinctive and consistent across the next few of her films that she seemed destined to play variations of herself. But then her craft seemed to expand, and in roles like Abbie in 20th Century Women (2016) she revealed greater depth of characterization. Indeed, in a film full of great actresses, for me she stole that show.

Meanwhile, her writing developed alongside. She co-wrote the lovely, humble Frances Ha (2012) with her paramour Noah Baumbach, and then did so again, more ecstatically, with the razor-sharp, truly witty Mistress America (2015). Now, she journeys solo as a writer, and directs, with the sublime Lady Bird, and in doing so gives us her origin story.

The film is billed as “semi-autobiographical,” but it’s so full of precise – and off-beat – observations that I’m taking it as pretty close to her real life. In fact, it’s so personal that the final lines of the film feel like they’re intended for an audience of one (while not actually excluding the rest of us, no mean feat). It covers the final year in the Catholic High School career of Gerwig’s surrogate, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, Oscar-nominated), taking in her relationships with boys, her best friend, her teachers (including the nuns), her family and, most vitally, her mother (Laurie Metcalf, nominated in the Supporting category).

The script is fantastic – smart, witty, revealing, precise, and concise. Gerwig and Baumbach pulled off something tricky with the script of Mistress America, constructing the third act as one continuous set-piece in the vein of a theatrical farce, but Gerwig goes in the opposite direction here, keeping every scene surprisingly brief. Blink and you’ll miss one; go for a wee and you’ll miss three. Thankfully you shouldn’t have to; in keeping with the speedy vibe, the whole shebang is over in 94 minutes.

I could have watched it for days. Ronan is staggeringly charming and appealing, even when Lady Bird is not. There is absolutely an element of Gerwig in her performance, specifically in her physical mannerisms, a kind of shaking of the lower face that was a hallmark of Gerwig’s, at least from 2010 to 2015. Metcalf is solid and real, and there is an exciting find in Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s bestie Julie. Her character has an entire, intriguing arc, not all of which we’re privy to; Gerwig leaves its darker elements off-screen, as though Lady Bird / Gerwig didn’t hear the whole story until after this story ended.

My experience of the film was light, delightful, airy and droll, but I think that the closer you yourself are to Lady Bird the more the film’s heavier, darker notes will resonate. If you’re a young woman with a mother and a Catholic School education, you’ve almost certainly found, in this beautiful film, your Catcher In The Rye, your Rushmore, your Sixteen Candles, your Juno, your origin story.

Mustang

Mustang_french

***1/2

At this year’s Academy Awards, the race for Best Foreign Language film came down to two horses: Mustang (which neatly fits the metaphor, yeah?) and Son of Saul. It’s completely understandable that the latter won: it’s a rather revolutionary work, which justified re-visiting the holocaust by its bold technique and astonishing integrity. Mustang is not revolutionary, it’s just a very solid and well-constructed film that is eye-opening without being heavy-handed.

Five sisters go to the beach after their final class for the semester. There they play in the water with some boys. It is a sequence of pure beauty and delight: young people enjoying a classic vibe. School’s out, and they are free.

But there’s the rub – because they’re in a Black Sea town in Turkey, not Sydney or Santa Monica, and a local old lady, watching from afar, doesn’t like what she sees. The sisters are orphans, living with their progressive or at least easy-going grandmother, and when the nosy old biddy dobs them in to their uncle, he takes it upon himself to tighten the reins. These beautiful free, somewhat wild horses are going to be broken.

The magic trick of Mustang is that it’s a scathing indictment of traditional patriarchal control in modern Turkey without being at all heavy handed. You’re in for the story and the message comes free. I had no idea this stuff went on in contemporary Turkey; that exposes some ignorance on my part and made the film all the more powerful.

The performances are all terrific but the girls are just sublime. The actresses – the youngest is thirteen – are astonishingly believable as sisters. In the opening, sunny, completely enticing early scenes, when the “mustang” is free, the way the girls move together, through the streets and open spaces of their town, is extraordinary. They flow like a single organism that contracts and expands, exchanging positions, following and leading, their energy seemingly binding them on invisible elastic cords, not so much like a school of fish as an amoeba.

Warren Ellis contributes a score made up of cello, flute and violin that suits the tone of the film perfectly, which is dreamy, soft and fluid, despite the imposing subject matter. It’s the debut feature for writer / director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, who made the film for just €1,300,000. We’ll be hearing more from her.