“I want to be alone.”
These memorable words, in Greta Garbo’s Russian-accented delivery, are part of her enduring image. She was the reclusive actress who shied from fame and publicity throughout her estimable career. In the context of Grand Hotel, directed by Edmund Goulding, Garbo’s depressed ballerina urges her handlers to leave her, so that she can remove her costume and forget the disappointing crowd at the performance. Garbo doesn’t employ any dramatics to get our attention in this scene; she doesn’t need to.
Whatever happens, I’m pretty certain Kobe Bryant will be an Oscar winner by Monday morning.
Let’s start with the nine Best Picture nominees. If you asked me to predict the leading contenders months ago, I wouldn’t have anticipated a standoff between The Shape of Water and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. But though neither is #1 on my ballot, both movies, in their own way, are representative of the 2017 movie landscape.
I’m kicking off the Oscars Week countdown with a few performances that shouldn’t have been overlooked this awards season.
Eight years in Hollywood, two years in New York. Movie stars, celebrity athletes–and Russian mobsters. With Molly Bloom as our guide, we gain access to an exclusive club, where the money flows freely and the rich and famous meet once a week to gamble their wealth away. It’s prime Aaron Sorkin territory, sweeping back the curtain on the garish underworld of high-stakes poker like he did for politics, television, and Silicon Valley. And for two-thirds of Molly’s Game, he delivers a smart, sleek movie that works his crisp repartee into the glitzy adrenaline of the game. But when Molly’s poker career folds, Sorkin squanders his own hand by playing the wrong cards.
The last five minutes of BPM (Beats per Minute) are extraordinary. Director Robin Campillo takes all the strands of his story and cuts them together into an intoxicating, heartbreaking montage. Men and women are dancing their hearts out at a nightclub, while a man whose lover died spends the night with a friend, pouring out his grief in bed; all the while the ACT UP community makes one more triumphant political statement. The personal and the political are not separable…
Phantom Thread, with Daniel Day-Lewis’s alleged final performance, is as mysterious as its title suggests. Like much of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, the movie is hypnotic, engrossing–and restless. Watching one of Anderson’s movies can be an exercise in surrender: the path can feel circuitous, and the destination sometimes unfathomable.
Nothing is more stirring in Steven Spielberg’s The Post than watching the early morning newspapers get printed. Spielberg’s movie intends to rouse and inspire us, but the printing montage does that work all on its own. We watch the news text printed letter by letter, type placed into trays, trays imprinted onto a plate, and plates pressed onto newsprint. As Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks wax philosophical about the press, copies of the morning papers spiral up to the ceilings, ready to be delivered to homes across Washington. It’s dynamite for publishing and journalism geeks.
So the “incident,” which is how everyone describes it in I, Tonya, didn’t cause that much physical damage. Nancy Kerrigan pulled it together to win a silver medal six weeks later at the 1994 Winter Olympics. It’s not the most violent scene in the movie, that’s for sure. One poorly executed hit job, and Tonya Harding’s skating career ended while her life of infamy began.
With Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and season one of The Crown fresh in our consciousness, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour arrives at a moment when we’re steeped in British World War II nostalgia. Wright’s even making his second attempt at the evacuation of Dunkirk, following the middle chapter of Atonement, so there’s a real déjà vu watching this new biopic.
Guillermo del Toro’s new movie The Shape of Water fits into a storied tradition of folklore and fantasy from Hans Christian Andersen to Godzilla. It’s an old-fashioned fairy tale and a classic film throwback that clearly enchanted the director. Though Universal tried to revive its classic monster franchise this year with The Mummy, their failed attempt to create a new Dark Universe, del Toro has beaten them at their own game. The key to a new monster, it turns out, is a lighter–not darker–touch.
Honestly, this movie is so good. I want to move to Northern Italy to read literature and bike through the country and fall in love with Armie Hammer every day. The movie looks beautiful: Guadagnino clearly enjoys the lush flora and blue waters of Crema, where it’s impossible to resist the sensuality of your surroundings. He films the building romance simply, using few close-ups, to suggest a placid exterior that the lovers’ impulses push against.
No matter the odds, Lady Bird is determined to make something of herself. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, which she directed and wrote, is a warm coming-of-age comedy about growing up different. Based on Gerwig’s own experiences, Lady Bird’s senior year at her Catholic high school is a confusing and exciting time to be alive. She’s got that nickname (“It was given to me by me”) and dyed pink hair, but she’s still figuring everything out.
But The Disaster Artist is so perfectly meta: An hit-and-miss actor-director with endless funding for hundreds of bad movies, playing a so-bad-he’s-infamous actor-director with endless funding to make one really, really bad movie.
Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will definitely be one of the most talked about, and most contentious, movies of the year. This sprawling Midwest invective takes on police incompetence, brutality against people of color, and sexual assault, with heavy doses of small-town racism and sexism. It’s wildly entertaining; you truly don’t know where McDonagh is going. But don’t assume the movie has anything profound to say beyond that.
We just caught two revivals in New York of shows from the eighties: both highly acclaimed back in the day for pushing the boundaries of queerness and gender identity on stage. After thirty-some years, what may have been transgressive about these characters’ sexuality is now more accepted, and both playwrights have revised their work to be effective for 2017 audiences.
The last weekend she ever sees him, Alison Bechdel begs her father to talk to her. Really talk to her. This mundane car ride comes weeks after she comes out to him, hours after she learns he sleeps around with young men—and days before he steps in front of a truck. It’s Alison’s first and only chance to address what used to be their shared secret. He makes a small gesture, suggests a local gay bar, but she reminds him she’s too young to go. Nothing is really said.
For its first two hours, Blade Runner 2049 seduces us, slowly drawing us deeper into the past as we search for the key to upend this bleak authoritarian future. Where everything ends up isn’t as satisfying, but that’s not surprising for a movie motivated by mood, color, and scale more than plotlines.
I know Merrily We Roll Along from its original 1981 cast album. That recording immortalized Merrily’s 16 brief performances before Franklin Shepard and friends closed up shop. Like a few Sondheim shows that came before (looking at you, Anyone Can Whistle), that recording was so important for giving Merrily a life past its initial failure.
I don’t think a traditional review of Mother! would be effective. But I did want to wrestle a little with the movie.
Summer days drift on, and Frankie bums around his Brooklyn neighborhood, traipsing the beach with his squad of dumb goons, walking the Coney Island boardwalk, engaging with a girl who makes suggestive eyes at him. At night, he’s on a gay Brooklyn chatroom, clicking from cam to cam and scrolling past bare torsos until he […]
By land, by sea, and by air, the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France just across the water to England was a harrowing week at war. As the Germans forced the English, French, and Belgian troops to the beaches, the Allies plotted how to escape across the sea while holding the Germans off.
Sofia Coppola’s revisionist take on The Beguiled is at turns a romance, a savage fable, a brightly lit noir; and it’s that languid uncertainty—the promise that her story could go in any direction—that sustains the movie’s dreamy suspense.
THEATER REVIEW: The Little Foxes and The Price.
Regina’s story feels so familiar. She’s every woman who’s had to put up with stupid, selfish men getting ahead and keeping the rewards to themselves for far too long.
Making her return, as Norma Desmond defiantly crows, as a great star attempting her own ill-fated comeback, Glenn Close is following in the tradition of Broadway stars who’ve revived their characters for a new generation. This time around, Close’s Norma Desmond is more recognizably human.
The words the happy say Are paltry melody But those the silent feel Are beautiful— Emily Dickinson’s sister-in-law comes over in the wee hours, alarmed to see a light on, only to find Emily awake and preparing to write poetry in the quiet of the night. The look on Emily’s face is beautiful as she […]
The years are catching up with Bette and Joan. This season of Feud has only spanned two years so far, from early 1962, when Joan Crawford approached Bette Davis with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, to 1964, when Crawford exited Hush, Hush… Sweet Charlotte. At the start of the series, both actresses jumped at the chance to […]
“And the winner is… Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker.” The camera cuts to Susan Sarandon, standing in the wings, and for an infinite second she can sparely sputter a breath. Jessica Lange drops her cigarette, stamps it out beneath her silver sole—and proudly struts past Susan to collect that Oscar. “And the Winner Is…” is […]